Instagram Marketing -101
Reading the above statistics you’ll likely have been a little surprised. Instagram is bigger than Twitter and better for engagement than Facebook! Time to get on it!
But why is Instagram so good for interaction? What is it about this channel that makes it potentially a gold mine for companies hoping to make an impression on their prospective audiences? Especially considering that on the face of it, Instagram seems very much more geared towards sharing personal content with no marketing angle?
Well actually, it’s this focus and this limitation that actually makes Instagram so effective.
You see, people are very cynical about businesses and they’re very tired of seeing the same marketing message over and over again. It’s incredibly annoying than to head onto Facebook to have a chat with your friends, or to see photos of your new niece, only to them be bombarded for offers for products saying ‘CLICK HERE!’, ‘ENTER YOUR EMAIL!’, ‘BUY NOW!’.
Is it any wonder people aren’t engaging?
On Instagram though, there is no ‘click here’ or ‘buy now’. Rather, there’s just – here’s a photo of us working in our office, a funny meme, a picture of something that encapsulates the subject you’re interested in, a new product framed artistically… This is far less invasive.
As such, brands on Instagram come across much more genuine and don’t appear to have the same obvious ulterior motive.
At the same time, because you’re forced to create something artistic and interesting on Instagram, that will help to make your business seem much more trendy, artistic and interesting itself.
A company that is constantly uploading pictures of sunsets, of their products in amazing lighting or of inspirational messages is going to seem much savvier and in tune with their customers as opposed to a company that keeps just featuring large banners telling people to buy stuff…
Instagram is potentially highly lucrative for brands then and is a very smart place for them to invest their time and their money. While this may be true though, it’s also very different from other platforms and other social networks. What this means, is that if you need to approach it differently and you need to have different objectives lest you be disappointed.
So what does this mean? For starters, you need to be aware that Instagram isn’t about making direct sales and conversions. You can’t include live links in your description that will send people anywhere, so you can’t have a ‘Click Here to Buy Now’ call to action there.
Remember: this is a good thing at the end of the day as far as your marketing is concerned.
So instead, what you need to be focusing on is your brand’s visibility, popularity, loyalty, and authority. Your aim is to build followers on Instagram so that they will see your content and be constantly reminded about your brand and why it matters.
Likewise, you want the people who already like your brand to learn to like it even more and to be constantly reminded that you exist and of all the great things they can buy.
This is very much a ‘slow burn’ marketing strategy then and it should not be measured in terms of immediate ROI. This should be measured in terms of engagement, growth and popularity. In the long term, this is actually much more valuable to you than a single sale.
Creating Amazing Content for Instagram
So now you know the power of Instagram and you know what your overall objective is. The next question is how you go about populating your account with content that will really stand out and get noticed.
Of course, the majority of your content is going to be photos. The good news here is that you won’t need a powerful camera to create these photos and can instead do a perfectly good job with a simple phone camera.
Remember, the dimensions of your Instagram photos are relatively small and the filter is going to be able to hide any low resolution anyway. An HD camera will give you more to work with and you should get one if possible – but don’t worry if you don’t have one right away.
What does matter is the subject and what you’re going to be taking photos of? For a brand, this can be a difficult question.
Obvious Instagram caters very well to creative brands and to companies that sell crafts, clothing, ornaments or anything else that is aesthetically appealing and likely to appeal to an audience that likes beautiful things.
If you knit plush toys or design shoes, then you can upload pictures of these to show off your products in a very stylish way. Restaurants and food companies meanwhile can be highly successful showing images of what they’re cooking or preparing.
Surprisingly, this will also work very well for technology companies, car manufacturers – even companies creating kitchen cutlery. Technology nerds can get surprisingly excited about some ‘sexy’ new hardware and if you compose the shot correctly, this can be very effective.
Services might also work – whether you show photos of the beautiful websites you’ve helped to create, or you upload images of your team looking over the shoulder of someone working at the computer (for a consultant).
Another angle is to think of the lifestyle and the ‘value proposition’ surrounding your brand. There’s a saying that you ‘don’t sell hats, you sell warm heads’. What is the equivalent of your ‘warm head’?
In other words, if your company sells fitness equipment then you can upload photos of the equipment but you can also upload photos of the lifestyle. This could mean a photo of a taped and chalked hand, ready to grab a pull-up bar.
It could mean a photo of an empty protein shaker, or it could mean a picture of a figure running on the horizon against a sunrise. Maybe it means a picture of someone looking very confident and in great shape on the beach?
If you sell holidays, then your photos should be of exotic locations, people relaxing in pools and people backpacking across the desert.
This also works for services. If your company offers consultation, legal advice, accounting… then you might have pictures synonymous with business and success: such as people looking out from their office block on the 20th floor, city lights at night, or hands shaking.
In all these cases, you need to think about making the image look good in itself and you need to think about how it’s going to make the people reading feel. You need to think about your target demographic and how they want to feel.
Ultimately, if your images inspire positive emotions, then you’ll get followers.
A completely different approach to take meanwhile might be to show images of your personal life. This is useful for bloggers and entrepreneurs who want to create a personal brand. Actors, bloggers, digital marketers, musicians, gurus, YouTube stars and more all have Instagram accounts that show what they’re getting up to.
The objective here is to allow your fans and followers a glimpse into your lifestyle so they can feel like they know you. This will build your brand loyalty and your authority and it will make you more likable, thus increasing the chance that someone will buy from you.
While the objective here is to provide an honest insight into your lifestyle though, remember that you also want yourself to appear knowledgeable and if you’re promoting a certain lifestyle or product then you want to imply that this actually works.
What this means, is that you again need to think about the way your photos will make the viewers feel. Try and showcase your lifestyle in a way that makes it seem desirable and that makes you seem successful and confident – this will make your followers more likely to want to listen to your advice. Selfies are really popular on Instagram of course and this is the perfect place to use them.
Finally, note that your Instagram content can also be designed to provide value as information or as entertainment. A great example of this would be a restaurant that also provided recipe ideas, or perhaps a clothing company that offered style suggestions and tips.
Many people follow fashion accounts on Instagram to get ideas for clothes combinations as well as inspiration regarding good outfits and looks. You can also provide inspiration via Instagram, tips, news, ideas for nights out… Think about what fits with your brand and how you can deliver useful information in a visual format.
How to Take Amazing Photos
Taking amazing photos is something that requires practice, something of a creative eye and a bit of luck. We’re not going to be able to cover the entire topic here but we can nevertheless provide a few tips that will help.
For starters then, make sure that you always think about your foreground, your middle ground, and your background. Think about your composition as well in terms of where the ‘subject’ (focus) of your photo is and what the background is like around this point. From there, try mixing things up and making it more interesting.
‘Interesting’ is the important word here because often a lot of pictures simply are not interesting. Look at most people’s holiday snaps for instance and they will consist of people standing, cross-armed, in front of some kind of backdrop.
This is such a generic picture that it is completely boring – and with no reference for scale, it’s impossible to get a sense of what it felt like to be where – they may as well be in front of a green screen! Meanwhile, the front-on shot of that person, smiling awkwardly, evokes no emotion and isn’t particularly flattering.
So what could you do to make that picture look more interesting? For starters, you might move the focal point slightly. How about putting the person on the left of the image, or on the right?
How about twisting the camera slightly?
You can also get lower down and take the shot from underneath in order to make the person look bigger and to create even more of a sense of scale.
Next, you would think about creating depth and three dimensions. To do this, you might decide to add something in the foreground and keep it out of focus – how about a leaf on a tree for instance? Or even a blade of grass? Having something lead into the background from the foreground is another great way to create depth and scale – such as a garden path.
Instead of having the person looking at the camera, why not have them gazing wistfully into the distance? Sitting on a ledge? Or relaxing in the sun? This evokes much more emotion and makes it easier for the viewer to imagine being there.
You can also have them doing something more interesting and perhaps interacting with the environment – they could be leaning against a tree for instance, or they could have a leg up on a rock. This also provides something else to give a sense of scale and perspective.
Blurring out the background is also an option and you can do this by zooming in on your subject and then focusing on them – some cameras have a function called ‘macros’ especially for this, while phone cameras will often let you double tap on the item you want to focus in on.
While taking these photos, you also need to think about the lighting. Lighting is something that amateur photographers will often forget but it makes a huge difference and can make a picture much more flattering (or less so) for the person in it.
Aim for ‘Rembrandt lighting’ which means you’ll be lighting the photo from the side so that half of the person’s face is lit. This creates more dynamic and interesting shadows. Always avoid having the light source behind the subject as this creates glare – the exception is when you’re purposefully creating a silhouette effect or a glare effect.
When you’re taking photos of your activities, try to find items that tell a bigger story. For instance, if you want to tell the story of a party, then often you can do this with a half-empty glass of wine with some lipstick on it and perhaps the innards of a party popper.
Want to evoke the feeling of working into the night?
Instead of taking a photo of you working into the night, how about a photo of your keyboard next to a mug of coffee, lit by desklamp spotlight? These kinds of photos are far more interesting and poetic than photos that are ‘on the nose’.
Now comes one of the most important aspects of Instagram which can completely make-or-break your photos, regardless of how good they were to begin with.
Filters essentially apply a collection of effects to your pictures, altering the contrast, warmth, saturation, sharpness, blur and more. Others might also apply effects like sepia or black and white.
The filters available at the time of writing are:
lark, reyes, juno, slumber, crema, Ludwig, aden, perpetua, amaro, mayfair, rise, Hudson, velencia, x-pro II, sierra, willow, lo-fi, earlybird, branna, inkwell, hefe and Nashville.
Each filter also tends to be particularly useful for evoking a particular theme or expressing an idea. Some make your image look vintage or retro, others make your image look more elegant or artistic. You need to think what you want to achieve with your photo.
At the same time, you also now have the option to manually adjust the effects on your photos – something that wasn’t available until relatively recently.
Options to adjust include:
Adjust: For changing the angle and zooming in.
Brightness: For altering the brightness.
Contrast: For changing the difference between different tones.
Structure: This essentially adds detail to your images.
Warmth: This brings out or subdues the warmth in your images – so you can have more reds, oranges and other warm tones, or more blues, whites and ‘cool’ tones.
Saturation: This is the amount of color in the image. Turn it all the way down for black and white, or all the way up for overly vibrant, dream-like colors.
Color: This lets you choose a certain color to add more of in your image.
Fade: Fade lets you create the effect of your image having faded somewhat – this can make it feel older.
Highlights: Increase/decrease the whites and light colors in your image.
Shadows: Increase/decrease the blacks and dark colors.
Vignet: Add darker corners to your photo to highlight the center.
Tilt Shift: Add a blur horizontally or surrounding the image in a circle. This lets you create the sensation of movement or of focus. Using the linear blur in particular you can make a landscape look miniaturized which is a fun effect.
The secret to using filters and effects well? That would be: less is more. If you ‘overdo’ your use of filters then this can end up looking cheap – as though you can’t take good photos on your own.
At the same time, it can seem as though you’re overexcited with all the options and that you’re thus trying to get as many in at once as possible.
This is actually the reason that Comic Sans is considered to be such a poor choice of font. Comic Sans came with the original version of Word when people were first getting access to Word Processing.
As the defacto ‘fun’ choice of typeface, everyone started using Comic Sans in all of their work and all this did be offend legitimate graphic designers who could tell that the font had actually been poorly designed.
You could also compare over-using filters to over-using transition effects in videos. When done well, these sorts of embellishments shouldn’t draw attention to themselves but should rather blend quietly into the background.
That said, using one of the filters occasionally when you think your picture could benefit from looking a little retro, a little vintage or a little artsy is a great way to keep things fresh.
Likewise, you should use blurs to make your camera look more impressive than it really is, or to highlight certain points of interest in your pictures. Tilt-shifting is also a good choice a lot of the time. A lot of scenery pictures look even better when you slightly turn up the saturation.
Advanced Photo Editing
Of course, there’s only so much you can do with a few filters and a few effects. If you want your photos to truly look amazing then you need to think outside the box and start using professional photo editing software.
There’s no reason for instance that you can’t first do some editing in PhotoShop or Illustrator before you upload your image to Instagram. Using PhotoShop, for instance, you might opt to remove blemishes and spots from your face or the face of your subject/model.
This is important if you’re trying to sell a particular lifestyle – you can’t look confident, sexy and successful if you have a cold sore!
For lighter image editing, another good app is Pixlr. Pixlr is a photo editing app that lets you not only edit your images by applying a few effects and text but also by rearranging them. You can use Pixlr to create little collages for instance or mood boards.
This can be a great tool if you want to take 3 photos from a recent event and arrange them in a way that tells a story. Likewise, it’s also very useful if you want to add some text Pixlr is practically designed to be used with Instagram and this is a match made in heaven when you use the two together.
You might also want to try Meme Generator if you’re interested in making funny memes. Memes are often a safe way to get lots of likes and shares, as are inspirational quotes – you can get lots of motivational poster makers too online.
Videos for Instagram
Another great feature on Instagram is the ability to upload short videos, which is somewhat similar to Vine or to SnapChat.
You can use this to talk directly to your viewers, to tell a short story or to convey something that you can’t put across in words – you can even place a small advert here – though again you don’t want it to be too ‘on the nose’ in terms of marketing.
Something that’s currently very popular is to use an app called ‘Lapse It’. As you may have guessed by the name, Lapse It is a time-lapse app which means it will ‘film’ you for a while by taking photos once every 1, 10, 60 etc. seconds.
This then creates a video that shows you changing position rapidly and which can tell a much better story in a few seconds than a regular video.
Lapse It can be used for instance to show you and your friends playing in the sea or on the beach if your video is about travel, it can be used to show time passing while you work at the computer, it could be used to show a workout in a short space of time… etc. Definitely one to consider adding!
You could have the very best photos in the world though; if no one looked at them it wouldn’t help you much! In other words, you need to ensure you’re providing a way for your visitors to find your content and the best way to do that is with tags.
Tags tell people what your photos are about and they can be used for comic effect or to make interesting observations. At the same time though, your tags are also about getting found in the first place – so what you need to ask is what people are likely to search and what isn’t already too crowded.
If you are in amazing shape and trying to promote your protein shake, then uploading a photo of yourself topless after a workout is a great way to get tons of exposure. But this depends entirely on the tags you use.
If you add the tag ‘#fitness’ for instance, then you shouldn’t expect it to bring you any views. Why? Because this tag is just too popular and too widely used. In other words, hundreds or even thoughts of people upload photos with this tag every few minutes and as such, your image will be buried as soon as you upload it.
On the other hand, ‘#bossingit’ is probably a bit too obscure and unlikely to get searched for often at all.
So instead, you might think of something like #obliques which is a little less overcrowded but still popular, maybe #washboardabs, or maybe #gymmotivation. If you’re unsure, then do a search beforehand to see which tags are performing well for other people but aren’t overly crowded.