Instagram is the “it” social media platform for 2019. There, I said it.
With plenty of creative possibilities, targeting opportunities, and personalization potential, the youth-friendly platform offers the power to connect with influential tastemakers, break through the competitive noise, and build active, engaged communities of customers.
And it might just offer brands the biggest bang for their content marketing buck. Though slightly in the shadow of big sister Facebook, Instagram boasts over 1 billion active monthly users globally. It’s eclipsed elder social statesmen like Twitter (335 million monthly users), LinkedIn (260 million monthly users), and Pinterest (250 million monthly users).
Given these advantages, the hunger for information and marketing on Instagram should be no surprise. Several of CMI’s most-read articles published in 2018 covered the platform, and it’s consistently among the top searches on this site.
I rounded up the best insights and advice we offer on the topic, making it easier for the Insta-uninitiated to find their footing, while giving expert tips and tricks for power users to level up their initiatives.
Determine your Instagram strategy
Instagram puts a visual spin on the micro conversations that turned “tweet” into a marketing verb in 2006. With its unique photography filters, streaming video storytelling features, meme-friendly editing tools, and ease of use on mobile, it’s the perfect platform for capturing those authentic little moments that bring out the human side of your business.
But before building your brand’s profile and posting pretty pictures, give serious thought to how to position your Instagram activities so they contribute to your strategic marketing goals. (If you need some help, follow the step-by-step process outlined in my guide to building a smart yet simple social media marketing plan.)
For example, if lead generation is a top marketing priority, be aware that Instagram doesn’t allow clickable links in post descriptions/captions or comments the way other social networks do. You’re allowed one hyperlink – in the bio on your profile page. You’ll need to optimize your bio content for lead-gen purposes and choose your link wisely. (You can edit that link when you want to drive users to a landing page for a campaign or promotion.)
Even though your linking options are limited, you can drive a flood of leads by including a relevant and enticing call to action on your bio page.
Here’s a prime example from Foundr Magazine:
For more tips on using Instagram to drive leads, check out Catalin Zorzini’s four-step strategy guide.
Set up a verified business account
While anyone on your content team can set up a personal profile for your business on Instagram, it is easier to manage content activities with a verified business account. Once activated, these accounts can be managed by multiple authorized users and provide deeper insights on followers, performance analytics for posts, advertising tools, and additional post promotion options within the Instagram app.
Use third-party tools for scheduling
One critical feature that business accounts don’t have is the native ability to schedule posts. Thankfully, third-party tools can let you keep your fans’ feeds full of conversations and activity day and night – even if one social media manager does all the posting.
Of course, no matter who (or what) publishes your content, there are guidelines to follow. For example, due to the limitations with Instagram’s API, scheduling tools can only publish images and videos formatted in an acceptable aspect ratio.
Check out Olga Rabo’s guide to the best Instagram scheduling tools, which includes a handy chart (below) on acceptable image specs.
Craft your creative with care
Looks (and lewks) count on Insta. Show off your most appealing brand imagery and supply descriptions that draw viewers more deeply into your brand experience. I mean, c’mon, who could possibly look at this post from NatGeo and not want to dive right into an undersea adventure?
Add a human touch
But your posts don’t need to be picture perfect all the time. In fact, Monina Wagner and Clare McDermott have outlined a few formats that don’t require professional photography skills. For example:
- Livestreaming with Instagram stories: Film and share spontaneous, relatable moments as they unfold, which is perfect for capturing the excitement at a live event or an afternoon outing with your team. Archive your Stories so the posts can be reshared later, using Instagram’s Stories Highlights
- Polling: Add a two-answer poll to your Instagram Stories. After tapping an answer, users see the results, which puts the focus on your audience’s thoughts and views. (Get more info on using this sticker feature below.)
Put your brand value on display
Even if your content team is photo-phobic, you have lots of creative options. For example, slick glamour shots may be hard to come by for B2B businesses, but SAAS company Salesforce finds compelling ways to convey its message of value – as it does in this sponsored spot, which promotes a tip-driven e-book using its illustrated cover art:
And in this Instagram Stories campaign, Cheerios eschewed imagery, choosing to share a series of personalized, text-based posts set against a simple, brand-appropriate colored background. The campaign is designed to trigger positive emotions that the brand’s fans can associate with its “good goes around” tagline.
Text-based messages also offer a chance for the more design-minded members of your content team to flex their font-related creativity. Olga Rabo shares nine expert-level font hacks – including a way to animate fonts – that can help bring more visibility to your Stories.
Place the focus on your followers
No matter what content formats and design techniques you choose, Instagram works best when you understand and appeal to the interests of your target audience members– it’s their community sandbox, after all. Give them personal reasons to invite your brand in to play with them. Here are a few creative ideas Shane Barker offers to accomplish this:
- Fuel their creativity. Encourage your viewers to create user-generated posts featuring your product or message.
- Create a contest. Product giveaways are a natural fit for this platform. Don’t forget to use a hashtag that encapsulates your message or captures the viewers’ attention enough to make them want to participate and promote your offering.
- Demonstrate how your products fit their lifestyle. Consumers like to get ideas and see what other products fit with yours, so keep your content as actionable as possible.
Make your messages stickier with interactivity
Another way to bring your followers into your storytelling is with Instagram’s interactive stickers through the app’s tool set. By adding these features to your updates, you can:
- Create a live countdown for an upcoming brand event.
- Add a poll or an emoji slider to gauge fan response to a relevant issue.
- Enable viewers to select a song to play in the background of your post.
- Give people a chance to ask something they’re dying to know about your business.
For detailed instructions and great examples of how to apply these features to your posts, check out Meenakshi Krishnan’s helpful guide on working with Instagram stickers.
Distribute and conquer
Even if only a small percentage of Instagram’s billion monthly users regularly posts updates and stories, your brand’s efforts still need to cut through a lot of content clutter. Promoting your posts on Instagram is as important as it is anywhere else in your marketing mix.
Get discovered via hashtags
In his post on Instagram marketing, Robert Katai outlines the two types of hashtags you can use in your Instagram campaigns:
- Branded hashtags feature your company name, making it easier for people aware of your company to discover your content and learn more about you.
- Community hashtags are more organic to the conversations happening. They help users follow broader topics, specific areas of interest, or other unifying themes.
Put budget toward boosting performance
Paid promotions are another way to increase your brand’s reach and engagement on the platform. You can purchase promoted posts and display ads within Instagram’s regular content feed. In addition, you can promote your content by placing ads within Instagram Stories, which display your campaigns between image- and video-centric Stories that users click to view.
For more details on using paid promotions on Instagram (and other social channels), check out my quick-start guide.
Enlist power players
Where would content marketing on Instagram be without recommendations from its legions of influencers – i.e., leading voices who have the trust and attention of your target audience?
Of course, the extreme popularity of this technique – and the growing concern over influencer fraud – means you may want to consider doing more than paying for a few sponsored posts on an influencer’s feed. For example, you could do a Stories takeover – an influencer of choice takes over your brand account and produces exclusive content for a designated time (typically a few hours or a day at most).
Why does a takeover work better than a standard influencer collaboration? As Olga Rabo explains, the incentive for the influencer’s followers is different. They’re not urged to follow the brand but are encouraged by the influencer to see what he or she is doing on your brand’s account. The subtle promotion is more effective to increase reach and drive traffic from Instagram Stories to your site or special offer.
For a few more ninja-level tricks for growing your Instagram fan base, check out Olga’s Instagram Stories ideas.
Stay out of social hot water
One final thought: While sharing is caring when it comes to re’gramming admired content and images, posting someone else’s creative property without securing permission is never cool – and in some cases it could put your business in legal jeopardy. If you want to mitigate your brand’s risk, you need an understanding of copyrights and the terms for fair use.
Read more about social media legal ins-and-outs in this article by Allen Murabayashi, which includes tips to help keep your content on the right side of the law.
Ready for your moment of Insta-stardom?
Whether you share sumptuous photos, livestream your most memorable moments, or inspire viewers with fun hands-on activities, Instagram is a great platform for putting your brand’s best content assets on display. How are you using the channel to connect with your audience? Paint your picture of Instagram success in the comments.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute