The Guide to Instagram for Business


The Guide to Instagram for Business is an in-depth tutorial on how Instagram works and how brands (including yours) can integrate it in their social marketing mix to increase their online reach and attract new business.
In it, you’ll find all the basics on getting started with Instagram, as well as recommendations on advanced campaigns that provide a meaningful experience for your Instagram community.

instagram-guideWhat is Instagram?

Instagram is a social network that was launched in October 2010 and acquired by Facebook in April 2012.

Members of the Instagram community share photos and videos from a mobile application currently available for iOS and Android Phones. Users can also use the website to view their newsfeed and browse user profiles.

Brands are increasingly adding Instagram as a marketing and social engagement platform alongside Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare.

Over 80% of the Instagram community is located outside of the United States.

Current Instagram Statistics

500M+ Monthly Actives
300M+ Daily Actives
80%+ Outside The U.S.
4.2B Likes Daily
95M+ Photos/Videos Per Day

World map of Instagram adoption by gender:


  • Thailand is Instagram’s most women-dominated country with 65% women.
  • Saudi Arabia is Instagram’s most men-dominated country with 85% men.
  • South-East Asia and Russia have strongest adoption by women
  • Middle East and India show strongest adoption by men

Instagram Adoption by Brands per Industry


Sectors from left to right: cars, fast food, soft drinks, apparel, retail, luxury, beer, personal care, telcos., technology, oil & gas, financial institutions, insurance


Why should my brand be on Instagram?

Instagram is an increasingly important actor in the social media scene, with over 75% of leading brands already present on the platform. As a mobile-first visual sharing network, it is shaping the ways people interact not only with one-another, but also with brands and companies.

Instagram was quickly loved by the tech sphere, but soon caught on with pop culture icons who welcomed the opportunity to share a glimpse of their own life with fans. Soon enough, the app reached mainstream popularity. Instagram is now one of the largest social sharing platforms with 200 million active community members as of July 2013.

As a result, many conversations are taking place on Instagram every day, and there’s a high chance that some of them mention your brand. Why not join in to shape the way your brand is seen and discussed on Instagram? Why not leverage Instagram to create meaningful interactions with your community and fine-tune your message to improve your brands’ visibility?

How much of this guide to Instagram for business should I read?

If you are only getting started with Instagram and are unfamiliar with the best practices on this social network in particular, or even on social media in general, we strongly suggest reading this guide from A to Z.

If you already have an official account running on Instagram, you may still find value in the last chapters of this guide which explore advanced use cases and campaigns, a great way to fine-tune your Instagram content strategy.

Getting Started with Instagram

dotted_lineBefore getting started with Instagram and building a community, you should learn about it. From the mechanics of the Instagram app to the community itself, this chapter covers everything you need to get started with Instagram.

Instagram statistics

Instagram Growth and Spread

Instagram launched in October of 2010. Two months later, its community was already 1 Million members strong. The usage and spread of Instagram has been on the rise ever since.

Over 65% of the Instagram community is located outside of the United States.

Current Instagram Statistics

  • 200 Million Monthly Active Users
  • 20 Billion Photos Shared in total
  • 1.6 Billion Likes and 60 Million Photos shared every day

source: Instagram Press Page

Interest for Brands on Instagram

The top 50 brands on Instagram have 722k followers on average.

Just as importantly, an average of 1.5 Million posts mention each of these brands on Instagram.

aeropostale-mobile-instagram-linkInstagram ads

For more than 3 years, Instagram existed without any commercial model. During the summer of 2013, Instagram’s head of business operations Emily White hinted at the objective to implement ads in a relatively near future, over the course of the next year. This timeline accelerated when Instagram annouced that it was to progressively roll out ads, first to their American audience before the end of 2013.

Here is what we know about Instagram Ads so far:

  • As of now, only the American audience will see ads
  • Ads will be shown in the newsfeed as sponsored posts
  • Users will be able to provide feedback on ads (judging their relevance and if they want to see more or less of like-minded ads)
  • Users will be able to block ads that aren’t relevant to them
  • Instagram hopes to uphold the quality of the ads being shown and wants to keep the newsfeed attractive to its users

As of now, ads are only available to a limited set of brands that proved their worthiness as Instagram users. Michael Kors was the first brand to share an Instagram ad on Friday, November 1 2013.

View the official report on the Levi’s and Ben & Jerry’s ad campaigns

levis-sponsoredA sample Instagram ad by Levi’s.

dotted_lineBringing traffic to your web properties via Instagram

Instagram doesn’t allow clickable links in the posts’ captions or comments. The only clickable links are within the bio of a user’s profile. We’ll see later how you can make the most of your Instagram profile to increase click-through-rate on your bio’s link. For now, remember that there’s only that one place from which you can link within Instagram.

As for the future, we don’t know how Instagram is going to evolve. Even though linking in posts is a wildly popular request, Instagram hasn’t made any official comments on the possibility of seeing them appear some day.

However, since Instagram has been bought by Facebook, it has evolved to look more like its parent company. Consequently, it is not impossible that we’ll see clickable links in the posts’ captions appear some day.

aeropostale-mobile-instagram-linkGenerating revenue via Instagram

Since linking on posts isn’t possible, generating revenue via Instagram is not a straightforward process, unlike Pinterest for example which can be used to drive traffic towards specific product pages. Instagram can however be effectively used as a way to enhance these product pages for visitors.

A recent study by Olapic estimates that featuring aesthetic photos of customers wearing or using a product on its e-shop page increased conversion by a 9 times factor.

Overview of the Instagram community: The People

Instagram has a vibrant community of passionate photographers around the world, sharing thousands of awe-inspiring photos and videos on a daily basis. The most passionate Instagrammers get together during meetings called InstaMeets. A few community members are curating content and communities on their own to federate Instagram’s passionate users. Among them are:


Overview of the Instagram community: The Brands

Brands are gradually officially joining Instagram.

instagram-user-growthInstagram adoption by Millward-Brown 2013 BrandZ index Brands (total: 97/130 or 75%)
Sectors from left to right: cars, fast food, soft drinks, apparel, retail, luxury, beer, personal care, telcos., technology, oil & gas, financial institutions, insurance

The Car, Fast Food, Soft Drink, Apparel and Retail industries are most represented on Instagram with a 100% adoption rate.
The insurance industry is the least present on Instagram with only a 30% adoption rate.

Influencers on Instagram

Within its community, Instagram has some leading users or Influencers. These influencers can be photographers, bloggers, sometimes tied to the fashion industry, or simply people who have figured out how to gain popularity on Instagram.

Some members of the community are also added by the Instagram team in a “Suggested users” list that features the accounts that best represent the way Instagram shall be used: from the content itself to the interactions created and managed by the authors. Being selected as a featured Instagram user is a great propeller for popularity, and most of these users have grown a 6 to 7-digit following since first being featured.

Aeropostale uses a trackable shortlink to point to its contest page


Setting Up Your Business Account

By now, you should have a good view of what Instagram is and how it can benefit your business. So it’s time to get your hands dirty: Set up an account for your business, and learn how to use it to your advantage.

Before doing so, we advise you to do your homework and learn about Instagram’s policies and guidelines. Not only will they help you craft a clearer message, they’ll also further your knowledge about Instagram by learning more about how the network sees, and brands itself. This knowledge will make it easier for you to be relevant to Instagram’s community.

Complying with Instagram’s Guidelines

As does every Brand and Social Network, Instagram has guidelines to ensure the authenticity of its brand name.

Everything you should know about Instagram’s Guidelines can be found on their help center and particularly in these 2 articles:

You should also comply with its Terms of Use. Branded Instagram accounts have been disabled in the past for not complying with these rules. Recently, diet tea brand Skinny Me Tea, who had over 200k followers was disabled for reportedly encouraging harmful behavior regarding weight loss.

skinnymetea-smtofficial-on-instagram-210x300Skinny Me Tea’s new official profile after @skinnymetea was banned from Instagram

Choosing a username

Your Brand’s Instagram username will be its signature, and forms the link you share to drive people to your page.

Your brand’s username on Instagram has to be recognizable, searchable and easy to remember for your audience. Here are a few tips that can help.



  • Use special signs such as “_”.
  • Include words such as “instagram”, “ig”, “promos”. These are often used by fraudulent or spam accounts.

instagram_scam-account-210x300an Instagram scam account impersonating Jet Blue (official account @jetblue)

Optimizing your profile

Your Instagram profile is the only page that can drive traffic back to your website. As with any web page, the overall look and feel of your profile impacts the click through on your bio link, and thus should be optimized. Here’s how your profile looks:

instagram-web-profile-warbyparkerweb profile of designer glasses brand @warbyparker

    • Bio tip 1: 150 Characters long, it should be concise.
    • Bio tip 2: Promote your own campaign hashtags in your bio.
    • Website: Most brands choose their main URL. Some switch to a mini-website when hosting special campaigns such as Michael Kors did with #WatchHungerStop.
  • michael-kors-watchhungerstopProfile Picture: 110×110 px image of your logo. Instagram profile pictures are rounded in the mobile app, and squared on the web. Choose a picture that will work with both formats.
  • Cover tip 1: Share at least 7 Posts to your Instagram to create a cover mosaic. The cover is made of your 7 most popular past photos, it will be created as soon as you have shared at least 7 posts on Instagram.
  • Cover tip 2: 409×409 px is the biggest an image will be on your cover. The standard size of Instagram photos is 612×612 px, we advise to make sure that all the photos you share look good in this size.


Integrating Instagram in your Social Media Mix

As a social network, Instagram has its own specificities: its own community, memes and traditions. This is why you have to fine-tune your brand voice to fit the platform while fulfilling a unified experience for your fans across the web.

  • Define your Instagram strategy before posting by elaborating a cross-platform content plan.
  • Experiment with posting times to maximize engagement.
  • Connect your Instagram brand account with other relevant social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr, and international networks VKontakte (Russia), Weibo (China) or Mixi (Japan).

These few brands are often cited to have a stellar Instagram presence:

Top Brands


Small Brands

Growing Your Instagram Account

Kickstarting an account

In order to increase your number of Instagram followers, you need to quickly build an appealing account. There are a few elements to make your account more attractive:

  • Sustain you account’s activity (share regularly and at optimal times)
  • Ensure high quality of content (keep the content engaging)
  • Nurture interactions (repost your fans’ best content and reply to their comments)


The Kooples kicking off its Instagram account

Improving engagement on photos

The engagement on an Instagram post is the sum of Likes and Comments it received.

The distribution of engagements on an average Instagram post is over 100 likes for 1 comment

Many brands in the Instagram community have been experimenting with ways to improve engagement on their posts, sometimes in a playful manner.

On mobile, double-tapping on a post will instantly Like it. Get creative an use the double-tap-to-like feature to increase the number of Likes for mobile users.

Brisk asking their followers to double tap its photo.Add calls to action whenever possible, even if just in you posts’ captions.instagram-for-business-chap3-question-engagement-comment-smallWith a simple question, Topman increases the number of comments on a post.Ask questions to drive comments and discussions. Topman simply does this while showing a new batch of tshirts available in the shop.Give followers an opportunity to mention a friend. Even with no re-gram functions, Instagram posts have some viral value when direct followers of an account start mentioning their friends, effectively bringing the post to their attention even if they weren’t following the account originally.instagram-for-business-chap3-mentions-of-friends-smallWhen Kinfolk posts a job offer, their followers give nudges to their friends using @mentions

Interacting with your audience

Building your community doesn’t only come with making great posts and optimizing your content. A number of Instagram actions are made via comments, either on your brand’s photos, or on posts’ by other members of the community.

Of course, leaving comments everywhere would be time-consuming and probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. But by targeting your attention toward the right discussions, you can elevate your brand’s image on Instagram.

Cross-posting and promoting your brand account on other networks

On the previous chapter, we encouraged you to link your brand’s Instagram with its other social media profiles (view the help on connecting social networks). Here, you will learn in more details how to use this connectivity to drive people to your Instagram account.

First, know that you can either share as soon as you post to Instagram, or decide to re-share later on. The former underlines the real-time nature of Instagram, while the latter can be used to fit Instagram into a strict content plan spreading posts throughout the day.

Let’s explore in details how sharing on other networks looks like:


Instagram posts to Twitter will show up as a simple shortened link. The tweet’s text will be made of the caption you wrote on Instagram, providing context for Twitter users. They will, however, have to click on the link to see to the actual post.

posting-instagram-twitteran Instagram post shared on Twitter

posting-image-twittercomparison with a Tweet containing a twitpic (uploaded directly via Twitter).


As Instagram’s parent company, Facebook flawlessly integrates with the photo and video sharing network. Your re-shared posts will appear on your brand’s timeline as any other photo you could post. The caption will be translated in full, even the hasthagged keywords will remain intact on Facebook.

On Facebook, images drive more engagement than other kinds of posts. Instagram can be used as a backlog in order to regularly post new visual content to Facebook. More engaging content also means better Edge Rank for your brand’s Page, thus creating a virtuous circle.

Some brands even promote their reposts on Facebook to boost their reach. In order to maximize this practice, track the engagement of all your reposts to Facebook and only promote the most successful ones.

posting-instagram-facebookAn Instagram post shared on Facebook


Running an Instagram Campaign or Contest to Boost followers

In later chapters, you’ll learn everything there is to know about Instagram contests. You’ll see that contests and campaigns can be used to a variety of purposes, including getting people to follow your brand.

During the 2013 Superbowl, Oreo launched its official Instagram account and built it up from 0 to 80k followers in less than 2 weeks.

  • Participants were asked to follow @Oreo in order to enter the contest
  • Winner’s photos were reposted to @Oreo’s feed. This gave an incentive for fans to keep following the brand throughout the contest.

These newly acquired 80k followers could have left after the contest was over, but @Oreo kept sharing valuable content and consolidated its Instagram audience to reach over the 100,000 figure.

Learn how to do successful Instagram contests and campaigns

Influencer Targeting

Instagram is ripe with influencers. These power-users often have followings among the hundreds of thousands. Some are aspiring artists, some are professional photographers, some just do it for fun. Some influencers focus on weddings, some will prefer to shoot cars, while others are into portrait photography or crossfit.

Within this rich community, there are Instagrammers who work for brands. These freelancers are willing to promote products on their own feed, or to take over a brand’s account and share as the brand on Instagram for a while.

instagram-for-business-influencers-colerise-harleydavidson-smallInfluencer @colerise Instagramming a Harley Davidson and mentioning the official Instagram brand account

We’ve seen Armani reaching out of its social circle by campaigning with fashion bloggers, who posted promotional videos to their own audience. Among these bloggers was Chiara Ferragni author of The Blonde Salad. With over 1 million followers, she’s one of Instagram’s most popular users, and its most followed blogger. She shared 2 videos for the brand’s new Fragrance Sí by Armani, effectively putting it in front of an audience Armani wouldn’t have been able to reach directly.

Teaming up with a handful of influencers including @pauloctavious, Mercedes-Benz USA (@mbusa) greatly improved the quality of its feed by giving it a true “Instagrammy” feeling.

instagram-for-business-influencers-pauloctavious-mbusa-smallOne of the photos posted by Paul Octavious on Mercedes’ feed


Instagram influencers targeting may be a good way for your brand to extend its reach while sharing better content tailored to Instagram’s community.

Sharing on Instagram

Originally, Instagram is meant as a way for everyone to share moments with their friends and family as they happen. In fact, Instagram’s early success is in large part due to the focus that was put on ease of quickly sharing. Bear in mind that, at the time, smartphone’s cameras and uploading speeds weren’t as powerful as today. As technology improved, Instagram adapted to broaden its usage, from in-the-moment photos, to well refined posts that could be saved in the smartphone and uploaded later. Let’s see how both strategies translate for businesses on Instagram.

Doing Real-Time photography with Instagram

Directly using Instagram to take a photo or film a video allows you to capture moments as they happen. Instinctively, we could think that most brands would shy away from such practices, for fear of losing control of the quality and relevance of each photo. But in practice, many brands are keen to use real-time sharing through Instagram. Some even make it their trademark. Shooting and sharing in the moment can be used in a variety of situations.

Personifying the brand

Fashion designer Paul Smith is the sole voice of his brand on Instagram. He shares his posts on the official @paulsmithdesign account, and stamps them with the #takenbyPaul seal of approval.

Likewise, luxury fashion brand Oscar De La Renta hired its “PR Girl” and appointed her as the voice and face of its Social Media accounts, including its Instagram @oscarprgirl. A practice successful enough for other brands to adopt it, such as DKNY (@dknyprgirl).

Claridge's Christmas tree courtesy of Jony Ive and Marc Newson #takenbyPaul

A post shared by Paul Smith (@paulsmith) on

Event coverage

The fashion community on Instagram is buzzing during Fashion Weeks across the World. Brands such as SoniaRykiel, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs leverage the instantaneous uploads to show events as they are unfolding.

This opportunity extends outside the boundaries of the fashion industry. Starbucks captured a Sheryl Crow concert, and Nespresso celebrated the 10th anniversary of its sustainability program with Instagram.


Newjacking, the act of reporting news events while injecting brand content, can be facilitated with Instagram’s real-time dimension. As an example of a brand quickly reacting to news, sports apparel designer lululemon got worldwide coverage thanks to this post (embedded to the right), uploaded mere minutes after Video was introduced to Instagram:

Capturing authentic moments

Fans may be following your brand because they like its image, and the people behind it. Instagram is one of the best mediums to share truly authentic moments that feel personal for your audience.

instagram-for-business-gq-realtime-authenticitySharing office life moments

Does your company do Friday beers, foosball games, ping pong tournament, or advocates chilling on the rooftop? Let the world know. This kind of content largely plays into your employer brand.


When given the opportunity to interview key people on happenstance, why not seize it and shoot straight from Instagram?


A marketer’s favorite, stop-motion is best filmed directly via the Instagram app and shared on the go.

Using Instagram’s import feature

You can upload photos and videos that were not taken from Instagram. Importing photos from a smartphone lets brands shoot content while professional cameras or repurpose content they originally posted on other mediums as a way to generate more Instagram activity. Red Bull is a notable example of a brand doing this. Whether it be with photos or videos, the energy drink company repackages its previous communications in square form with minor edits to fit with its audience.

Importing with Android is a straightforward process: connect your device with your computer or mac and transfer the files to your phone for later upload on Instagram.

Importing with an iPhone can be done with iCloud. With iCloud installed, you’re able to select files to upload in the cloud, making them available from your iPhone.

Reposting existing content

Camera manufacturer GoPro has never shared an Instagram post taken via a smartphone. Instead, GoPro uses the import feature to showcase its camera’s work, like it does on other social networks.

Reposting content from the community

What better way to give props to your fans than to re-share their best contributions? However make sure that (1) fans give you the approval to re-share, (2) you are legally able to re-share.

instagram-for-business-cocacola-repostingCoca-Cola reposting @alifecoloredamber’s #BestSummerMoment on its official feed

Sharing DSLR shots

Some brands have extremely high standards for quality of images used while communicating around their products. In the luxury industry, it is not uncommon for social media managers to only be allowed to share DSLR-shot photos on Instagram. Some have to go through a lengthy review process before finally making it live on the photo and video network. Trading the real-time nature of Instagram for a better quality and professional tools can be a fit for you, as it is for Michael Kors.

Making posters

Whether you want to advertise a new product or event, launch a campaign, or announce the winners of a contest to your followers, making a poster to broadcast your message will work. It also works for simply sharing well designed retro-images.

Showcasing past best photos in a video

Compiling your most successful Instagrams in a 15-seconds video is yet another creative way to craft new content pieces without having to make it all from scratch.

Adding a text overlay

Sometimes, your editing needs are as simple as getting a text on top of a photo or video. To do this with style, you’ll be way more successful adding a text overlay with a proper editing software and importing the result on Instagram, like GAP did.

Using Instagram Hashtags

A brief history of the hashtag

Hashtags first appeared on Twitter in 2007. They were used as a way to sort out content and filter through the noise of the millions of conversations happening every day on the micro-blogging platform.

Since then, the scope of hashtags has expanded greatly. In fact, all the major players integrate them one way or another: Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram all now have a hashtag system.

Hashtags even trickled into pop culture. We see them on TV ads, Posters, Billboards, TV shows, Sport games, and even rap music.

Using Hashtags on Instagram

On a high-level, there are a few rules for hashtags on Instagram.

  • Special Characters such as ‘?’ or ‘&’ don’t work. #Q&A will be understood as #Q.
  • Spaces don’t work (“#new collection” will be understood as “#new”)
  • Hashtags are not case-sensitive (#SXSW is the same as #sxsw)
  • Beware of banned Instagram hashtags (“Instagram”, “IG”, “iPhone” stand out, but there are more)

On Instagram, hashtags can be used in one of two ways.

  • Extending the reach of your owned content
  • Crowdsourcing User-Generated content

Levi’s Kicking off its #goforth contest in partnership with Urban Outfitters

1. Using Hashtags to extend content’s reach

Through Instagram’s search bar, users can look for:

  • Users
  • Hashtags

In other words, members of the Instagram community are used to searching for hashtags that encapsulate their interests. Consequently, hashtags are a powerful tool to make your business’s Instagram photos and videos discoverable and available to people outside of its existing audience.

Concretely, these are the different ways to use this feature.

instagram-seach-headerThe Instagram search bar, on top of the Popular Posts

Adapting your keywords to the Instagram culture

Keywords are the terms people use on the web to find your website. Aside from your brand name, they are the words that are likely to bring traffic to your site, and ultimately to drive purchases.

In order to choose the best performing hashtags, look for ones that are most often used and searched for. Use the Instagram Search to gauge volume of posts shared on different hashtags, and use only the most popular ones.

As an example, a business selling hair products probably tries to rank well on Google for the “hair products” query. But on Instagram, #HairProduct was only used 14k times whereas #hair, #hairpost or #hairstyle see thousands of new posts every day. So, how should you go about finding the most Instagram-friendly hashtags?

First, start searching for a broad but relevant keyword using Instagram’s search. Then, look for the best posts in the results and search for the hashtags that were used in the caption. From there, you’ll be able to single out a few ones that relate to your target market. By way of association, you can repeat this process and discover more popular hashtags used by the Instagram community.


As mentioned in the previous chapter, Newjacking is the act of adapting a news event to fit a brand’s voice. Every time, hashtags arise to help gather this content. When the Marriage Equality Bill passed, hashtagging posts with #MarriageEquality was the way to enter the discussion thread.




Newjacking by @redbull, @truebloodhbo, @loccitane on #MarriageEquality

Participate in Instagram’s themes

Ever heard of Throw Back Thursday (#tbt)? Outfit of the Day (#ootd)? #selfie? #FromWhereIStand? These are trends that originated on Instagram.

#throwbackthursday and its short version #tbt are used to re-post an old photo. This Instagram tradition translates well to businesses keen on showcasing their culture with photos of their employees and success stories.

2. Crowdsourcing User-Generated Content with hashtags

It will come as no surprise that the Instagram community relies on hashtags not only to discover new content, but to share it as well.

In the era of User Generated Content (UGC), brands are taking an interest in sorting out relevant content shared about them and their products online. On Instagram, brand-created hashtags can be used as a catalyst to this content.

It works in a few steps:

  • Set goals with gathering UGC
  • Create a specific hashtag that only your knowing fans will use
  • Lay out Terms of Use that clearly explain what using this hashtag means for Instagram users (show an example)
  • Communicate about the hashtag and the operation
  • Regularly perform searches on the hashtag to discover new photos and use them as you intended to.

Usually, crowdsourcing photos goes along with an Instagram contest. We explore this in more details in Chapter 6: Managing Instagram Campaigns.

Ben & Jerry’s “Throwbacking”

Why is it important to pick a specific hashtag?

In this case, you only want your audience to use this hashtag. You don’t want to end up using or promoting a photo from someone who didn’t intend to share it with your brand in the first place. You also want to filter through the noise and avoid having to skim through additional unrelated content.

For example, this is the difference between Jawbone using #KnowYourself to collect photos of its JawboneUP wristband versus Mini Cooper going for #MiniMonday instead of just #Mini.

About 2/3 of the content shared on #KnowYourself are inspirational quotes and images that are in no way destined to Jawbone. Same with #Mini, more often used to simply describe small objects than to caption snapshots of the famous car.

a repost by @mini of Cooper S enthusiast and Instagrammer @o1thatnina

Searching for relevant posts with Hashtags

Now that you know all about hashtags for sharing content, you’ll soon pick up on using hashtags for finding content. Depending on the size of your business, the volume of conversations on Instagram will vary. For small volumes, simply searching for the brand’s hashtag will be enough. But as volumes rise, so does the community managers’ workload. That’s where tracking content containing 2 hashtags reveals its efficiency.

For example: #nike realistically cannot interact with the thousands of people using their hashtag on Instagram every day. It could, however, surface posts tagged #nike and #want, #nike and #help, and any combinations that it deems relevant.

Using Hashtags Creatively

Hashtags can also be taken out of the digital context. Did you ever come across a billboard mentioning a hashtag? Or maybe you’ve seen one on a TV ad, or even on a news program? These are intended to facilitate conversations between yourself and other viewers on social media. This is what Diamond Life did in a November 2012 campaign around the USA.

diamondlife-billboard-croppedBillboard for Diamond Life. source

Since Instagram users are snapping photos all the time, it makes sense to bring your hashtags to the physical world. Putting a hashtag somewhere in your product may be a good idea to leverage User Generated Content. The image on the right suggests a few ideas, but you’re free to come up with more ideas!

Managing Instagram Campaigns

Running Instagram contests and campaigns is often mentioned as an effective way to get exposure on the network. As it turns out, contests can have other target goals than growing an Instagram audience.

Sure, many campaigns’ bottom line is to increase an official account’s number of followers. But there are plenty of other uses cases, including: Crowdsourcing a casting call, Creating ads for print media, Launching a product, Crowdsourcing a moving art piece, Sweepstakes… In this section, you’ll see all these use cases and learn all the steps to take to ensure a flawless experience for participants.
from Instagram: @benandjerrysi-am-levisLevi’s crowdsourcing models via Instagram.

How to successfully manage an Instagram Contest

The steps to take in order to plan, launch and manage an Instagram contest are as follows:

  1. Setting goals
  2. Defining key metrics
  3. Choosing a hashtag (it will be the catalyst for the submitted content)
  4. Picking a selection method for winners
  5. Setting up rules for participants (terms & conditions)
  6. Going live: Contest promotion and launch
  7. Supporting the contest
  8. Following up with contestants

from Instagram: @americaneagle

1. Setting goals and defining key metrics

The first step to any campaign: clearly outlining its objectives. Are you looking to get more Instagram followers? Are you seeking to drive awareness towards a product? Wish to increase brand equity throughout all social channels? Be clear about your target goal.

from there, define the metrics to track on Instagram.

2. Defining KPIs and Instagram metrics to track

Companies usually choose between:

  • Account’s follower growth (measuring the impact of the campaign on the number of followers for the official Instagram account)
  • Total Engagements (the number of submissions received throughout the contest’s duration)
  • Engagement Rate (Measuring the ratio of engagement per number of followers for each contestant puts them all on a leveled playing field)
  • Unique participants (Are 10% of your participants submitting 90% of the content, or did the contest get a bigger spread throughout the community?)
  • Potential impressions (Measure the influence of participants to get a sense of the campaign’s reach on Instagram)

3. Choosing the hashtag

Choose a specific hashtag to avoid involuntary submissions, and to filter through unwanted noise.

Aim for a short hashtag to avoid mistakes.

Examples of good Instagram contest hashtags: #eeeeeats, #MiniMonday

If necessary, pick a hashtag combination. Levi’s did so for its partnership with editing app VSCO cam during the 2013 Commuter campaign. Submissions had to be made with both #commuter and #vscocam, a combination unlikely to be chosen by unknowing users.

4. Picking a selection method for winners

Typically, photo and video contests on Instagram have 3 different reward policies:

  • Choice 1 – Everyone is a winner: No prize is allocated aside from getting a photo featured via one of the brand’s properties. (ie: Mercedes-Benz launching a concept store with a moving installation featuring Instagrams from fans)
  • Choice 2 – The Instagram community elects the winner(s): The most liked photos are selected as the contest’s winners.
  • Choice 3 – The brand elects the winner(s): Doing so has 2 main advantages: Mainly, it prevents people from artificially boosting their likes count in order to win. Secondly, it allows for selecting winners in keeping with the brand’s image.

Note that some contests use a mix of these methods. Lipton’s Liptagram first held a primary selection where only the 3 most liked photos moved towards the final phase. Lipton then had the final call on which of the 3 would win the big prize (a safari trip to Kenya)

5. Setting up rules for participants (terms & conditions)

Some rules are consistent between different contests, no matter the host country. Some make the organization and election process more convenient for the brand, some are here to protect the customers. Let’s review these must-have terms & conditions:

  • Contest description: Explaining the contest’s development in Layman’s terms.
  • Eligibility: Who can participate?
  • Selection criteria: Make these options clear
  • Submission period: The Contest start and end date. An important note: Instagram allows to hashtag old photos which could lead them to pass as new ones if you only consider the “tagged” date and not the “posted” date. Some contestants go back to their most popular, but dated content, and submit it to various contests simply by adding their hashtag in the comments. You can prevent this by choosing the posting date on Instagram as the determining factor, as opposed to the hashtagging date.
  • Prohibited content: Avoid offensive posts, and give guidelines to favor receiving relevant content.
  • Define your republishing rights: Define the implications of using your contest hashtag: What kind of right does your brand acquire over them, are you allowed to republish them freely? These are the questions you’ll want to answer here.

6. Going live: Contest promotion and Launch

To maximize the contest’s reach, many brands promote them via their own feed, as well as their other properties. The often choose to cross-post an image containing the basic information of the contest, mainly: the hashtag(s) to use, the delimiting dates, and additional information required to enter (if any).

Doing so with promoted posts on other channels will increase the global reach of the contest.

mercedes-benz-contest-cross-post7. Once live: keep supporting the contest

All the successful contest share this common point: the brand keep updating its follower base with fresh news throughout.

Create a photo grid containing the approved submissions. Various options are available to embed Instagram content online.

8. Once it ended: Following up with contestants

We’re seeing an increasing number of brands going the extra-mile for participants after their contest ended. In the following section, you’ll see that Levi’s sent gift cards to show appreciation for the participants’ involvement in its contest.

Collection of Notable Instagram Contests

Many Instagram contests were met with success. Here, we list the most notable ones to provide examples of their variety and an analysis of the reasons behind their success.

Oreo: The best contest to launch an official account

instagram-contest-oreo-2Oreo managed its Instagram launch hand-in-hand with creative agency Wieden+Kennedy. A TV ad aired multiple times during the SuperBowl, a notoriously pricing spot. But Interestingly, the total engagement generated around the campaign’s hashtags was higher than any other ad promoting the use of a hashtag on Twitter. The 2 hashtags created (#cookiethis vs #cremethis) paved the way for a friendly fight between Oreo fans.

  • The Goal: Get new Instagram followers
  • The Result: from 0 to 80k followers in 2 weeks
  • The Idea: Create a battle between Cookie and Creme fans, transform submitted photos in sculptures made with Cookie or Creme, and count the winning ingredient
  • Why it worked: Fans could channel their inner child and took the cookie battle at heart, which generated thousands of engagements for Oreo

Heineken for the US Open: A scavenger hunt


Heineken had a few free seats to give out for the 2013 US Open finals. In order to decide who should go, it created an immersive scavenger hunt… on Instagram. Participants didn’t have to leave their homes to find clues. Instead, they had to hunt them down on @crack_the_us_open, an Instagram account specially created for the occasion.

  • The Goal: Create a fun experience for fans, and give out free prizes
  • The Result: 12 Seats offered for the US Open 2013 finals
  • The Idea: Using Instagram in a new way to create a scavenger hunt
  • Why it worked: Heineken and agency Wieden+Kennedy moderated the contest throughout, engaged with winners to entertain the hype

Levis x VSCO Cam: Using Instagram as a support in cross-media campaigns

levis-contest-cross-mediaFor its 2013 Commuter campaign, Levi’s partnered with VSCO cam and creative agency Instrument to create content that resonates across platforms.

  • The Goal: Promote the #Commuter 2013 campaign across social media platforms
  • The Result: 22% increase in average engagement rate on @levis Instagram and a total of 240k engagements
  • The Idea: Using Instagram to target a niche audience
  • Why it worked: Levi’s only gave loose guidelines to participants, ensuring to keep their brand’s authenticity whilst leaving artist’s freedom intact


General Electric: Partnering with Influencers & Fans

general-electric-contest-instawalkFor its 2013 Instagram campaign, General Electric organized an InstaWalk: A meeting where 6 Instagram masters met a handful of lucky aviation enthusiasts for an afternoon in the GE Test Operations Facility of Peebles, Ohio.

  • The Goal: Generate content for the General Electric account while creating a fun experience for fans
  • The Result: Endless Eye-melting Instagrams for GE to use
  • The Idea: Uniting Instagram top users and GE fans for an InstaMeet
  • Why it worked: The location selected by GE was a goldmine for Instagrammers. A simple search for #GEInstaWalk on Instagram will attest that

Mercedes-Benz: Merging marketing and art

untamed-paris-instagram-exhibitionWhen Mercedes opened a new concept store in Paris, it needed a temporary installation to spice up the place. What better idea than to call for Instagrammer’s participation in creating a one-of-a-kind crowdsourced art piece?

  • The Goal: Create an immersive artistic installation inside a newly opened Mercedes concept store in Paris
  • The Result: This video speaks volumes on what was achieved
  • The Idea: Inviting Instagram users to share their best Instagram photos on a mini-website hosted by Mercedes
  • Why it worked: The campaign was built on top of the Instagram API, offering more creative freedom than hashtag-based contests


About the author

George M.

My name is George and I am currently pursuing a masters degree in Information Security and Computer Forensics. I created this blog to share with you my experiences and what I have learned over the past 10 years and help you create and develop your own blog.

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