Instagram is still a relatively young social network, but the company has been through a lot.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are no longer the “big three.” Today it’s Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and by a big margin.
What’s particularly interesting about Instagram when compared to Facebook and YouTube is its cultural relevance. It has become the default place for celebrities, influencers, and creators to share content and have conversations. That’s mostly because the content on Facebook is totally defined by the algorithm, so it’s customized for each individual. YouTube content is often found via search, with less of a focus on the feed and the content being a bit more functional. But Instagram content is sorted and there is less noise, so it’s easier for creators to connect with their audiences.
We inbound marketers generally aren’t Instagram celebrities, but we can still take part in the most relevant cultural conversations happening online by investing in Instagram marketing.
To do it, though, we need to take a unique approach to content strategy. That’s what this post is about.
Learn more about setting up Instagram and creating your marketing strategy here.
Find Your Visual Voice
Every great Instagram business account has a distinct visual aesthetic — a consistent look and feel of content that mixes messages that support their company's goals and what's most interesting to their audience.
The approach may vary, but this general recipe for content has proven to be successful.
A great Instagram follow and a company that does this well is Love Your Melon. This HubSpot customer has built a massive following on Instagram and has a visual voice that clearly engages their audience. Their content almost always features one of their signature hats, but also people. It may seem simple, but pictures of people are one of the easiest ways to increase engagement of your photos. The people they feature are a mix of the children who it’s their mission to help support, high-quality photos of products and models, user-generated pictures from exotic locations, or stories about the people their company touches.
Regardless of who it is, they have clearly established a winning content recipe that captivates an audience and promotes their brand.
"Instagram has been instrumental in spreading the word about our products and mission. We continually plan and produce original content to share our product releases or hospital giving events, and the authenticity of our Instagram profile allows our consumers to connect with our cause and get excited about joining us."
— Katie Spiegle, our PR and Social Director
But what if you're a company that does something, well, boring?
Let’s say it’s as dry as renting leftover office space to freelance accountants and writers. WeWork, a company that does just that, has one of the most beautiful and followed B2B Instagram accounts.
It maybe a bit more of a challenge, but it’s an exercise in finding what you know works on Instagram and fitting your brand into it.
WeWork has done an amazing job of not just featuring their product but the lifestyle that goes along with it.
WeWork's Instagram isn’t just for people who need office space — it’s for people who want to love where they work.
Every photo or video they publish brings this lifestyle to life.
To find your visual voice, you'll need to understand two things.
- What your company stands for and your goals for Instagram as a marketing channel.
- The kind of content that already resonates with your target audience.
Once you know how to create content that occupies both circles (the middle), you should be able to attract an audience and achieve your goals.
1. What are your goals, and what do you stand for?
Part one of this is the easy part. Establishing your goals for Instagram should be pretty self-serving. Maybe you want to sell more product, build brand awareness, educate an audience about your product, or upsell existing customers.
The second part — defining what you stand for — is a little bit trickier, but if you have a mission statement, that's a good place to start. What's your unique point of view as a company? At HubSpot, we think marketing should be done a certain way — inbound, not outbound. Love your Melon wants to be there to support children and families affected by cancer. WeWork wants to build a community and improve that community's work lifestyle.
Spend some time figuring out what you stand for and, along with your business goals, make sure you can accurately express it. It’ll help you build your voice and craft your content.
2. What does your audience care about?
If you’re just posting images you like, it will take quite a while before you figure out what's working. It’s not a bad idea to just start posting — it will get you going, and you’ll start to learn the platform and generate valuable data you can use to see what's working and what isn’t — but I definitely recommend doing research first.
Content and Influencer Discovery
If you’ve built a buyer persona for your target audience, this is a great place to start. What are the topics this fictional person cares about? Along with what they watch or read, it’s a good idea to explore who might they follow on Instagram.
If you interview customers or prospects to build your personas, start asking them about their favorite Instagram followers. Who are the influencers they like to see in their feeds? What are the hashtags they follow?
Find a starting point — maybe it’s something generic and popular but you know it's a passion of your persona. Something like #Travel. Search for it on Instagram and then make your way down the rabbit hole. Use related hashtags to guide your journey. Are you targeting an audience that's predominantly single and on a budget? Then maybe #solotravel or #Budgettravel are logical hashtags to check out.
For each hashtag, review the Top Posts. Like or save images that appeal to you so you can come back to them later. Look at the accounts that post those top images and make list of influencers you think resonate the most with your persona.
Look for accounts that have the most followers and study their content, stories, hashtags, and language they use. This can be something you sit down and do and turn into a presentation, or just something you do more casually on an ongoing basis so you learn what resonates over time.
With your own content, you want to emulate what you're seeing, but of course mixed with your own mission and goals.
You can also search locations that are important to your company or audience. Maybe you have physical stores. Find them on Instagram and see what people are posting.
Maybe your target audience is often at a physical location together, like the TD Garden in Boston. Use these physical locations as another research tool to get inside the mind of your target audience.
You don’t want to copy your competition on Instagram, but you do want to learn from them. A shortcut to the methods above is to research your competitors on Instagram and see what types of content they post, hashtags they use, and influencers they work with. You can learn a lot about what types of content might resonate with your audience without ever having to post anything this way.
Once you’ve built a profile of the kind of content you think will work, start to test combinations that fit the above venn diagram. Put in the effort to create original content, even if this means you source from your audience in the form of user-generated content. Investing a little time and effort into your content creation skills can go a long way.
Take a growth mindset to your strategy, and test different types of content. Make sure you learn something every time you post and use data to optimize your content, doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t over time, until you’ve got yourself a healthy Instagram audience.