10 Instagram Marketing Tips for Brands in 2017

Margot da Cunha
April 2, 2018

In April 2017, Instagram revealed that they’ve reached an astounding 700 million Instagrammers, 400 million+ of which are daily active users.

It’s hard to believe that Instagram used to be the younger, immature sister of Facebook where people would filter pictures of their ramen. Now businesses have adopted Instagram as one of their main revenue generating tools. Today Instagram has over 1 million advertisers and 8 million business profiles!

why market on instagram

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 addictive 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).

Instagram Demographics 2017

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? The demographics vary, but lean towards a more youthful audience, the largest percentage of users falling in the age range of 18-29 (55%), then between 30-49 years-old (28%), only 11% of those between the ages of 50-64, and just 4% of adults over 65 (my mother happens to be member of that 4%!).

According to Hootsuite, the majority of Instagram users live in urban areas (32%), 28% of users live in the suburbs, and 18% of users in the country. While there are more women on Instagram than men, the gender gap is not as large as it once was.

If that isn’t the audience you’re targeting, you still should not dismiss the social network as a useless opportunity. 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 and colleges across the country, and now has a wide international presence and includes demographics of every age, gender, race, and creed. (I’d be willing to bet that your parents are on Facebook.) Also, with Instagram being a Facebook-owned company, this is only going to speed up growth for the platform: Facebook has an audience of over 2 billion monthly active users, which astonishingly continues to grow.

instagram for restaurants

So if everyone who’s anyone is either on or likely to join Instagram, then why isn’t your business? If you can spare a few minutes a day or even per week, then Instagram needs to be added to the priority list. Instagram marketing can be especially powerful if you're in a visual or creative industry, such as the restaurant business or 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.

Advertising on Instagram

What about advertising on Instagram? While Instagram was slow to release advertising privileges to all, nowadays as long as you have a business profile you can run an advertisement on Instagram.

Instagram took their time releasing advertising to all. An older blog post explains why: “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.” And in fact, it is the case that native-looking ads tend to perform best on the platform.

Advertisers now have 4 ad options including:

  • Photo ads – your standard Instagram post format
  • Video ads – the same as above, but with a video in place of a photo
  • Carousel ads – a slideshow ad, which allows for multiple images
  • Stories ads – these are Instagram’s version of Snapchat ads seen at the top of the feed

Why You Should Invest in Instagram Ads

According to Instagram, 60% of people say they discover new products on the platform, and 75% of Instagrammers take action after being inspired by a post. Similar to Facebook ads, throwing some money behind a post will lead to more exposure for your brand, as well as more control over who can see your post.

instagram marketing stats 2017

What advertisers should really latch onto is the fact that Instagram uses Facebook’s demographic data to serve up ads to the appropriate parties. This makes the tool super valuable for advertisers looking to target a niche audience because, Facebook already has a decent history and thorough demographic targeting options.

If you need more convincing check out Instagram’s success stories page where you can sort by industry, goal, product, region, and business size to find stories around how similar business are seeing success with advertisements.

how travel brands use instagram

How travel brands are marketing on Instagram

Cost of Instagram Advertising

But how much do these Instagram ads cost?

The model used is based on CPM’s (cost per impressions). While Instagram ads on average receive much higher engagement then Facebook ads, it does come at a price. According to Keith Baumwald, founder of Leverag Consulting, Instagram ads costs are slightly higher in cost than Facebook ads. Baumwald claims that since the ads are so highly targeted you could end up paying as high as $5 a CPM.

instagram ad costs

On the bright side, advertisers do have control over how their budgets are allocated. For instance, you can choose between a daily budget to limit the amount spend per day or a lifetime budget where you would set up your ads to run for a length of time until the budget is depleted.

Other ways to control your Instagram ad spend include setting your ad schedule (for instance, you can specify certain hours of the day you want your ads to run), setting your ad delivery method (there are three options à link clicks, impressions, and daily unique reach), as well as setting your bid amount (manual vs. automatic).

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 10 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 Instagram 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 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. Instagram themselves have recognized Nike for having the ability to start a movement with their #runfree campaign.

instagram hashtags for marketing

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 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 8,417,214 posts shared using the prevalent hashtag for foodies all over the map.

hashtags for marketers

Why is this hashtag so successful? Well, being in the mouth-watering industry of food doesn’t hurt, but Infatuation also creates engaging and geo-targeted content around their posts, like the one below!

instagram marketing examples

#2: Partner with a good cause that supports your brand’s values

I’ve observed a few brands that 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.

sweetgreen instagram

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 consumers. 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.

harpoon instagram marketing

#4: PLEASE don’t over-post

This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but for those new to the Instagram 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! If you’re tempted to post multiple pictures at once, use Instagram’s album feature (released in February 2017), which allows you to make a carousel gram with multiple pictures in a slideshow format. That way, you won’t clog your followers’ feeds and cause them to unsubscribe for life.

According to a study from CoSchedule, the optimal amount of times for a business to post on Instagram per day is 1-2, but no more or less. They also found the best times to post are between 8:00 am – 9:00 am and at 2:00 am (so make sure to schedule that post!). I would guess this is because people have more time to check their feeds in bed in the morning, as well as when commuting to work (I hope not while they’re driving!).

when to post on instagram

#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.

instagram marketing tool

Instagram Feed lets you embed your feed right inside a WordPress website

When setting up your Instagram account, you should first connect 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 (ahem, 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 altogether – because there are so many other ways to build your brand without directly showcasing photographs of your products!

instagram at wordstream

Instagram of WordStream employees viewing the 2017 eclipse

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. 

#7: Use all the tools Instagram has to offer

Since Instagram’s birth 7 years ago, they’ve continued to make changes to the application at a good 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. Check out this list of some of our favorite Instagram tools, and follow these three tips when navigating your way through the app: 

  • Get to know all of Instagram’s filters, special effects, and editing tools. Use your creative team to help manipulate your photos to get the most visually compelling result. I personally like to opt for editing my posts manually by brightening them, increasing the saturation and contrast, and sometimes using tilt shift to create an artsy, blurry background. If you’re a one-man-band, and not skilled at photo-editing, seek alternative opinions. Some of the most popular filters include Low-Fi, Valencia, and X-Pro II.
  • Instagram has a suite of business tools to help businesses get a better understanding of how their account is performing. The tools include account insights like impressions, reach, profile views, website clicks, call clicks and email clicks – this feature is available for all business profiles, whether or not they’re paying to advertise. Instagrammers can also get insight into their following base for instance the gender breakdown, age range, top locations, and the days and times of the week your follower base is most active.

instagram analytics

It’s also possible to get more granular information around a specific post by clicking on “View Insights” under the photograph or video. Some information here includes the number of likes, impressions, reach, engagement, comments, and saves.

instagram marketing kpis

  • 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 block. It is genius advice 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 concoctions 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.”

instagram marketing tips

#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.

best instagram marketing examples

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 to grow your Instagram following

I’ve talked a lot about promoting your Instagram account, 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 complimentary comments on people’s posts and #regram images while giving credit to the original.

Protip: You can opt to get notifications when accounts you’re targeting share a new post, so you can interact with it right away!

instagram marketing ideas

These tidbits of advice should get you off to a running start on Instagram, so dig your iPhone out of your pocket and start snapping photos at every opportunity!

I’m curious…

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!

Margot da Cunha

Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking.