Growing by 1,400% in the last five years alone, it is clear that implementing Instagram into your marketing strategy is a no-brainer. At present, Instagram is truly the powerhouse of the social networks. As of June 2018, the social network reported more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide and the number of daily active users stood at 500 million. (source Statista).
The successful achievement of your goals, whether that be showcasing brand values and products or increasing audience engagement and nurturing a loyal community of customers, depends upon your strategic use of this platform’s features and how well you relate your content to brand goals and values. Crucial elements to ensure effective engagement through Instagram include:
- Unique Style and Design
- Consistent Audience Interaction
- Effective Use of Hashtags
- Keeping up With the Trends!
STYLE AND DESIGN
Much like creating a well-designed website, it is essential to put effort into the aesthetic of your Instagram feed. Basing your feed around a certain theme, for example particular colours, filters, layouts or photographic styles, can put forward a sense of your brand and your product, enabling your audience to engage with this vision.
With regards to the actual content, innovation is desirable to stand out on a platform that is now used by 71% of businesses (source SproutSocial). As we enter the season of the infamous pumpkin spice latte, Starbucks seems the most appropriate and indeed the optimal model of successful audience engagement. Through the use of amusing and creative content Starbucks has consistently connected with its target audience, the millennial generation, in a unique manner. By giving their bestselling beverage a celebrity-style social media persona (‘The Real Life of the PSL’) and offering their audience an experience that tells a story, the audience is entertained and reminded of their own memories of fall and the holiday season.
By providing personality and evoking an emotional experience, Starbucks has effectively humanised their brand creating a powerful fall phenomenon.
The Starbucks model also highlights the importance of consistent and positive audience engagement. Posting frequently will keep followers interested, and there is little evidence to show that posting too often will drive followers away, providing of course that your content is engaging and interesting.
In addition to posting consistently, engaging with your audience more informally is important. Don’t just post content and then disappear. Establish feedback groups, monitor conversations and comments and ensure you are present. Connecting with followers adds to the customer experience and can set you apart from competition. Simply replying to comments creates a shared connection between the target and the brand giving the audience a sense of value and helping to foster brand loyalty.
Captions can be used as a call-to-action, triggering a response or discussion among followers. Although Instagram is a predominantly visual network, your caption should not be treated as an afterthought. Those instagrammers who see the most engagement tend to tell a story, pose a question or utilise fun hashtags and emojis.
More recently too, running contests or campaigns has been proven as a quick way to build a following and increase engagement. Such contests can take the form of photo challenges, regram contests or competitions requiring participants to like, comment or tag friends. Arguably the only limitations to these uses of Instagram are your own creativity.
Calvin Klein’s #mycalvins campaign is a highly successful example. This campaign generated much excitement and helped to broaden their follower community substantially. In addition to capturing audience attention, the campaign created an endless stream of user generated content on social platforms. Calvin Klein CMO Melissa Goldie told Marketing the goal of this campaign was building CK further as a ‘global lifestyle brand’. In pursuit of this aim, authentic audience connection would be achieved by ‘inviting individuals to create intimate memories with the brand’, in turn ‘reflect[ing] culture and the way youthful minded individuals live and behave today’.
Hashtags are fundamental elements of such campaigns. Undoubtedly campaigns like the one highlighted above would not have garnered the levels of attention they did without them. Taking away the relevance provided by the hashtag, this global campaign would likely have deteriorated into nothing but a generic photo campaign of attractive people in underwear.
When used thoughtfully and strategically hashtags are an excellent method of increasing exposure and visibility. They are a core tactic to create communities, awareness and dedicated channels to boost your bottom line and acquire new customers.
Hashtags are not necessarily about being seen by the most people, but rather the right people. This is how they facilitate higher engagement and more followers.
Determining the right hashtag for your brand is crucial. Specificity over generality is desirable. For example, a location hashtag could be used alongside a branded one. Searching #pumpkinspicelatte will provide you with thousands of pictures of coffee fans sharing their favourite fall memories while enjoying Starbucks’s ‘magical’ seasonal beverage. Experimenting with both popular and niche hashtags can help maximise exposure whilst ensuring that your content is not completely lost within a sea of posts for a single popular hashtag. This experimentation can assist in determining the optimum balance between these categories in your hashtag usage.
Taking further inspiration for hashtags from influencers within your industry can only be beneficial. These figures are likely to be well-established with your audience providing a good starting point in determining which hashtags will assist most in the achievement of your goals. Studying what competitors use can also provide new ideas, or rather tags not to use, prompting a search for alternatives so as not to compete directly for the same audience eyes.
However, it is possible to take it too far with hashtags. Captions can become bloated with hashtags, many of which are irrelevant to the actual post. When using this device, therefore, quality over quantity is crucial.
KEEP UP WITH THE TRENDS
In addition to Instagram trends such as contests, campaigns and the greater and more effective utilisation of hashtags, the advent of Instagram stories and live video provide yet another avenue to creatively engage with your audience.
In the pursuit of brand humanisation, and in line with the marketing dictum that ‘facts tell, stories sell’, the use of Instagram stories to tell stories is perhaps the most effective way to enhance audience engagement. By creating an emotional connection, stories establish trust, enabling the audience first to be hooked, and then introduced to your brand.
Being relatively new, there is no better time than the present to capitalise on the stories feature. Significantly, these short snapshots of content appear at the top of a follower’s timeline where most look daily. Inherently lower quality, effortless creation is facilitated. Real and uncut content that diverges from the formal brand ‘aesthetic’ can be used to provide behind the scenes or ‘insider’ posts. This can take the form of the spontaneous capture of an event or demonstrations of how employees work in accordance with brand values and in some cases towards the same goals as customers. For example, a sports brand such as Lululemon may show the fitness transformations of employees as well as members of their audience, in addition to content such as live yoga practices and healthy eating and living ideas.
Adding context to content, personal and intimate images or videos display a side to the brand the audience may not have seen. Authenticity and thus a deeper connection between a brand and its most loyal followers is thus achieved. Indeed, studies show that 51% of millennials want to see brand personality, highlighting the need for the right tone of message – a more casual voice is likely to be effective in communicating with followers.
Despite a short life-span of just 24 hours, quality content can be pinned in profile highlights, allowing this expiry period to be subverted. This catalogue system allows stories to be curated under specific themes or titles then made easily accessible to followers.
Further to this, the stories feature provides many more opportunities for audience engagement and expansion. These include the ability to tag others and collaborate with fellow brands and influencers, the rise of Instagram ‘takeovers’ and ‘days in the life’ and interactive polls which entertain and simultaneously provide useful feedback. Boomerangs, gifs, stickers and filters contribute further to this ‘fun’ element clearly showing the eye-catching possibilities this feature, and Instagram as an overall platform, provides to your marketing strategy.