The Ultimate Instagram Marketing Guide for Driving Real Results

This article was updated in February, 2017:

Instagram is kind of a big deal.

A recent surge in visual content is sweeping across every network from Twitter to Facebook. As the leader in image sharing apps, Instagram has become a household name in recent months with more than 40 million photos being uploaded daily to their platform. Users are racking up a total of 1,000 comments and more than 8,000 likes on Instagram every second. Additionally, according to 2017 stats, 24 percent of all the USA’s population are using Instagram.

That’s huge!

For context, that’s more than the entire population of France, Italy, Spain or good ol Canada!

As marketers, these numbers show exactly why Instagram has quickly become a staple in the marketing toolkit. If you have yet to invest time on Instagram, it’s a channel that is definitely worth analyzing and considering. Here’s a deck I put together a few years back showcasing a run down on what I’m going to share in this blog post:

In this blog post, I’m going to give you a detailed run down on how to use Instagram as a marketing channel for your brand. I’m going to talk you through the initial steps for getting started along with a few key things to consider when creating your account.

Let’s get to it…

How To Set Up An Instagram Account

Starbucks Instagram - 2017

The first step in establishing your Instagram presence is creating your brand or organizations profile. There are only a few areas that require information and assets which makes set up a pretty simple and easy process. Let’s look at the key parts of an instagram profile that you really can’t miss:

Step One: Add a Profile Picture To Instagram

For brands, the profile picture is typically something that is iconic and representative of your organization. In most cases, the profile pictures for a brand is that organizations logo as seen above in the Starbucks example. The reason brands use iconic visuals is because over time, people start to remember your profile picture when scanning through their newsfeed and you want them to remember something that is used in other mediums.

Step Two: Write a Bio For Instagram

When you’re not as well known as a Starbucks, your bio is definitely the most important step in your account set up. You have under 200 characters to tell the world (1) why your instagram page is worth following and (2) what you offer as a service or product. Additionally, you have a chance to take an approach similar to Starbucks and encourage users to share content relevant to your brand using a specific hashtag.

Here are a few great examples of bios that you will find on Instagram & the brands that rock them:

  • Starbucks: Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.
  • Clorox: We’re your go-to for on-the-go messes and stains. Download the myStain App today!
  • Skinny Bunny Tea: Skinny Never Tasted so Good! 🌿Weight Loss 🌿Gluten-Free┃Vegan 🌎MADE IN USA ┃Worldwide Shipping Click link below to get FREE Shipping Today!👇
  • Frank & Oak: Innovative styles for the creative generation. Tag your photos #frankandoak

What do I recommend you include in an Instagram Bio?

  1. Hashtags: Show people the hashtag you want to see
  2. Your Slogan/Description: It’s important to communicate your brands voice.
  3. Call To Action: Whether it’s tag a photo or download an app – tell people!
  4. Emojis: Instagram users LOVE emojis. Embrace them.

Step Three: Connect a Website To Your Instagram

Adding a URL to your instagram page isn’t rocket science.

It’s important that you drive your users down the path to purchase as much as possible and your website should be an avenue in which that can take place. Additionally, you should ensure that your URL directs users to a mobile friendly site as most traffic to instagram happens through a mobile device.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to stick with the same URL over the lifespan of your Instagram account. You can update your account with different domains depending on what content you want to highlight at that time. For example, if you’re trying to raise awareness of an app, link to your app. If you’re trying to raise awareness of a new product, link to that product.

How To Use Instagram For Marketing

Once you’ve created your profile on Instagram, there are some simple things you can do get the most out of the network for increased brand exposure, consumer engagement, and even online sales.

What Type of Images Should You Share On Instagram?

Before you jump on instagram you need to know what type of photos will help you find success. To do that, you need to understand the interest of your target audience and think about the story your brand is trying to tell. Once you’ve done that and have a clear understanding of your audiences interests and how that lines up with your product, you’re half way there. The next step is to think about how this lines up visually.

Instagram is built on the backbone of quality images. The wonderful world of developers are making it easier to hack instagram through amazing photo editing apps that go beyond the normal instagram filters. Yes, there are lots of images on instagram that are of poor quality but those that go viral and generate significant engagement tend to be those that have high quality. In a world where 91% of US citizens have their mobile phone within reach 24/7, there has been a surge in images taken from camera phones and uploaded to instagram.

As a brand, it’s important to care about quality photography. That’s the medium in which Instagram operates, so you need to cut through the high quantity of poor photos and provide high quality images that spark emotion, engagement and brand awareness.

Here are a few types of posts you should share on Instagram:

Brand Centric Content


Images have always been an easy way for brands to connect with an audience on social media. The saying “A photo can speak 1000 words” is cliche but it’s cliche for a reason.

The underlying fact is that as humans, we’re hard-coded to make judgements and develop emotions as soon as we see something. As such, the power of using a visual in marketing makes for a very effective approach to communicating a compelling and complex message to consumers.

Brands who use instagram understand the importance of brand storytelling. Whether it’s through photos of their products or photos of the results of their product, businesses using instagram effectively recognize the importance of showcasing what they have to offer. Not showing your product or the benefits using instagram is a missed opportunity.

In the Lays & LuLuLemon instagram examples above you can clearly see how these brands are telling their story in different ways. Lays is focused on using a heavy branding approach with images and visuals covered with their logo and color pallete. On the flipside, LuLuLemon is focusing less on showing their product and brand logo and more around the ideas and feeling associated with the brand.

Timely & Reactive Content On Instagram


Reactive storytelling is the combination of a top of mind idea and a compelling marketing message. When a business uses Reactive Storytelling they are able to leverage a human truth, timely event or unique insight to generate immediate feedback from their target audience. Some of the most popular brands like Oreo, LEGO and Telus have used Reactive Storytelling to create viral sensations that have generated press and the hearts of fans.

Brands who use reactive storytelling tend to use reference that are either meme based or pop culture based. The third type of reactive storytelling is brand based but it’s rare to find these situations as they require something involving the brand worth responding to. An example of reactive storytelling from a brand based situation is a light hearted exchange between Oreo and AMC theatres about sneaking snacks in a theatre.

Meme Content: Reactive Storytelling on Instagram

For instagram, Meme Based and Pop Culture based storytelling is the king. Both approaches are an easy way to generate buzz and ultimately spark conversation about your brand when done correctly.

Meme based reactive storytelling is when brands leverage a popular meme and use it to communicate a brand relevant message. Whether it’s using the Dos Equis guy or the now famous “Hey Girl” meme, even the most boring brands can succeed using meme based reactive storytelling to stand out. Here’s an example of two meme based instagram posts from Telus and LEGO that are a tribute to the infamous Grumpy Cat meme:


Pop Culture Based: Reactive Storytelling on Instagram

Our society has always been captivated by pop culture. Whether it’s a new hit series on Television like Game of Thrones or a new album from Justin Bieber, pop culture is a driving force for media and consumers attention. Our obsession for pop culture is the reason why businesses like TMZ and BuzzFeed are generating millions of visits on a regular basis.

Leveraging pop culture presents a great opportunity for brands using instagram. It’s an easy way to connect with your audience using something top of mind and that they are either passionate about or able to relate to. When I wrote a blog post about business lessons we can learn from Don Draper, I was doing it because I knew other Mad Men fans would enjoy my perspective.

It works the same way for instagram, share content that references pop culture and drive engagement. A few months ago, the R&B singer known for being Brandys little brother and making an infamous sex tape with Kim Kardashian, launched a single called “I hit it first” referencing his relationship with Kim. The internet went crazy. In response to the singles cover art that blurred out Kim Kardashian, Brisk Tea reacted with this brilliant execution:


Behind The Scenes Content On Instagram

Another type of content that is anything that shows the inner workings of your organization. People are looking for transparency and an inside look at how things are built or done within your organization. For years, brands and organizations have built their businesses on the promise of 43 secret herbs and spices instead of giving the inside scoop.

Today, the internet has made secrets a thing of the past. Brands are now looking at how they can be more transparent and more authentic as it’s what consumers are asking for. Victoria secret is one brand that has done this well for the last few years. Instead of simply shooting beautiful models and giving us the end result of these models in their lingerie, they are snapping live shots of the photographer, the make up artists and even the models during outtakes.

Another great way to demonstrate authenticity with your customers is to show the making of your product or the inter workings of how you do business. We live in an age where everyone wants to know everything. Steam Whistle Brewing out of Ontario and TechCrunch both recognize this and use Instagram as a way to show their employees to their customers and build a stronger connection.


Inspirational & Motivational Quotes On Instagram

Sparking emotions in your customers or target audience is the most effective way to drive shares, likes, comments and any sort of connection to your brand. Studies show that the more powerful the emotion, the more likely the end user will react to the content that sparked the emotional reaction.

Quotes from iconic people are an easy way to drive emotion.

One of the most frequently used hashtags on instagram is #Quotes and as such, brands should consider using it to their advantage. Inject quotes into your updates and stir up emotions of inspiration and motivation in your audience.

Brands like LuLulemon have been using this tactic effectively and driving significant results because of it. The key is to recognize what quotes will resonate with your audience and then delivering them in a beautiful way:

Lulu Lemon

Another great account that has had HUGE success with Inspirational content is Hustle & Grind (I know, I’m biased):

Hustle & Grind Instagram Account

How to Take Your Instagram Account to the Next Level

The tactics and tricks above are easy ways to start creating and sharing better content on instagram. Implementing the items we’ve discussed so far will allow your brand to develop and strengthen its relationship with its audience and grow quickly. You will see a spike in the levels of engagement as users will be more inclined to like, comment and share your images.

But how can you take it to the next level?

Here are a few ways a brand can truly stand out:

Instagram Tip 1: User Generated Contests

The hope with your brand developed content is to not only drive users to share but to also encourage users to create their own. When users create content that is associated with a brand, that content combines with the other stories out there to develop the overarching brand story. While marketers have no control over what content customers put out there they can most certainly influence it to ensure that the story is aligned with their messaging.

One of my favourite up and coming brands is Frank&Oak. Self described as an online clothing shop for men who are looking for the extraordinary, it’s a startup that is trying to change the way men shop. They specialize in quality fashion and have an amazing selection of everything from pocket squares to neck-ties.

On Fridays, they often run a contest called #NecktieFridays where they encourage guys from all over the world to upload photos in their neckties for a chance to win a Frank & Oak tie.When the user uploads the photo it is connected to the #NecktieFriday hashtag which is followed by a handful of other users on a regular basis. This is a type of user generated content that is directly influenced by the brand but done so in a unique, compelling way.


Instagram Tip 2: Use Relevant Hashtags

As seen in the Frank and Oak contest above, hashtags provide a great opportunity for keeping track of entries for contests. For those not familiar with the concept of hashtags, a hashtag is a “symbol” that allows web search engines to find and categorize messages, keywords and in the case of Instagram, pictures.For instance, if you type #dog or #dogs in one of your pictures, any user anywhere in the world looking for “dog” or “dogs” will easily find your picture and others user’s pictures using the same #keyword.

Beyond contests, hashtags present a great opportunity to broaden the reach of your images. Many users track multiple hashtags on a regular basis to see what pictures people are sharing within a specific topic or interest. Recognizing this, brands need to think about what hashtags are relevant to the different images they share and how they can leverage existing hashtag trends.

One trend on instagram is the ideas of #ThrowbackThursday which is when millions of users share old photos with their followers. Brands can capitalize on this trend by finding old pictures of their staff, offices, products or anything brand relevant and sharing it on instagram with that hashtag.

Recent studies also support the idea of using hashtags. According to a recent study from the folks at Hubspot, images that are shared on instagram that are accompanied by hashtags, generate more engagement. In this study they also identified the most “liked” hashtags:


Instagram Tip 3: Have Call to Actions on Images

This is a trick I’ve only recently started to see but it’s one that I fully support.

On Facebook, there’s this concept of brands creating “like-bait” which is when you ask your fans to “like this status update if you love Fridays!” You know these images will drive interaction in some way and as such, they are easy wins for community managers and brands.

On Instagram, there is a new type of “like bait” making strides in being an effective approach to sparking engagement. Instead of making the call to action in the text description that is associated with the image, many brands are including the call to action directly in the visual.

Another approach for driving interaction is giving users a this or that choice and then asking them to “like” for this or “comment” for that.


Interaction between you and your followers is the best chance of sustaining long term engagement. I’ve found that the more engagement you get in the first few minutes of a post, the better the chances of Instagram showing your content to ALL of your followers.

Yes, that’s right.

Not all of your posts are going to be seen by all of your followers. This is something that happened when Instagram went from a chronological feed to an algorithmic feed.

Leveraging Call To Actions is just one of the ways to counter Instagrams algorithm.

This approach to using call-to-actions can be used regardless of your industry & account

  • Local Restaurant:“Double tap if you think you could eat this in one sitting.”
  • Yoga Company:“Double tap if you wish you were in shavasana right now!”
  • Marketing Company:“Double tap if you think automation is going to change our jobs”

Double taps for the win!

Wrapping Things Up

Instagram isn’t for everyone but it most certainly can drive results when used appropriately. It’s important to identify and analyze your overarching digital plan and determine whether or not instagram is a good fit for your audience. From there, if you determine that instagram is a good fit and that you can connect with your audience using this channel, it’s time to plan.

These tips and tricks will help you in the planning stage but constantly push yourself to be innovative and think different. Aspire to create content and decline the concept of accepting what others have done as best practice. In reality, best practice is a one way street to mediocrity and accepting the status quo. Instead, strive to create your own path and use instagram to best engage and connect with your audience.

But wait…

Maybe you’re already doing all these tactics and are still struggling to crack 1,000 followers. That’s okay! I’ve created a guide that will help you learn EXACTLY what you can do to increase your followers on Instagram in a few weeks:

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