You can learn a lot from the influencers who built their personal brands on Instagram from the ground up, without the support of digital teams and budget. These are the people who understand their core audience needs and content proclivities better than anyone else, because it’s their ability to meet those needs and proclivities that made them.
You can also learn a ton from the brands who partner with influencers and personalities in unique, innovative, and successful ways. I’ve thrown a couple of those in here for good measure. You’ll definitely walk away from this blog post with ideas for your brand’s own creative campaigns and/or inspiration for upcoming influencer campaigns and partnerships.
Let’s start with one of my favorite Instagram content creators, Candice Kumai.
1. Candice Kumai: The Multi-Dimensional Hustler
Candice Kumai is the author of a very personal wellness book, Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit, which is based on her Japanese heritage and nutritional expertise. She is also a columnist for Girl Boss and Elle, but much of her engagement, exposure, and fame comes from her highly active Instagram profile.
But Kumai doesn’t just Instagram about plant-based recipes. She posts about female entrepreneurship, travel, and her family. The central lesson here? Don’t turn your Instagram profile into a one-trick pony. Include all the parts of your brand that make it appealing to your target audience, from background story around your products and brand, to inspirational content, to works-in-progress. Show your audience how multi-dimensional you are, while keeping images and voice streamlined.
What You Can Learn: There are several concrete lessons your brand can learn from Candice’s Instagram strategy. I recommend scrolling through her Instagram profile for a master class in content creation, but here are a few takeaways.
- Leverage off-social content on Instagram. Notice that on Candice’s Instagram profile (below), she tags @girlboss @iamwellandgood, both online publications that she writes for. She also links to her latest offering, her book, and includes the hashtag for her book.
Make sure that you are clear about the top priorities for your business and brand right now, and that you are pointing to those top priorities in your Instagram profile, as well as showing off any partnerships you have going on.
- Invest in PRODUCED video. While Candice also relies heavily on Instagram Stories, she and her team have invested in produced video to tell her story in a more polished manner, as you can see in the clip above. Make sure you are complimenting more “raw” video formats like Instagram Stories with produced video around major launches.
- Don’t ask influencer partners to oversell. While Candice definitely promotes her partnerships, she also doesn’t flood her feed with obviously salesy content. In the second post above, Candice pairs content that is typical for her and attractive to her audience—matcha tea—with a watch promotion with a partner. Make sure your influencer partners are creating content that matches what their audience expects, to avoid negative or lackluster reactions to branded content.
2. Angi Greene: The Storyteller
Angi Greene, a self-described “✩MOM σf вσуѕ ✩13 x Cover Model/Athlete/Trainer ✩Health & Wellness advocate” according to her Instagram profile, tells great stories. In fact, almost every one of her Instagram posts–even ones advertising product–includes a long caption that tells an involved story.
This is one of my favorites:
What You Can Learn: There are several lessons your brand can learn from Angi’s Instagram strategy. Here are a few takeaways.
- Create your own syntax. Did you notice how both of these posts include dots between various sentences? This syntax runs through all content that Angi posts on Instagram, and is an identifying factor of her text. It makes her content stand out in feeds and has come to be expected by followers. Which syntactical or emoji-based identifying factors can you include in captions for your brand?
- Get raw. Some of Angi’s most successful Instagram posts are incredibly vulnerable. Incorporate some of this rawness in your own brand strategy.
- Mix words and pictures. This one relates back to my suggestion re: Kumai’s strategy. Don’t be a one-trick pony. Check out Angi’s Instagram profile:
As you can see, Angi posts a lot of inspirational quotes and text-heavy images, in addition to images from her personal life and items she loves. Make sure you’re inspiring your audience with words and telling them a story with pictures.
3. REI: Everyone Is an Influencer
Let’s turn to a brand for our next Instagram influencer marketing lesson. REI wins on social on so many levels, but we’ll focus specifically on their Instagram influencer and UGC work here. REI constantly features content from the outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen who are its biggest fans.
The post above was originally posted by this Instagram user, and then shortened for REI’s post.
What You Can Learn: There are several lessons your brand can learn from REI’s Instagram strategy. Here are a few takeaways.
- Repurpose content from your target audience. This content doesn’t have to mention your brand, but it should represent the ethos and persona your brand is focused on. Always ask permission, of course. When considering which UGC to post, ask yourself these questions: “How will my audience benefit from this post? How does this post’s message relate to my larger brand mission and voice?”
- Be helpful. Some of REI’s most successful Instagram posts include “how-to’s” for its key personas, like backpackers.
How can you deliver how-to content that is relevant to your audience and the products you sell?
- Start a rallying cry. REI posts about “Weekend Projects,” giving its Instagram audience challenges, like the one below:
This gives followers an extra incentive to use REI’s #OptOutside hashtag, and it reinforces REI’s community and closeness with their audience on Instagram.
4. Johnie Gall: Share Your Activism
Johnie Gall, otherwise known as @dirtbagdarling on Instagram, is at the forefront of Instagram activism. And she’s gotten many mission-driven brands to join her and partner with her, including Patagonia.
What You Can Learn: There are several lessons your brand can learn from Johnie’s Instagram strategy. Here are a few takeaways.
- Don’t preach all the time. While the posts above certainly make it seem like it, mix up your more serious, activism-minded posts with simple posts that appeal to your audience’s sense of beauty and wonder.
- But don’t be afraid to take a stand. That said, Johnie’s posts with longer captions, which talk about global ecological issues, are her most successful. If you can find a cause that fits with your brand’s mission and product, make sure to show it off loud and proud, and partner with influencers who can help.
- Complement with Instagram Stories. This will help you drive engagement from your audience and increase awareness.
5. The Riveter: Choose a Conversation to Lead
The Riveter, a “female-forward work and community platform for women and advocates // curated professional, social and wellness experiences,” as their Instagram profile puts it, has chosen a conversation to lead on Instagram (and beyond). This conversation centers around women in business and leadership, and The Riveter has become a true influencer in this space.
The Riveter is very clear about its mission, and it uses Instagram to publicize its events and call for progress.
What You Can Learn: There are several lessons your brand can learn from The Riveter’s Instagram strategy. Here are a few takeaways.
- Instagram + Events = <3. You can become the leader of the conversation in your own arena, and connect with many of the personalities it revolves around, by using Instagram to publicize your events. Tag your event participants. Ask event participants to post content on their own profiles to publicize events and give them the imagery and messaging they need to do so within your brand guidelines.
- Focus on your founder. Amy Riveter, the founder of The Riveter, is a hub of thought leadership, and is featured heavily in many The Riveter communications, on Instagram and beyond. Instagram is a great place to humanize your founder, and thus your brand.
- Consistency is key. If you have a conversation that you want to lead, don’t dilute it. Double down on that campaign and/or strategy, and make sure your visual content and messaging is consistent.