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As you can imagine, we get a LOT of questions about social media platform rules for competitions, contests and giveaways. Whilst we have our very popular quick reference guide to social media competition rules blog post that outlines the rules of running a competition on every social media platform; every so often people still have questions about interpreting those rules and what might be considered a ‘grey area’.

One such question had us scratching our heads, so we decided to get our Sherlock hat on and investigate… Are ‘tag a friend in the comments’ competitions allowed on Instagram?

What do the official Instagram contest rules say about tagging?

Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines state that if you use the platform to run a promotion, such as a contest, sweepstake or competition that…

“You must not inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content (example: don’t encourage people to tag themselves in photos if they aren’t in the photo).”

So you may be thinking, what’s the problem? We’re just tagging friends in the comments, Instagram only told us not to tag themselves in photos they aren’t in.

Well, the problem is that not getting people to tag themselves in photos they’re not in is just one example, not the rule. The rule states you must not encourage users to inaccurately tag content.

So do comments count as content?

Excellent question. With our magnifying glass out and Sherlock Holmes hat on (we didn’t go as far as to light up the pipe) we turned to our faithful sidekick. Not Watson, but Google.

We wanted to know what counted as ‘content’ according to Instagram, so we could know definitively what ‘content’ users are allowed to tag and whether comments counted in that definition of content.

We found something far more interesting…

What’s the difference between tags and mentions on Instagram?

Though we hoping for a clear definition of ‘content’, we instead stumbled upon Instagram’s help centre page on ‘Tagging and mentions’.

Interestingly, all of the tagging questions relate to tagging a user in a photo or video, as the contest rules forbid.

But all of the mentioning rules for instagram specifically talk about comments only:

Image shows a screenshot from Instagram’s ‘Tagging and Mentions’ help page that says ‘How do I mention someone on Instagram’.

In response to the question “How do Activity notifications work on Instagram”, the social media platform again uses the word tags for photos and videos or stories only and uses the word mentions for comments:

Image shows a screenshot from Instagram’s ‘Tagging and Mentions’ help page that says ‘How do activity notifications work on Instagram’.

Mention (tag) a friend in the comments competitions should comply with the rules.

Based on Instagram’s own definitions of the difference between tagging someone in a photo (not permitted as part of a competition if they’re not in the photo) and mentioning someone in the comments (not specifically prohibited in Instagram’s contest rules); tag a friend in the comments competitions should therefore comply with Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines.


Disclaimer: we say should comply with Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines, because of course, the only way we’ll find out for sure is to run a tag a friend in the comments competition on Instagram, have the post/contest reported and see if the account is shut down or not…

A risky strategy, dear Watson and one that we would not recommend trying out.

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So what should I do instead of tag a friend competitions?

Another excellent question.

In light of Apple’s iOS 14 changes, Facebook punishing Australia by not allowing us to post news on the platform and of course mercurial algorithms; our advice to our clients is to change tactics to start building up owned databases through ‘enter your email to win’ style competitions instead of putting all your eggs in one social media basket.

This doesn’t mean you can’t encourage follows, likes and tags on social media – it just means tagging, liking and following won’t be your primary entry method.

So what can you do instead of a tag a friend competition? We’re glad you asked…


Confused? Don’t be, it’s simple.

Your entry method is ‘head to our website, enter your name and email and you’re in the draw to win a romantic retreat for two’, but your promotional material says ‘Don’t forget to head to our website to enter to win a romantic retreat for two. When you’ve done that, we’d love to know in the comments who would you take on your romantic retreat for two if you’re our lucky winner?’

We guarantee you 90% of the time, people will tag their friends and loved ones in the comments when asked, though it’s not an official entry requirement.

The outcome? You get the tags without breaking a single rule.


We all know the real reason you want people to tag their friends is because you’re hoping to gain more followers when those tagged friends see the post.

So why not cut to the chase and just ask for the followers instead?

Yes, you could run a ‘follow us to win’ style competition, which will boost your following if promoted in the right way, but then you risk mass unfollowing after you announce your winner – particularly if you didn’t get the right followers.

So when you’re running your enter your email to win competition, send them a confirmation email following their entry, thanking them for entering and reminding them to follow you on social media and provide links to your profile/page.

Not only will you gain followers (win) but you’ll only gain quality follows from people who know you and love you (win win) and won’t unfollow you in a tantrum when their name isn’t announced as a winner.

As a bonus, your email provider will love you as you’re sending emails people are engaging with and clicking on – helping you land in their inboxes in the future, instead of their junk (win win win!).

It’s elementary, my dear Watson. 

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

So what have we learnt about Instagram tag a friend in the comments competitions? We’ve learnt that they probably, technically are permitted given that Instagram only prohibits tagging content inaccurately and they only define @-ing someone in a photo or video as tagging – not @-ing someone in the comments, which they define as mentioning. We’ve also learnt that there are far more clever ways to get the tags and follows that don’t risk your account being shut down – such as asking people to tag friends in the comments but not as an entry requirement and just flat out asking people to follow you, because that’s the end goal of tagging anyway, right?

Still confused? Still unsure? Have a competition rules question you want clarified? We get it, it’s a veritable minefield of rules and regulations and we’re here to help you navigate it, so book in a free strategy session with our team, or get in touch with us via our contact page.