Marketing on Instagram: Building a Following Through Strategy & Authenticity

Lauren Owens - February 17, 2015

Instagram – the hugely popular photo-sharing network – is a boon for selfie-obsessed shareaholics. But it can be perplexing for marketers, who see Instagram’s huge numbers and want to get a piece of the action – if only they could figure out how. The challenge is that Instagram’s users are savvier than others. Many of them are early-adopters who are awash in advertisements and are totally over ads disguised as social content. So, how’s a marketer to adapt? Through two seemingly unrelated concepts – strategy and authenticity. In this post, we’ll share some tips for using Instagram for marketing.

First Thing’s First – Should You Even Be There?

In December, Instagram reached 300 million monthly active users. (For comparison, Facebook just reached 3.9 billion monthly actives and Twitter touts a measly 284 million.) So, Instagram’s numbers may seem attractive, but whether or not you should be there is another story. Not only do you have to ask yourself if your audience is there, but whether or not you have the time to effectively curate your Instagram page. That’s because Instagram, unlike other social channels, specializes in the now.

That is, what’s on sale now? Who’s in the store now? What do you see right now?

If the idea of tapping someone to “man” your Instagram page with effective, authentic imagery is daunting enough, or if you simply don’t have a very image-friendly product or space, Instagram probably isn’t for you. That’s OK. Go look at Facebook. See what you can do about Twitter.

Building a Following on Instagram

As on other social networks, building a following on Instagram takes time. You not only have to consistently produce good content (in this case, great images) but you have to walk the walk in terms of network etiquette. On Instagram, that means including an image description and relevant tags.

Once you’ve seeded your page, you will also want to begin finding and following influencers and other like-minded Instagrammers.

Curating Your Page – Giving Followers an “Insider’s Perspective”

Unlike Pinterest, which is more aspirational in nature, Instagram is all about the now. The more you can show followers what it’s like to do what you do – whether that’s make pizza, sell books, or design clothing – the better. The idea is to give them an insider’s perspective. In other words, you’re not selling, you’re showing. The idea is: this is what it’s like to be here, this is what we do, this is who we are.

For example, take a look at a few recent Instagram posts from Miami’s Books & Books:


Here’s a staff member with her monthly “staff pick.”



Here’s a shot from an author reading.



Here’s a shot from their café.



And here’s a photo taken by a third-party Instagrammer at one of their locations and shared by @booksandbooks.

What do all of these images have in common?

They’re all snapshots in time. They’re not overly planned, overly glossed images. And, they’re not trying to sell anything. They’re simply walking the walk on Instagram – showing their stores from an insider’s perspective and gaining likes, shares and followers along the way.

Instagram Strategy – Putting it all Together

Looking at the above, you might be tempted to give an intern access to your Instagram account to start taking, and posting, photos. But this is your brand, and social media is forever. So, before you let a tactical mind take the reins, it’s important to set some strategic ground rules.

For example:

  • Always show the brand in a positive light
  • Always show the “front of the house” and never the kitchen
  • Always show staff members smiling and happy, never bored or frustrated
  • Post around the same number of photos every day
  • Share photos that other users post on occasion and when relevant
  • Post a variety of different “types” of photos from different vantage points
  • Give your camera to the team member that most knows and “gets” your brand.

And if you want to post the occasional “advertisement,” fine, so long as it fits in with your page’s aesthetic and doesn’t take your audience for granted. For example:


Posted in: Social Media

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