Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | 8 min read
Consider this scenario: You stumble upon the Instagram profile of one of your favorite brands. You figure that since you own many of their products, you’ll probably like their feed. You tap that ‘Follow’ button, and you go about your day. The very next day you notice one of the brand’s photos in your feed. It’s not really what you expected so you pop over to their profile page again and give it a close look. You discover a lot of poorly lit, strangely cropped, and even slightly blurry pictures. You find promotions appropriate for a coupon catalog. You even see random “regrams,” unrelated hashtags and tons of emojis. You realize that everything they’re publishing on Instagram feels absolutely nothing like the brand you love.
“That’s unfortunate,” you think to yourself, and you tap the ‘Unfollow’ button without a second thought.
It is unfortunate indeed because sometimes brands can sabotage themselves on Instagram. Unlike other social networks and photo/video apps, Instagram is where we go to look at beautiful things. Inspiring things. Awesome things.
For all the industry talk about content marketing and building direct relationships with consumers, we often fail the customer experience. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I’m too often disappointed by what I see from well-known brands on Instagram. Sometimes they make the mistake of repurposing existing content, or they don’t take advantage of the network’s unique make-up.
So, if your brand is on Instagram, or you are considering getting involved, this is how to do it well.
Different brands and industries use mainstream social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube) in very unique ways. Brands can customize their use of each network to solve their unique objectives, and the creative manifestation of this can change depending on the situation or season.
The same cannot be said about Instagram, because its purpose is singular: Show the world your world. Instagram is not about customer care. It is not about posting information. It is definitely not a destination for links to discounts (Instagram doesn’t even allow for links to be clickable anyways).
Instagram is the best place on the Internet for a brand to showcase its essence — entertaining or inspiring people with creative and unique visual content.
On Instagram, brands must be interesting or fun at all times. There is no excuse for turning a web banner or a Facebook post into an Instagram photo. You may say that such cross-posting is efficient and in line with an “omni-channel, real-time” approach, but followers on Instagram won’t hesitate for a second to ‘unfollow’ you if they feel unimpressed.
Instagram creates the opportunity for followers to see the world through the eyes of your brand, see the culture that your brand creates — so be iconic, or die trying.
Post exclusive content that isn’t available anywhere else, sought after behind-the-scenes photos, or first-person glimpses of candid moments.
Bring your followers into the moment.
Sometimes this may be a raw, unedited photograph of an executive getting ready to announce a widely anticipated product. Sometimes it may be a series of highly produced teaser videos. Sometimes it may be curated advocate or influencer shots in awesome places. Other times it may be photos showing employees solving problems and enjoying life in unexpected ways.
The source of the content — whether it is an agency, professional photographer, employees or even your executives — is not important. What matters is that the essence of the brand shines through and leaves people wanting more. For some brands, it may be better to use diverse content sources, but the story should remain consistent, holistic, and memorable.
Instagram is not the place for brands to push out whatever is available simply because a content calendar demands it. Without the kind of content that interests their followers, brands are better off without a presence on Instagram at all. On Instagram, less is more — it’s better to have a single, loved Instagram account than to have multiple accounts full of randomness.
If a brand wants likes and followers on Instagram, it can certainly get them. Any metric can be manipulated or inflated on the Internet. But, without content that genuinely engages an audience, these results will only be short-term. Instagram ads are essential to a successful social media strategy, but only if you’re promoting content that people want to see. Otherwise, you may just be pushing paper over the cracks and creating an unsustainable illusion.
Instead of using promoted Instagram posts to elevate mediocre content, it’s better to think about the quality, context, purpose and uniqueness of each individual post. Increase visibility on things that people will actually want to spend a moment appreciating, and get into the habit of understanding what works best at driving earned media. Instagram may be a great visual destination to do a lot of “storytelling,” but only if you have a story worth telling.
Only amplify content worth amplifying.
Put yourself in the shoes of the average Instagram user for a second, and ask yourself, “Why would anyone care about what we’re posting when there are countless other content producers?”
People need to care about something to let it be part of their lives. Social media may be at a hand’s reach of everyone thanks to smartphones, but that doesn’t mean that we should interrupt someone’s lunch break with a photo that makes them roll their eyes. It’s not good for the viewer, and it’s not good for the brand.
But do not worry: Practice makes perfect. Every brand that is winning at Instagram has gotten better over time. Every photo is a chance to get closer to showcasing the company you represent, the lifestyle you support, and the brand your audience can love.
By all means, set objectives and targets and use calendars, but creativity, passion, and taste should be a top priority on Instagram. Seek to apply the best practices of the world’s top editorial teams by consistently raising the bar and setting an impeccable standard of quality, not quantity. Instagram can become your brand’s photo-essay periodical instead of just another channel that needs to generate likes for the sake of it.
On Instagram, it’s not about publishing – it’s about creating, curating, cultivating and amplifying your organization’s soul. The answer to “how to win Instagram?” is to simply be awesome.