How to Rock Instagram: Lessons from Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, and Other Top Brands

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Based on the traction Instagram is gaining among social media marketers and its ability to engage users these days, maybe it’s time to change the old adage to “A picture is worth 1,000 conversions.”

In a recent study of how users interact with brands’ social media posts, Forrester Research found that when it comes to engagement, Instagram is far superior to any other social network. While six of the seven social networks Forrester studied had an engagement rate of less than 0.1 percent, Instagram’s engagement rate was 4.21 percent.

“That means Instagram delivered these brands 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook, and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter,” wrote analyst Nate Elliott on the Forrester blog.

Savvy marketers are catching on, but there’s definitely room for improvement. In its 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report released earlier this week, Social Media Examiner found that 28 percent of marketers use Instagram, up from 18 percent last year, and 42 percent plan to increase their Instagram use in the year ahead.

But integrating Instagram into your overall visual content strategy can be tricky if you don’t use the app correctly. Instagram pictures have their own look, feel, and style, so stock images and stilted, posed photos won’t cut it. Viewers respond much better to softer images that look spontaneous (even if they aren’t) and are maybe even a little grainy.

“Non-organic images are now the banner ads of the social world. Studio shots don’t evoke an emotional reaction. They’re not seen as ‘real,’” said social agency Laundry Service founder and president Jason Stein in an interview with Digiday’s John McDermott. Stein told AdAge that his company saw a 25 percent increase in sales conversion rates when they switched from traditional pictures to images stylized for Instagram.

Instagram is still a relatively young addition to the social media world and brands are taking the opportunity to open the creative floodgates and experiment. Below are five brands that can teach marketers a thing or two about embracing Instagram in unique ways.

Adidas: Selfie, Meet Personalized Shoe

With nearly 2 million followers (as of May 22, 2014), Adidas is the third most popular brand on Instagram, behind Nike (4.5 million followers) and Starbucks (2.5 million followers). The top-three spot is well deserved. Later this year, the sports company will to allow users to pull pictures from their Instagram accounts and have the image designed right into their ZX Flux trainers. The smooth move will no doubt generate higher engagement with the brand’s Instagram posts–the Instagram video announcement has received nearly 55,000 likes so far—as well as encourage users to share shots of their own personalized shoes.

Lesson learned: Customers love personalized products—and they love showing off their unique Instagram creations. Put the two together? Genius. Well played, Adidas!

Ben & Jerry’s: Get Creative with Your Product

Aware that there are only so many ways to show a hand holding a cone, this ice cream company does a great job of sharing whimsical pics, while managing to keep customers drooling for more.

Lesson learned: No matter what you product or service, finding creative and fun ways to show it to your customers will keep them engaged and coming back for more.

Polo Ralph Lauren: a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Olympics

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ralph Lauren took viewers behind the scenes and let them live vicariously through their favorite sports stars. Athletes posed for pictures in specially-designed Olympic wear and each shot featured quotes from the players for sports fans to chew on while they pored over the timeline.


Lesson learned: Use Instagram to give your customers access to an event or process they would normally not be able to see. Your company is a sponsor at a local concert? Take them behind the scenes. Show your customers shots of your production rooms or labs, or share photos of your team at work, to put a (smiling) face or two behind the brand name. Your followers will feel a stronger connection to your brand, now that they’ve seen who or what is behind it.

Zappos: Go Beyond Product

The best thing about this retail company’s Instagram feed is that it delivers the unexpected. Sure, there’s plenty of footwear and handbag pictures scattered around, but there are also little gems like the one below.

Lesson learned: Don’t limit your feed to product photos. The occasional “Easter Egg”—a funny, beautiful, or inspirational image—will brighten up your followers’ feeds.

Pabst Blue Ribbon: Take Your Brand Places

Rather than fight its hipster image, PBR embraces it with humor and grace. You won’t find images of beer pong and passed-out fraternity members on this feed. Instead, you’ll find delightful pictures that you’ll “like” and want to share without caring who knows you like cheap beer.

Lesson learned: Take your product to beautiful places or historic landmarks and watch those likes and comments pile up!

Image via Huffington Post

Lisa Hoover McGreevy is a seasoned professional writer specializing in corporate messaging, a data journalist on the Visually Marketplace, and regular contributor to the Visually blog.

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