A Modern Guide to Social Media Content Marketing, Part 5: Instagram

Opinion: The most successful Instagram accounts have a recognizable style

This is the fifth and final installment in a five-part series of articles focusing on best practices to up your content marketing game on the “big four” of social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Catch up on the first, second, third and fourth installments.

Instagram boasts more than 600 million monthly active users, overtaking Twitter in 2016 in popularity. No longer an upstart network, Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, and it has since attracted the attention of brands seeking to capitalize on a visual platform.

The network’s basic unit of communication is the square image or video, with captions, comments and likes a distant second place in terms of importance. Of the big four social media platforms, Instagram is the most unique. Therefore, your content marketing strategy must follow suit.

Instagram users skew younger and more digitally savvy than other platforms. 59 percent of its users are between the ages of 18 and 29, and 31 percent earn more than $75,000 per year. It’s essentially the marketer’s dream: tech-friendly millennials with disposable income.

A picture is worth 1,000 words

If Facebook visuals are candid and casual, Instagram is the opposite. If you can’t produce a stylish and mood-appropriate photo, don’t bother. The poor quality will show when surrounded on all sides by aspiring amateurs and preening professionals. The most successful Instagram accounts have a recognizable style, and here are a few tips to help build a strong brand identity:

  • Stick to the basics: High-quality, crisp images that viewers can quickly understand will get the best results. Brands with experienced photographers on staff or established audiences can take a few more liberties, but don’t bore your followers with uninteresting product photography that anyone can find on your website.
  • Attention to detail: Instagram is the place to tell your brand’s story with visuals that align with and project your brand, so attention to detail is critical. Beyond crisp resolution, every element of the shot needs to work together as a whole to evoke a mood or feeling.
  • Keep it simple: Avoid cluttered background or elements that obscure the main subject of your shot. Don’t rely too heavily on selfies or big, smiling group shots: Instead, try to capture a moment that doesn’t look like it was taken at a studio. Look for symmetry by using the gridlines feature on your phone for help.

Check out this great guide for additional Instagram photo tips.

Timing is everything

Instagram feeds move fast, which means that a user who logs in each morning might not ever make it to the post you made yesterday at noon. In order to appear high up in a user’s feed, you must know when to reach your audience. There’s no exact science to this, as ideal posting times will vary based on several factors, such as work schedules and time zones, so testing is crucial. Set a posting schedule in advance and compare similar posts made at different times of day.

Another key timing consideration is the ability to reply quickly to comments on posts. Failure to act fast can mean a missed opportunity or a critique left to fester.

Once you’ve identified an ideal time of day, consider the ideal day of the week. Since people are more likely to make online purchases on Monday or Tuesday, your e-commerce calls to action should be used then. Save the memes for a Friday.

Influencers galore

Unlike Facebook, there’s no real difference between a brand page and a personal profile, meaning that businesses don’t have the same level of customization to stand out from regular users. This can actually work in the brand’s favor, as there are a variety of influencers on Instagram from which to choose—whether in exchange for free product or actual promotional consideration—who can put your brand in front of their audience.

Companies need to be cautious when choosing influencers to promote their brand. There are more than enough horror stories to be found of influencer campaign fails, like when Scott Disick accidentally pasted the posting instructions  from the brand he was representing.

Businesses not only need to keep influencers relevant, but they must make sure they have the autonomy they need to do good work while monitoring their output for quality. It’s not enough to simply sign on the dotted line and hope for the best.

A rising advertising star

Instagram advertising can extend a brand’s reach, strengthen value and generate higher conversions. As it’s owned by Facebook, marketers can use the same advertising strategies, which are covered in an earlier installment, without requiring new creative and messaging strategy.

Here are a few additional tips to get the most out of Instagram advertising:

  • Since Instagram is a mobile-first platform, make sure the company’s website is optimized for mobile.
  • Make ads look as native or organic as possible to prevent users scrolling past. Blend in with the network, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb.
  • Use video to increase engagement, as Instagram’s research shows that adding video to an existing campaign performs better than campaigns with only static photos. Instagram has made sharing videos even easier with the addition of Instagram Stories and by syncing with applications like Boomerang.
  • Include hashtags to make content searchable, but use them properly. Don’t spam your audience with 20 hashtags, but consider adding dots and spaces to push your hashtags below the fold.

Even as buzz builds around newer social media platform entrants like Snapchat, Instagram remains the cream of the crop. Companies looking to diversify their social media presence through images and video to communicate their brand story would be wise to take a serious look.

Ulrik Bo Larsen is founder and CEO of social media management software-as-a-service platform Falcon.io.

Image courtesy of lechatnoir/iStock. Image on homepage courtesy of mustafahacalaki/iStock.