Why Startups Should Use Instagram For Marketing

You don’t need to be a Fortune 500 to build a killer brand on Instagram–but you can learn from them.

Why Startups Should Use Instagram For Marketing
[Image: Flickr user Stacey Palmer]

Only 123 of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted Instagram, and plenty of startups too are guilty of not using Instagram as a core part of their content marketing strategy. You have a blog–great. You tweet your posts, and you update your Facebook page–that’s great too. But Instagram lets you brand like nowhere else. If you’re not using it, this post is about what your company is missing out on.


While corporate Instagram adoption may not be overwhelming just yet, big companies are learning quickly from more marketing-savvy peers. Check out the growth in the chart below. This is the number of Fortune 500 companies using Instagram between December 2010 and August 2013.

Why are they betting on Instagram? Well, if you want to put a piece of content in front of someone, 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. Interestingly, the marginal benefit of video over photos seems to be fairly low. Since the app added video in June, only 4% of the Fortune 500 are using the feature.

Last 30 Days, % of Content Photo v. Video

Starbucks is one very strong brand presence on Instagram, ranking second among the Fortune 500 with over 1,523,456 followers. Looking at their Instagram feed, you can immediately see why they have so many followers: It’s coffee-themed food porn of the richest kind.

Two of their most effective postings have been a picture and a video this past month. The video received 58,425 interactions and the photo received 72,002 interactions.

Smaller companies don’t need food-porn to get followers, however. HubSpot, a marketing automation software company, also uses a combination of pictures and videos–just differently. In one of HubSpot’s Instagram videos, a user can see CEO Brian Halligan dancing on stage during their Inbound conference, a bit of silliness that people crave in a sometimes dull industry.

This video received a total of 92 interactions. Another posting over a month ago, was the photo below of a few smiling HubSpotters; that one received over 80 interactions.


Shoot for a reasonable amount of engagement. We know that big brands bring in an average of 37 “interactions”–equal the sum of likes and comments–per 1K followers with pictures, and an average of 24 interactions per 1K followers from videos, so if you want a benchmark, this is a good one.

What do you post about? Take people behind the scenes. Does your startup have a stand-up every morning? Or cool company swag? What about a retreat that you are taking next quarter with your team? Where does all of the product magic happen? Capture and unify those moments that show how your product is made. Instagram was launched as an app to make your photos beautiful, so use the filters to your advantage and make mundane daily business look that much more dramatic.

One of the best ways to showcase all of these events is through a collection of pictures and videos that can easily be wrangled together on Instagram with a couple of the same filters that make them feel like a collection. Filter tips: Avoid the Lo-fi filter. Although popular, it really isn’t as effective as Mayfair that brings in on average 23.044 interactions or Inkwell with on average 16.407 interactions.

Average effectiveness of picture posts, measured on the left-hand side, compared to normalized filter usage.

Go behind the scenes. Everlane, a clothing design and manufacturing company, has me mesmerized lately with the stunning pictures of where their goods are manufactured to the actual goods pictured with simple backdrops. Scrolling through their account, I can see clear collections of images grouped together. The most prominent collection I’ve been fixated on has been the series of photos depicting the artisans making their wallets. The photo seem to be edited outside of Instagram, but are filtered in what looks like Inkwell. The four photos depicting this process brought in on average 528 interactions.

Everlane might otherwise have trouble reaching consumers who mainly shop at big-box retailers–but the stunning transparency they give the Instagram user into their brand goes hand in hand with who they are as a company in the first place. Understanding the company’s values that way drives people to connect to the brand.

Use hashtags, too. There is this social stigma on Twitter and now, Facebook, that using more than two hashtags in a post just makes you look like a social media n00b. And I agree with this to a certain extent, but Instagram is an entirely different culture. Looking at the larger companies on Instagram and their usage of hashtags shows surprising results. The golden number of hashtags for brands with over 1K followers is 5 producing on average 21.21 interactions.


For example, FedEx, frankly a company that you wouldn’t expect to find on Instagram, does remarkably well in terms of engagement. They have a smaller pool of followers at 2,115 and are still a relatively new account, only having started to post pictures this past March. They engage users with what is going on inside FedEx with pictures of the planes, deliveries around the world, and initiatives they are working on as a company.

One of their more recent pictures on August 29th shows they used 5 hashtags in the caption and captured over 345 interactions. On average they use 4.7 hashtags for every photo and the hashtags help people to find their content as they search for their interests, driving FedEx’s relevant brand experience up.

There may be some skeptics out there, but don’t shy away from using several hashtags. Coupling with the idea of forming collections of pictures and videos on Instagram with filters, you can do the same with hashtags, so that your posts on Instagram are grouped together. Users on Instagram are searching for new content to engage with, and hashtags are the biggest devices for people to discover your startup and the culture that drives it.

When you post matters, too. Below is a chart that shows the efficacy of different posting times on the number of interactions the post receives.

Use events to your advantage. During New York Fashion Week, my Instagram account was bulging with runway-show photos, fueling my desire to check my Instagram more than twice a day. During that spree I found several accounts that posted great coverage, but a surprising one really caught my attention: Jawbone.

As a fashion enthusiast, I want to hear from the designers, models, and editors of the brands. The way Jawbone insinuated itself with the people of the fashion industry only fueled my desire to pore over their social feeds (and perhaps not too subconsciously to want a Mini Jambox).


As a larger startup, Jawbone recognizes the people-to-people connection and seamlessly used Instagram to provide that connection at the time their audience was on Instagram the most.

Jawbone is trying to expand their audience, moving from the technologists to fashion junkies, so it makes sense they’re using a photo-sharing network. Pick the networks that are right for your intended audience, and post more during events like Fashion Week when you know they’ll be following closely.

If you’re interested in these metrics, check out TrackMaven’s other findings on the Fortune 500’s use of Instagram.

Sabel Harris is the Lead Marketing Maven at TrackMaven, the Competitive Intelligence Platform for Enterprise Marketers. Although she prefers solid high fives, she’ll settle for some awesome tweets too @sabelharris.