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It’s the pictures, stupid.

That’s basically what the people at Facebook will tell you when it comes to the most important part of the social network. The Facebook community uploads 250 million photos a day. And 70 percent of all activities on the site revolve around pictures.

And it’s that core insight behind Instagram’s success.

Within two months of launch, Instagram had one million users. By the end of 2011 they had over 15 million users uploading 60 photos per second. And they are now at 27 million users.

And this is without an Android app!

So it is all about the pictures, right? But does this rapid adoption mean that you as a marketer need to get on the bandwagon to build your brand?

Well, let me share with you my thoughts on how an Instagram strategy can build your brand, and then ten strategies you could use.

The 2 Things That Instagram Can Offer Your Brand

Neil Patel

I think the success of Instagram boils down to two things: intimacy and that natural urge to create. This is good for you as a brand developer.

Let me show you what I mean.

1. Intimacy – Seth Godin’s classic book Permission Marketing is about the process of getting people to give you their attention by asking for it. That’s what permission means…and once you get that permission you’ve also created a form of intimacy.

This is what email marketing is all about. Being in someone’s inbox is like an invitation to be in their personal space.  The same is true for social media sites where you have to be “invited” if you want to appear on their stream.

Instagram is like a new inbox. But its appeal is all visual.

2. Everyone wants to create – Another reason Instagram has become a smashing success…and I would argue it is the reason…is that it has leveled the playing field for artists of all stripes…now the amateur can create stunning photos by snapping a picture and then treating it with effects that render it unusual, beautiful and unique.

This is perfect for anyone…big or small brand to local or international brand…who wants to brand themselves in a visual way.

And according to Paul Allen, 700,000 Androids are activated every day, which means that once Instagram gets their Android app out, there will be a sudden flood of users, a huge audience to get in front of.

So what kind of plan should you have? Let’s look at a few strategies.

Strategy #1 – Engage the audience

Like all social media, interacting with the community is the most important part about growing your brand using Instagram…and this means investing in beautiful, high-quality shots that users can’t see anywhere else.

If you are sharing photos that your audience could easily see on your website, then you will fail. Instead, share photos that engage your audience in a way that allows your customers to experience your brand.

For example, Red Bull allows its fans to experience the brand without actually having to do the crazy things they promote like extreme motorcycle riding or mountain climbing.

That makes their strategy fit hand-in-glove with Instagram. They take exciting pictures that wow their followers…who in turn like, comment and share…spreading the Red Bull brand.

Strategy #2 – Post regularly

Where Pinterest is visual in a grid layout (see my Marketer’s Guide to Pinterest for more information), Instagram presents a brand through the linear stream.

That means if a user is following a lot of people on Instagram, your photos don’t stand a good chance of being seen if you just post one or two a day.

You need to post regularly like clothing maker Bergdorf Goodman who has uploaded over a thousand photos in a very short time:

And by the way, a steady stream of photos won’t feel spammy like a steady stream of tweets or Facebook posts might if…you provide high-quality photos.

Stream the same old stuff and you will get ignored.

Strategy #3 – Use the hashtag feature to get more followers

Bergdorf also tapped into hashtags, using #BGShoes, giving them further exposure, but also picking up more followers.

See, when people search for photos in Instagram, they are going to use tags. This means you need to think a lot like you would if you were doing keyword research.

You could also use a third-party app like Webstagram to find out what are the most popular tags since the iPhone app won’t tell you.

Right now the tag #iphonesia is the most popular. You can use it pretty much for anything since it is so broad.

Also popular are tags like #dog, #sky, #flower or #sunset.

And keep in mind that you can go back and add hash tags to your photos. Just do it in the comment section. This will definitely increase the number of likes and follows you get.

Strategy # 4 – Use the geo-location feature

Adding to their Instagram strategy, Bergdorf Goodman encouraged people to take pictures of their shoes in different places in Manhattan…and to verify this was the case people had to set their locations, which is easy for users to do.

Let Instagram locate you and then:

Next click your location or add it:

Strategy # 5 – Use the API for special campaigns

That’s exactly what musician Moby did with a microsite that was promoting his new album last year.

Users could add their photo to the site by taking a picture of them doing something at 2 in the morning, tagging it with #destroyed…including the location. The photos would then show up on this map:

Click on one of the dots and your picture comes up:

This built momentum around Moby’s launch as people would point to their photo on his site…thus spreading the message.

Strategy # 6 – Build a slideshow of photos

The way that Starbucks makes its Instagram account pay off is through the interplay with other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Among other things, Starbucks posts photos of coffee-taste testing at headquarters and in-store experiences from different locations around the world. They then share these photos on Facebook, which allows fans to comment. In essence, their Instagram strategy works because they are sharing photos that interest their followers.

In addition, they’ve created a slide show on their site to promote fans photos.

Starbucks has made it really simple by using the #starbucks hash tag.

Strategy # 7 – Go behind the scenes

Of course beautiful products seem like a perfect fit for Instagram, but Tiffany & Co. goes beyond just simple photos of their products.

They take close-up photos of jewelry, interesting views of the tools used to create their products, the techniques used and even the craftsman who make the products.

You also might see photos of story boards for window collaborations:

This is a neat strategy that shows the customer how a product is made, involving them in the story of your brand.

Strategy # 8 – Leak a story

The car maker Audi is using Instagram to market their brand by showing off new concepts and models. The trick behind this strategy is to share the different levels of innovation that a product goes through.

Or sharing different concepts that you are about to roll out…generating a lot of activity among your fans.

Strategy # 9 – Crowd source Creativity

One of the greatest strategies to use with Instangram is to collect fan-created content.

Like their blogs, GE’s focus with Instagram is to increase awareness of everything they do…from aviation to energy…and that they are more than a light company. It’s really perfect for the engineer and science geeks who like to see engines and tools behind all of their products.

GE also capitalized on their fans desire to create and share by running a photo contest call #GEInspiredMe.

Fans voted for the best photos on Facebook, and the winner won a trip to Wales to be GE’s Instagrapher at their aviation factory.

Clothing maker Mark Jacobs’ Instagram strategy was to allow fans to take the photos…basically tapping into user-generated content and hashtags. During the holidays the brand ran a contest where followers tag photos #marcfam.

Some photos were taken from backstage of a show.

And others were views from areas around the show.

They then posted those photos on their website.

This strategy works great for Marc Jacobs because it taps into that artist in all of us…and gets the customer involved with the brand.

Strategy # 10 – Create an Instagram RSS feed

If you are going to use Instagram to create a promotional contest, here are the steps on how to do that:

  1. Announce you are going to have a contest – On your website and other social media accounts, let your fans know that you are going to launch an Instagram contest.
  2. Use a theme – A good contest is built around a theme and a hashtag. For example, GE might do a contest around #energy that is generated from #wind or #sun. Their fans would then tag their photos with those hash tags.
  3. Submit photos – Next, users enter their photos by uploading them to Instagram using the hashtag designated for the company. In the case of GE it was #GEInspiredMe. These are the photos that will be entered into the contest.
  4. Evaluate submissions with an RSS feed – GE received over 4,000 submissions…which can be tough to evaluate! The best way to do this is to create a RSS feed and point it to a reader using this address:[hashtag name]/feed/recent.rss. Don’t include the hash mark # in this address.

The best way to announce the winner is to do it on your main website and point all of your social media announcements back to that page. That way you drive traffic and links to your website and not some social media property.


As you can see, just about any type of brand can use Instagram for their marketing purposes. If you’re in an industry like SaaS that is not image based, then you’ll have to be creative…

Show pictures of your staff, a day in the life of the CEO and old mock ups and hand drawings of prototypes. And if you are really having trouble consider hiring a consultant to help you get started.

What are some creative ways you are using Instagram to build your brand?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions.

More from Neil Patel on GeekWireSeven signs that you might just be an entrepreneur Eleven things every entrepreneur should know about innovation… 17 things I wish I’d known when starting my first business

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