How The Most Successful Brands Dominate Instagram, And You Can Too

While Instagram is one of the fastest growing apps, it is also surprisingly one of the most underutilized by marketers. Stand out above the competition with these seven tips for using Instagram like a pro.

More than 16 billion photos have been shared on Instagram. With an average of 55 million uploaded each day, that's a lot of selfies. But it also means a lot of money for brands who figure out how to use the fast-growing social network.

According to a recent report released by research firm L2 Instagram touts the most engagement and the highest conversion from browser to shopper. The report also shows that 92% of luxury brands who post an average of 5.5 times a week on Instagram increase their customer base.

But for such a fast-growing app, it is also surprisingly one of the most underutilized by marketers.

Social media analysts Socialbakers conducted a survey to discover what marketers are focusing on and what they’re not, and only 19% of marketers said they will give Instagram a high priority in 2014, while 23% said they will not consider the platform at all.

But those brands that have embraced Instagram have seen just how much the platform’s evolved form of window-shopping can boost their brand engagement.

So why not stand out above the competition and take notes from some of the best-performing companies on Instagram with these seven tips:

1. Feature Customers Using Your Products

Appealing to people’s vanity could be one of the easiest ways to encourage brand engagement. Take the example of Benefit Cosmetics, who turned to Instagram to find images of real people using its “they’re real!” mascara.

Fans submitted more than 11,900 selfies via Instagram using the #realsies hashtag, and Benefit Cosmetics created a mosaic view of these submissions on a responsive design microsite linking to the “they’re real!” product page. http://realsies.benefitcosmetics.com/

2. Take Your Fans Behind The Scenes

Visit to the Musee de la Mode book store

Increase your fans’ intimacy with your brand by showing them behind the scenes looks at your company. Alice and Olivia’s designer Stacey Bendet is a shining example of how showcasing your point of view will connect you with your customers in a way unparalleled by any other medium.

According to Instagram, Bendet shares photos and videos that capture what she is seeing, feeling, or thinking in the moment and provides followers a genuine glimpse into her life of fashion and design and the inspiration behind her brand.

"That is really what building a brand is about, not just showing the product but showing the story all around it," Bendet says.

3. Host contests and projects

Photo contests are a great way to increase your brand’s visibility on Instagram. Using a hashtag pertaining to your contest will make it easy for you to collect photos from your followers.

According to recent research by Olapic, Lancôme’s Project #bareselfie campaign, which dared women to post pictures of themselves without makeup, generated 50% of the sales for its newly launched DreamTone serum product line. More than 500 photos were posted with the #bareselfie hashtag in the two months following the campaign and the user-generated selfie gallery on Lancôme’s site had a conversion rate of 4% for the serum.

4. Mimic Your Fans

If fan love came in the form of a smoothie, this would be it. Here's looking at you, @nycrunch. #1fans

In 2011 Chobani discovered that, even before the brand had joined Instagram, their fans were posting photos of their artful concoctions using the Greek yogurt. According to Instagram, the Chobani fans used hashtags like #creationaday and #chobani to showcase the yogurt as a core ingredient, and not just a breakfast item, with photos of their imaginative uses for the product. So it seemed only fitting for Chobani to build their following by piggybacking off of their fans’ creativity.

“We’re on the platform every day so we know what’s trending,” says Hilary duPont, content manager on Chobani’s Brand Communications team. “If our consumers are posting about smoothies, we are, too. We want to be doing what they’re doing.”

5. Promote New Products

Wanting to drive awareness for its new Scotchy Scotch Scotch flavor, Ben & Jerry’s was among the first brands to run advertising on Instagram. According to Instagram, last November the brand posted four sponsored images of their new flavor over the course of eight days, targeting American users between 18 and 35 years old. They reached 9.8 million users in the process, saw a 33-point increase in ad recall, and alerted 17% of these users to their new flavor.

6. Harness Hashtag Power

Hastags are a great way to get your posts—and brand—noticed in the vast universe that is Instagram. According to L2, 80% of brand posts contain at least one hashtag, and the average brand post will have three.

Most brands are likely to use popular hashtags for their industry so their brand will come up often in people’s searches. However, some popular brands like Topshop and Gucci consistently use their brand hashtags to encourage users to adopt them in their posts, and they are not surprisingly among the top 10 hashtagged brands and top-10 most popular brands on Instagram.

7. Consider Visual Variables

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently studied more than 130,000 Instagram posts. They found several differences between the way people engage with noncommercial Instagram photos and e-commerce photos. For example, higher shopping rates were achieved on unfiltered photos containing yellow or blue, photos with longer captions that did not contain question marks or exclamations, and photos submitted by popular Instagrammers who posted less frequently.

Hat tip: Instagram's Business Blog; L2's Instagram 2014 Report

Related: This Report Shows Why Brands Should Embrace Instagram (If They Haven't Already)

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

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