Best Practices for Instagram Inspiration

Even after it was purchased by Facebook for 1 billion dollars, many businesses are still unsure of how valuable the photo-sharing social network Instagram can be in their online marketing efforts.

That is quickly changing, thanks to a recent report from Simply Measured, which says that 40 percent of the world's top-100 brands now have a presence on Instagram. These major brands taking to Instagram seems like a natural choice in a day and age when the Web is becoming increasingly social and interconnected. It's no longer enough to just put your marketing message out there to be absorbed; these days, consumers want to connect with your brand, and photos are a great way to do that (after all, each one is worth at least a thousand words, which is a huge relief to your copywriters).

Instagram allows companies to share more of themselves with its customers than ever before. It also provides greater opportunities to extend their reach and influence across the social Web, thanks to the ability (and desire) of users to share content on and across social networks.

In order to help you find sepia-filtered success with this relatively uncharted social channel, we've mined some of the top brands on Instagram to determine three best practice strategies, and then looked deeper into three different business sectors (retail, services and content publishing) to show you how different brands are using the service.

Best Practices:

#1 Be Consistent: The key to building a successful brand has always been to provide a clear and consistent tone or theme across your marketing channels. Keep this in mind with Instagram. While it may be fun to upload various types of content, you should keep your message consistent so that your followers know what to expect. One way to ensure you do this is to regularly post something specific on a daily or weekly basis that is unique to your brand and message, and can help consumers get a sense of what you're all about. That being said...

#2 Keep It Interesting: Establishing a tone for your brand is essential, but that doesn't mean that your followers have any interest in seeing you post basically the exact same picture all day, every day. Make an effort to mix things up. For example, don't always just post pictures of your latest products, but also include images of your employees, industry events you may be attending (e.g. trade shows), people using your products, general lifestyle photos related to your business and anything else you can think of that is in line with the tone of your brand. In other words, keep things interesting to keep consumers engaged, which leads us to...

#3 Post Engaging Content: Success with social media has always been directly related to how well you're able to engage your followers, and it's no different on Instagram. Actively using hashtags to tag photos is a great way to get them noticed and generate user interest, and asking questions in your photo captions can help create discussions among your followers. Also, liberally respond with @replies to foster conversations directly with users. And don't forget to take advantage of Instagram's ability to allow users to publish their own content and interact with your brand by uploading photos and tagging them with a unique themed hashtag.



Many types of merchants are currently on the image-based social network - from apparel retailers like H&M to fast food companies like Taco Bell. However, it is important for these companies to not only use this social network to upload pictures of their latest products or promotions, but also to engage their audience. For example, Starbucks offers an interactive way for consumers to participate with its brand on the social network by telling consumers in the company's "about" section to tag their photos with "#Starbucks!". The coffee specialty retailer also makes their posts interactive by asking questions on the posted photos, such as, "loving the lighter #blonderoast. Have you tried it yet?"


Service Providers

Service providers may need to plan out their strategy a little more than the aforementioned merchants, but this industry can still take full advantage of Instagram's image-packed social network. It is important for professionals within the service industry to provide a consistent tone on Instagram, so their audience can know what kind of content to expect. For example, The Knot's Instagram profile not only offers wedding inspiration ideas, but also provides audience members with insight into the company's staff. This means that brides can view floral photos for insights on bouquet arrangements, while also relating to the company's employees by checking out a photo from the staff's summer outing.


Content Producers

For content producers, the biggest challenge is turning content, which many times is in the form of written articles or blog posts, into interesting and engaging images. The best way to do this is to repurpose content, especially content that is visually appealing. ESPNSports does a great job at providing interesting and relevant content to its Instagram audience. The company has taken snapshots from memorable moments in sports - such as Felix Hernandez's recent perfect game or Michael Phelps' Olympic accomplishments - and posts them as Instagram photos that include hashtags, as well as attract a lot of comments and likes.