You’re on Instagram, right?
I mean…isn’t everybody?
Okay, maybe not everybody is on Instagram. But with 700 million monthly users, I feel like there’s a pretty good chance that, if you’re reading this right now, you probably have an Instagram account.
While the vast majority of those 700 million users log on to the service to look at pictures of cats and find out what their friends had for dinner, businesses of all sizes have realized that Instagram can be an incredible tool that helps drive customer engagement and retention.
Of course, as with all retention marketing initiatives, this needs to be done strategically for a brand to be successful.
We’ll discuss the best practices for using Instagram to generate customer engagement and retention, and provide examples of how some of the largest companies in the world have utilized these strategies to increase their overall reach. But before we dive in, let’s take a look at some of the reasons Instagram campaigns need to be a major part of your overall marketing plan.
Instagram Engagement by the Numbers
Like we said, if you’re not making your brand visible on Instagram, you’re missing out on some major engagement opportunities.
The Instagram community isn’t just gigantic; it’s also incredibly active. In early 2016, it was estimated that Instagram users “like” about 4.2 billion posts per day. In other words, the average Instagram user engages positively with about six posts every day of their life.
75% of Instagram users will take one step further after viewing a post from a company. This might mean subscribing to the company’s blog, sharing their content via Twitter or Facebook, or making a purchase from the company’s website.
These engagement metrics put all other existing major social media platforms to shame. Average brand engagement numbers via Instagram are:
- 10x higher than Facebook
- 54x higher than Pinterest
- 84x higher than Twitter
It’s no surprise that roughly 50% of all brands in the world are active on Instagram – or that, by the end of 2017, that percentage is likely to be closer to 70%. Additionally, 90 of the top 100 brands in the world are active on the photo-sharing platform.
So it’s really not a matter of if marketing your products or services on Instagram will benefit your company; it’s a matter of how much it will benefit your brand.
But, again, you need to go about it all the right way. So let’s dig in.
Although Instagram focuses heavily on visual content, it is, at its core, rather similar to most other social media platforms.
You’ll likely be familiar with much of what we discuss throughout this article in a very general sense. What we’ll do here is show you how to implement what you already know about social media marketing in ways that work best on Instagram – and explain some of the things that might not work as well on the platform as they would on other social media services.
Let’s get started.
An Instagram business profile consists of the following pieces of information:
- The company name and account username
- A profile photo
- A biography section
- The category/industry of the company
- Call-to-Action buttons
Company Name and Account Username
Instagram’s usernames are similar to Twitter, in that they are more of a handle than the full-length name of the company.
Ideally, you can simply use a shorthand version of your brand’s name as your Instagram username, like in the following example:
If the username you planned on choosing has already been taken, you’ll need to be a bit creative. For example, had TOMS (the shoe company) not scooped up the Instagram name “toms,” it would likely have gone with something like “toms_shoes.”
However, there are definitely a few things you shouldn’t do when getting creative with your username. Don’t:
- Use different spellings of your company name
- Use numbers to represent words (“2” for “to” or “4” for “for”) – unless it’s part of your actual brand name
- Choose a username that doesn’t have something to do with your company’s name (i.e., Starbucks wouldn’t want its Instagram name to be “wemakecoffee”).
Of course, your actual company name will also be visible on your profile – but only once another user clicks over to your page.
Aside from your username and company name, your profile picture is the only other piece of information a user will see if they see your account on a friends “following” list.
Generally speaking, your company’s profile picture on Instagram should be the company logo (unless you’re a household name, like the people in the above image).
You’ll have plenty of time to share pictures of your products and more once you begin posting actual content. Don’t complicate things by changing your profile picture every few weeks.
Unless you decide to change your company logo altogether, keep your logo cemented as your profile picture to maintain consistency.
A fully-fleshed out bio is essential to the success of your company’s Instagram marketing initiative, so it needs to be crafted carefully.
In your Instagram bio, you want to provide essential information about your company, such as your location, the products or services you offer, your usernames on other social media platforms, and a link to your website (only one link is allowed in your bio). And you want to do this while allowing your brand’s personality to shine.
For example, Panera Bread’s Instagram bio reads: “Food as it should be is food that tastes good, feels good, and does good. We’ve found it also tends to look good. Share your favorites with #mypanera.”
(Note: We’ll talk about hashtags in a moment – keep it in mind.)
You might not be able to fit all of this information into your bio, as you only have 150 characters to work with (not counting your link). For this reason, some companies choose to use emojis in their Instagram bios:
Without the emojis, there’s no way ASOS could explain that it posts pictures of “dresses, purses, shoes, dogs, cats, food, and more” and all the other information its bio provides – all within 150 characters.
After you’ve created your company bio, there are just two more simple things you need to do to completely fill out your Instagram profile.
This section is pretty straightforward. Simply input the industry in which you operate.
Be as specific as possible, so any newcomers to your brand will instantly get a general overview of what your company is all about.
Instagram now allows businesses to include up to three call-to-action buttons under their profile.
These buttons make it easy for customers to call or email your company, and, in the case of location-based companies, find directions to your business.
The buttons integrate with other apps on the user’s phone (such as Google Maps or Gmail), making it incredibly easy for them to contact you.
Now that your profile is set up and optimized, you can start focusing on creating awesome content for your Instagram followers.
But simply snapping a picture and posting it isn’t enough to generate likes, comments, and engagement.
As with all content you create for your brand, you need to approach your Instagram campaigns strategically. Your content needs to include enough variety to keep things fresh, but enough consistency so as not to confuse your audience. And, as we discussed in the section above, you need to use every option Instagram provides to its full advantage each time you post a picture or video.
A single Instagram post should always consist of the following:
- The actual picture/photo/video
- The caption
- Account tags and geotags
Your Main Content
Perhaps the most fundamental function of Instagram is the ability to post photographs, images, and videos to your account feed.
Really, the possibilities of how you can use this medium are limited only by your imagination. Some of the most common types of content include:
- Product Previews or Demonstrations
- Educational/Explainer Videos
- User-Generated Content
- Behind-the-Scenes Clips
If your goals are to increase customer engagement and drive retention with your Instagram content, you need to be sure that each piece of content you post fits into the “bigger picture” of your brand.
In other words, don’t just post a certain type of photo or video because another company in your industry posted one. But, if your goal is to add to the lighthearted narrative of your brand by showing the quirky side of your employees in a behind-the-scenes video, go for it.
In terms of generating engagement, you’ll want to focus on creating user-centric content, such as:
- Photos or videos of customers using your product
- Posts announcing contests requiring followers to engage with your content or post their own content featuring your product
- Posts soliciting questions from followers in the comment section
This contest from Om Nom Nom Cookies not only promotes the sharing of content, but it’s also branded well, too
Another way to drive engagement via Instagram is through the relatively-new live video feature. With this feature, you can create any of the content mentioned at the beginning of this section – and more – and interact with your followers at the same time (as they’ll be allowed to communicate via live chat).
While broadcasting live via Instagram, you can pin a comment to the top of the chat box including supplemental information or a call-to-action. In doing so, you can point your followers toward the next step they should take after your live stream ends.
One last method of posting content on Instagram we should mention is its new “Stories” feature. Stories are quick-hitting pictures or videos that, when clicked on, take up the user’s entire screen for a short moment before bringing them back to their main Instagram feed. Stories show up at the top of your followers’ feeds, all but ensuring they will check out your latest post.
Stories are prerecorded and don’t allow for comments, but that doesn’t mean they’re a one-way street. When viewing your story, users can respond to you via instant message. The message will include a snapshot of your story, so it will be immediately clear what their message references.
You can also provide a CTA within a Story, allowing your followers to swipe up to navigate to more content of your choosing. For example, if your Story includes a video of your newest product in action, you can link to the product’s page on your website – making it incredibly easy for your followers to make a purchase.
Every photo or video you post on Instagram needs to have a caption.
Okay, it doesn’t need to. But if the name of the game is engagement and retention, it definitely does.
Check out this post from luxury automobile giant Jaguar:
In addition to the gorgeous photo, the caption fits the brand to the point that you probably read it in a British accent.
What’s more, the post includes an account tag, as well as numerous hashtags.
While the above caption is rather succinct, yours doesn’t need to be. In fact, Instagram captions can operate as mini-blog posts, if you so choose. Check out this post by Tasty Shop, which provides an entire recipe within the photo caption.
Simply put: your photos and videos will attract your fans on Instagram – but your captions will get them to take the next step. Use them wisely.
We spoke a bit about hashtags and account tags earlier, but they both deserve a much deeper dive. After all, tagged Instagram posts generate 56% more engagement than those that do not have tags.
Go back to the post from Jaguar for a moment and check out some of the tags the company used in the caption.
First, it tagged the account “007,” which is the official Instagram page of the James Bond franchise. This means that anyone who follows 007’s page would see this post if they checked out photos that account had been tagged in.
But the account tag can also be used to tag your followers (rather than your business partners or other “official” accounts).
As we said earlier, you might choose to post a picture of a contest winner or die-hard fan of your brand on your company’s Instagram account. If you do so, you can tag them (either in actual photo or in the caption – or both), in turn making your brand visible to all of that customer’s followers. Not only would this increase the featured customer’s loyalty, but it can also create opportunities to generate new leads, as well.
(Another way account tagging can be used to your advantage is, in conjunction with content such as contests, you can solicit your followers to “tag a friend” in the comments. Essentially, tags can be used in this way as a form of customer referral.)
Another “tag” to include in your captions is, of course, the hashtag. Instagram posts with at least one hashtag generate 12.6% more engagement than those that include none.
In the Jaguar post, you’ll notice a number of hashtags listed at the end of the caption. Perhaps the most effective of these hashtags in terms of driving engagement is “#carsofinstagram.” Anyone who’s fanatical enough about cars to search this hashtag would absolutely drool upon stumbling across this photo – and, if they hadn’t already, would likely begin following Jaguar’s account immediately.
Hashtags can be brand-specific (i.e., one uniquely created by your company, that followers can use in posts featuring your brand), aimed at specific interests (such as “#carsofinstagram”), or can make use of popular hashtags such as “#tbt” (“Throwback Thursday”) or “#ootd” (“Outfit of the Day”).
(Note: The most effective use of the hashtag is the brand-specific tag. It’s estimated that over 70% of hashtags on Instagram relate to a specific brand, company, or product.)
As our aim is to increase engagement and retention, we should mention that such “brand-specific” hashtags can focus on specific products or events related to your brand, as well:
The last type of tag we’ll talk about is the geotag. This simply allows you to inform your followers of where a certain picture was taken. According to the study we linked to earlier, geotagged Instagram content generates an astounding 79% more engagement than content without such a tag. Geotags work best when on location or hosting an event, or – if your company is always on the move (such as a food truck business) – to let your followers know where they can find you on a given day.
Once you’ve created content that is clearly consistent with your brand, you now need to be sure your audience actually sees it.
Your content needs to generate engagement right from the moment you post it or it may end up fading to the bottom of your followers’ feeds – meaning they won’t even get the chance to engage with your content.
In other words: you need to post your content on Instagram at a time when you know your audience will see it. The quicker your audience engages with your content (whether through “likes” or comments), the more valuable it will seem to Instagram’s algorithms. In turn, the system will keep your content visible not only on your followers’ feeds, but on Instagram’s “Explore” page, as well.
(A quick aside: The “Explore” function basically curates popular content focusing on all of a specific user’s interests).
That all being said, there’s no single “best” time to post content on Instagram. It all depends on your industry and your audience.
For example, if you run a local brewery that gets most of its business around 5:00pm, you wouldn’t want to post at 10:00am when you know your customers are at work and are unable to check their feed.
On the other hand, if you write self-help books to people who work from home, you might get a good amount of engagement when posting at ten in the morning.
The most solid advice we can give with regards to timing your Instagram post is: test it out. Start by posting at times which you believe would be optimal for engagement and tweak your post schedule as necessary.
Once you determine a schedule that works for your audience: stick to it. If your audience expects new content at a certain time and you don’t follow through, they’ll lose interest immediately – and possibly go find similar content elsewhere.
Communicating with Your Followers
Maintaining a line of communication with your customers and followers is a staple of customer retention, regardless of the medium we’re discussing.
Instagram isn’t just a media platform – it’s a social media platform. In other words, posting content is only half of the equation. The other half focuses on engaging with your customer base in an authentic, personable way.
Instagram allows you to do so through any of the following means:
- Replying directly to instant messages
- Replying to comments (whether or not a follower expects you to)
- Thanking them for reposting your content or tagging your product in user-generated content
- Responding to their questions during your live broadcasts
Just as you would on other social media platforms, or your own blog posts, use Instagram as a means of forging a real connection with your customers.
It’s as simple as that: be real, be accessible, and provide value whenever you interact with your customers. As long as you use all of the features we’ve mentioned – instant messaging, comments, and live broadcasts – you’ll be able to reach your audience members where they need to be reached in order to keep them engaged with your brand.
An active and well put-together Instagram campaign can lead to a huge amount of engagement among your followers. Not only that, but it can also drive customers to make referrals and become brand evangelists, as well.
As with most other social media platforms, Instagram is ever-evolving, adding new features that you can leverage to increase the level of connectivity between your brand and your customers. Keep on top of everything Instagram has to offer, and you’ll be able to reach your audience in ways that, years ago, you probably never thought were possible.