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Instagram Success Story: Write One for Your Brand

Think your business has what it takes to become influential on Instagram? It could all depend on your ability to build a relevant and passion-driven story around the messages you share there.

On the surface, content marketing on Instagram seems straightforward: Create a profile and post your business’s best visual content assets with a caption and a strong call to action. If what you’re sharing is interesting and useful, your brand’s presence helps nurture those photo fans into a loyal band of engaged followers.

But things get a lot harder when your goal is to sustain engagement over the long term, scale your brand’s reach exponentially, and use your influence to drive more meaningful consumer actions. In this regard, Instagram can be a deceptively challenging media platform to master.

.@Instagram can be a deceptively challenging media platform to master, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Fortunately, there’s plenty of proof that powerful content brands can be built on the backs of the ’Gram community (just ask @kendalljenner). If you don’t have the social cachet of the Family K, there’s another path to follow: Craft compelling stories for your posts, then take advantage of a few core content marketing principles to propel your growth.

Just ask Wally Koval, creator of the popular AccidentallyWesAnderson (AWA) Instagram account (and former member of the CMI sales team). Wally built AWA into a thriving side business that takes him across the globe in search of uniquely stylized imagery to share with his audience. But before he became an Insta-success, he started with a simple expression of his love for the eponymous filmmaker’s signature visual brand.

Image source

In his presentation at CMWorld 2019, Wally described the journey that took him from passionate film fan to verified Instagram influencer with over 822,000 followers. While his Instagram success started with a personal account, his experience of building a story (and an audience) around his vision and using it to attract brand partnerships holds important lessons for content marketers.

Lesson 1: Tell the (text) story behind the (visual) story

AWA began with Wally sharing photos that recall the visual style found in nearly every Wes Anderson film. It’s a fun, eye-catching concept, but it’s not exactly a marketable one (unless you happen to be Mr. Anderson).

Realizing any initial attention could quickly slip away if he didn’t offer a unique spin, Wally turned each curated photo-driven post into a mini-story by adding context to each image. This text might include the location’s history, background on the artistic subject matter, or biographic information on the original photographer. He also detailed why the image spoke to him.

Inserting stories in his Instagram updates helped forge an enduring association between Anderson’s stylized imagery and Wally’s own burgeoning content brand, which rocketed him into new levels of influence and engagement among the Instagram masses. For example, his earliest posts attracted a few hundred “hearts.” But as he incorporated behind-the-scenes details and personal anecdotes, the views rapidly climbed well into the thousands and beyond.

Brand POV

Audiences want more than random images disconnected from your brand experience; they want to derive meaning, resonance, and a reliable experience from the content you share. By building a signature theme or relatable thread around your brand’s Instagram offerings, you deliver something they can more easily recall, internalize, and align with what’s most interesting to them.

Audiences want more than random images disconnected from your brand experience, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

For example, National Geographic extends its brand legacy of enabling audiences to experience the beauty of the natural world, while reinforcing its views on the critical importance of nature conservation.

Yet, in this ongoing Instagram content campaign, Cheerios eschews fancy photography in favor of personalized, text-based posts on a simple, brand-appropriate colored background. The content may be simple, but brand fans can instantly recognize them on point thanks to Cheerios’ familiar “#GoodGoesAround” tagline.

TIP: Prioritize your hashtags to build relevant communities around your content. While you technically can use up to 30 hashtags to maximize your exposure to new fan communities, Wally says pursuing too many audiences at once will dilute your content’s impact and diminish returns. He recommends aiming for five to 10 of the most relevant hashtags – including two or three unique to your brand.

Lesson 2: Empower others to take part in your experience

Wally recognized that to build a thriving community (and, eventually, a business) with Instagram, his content would need to take root and grow in ways the platform might not accommodate. As he said in his presentation, “Instagram is your frenemy. You can build your community with it, but understand its limitations and expectations.”

.@Instagram is your frenemy. Build a community w/ it but understand its limitations, says @wallykoval via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

With this in mind, Wally added bricks to the foundation of AWA’s content strategy to support his creative endeavors. For example, discovering from the comments in his posts how eager fans were to contribute their ideas, he implemented a process to let them submit their photos for consideration.

Eventually the popularity of his more contextualized and participatory post structure helped attract the editorial eye of Vogue, resulting in an interview that drew crowds of fans, as well as interest from brands eager to sponsor his future photographic explorations.

As Wally explored those partnership opportunities, he set ground rules to ensure that his core audience would always enjoy a consistent, relatable experience with AWA content – whether a post was self-generated or the result of a paid content partnership. These parameters included posting his content manually rather than relying on social media automation tools, and establishing a reliable publishing schedule to ensure that he could respond to comments immediately after sharing each new story.

Brand POV

Partnering with influential Instagram accounts is a valuable technique for connecting with new communities in an organic, resonant way. But remember when you invite co-creators into your social sanctum, you need to ensure that their contributions align with your brand’s perspectives and visual style.

As an example, Starbucks facilitates strong partner alignment by publishing its brand guidelines for creative expression. Clearly outlining the elements that distinguish its creative content vision enables its internal content creators and external partners to work from a unified storytelling aesthetic – no matter the platform or purpose.

TIP: Always post manually and remain engaged after new content goes live. Members of the Instagram audience want to know you’re listening to their comments and are committed to engaging back and forth with them.

Lesson 3: Solidify your stories’ value with sound content strategy

Throughout this creative process, Wally always kept his larger business goals firmly in mind – and consistently shored up his overarching content strategy to drive them. For example, knowing that Instagram would always retain some control over his content and his audience, he developed a companion website to connect with his audience outside the Instagram ecosystem and continue to grow his stories’ impact on more stable “owned” land. 

Brand POV

As Wally pointed out, social media channels are highly self-serving and can change on a dime, giving users little notice before shifting algorithms, terms of service, or even the platform’s look and functions. They give marketers little ability to recoup any resulting losses experienced from the changes.

Consider this recent TechCrunch article on Instagram’s decision to kill its following tab as proof. While the decision seems merited and minor, it could cause an unpredictable ripple effect that undoes the hard work your brand put into storytelling on the platform. While it’s smart to create stories to engage the Instagram audience, it’s even more important that you find ways to drive interested consumers back to your brand’s turf, where they can continue the experience and take action.

.@Instagram is your frenemy. Build a community w/ it but understand its limitations, says @wallykoval via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

The New Yorker is one media brand that has been killing it in this respect. Look at this recent effort on Instagram Stories to highlight The Black Cube Chronicles – Ronan Farrow’s three-part exposé on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. By clicking through the series of stylized vignettes, readers get introduced to a captivating story of intrigue and suspense. The New Yorker then used a clickable call to action to build a bridge of engagement back to its website where the audience can read more about all the shady details of the case.

TIP: Take advantage of Instagram’s content innovations. Instagram is constantly developing new features – interactive quizzes, polls, photo editing tools, and more – that enable audiences to act on your brand’s content without disrupting their platform experience. Not only can these enhancements provide measurable proof of the community’s level of interest in engaging with your brand, they demonstrate your commitment to continually delivering the freshest, most engaging content experience on the platform.

@TheKitchn is another business using Instagram’s signature storytelling tool to its best brand advantage. Consider its recent Cooking School Story, which delivered 20 cooking lessons over 20 days. The series’ posts range from sumptuous food photos and videos to recipes and cooking tips, and detailed instructions and quizzes that help viewers sharpen their skills.

But what really drives its storytelling value home (literally) are the customized calls to action the brand includes on each individual frame of the story: Each opens to an associated Kitchn content channel (e.g., its website, YouTube channel), where members of the audience can explore additional content the brand offers on the topic they clicked on.

Add content value that can be measured by the ’Gram

Storifying your Instagram content might not bring throngs of fans and followers overnight, but it can help spark the kind of audience excitement that deepens your consumer relationships, drives your marketing goals – and even opens up new business opportunities.

How are you using storytelling to succeed on the platform? Which brands’ storytelling do you admire? Let me know in the comments.

Here’s an excerpt from Wally’s talk:

Missed Wally Koval’s Instagram revelations at Content Marketing World? Catch it all with video on demand. You’ll also get access to the hundreds of other presentations to inspire and help your content marketing. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute