5 Marketing Lessons From the Fastest-Growing Businesses on Instagram

social media how toAre you using Instagram for business?

Do you want to know what works?

You can maximize your chances of Instagram success by watching what’s working for others.

In this article I’ll show you five examples of businesses growing their Instagram followers.

#1: Invite Engagement

Starbucks definitely doesn’t have a growth problem. They’re one of the largest retail chains in the world and they have an internationally recognizable brand.

However, the Starbucks brand was built on the ethos of the small local coffee shop. In order to preserve this idyllic brand image, it’s important for Starbucks’ marketing to downplay size and create a more personal, familiar voice.

starbucks image

One of many posts in the #whereintheworld series.

Starbucks has done a brilliant job of creating that connection on Instagram with their #whereintheworld campaign.

The idea is simple: Starbucks posts a photo of one of their distinctive retail locations and invites their followers to guess where that store is.

However simple, this inventive campaign actually accomplishes a lot of Starbucks’ marketing objectives.

First of all, by showcasing the individuality of each of their stores, it gives Starbucks the chance to prove that it’s not your typical cookie-cutter chain.

starbucks #whereintheworld image

This #whereintheworld series photo highlights the beautiful décor of this particular Starbucks store.

Second, by inviting their audience to participate in an informal conversation, they bring a certain level of familiarity to the table. This level of brand familiarity is something all companies should strive for and it becomes increasingly difficult the larger you are.

Let the success of the #whereintheworld campaign be an inspiration. If Starbucks can come off as down-to-earth and personal, you definitely can too.

#2: Embrace Video

It’s been over a year since Instagram announced the launch of the video feature, but brands have been slow to respond. According to Buffer, only 4% of Fortune 500 companies have adopted video as an Instagram tactic.

Unlike those companies, Forever 21 has embraced Instagram video as a core social marketing tactic.

For many young women in the Forever 21 demographic, the beginning of the new school year is a chance to reinvent their image and try out new personalities and styles. With this in mind, Forever 21 is centering this year’s back-to-school campaign on the idea of making a statement.

forever21 contest image

Forever 21 cross-promoted their contest on their website and Instagram.

A major driver of this campaign is an Instagram video contest that invites followers to upload a video of a dance routine with the hashtag #F21StatementPiece for a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship.

As of this writing, the campaign hasn’t even been up for two weeks and there have already been hundreds of responses. The kind of personal expression and effort it takes to come up with a dance routine, film it and then upload it is the deepest kind of engagement a brand can hope for.

forever21 contest image submission

Each video submitted to Instagram gives Forever 21 more exposure.

Forever 21 has not only created a campaign that resonates with their followers, they used Instagram video to create an even more engaging experience.

This isn’t the only way brands can leverage Instagram video to create better campaigns, but it does serve as a prime example of the power it can have.

#3: Ask for User-Generated Content

For those who don’t know, 9GAG is an online community dedicated to sharing quirky Internet humor (usually memes).

9GAG primarily uses their Instagram account as a kind of “best of” page. They typically handpick the funniest, most successful post from their site and sometimes add a funny caption to go along with it before they post it to Instagram.

Sometimes they spontaneously announce a contest. The most recent of which looked like this:

9gag contest image

9GAG reinforced the idea of community by centering its contest around a popular meme joke.

“Awkward seal” is a popular meme—it’s a picture of a seal making a strange, scrunched face that looks like a human’s response to awkwardness. 9GAG called on their audience to submit their own version of the face with the hashtag #letsdothis9gag.

Although the contest only lasted for a day, it garnered thousands of responses, mentions and conversations.

9gag contest image submissions

The mutual silliness and embarrassment of posting a strange face in a public forum fosters a sense of community.

9GAG’s contest succeeded because they asked their followers to create personalized content. To an audience that already loves 9GAG, the chance to contribute was too much to resist.

#4: Match Constraints With Brand Guidelines

National Geographic has been around for more than a century and is a household name, in large part because of its world-renowned photography.

Because their photography is the cornerstone of their reputation, they had to be very careful about their foray into a social channel that some have accused of cheapening the art of photography.

national geographic instagram profile

From the moment the National Geographic page loads, their beautiful photography is showcased front and center.

National Geographic‘s Instagram account conforms to the basic conventions of the community like hashtagging and mentions, but they also buck certain trends when it helps preserve their brand.

Their photos are certainly not shot with cellphones and definitely don’t use the stock Instagram filters.

National Geographic also takes advantage of the fact that Instagram captions don’t have a character limit. Each of their posts reads more like a mini magazine article than a typical, forgettable snapshot caption.

national geographic instagram share

National Geographic shares gorgeous photographs and includes longer captions to give them context.

The success of the National Geographic Instagram account should serve as a valuable lesson. Although Instagram is often seen as a diversion, if you put the time and energy into creating immersive, quality content, your audience will take the time to engage with and appreciate your effort.

#5: Create a Consistent Style

Triangl is the one brand on this list that most readers are unlikely to recognize. However, they are worth mentioning because they’ve built their brand largely on Instagram.

With nearly 1.2 million followers, they’re one of the most followed brands on Instagram. So how has a relatively unknown brand created such a dominant presence on Instagram?

Take one look at their most recent posts and take a guess:

triangl instagram images

Viewing the photos lined up next to each other really highlights Triangl’s consistent posting pattern.

The brilliance of Triangl’s account is how incredibly disciplined they are. They found out what worked for their brand and their audience and have not deviated a bit.

Each Instagram update alternates between a picture of a model wearing one of their swimsuits and a photo of a perfectly picturesque waterside scene. The photos are varied enough to be interesting, but consistent enough to be distinctly branded.

Triangl provides an especially important lesson for brands just starting to build their Instagram presence: To create a truly distinct branded account, discover what your fans like about you, then consistently create content around that theme.

This doesn’t necessarily mean being as rigid as Triangl, but their success with extreme regularity is definitely worth noting and emulating—at least to a certain extent.

The Takeaway

Although each of the tactics highlighted above was created to address a specific problem or opportunity a brand had, they’re likely applicable to your own business as well.

lessons from businesses on instagram

Find 5 lessons from successful businesses on Instagram.

These more nuanced tactics, when layered on top of Instagram best practices, can prove incredibly effective at creating an Instagram presence that gets engagement from your audience and helps your business stand out.

What do you think? Do any of the tactics here apply to your brand? Have you noticed any other valuable tactics from other top brands? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author, Brian Honigman

Brian Honigman is a freelance writer, a marketing consultant and a social media enthusiast focused on stregthening relationships with brands, startups and their customers. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHonigman. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.brianhonigman.com/ Brian Honigman

    Hey! It’s Brian, the author of this piece. I’m here and excited to answer any comments or questions you might have about the article and the subject of marketing on Instagram. Leave your comments below and I’d be happy to chat. :)

  • Justine Cirullo

    This is so great! I’ve definitely been working on creating a consistent style since I switch from using instagram as a personal photo diary to a way to market my business. I want to start experimenting with video though! So many fun ways to use Instagram!

  • http://stancebranding.com/ Justine Espersen

    This is really helpful, especially more and more brands are needing to move to the Instagram world. It’s interesting to ask for user-generated content and a great way to include engagement with your target audience. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this!

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: Email Spammers Fined $350K, Twitter Testing Promoted Videos & More

  • http://www.brianhonigman.com/ Brian Honigman

    Well, thank you so much for taking the time to read through my article Justine! User generated content is one of the most powerful ways to grow your brand on social media, especially on Instagram. Cheers!

  • http://www.ocular-rhythm.com/ Aaron Arney

    Fantastic read. I instantly starting brainstorming marketing campaigns for various clients and this article was what my brain needed to get going!

  • http://www.brianhonigman.com/ Brian Honigman

    Happy to help with your brainstorming! Good luck.

  • http://www.samui-art-gallery.com Samui Art Gallery

    Great read! This is what I am looking for. Some good examples to help me get start. Thank you so much! ;)

  • http://www.brianhonigman.com/ Brian Honigman

    You’re very welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read it through. Good luck on Instagram. :)







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