In February I wrote about internet marketing strategies WordPress users should be using in 2015. I covered my top five, one of which was social media. I recommended that everyone should be using platforms that are great at driving traffic–Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+–but any others you choose should be based on an understanding of where your target audience is hanging out–not just because you feel like you need to have another social account. In this post, we’re going to explore one of the latter networks: Instagram.
Why Use Instagram for Marketing?
To be perfectly blunt, Instagram is not great at driving traffic. It can be on occasion (if a bit indirectly) but in general that’s just not what this network/platform is all about. In fact, none of them are about driving traffic and converting sales but the ones I mentioned above are particularly good at it when used correctly.
Rather, it’s important to remember that social media is about something much more fundamental than amassing followers or executing a marketing campaign. It’s about connecting with other human beings.
Making that connection is all important. It’s what makes your audience receptive to your message in the first place. It’s the difference between listening to a friend and having someone shout at you on the street.
Ok, so, what does it mean to “make a connection”?
Just like in the physical world, making a connection with another human being on the internet is about shared values and experiences. A social network like Instagram (or any of the others) is merely another medium to express those things.
That’s why when it comes to crafting a content strategy, it has to be about more than simply pushing links through your social channels. There should be a central brand message, based on the values you stand for, and each platform should be used in such a way that you are taking advantage of it as a unique medium of expression.
In the case of Instagram you should be using photos and short videos to share your brand values, demonstrate the legitimacy of the experiences you claim to have in common with your audience, and connecting those things to your products/services.
Accomplishing this will result in generating heightened brand awareness and loyalty. Which, ideally, will improve the reach and effectiveness of your marketing across all platforms.
Instagram Marketing Best Practices
If the previous section reads as particularly abstract and difficult to execute, that’s because it is. There’s a reason only a bare few users on any given platform gain followers in the hundreds of thousands or millions. But the best practices and examples below should provide a sound guide for you begin with.
Know Your Brand Story & Use Instagram As Your Medium
This first “best practice” of knowing your brand story is actually more of a pre-requisite. The others won’t really work without it.
Oh sure, you can create content without having an underlying brand story (or brand message, as I referred to it above) but without it you risk developing an inconsistent voice, weak brand, and the lack of a strong differentiator. All of which result in wasted or highly ineffective uses of your marketing resources.
No, the best way to stay consistent, build a strong brand, and set your self apart is to first determine what you stand for. Then communicate those values in the form of a story and/or ongoing narrative.
A great way to think of your brand story is like a fairy tale. Fairy tales are simple stories that always contain a moral to anchor its content. In marketing, the moral of the story is whatever core brand value you are expressing.
Let’s look at an example: Simple.com
Simple banking has one primary core value, simplicity. The moral that lives at the heart of their brand story (i.e. marketing messages) is this: life is better when banking is simple.
The resulting “better lifestyle” is reflected in their Instagram content:
Or we can look at a much more popular brand: Abercrombie & Fitch
Their core value is unattainable beauty. The moral that lives at the center of their brand story is: unattainable beauty is achieved through the Abercrombie lifestyle.
This story is told via their Instagram content by showcasing young, conventionally attractive models looking effortlessly beautiful in Abercombie’s casual clothing:
Note that in both of these examples the brands are not just declaring in bold letters “We believe in simple banking! It will make your life so much better!” Or “You’ll look like a super model in our clothing”. Instead they are using the medium of Instagram to show their brand values in action, creating a visual mood and narrative that says more than mere sales copy ever could. That’s how you connect with Instagram.
If you’re interested in tips on how to craft your content, I’d suggest following the official tips tag on the Instagram blog.
Broadcast Using Instagram’s Social Features (And With Cross Promotion On Other Platforms)
Part of what has made Instagram such a huge success is its simplicity. There are not a lot of elements to the app/platform but those that are in place are powerful.
Hashtags–hashtags can be made from any word or phrase you choose by placing a pound symbol in front of it, #likethis. Other users can search for hashtags that match their interests and in doing so discover your content.
Typically hashtags are placed by the photo or video poster in the descriptive text. However, they can also be placed within comments by other users.
An easy way to extend your reach is by placing popular and/or trending Instagram hashtags in your descriptions.
User Tags–similar to “mentioning” another user on twitter, you can tag another Instagram account by placing the @ symbol in front of their username. This will place your content on their radar as well as return as a result in searches for that user.
Web Profiles–Instagram allows you to create a web profile for displaying your images and videos to users outside of the mobile app. These profiles provide a great content hub for the web.
Cross Promotion–sharing your Instagram photos across your other platforms can extend the reach of your account and grow its followers. You can place Instagram photos or videos on your blog or push them to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more.
Establish Your Brand’s Presence with Frequency
One thing to keep in mind when starting any social account is that if you don’t use it, it won’t do you much good. Literally everything else can be spot on, but if your content isn’t updated frequently enough it won’t do anything to build your brand. At least one photo a week would be a good goal. A lot of the most popular accounts publish much more regularly. Ultimately, you’ll have to find a good fit for both you and your audience.
Use Your Profile Wisely
The only place in all of Instagram where you can publish a clickable link is within your profile text. Use this space wisely. Put time and effort into powerful, yet minimal copy and whatever link you want to promote to your followers. Some accounts change this link on a regular basis in order to sync their Instagram account with other efforts–such as promoting a particular sale, article, etc.
Engage Your Audience
Similarly to the broadcasting and content discovery features I mentioned above, engagement features are few but powerful as well.
Likes/Comments–the like and comment features allows you to show appreciation for others’ content. This simple action can help to show your fans and followers that you’re aware of them and appreciate their activity on the platform, often resulting in reciprocation on your images and videos.
Contests/User Generated Content–if you’d like to encourage those who follow your account to engage with your content and spread your brand you can run an Instagram contest. Typically this involves users creating content with a brand specific hashtag in order to enter themselves into a contest for gift cards, event tickets, or some other prize. You can manage this process manually or use a third party (like the one below).
Beyond simply keeping an eye on your follower count, there are third party apps/services out there that allow you to manage your Instagram account and related activities easier. One great example is Iconosquare.
Iconosquare offers tools for viewing images more easily on the web, advanced search, statistics, promotion, contests, and more.
Iterate & Repeat
Every campaign needs to be evaluated and adjusted periodically to make sure you’re learning from past experiences and getting better–Instagram is no different. After you make a plan using the above best practices, it’s a good idea to give yourself a time frame to act on that plan but after which you analyze the results and make appropriate changes.
Successful Brands & Individuals to Watch and Learn From
Below are a handful of brands who are killing it on Instagram. By keeping and eye on there accounts and analyzing their behavior you can pick up clues that may help you grow your own following.
If you are interested in finding more popular brands, perhaps closer in line with your own, this list might help.
Nike uses extremely high quality photos and videos tell the story of athletes all over the world who have embraced their motto “Just Do It”.
Starbucks fills their Instagram feed with lifestyle images meant to inspire and nurture the human spirit.
NPR uses Instagram as a visual extension of the stories they tell via their other channels, often changing their profile link to focus on a feature story for the day or week.
TIME has long been known for its timeless and icon photography, a tradition they continue on Instagram.
Instagram is a powerful tool for telling your brand story through visual media. It’s far from complex, yet requires high quality and emotionally engaging content to compete. The best practices discussed in this post will help you get started, but each Instagram success story uses their own unique creativity to set them apart.
What are your thoughts on Instagram marketing and this post? Take a minute or two and drop us a line in the comments below.
Aritcle thumbnail via Liubou Yasiukovich // shutterstock.com