Having just hit 150 million active users, Instagram has become a marketing channel too significant to ignore. However, many B2B brands have remained hesitant to engage in a platform dominated by latte art and puppy pictures.
At TrackMaven, we were vexed by this question of whether Instagram could be a scalable channel for companies. Was there any science behind it?
While dominated by B2C brands, business-oriented companies were finding plenty of success on Instagram as well. We also discovered that brands on Instagram -- whether B2B or B2C -- had two consistent tactics they used that led to success.
Community and Culture
The first primary reason brands take to Instagram, we found, is to create a “community and culture” channel, in which brands show what it is like working at their companies.
Oracle is a great example of this, as it posts everything from pictures of its sailing team to snapshots of its employees engaging in volunteer work. In essence, Oracle is showing off the human side of Oracle. This activity drives strong engagement for them, as it consistently captures an average of 25 interactions per 1,000 followers.
This tactic is an important one for many companies, as corporate social responsibility programs have become widespread yet are often are hard to promote. Since it's a visual medium, Instagram provides a perfect channel for promoting your company’s volunteer work.
Another instance of a B2B brand utilizing Instagram in this manner is VMware. The software company actually has a dedicated Instagram handle -- VMwareCareers -- in which it shows images ranging from its volunteer work to employee birthdays.
VMware is showing people what it's like to work there and being upfront that the end goal of its posted images is to get you to apply for a job.
Not only do B2B brands use Instagram as a culture and recruiting hub, but there are also companies like CBRE, General Electric, and Cisco that are successfully using it for more generalized brand marketing.
CBRE, a commercial real estate services company, has been getting strong engagement by posting pictures of its various buildings throughout the country. GE has been uploading photos of its various jet engines in various stages of construction -- from the factory floor to installed and in action on a 747. As for Cisco? The company posts content that promotes itself in numerous ways pretty regularly.
To understand how these brands are finding success on Instagram, we first have to look a bit closer at their photos. These particular brands are religious about one thing: hashtagging.
For example, CBRE posted a picture of Chase Tower (below) with the comment: "#ChaseTower #Chicago #downtown tallest building inside the #el loop tracks." The use of multiple hashtags helps expand the company's reach on Instagram (and the interesting photo of the structure helps as well).
GE has done the same thing, as it recently posted this comment and hashtag with a photo: "Shooting the Turbulence Control Structure (TCS) at Site 7. The TCS is used to stabilize airflow during engine tests. #GEInstaWalk (at Peebles Test And Overhaul)."
Cisco has also shown it's savvy when it comes to hashtag use, including holiday-themed ones, which can garner a lot of attention. For instance, the company posted this on Independence Day: "Here's to staying connected this holiday! Happy#4thofJuly!"
Importance of Hashtags
Wanting to dive deeper, we ran an analysis of how hashtags were related to effectiveness on Instagram. In order to do this, we compared engagement (interactions per 1,000 followers) to the number of hashtags for all of the content we had collected.
To our shock, what emerged was a clear correlation between the number of tags and the engagement rate. However, this pattern waned at five tags, perhaps because the content begins to look a bit like tag spam.
So why are hashtags so important? What brands don’t realize is that Instagram is a social discovery platform -- not a visual blog. Users are constantly searching for new content.
Unlike other platforms, Instagram search is only for hashtags, so if you don’t tag your content, it’s being left in a desert with no chance of a non-follower finding it.
Brands need to think about how they can best set up their content to succeed, and on Instagram, that means consistent and relevant tags.
Instagram as a Channel
B2B brands should use Instagram as a tool to surface their culture to a larger audience or as a way to have new people discover their brand through Instagram’s social discovery features.
The channel may be a great place to show off your banana rum French toast or the band you just saw, but with 150 million active users, it’s also an important place to show off your company culture and brand.
Allen Gannett is the founder of TrackMaven, the competitive intelligence platform for enterprise marketers. You can follow him on Twitter at @Allen.