Instagram, with more than 700 million total monthly active users, now claims over 8 million accounts using business profiles. What does that mean for the mobile-based photo and video-sharing social network? Brands want their Instagram marketing strategy to reach targeted demographics, engage users and drive real social value.

Nearly 60% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18-29. This makes Instagram a highly competitive network to reach this valuable demographic. And as people join Instagram in droves, brands have a unique opportunity for engagement with their fans.

However, success for brands on Instagram takes more than publishing attractive images—it is the product of thoughtful strategy, a well-defined brand identity grounded in visual creativity and effective community management. To help you develop an Instagram marketing strategy based on clear goals and measurable results, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide.

Sprout features mentioned in this article:

Determine Your Objectives

First thing’s first, what do you want to achieve on Instagram? What’s the purpose of your brand using Instagram? Whether you’ve never published a single photo or you’re an Instagram seasoned pro, consider the following for your Instagram marketing strategy:

  • What will Instagram allow you to do that other platforms don’t?
  • Who is your target audience and which members of your audience are active on Instagram?
  • How will Instagram integrate with the other networks in your social media strategy?

Instagram’s focus on visual sharing offers a unique platform to showcase your culture and people in addition to your products and services. For example, Flowers for Dreams has a stellar Instagram profile showcasing events and products with vibrant and eye-catching visuals.

The mobile nature Instagram is perfect for showing captured or in-the-moment visuals. This gives followers a more personal chance to interact with your brand. It also helps your Instagram engagement in a way that feels more casual and instantaneous than other networks.

Depending on your industry, brand and key performance indicators, your Instagram marketing strategy should target several of these objectives:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Demonstrate company culture
  • Showcase your team and recruit new talent
  • Increase customer engagement and loyalty
  • Showcase products and services
  • Enhance and complement event experiences
  • Incentivize consumer engagement
  • Share company or industry news
  • Build a more engaged community
  • Connect with influencers
  • Drive sales through traffic

As you continue to create your strategy, these objectives will guide you in determining the best approach to each part of the process.

Develop an Instagram Content Strategy

Content is the foundation of your Instagram presence. Many B2C businesses use Instagram to make their product the star of the show. Other B2B companies often focus on company culture and team recruitment. But the right approach is one that best showcases your brand. Based on your target audience and objectives, develop a plan to deliver eye-catching content to your community on a consistent basis.

To get started, follow these steps to build and produce highly-effective Instagram content:

Build Content Themes

Review your objectives and determine what aspects of your brand to showcase in your Instagram content. Products, services, team members and culture all offer rich potential for subject matter over time. Once you have a list of specific content themes, brainstorm possible subjects for your images and videos.

Your content themes should align not only through your brand voice, but visually as well. For example, Pantone consistently uses similar visuals to help tell a better story on Instagram. Using vibrant and colorful content highlights its products and increases interaction (aka: clicks and traffic).

Did you know that Instagram photos with faces generate 38% more likes than those without? Building content themes around what you know works is essential to success. Start by using an Instagram analytics tool like Sprout Social to benchmark your content and see what actually drives engagement.

Once you have your data, develop your content themes around that style of visual, whether it’s photos with faces, brightly-colored images or videos of your product. A quick Instagram audit will tell you everything you need to know.

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Determine Content Medium & Ratio

Instagram started as a photo-sharing app, but its wide base of creative users publish everything from videos to graphics to Boomerang videos. As you plan out your content on your social media calendar, consider a balance of content types that will work best for the resources you have and the engagement you want from your audience.

If video enables you to tell a compelling story about your product, work it into your content more often. If you don’t have the resources to execute video at high-quality level, you may want may want to only use video for specific campaigns and promotions. With composition for Instagram, quality matters, and it is worth spending the time to create the best possible content.

Beyond its flagship app, Instagram offers several supplementary apps that help you get even more creative with your posts. The Instagram suite of apps includes:

  • Hyperlapse: This app allows users to shoot stop-motion time-lapse. While the camera moves a short distance, the action between each shot is rapid.
  • Layout: Combine photos and videos together in a single Instagram post through custom layouts and features like mirrored landscapes.
  • Boomerang: Much like a GIF, Boomerang plays a short cut video forward, but also backward, repeatedly to create a nonstop motion.

These additional apps allow brands and consumers alike to create even more unique, Instagram-specific content even without in-house design or video production capabilities.

Set a (Flexible) Content Calendar

To establish and maintain an active presence on Instagram, determine the frequency with which you will post. It helps to learn some of the best times to post on Instagram so you reach your maximum audience for engagement.

Afterward, develop a content calendar that cycles through your themes and integrates key dates and campaigns. Sprout’s Instagram Scheduling features allow users to select, edit and schedule Instagram posts from our dashboard. While you cannot schedule posts directly on Instagram, you can easily prepare content (photos, videos, captions) in advance through Sprout.

Some of the best content for Instagram will occur spontaneously, especially if your aim is to highlight company culture or events. By preparing content and setting a general schedule in advance, you can allow the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities when they occur. During events, be ready to publish quickly to take advantage of real-time social engagement. But use scheduled Instagram posts to fill in the gaps in between.

Curate User-Generated Content

If your Instagram community members share posts featuring your brand, you have access to a repository of potential content gold. Curating content from your fans allows you to foster audience engagement and create an incentive for your audience to share posts. Several brands primarily rely on Instagram user-generated content to fill their Instagram feeds these days.

Brands like Anthropologie, Home Goods, GoPro and even Instagram rely heavily on UGC to promote their brand. However, one brand that truly lives off UGC is AirBnB. Each image on Instagram is an actual place customers can book through its site. The company has a great landing page for followers to find all the Instagram places mentioned by real customers.

UGC can be extremely rewarding, but as always, the photos you choose to curate should match your brand aesthetic. Make sure to review users’ accounts and posts before sharing their content to ensure it’s appropriate to publicly align your brand with their account. Always give credit by mentioning the original photographer in your caption and provide your fans with insight on how to get featured.

For Sprout Social users, you can easily share posts through our new Instagram Reposting tool. Users can Regram content straight from the app or schedule content on your calendar.

Establish Clear Team Guidelines: Style, Publishing & Workflow

A consistent voice on social media is key to building your brand. And on a visual platform, the need for a clearly defined aesthetic is key. Even if one person is responsible for managing your brand’s Instagram account, establishing guidelines composition, filters and captions will ensure your Instagram account is part of a unified brand experience.

When publishing on Instagram, you have more decisions to make than which filter looks best. From visual composition to location tagging and using hashtags in your captions, planning your approach in advance allows you to maximize the potential of each Instagram feature and functionality.

Here’s a few tips to ensure your Instagram marketing strategy follows a comprehensive style guide:

Maintain a Brand Aesthetic

Review the existing visual representations of your brand: your logo, website, graphics, stock photography and other collateral. Do you have an established color palette? A cool or warm tone in pictures? Your Instagram content, and the editing effects and filters you choose, should reflect the same. Consider creating a social media style guide to maintain consistent branding.

Understand Your Brand’s Composition

Not every social media marketer is a natural photographer. Shooting photos for Instagram is a learned skill. Determine your approach to a few basic elements of composition in order to create a sense of visual harmony when a user looks at your profile, such as:

  • Backgrounds
  • White space balance
  • Dominant color(s)
  • Subject

A brand that continually maintains a well-organized and defined brand aesthetic is MailChimp. Their Instagram feed is often filled with photos, videos and GIFs using a simple background with one dominant color. This allows the subject to stand out.

Learn Your Instagram Filters & Invest in Other Creative Tools

Instagram offers several ways to edit photos and videos. Learn your filters and effects to fit your brand’s aesthetic. Also try to keep your content visually consistent. If you need help identifying your own aesthetic, check out our list of our favorite Instagram accounts for brand inspiration.

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It’s always best practice to avoid getting complacent with your content. Make sure every Instagram image size is correctly set to the right dimensions and at the best resolution. Tools like VSCO and Afterlight can take you a step further with more complex editing features.

Put Effort Into Your Captions

Approaches to writing Instagram captions vary. While captions are limited to 2,200 characters and truncated with an ellipsis after three lines of text, it’s still an important part of your post. While some users omit captions, your brand never should. Captions are essential to feeding to your brand’s story. A great image alone is great, but one with a story is even better.

Try to include the most important part of your message within those first three lines. Additionally, use your captions to keep users’ attentions or to inspire them to take an action. You have the space so make sure your captions are put to use.

Trust Your Hashtags

To see the most success out of your Instagram hashtags, make them easy to discover, remember and read. It’s always best to use hashtags to connect with new followers and increase engagement on your posts.

An excellent example is from Pottery Barn, which uses the hashtag #mypotterybarn. Not only does it give the company great opportunities for UGC, the hashtag increases brand awareness by encouraging users to participate. Pottery Barn often reposts great content through the hashtag and even refers to the specific Pottery Barn item(s) featured.

If you want to see the potential to your hashtags, Sprout’s Instagram analytics tools make it easy to measure and benchmark branded hashtags or keywords. Make sure your content is engaging users by tracking your core Instagram engagement metrics.

Don’t Forget the Power of Geolocations

Location tagging, or geo-tagging is another way to increase engagement. It allows new users to discover your content through a specific tagged location. In fact, posts with a location receive 79% higher engagement than posts without.

For organizations that use Instagram during travel and events, at multiple sites or to promote destinations, geo-tagging is a particularly useful feature. This helps you track who’s engaging with a specific location or if your event is drawing interest.

Try Social Sharing Across Networks

Instagram allows you to connect your profile to accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Swarm. It’s simple to automatically push your Instagram posts to various networks. You can also create IFTTT Instagram recipes to automatically share your photos in Slack channels, as Facebook albums or on Twitter.

Determine whether you want to cross-post or promote your Instagram content in this way. If cross-posting is an important part of your strategy, make sure that anyone managing your Instagram account has access to linked accounts in case they need to re-authenticate the connection.

Identify Team Members & Roles

Your primary social media or community manager should certainly be part of your Instagram marketing, but other team members may also provide valuable contributions. Depending on your team and objectives, you might divide responsibilities into content creation and publishing, community management, discovery and analytics, and assign them to team members with different strengths.

For organizations that require outbound message approval before publishing, establish a clear process for creating and reviewing content. One caveat, though is that capturing and sharing moments in real time is part of Instagram’s purpose. When posting during live events, make sure your workflow will hold up.

Luckily, Sprout’s permission settings allow publishers to determine who can draft, publish or schedule Instagram content to specific channels. This is extremely valuable for agencies with multiple brands who want an audit trail for team activity and task competitions. Additionally, our social media team collaboration tools offer premier security features so brands can avoid mixing passwords and login credentials across networks.

Foster Engagement & Set Guidelines for Community Management

From curating UGC to encouraging dialogue and building a community, Instagram offers huge potential for engagement. If you stick to publishing and skip engagement, you will miss out on an opportunity to organically grow your following.

Here’s a few ways you can build better engagement for your Instagram marketing strategy:

Optimize Your Bio & Link

With a 150 character limit, your Instagram bio should focus on what’s important about your brand. Your bio is also a good place to educate. Including a branded hashtag informs users how to share and find additional content related to your brand.

You have just one link you can include in your bio, and only advertisers can share live links outside that space. If one of your objectives is to drive traffic, include the link in your profile and refer to it in individual posts by using text like “link in profile” in your caption.

Follow Industry Accounts & Instagram Influencers

What kind of content do you want to keep a pulse on through Instagram? For example, if you’re a clothing retailer, you’d want to follow top fashion bloggers. Then you could easily keep an eye on interesting content and even find inspiration for your own feed.

In fact, you can easily find others in the industry by following specific influencers. After you follow, Instagram will recommend other accounts to follow.

It also helps to set basic guidelines around who your brand will and won’t follow. Whether it’s competitors, political figures or random influencers, there’s always a chance for backlash. Vet and inspect anyone you follow to ensure they’re appropriate to your brand and audience.

Manage Engagement & Task Incoming Messages

If your brand receives a large volume of engagement on Instagram, it’s difficult to ensure no messages fall through the cracks. Sprout Social’s Instagram management tools can help you monitor, engage and analyze your Instagram efforts.

For messages requiring a response, your team should have a plan in place to task or assign them as:

  • Support or customer service inquiries
  • Negative or disparaging comments
  • Career inquiries
  • Sales leads
  • Spam

Certain messages may require a re-route to another platform. For example, it may be easier to handle support issues via live chat, phone or email. Use Bitly, a link-shortening tool, to prepare an easy-to-remember shortlink to pages related to common inquiries.

See how it works for yourself, and request a demo today!

Monitor Brand Keywords & Misspellings

Another way to see who’s talking about your brand, even if they aren’t mentioning your handle, is to monitor branded keywords. Those specific keywords can include:

  • Your brand name
  • Common misspellings
  • Products names, services or events
  • Terms related to your brand

Through Sprout’s single-stream inbox, you can monitor incoming keywords to catch different levels of sentiment. Whether it’s good or bad, you’ll likely want to be in the know.

Use Instagram Stories to Test Content

Instagram Stories is only growing in popularity with more than 250 daily active users. For your brand, this is a safe way to publish in-the-moment content. Stories can provide links or call to actions to specific landing pages, but it also can be somewhat spontaneous.

Users have a different anticipation for content when it comes to Stories. It’s highly recommended to make this content easy to read, view and understand so users don’t skip you the next time you publish a story.

Get your feet wet with this new feature and test some more “tame” content ideas through Instagram Stories to see what sticks. Just make sure to keep your Stories consistent with the rest of your content and Instagram marketing strategy to avoid any confusion.

Analyze Your Results

Tracking how well your content performs and your follower growth will allow you to adapt your Instagram marketing strategy over time. This lets you to deliver more content your audience will respond to while helping you optimize for future campaigns.

As you develop and implement your brand’s Instagram marketing strategy, you will find what types of content, workflow and engagement practices work for you. Not everyone’s strategy will be the same. However, by following this guide, we’ve hopefully provided enough tips and steps to make a difference in your marketing campaigns.

Building your brand and growing a following on Instagram is challenging. But avoiding common pitfalls will help tell a powerful story and encourage engagement for your content.