by Kendall Baggerly
Instagram has firmly embedded itself into society. By encouraging individuals to see the world through a distinctly photographic lens, the visual-first platform has changed the way we share experiences and form memories. The 6-year-old social network now boasts over 500 million users and seemingly has its fingers in everything – almost everywhere you look, most company pages and advertisements now have Instagram handles. And while older, more traditional kinds of messages and advertisements are often ignored or blocked by tech-savvy customers (via DVRs, spam filters, and the like), Instagram meets consumers where they already are in a way that can feel natural and engaging.
However, some of the same businesses who are eager to participate in Instagram are still trying to figure out exactly how to leverage the platform. As a tool to share personal photos and memories with friends and family, the platform is a natural fit. But engaging Instagram’s visuals-first community with a business’s message? That’s a different matter entirely. As many large brands can attest, posting overly-branded content or stale stock photography won’t work with this audience. This post seeks to demystify Instagram and how businesses can use this channel effectively.
Before looking at the considerations that could make Instagram a fit (or not) for your business, let’s examine a few companies that are already using the platform successfully.
REI (@rei) – 1.3 million followers
The outdoor company excels at using Instagram as a visual platform to promote their business. REI utilizes the power of beautiful outdoor photography which is often generated by their followers – and not heavily branded images or pristine in-the-studio product photography – to entice their audience to explore the outdoors. In doing so, they also encourage their audience to shop REI for all necessary equipment and apparel.
IBM (@ibm) – 101K followers
IBM is one of the most powerful technology companies in the world, yet their Instagram handle doesn’t focus on their technology. Instead, IBM’s Instagram channel highlights the company’s culture. By presenting a curated batch of images that depict the happenings of a quirky, fun, creative company – in the form of people laughing, dogs in the breakroom, and hand drawn scribbles and notes scrawled all over windows, notebooks, and dry-erase boards – IBM goes a long way to showcase their younger, more creative side.
TOMS (@toms) – 817k followers
TOMS has a great Instagram feed full of content that features their shoes and the personalities of the customers wearing them. However, TOMS takes the power of Instagram communication one step further: their annual One Day Without Shoes campaign inspires users to post photos without shoes using the hashtag #withoutshoes. For each photo posted, TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. Through this campaign, TOMS does a lot of good. But they also reap the benefits of effective promotion (over 265,000 posts in 2015) and reinforce their customers’ connection to the brand.
To Instagram, Or not?
For every successful corporate Instagram page, there are thousands of pages that no one looks at. An Instagram presence is no different than any other type of social media: if not executed properly, Instagram won’t provide results and will likely become a drain of time and resources. A few things to consider when deciding if Instagram is right for your brand:
1. Know your audience
All too often, companies eagerly jump on the “everyone’s on social media, so that means our business should be as well” bandwagon, before determining if their target market even has a presence on the platform. If you’re trying to convince high level business professionals who are who are well established in their careers to use your software products, then you need to confirm that this type of audience actively uses Instagram. Check out common hashtags in your industry, examine who is following your competitors’ accounts, and search for specific individuals to see if they have their own profiles. You do not want to be on the platform if your market isn’t – otherwise you won’t get any ROI and you’ll be constantly wondering why you’re struggling to gain followers or leads. While Instagram may have half a billion users, that only represents 7% of the world’s population, so don’t assume that your target market is automatically part of the social network just because of its popularity.
2. Think about the content you’ll post
In order to resonate with an Instagram audience, your content must do two distinct things:
First, the subject matter of the photos must be appropriate. In general, Instagram posts tend to be aspirational. Heavy, serious, or boring subjects rarely play well on the channel if they are not addressed thoughtfully.
Next, the photos on your Instagram page must be visually appealing. Image assets are the heart and soul of any account – the vital element that brings your business’s brand to life.
What type of photos does your brand have that would make others interested enough to follow along? Are they of high quality? Who will take future photos of everything happening at your company? Do you have a good mix of content, or will all the photos be practically the same? Instagram is completely photo-based, so these questions should be answered completely before moving forward.
3. Make sure you’re realistic about the time and energy it will take
Having an Instagram account is exciting – sharing the day-to-day happenings of a company (culture, people, and events) can be a lot of fun for the person/people who are creating and sharing the content. But don’t underestimate the amount of effort required to run an effective Instagram channel. Instagram requires a consistent cadence (between 1 to 2 posts per day is the sweet spot) and regular interaction with audiences. All too often, companies start an account and soon realize that they don’t have the time it takes to manage it properly. Unless you’re unbelievably lucky or popular, most accounts can’t post a photo and expect to see loads of audience interaction without putting in effort. Social media is an ongoing conversation, and the communication doesn’t stop just because you’re off the clock. You’ll need to make time to come up with a strategy, create a monthly content calendar, schedule out posts, and engage with your followers and the community at large – or hire someone else to do so. Whatever you decide to do, don’t let the account fall silent and risk giving your company a bad image in the social media sphere.
If you’re considering launching an Instagram account for your business (or are re-examining the amount of time and resources you want to dedicate to an existing account), these tips should steer you in the right direction – or at least help you begin to think of other, well-informed questions to ask.