Excerpted from the Social Media Marketing Workbook 2017.
Instagram is phone-first, meaning it is an app that really is meant to be enjoyed on the mobile phone. 99.9% of your users will use Instagram on the phone or tablet, and I doubt that many people even know you can access Instagram on the desktop (although you can). So get out your iPhone or Android Device and visit the Apple App Store or Google Play on your phone. Search for “Instagram App” and download and install the app if you haven’t already. For personal use, it’s best to use Instagram on your phone, and as a marketer I recommend that you do so so that you experience Instagram how it’s meant to be experienced, and how most of your users will experience your own brand.
- Use Instagram as a user, first, before producing Instagram content as a marketer, second.
It’s probably easier for purposes of marketing research, however, to use Instagram on the desktop. Once you have it installed on your phone with a username and password, just visit https://www.instagram.com/ and login to your account. You (and your team) can now browse, research, and “reverse engineer” competitors and other brands from your big screen desktop. For purposes of easy explanation, I recommend you visit and follow Koolaid (yes, the tasty beverage you may have enjoyed as a kid) at http://jmlinks.com/34a or @koolaid as they say in Instagram-speak. Koolaid is an easy-to-understand, consumer brand on Instagram.
As we walk step-by-step through this brand account, I want you to “drink the Instagram Koolaid” so to speak, and get the hang of looking behind the scenes at what Koolaid (and other brands) are trying to do on Instagram. Instagram is fun! Instagram is a party!
But, calm yourself down, and remember, social media marketing is not just about throwing a fantastic party. It’s about throwing a party with a purpose, namely to bolster your brand equity among your target audience and, ultimately, to sell more stuff (or more Koolaid) as we shall see.
The Elements of An Instagram Account
Starting on Koolaid’s brand page on Instagram, you’ll see the following elements:
- Profile Picture. This is the big smiling red icon that represents the Koolaid brand. Notice how it’s a smile, and not a frown, because Instagram (like its parent, Facebook, is all about friends, family, fun, photos, and fake). Everyone is having a good time on Instagram, and if they’re not, they’re supposed to fake it!
- The Timeline. It may not be officially called a “timeline,” but as on a Facebook business Page, any user can click “up” to the account and see the “timeline,” a series of posts by the brand (or a friend) to his or her timeline. These are represented by square boxes. Note in the top right corner of any Instagram post that there is often a video camera icon (indicating a video post), or if the icon is missing, it’s just a photo. Unlike other networks, Instagram starts with the photo or video; you can’t post something that is text alone.
- Status Stats. Across the top, you can see whether you are “following” an account, as well as the number of posts, of followers, and of those following. Koolaid has 12,000 followers, 126 posts, and is following 15 accounts. Like Twitter, this is public knowledge; anyone can pretty much instantly see who follows whom, and then follow the followers of a competitor and interact with them to gain their attention.
- The Bio. Any account on Instagram, whether that of a person or of a brand, has a bio and the bio is allowed one (and only one) clickable website link. This is the place to explain your business value proposition (your answer to the question, why follow you on Instagram?) and use the clickable link to get customers from Instagram and to your website, eCommerce store, or other place to take an action such as buy your stuff.
Here’s a screenshot of Koolaid’s brand page on Instagram:
You can see the red smiling Koolaid profile picture, that it has 128 posts, 12,000 followers, and is following 15. It’s bio just says “Oh yeah!” The three photos below are its latest posts, and the video camera icon in the top right indicates that all three are videos.
Koolaid isn’t taking advantage of all available features for brand pages, however. First and foremost, a brand can create a clickable link in its bio, and this is a big opportunity not to be missed. Second, a brand can include a hashtag in its bio (such as a brand-centric hashtag by which its avid super fans can share their own photos and experiences about the brand), and finally a brand can include an email link. Compare Koolaid, for example, with Foundr magazine (http://jmlinks.com/33x). Here’s a screenshot from my iPhone:
Foundr Magazine has enabled a clickable link to their free giveaway at foundrmag.com/ecommerceguide, and the blue Email link is clickable on the phone. In this way, any follower can quickly jump from Instagram to the desired action (which, in this case, is to give them your email in exchange for their eBook), or click on Email to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now compare Foundr to REI (http://jmlinks.com/32u) and you’ll see that REI (the sports coop) has created a nifty hashtag called #OptOutside. Check it out at http://jmlinks.com/27j. If you browse that hashtag you’ll see user photo after user photo on REI’s theme, indicating that REI is a brand that clearly “gets” Instagram and has leveraged fun, friendly user generated content (UGC) to support its Internet marketing efforts.
As with all social networks, look at competitors and big brands through the prism not only of a user but of a social media marketer. What do you like? What do you dislike? What features are enabled, such as the clickable Email link on Foundr Magazine, and which brands have enabled which features such as hashtags or eCommerce integration? Take this knowledge back to your own Instagram account, and enable what you like, and disable what you don’t.
The Elements of an Instagram Post
Returning to @Koolaid, let’s take a look at the elements of an Instagram post. Here’s a screenshot of a recent photo post:
Here are the elements:
- The Photo (Or Video). This is, of course, is the primary element on Instagram. This is a photo you upload from your camera or take directly with the Instagram app. You can edit it in Instagram (or use third party apps), put on filters, etc., but ultimately it’s just a photo (yes, a photo that you have done so incredibly artistically and amazingly well that it “goes viral” and gets your users so excited that they like, comment, and share your post to other – but structurally and conceptually, it’s just a photo or a video).
- The Caption. This is what the user inputs about the photo. Koolaid’s is “Nothing’s more American than the beach, and Kool-aid Man. Post a pic using #AmericanSelfie and your post might be used during the @Macys 4th of July Fireworks celebration.” (Notice the use of hashtags and the “@” sign to indicate Instagram handles on Instagram posts just as on Twitter. Both are clickable in a post).
- The Comments. Users can comment on a post, and you can see those here. Many of them include their own #hashtags or @handles as well.
- The Likes. Symbolized by the “heart” sign on Instagram, these “likes” function just like a “like” on a Facebook post, indicating that the user “likes” it, or “endorses” it.
- Other Elements. On the phone, one can click on the heart icon, the comment icon (to make a comment) as well as a little paper airplane icon (to “send” it to one’s friends akin to a “share” on Facebook or Twitter), and a “bookmark” icon to save it to a collection.
- Clickable Action. This occurs only on paid advertising posts. Normally, a post to Instagram cannot have a clickable item (so most organic posts will say something like “click on the link in my bio for more info”). But advertising posts, can and do have clickable links. As you browse Instagram on your phone, pay attention to the ads and you’ll see blue buttons / clickable actions.