Instagram recently announced that they’ve gained over 300 million users, even surpassing their much older cousin Twitter. “Over the past four years, what began as two friends with a dream has grown into a global community that shares more than 70 million photos and videos each day,” writes co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom of Instagram, a Facebook-owned social photo-sharing app born in 2010. Not to mention users tap the like button 2.5 million times daily, proving that I am not the only like-aholic out there.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit the moment my alarm starts ringing I swipe right on my iPhone and instantly open my Instagram app. There’s something so pleasing and addicting about scrolling through my visual feed to start the day. Double tapping the heart when something is like-worthy is invigorating. Yes, I have read all of the health studies that advise against starting your day in front of a screen, but it’s a guilty pleasure that I haven’t been able to kick (one to add to my New Year’s resolution list perhaps).
Luckily, I’m not alone! I frequently catch my roommate scrolling through her feed in bed, not to mention my parents both have their own accounts (my dad recently read me his entire list of followers – it didn’t take very long).
But who’s on Instagram? Is it primarily a Justin Bieber following demographic or are we looking at an upper-class, chess-playing retirement community? After reading various studies the demographics vary, but lean towards a more youthful audience, the largest percentage of users falling into the 18-34 year old zone. A study conducted by BI Intelligence found that the app is skewed towards urban, youthful women.
If that isn’t the audience you’re targeting, you still should not dismiss the social network as a useless opportunity, because almost every male I know is on Instagram, and I would predict that each year more and more adults over 34 will be hopping on the Instagram bandwagon. Why do I predict this? Because it’s exactly what happened with Instagram’s parent company, Facebook. As most of you are aware Facebook started at Harvard, branched out slowly to other ivy-leagues, colleges across the country, and now has a wide international presence and includes demographics of every age, gender, race, etc. (I’d be willing to bet that your parents are on Facebook).
In simple terms, it’s become a global phenomenon. But yet, it is true, the older you get the less likely you will be on the cutting edge of social media trends. For the lucky ones who have kids, youthful friends or coworkers to keep them young (like my parents) they’re likely to join these networks early-on and become just as, if not more addicted then younger generations. After a certain degree of popularity the older generations are bound to hop on the bandwagon. Also Instagram being a Facebook owned company is only going to speed-up the growth process for the newer platform (Facebook has an audience of over 1.3 billion monthly active users, which continues to grow at a ridiculously rapid rate).
So if everyone who’s anyone is either on or likely to join Instagram, then why isn’t your business? Yes, I understand that your priorities may lie elsewhere, but if you can spare a few minutes a day or even a week then Instagram needs to be added to the priority list. Instagram can be especially powerful if you're in a creative industry, such as craft marketing.
In this post I’d first like to explore the current state of advertising on Instagram, and then dive into 10 tips that any business (yes, even those with 0 marketing dollars to spend on the platform) can use to effectively integrate Instagram into your social media marketing plan.
The State of Advertising On Instagram
Now that we’re clear that Instagram is the new golden-child of social media, what about advertising on Instagram? Well, it’s not cheap, and it’s probably not available for most businesses. I know, life’s tough. With that said according to an interview with co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom and the Wall Street Journal, “Our real value in the long run is going to be in the advertising space…We’re taking it slow on purpose because we don’t want to alienate the community that is so important to Instagram’s growth.”
For about a year Instagram has slowly been granting select big brands (like Burberry, Michael Kors, and Macy’s) the ability to sponsor ads to targeted users. These typically large and well-known companies are hand-picked to take part in Instagram’s sponsored posts and the majority were chosen based on the precedent that they already post high-quality content that their audience have reacted favorably to. And yes, these ads can show up on your feed regardless if you’re following these brands or not. Ads are clearly labeled as sponsored and users have the ability to hide ads they’re displeased with as well as provide direct feedback to Instagram. According to Instagram’s blog, “Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands.” As an avid Instagram user, I’d say they’re doing a pretty great job, and that I’ve actually enjoyed many of the advertisements I’ve seen thus far, like this Old Navy ad below.
Not to mention chosen advertisers are seeing a shiny return from these branded Instagram ad campaigns – for example Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream reached a whopping 9.8 million people in the U.S. in just eight days – pretty remarkable. But it’s important to note that these advertisements are “not about ‘direction conversion’ but about branding and sharing the company values with the customers,” according to Joanne Heggie of Flight Centre, an Australian based travel company involved in the trial.
What advertisers should really latch onto is the fact that Instagram uses Facebook’s demographic data to serve up ads to the appropriate parties. “Facebook helps us provide relevant ads to the users. You don’t want a 50-year-old male who is interested in autos seeing an ad for beauty-care products targeted at teens,” says Systrom. This makes the tool even more valuable for advertisers to target their niche audience because Facebook already has a decent history and thorough demographical background which the users provides when setting up and using the popular social network.
But how much do these advertisements costs? The model used is based on CPM’s (cost per impressions) that according to Ad Age, “could put a month-long buy deep into the six figures and verging on seven depending on the reach and frequency sought.”
So if only hand-picked, world renowned big brand names are making it on Instagram and these ads are costing more than your car then why should you care? Well, that likely will not be the case for long! Back in July, Systrom told the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference that he personally reviews every ad submitted to ensure his high-standards are met, but also stated that this is a temporary solution that will eventually change. Why? Because ad space is going to become available to industries that aren’t as well-known as Burberry and PayPal. From time to time I am spot on with my psychic abilities and right now I foresee Instagram releasing a solution for budget-conscious advertisers.
Unfortunately, I am not one of the co-founders of Instagram, I do not work for the platform, and I’m not actually a fortune teller (shocking I know), so I have no clue when small to medium businesses will be able to gain ground via advertising on the platform. In the meantime, there are plenty of organic ways you can promote your brand on Instagram and target your audience without spending a dime.
10 Instagram Marketing Tips to Build Your Brand and Gain Fans
Now that I’ve convinced you of the long-term value of Instagram for brand marketing, the next step is to create your account and start posting engaging images with compelling taglines and hashtags to engage your growing follower base. Browsing around some of the top-rated small to medium-sized businesses in Boston, I was somewhat surprised to see that the majority of them have no Instagram presence and several haven’t even claimed their company name on the platform.
This is such a lost opportunity in my mind, as there’s so much potential Instagram has to offer to convert and engage leads, partners, and current customers (talk about an easy way to turn your customers into loyal customer and even brand promoters!). These Instagram marketing tips will take some lessons from the big spenders like Nike and GE that are killing it through sponsored posts, but also from some smaller players like Localytics and General Assembly that have been able to gain a following organically.
#1: Build a community around an actionable hashtag:
The great thing about this strategy is that it can be leveraged across other social networks like Twitter and Pinterest, but works so well on Instagram and is the perfect way to get your audience to engage with your brand. Nike did it so well with their winter campaign Choose Your Winter. Being an avid runner and one of the crazy people that runs the Charles River in 10 degree weather during Boston winters, I might be a bit biased, but Nike really did knock it out of the park with this campaign. Not only is the timing exceptional, but it gives Instagram users the ability to interact with your brand. Since the campaign launched in mid-November the hashtag #chooseyourwinter has gained substantial ground on Instagram. Instagram themselves have recognized Nike for having the ability to start a movement with their #runfree campaign months back.
Smaller brands can leverage hashtag campaigns as well. Take Infatuation for instance, a trendy restaurant review site founded in 2009, which I wasn’t even aware of until I started seeing their renowned hashtag #EEEEEATS all over my friends food pictures on my Instagram feed. I kept wondering what was up with the EEEEE’s? Why five E’s? I don’t get it…Until I quickly realized this hashtag was created by the guys at Infatuation to create an online food community for “anyone who is serious about food, but doesn’t take food too seriously,” according to their site. And it’s worked absurdly well with over 350,000 posts shared using the prevalent hashtag for foodies all over the map.
Why is this hashtag so successful? Well, being in the mouth-watering industry of food doesn’t hurt, but Infatuation leverages their customer photos to give a shout-out to their followers and also post to their own page. They frequently feature an EEEEEAT’s collage, like the one below, while giving credit to their followers who shared the most stomach-growling, I’d-sacrifice-my-arm-for-that, kind of food. They just recently introduced photographer of the week featuring the best food photographer’s posts and giving them a special shootout. What an awesome way to not only engage with the followers of your brand, but get them excited about being a part of your community.
#2: Partner with a good cause that supports your brand’s values
I’ve observed a few brands that I follow who take a unique approach to their posts by promoting and sharing their partnerships with their followers. For instance SweetGreen, one of my favorite lunch spots for salads, soups, and fro-yo, prides themselves on serving local and organically sourced ingredients from farmers and trusted partners. I could praise their business decisions all day, but one in particular is the relationship they’ve developed with the non-profit, FoodCorps. This partnership aligns seamlessly with SweetGreen’s healthy-living values since FoodCorps mission is to enable children to make healthier choices when it comes to food. This SweetGreen gram below beautifully demonstrates their partnership with FoodCorps and displays how their values align and what their company stands for. The post is relevant, well-crafted, and also raises awareness for the incredible things FoodCorps and SweetGreen are working on. If you can align your company’s values with your consumers, this is golden.
BONUS tip: Also keep in mind that Instagram isn’t as strict as Twitter with its character limits when captioning a photo, but that doesn’t mean that you should be writing a novel beneath each post. Short, sweet, and effective in the approach I’d recommend when captioning your photos.
#3: Relate to your followers while staying relevant to your brand
You always want to be thinking in the mindset of your target consumer(s). Likely you’ve already established a few buyer personas and have an idea of the makeup of the leads you’re nurturing and the customers you’re delighting. But now you need to think about why they’re on Instagram. To kill time? To see what’s up with their friends? To check-in on what their children are up to? Let’s pretend you sell financial consulting services and you’ve established that your clients love sport cars and tend to follow popular car brands on Instagram. Ok, perfect solution: post pictures of fancy sports cars! Right? Well, not quite – you need to keep relevant to what you’re selling so perhaps you post an attractive sports car, but write a catchy description reading “Wouldn’t you love to buy this lightning fast beamer? You can if you start making better financial decisions! Call us today for a free 30 minute consultation.” And then stop posting cars for a while because you don’t want your market to think you sell sports cars.
Harpoon does this well by always using humor, delicious looking recipes made or inspired by their beer flavors, and always staying relevant to the time of year while promoting their seasonal flavors, to show how they relate to their followers. For instance the post below is like-able for several reasons. First off there’s an adorable pup in the picture (who doesn’t enjoy the company of a good-looking dog?), the expression on the dogs face is priceless and perfectly matches the caption, and their beer is beautifully branding the photo. Also who doesn’t relate to dreading Monday? And here’s some motivation to get through the day, AKA an ice cold Harpoon brew and a snuggle sesh with your pup post-work.
#4: PLEASE don’t over post
This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but for those new to the platform please note that over-posting is a big insta-no-no! I remember when my good friend first joined and posted an entire Facebook album to his page, until friends from all locations were yelling at him to chill-out! This is not Facebook where pictures will all be grouped into a compact album. We don’t want our photo feeds cluttered with posts from one person, that’s when your posts go from enjoyable to migraine-inducing, and your followers lose interest and visit your page for the last time to unsubscribe for life.
According to Carly Keenan of 435 Digital, “You don’t need to post on Instagram every day. If you start posting a lot, you might over-saturate your followers’ feeds, and you don’t want to force yourself into the noise too often.”
#5: Promote your Instagram everywhere
This one is also somewhat self-explanatory, but you need to leverage this channel in the same way you do your other social networks. For example do you have social icons on your homepage or product pages connecting visitors to your social channels? An Instagram icon needs to be added as well. When setting up your account you should first be connecting with Facebook to pull in your friends, but this is just the start of promoting your channel. You should be running Instagram campaigns across your social networks and sending out reminders to employees, brand-ambassadors, and partners (basically anyone who’s established a positive relationship with your brand) to use your business hashtag and any hashtags that are relevant or important to a marketing campaign running. Force (or encourage) your employees, especially those frequently communicating with leads and customers, to add a link to your company Instagram in their email signatures. Add an icon of your Instagram handle to your LinkedIn profile and business card. Repost your Instagram photos to your business Twitter and personal accounts. The opportunities are endless, but once your Instagram is enticing get it in front of people and start building your follower base.
#6: Find the beauty in your brand (even if your offerings are ugly)
A lot of B2B companies have already ruled Instagram out as an unusable platform for their business. Their mind-set being that they don’t sell food, beer, or clothing; their products are either unattractive or intangible so why would they use a photo-sharing application? I get it, perhaps you sell software, so images of your product aren’t super attractive to your Instagram audience. I feel your pain, but I will not be sympathetic if you rule Instagram out all together because there are so many other ways to build your brand without directly showcasing photographs of your products. Take photographs in the office or of your work environment to give your followers a sneak-peak into the day-to-day of your company’s unique culture. Get your employees involved so all of the work doesn’t fall on your shoulders; for example create a unique hashtag for your company’s holiday party and have all of your employees add the hashtag to the pictures they take at the soiree. This way you can repost pictures taken by employees and create buzz around popular hashtags.
HubSpot, the Cambridge-based marketing software platform, is bordering on 5K followers and maintains an active stream of updates on their page with photos from events like their well-known Inbound Conference in September, but typically posts day-to-day interactions around the office. The photo collage below is a great example of how they gave their followers an inside glimpse of the office with two HubSpot employees debuting their client, Green Plus’s, product. This serves many purposes such as strengthening the relationship with their customer, showcasing that their customer is indeed a happy customer (listen up leads!) and giving a personalized human touch to their business (yes, there are real people behind their marketing software machine).
#7: Utilize all the tools Instagram has to offer
Since Instagram’s birth 4 years ago they’ve continued to make changes to the application at a decently fast pace (although, take a deep breath, I’m not talking about a Google algorithm update pace). There’s a lot you can do on Instagram to beautify your photos, track performance, and stay on-top of changes. Follow these three tips when navigating your way through the app:
- Get to know all of Instagram’s filters, special effects, and editing tools. Utilize your creative team to help manipulate your photos to get the most visually compelling result. If you’re a one-man-band, and not skilled at photo-manipulation, seek alternative opinions. Some of the most popular rated filters include Low-Fi, Valencia, and X-Pro II.
- Three months ago Instagram released a suite of business tools to help brands analyze the performance of their posts. The highlight of this release is that these tools are available to all businesses, not just the select brands with advertising capabilities. The tools include account insights like impressions, reach, engagement, ad insights – this feature is for paid advertisements only, but gives the advertise more detail into brand analytics, and ad staging, which allows businesses to work together to preview, save, and collaborate on their ad creative. No, these tools are not perfect, but they’re a start into getting a clearer picture on how effective your posts are performing.
- Lastly, stay Insta-smart. Instagram is young, hot, and growing fast, and with the success advertisers have seen thus far the platform is only going to keep catering to businesses since this is how they’ll make money as well. Instagram has already done a lot to support businesses on the platform with a whole section of their site dedicated to business owners and marketers. I’d recommend subscribing to the Instagram For Business blog to stay ahead of the game.
#8: Get inspiration from others
“Steal ideas from other companies”: this was the advice my first manager at my first job gave me when I hit an inspirational road blocker. It became obvious advice once I thought it through and is genius when it comes to Instagram. There are so many incredible brands out there on the platform and you should be following all of them. Follow Charity Water, GoPro, Starbucks, Adidas, Taco Bell, all of the brands listed in this article, as well as anyone in your field or a related field and copy their best strategies with your own unique spin. Aside from mimicking other companies, mimic your fans. According to Fast Company’s Rachel Gillet, “In 2011 Chobani discovered that, even before the brand joined Instagram, their fans were posting photos of their artful concoction using the Greek yogurt. The Chobani fans used hashtags like #creationaday and #chobani to showcase the yogurt as a core ingredient so it seemed only fitting for Chobani to build their following by piggybacking off of their fans’ creativity.”
#9: Showcase beautiful experiences relevant to your brand
General Electric is a pro at this. You wouldn’t think wind turbines were photogenic, but look at this stunning photograph below. According to the Instagram blog, “Show how your company sees the world and make it meaningful to people.” Not a photographer? Not all of us can be Annie Leibovitz. Instead start a hashtag campaign (see tip #1) and post photographs that your fans capture. We often catch a stellar sunset at the WordStream office in Boston – this is another easy win for a great Instagram.
#10: Interact with Others on Instagram to Grow Your Following
I’ve talked a lot about promoting your Instagram, posting engaging, quality images, using hashtags to create buzz, and gaining inspiration from others, but another critical step in the process is interacting with your followers and the people you want to follow you. If you’re already posting follow-worthy content then start liking, commenting and following others. “If you expect people to engage with your posts, they expect the same as well,” writes TINT CEO, Tim Sae Koo. “The more active you are, the more exposed your username/account is to the owner and owner’s followers.” So search popular hashtags and like away! Write complementary comments on peoples post and #regram images while giving credit to the original post.
If you’re not Insta-successful after following these tips then there might be something seriously wrong with your business. Only kidding, but these tidbits of advice should get you off to a running start on the platform so dig your iPhone out of your pocket and start snapping photos at every opportunity because Instagram is where it’s at!
Have you tried Instagram for marketing your business?
If so, what do you find resonates best with your audience?
Tell me about your experiences below!