8 Common Instagram Marketing Mistakes to Avoid in 2020

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Craig Kilgore
Craig Kilgore


Since coming into existence in 2010, Instagram has given brands the opportunity to engage with their audience and tell their story through the power of visuals.

A person looks at and reacts to a brand's Instagram marketing mistakes.

The Facebook-owned app was one of the fastest growing major social networks in 2014, and is now home to more than 1 billion users.

Along with growing its user base, Instagram has expanded its features as well. In the last five years alone, it's embraced business accounts, live video, and advertising, but it's also become a leading platform for social media stories

In addition to the network’s impressive growth, users are also highly engaged with the platform. Each day, half of all users use the app and spend an average of 21 minutes on the app. Top brands have quickly realized the potential Instagram presents.

But, while a number of brands have absolutely thrived on the platform, many still struggle to grow their audiences there. This is because a number of seemingly small mistakes could impact your whole strategy on the fast-paced platform.

Whether you’re considering joining, are new to the network, or feel like your Instagram game is lacking, learning about some of the most common Instagram mistakes can help you avoid them and build an effective social strategy.

In this post, we've gathered a list of eight mistakes brands make on the platform, backed by data and HubSpot's own social media team.

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The Most Common Mistakes Brands Make on Instagram

1. Brands don't take time to plan out an Instagram strategy.

Instagram offers brands a means of telling their story through photographs, video clips, live video, and Stories, but with all of the features on the app, it can be tempted to create content for every possible post and hope that it's engaging.

When used strategically Instagram is ideal for showcasing products being used in real-life situations, showing the progress of something through photos over time (such as the construction of a vehicle, the making of a new record, showing a new office space from empty to furnished and functional, or a new or favorite recipe from ingredients to the plated final product), or even answering frequently asked questions through short video clips or Instagram Live.

Yes, the possibilities are near limitless on Instagram, but like any other form of digital marketing, you’ll want to define goals early on and create a strategy to help you reach them.

Whether you’re on Instagram to increase brand awareness, showcase a new product line, or add a human element to your brand, each piece of content you publish on the platform should be adding value and help you attain goals.

Who’s doing it right? Quest Nutrition

Quest Nutrition is a nutrition company popular amongst the low carb and fitness crowds. They create nutritional food and drink products to help people reach their own health and fitness goals. According to TOTEMS Analytics, Quest Nutrition grows in follower count by roughly 15k / month. There’s no questioning how well of a job they do connecting with their audience and their lifestyles.

Furthermore, they’re making it work in a somewhat surprising fashion, through video.

Instagram introduced a 15-second video component to their platform back in June of 2013, and the adoption and engagement rates have been lesser than photo content. However, Quest Nutrition has found a way to make it work, driving far more engagement with video content, according to PicStats.

Here’s an example of Quest Nutrition creating a “how-to” video with one of their products, all while sticking to their #CheatClean (health and wellness) message and strategy.

2. Brands focus on production quality rather than audience value.

Because major brands might post high-resolution photos and video content on Instagram, smaller brands might get the impression that you need a fancy camera or a studio to succeed on Instagram. This is far from the truth, according to HubSpot's Social Media Manager Kelly Hendrickson:

"Quality is more than the video equipment you use to film or the design software you use to create. Quality is about providing value," Hendrickson explains.

When you don't focus on creating content that your audience enjoys or values, they might be less likely to like it, share it, or keep following you. 

Take a second to think about how Instagram works. Users typically scroll through a single column of photos, quickly glancing at photos and skimming captions, only slowing down and stopping when something catches their eyes or piques their interest.

Other times they’re exploring content via hashtags, tapping quickly through Instagram Stories, or scrolling through a 3-column search layout until a photo or video stands out.

The more focus you put on the quality and value of the content you’re publishing on Instagram, the more likely users will be to slow down, stop at, and engage with your account and content.

Hendrickson suggests asking yourself, "What can your audience get from your brand’s Instagram account that they can’t get anywhere else? How are you improving their experience on the platform? How are you identifying with them?"

Who’s doing it right? Taco Bell

Taco Bell is no stranger to effectively utilizing social media. By summer of 2020, they had well over 1.4 million followers over a thousand posts with well over that amount of engagements.  

And while you might not typically group fast food and photography, Taco Bell has always made it work and taken full advantage of Instagram's highly-engaged user base.

The fast-food chain does an extraordinary job leveraging vibrant colors in their photos and creates a laidback, entertaining feel through photo and video captions.

Taco Bell's posts and Stories, which often contain delectable images of food are eye-catching, relevant, engaging, and make you crave their products. On top of showing images of their most hunger-inducing meals, Taco Bell also regularly highlights images of customers eating their products in daily life.

Here's just one example where Taco Bell highlighted a recent graduate eating a wrap:


3. Brands don't determine a posting frequency that's right for them.

While a number of studies in the last decade hinted that posting more often each day would create more engagement, newer research has debunked the theory that you must post as much as possible to be successful on the current Instagram platform. 

As part of your Instagram strategy, post frequency should be addressed and studied, but you should take more than engagement into account. For example, if posting a lot doesn't get you high engagements, but still takes time away from your overall social media strategy, you might want to post less. On the other hand, if you're a large company that has the resources to post more highly engaging content each day, that might be a tactic you should continue.

Ultimately, you'll want to look for a happy medium between quantity and quality, ensuring one isn’t sacrificed for the other. If you determine that you’re able to post quality content 15 times-per-day, it’s important you stick to a similar posting schedule for a bit and pivot if your engagement numbers change. 

Who’s doing it right? MAC Cosmetics

MAC Cosmetics is a cosmetics manufacturer founded in 1984 in Toronto, Canada. According to TOTEMS Analytics, MAC Cosmetics grows in follower count on Instagram by roughly 231k / month. A post on Instagram earns the cosmetics manufacturer an impressive 34k likes and 300+ comments on average according to PicStats.

MAC Cosmetics is close to hitting 3 million followers and that’s due in part to their frequent and consistent posting schedule. It’s uncommon to go a day without seeing several quality posts from the brand.

Again, it’s worth noting that the brand isn’t sacrificing quality, as you’ll see in the examples below.



4. Brands purchase followers or engagements.

If you're even slightly considering buying followers or engagements, stop. For years, the network has been cracking down on fake and spam accounts, and they’re taking them out in massive numbers.

"Social media companies are savvy. Whether it be Twitter purging bots or TikTok shadow banning users, social media companies can sniff out fakes pretty quickly. And here’s the thing, so can you audience," Hendrickson reveals. 

"A high purchased follower account won’t meet your brand’s goal of being on Instagram in the first place," Hendrickson explains. "In fact, it can harm them. Do those purchased followers help your genuine audience build an affinity for your brand? Does it make them look to your brand for value? Does it make them trust you?"

"In the end, all these purchases end up doing, is having your audience ask why the likes are so low on a post when you have so many followers," Hendrickson points out. 

So, what should you do instead? Focus on real engagement, like the accounts noted in this post. 

Who’s doing it right? Nike

Nike is a multinational corporation known for their footwear, apparel, sporting equipment, and services. The brand is often referenced for their innovative marketing strategies, and they’ve earned an impressive Instagram audience with a whopping 120 million followers

Nike’s attention to quality, compelling and influential messages, and an ability to create genuine connections with their audience through photo and video is what’s earned them one of the most dominant presences on the social network.

The high-quality photos, captivating captions, utilization of location tagging, and branded hashtags are working well for the brand as you’ll see below.

5. Brands focus on gaining -- but not retaining -- followers.

Instagram users are engaged and they’re consuming and enjoying branded content at impressive rates. The social network continues to give brands huge opportunities for growth. However, an engaged following today doesn’t guarantee an engaged following tomorrow. How you interact with and leverage your Instagram following can mean the difference between flourishing and flopping on the social network.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to offset the additional resources needed to create a successful Instagram presence can be found within your audience. Instagram is the perfect platform for promoting user-generated content (UGC), probably more so than any other social network. Whether you’re running a photo contest or are encouraging the use of a branded hashtag, Instagram is the perfect platform for building real relationships with real people.

Give your followers the opportunity to spread your message, share your content, use your hashtags, and serve as advocates to your brand.

Who’s doing it right? BarkBox

BarkBox is a monthly surprise package for dogs that includes toys, treats, and goodies. The company donates 10% of their profits to dogs in need and has already rescued 800 puppies. 

The brand has one of the funniest, most entertaining accounts on Instagram. They feature some of the most popular dogs of Instagram on their account, which has helped them promote engagement, grow their following, and promote branded hashtags. They’ve also created a VIP program that helps them earn business return via Instagram.

There’s a reason BarkBox is raking in 15k likes and 1k comments average on each post.

Try not to laugh (volume recommended).




6. Brands are overly promotional.

Is there anything more unflattering than brands posting nothing but promotional content on their social networks? Buy this, sale on this, big savings, free shipping!

Overly promotional posts come across as selfish, lazy, and depending on timing, potentially distasteful. While there’s certainly a time and a place to be promotional, brands succeeding on Instagram are the ones delivering powerful and meaningful messages, visually presenting their culture, sharing quality photos and videos, and engaging with their audience.

In addition, it’s no secret Instagram is a Facebook-owned entity. If you remember, Facebook made a News Feed update back in November of 2014 announcing significant drops in organic reach for promotional posts.

Don’t be tacky on Instagram.

Who’s doing it right? Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s is a dairy company known for their delicious ice cream, and more recently, their mouth-watering Instagram feed.  The chain's Instagram account has over 1.5 million followers.

Instead of posting pictures of ice cream every day (which would most likely still work for them), Ben & Jerry’s regularly shares fans’ photos on their page. What better way to get people excited about taking pictures with your product than sharing them publicly for the world to see? It’s worked well for the brand that on average scoops 20k likes-per-post according to PicStats.

Below is an example of user-generated content shared by Ben & Jerry’s, along with a video post delivering a very powerful message while utilizing their product.



7. Brands use as many hashtags as they can think of. 

Similar to other social networks, hashtags play an important role in the discovery process on Instagram. While, lesser-known brands or brands with low follower counts can use popular but relevant hashtags to optimize their posts, using too many can make your brand look spammy, desperate, or out of touch.

While past research once suggested that brands should use 11 or more of Instagram's 30 allotted hashtags for each post, Sprout Social now suggests that less is more. According to the social media software company, using two to five relevant hashtags in a post can yield more engagements that using 10 or more. 

Many brands take a "less is more" approach to Instagram hashtags

Image Source

In terms of relevancy, brands should also be sure to avoid misusing hashtags in an attempt to increase exposure. This is a surefire way to lose credibility and come off as lazy on a network that was built on authenticity and quality.

Who’s doing it right? GoPro

GoPro is the creator of the "world’s most versatile camera," a favorite amongst extreme athletes, amateur photographers, and pets around the world. According to TOTEM Analytics, GoPro grows in follower count on Instagram by roughly 221k / month and is one of the most popular brands on the network.

With 4.3m followers, GoPro could probably eliminate hashtags completely without sacrificing engagement. The brand chooses to leverage the discovery mechanism and it’s just one of the reasons they’ve created such a memorable Instagram presence.

Below is a GoPro post that gets a couple things right in the hashtag category. For starters, they’re utilizing more than one hashtag. More importantly, they’re utilizing hashtags that are relevant to the photo.

8. Brands avoid Instagram completely.

If you’re still questioning whether or not Instagram has a place in your social media marketing strategy, you’re not alone.

Despite all the opportunities Instagram provides, smart marketers still will approach any new social media platform with caution. They'll ask themselves questions like, "Do I have enough time to manage another social network?," "Is it worth joining Instagram if my business or offerings aren't visually friendly?," or "Do I have the right resources to create quality photos and videos?"

The truth is, the questions above are absolutely worth asking -- especially if your brand has a limited budget or social team. However, you shouldn't let these fears hinder your social strategy too much, especially when the social platform's history is as long and successful as Instagram's.

As the fastest growing major social network with one of the most engaged audiences, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to overlook Instagram's value.

As we mentioned above, in less than six years, the platform's grown to a whopping 1 billion users, while hosting millions of active businesses and influencers who regularly spread awareness about products. 

In 2020, it's safe to say that Instagram is worth considering.

Who’s doing it right? General Electric

General Electric is a power and water, oil and gas, energy management, aviation, healthcare, transportation, and capital corporation. While they may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think Instagram, General Electric has been known for leveraging social media to connect with their audience.

The brand does an incredible job bringing their core values to life through photo and video on Instagram. In addition, they’ve found a way to take an otherwise very serious subject matter and make it educational, interesting, and exciting.

Working around the clock to build, power, move, and cure the world is the theme they showcase throughout photos and videos like the following:


A Mistake-Free Instagram Marketing Strategy

In recent years, Instagram's gone from a social network known for selfies and food pictures to a platform brands are leveraging to deliver meaningful messages, tell stories, and engage with people on a human to human level.

We’ll continue to hear about, read about, speak about, and experience firsthand the opportunity Instagram presents to brands and marketers as network continues to grow.

Brands getting the most out of the network are the ones posting quality content on a consistent basis, and are doing so with a purpose. Even brands that aren't thought of as visually friendly are leveraging the network and seeing it work.

The Instagram community is genuinely interested in connecting with these brands; so much so that they've expressed interest in learning more about brands and products after they've been inspired by what they’re posting.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 but was updated in August 2020 for comprehensiveness and freshness. 

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