Its loyal users have closely followed its evolution from a simple photo-sharing app to the massive platform it is today.
With 22 percent of millennials ranking Instagram as their favorite social media platform, it’s no surprise that social media marketing professionals at trendy boutiques and high-end cosmetic companies have flocked to the platform.
Unfortunately, millennials’ favor for Instagram has been both a blessing and a curse. While many marketers are leveraging the photo-sharing network, even more marketing professionals are focusing their efforts elsewhere, based on the assumption that their audience just isn’t there.
Does that sound familiar?
If this is you, I’m going to tell it to you straight: you’re probably wrong, and, even worse, you may be missing out on a massive opportunity.
In this guide to Instagram marketing, we’ll take you through all of the reasons you should be on Instagram. Plus, give you some helpful hints toward building your Instagram strategy, setting objectives, and delivering results.
Let’s get started.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service originally created for smartphones. Since its inception in 2010, the platform has soared in popularity, especially among millennials. It has even created a whole new breed of celebrity, with seemingly every former-contestant on “The Bachelor” becoming the latest “Instagram influencer.”
Instagram marketing is the way that brands use Instagram to connect with their target audiences and market their offerings. Recently, it’s gained popularity as an exciting method for brands to show off their cultures, recruit new employees, engage with customers, and show off products in a new light.
Similar to Facebook and Twitter, everybody who creates an Instagram account has a profile and newsfeed. Users can interact with one another by following, being followed, private messaging, and commenting on or liking photos or videos. The in-app filters and editing options Instagram offers make the app unique because it was the first app to offer in-app editing to this extent.
Instagram allows users to upload photos and videos to their profile and edit them with various options. Instagram hosts dozens of original filters that users can add to their photos. These preset filters make various changes to photos, including adding light, giving the image a warm or cool tone, increasing or decreasing saturation, and much more. Additionally, users can edit images directly in the platform, as opposed to using a third-party photo editor. If they don’t like one particular filter, they can use Instagram’s editing feature, to individually change the contrast, brightness, structure, warmth, saturation, sharpness, and more.
Instagram was founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. The two Stanford graduates were pivoting from their original location check-in app, Burbn, due to its similarity to Foursquare. They decided to focus on photo sharing instead and developed the name Instagram as a portmanteau of “instant camera” and “telegram.” Instagram was launched for iOS on Oct. 6, 2010. After almost two years of continuous success, the app was launched for Android phones on April 3, 3012, and was downloaded more than 1 million times in less than a day.
Shortly after, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion. Since the acquisition, Instagram has continued to roll out new features. The year 2012 was a big one for the photo-sharing platform, as it also rolled out its website interface in November. The website interface was, and still is, limited in functionality (users are unable to upload photos from a computer – they must use their mobile device). However, it allows users to scroll through their feeds and view other users’ profiles from their desktops.
One of the features that prompted the most chatter and excitement came in June 2013, when Instagram introduced video sharing for the first time. Many speculated that this was to compete with Vine, the short-form video hosting app that was launched in 2012. Video sharing took off quickly and, in 2016, the time limit was increased from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.
In December 2013, Instagram introduced direct private-messaging. These messages can be in photo or text form and can include up to 15 people. However, quite possibly the most notable and controversial updates took place in 2016.
In 2016, Instagram replaced its original logo with a new, more modern and colorful version. The original logo was beige and brown, resembling an old-school, polaroid camera that Outkast sang about in its best (and only) hit. The revamped purple and orange design took some getting used to. And by that, we mean that we all had to search for at least 30 seconds when trying to find and open the Instagram app.
Additionally, in June of the same year, Instagram switched from its chronological old-to-new newsfeed to an algorithm-based feed. This change was released with the goal of ensuring the content users were seeing was the content they were most interested in. While its intentions were good, this change was met with quite a bit of controversy. Apparently, change is always difficult, even when it’s something as simple as our favorite social media platforms.
That said, one last change in August 2016 has proved to be massively successful – so much so that it gets its own section in this guide! Instagram released Instagram stories, a feature that allows users to take photos, add effects and layers, and post them to their Instagram stories. Similar to Snapchat stories, these disappeared after 24 hours, as opposed to a normal Instagram post (which only disappears if the user or Instagram deletes it). Stories don’t show up in a user’s Instagram grid but, instead, are indicated by a colored circle around the user’s profile picture.
Instagram stories have proved to be invaluable to users, influencers, and marketers alike. Audiences quickly embraced the short-form videos and images. Additionally, the new filters and features made the release even more desirable. Since its creation, I have yet to open up my Instagram app without seeing a multitude of different users’ stories stretched across the top of my screen.
Instagram users can also go live on their Instagram stories, meaning they can post a video that their followers can see in the moment. Think a giant group Facetime, with video only on one side while others just watch. As far as new features go, this has certainly been one of the most successful. Multiple studies have shown that consumers go nuts over live video. It creates a sense of urgency and truly allows a viewer to feel in the moment.
That’s not all. In its never-ending quest to continue innovating, Instagram launched Instagram TV (IGTV) in June 2018. For the first time, the app offered long-form, vertical video for users to watch and enjoy. IGTV differentiates itself from typical Instagram videos in a few ways. Unlike typical Instagram videos, IGTV videos don’t have a 60-second limit. Most notably, though, is the video’s vertical orientation. Instagram created this feature keeping in mind not just what users watch from their phones, but how.
IGTV is also exclusive to well-known and well-liked Instagram creators. Not just anybody can create or post a video on IGTV, making this content even more desirable.
There’s no doubt that Instagram will continue to release new and innovative features. For now, we’ll move on to what this guide is really about – what is Instagram marketing and why do we do it?
Now that we know what Instagram marketing is, we have to ask why we should use it?
There are dozens of social media platforms for marketers to choose from (such as Facebook marketing), with each and every one offering different features, opportunities, and nuances. For marketers, it’s all about understanding where your audience lives and what platform will enable you to best reach it.
With the growing popularity of Instagram marketing over recent years, the value is clear. If the features we listed above didn’t convince you of Instagram’s appeal, this might: the photo-sharing app recently celebrated 1 billion monthly active users. More importantly, these users are incredibly engaged, with more than 60 percent logging in every single day.
And that’s still not all. In this section, we’ll discuss the various other reasons marketers are flocking to Instagram to reach old and new audiences alike.
Consider learning How to Repost a Video on Instagram to further advance your marketing efforts.
Instagram's high levels of engagement
Mentioned above, more than 60 percent of Instagram users are logging in every day. Do you know what that means? Your customers could already be using Instagram to reach you or to talk about your business without you even knowing about it!
If you’ve scrolled through your Instagram feed recently, I’d be willing to bet you saw at least one post of a tasty-looking meal from the trendy restaurant that just opened up down the street. In fact, you probably saw many more than just one post like that. It’s a fact – people love sharing their best life on Instagram. I don’t remember the last time I was at brunch where anybody took a single bite of their food before whipping out their phone for a picture. If you work at an upscale, trendy restaurant or stylish boutique, it’s likely your offering has already been the subject of a customer’s Instagram post!
These are excellent opportunities to engage with your customers, but they could be wasted if you’re not on the platform on which they’re happening.
Instagram reaches new audiences through hashtags
Instagram makes it exceptionally easy to reach new audiences.
When you include a hashtag on your post, it creates a link that leads to every post that has been shared with that hashtag. This is why it’s essential to take advantage of hashtags.
You don’t want to go overboard (between five to 10 hashtags on a given post is a good rule of thumb), but taking advantage of popular and related hashtags will make your brand easier to discover.
I need two hands (and probably some of my toes) to count how many brands I’ve discovered on Instagram, thanks to its use of hashtags and influencer marketing. Something as simple as taking advantage of trending hashtags can be an effective aspect of your Instagram marketing strategy.
Create content for your other marketing channels
If you’re a time-strapped social media marketer (aren’t we all?), you understand the struggle of keeping the content on all of your various social media channels fresh, relevant, and compelling.
This can be even tougher when it comes to sourcing images for your Facebook and Twitter accounts. As marketers, we know that social media users love a post with visuals. In fact, they regularly see more engagement than posts with only text. However,, we don’t want to slap up a stock photo with every Facebook status or include a subpar picture in a tweet just for the sake of having an image.
What’s so unique and valuable about Instagram is that it allows you to simultaneously create content for your other marketing channels. You can either save images and repurpose them later or link your Instagram account to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, sharing them directly.
While just about anybody can be found on Instagram, the photo-sharing platform is especially popular among millennials. Nearly 60 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds use Instagram, which is why trendy boutiques and restaurants do so well on the platform. As much as I hate when people say millennials are killing chain restaurants (I still love my Chili’s), I can’t argue that our generation loves to post pictures of a decked out milkshake or the neon sign at Chicago’s most-photographed brunch spot.
If millennials aren’t your target demographic, don’t shy away from Instagram just yet. Since its launch, the platform has continued to gain popularity among older age groups. In fact, 33 percent of 30-to-49-year-olds and 18 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds are active on the platform – two numbers that iterate the idea that the platform really is for everybody.
Instagram also sees users from various location demographics. Unsurprisingly, 39 percent of adults living in urban areas use Instagram. However, the platform also hosts 31 percent of adults living in rural areas and 28 percent of adults living in suburban areas.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Okay, so it sounds like everybody uses Instagram. Where’s she going with this?”
Well, that’s exactly why I’m saying all of this. In the past, marketers have shown hesitation about implementing an Instagram marketing strategy. Whether it’s because it doesn’t have the same massive user population of Facebook or because it’s not our president’s social media of choice, professionals have strayed away. I’m here to say that if you’re not on Instagram, you are missing out. Your audience is there, and if you don’t reach them, your competitors will.
A social media marketer knows that before you dive into a new platform, you have to first develop your strategy. Because each platform offers different opportunities and nuances, you can’t assume that what works on one will bring you success on another – no matter how similar they may seem.
With Instagram, building a solid strategy is of the utmost importance. Each post needs to contain a unique combination of an eye-catching photo or video, a compelling caption, and relevant hashtags to help users discover your brand. In this section, we’ll walk you step-by-step through developing your Instagram strategy.
TIP: Before diving into your Instagram business strategy, consider taking an online photography course for your business.
Determine your Instagram strategy objectives
The first step is determining what you hope to achieve through this social media platform. Ask yourself what your brand’s purpose will be. Instagram is thrilling in that organizations can use it in tons of different ways, so your options are endless!
I would also recommend doing a social media competitor analysis to see how others in your industry are leveraging Instagram.
Still feeling uninspired? Don’t worry! Below, we’ll highlight some common ways that brands choose to leverage the tool.
Show off your brand’s culture
Instagram is fun, informal, and filled with exciting opportunities to show off what makes your organization so incredible – your employees! If your company prides itself on its culture, Instagram provides an excellent opportunity for you.
When showing off your culture, your employees are your best resource. Here at G2 Crowd, we regularly ask employees to send in pictures of themselves wearing their G2 gear on their travels – the cooler the location, the better! We’ve even created our own branded hashtag to accompany these pictures: #G2Gear.
G2 Crowd isn’t the only one encouraging its employees to rep their company. SaaS mogul Salesforce has an individual Instagram account to show off their employees, with more than 12,000 followers to show for it! Encouraging your employees to submit photos not only makes your life easier (hello, crowdsourced content!), but ensures that every employee, no matter what department they’re in, feels like they’re contributing.
You can also use your Instagram account to post pictures of fun team building activities, company events, and your sweet digs. The bottom line is this: people want to do business with other people, not companies. Leveraging Instagram to display your culture will help to humanize your brand and connect more closely with your audience.
Speaking of connecting with your audience, let’s get to our next point!
Engage with customers and increase loyalty on Instagram
As mentioned above, there’s a good chance your customers are already posting about your brand on Instagram, and you may not even know it! There are a few ways to see if your customers are already talking about you. If you’re a restaurant or boutique, try posting a picture and tagging your location as your address. From there, you should be able to click on the location and see what other images have been posted tagging that same address.
From there, you can go on to like and comment on your customers’ posts. If they’ve posted about your brand more than once, follow them so that you’ll see the post next time they do! You can even consider sending them a direct message with a special offer or discount. This will make your customers feel special and will likely increase their brand loyalty.
If you don’t have a customer-facing physical location (think eCommerce sites or B2B companies), you can still see if your customers are mentioning you! Try searching for the a hashtag #YourCompanyName and you’ll see posts that it has been mentioned in. From there, you can engage in the same way we mentioned above!
A great way to use Instagram to engage with your customers is reposting their pictures. This strategy is a win-win for businesses. You’re getting stellar content without having to create it yourself while, simultaneously, encouraging your customers to continue posting about your brand!
And of course, you can use Instagram's messaging feature to send your customers an Instagram DM. This is a simple way to offer social media customer service, or just say thanks for being a loyal follower!
Increased brand awareness
I know, I know – people can use any social media channel to increase brand awareness, right?
While you’re not wrong, Instagram’s nature presents a unique opportunity. If you have a niche audience (think B2B software companies, shipping companies, etc.), this certainly isn’t an opportunity you want to pass up.
You may have avoided social media in the past because, well, let’s tell it like it is: your product may be a little boring. That’s what is so exciting about Instagram. Through proper photography and guidance, you can turn even the most boring of niches into a compelling brand that people are excited to follow on Instagram.
Take it from MailChimp, a marketing automation and email marketing platform. Admittedly, not the most exciting of products, right? That said, it still has a stellar Instagram profile that boasts more than 80,000 followers.
So, how is Mailchimp pulling that off?
Content, content, and more (aesthetically pleasing) content.
And no, it’s not posting about email marketing software. Instead, the behind-the-scenes marketers take motivational stories of the brand’s most compelling customers and share them with followers of the brand. Other times, a decked out picture of the MailChimp mascot (unsurprisingly, a chimp) will be posted, paired with a witty caption. For the most part, though, the brand isn’t talking about its offering. And when it does? It’s turned into valuable content that humanizes the brand and connects the audience to the brand.
Whatever Mailchimp is doing, it’s working. I’d be willing to bet that there are a lot of non-MailChimp users who follow the brand’s Instagram simply because it’s interesting. This is what I mean when I say Instagram provides a unique opportunity to increase brand awareness. As long as you’re posting the proper content, you can grow your brand, even if you have a niche audience.
Connect with Instagram Influencers
As mentioned earlier, Instagram has created an entirely new breed of celebrity: the Instagram influencer. These celebrities can be famous food bloggers, contestants from reality TV shows, or even users who have simply built a following by providing relevant and intriguing content that tells their story, and anyone in between.
Becoming an influencer is no easy feat. It’s much more than just posting pictures and hoping for the best. These social media users have unlocked the secret to Instagram and continued to work hard to keep up with their profiles.
Depending on your offering, connecting with these influencers is an exciting opportunity that’s unique to Instagram’s platform. If your target audience overlaps with their following, then leveraging influencer marketing can certainly pay off – but it doesn’t come cheap. Popular Instagram influencer Rachel Brathen, known to the Instagram world as her handle, @yoga_girl, charges upwards of $25,000 for a single post. However, one could argue that the exposure to her 2 million-plus followers is more than worth it.
If you don’t have the budget to shell out the big bucks, consider connecting with Instagram influencers anyway. Many of the up-and-coming social media celebs will give your product an unbiased review on their profiles for nothing more than a sample of the product itself.
Brands will often use Instagram to connect with these influencers as it expands their audiences and legitimizes their offerings.
Those are just a few of the common goals brands have when they implement an Instagram strategy. While these are great starting points, remember that each organization is unique, so your goals should be too! Choose carefully, as your objectives will guide the content you produce when you share it, including your captions, Instagram stories, and just about everything else that lives on your Instagram profile!
Identify your Instagram audience
Based on your objectives and typical audience demographics and Instagram’s demographics, you’ll determine your Instagram audience.
This step is vital, as the results will likely surprise you. In fact, your Instagram audience may be much larger than you’d expect!
Take a look at the target audience your marketing team is already going after. This is the most solid starting point, and, frankly, ignoring this step will probably mean more work for you in the long run.
Once you’ve determined your current marketing personas, start exploring Instagram itself. Consider using a social media monitoring software tool to check out the conversations that are happening around your services already – not your specific brand, but the discussions happening around the general topic.
Understanding what people are saying, and, more importantly, who is saying it, is essential. This will enable you to start determining how these Instagram users fit into your current marketing personas. When you find out how they fit, you can further personalize the personas to make your Instagram content more relevant to your audience.
Once you’ve identified your Instagram audience, you’ve gotten through a majority of the heavy lifting. Now we’ll get to the fun part – determining what you’ll post and why.
Build content themes
The next step to building your Instagram strategy is to create content themes. Simply put, these themes will be topic clusters that guide the content you create. You can brainstorm these based on the objectives you previously determined and the audience you identified.
For example, if one of your objectives is to show off your company culture, one of your topic themes may be employee desks. From there, you can brainstorm various images and videos you could create to fit that theme. In this case, you could allow multiple employees to take pictures and videos that show off their personalities through their workspaces.
Another example of a content theme could be motivational quotes. From here, you could find various motivational quotes that relate to your business and brainstorm creative ways to showcase these quotes. These could also fit in with already-popular hashtags like #WednesdayWisdom or #MondayMotivation.
Your content themes should inspire your posts, but don’t be afraid to veer off if you have an idea that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the theme! These can be a great starting off point, but they don’t need to be the end-all-be-all of your Instagram marketing strategy.
Once you have a substantial list of content themes and a few ideas brainstormed for each one, begin to build out your content calendar.
Build your Instagram marketing content calendar
Instagram offers a stellar opportunity to engage with your ideal audience, so you’ll want to post regularly and ensure your account stays up-to-date. To do this, create a content calendar that keeps in mind key dates, campaigns, and the best days and times to post on Instagram.
As with all social media calendars, this should be flexible. While Instagram isn’t entirely as spontaneous as Facebook and Twitter, as the posts typically require more time to create, there will still be occasions where you will want to veer away from your original plan.
While keeping your tentative calendar in mind is essential, it’s even more critical to focus on the best times and days to post on Instagram. Sprout Social, a social media management software tool, conducted comprehensive research on the subject and determined that the best time to post is Wednesday at 3 p.m.; Thursday at 5 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3-to-4 p.m.; and Friday at 5 a.m.
Overall, the best day to post on Instagram is Thursday, and the safest times to post to Instagram are Tuesday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. If you want to reach your audience best, try to avoid posting on Sunday, as it’s the least engaging day for Instagram.
Establish your company's Instagram brand guidelines
The final step in developing your Instagram strategy is to establish your brand guidelines.
Just as your organization likely has a business website, logo, various graphics, and more, that all follow a similar visual aesthetic and color scheme, your Instagram should too!
I know – this sounds like a lot of work. And, I’ll be honest with you, it is. Taking the time to edit each photo and ensure it fits with your brand’s aesthetic is indeed an extra step that other social media platforms don't require. That said, it’s more than worth it. This step can be the difference between having an Instagram profile that looks cluttered and disorganized and having an Instagram profile that looks like your favorite influencer developed it.
An example of a company that excels at this is Airbnb. The brand’s Instagram feed takes viewers on vacation, with each and every photo using a similar editing technique and filter. Each image consists of a similar color scheme of light blues, cool greys, and neutrals, which makes scrolling through the brand’s feed almost as enjoyable and relaxing as staying in one of their locations on holiday.
Congratulations! Now that you’ve established all of this, you have the means to build your Instagram marketing strategy. You’ve gotten to the fun part – filling your Instagram page with great content that drives results.
Speaking of content that drives results, let’s talk actual Instagram posts. While every brand that’s successful on Instagram leverages a unique Instagram marketing strategy, there are certain types of posts that have proven to be successful across the board.
In this section, we’ll highlight the types of posts that have proven to be crowd-favorites. These can be customized to fit your specific brand’s typical messaging.
Motivational Instagram posts
Regardless of your audience, everybody loves good motivational quotes or a feel-good story. In fact, you probably come across these pretty frequently on the ‘gram, and for a good reason! They perform, and they’re pretty easy to put together.
If you choose to build these posts, try your best to make them relevant to your audience. For example, HubSpot is a B2B software company that posts motivational quotes on its profile semi-regularly. While this is a practice that could quickly get tired, HubSpot keeps it fresh by posting quotes focused on business or success (which its audience likely appreciates) and keeping the image itself colorful and eye-catching.
You’ll also see in the example below that it takes advantage of hashtags in a significant way. On this particular post, the hashtags tell the story featuring the phrases #GoalCrusher and #WorkGrind.
Motivational posts don’t always have to be a single quote.
For a story that will resonate with your audience, consider seeking out a customer who has used your product as a means to become successful. Let them use your platform to tell their story. Not only does this humanize your brand and enable you to connect with your audience, but it legitimizes your offering.
Crowd-sourced Instagram images
Between finding your subject, capturing photos, editing those photos, and writing your captions, posting to your Instagram can require quite a bit of time and effort.
If you’re looking to simplify this process and get a successful post, look no further than your audience!
If you see somebody has featured your product or service in one of their Instagram posts, you can repost the image to your own account and tag the original poster. This is a win-win – you flatter your customer, engage with them, and get a visually appealing Instagram post without the time spent messing with the contrast and brightness.
Additionally, as more followers see that you share customer posts, they’ll become more likely to feature your product in the future, meaning even more effortless posts for you.
Chicago-based RXBar is my absolute favorite example to use when it comes to reposting customer Instagram posts. Customers love to bring their no-nonsense protein bars with them on their travels, meaning the recognizable packaged snack often ends up in some pretty cool locations. When the customer posts a picture, RXBar will often share the image on its own account, tagging the poster and exposing the image to its 260,000-plus followers.
Day-in-the-life Instagram posts
Here at G2 Crowd, we love a good day-in-the-life post. And we’re not the only brand that feels this way.
Showing off your employees on your Instagram can be an essential reminder to potential customers that they’re doing business with people, not with a company. If your goal is to promote your culture, then you definitely want to take advantage of this opportunity. Your audience will enjoy seeing what your employees are up to, and you can even consider letting your employees take the wheel!
At G2 Crowd, we do employee Instagram takeovers on Fridays. For the whole day, one employee is given access to our Instagram account and shows our audience what their typical day looks like. Not only is this a fun way to get employees who aren’t in marketing involved in our social media strategy, but the takeovers have proven very successful regarding gaining followers (you can leverage your employees’ audiences).
Culture posts can show off something as extravagant as your company Christmas party or as simple as your employee’s various workspaces – hopefully, your colleagues don’t have six empty coffee mugs on their desks like I do.
More than anything, this strategy keeps your content compelling by pulling in different people, locations, points of view, events, and more. Your customers are likely wondering about the people working behind-the-scenes. This tactic shows off your stellar team and builds rapport with your audience.
Posts that show off your product or offering were probably the first thought that crossed your mind when introducing your Instagram marketing strategy, and rightfully so. If you’re a B2C brand with an exciting offering, it’s natural to want to show it off to your customers (and, it’s probably what you’re most well-known for).
When it comes to a product post, creativity is critical. Instagram is littered with these, so it’s essential that you feature your product in an eye-catching environment and take a high-quality picture.
Consider this post from B2C giant, Coca-Cola. A bottle of pop isn’t the most interesting photo subject. That said, Coca-Cola built a scene that incorporated the brand’s well-known color scheme and told a story.
If you’re going to show off a product that everybody (and I mean everybody) has seen before, you darn-well better make it interesting – Coca-Cola did just that.
You can also use Instagram to unveil a new product or logo redesign. When Diet Coke changed its logo for the first time since 2007 (can you tell I’m not a Pepsi girl?) and announced three new flavors, it turned to Instagram to tell its customers.
If you’re marketing for a restaurant, don’t even get me started on the opportunities you have in this space. We eat with our eyes first, don’t we? Make your restaurant the talk of the town by sharing your most popular dishes using hashtags to get the word out.
Whether you’re unveiling a new product or showing off your current offering in a new light, always ensure your pictures are well thought out, fit your brand guidelines, and appeal to your audience.
Influencer Instagram posts
Earlier in this guide, we mentioned Instagram and the new breed of celebrity it’s creating: the Instagram influencer.
These influencers have revolutionized word-of-mouth marketing. Brands often opt to feature industry-relevant influencers in their social media posts to legitimize their brands, reach new audiences, and connect with their existing fans even further. Influencers can also help brands go viral on Instagram through their large, dedicate followers.
Instagram is an excellent platform on which to connect with various social media influencers. These social media stars have already built up a following of their own, so these posts typically perform exceedingly well. If you’re interested in connecting with an influencer, consider how other brands in a similar industry have gone about it before. Does the influencer post from their own account? Or, do they do a sort of “takeover” on the brand’s account?
Whichever way you decide to approach this, always remember a few key rules:
- Be transparent with your audience about which relationships are paid versus unpaid.
- Never pay somebody on the basis that they have to give you a positive review (fun fact: not only will your customers see right through this, but it’s also illegal!).
- Be sure the influencers you choose to engage with are well-respected and relevant to your organization.
Instagram influencers offer a unique opportunity to connect with a new audience, but the relationship comes with its fair share of risks. Be sure to play by the rules and your influencer posts will likely bring you the results you’re hoping for.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed’s Tasty Instagram account has blown up in recent years.
Tasty is a short-form video blog that gives simple and visually compelling recipe tutorials.
Consumers (myself included) love tutorials. If you can show me step-by-step how to turn cauliflower into a pizza in less than 30 seconds, you betcha I’ll take the time to watch the video. More importantly, I’ll be sure to follow you on Instagram to make sure I don’t miss the next one.
The great thing about tutorial posts is that you can personalize them based on your brand’s purpose. Is your organization an online clothing boutique? Consider showing your audience how to style that cute new blouse you just released. If you work for a well-known restaurant, you can show your followers how to recreate your family burger from the comfort of their own home.
These posts should be short, compelling, and educational, keeping your viewer both informed and entertained.
Instagram video content
Last, but certainly not least, is any and all video content.
If you’re a social media marketer, I probably don’t even need to say this (but I will).
Consumers love video, and Instagram videos garner more than three times the amount of comments than sponsored Instagram photos.
While these posts will likely do you good, Instagram recently released a marketer’s newest secret weapon: Instagram stories.
If you’re a social media marketer, you’ve no doubt heard of the recent trend that’s appealed to consumers, celebrities, and marketers: Instagram stories.
Instagram launched stories in August 2016. Over the past two years, this new feature has become more than just marketing’s latest buzzword. If you’re on Instagram, but have yet to include stories in your marketing strategy, then I have one question for you.
What are you waiting for?
In this section, we’ll give you all you need to know about Instagram stories, including what they are, why you should be using them, and how you can expect to see results.
Instagram stories, in their simplest form, are Instagram posts that disappear 24 hours after being shared. Unlike a typical Instagram post, Instagram stories don’t appear on your profile grid. Instead, they appear at the top of a users’ feed when they open the app. On your individual profile, a user will know you have a story posted if there’s a colorful ring around your profile picture.
Instagram stories offers a unique opportunity on a platform that, otherwise, requires quite a bit of time spent on each post. Not to mention, the name of this feature fits it well – it truly is all about storytelling. Your Instagram story should feature real, candid, and uncut experiences, and, let me tell you, audiences will go crazy for it.
While posting stories may sound like just another social media tactic to take up your time, believe me when I say that leveraging this feature will be more than worth it. They feature the same lighthearted and fun content as Snapchat, without the need to build an entirely new audience on another social networking platform. And, unlike standard Instagram posts that can get lost in your audience’s feed, your Instagram stories is easily accessible sitting right at the top of the app.
Instagram stories are also incredibly interactive. To dress them up, you can write or doodle on the images, place filters, tag users, and more. You can even ask a poll-type question to which your audience can respond. Recently, Instagram rolled out the most interactive feature yet – the ability for your audience to ask you a question that you can then respond to on your Instagram story. If your primary objective is to engage with your audience, then the possibilities are endless.
Unlike a typical Instagram picture, you can see which users are viewing your Instagram story. If you post more than one image or video, creating a series, you can see if they’re clicking through all the way. This is a simple feature that can be massively intuitive.
Say you posted eight images on your Instagram story, but after the third, there was a significant drop off in viewers. You can easily go back to that third image, see what may have gone wrong (Was it boring? Potentially insulting? See? It’s easy to troubleshoot!), and adjust your strategy for next time.
Instagram stories are a simple and less time-consuming way to keep your audience engaged. If we’ve convinced you, don’t forget to check out our guide on using Instagram stories for business.
Now that we’ve hammered home the importance of posting valuable content, we should probably let you in on the secrets behind actually creating that content. In this section, we’ll give you some best practices for curating content that truly performs.
If you’ve developed your Instagram objectives and built out your content themes, you should have a multitude of ideas to turn to when your Instagram profile is in need of some fresh content. That said, it’s not where the hard work ends.
Instagram is a photo-sharing platform. The photo itself is key. You shouldn’t take a picture just to post one, and you certainly shouldn’t post just any picture. When you’ve determined your subject matter, be sure to keep in mind the following photography best practices. I know – it sounds like a lot of work. But I can tell you the brands that are absolutely slaying the Instagram game are taking the time to do this and seeing the results.
When selecting your subject matter, keep one thing in the front of your mind: does my audience want to see this? If the answer is no, then you don’t need to abandon the idea entirely! Just adjust and adapt until it’s a picture that your audience will be interested in. For example, check out this old-school G2 Crowd Instagram post from 2016. Let’s call this the “what not to do.” We had an employee yoga day and were excited to show it off to our Instagram followers! However, selecting a group picture probably wasn’t our best option. The majority of your Instagram audience likely doesn’t know your employees, so this picture was, well, dull.
On the other hand, a different brand showed off almost the same subject matter (an employee yoga day) in a much more compelling matter. Check out the example below from Hootsuite, a B2B software tool.
This photo is more colorful, enticing, and all around will appeal to a much larger audience. Showing off employee life is an excellent way to use your Instagram account, but be sure to do so in a way that will still satisfy the wants of your audience.
When you’re taking pictures for your Instagram (or just for life in general), always remember one thing: the rule of thirds. If you’ve ever taken a photography 101 class, this will probably sound familiar. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it was the first thing you learned!
The rule of thirds is an essential rule in basic photography. The principle behind it is to imagine that your image is broken down into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so that you have a grid containing nine parts.
The rule claims that the primary subject of your image shouldn’t be centered, but, instead, placed at one of the four middle intersections. As an example, consider this picture I took last year on a trip to Seattle. When you place the grid over it, the primary subject (the Public Market sign) is on the intersections instead of centered.
The rule of thirds is a simple way to make your photo more balanced and allows viewers to interact with the subject more naturally. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the interactions, so framing your subject in the center works against our natural inclination.
Already taken pictures that you’d like to repurpose? No worries! There are plenty of apps out there that will enable you to crop and reframe images to fit within the guidelines.
Following this simple rule will make your entire profile more visually enticing, and that’s our end goal, right?
I’m about to tell you the same thing my mother told me nearly every day of my childhood (except for the days where our Chicago suburb didn’t get above 30 degrees).
As often as possible, try to take your pictures in natural light. If it’s absolutely impossible to get outside, shooting your subject near an open window or setting up an indoor lighting kit is a great alternative.
Natural light can be the defining factor in a photo looking high-quality or tacky. If you’re snapping pictures in an office setting, this step is even more critical – those fluorescent overheads aren’t doing anybody any favors.
Once you’ve taken your picture (keeping in mind those best practices, of course), you can edit it to fit the brand guidelines you established earlier. You can use Instagram’s in-platform editor or one of the various smartphone apps. Are you curious about the different apps out there? Be sure to check out our post on the best photo editing apps for your smartphone.
Once your photo is up to your standards and per your established brand guidelines, it’s time to write your Instagram caption!
How to write an Instagram caption
While Instagram is a photo-sharing platform, that doesn’t mean you can entirely disregard your writing your caption. An effective Instagram caption will encourage engagement, and that’s what we’re always hoping for.
Your Instagram caption can be up to 2,200 characters in length and include up to 30 hashtags. They can also include emojis, but tread cautiously. If your caption is an essay chock full of distracting emojis and irrelevant hashtags, your audience may keep scrolling. As always, consider your audience when putting together your caption. Does this provide more context? Does it encourage interactions from your viewers? If not, you may want to go back to the drawing board.
Experiment with different variations, like asking your audience questions they can answer in the comments or encouraging them to complete a call-to-action. Engagement is key on Instagram, and the more comments and likes your picture receives, the higher in the feed Instagram’s algorithm will place it.
Do you remember those brand guidelines we mentioned? It’s not just your pictures that should adhere to them. When writing your caption, you should always keep in mind the written voice of your brand. What are the typical attributes you associate it with? Whether it’s fun, authoritative, bold, whimsical, or any combination, your Instagram captions should strive to maintain your organization’s tone.
As always, be sure to edit your caption. While social media can be informal, the casual environment doesn't give you an excuse to write a caption with grammatical or spelling errors!
For more on how to write that perfect Instagram caption, check out our best practices guide here.
Additionally, in recent months, Instagram has allowed its users to add Instagram alt text to new and old photos.
As marketers, we’re all about the results. If every single one of our efforts isn’t pushing the needle on a company goal, then what’s the point?
Measuring success with your social media campaigns is especially important, as success looks different on every platform. In this section, we’ll highlight some important Instagram metrics that will help you determine whether your strategy is working toward your objectives or falling flat.
Follower growth rate
Boasting a large Instagram following can be a great indicator of your organization’s success on the platform. If that number doesn’t continue to grow, though, you may not be expanding your reach quite as much as you’d like to be.
On a similar note, most people may think that if you don’t have a lot of followers, you aren’t doing well. That may be true in some cases, but if you have a high growth rate, you could be well on your way to success. That’s why tracking growth rate is just as important (if not more so) as your actual number of followers.
Your follower growth rate is a percentage that you can calculate by dividing how many new followers you get over a period of time (let’s say a month) by how many followers you had at the beginning of that period.
As an example, let’s say you started in April 2018 with 1,200 Instagram followers. Throughout the month of April, your profile gained 120 followers (for the sake of a simple equation). Your growth rate would come out to be 10 percent, which is excellent! On the other hand, if your account only gained 30 followers over the month, your growth rate would be 2.5 percent, which could indicate that your reach is stagnating.
Learn more about How to Get More Followers on Instagram.
Instagram comments received
Getting a ton of likes per post is flattering, sure, but when it comes to Instagram, comments are key.
Why is that?
Comments indicate engagement, which is our primary goal. Anybody can double-tap a picture, but it takes time to think through and type out a comment. If a follower is willing to spend that time on your organization, then congratulations! Your content resonated with them.
More importantly, Instagram’s algorithm recognizes comments as a stronger engagement than likes. And because Instagram’s algorithm ranks posts in its feed based on levels of engagement, receiving more comments will lead to your post being higher up in your followers’ feeds.
Engagements per Instagram follower
As we mentioned above, followers are an important metric, but they aren’t the end-all-be-all of your Instagram marketing strategy.
If you have a large following, but not a ton of likes or comments on your posts, you could be in trouble. That’s why we look at the metric that tells you your engagement relative to the size of your audience – engagements per follower.
To calculate your engagements per follower, divide the number of likes or comments on a post by the number of followers you had at the time of that post.
Calculate your engagements per follower ratio semi-regularly overtime to see if your engagement rate is growing. If so, congratulations! Not only is your page resonating with your followers, but it’s becoming a priority to them, as they’re continuing to come back and interact with your content.
Instagram story engagement
This metric is a bit more complicated, as there are a few ways you can look at this number.
Whenever you post an Instagram story, be sure to check how many people are viewing it. If you post more than one, then it’s also important to see how many people are clicking all the way through it. If 100 people view the first slide of your Instagram story, but only 10 people click all the way through to the end, there’s probably something you could improve for next time.
Additionally, you can see how many followers are interacting when you post poll-like questions or how many questions you’re being asked when you give your followers the opportunity. You can look at these engagements based on your total number of followers, or based on the total amount of people viewing your story.
Still not on Instagram? What are you waiting for?
I hope this guide left you feeling well-informed on Instagram and its multitude of opportunities for marketers. As the social media platform is regularly releasing new features, be sure to check back to this guide for plenty of updates and even more best practices!