3 Tips to Improve Your Instagram Strategy

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Vice President of Global Partnerships, Sprout Social
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More than 400 million active users take to Instagram to show and tell. From photos with family and selfies with friends, washed in everything from Sierra to Slumber, individuals embrace Instagram as a part of everyday life. In fact, a recent Pew Research poll confirms Instagram is the fastest-growing major social network. So, driven by the platform’s simplicity and mobile-centric interface, a brand’s approach to customer engagement now requires more than a quick crop and wash. As you or your team are tasked with ongoing management, consider these guiding principles to curate and cultivate a lively Instagram community.

1. First goals, then filters

While it’s important to take a stylistic approach that sets a nice tone, first things first. Why are you on Instagram, and what does your brand hope to achieve within this community? Not every business has the same objectives, and not every social network rallies behind the same brand calls. Retailers and ecommerce brands tend to focus on product marketing. Travel and hospitality brands typically tap the senses with luxurious locales.business to business (B2B) companies often communicate company culture. Agencies frequently highlight client work. And so on.

Related: Instagram Is Too Large for Your Business to Ignore

Simply put, goals will be multifaceted. You need to agree upon them, and enlist the relevant teams within your organization for support. Set standards on key components, including publishing cadence, brand-approved filters and benchmarks for responding to comments. Then, measure performance. Be aware of the nuances and numbers to optimize your presence and maximize community engagement.

2. Identify your audience, isolate behaviors

The makeup of your followers should heavily influence the content you produce to elevate engagement. As is the case with other brand marketing efforts, audience segments will vary, with some of your customers more active on Instagram than others. Start by understanding the platform’s basic demographic data: According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds use Instagram, which is more than twice as high as the next age group. Meanwhile, 29 percent of women use Instagram, compared to just 22 percent of men.

But move beyond the basics. Assess recurring behaviors from your brand and your community. Track your sent messages and publishing times to determine the type of content that sparks the most engagement. Review hashtag performance to see what keywords drive participation more than others. Identify influencers who like and comment on your posts. As you collect and analyze the behaviors related to all of this content, you will be better able to replicate and reproduce similar experiences.

Related: 9 Tools to Improve Your Instagram Marketing

Many lifestyle brands thrive on Instagram. While Old Style isn't a premium beer, the brand demonstrates its brand essence and voice throughout its profile. Old Style uses Instagram to highlight its charitable efforts, emphasize its Chicago heritage and humanize its product by showcasing the people behind the account. The brand also often uses the platform to promote upcoming events and engage with fans through contests, supporting desired behaviors.

3. Curate content that befits your industry

The allure of Instagram is the curated, bespoke experience that inspires and adds value for your followers. Instagram’s visual and video components lend themselves well to the ecommerce industry. Often used as a virtual lookbook and lifestyle showroom, Instagram attracts many retailers, who use the app to directly sell products. As a result, Instagram now generates an average of $65 per order, according to Shopify.

Nothing to sell? That’s OK. While sponsored posts and organic sales opportunities should be used strategically, organic content can range from behind-the-scenes looks at product development, team member profiles and how-to videos. You might also want to incorporate user-generated content to further entertain your community and inspire participation.

Related: How to Create a Killer Instagram Ad in Under 10 Minutes

For example, West Elm doesn't use Instagram as a traditional advertising vehicle. Aesthetically, the store's photos mimic a lifestyle blogger's personal account, with no overt logos or product placements. Content naturally flows within a follower’s feed, encouraging engagement. Each description contains something of value for the consumer. The brand includes photos of DIY home projects, recipes and curated user-generated content. Ending each post with "link in profile" (a common network phrase) proves West Elm's authority and familiarity with the platform.

Engagement Is the end goal

At its best, social media is a communications channel, and while certain networks offer greater opportunities than others, it’s important to engage as often as possible. Instagram’s increasingly brand-friendly search components enable more opportunities to join conversations that matter to your business. Monitor trending posts, explore posts of followers and search hashtags that are related to your brand, industry and category. The best way to make an impact on Instagram isn’t always through visuals—but through verbal communication.

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