How Instagram giveaway may ruin your profile’s organic reach and engagement rate

One of the most popular tips you can hear about promoting your profile on Instagram is to make a contest or a giveaway.

There’s a ton of Youtube videos on how to properly run a giveaway, advertise it to attract more people, how to choose awards, etc. But it seems that no one is talking about the downsides of such contests, or at least the practical business benefits.

On this post I’d like to share my perspective on how Russians are making business on giveaways and how Instagram giveaways may lead to drop in engagement rate and organic reach of your account.

But first, a few words about how a traditional giveaway looks like.

Giveaway is a kind of contest in which you give a winner for free either your company’s product or some popular product or service, for example, an iPhone or a free visit to the hairdresser. The aim is to attract new followers, who as we assume are our potential customers.

Conditions may vary, but most often are that the contestant must perform one or more actions, such as:

  • follow your profile,
  • like a post,
  • mention 1-3 profiles of friends in a comments section,
  • make a post or a story and mention your profile.

Then you randomly or by some criteria choose the winner and voila.

Instagram does not like contests and sometimes removes such posts (please see the official rules). In some countries prize drawing is limited by law, but at the same time in many other countries (in Russia and Ukraine, for instance), the authorities do not care, and it is unlikely that someone was engaged in such cases seriously.

But this article is not about the legal consequences, but about the marketing risk of such giveaways. I also want to note that the described consequences refer to the commercial profiles of companies and not to the personal profiles of bloggers and influencers.

Modern giveaway on Instagram

Everyone loves when the number of followers grows. In particular, those of us who don’t really understand what the purpose of social media marketing is.

So the market does not stand still and the mechanism of giveaway has also evolved. Though in Europe and the US this type of giveaways are still not very popular, on Russian-speaking Instagram doing business on giveaways has developed dynamically over the past few years.

Modern giveaway is a contest in which, in addition to the users themselves, several dozen of people are involved:

  • several dozen of sponsors — companies that want to get followers through the contest;
  • the organizer (sometimes it is one of the sponsors);
  • and usually one highly popular influencer with hundreds of thousands to several million followers who is being used to promote the contest among his/her large audience.

The organizer takes money from sponsors, promising a certain amount of new followers (in Russia usually in the calculation of 1 follower = $0,02; in other countries prices may vary). He creates a new profile for the contest (so that if Instagram bans it, the main profile of the organizer or the influencer will be safe), then pays the influencer for the sponsored post which promotes the contest and buys the prize (or doesn’t buy, and pick his friend as the winner. Yes, there are a lot of scammers organizing such giveaways). The rest of the money from the sponsors is his profit.

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As you can see, the mechanism of a modern giveaway is a little more complicated, but the principle remains the same. Now users must simply follow not one profile, but 30, 50 or even 70 profiles, depending on the organizer’s greed.

How much does it cost to participate in such a contest? From a hundred to several thousands USD, depending on the promised number of followers.

The effects of giveaways

How does the growth of followers after giveaway look like? Roughly so:

Impressive growth, but let’s move on to the most important issue for you as a sponsor of such a contest.

What kind of followers do you gain through this “campaign”?

  • Most users are not in your target audience and most likely never will be.
  • Most of the followers are so-called bounty hunters, i.e. professional contestants who are also not interested in your products and services, and immediately after the end of the giveaway they will unfollow your profile. Sometimes they use fake profiles, created specifically for these giveaways and basically, never use them normally, so they will never see your content even again.
  • And, of course, bots :) If the organizer sees that he can not cope with the “guaranteed” number of follower, he buys bots.

What effects can you expected from such followers?

First, the vast majority of these users will never buy anything from you.

Second, and more painfully,  gaining such followers threatens your profile with a sharp drop in organic reach on the newsfeed .

Why is organic reach dropping after a giveaway?

Real users who came to you from the giveaway are not interested in your products and content, so within a few days, or after they see your another post in newsfeed, they will unfollow the profile.

It looks something like this:

First, you can see the growth of tens of thousands of followers (unfortunately no data available before 17.03), and then when the giveaway is over, there’s a wave of unfollows.

Honest giveaway organizers politely warn about this effect, estimating that about 30-50% of followers you gain after the giveaway will unfollow you soon. However, this number often reaches 80% during the following months. In other words, if the organizer guarantees you an increase of 10K subscribers, this also between the lines “guarantees” you a gradual outflow of 4/5 of them. Great deal, huh? 🙂

To reduce the number of such unfollows, some organizers give “followers increase guarantee”. How does it work?

After the contest week, but before the start of prize draw, sponsors are removed from the giveaway profile, so that it is more difficult for participants to find them all and unfollow even if they want… So in fact the organizers suggest that the contestants who are not interested in your profile and want to stop following it will hardly be able to do it.

What are the risks of a sharp outflow of followers?

According to Instagram experts (and it can be easily checked on your own), a sharp unfollows give a signal to the algorithm that there’s something wrong with a profile. Maybe it has started to send spam, or it has changed dramatically its main topic, the content isn’t interesting anymore, someone’s hacked it, or… something else? In any case, the algo decides that the rest of the followers should see your content less often. Just in case.

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In short, the Engagement Rate of your posts and then the organic reach starts to decrease. In practice it looks like this (case study by Russian marketing blog

How to get rid of these consequences and restore the previous organic reach?

No one knows the exact procedure. However, all work can be reduced to standard actions:

  • create attractive high quality content,
  • disconnect all external services like mass follow/unfollow (if you haven’t already),
  • attract real followers interested in your content using targeted ads or influencers,
  • pray.

Experienced giveaway members are well aware of these issues, but of course it is in their best interest not to speak publicly about the fact that there is a wave of unfollowing and declining of reach.

And some even came up with the idea to create a backup profile specifically for giveaway, which only shows the company’s products. If if any users will follow this profile even after the contest, then using all the forces you try to drag them in the main profile.

How to conduct an eco-friendly giveaway?

So is there a chance to have a giveaway which will attract your future customers?

Getting the relevant followers in this case becomes a real challenge. There is always a risk that your giveaway will attract people who are willing to make all your tasks, just for the reward, whatever it was. However, you can reduce the chance of attracting random users and to make it harder for bounty hunters.

To solve this problem, you must first filter the profiles with strict requirements and describe them in the giveaways terms, for example:

  • user profile must be opened during the contest,
  • real name must be specified in a profile,
  • profile photo must be a real,
  • the profile must have at least N posts and be active for at least a year (determined by the date of publication of the first photos),
  • rules can be tightened indefinitely 🙂

Then, to reduce the chance of attracting the wrong target group, it’s better to hold a giveaway with sponsors from your industry or a related one. For example, if you sell baby strollers, you can join forces with companies that sell toys, or children’s clothing. So more likely women with a child will participate in the giveaway.

The same goes for the influencer you invite to promote the contest. The interests of his followers should best match the products you sell. In this example, a blogger who is followed by young mothers will be suitable.

In addition, don’t forget about the rules of Instagram itself and general recommendations, for instance:

  • determine the acceptable age of the participants,
  • define the geographic / tax residence of the participants,
  • determine that Instagram is in no way affiliated with this contest.

I hope that these tips will help you avoid the risk that involves participation in group giveaways. Do you know any safe and effective ways to host an Instagram contest that can attract potential customers? Let me know in the comments :)

1 Comment

  • Missy
    31.10.2021 at 13:23

    I agree 100% with your point! I am always worried that giveaways will bring the attention of people who only expect to get things for free which may cause more harm in the long-term…

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