By Josh Brown published August 17, 2015

How to Get Noticed: 3 Instagram Marketing Strategies

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Right off the bat, Instagram makes itself more difficult than other social media networks. Instead of posting anything you please, you’re forced to use a picture or video with every post – and that picture or video is the main focus of your post.

That means you’re constantly creating new visual content – if you’re not, others who are creating new eye-catching Instagram content will pull right ahead. Especially in the jewelry and fashion industries, Instagram has fierce competition for viewers’ attention.

The best way to get ahead is to do something truly unique and creative that your competitors aren’t doing. But everyone needs to start somewhere.

We’ll go over three general Instagram marketing strategies and give you real examples of brands using each one so you have the resources to get started right away.

1. Incorporate general hashtags

You should use every single Instagram photo as an opportunity for growth. Adding some general hashtags to the end of your captions can and will get you more exposure – period. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it adds authenticity to your photo.

There are some obvious things to take into account when using general hashtags, such as:

Make the caption and the hashtags related. If you see success with certain hashtags, it’s going to be tempting to include them in every post. But you’ll have more success in the long run if you think ahead and create photos for those specific successful hashtags. While you’re at it, make sure you know you understand the hashtags that you’re using or you may end up on the wrong end of a scandal.

Don’t spam hashtags. Instagram users love hashtags and while it appears that there isn’t a saturation point, if you’re filling your posts up with multiple hashtags, then you’re casting your net too wide, plus it just looks like spam to viewers.

Don’t make the caption too short. Brief captions can be great, just recognize that a short caption followed by a wave of hashtags can again possibly hurt your image.

General hashtag usage is not particularly difficult past those tips. Follow the top Instagram hashtags as guidelines on what phrases are being typed by Instagram users, but don’t focus solely on the list, as everyone and their dog is using it as a resource, making it difficult for you to stand out.

Example: GNC

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GNC’s Instagram account is one of the best examples of tasteful use of hashtags. Go through the photos and you’ll notice relevant tags everywhere, usually at the end of the posts unless they’re product-related.

The hashtags are aimed at making GNC appear as a lifestyle brand – for example, on National Running Day, it shared a follower’s photo, tagging it with #NationalRunningDay, #running, and #fitfam.

It was a great way for GNC to personally connect with a follower as well as get additional exposure for the brand through the use of hashtags and encouragement of user-generated content.

I picked this GNC example to show that brands should consider using broader, more popular hashtags. The key is to make sure they align with your target demographic.

2. Turn into a two-way communication portal

Instead of just posting photos or videos and letting your followers interact with you, start interacting with them.

It’s an opportunity to market your brand as whatever you want it to be. Your audience is going to be reading your comments, and the people to whom you respond will have a clear memory of that time when your brand talked to them on social media.

Your comments are your personality. Make sure to pay close attention to what you’re saying, down to the last word – all your followers could read what you write, so your writing must have mass appeal to be perceived overall as positive. When you relate to your target audience members through words, they will be more likely to trust you and buy from you.

Example: Groupon’s Banana Bunker

This publicity stunt interacted with viewers. While it was done on Facebook, the same principles hold true for Instagram.

After turning down a $6 billion purchase offer and battling negative press, Groupon sought some positive attention. It posted a promotion for a real product – the Banana Bunker, a plastic holder for a single banana, which some thought looked similar to a sex toy. Groupon deliberately replied to all comments (about 200) that incorporated the sex-toy viewpoint with clever comments.

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Image source

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Groupon certainly got attention. Almost every major media outlet picked up on it. The post earned 12,000 comments, 18,000 “likes,” and 43,000 shares. And Groupon was able to transform its image – viewers who saw or learned about the banana holder post now think of Groupon as more of a “fun” company than a “strictly business” discount provider.

You don’t need to constantly sit next to your computer and watch for new comments on your Instagram photos. Just check every couple of hours – or delegate the task to an employee.

Consistently posting with a personality that your audience vibes with is huge on Instagram. Don’t underestimate it – remember, if your replies are good, you can help your followers see you as a friend, not just a brand.

3. Do contests, and do them frequently

You’re posting good photos and videos (Instagram 101), using general hashtags, and replying to your user base as they comment on your content. What’s next?

As a brand, you can capitalize on the Instagram users’ “whoa-that’s-cool” mindset by creating a giveaway. Conceptualize it in pictures to hype your followers to enter. For example, if a vacation was the prize, you could post gorgeous pictures of the destination to make the user feel like he or she is there.

Contests can benefit your brand through a:

  • Blatant interaction grab – “Like,” share, or comment to win. (You grow your follower base because of the expansive nature of each contest.)
  • Brand-generated hashtag – Create a contest-specific hashtag and instruct users to upload photos using your selected hashtag to win, with the best one winning. (You can grow your follower base and add a bit of personality to your brand with a good contest-specific hashtag.) Use social influencers in your niche to act as celebrity judges (they can help promote your contest), or select the top five photos and then leave it to the popular vote to pick the winner. Bonus point: If you create a contest featuring customers using your product, it’s a great way to use social proof.
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  • Email grab – Require users to submit a photo, caption, and email address to enter, and the best one wins. The best can be determined by using a panel of judges or subjectively choosing the best yourself. You can grow your subscribers and market to them long after the contest has finished.

If you’re never run a contest, there’s a lot more to it than simply picking an item to give away. This is your quick guide to marketing yourself through Instagram contests, including a few examples of brands that are doing it successfully.

If you have lower-end products that you can give away frequently, consider hosting weekly or monthly contests. You’ll always need to create new content, but if you can give away a prize that’s worth less than what you’re receiving from your followers, you can replicate this successful campaign on a consistent basis and grow exponentially.

Step 1: Set a goal

What are you trying to get from this contest?

  • More followers? Use a blatant interaction grab.
  • Better image? Host a brand-generated hashtag contest.
  • Revenue? Do an email grab.

Of course, adjust as necessary.

With an overall purpose identified, lock down the numbers, such as 500 new followers, 200 submitted photos, 50 new double opt-in emails, etc.

Step 2: Determine a prize and its value

The prize must be:

  • Related to your brand (or one of your brand’s items)
  • Captured in a cool, sleek way through photos
  • Cheap enough for you to afford, but expensive enough for Instagram users to see sufficient value and enter

We can’t recommend a specific item to give away, but we can point you in the right direction. Look at your competitors. At least one of them is probably doing a contest, and you’ll be able to derive ideas from its giveaway.

Ensure your prize is sufficient to meet your goals. If you want 1,000 new email sign-ups, can you give away a $50 item? Probably not — unless the item is perceived to be worth much more, few will enter.

With more contest experience, the sweet spot between item value and goal can be found. For now, just run with something.

Step 3: Generate content for the giveaway

The backbone of your Instagram-based contest isn’t your prize – it’s the photos.

Your photos must sell the person on the idea of entering your contest. Your images should be catchy to attract eyeballs and inspire emotion in the viewers. What giveaway-related picture will lead your users to think, “Whoa, that’s cool, I want that”?

Standard product shots won’t work, but luxurious product-in-use shots certainly will.

Pick a start and end date, and get all of your content lined up ahead of time. You don’t want the contest to flop because you weren’t prepared and your audience didn’t even see that you were giving something away.

What else to do:

  • Reply to questions on each giveaway post. Interaction makes the contest seem more real to the user, especially if you’re giving away a “too-good-to-be-true” item like a vacation.
  • Be clear with your instructions and rules. Don’t require the user to think; entering the contest should be a quick decision and easy to do. Create a landing page with instructions and rules like Birchbox does in its contests.
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Atlanta Giveaway Official Rules Birchbox

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  • Make it fun. A joke or something personal to which the user can relate will sway people to enter the contest.

Step 4: Post the pictures and pick a winner

Pick a random username from an interaction-based contest or the best entry for a user-generated content contest and publicly announce the winner with an “@” mention on your page.

Examples: Drinkwel

Drinkwel, which sells alcohol-related health products, uses interaction grabs well. The smaller brand doesn’t have the capital to give away high-ticket items, it gives away its own products. The weekly schedule allows Drinkwel to continuously gain followers for a small amount of money.

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Example: Starbucks

Starbucks is the king of user-generated contests, particularly hashtag campaigns. One contest resulted in over 11,000 entries. These frequent hashtag-based contests keep Starbucks’ Instagram account populated and in the public eye. In fact, some say that Starbucks is the most popular Instagram brand because of how well it uses contests.

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Example: Benefit Cosmetics

Benefit Cosmetics made great use of social proof with its contest. The company got fans to engage by asking people to submit photos of themselves using the company’s “they’re real!” mascara using the hashtag #realsies. In return, Benefit Cosmetics offered fans the opportunity to win a year’s supply of the promoted mascara.

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Wrapping it up

The really unique Instagram marketing strategies always will get the best results. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel like Nike did. A few simple marketing tactics can get good results and make you more successful on Instagram without too much effort. If you’re looking to grow – and not just exist – on Instagram, consider applying one (or all) of the three Instagram marketing techniques to your brand.

Find more tips for using Instagram and other platforms to increase the impact of your content. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Author: Josh Brown

Josh Brown is part of the marketing team at Soldsie, a social-selling platform that enables retailers to sell their items over social networks. Soldsie's latest product Have2Have.It takes your followers to a shoppable, curated page that has the same look and feel as your brand’s Instagram feed. Follow Soldsie on Twitter or Facebook.

Other posts by Josh Brown

  • http://www.boxpilot.com/ Boxpilot

    What an incredibly useful, in-depth post! Using Instagram at the moment can really help brands grow, and with these tips there is no reason not to do an awesome job on Instagram. Lots of articles and users have recommended using lots of hashtags so it’s great to see you advising caution when it comes to hashtags.

    • josh

      Glad you enjoyed the article. As mentioned in the article, there doesn’t seem to be a saturation point for hashtags and there’s been studies that show more hashtags on Instagram can equal more interactions. With that said, the focus for a brand should be to get meaningful interactions and connect with the right audience which is why I don’t recommend spamming hashtags on Instagram and instead making sure to find and use a couple of relevant hashtags (bonus if it’s a trending hashtag) that can be connected with what you’re posting.

  • http://www.wordspicturesweb.com/ Buddy Scalera

    Josh, do you have an Instagram that we can follow? I found the Soldsie account, but “Josh Brown” turns up a lot of results.

    • josh

      Hey Buddy – my personal Instagram account is tied to a project dealing mainly with travel.

  • http://2asuccessdreamblog.com Alecia Stringer

    Great ideas with the contests, thanks

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    • josh

      No problem – if you end up running a contest, we’d love to hear how it goes!

  • Shai Geoola

    Josh, just saw the article. Fantastic and informative! Thanks for sharing! Cheers.

    • josh

      Thanks for the kind words Shai – glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Kate Talbot

    This is such a well in-depth thought leadership piece on Instagram Marketing. So many great ideas and insights to pull from the article. Thanks!

    • josh

      Thank you for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • http://www.newjupitermedia.com New Jupiter Media

    Excellent article! We especially loved the part where you broke down a company’s “goals” and the strategies they should use to achieve those goals. This article gave us so many great ideas on how to market our new Instagram account!

    • josh

      I’m happy to hear that the article helped spark some ideas for marketing your account. I look forward to seeing the results!

  • http://luizcentenaro.com/ Luiz Centenaro

    Thanks for the great post, Groupon has always had edgy marketing, their email old email unsubscribe was hilarious. Great stats on contests, consumers come to expect them when they follow brands! It’s crazy how different platforms form such unique communities.

  • Mitch in Santa Rosa, CA

    GREAT article! Will try to catch you in SF again soon 😀

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    I have read your post. You are amazing
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  • http://www.buygosh.com/ Lucyy

    Thank you for this post. It’s really interesting information! good luck!

  • http://www.drivingtomojave.com/ Carrie Sommer

    Great post! Going back to the use of hashtags though; what are your thoughts on using fewer hashtags in the caption and then commenting with the maximum allowed (relevant) hashtags? I’ve noticed this a lot lately and it seems to work for search & engagement, while keeping the caption uncluttered.