With over 400 million active users per month, and over 20 billion photos and videos shared, Instagram has come into its own as a social media power player. Although some looked askance at Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of the image-sharing platform in 2012, its phenomenal growth in the years since – at the time of the purchase, it had only 30 million active users – suggests that the purchase was a shrewd move after all, especially given reports that younger users may be shifting away from Facebook and towards sites like Instagram.
Another shift many are grappling with is consumers are more and more accessing the internet via mobile. Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms have struggled to incorporate paid content without turning users off altogether. That’s another reason why savvy marketers are looking to Instagram video: the platform was built for mobile. No wonder, then, that Instagram was called the most effective social platform for business in 2013. Since launching ads last November, Instagram has touted the effectiveness of brand ad campaigns launched on the platform – and the way campaigns can align with, rather than disrupt, the Instagram aesthetic.
7 Tips Promoting Your Brand and Video Content on Instagram
Want to promote your own brand on using Instagram video? We’ve put together seven tips to guide you through the process.
#1 Know the Culture
Everyone has heard about cross-cultural marketing fails – the urban legend of the Chevy Nova failing to attract buyers in Latin America because “Nova” sounds like “a phrase meaning “it doesn’t go” remains a perennial favorite – but real-world examples abound. While it may seem obvious to run your translated slogan by a native speaker of the language to make sure you haven’t accidentally told your customers that their mothers are hamsters and their fathers smell like elderberries, the cultural nuances of different image-sharing platforms can be less than obvious to the uninitiated.
One mistake brands make is to think that Instagram and other image-sharing sites and applications are all interchangeable: they’re not. Each one has its own culture. Instagram is the site where brands show fans who they are; it’s about shaping perceptions of a brand’s personality. In one Instagram for Business blog post, Ben & Jerry’s digital marketing manager Mike Hayes described it as the curation of a brand story.
Instagram’s fundamental purpose is to facilitate users sharing their own images and videos. In contrast, Pinterest users can have thriving, active accounts without ever contributing a single image themselves: it’s all about filing away ideas that may be useful and that are, usually aspirational. (I may have the hairstyling skills of a goat wearing oven mitts, but I can still Pin that classy sideswept braid!)
There’s certainly room for overlap in those two cultures, but there are also key differences: Pinterest is where you’d post a tutorial on how to achieve a particular look with a makeup palette, and Instagram is where you’d post the selfie you took wearing it. Pinterest is where you’d post a recipe for your favorite coffee drink, and Instagram is where you’d post the sepia-tinted video of your latte resting on the table of your favorite café. Studio-lit shot clearly showing the product features? Pinterest. Golden hour shot of someone using the product in context? Instagram.
Starbucks, a top brand on Instagram, clearly gets the culture. In curating their brand story, they’re clearly playing the role of your fun, artsy BFF. Virtually every video and photo is clearly branded in some way – whether it’s a shot of a paper cup elaborately embellished by a fan, or just a distinctive green straw poking through a mountain of whipped cream – but manages to avoid seeming overtly commercial. This is largely due to the fact that Starbucks regrams so many fan-created images. Not only does regramming fan images help the brand build a sense of community, it also helps prevent the site from seeming too “corporate” by making the visual aesthetic more varied.
#2 Understand the Nuts and Bolts of the Site
Brands can’t afford to be the marketing equivalent of your relative who still doesn’t know how to use Facebook (you know, the one who hijacks your post from a friend’s birthday party to tell you about her grandkid’s latest accomplishment.) To be successful on Instagram video, know the nuts and bolts of the platform.
One of the most important things a brand can do is to make sure that customers have all the information they need to find them, follow them, and connect with them on both Instagram and other platforms. Fill out your profile, fill out your bio, and make sure you have a clear link to your main site. And, by the same token, make sure that visitors to your main site know that they can connect with you on Instagram.
Instagram is built around the idea that users are sharing their own videos and images. However, sharing videos created by fans of your brand can go a long way towards creating a community on the platform. To show both good form and a healthy respect for the copyright of others, ask permission from and give credit to the originator of any images you want to regram. There are even apps for that, because of course there are.
Another key tool are hashtags: successful brands use them, and use them effectively. Some of the more obvious tips for best practices include:
- Keep your hashtags focused. The Instagram blog uses the example of “#van” versus “#vwvan.” The latter focuses the search, while the former leaves the user wading through all types of vans to get to the brand they're looking for.
- Use hashtags selectively. Cluttering up your post with a dozen tags suggests a lack of direction. Edit your tags down to the most relevant.
- Watch out for language fails. Remember the SNL skit in which “Sean Connery” is playing Jeopardy and misreads “therapist” as “the rapist”? When words are smooshed together, they can become difficult to parse the way the writer intended. The promoters of Susan Boyle’s album probably thought #susanalbumparty conveyed excitement over the album’s release. That’s not quite how others read it.
#3 Post Videos Worth Watching
High-quality videos are important – but composition, lighting, and judicious use of filters may not be enough to make your Instagram worth following. It’s just as important to think about the content of your videos. Since Instagram caught on as a way for friends to share videos with each other, the platform’s culture is one that presumes there’s a personality behind the camera. Users scrolling through their feeds are noting that Todd is having a great time in Florence and that Arlette is smitten with the reflections of boats in Sausalito harbor. The challenge for brands is to convey just as much personality as individual users. As others have noted, one of the best ways to do this is to avoid relying only on professionally lit, staged studio Instavids. A feed made up entirely of glossy, magazine-style videos will seem out of place on a platform that took off in large part because it made crappy smartphone pics look more interesting.
Clothing brand Topshop, which is aimed squarely at the teens-and-twenties demographic that has wholeheartedly embraced Instagram, gets this: brand-created videos and images like this are indistinguishable from the types of content the brand’s fans are taking themselves.
#4 Know When (And How) To Use Video
The popularity of YouTube (oh, and TV and movies, too) demonstrates that video remains an incredibly compelling medium. Following in Vine’s footsteps, Instagram video has gotten on the mini-video bandwagon, and offers users the ability to upload 15-second video clips.
How to use the tool effectively, though? ReelSEO has some tips here. Tutorials and product demos are probably best delivered on YouTube. Traditional commercials might seem too, well, commercial for Instagram’s arty vibe. What seems to work best is video designed to simply delight. Oreo seems to have mastered the format: their videos are simple, playful, snappy little bites, perfect for 15-second consumption.
A more homespun example (#morepuns #sorrynotsorry) can be found on the KnitPicks feed: they posted this twee little clip to celebrate “Craft in Public” week. It’s designed for effective audience engagement: crafters who were unaware of the week’s special designation have learned something new, and the clip is charmingly shareable. The KnitPicks logo is featured prominently, but the brand isn’t selling anything in the clip, so it maintains the feel of a cheerful video greeting card.
#5 Give People a Reason to Follow You
Once you’ve gotten a visitor to your Instagram, you want them to stick around. Tourists are fine, but what you really want are for people to become part of your digital community. So give people a reason to click the “follow” button.
One way to do this is to directly reward visitors for connecting with your brand on Instagram. Juice brand Bolthouse Farms, for example, created an Instagram campaign in which users got a $1.50 coupon for uploading photos of Bolthouse products or other Bolthouse imagery. By asking participants to use the hashtag “#carrotfarmers” along with “#gotcoupon,” Bolthouse was also able to drive awareness of what it feels is one of its most marketable features as a brand – the fact that it produces juice using carrots from its own farms.
Many brands have taken a similar tack. Stitch Fix, the clothing and accessory “personal shopper” service, has an ongoing Instagram campaign offering a $50 credit to the winner of its weekly “#stitchfixfriday” contest. (Full disclosure: I’m a Stitch Fix customer, but have not participated in this campaign.)
A campaign like this is ideal for a subscription-based service brand like Stitch Fix, which doesn’t offer a traditional online shopping experience. The Instagram page gives customers a look at outfits and accessories they wouldn't otherwise be aware of, and thus a chance to request specific items from their “personal stylist,” in turn making it more likely that the customer’s next “fix” will result in a sale.
You don’t have to offer coupons or prizes to drive engagement, though. Brands can hold onto Instagram followers simply by creating compelling content. Offer behind-the-scenes glimpses. Give followers sneak peeks of upcoming products or services. Be relatable. The Ellen Show’s Instagram, which boasts over 5 million followers, is a great example of this – the images are a hodgepodge of pics of the show, pics of babies with dogs, pics tying in to bits or jokes from the show, and funny or inspirational Tweets. It’s a cheerful, comfortable mess – the internet equivalent of visiting your hilarious crazy aunt’s house.
Most importantly, remember that emotional content is shareable content. One brand that has really mastered this principle is GoPro. Their instagram is full of joyous, exiting, exhilarating images. Most of these images are user-generated; the brand regrams a “Photo of the Day” each day. This is an excellent way to reward followers, who get to see their photo featured on one of the most popular sites on the platform, and it’s a great way to drive engagement and inspire followers to get out there and use the product.
#6 Tap into Your Community
Many brands connect with members of their Instagram community by highlighting great videos from their followers. But successful brands can do even more to drive engagement and build community on the platform: they can use the platform to get feedback from their followers. This is a great way to strengthen the relationship between a brand and its most loyal fans.
Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet has created a feast for the eyes on her brand’s Instagram page. Bendet manages the page herself, and uses the platform to share inspiration, behind-the-scenes peeks, and previews with her over 385,000 followers. By posting frequently – Bendet has shared over 3,900 images and videos thus far – the brand keeps the page fresh.
Videos like this encourage comments, giving Alice + Olivia feedback about the brand. And Bendet doesn’t just toss up content and walk away; when you visit the Instagram account, you’ll see that Bendet has responded to many followers’ comments, providing more details about outfits and where to buy them.
By posting answers to customer questions through the platform, Bendet shows that she’s as engaged on the platform as her fans are. She’s not just selling clothes – she’s creating a community.
#7 Be Ready to Seize the Moment
Fortune, as Louis Pasteur once said, favors the prepared mind. On social media, it pays to be nimble. Think of Oreo’s widely praised quick reaction to the blackout at the Superbowl in 2013. It wasn’t necessarily a brilliant ad in and of itself; it impressed because of its timeliness.
After pop star Demi Lovato tweeted “You know you’ve made it when they get your name at Starbucks…still hasn’t happened yet,” her followers began a campaign to get them trending, and the coffee chain quickly responded with a tweet that has been retweeted over 16,000 times.
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) October 2, 2012
Lovato, who has over 5 million followers on Instagram, now seems to have no trouble with baristas getting her name right; she Instagrammed this picture 14 months ago with the caption “I guess Starbucks is excited about my album coming out too!” By responding quickly to Lovato’s fan campaign, Starbucks managed to engage her millions of followers on social media in a way that might not have been achievable through traditional advertising.
And that, after all, is why brands are on Instagram – for a chance to communicate with an audience, rather than at them. A chance to connect, engage, and sometimes simply delight. Since the barrier to entry is so low – all you need is a smartphone and a little time each day – the question brands should be asking is not “Why should we be on Instagram?” but “Why aren't we there already?”