It’s not news that social media is an important part of any marketing mix for your brand, and it’s hard to find any brand that isn’t present on Twitter and Facebook. As more social networks gain in popularity, brands recognize their online presence is, quite possibly, one of the most important aspects of their marketing, and the venue where they get to engage directly, and often casually, with their audience.
One of the newer social media platforms that’s risen to surprising prominence, and is being increasingly used by companies, is Instagram. Currently 48 percent of brands have accounts, with a projected increase to 70 percent by 2017. It is no wonder why. In December 2016, Instagram had a whopping 600 million active monthly users, with approximately 100 million who joined within the last six months of the year. Moreover, Forrester found earlier this year that Instagram is the king of engagement, with 4.21% engagement found in users that interact with brands’ post, as opposed to the mere 0.07% of Facebook, and 0.03% of Twitter.
Millennials and Gen Zers, in particular, love the photo-rich platform with its simple user interface and flawless implementation of hashtags as a sorting tool. Approximately 90 percent of Instagram’s users are under 35 years of age, which makes it a great tool for keeping your brand current.
Instagram works best for brands that have a strong visual component to their marketing, products or services of interest to its younger users, a diverse mix of content, and a willingness to consistently engage using the communication currency of Instagram: hashtags. Mission-driven companies whose work and values align with the younger generations are finding success in using Instagram to show their true colors.
Harnessing excellent visuals, hashtags, and heart, these three very different companies have found out how to use Instagram to expand their reach:
You might think that a restaurant winning at Instagram is too easy, given that #food and #foodporn are two of the most popular hashtags, but it takes a true interest in your younger guests and a significant investment of time to do it well.
For Founding Farmers, a popular DC-based eatery owned and operated by the Farmers Restaurant Group, their scratch-made food and sustainably sourced brand already resonates with the Millennials and Gen Zers, the primary users of Instagram.
A restaurant’s bread and butter is, of course, delicious food and drink, but Founding Farmers paints a more thorough picture of who they are with their photos on Instagram. They showcase their whole brand, which includes sustainability practices, their distillery, their farmer partners, the unique commissioned artwork, their community service work, and so much more.
When posting to Instagram, their considerations include: What pictures do their guests want to see? When is the best time to post for maximum engagement? And how can they can keep it interesting and avoid using redundant content?
Founding Farmers invests in an in house photographer and videographer for better quality and consistency with their photos, and they recently began experimenting with Insta-stories to give people a true behind the scenes look into the restaurant and the team. With a brand that has so many layers with what they do each and every day, the content is unlimited, and they use their photos to tell their story.
They also use popular and unusual hashtags well, and often playfully, and added app functions, such as reposts, to further engage their existing followers and draw in new ones, fully embracing the electronic culture that is Instagram.
Their hard work has paid off in spades, as this small restaurant group now has over ten thousand followers, and their flagship DC Founding Farmers is the most geo-tagged restaurant on Instagram in the city. They are definitely using the current tools of the trade to their advantage.
Virgin, in their own words, “is known for challenging the status quo – taking on industry giants and championing people and the planet.” The Instagram accounts for the various Virgin brands, including Virgin America, feature and take the lead from founder Richard Branson.
They are gutsy, interesting, often unflinchingly political, with creative visuals and multi-layered follower engagement. It also helps that they often have a playful sense of humor. They develop novel audience activities, such as #giveaflyingduck where rubber ducks are given out asking customers to take and post pictures in various locations around the world, and then asking them to pass the duck onto a friend.
For every picture shared, Virgin gives to charities close to their hearts. They regularly create content specific to timely hashtags, such as #beboldforchange, engaging in current Instagram discourse.
Virgin’s mission-driven brand can be clearly seen in almost every one of their Instagram posts, revealing a company that is committed to people, its own and their customers, as well as the planet, all of which resonates with their customer base and works to reach new and younger users daily.
In their effort to be the world’s leader in information technology, which includes marketing, it is no wonder that IBM has a strong presence on Instagram.
Their content doesn’t focus as much on beautiful as regularly posting a diversity of photographs with a high level of creativity, which includes new technology, their inclusive workforce, their participation in popular events, such as the SXSW conference, and of course their latest push, what can you do #withWatson.
These aren’t slick and beautiful photographs, but posts that seem to understand what will resonate with their Instagram audience. According to IBM’s website devoted to Think Marketing, “brands have to dig deep to the very core of what that brand represents and invest in the very things that align it with the ideals and aspirations of their customers.”
They recommend relationship marketing, as “people don’t buy from businesses; they buy from people they trust.” According to IBM, it is also worth the time to create top-notch, eye-catching creative.
Instagram is an invaluable tool to showcase your brand, your mission, and engage with customers. One known fact about Instagram, unlike other social medium, their users want consistency in their brands. This means that companies need to plan accordingly and not enter Instagram with a flurry only to fall away a few months down the road.
According to Union Metrics, it is worth experimenting with time(s) of day to discover most engagement for your brand, and then ensure you have the staff and the content to consistently post during those times.
What These Companies Know about Instagrammers
As many companies are learning with these younger generations–the primary users of Instagram–there is a lot more than meets the eye. It is likely they have already seen more gorgeous photographs in the past few years than their parents have seen in their lifetime. While spectacular photography and smart creativity is the obvious draw of this social medium, Instragrammers want more.
They want interesting. They want substance. They want engagement. They want consistency. These three companies are showing that they have exactly what it takes to lure Instagram followers and keep them coming back for more.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.