Insta­gram, with more than 40 bil­lion images shared and 400 mil­lion month­ly active users, gen­er­ates an aver­age of 80 mil­lion pho­tos per day. The mobile-based pho­to- and video-shar­ing social net­work pow­ers the shar­ing of images and cre­ation of com­mu­ni­ty among users around the world. At only six years old, the plat­form has shown sig­nif­i­cant growth in its over­all user base and in almost every demo­graph­ic group.

As peo­ple join Insta­gram in droves, brands have a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for engage­ment with their fans: Insta­gram posts gen­er­ate a per-fol­low­er engage­ment rate of 4.21%, which is 58 times more engage­ment per fol­low­er than Face­book and 120 times more than Twit­ter.

Suc­cess for brands on Insta­gram takes more than pub­lish­ing attrac­tive images—it is the prod­uct of thought­ful strat­e­gy, a well-defined brand iden­ti­ty ground­ed in visu­al cre­ativ­i­ty and effec­tive com­mu­ni­ty man­age­ment. As you explore the poten­tial of Insta­gram for your busi­ness, keep in mind the par­tic­u­lar strengths of visu­al media for telling a com­pelling sto­ry about your brand.

Determine Your Objectives

Whether you haven’t pub­lished a sin­gle pho­to or you want to ele­vate your exist­ing pres­ence, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing when cre­at­ing your strat­e­gy for Insta­gram:

  • What will Insta­gram allow you to do that oth­er plat­forms don’t?
  • Who is your tar­get audi­ence and which mem­bers of your audi­ence are active on Insta­gram?
  • How will Insta­gram inte­grate with the oth­er net­works in your social media strat­e­gy?

Instagram’s focus on visu­al shar­ing offers a unique plat­form to show­case your cul­ture and peo­ple in addi­tion to your prod­ucts and ser­vices. The mobile nature of the app lends itself to quick­ly cap­tur­ing moments, giv­ing fol­low­ers a chance to inter­act with your brand in a way that can feel more casu­al and instan­ta­neous than on oth­er net­works. Depend­ing on your indus­try, brand and key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors, your Insta­gram strat­e­gy might tar­get sev­er­al of the fol­low­ing objec­tives:

  • Increase brand aware­ness.
  • Demon­strate com­pa­ny cul­ture.
  • Show­case your team and recruit new tal­ent.
  • Increase cus­tomer engage­ment and loy­al­ty.
  • Show­case prod­ucts and ser­vices.
  • Enhance and com­ple­ment event expe­ri­ences.
  • Incen­tivize con­sumer engage­ment with your brand.
  • Share com­pa­ny news.
  • Grow your com­mu­ni­ty.
  • Con­nect with influ­encers.
  • Dri­ve sales through a third-par­ty app.

As you con­tin­ue to devel­op your strat­e­gy, these objec­tives will guide you in deter­min­ing the best approach to each part of the process.

Develop a Content Strategy

Con­tent is the foun­da­tion of your Insta­gram pres­ence. Many B2C busi­ness­es use Insta­gram to make their prod­uct the star of the show, while B2B com­pa­nies often focus on com­pa­ny cul­ture and team recruitment—the right approach is one that best show­cas­es your brand. Based on your tar­get audi­ence and objec­tives, devel­op a plan to deliv­er eye-catch­ing con­tent to your com­mu­ni­ty on a con­sis­tent basis.

Build Content Themes

Review your objec­tives and deter­mine what aspects of your brand to show­case in your Insta­gram con­tent. Prod­ucts, ser­vices, team mem­bers, and cul­ture all offer rich poten­tial for sub­ject mat­ter over time. Once you have a list of spe­cif­ic con­tent themes, brain­storm pos­si­ble sub­jects for your images and videos.

Some com­pa­nies focus on show­cas­ing their prod­ucts and ser­vices, offer­ing prac­ti­cal tuto­ri­als or going the oppo­site direc­tion and cre­at­ing whim­si­cal tableaux with their prod­uct as the hero. Dunkin Donuts’ col­or­ful feed puts their offer­ings front and cen­ter, show­ing off both stan­dard and sea­son­al offer­ings by tying post con­tent to major hol­i­days and events.

Determine Types of Content & Ratio

Insta­gram start­ed as a pho­to-shar­ing app, but its wide base of cre­ative users pub­lish every­thing from videos to graph­ics to ani­mat­ed GIFs. As you plan out your con­tent, con­sid­er a bal­ance of con­tent types that will work best for the resources you have and the engage­ment you want from your audi­ence.

If video enables you to tell a com­pelling sto­ry about your prod­uct, work it into your con­tent more often. If you don’t have the resources—time, skills or com­fort level—to exe­cute video at the lev­el you want, you may choose not to pub­lish video at all or to reserve it for spe­cif­ic cam­paigns and pro­mo­tions. With com­po­si­tion for Insta­gram, qual­i­ty mat­ters, and it is worth spend­ing the time to cre­ate the best pos­si­ble con­tent.

Beyond its flag­ship app, Insta­gram offers sev­er­al sup­ple­men­tary apps that help you get even more cre­ative with your posts. The Insta­gram suite of apps includes Hyper­lapse, Lay­out, and Boomerang, which empow­er users to cre­ate time-lapse video, image col­lages and GIFs, respec­tive­ly. These addi­tion­al apps allow brands and con­sumers alike to cre­ate even more unique, Insta­gram-spe­cif­ic con­tent even with­out in-house design or video pro­duc­tion capa­bil­i­ties.

Set a Content Calendar, But Be Flexible

To estab­lish and main­tain an active pres­ence on Insta­gram, deter­mine the fre­quen­cy with which you will post. Then you should devel­op a con­tent cal­en­dar that cycles through your themes and inte­grates key dates and cam­paigns. Insta­gram does not have a sched­ul­ing func­tion, and it does not grant third-par­ties API access to pub­lish­ing, which means you can­not sched­ule posts direct­ly on Insta­gram or through your social media man­age­ment tool. That said, you can eas­i­ly pre­pare con­tent (pho­tos, videos, cap­tions) in advance and cre­ate a con­tent cal­en­dar so that your team knows when posts should go live.

Some of the best con­tent for Insta­gram will occur spon­ta­neous­ly, espe­cial­ly if your aim is to high­light com­pa­ny cul­ture or events. By prepar­ing con­tent and set­ting a gen­er­al sched­ule in advance, you can allow the flex­i­bil­i­ty to take advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties when they occur. Dur­ing events, be ready to pub­lish quick­ly to take advan­tage of real-time social engage­ment.

Consider Curating User-Generated Content

If your Insta­gram com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are shar­ing their own con­tent fea­tur­ing your brand, you have access to a repos­i­to­ry of poten­tial con­tent gold. Curat­ing con­tent from your fans allows you to fos­ter audi­ence engage­ment and cre­ate an incen­tive for your audi­ence to share their own cre­ative ways of inter­act­ing with your prod­ucts, ser­vices or com­pa­ny.

As always, the pho­tos you choose to curate should match your brand aes­thet­ic. Make sure to review users’ accounts and oth­er posts before shar­ing their con­tent in order to judge whether it is appro­pri­ate to pub­licly align your brand with them by shar­ing their pho­to. In terms of best prac­tices, it’s cour­te­ous to ask some­one for per­mis­sion before shar­ing (“regram­ming”) a pho­to.

Always give cred­it by @mentioning the orig­i­nal pho­tog­ra­ph­er in your cap­tion, and pro­vide your fans with insight on how to share more pho­tos that your brand might fea­ture in the future.

You can find user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent on Insta­gram by mon­i­tor­ing your brand­ed hash­tags and busi­ness’ loca­tions.

Establish Clear Guidelines for Your Team: Style, Publishing & Workflow

A con­sis­tent voice on social media is key to build­ing your brand, and on a visu­al plat­form such as Insta­gram, the need for a clear­ly defined aes­thet­ic adds an addi­tion­al lay­er of con­sid­er­a­tion. Even if one per­son is respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing your brand’s Insta­gram account, estab­lish­ing guide­lines for pho­to and video com­po­si­tion, fil­ter use and cap­tions will ensure that your Insta­gram con­tent is part of a uni­fied brand expe­ri­ence for your fol­low­ers.

Create an Instagram Style Guide

When pub­lish­ing on Insta­gram, you have more deci­sions to make than which fil­ter looks best. From visu­al com­po­si­tion to loca­tion tag­ging to using hash­tags in your cap­tions, plan­ning your approach in advance allows you to max­i­mize the poten­tial of each Insta­gram fea­ture and func­tion­al­i­ty.

Your style guide should out­line your approach to each of the fol­low­ing:

Brand aes­thet­ic: Review the exist­ing visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of your brand: your logo, web­site, graph­ics, stock pho­tog­ra­phy and oth­er col­lat­er­al. Do you have an estab­lished col­or palette? A cool or warm tone in pic­tures? Your Insta­gram con­tent, and the edit­ing effects and fil­ters you choose, should reflect the same.

Com­po­si­tion: Not every social media mar­keter is a nat­ur­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and shoot­ing for Insta­gram and for a mobile audi­ence is a learned skill. While you can now pub­lish pic­tures with a land­scape or por­trait ori­en­ta­tion to your Insta­gram feed, each piece of con­tent will show up as a square thumb­nail in your pro­file grid. Deter­mine your approach to a few basic ele­ments of com­po­si­tion in order to cre­ate a sense of visu­al har­mo­ny when a user looks at your pro­file.

  • Back­grounds
  • White space bal­ance
  • Dom­i­nant color(s)
  • Sub­ject

Using Fil­ters, Lux & Cre­ative Tools: Insta­gram offers sev­er­al ways to edit pho­tos and videos. Review fil­ters and their effects to select a hand­ful that fit your brand’s aes­thet­ic and ensure visu­al­ly con­sis­tent con­tent.

For pho­to edit­ing, you also have the option to apply Lux or use cre­ative tools. Lux (the sun sym­bol) adjusts the con­trast and sat­u­ra­tion of your pho­to. Tools (the wrench sym­bol) allows you to indi­vid­u­al­ly adjust bright­ness, con­trast, warmth, shad­ows, col­or and more. For video edit­ing, you can select a fil­ter, trim con­tent and choose a spe­cif­ic cov­er image that will show up in the News Feed.

Cap­tions: Approach­es to writ­ing Insta­gram cap­tions vary—captions are lim­it­ed to 2,200 char­ac­ters, and cap­tions are trun­cat­ed with an ellip­sis after three lines of text. While some users omit cap­tions alto­geth­er, oth­ers approach shar­ing as a form of microblog­ging and write a short sto­ry to accom­pa­ny every post. Make sure to include the most impor­tant part of your mes­sage with­in those first three lines even if you opt for a long-form cap­tion. If you need any inspi­ra­tion, we round­ed up plen­ty of cre­ative Insta­gram cap­tion ideas.

As with all aspects of style, con­sis­ten­cy is key. Your copy guide­lines should include whether sen­tence frag­ments are accept­able, if you plan to use emo­ji and hash­tags (and how many to use in a giv­en post), and what your pol­i­cy is around @mentioning oth­er users.

Hash­tags: Hash­tags allow Insta­gram­mers to dis­cov­er con­tent and accounts to fol­low, so using them is a good way to con­nect with new fol­low­ers and increase engage­ment on your posts. Insta­gram allows up to 30 hash­tags per post or com­ment, so decide whether your brand will use them, how many to include in a typ­i­cal post and whether you want to cre­ate brand­ed hash­tags to align with your con­tent themes. Keep in mind that 7 out of 10 hash­tags on Insta­gram are brand­ed.  In terms of copy guide­lines, you can use hash­tags with­in your copy—“welcome to #NYC”—or at the end of a post. Which looks best to you?

Give your­self time to browse trend­ing hash­tags with­in the Insta­gram app’s Search and Explore tab to see what peo­ple are talk­ing about and find oppor­tu­ni­ties for your brand to join rel­e­vant con­ver­sa­tions. While it’s tempt­ing to plan all of your social posts in advance, join­ing trend­ing con­ver­sa­tions is a good way to con­nect with new audi­ences and stay true to the “ins­ta” part of this app—even if that means sched­ul­ing time for spon­tane­ity every so often.

Add to Pho­to Map: Loca­tion tag­ging, or geo-tag­ging, using the Add to Pho­to Map fea­ture is anoth­er way to increase engage­ment and allow new users to dis­cov­er your content—posts with a loca­tion receive 79% high­er engage­ment than posts with­out. For orga­ni­za­tions that use Insta­gram dur­ing trav­el and events, at mul­ti­ple sites or to pro­mote des­ti­na­tions, geo-tag­ging is a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful fea­ture.

Tag Peo­ple: If you tag oth­er Insta­gram mem­bers in a post, it will show up on their pro­file under the Pho­tos of User sec­tion. You can use this func­tion­al­i­ty to tag indi­vid­u­als or brands fea­tured in your posts, and users will be able to tap your pho­to to view and click tagged han­dles.

Social Shar­ing: Insta­gram allows you to con­nect your pro­file to accounts on Face­book, Twit­ter, Tum­blr, Flickr and Swarm and auto­mat­i­cal­ly push your pho­to to those net­works. You can also cre­ate IFTTT Insta­gram recipes to auto­mat­i­cal­ly share your pho­tos in Slack chan­nels, as Face­book albums or on Twit­ter.

Deter­mine whether you want to cross-post or pro­mote your Insta­gram con­tent in this way. If cross-post­ing is an impor­tant part of your strat­e­gy, make sure that any­one man­ag­ing your Insta­gram account has access to linked accounts in case they need to reau­then­ti­cate the con­nec­tion.

Use Land­scape: Hav­ing clean, well-cropped and pro­fes­sion­al Insta­gram pho­tos is essen­tial to your busi­ness.

Identify Team Members & Roles

Your pri­ma­ry social media man­ag­er should cer­tain­ly be part of your Insta­gram mar­ket­ing, but oth­er team mem­bers may also pro­vide valu­able con­tri­bu­tions. Depend­ing on your team and objec­tives, you might divide respon­si­bil­i­ties into con­tent cre­ation and pub­lish­ing, com­mu­ni­ty man­age­ment, dis­cov­ery and ana­lyt­ics, and assign them to team mem­bers with dif­fer­ent strengths.

For orga­ni­za­tions that require out­bound mes­sage approval before pub­lish­ing, estab­lish a clear process for cre­at­ing and review­ing con­tent. One caveat, though: Cap­tur­ing and shar­ing moments in real time is part of Instagram’s pur­pose. When post­ing dur­ing live events, make sure your work­flow will hold up.

Foster Engagement & Set Guidelines for Community Management

From curat­ing UGC to encour­ag­ing dia­logue and build­ing a com­mu­ni­ty, Insta­gram offers huge poten­tial for engage­ment with fol­low­ers. If you stick to pub­lish­ing and skip engage­ment, you will miss out on an oppor­tu­ni­ty to organ­i­cal­ly grow your fol­low­ing by inter­act­ing with fans and reach­ing new audi­ences.

Optimize Your Bio & Link

With a 150 char­ac­ter lim­it, your Insta­gram bio should focus on what’s most impor­tant about your brand. Your bio is a good place to edu­cate users too: While users can­not click on hash­tags in your bio (on the mobile app) the way they can in cap­tions, includ­ing a brand­ed hash­tag informs users how to share and find addi­tion­al con­tent relat­ed to your brand. Putting your best foot for­ward is an art—if you need help writ­ing your Insta­gram bio, check out these rec­om­men­da­tions.

Keep in mind that the only live link you can include on Insta­gram is in your bio—only adver­tis­ers can share live links out­side of that space. If one of your objec­tives is to dri­ve traf­fic back to your web­site or blog, include the link in your pro­file and refer to it in indi­vid­ual posts by using text like “link in pro­file” in your cap­tion.

Following Accounts

What kind of con­tent do you want to keep a pulse on through Insta­gram? Fol­low­ing influ­encers in your industry—for exam­ple, if you are a cloth­ing retail­er, fol­low­ing top fash­ion bloggers—will help you keep an eye on inter­est­ing con­tent and even find inspi­ra­tion for your own posts. It helps to set basic guide­lines around who your brand will and won’t fol­low, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion a few things: pri­vate accounts (the user must approve your request to fol­low), employ­ee accounts, rel­e­vance to your brand and appro­pri­ate­ness of con­tent (noth­ing that’s not safe for work, what­ev­er that means in your indus­try).