At our young company, I’m an old man. 28 is about three years older than our average and my memories of MySpace are lost on conversations with my “born in 1996” colleagues. Equally, they have hair and I’m fast losing mine.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is this: every one of my young colleagues is glued to Instagram when they’re not working, and sometimes when I’m not looking.
The social media network has been the fastest-growing since 2015. Its parent corporation, Facebook, has about 1.4 billion users and is dedicating its significant strength toward getting Instagram to the same place.
It’s a place where your brand can connect with 59% of the population between 18 and 29 years old, a demographic untouchable by any other platform except Facebook (where the competition is significantly fiercer).
This article will break down 18 of the top Instagram promo ideas and show you real-world examples from the top brands marketing on the platform today.
#1. Feature your Brand Lifestyle
Your posts on Instagram should do more than just sell your products. They should sell your brand.
People like working with cool companies, and there’s no better platform to communicate your coolness than Instagram – the home of trendy marketing and trendy people.
Featuring your brand lifestyle is all about showing your company’s personality, whether that’s behind-the-scenes, in-store, at home, or simply showcasing content which expresses your brand beliefs.
Here’s an example of a lifestyle post from Hootsuite:
Note that this post uses Hootsuite’s campaign hashtag #hootsuitelife. Read on to see this strategy in action below.
#2. Tie Content into What People are Already Thinking About
Every social media marketer knows that connecting your content to current events is like grabbing onto a train that’s already moving. It’ll take your brand along for the ride.
Current events or trending topics can include things like holidays (big and small), weather, political events, birthdays, and everything else you can think of.
* Warning: Remember, when trying to tie your brand’s content to current events and trending topics, that you’re a brand. There are many stories of businesses who have mistakenly tried to capitalize on a current event to promote their business (notably Digiorno, who this year offered up an incredibly offensive Tweet using a hashtag being utilized to share stories of domestic abuse). Just be smart about it, folks…
Here’s an example from Ben & Jerry’s:
#3. Use a Hashtag Contest
The fastest and easiest way to build your Instagram following and generate new business leads is by using an Instagram hashtag contest.
An Instagram promotion or contest allows you to incentivize people to Follow you (some campaigns can actually require people to Follow you in order to enter), generate some great content, and increase your brand awareness by having entrants share the promotion with their own networks.
To learn more about Instagram hashtag contests, check out Instagram Hashtag Contests: Examples and Best Practices.
Here’s an example from Mindzai Creative, a printing company:
#4. Stick With One Branded Theme
If I see your Instagram posts on my newsfeed I should known they’re yours without having to see your brand name.
Your brand should be all over your content. And, when I go to your account page, I should see a complete and recognizable theme going on.
Here’s an example from Brooks Brothers:
Here’s another one from Netflix show The OA:
#5. Tap Into User-Generated Content
User-generated content is the #1 best practice I can probably give people looking to promote their businesses on Instagram.
And that’s true for a few reasons:
- It saves you time
- It allows you to engage with your target market and existing fans on a personal level
- It taps into Instagram user’s desire to be showcased and seen
- Your posts often get championed by the photographers you feature and they share your brand with their (often substantial) networks on Instagram.
To learn more about user-generated content on Instagram, check out our article “User-Generated Content: How to Get It and Why You Should.”
Here’s an example from outdoor retailer MEC:
Notice also that “AdamKassinen21” has asked @Mec where the photo is taken, and the photographer has answered. UGC is a great way to get your Instagram Fans and Followers engaged on your behalf.
#6. Use Video Content
I recognize that not every business will be able to create Red Bull-quality video (see below for a couple examples), but that doesn’t mean you can’t tap into the trend of video receiving higher organic reach than photo content on the platform.
Most new smartphones take high quality video, but I’d recommend you take the necessary steps to go beyond that. A green screen (or sheet), video editing software, a lapel mic and a DSLR will run you $ 1,000. The reputation you’ll be able to create by producing high-end video will more than pay for that in the first couple months.
If you’re looking for how to create beautiful brand video on the cheap, check out Wistia’s extremely helpful content.
Here’s a snapshot of Red Bull’s many video posts:
#7. Get Involved After Posting
You don’t want to be one of those brands who just publishes content and then waits for the customers to roll in, do you?
You want to be one of those businesses that’s active on the platform – a business who goes out and interacts with prospective customers so they know and like you on a personal basis. So when they’re thinking “Oh, I need an [X]” they think first of you.
Go beyond posting by communicating with Fans in your comment section and beyond. Reach out to prospective Fans who use a hashtag related to your brand and compliment their photos. Follow people and check in 10 of your Fans from time to time to make your activity on Instagram a two-way street.
Here’s an example from women’s gym Pure Barre:
#8. Exclusively Use High-Res/High-Quality Images
This should go without saying. But, somehow, it doesn’t. You’d be amazed at how many business Instagram accounts I see which still don’t get this…
Instagram is a platform of amateur photographers. Everyone has a high-quality camera in their pocket and live their lives trying to get the best possible angle, lighting and shot to share with their networks. To maintain a good reputation, your brand needs to be better.
And not just that. A good photo of a boring product makes that product sell.
Here’s an example from high-end cotton candy company BonPuf:
If you’re wondering how to make your small e-commerce or retail company succeed on Instagram, I’d recommend you check out BonPuf’s account. They do a lot of the right things very well.
#9. Be Funny
Instagram isn’t a platform for you you to connect with CEOs to create brand partnerships (try Linkedin, folks). It’s a platform for you to connect on a more personal level to showcase your brand’s “vibe”.
If that vibe is “fun” or “youthful,” then Instagram is a platform where you should show off your sense of humor.
Entertain your fans and they’ll be more receptive to well-framed product promotion.
Here’s an example from Vitamin Water:
Here’s another example from Converse’s promotion of its new Looney Tunes product line:
#10. Go Behind-the-Scenes at your Company
Whether this is a video of your new office puppy, a “making-of” photo collage, a tour of your new office or an interview with your CEO, people love getting a sneak peek at the goings-on behind the scenes at the brands and products they love to use.
Again, this is a strategy to develop a personal relationships between your brand and your prospective customers.
If they like you (and you’re genuine) they’re more likely to trust you when you say “Listen, we actually have this really cool software which makes your life easier. Try a demo…”
Here’s an example from Microsoft:
#11. Use Pets and Animals
There’s no explanation needed for this Instagram promo idea. If you have a dog, cat, iguana or visiting troupe of bonobos (especially if you have a visiting troupe of bonobos, actually) showcase them.
Honestly, someone should start a business which rents out puppies by the minute which can be used for businesses to pretend they have an office dog on Instagram.
Here’s an example from Google:
#12. Use Theme and Trending Hashtags to Spread your Reach
Theme hashtags are used by Instagram’s platform itself to organize its recommended content. They’re used by users to find content they’re interested in.
So why doesn’t every one of your posts have at least 3? It’s a no-brainer, but I see this mistake constantly.
There’s no harm, and, so long as you don’t use 20, you won’t look desperate for attention.
And if you’re smart about it, you can start creating content based around trending hashtags, as Beats by Dre has done below.
Here’s an example from Beats by Dre, intelligently utilizing #marchmadness:
#13. Follow & Engage With Influencers
A few years ago, we mentioned a social media influencer (Mari Smith) in an article we’d written and then wrote her a simple Facebook post letting her know and requesting feedback. She then shared our article with her 6-figure social network on Facebook and Twitter. The resulting traffic to our site made our servers go down entirely.
Influencers can make or break businesses. They can be the fuel your brand’s fire needs, but you have to identify them intelligently and approach carefully.
On Instagram, there are hundreds of thought-leaders and influencers who can help your business succeed and give exposure you’ve never dreamed of. You may have to pay, but consider the cost-benefit in the same way you do an ad campaign before you shy away.
Here’s an example from Converse with Game of Thrones actress (and hipster influencer) Maisie Williams:
Converse has also identified and worked with other “hipster” influencers like Pete Davidson, model Winnie Harlow, artist Vince Staples and others.
#14. Allow People to Buy What They See
Not every one of your posts should be focused on driving sales, but a high quality image and an appealing model is going to get your target market stoked. And that’s a good thing.
The problem is that many businesses don’t make it easy for Instagrammers to then purchase the awesome products they see promoted within your posts.
Tools like Have2have.it and Like2Buy, however, can be used to automatically populate a page of your website with the products seen within your Instagram posts. Check out their websites for more information (after you finish this article, of course…)
Here’s an example of a post with a “Shop Link in Bio” CTA from Forever21:
And the Like2Buy link in their bio:
For more on the best Instagram promotion tools, check out “Top 30 Best Instagram Promotions Apps.”
#15. Do More With the Time You Have
Using a scheduling tool for your social media isn’t even a best practice anymore. It’s a must-do. Not only do they allow you to schedule, though, many also give you analytics better than the in-platform ones. Some help you find content to share and influencers to engage with as well.
Here’s an example from Later:
#16. Use Brand and Campaign Hashtags to Create Cohesion
So I touched before on trending and theme hashtags (like #marchmadness). This is a different Instagram promo idea – using campaign-specific hashtags to organize your posts and engage your Fans in a more community-centric social experience.
The best example of that, that I’ve seen, is Forever 21 – who use campaign hashtags to keep their beauty posts separate from their fashion posts and even product lines separate from each other (their line of basketball-focused fashion, for instance, goes by #f21xnba).
Here’s an example from Forever 21:
#17. Use Instagram Advertising
Organic reach can only get you so far, but the challenge is that (by definition) you’re reaching primarily your own Followers. Hashtags can help you reach new prospective customers, but ultimately you’ll need to consider dropping a few dollars to really expand your Instagram promo horizons.
And think about it this way: How much time would you have to spend to, organically, reach 1000 new Instagram users/prospective customers? And much is that time worth to you?
Here’s an example from the Canadian airline Westjet:
#18. Run a Simple Instagram Giveaway
If you’re not quite ready to dive into a full Instagram contest, in which you require people to Follow you to enter and have entrants vote on their submitted photos, you can still do pretty well with a simple giveaway.
These are straightforward, in which your business prompts fans and Instagram users to comment or @mention a friend to be entered for a random draw of a prize. You then select someone from the comment section and reach out in a direct message.
It’s all about providing value to your Followers.
Here’s what an in-post Instagram giveaway looks like from BonPuf:
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