When you think of Instagram, what do you picture (pun totally intended)? Selfies? Sunsets? Filters? Kim Kardashian?

When we think of Instagram, we think about business. We think about opportunity. We’re talking BIG opportunity.

Instagram is the fastest growing social media network, yet it continues to be the most underutilized by marketers, according to Fast Company. Why? We can only speculate. Perhaps it’s the common misconception that Instagram is just a forum for food pics (Isn’t this Philly cheesesteak delicious-looking?!) and selfies (Can we finally give duck-face a break?).

Instagram has much more to offer than pictures of people’s breakfast. Major brands like Starbucks, Pepsi, and Disney have been using Instagram as a valuable business tool since the app launched in 2010. In fact, 86% of the world’s top brands now have an Instagram account. Isn’t it about time you joined the bandwagon? If you’re still not convinced, consider the following: 

  • Instagram’s brand engagement is 15 times higher than that of Facebook.
  • Instagram has grown to over 200 million active users. That’s one large, captive audience!
  • More customers convert from browsers to shoppers on Instagram.
  • Instagram ads have helped retail brands increase recall by 32% and brand message lift by 10%.
  • 92% of prestige brands who post on Instagram an average of 5.5 times per week have increased their customer base.

So, are you ready to join the likes of Nike, Zappos and Chobani to leverage Instagram for your business? Before you snap, filter, and share that first photo, learn how to Instagram like a champ with our exclusive “Guide to Insta-awesome”. Here, we’ll give you the 101 on everything from engagement strategies to hashtag best practices.


Revel’s Guide to Insta-Awesome

1) Understand the audience

Does Instagram’s primary user base of “young urbanites” align with your brand’s target audience? Know if Instagram is right for your brand by first understanding the demographics of this unique social media space. Here are the facts:

  • 90% of users are under the age of 35. Usage among teens has grown 12%, and is on the rise. Put simply…if you’re in the business of selling hearing aids or peddling prunes, Instagram is probably not the most effective way to reach your audience.  
  • While Instagram began as a very female-centric application, it’s grown to be much more gender-balanced. In the U.S., men now account for about 50% of Instagram users.
  • Instagram users have spending power. 83% of U.S. teens on Instagram come from wealthy households.  
  • Instagram also tends to appeal to urbanites (22%) and suburbanites (18%) versus more rural dwellers (6%).

2) Put your best photo forward  

You’ve determined that your target audience perfectly aligns with the Instagram user base. Great! Next step: Take a picture.

Easy enough, right?

Not so fast. There are defining characteristics of “best in class” photos that are proven to increase your brand’s engagement and e-commerce on Instagram. Here are a couple tips:

1) Don’t use filters. You may be surprised to learn that use of filters is a “no-no” for Instagram brands, with the exception of “Lo-Fi”. Additionally, increasing the brightness of a photo on Instagram tends to decrease both engagement and e-commerce viability.

2) Do use color. To optimize engagement, try to incorporate the color green. For e-commerce optimization, lean towards yellow or blue. Don’t force use of these colors where it doesn’t makes sense, though.


3) Engage your audience

In order to gain traction on Instagram, engage your audience by developing a strategy that is equal part audience-centric and brand-centric.

Audience-centric: Focus on your followers

The #1 rule of social media is that it’s not about you (not always, at least). The brands that reap the best returns from their social media efforts are those who put a focus on their audience.  

Image credit: Fast Company

Image credit: Fast Company

For example, Benefit Cosmetics asked their Instagram fans to submit pictures of themselves showing off its “They’re Real!” mascara. After more than 11,900 users submitted their selfies with the hashtag “#realsies”, Benefit Cosmetics created a mosaic of the photos through a responsive design microsite linking to the “They’re Real!” product page: http://realsies.benefitcosmetics.com/

Other smart ways to engage through an audience-centric approach include:

“Celebritize” your followers. Make your followers feel like celebrities by reciprocating their loyalty with an @mention, or by reposting their photos. Everyone loves a little public recognition, especially from their favorite brand!

Run a contest. The possibilities here are endless, so get creative! Try a “photo caption” contest by asking your followers to devise a creative or funny caption for your post. Or, for a little free PR and brand reinforcement, ask your followers to share pictures of themselves wearing or using your product. Reward their efforts with a prize or @mention shout out.

Get feedback. Ask your followers for their opinion on something that will help shape your business. For instance, a restaurant brand on Instagram might ask, “What new dish would you like to see on our menu?” Have followers submit photos with a hashtag that correlates with your brand. This is a great way to help your audience feel valued and appreciated.

Brand-centric: Focus on you   

People also follow companies on Instagram to discover insider-information and insights directly from the source. Here are a few ways to spin the spotlight on your brand in ways your audience will love:

Go behind the scenes. Drive brand intimacy by giving your followers a sneak peak of life behind the curtain. Choose an employee to capture their personal “day in the life” at your company, or share a picture of the office pet fish. Glimpses into your company culture and operations help create an important element of transparency.

Image credit: @BenandJerrys

Image credit: @BenandJerrys


Feature your product or service in creative ways. Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of a brand that keeps their posts interesting by sharing pictures of their product in a variety of whimsical and humorous scenarios.

Image credit: @Zappos

Image credit: @Zappos




Show some personality. The occasional inspirational or funny image will help your brand feel more relatable to your audience. Take for example this post from @Zappos:



4) #Hashtag wisely

If you’ve ever used a hashtag on Twitter or Facebook, the same logic can be applied on Instagram. Use a “hash” symbol (#) before a descriptive word to make your images discoverable through search, widen your reach, and increase your exposure.

Here’s how to #GetStarted:

Don’t get hashtag happy. It’s tempting to get carried away with hashtags. Don’t give in to this temptation. A proven best practice is to use 3 – 5 hashtags for every post.

Use your SEO keywords. Search keywords on Instagram to discover what others are posting. You can then use the same hashtags from popular content, but only if it’s relevant to your brand.

Image credit: Rival IQ

Image credit: Rival IQ

Consider custom hashtags. If your brand is well-established on Instagram, consider custom hashtags. Ensure the hashtag is unique, specific, memorable, and branded. Examples of custom hashtags by major brands on Instagram include #ArtoftheTrench (Burberry), #InstaKors (Michael Kors), and #JustDoIt (take a wild guess). Starbucks uses custom hashtags to help crowd source contest content (say that three times fast).

Take advantage of Instagram hashtag trends. Instagram has its own popular hashtags that you can use to further your reach and gain followers. Some of the top Instagram hashtag trends include:

  • #ThrowbackThursday or #TBT: Participate in #TBT by sharing an old picture of you, an employee, or your company.
  • #SelfieSunday: Pretty “self”-explanatory.
  • #LaterGram: Use #LaterGram when posting a picture that was taken in the past.
  • #Regram: When you post an image that was previously posted by a follower, use #Regram.

By using these tips and tricks, we can’t guarantee you’ll be as popular as Kim Kardashian (21 million followers, and counting), but we can guarantee an improved level of insta-awesome on Instagram. And while you’re there, find the Revel team for regular doses of visual inspiration: @RevelAds


Looking for additional social media support? The Revel team can help. Drop us a line at hello@reveladvertising.com.