What's most impressive about Instagram's billion-dollar story is its rapid ascension among today's most popular apps. In just four years, Instagram has attracted about 300 million users.

Consumers love Instagram, but brands have been hesitant to accept the platform. Only 23% of brands currently have an Instagram presence, according to a recent study completed by Yesmail using its Market Intelligence Tool.

However, Instagram's highly visual platform, growing user base, and unique photo-sharing features can help brands drive reach and engagement.

Marketers should include Instagram as an integral component of their social marketing strategies. Here's why:

Community-Driven Features

One of Instagram's most exciting aspects is its photo-sharing interconnectivity. With millions of users and 70 million photos shared daily, the platform's network is extensive. Brands can use Instagram to connect consumers to their products.


Through branded hashtags and real-time uploading capabilities, Instagram allows customers to tell a brand's story. For example, Nike, Instagram's most popular brand, has curated a deeply personalized message around #nike.

Pictures with this hashtag highlight Nike's products in context—during physical activity. Along scenic runs and in documentation of athletic achievements, Nike's Instagram profile links its products with their real-world applications.

The hashtag #nike, which has been used over 41 million times, helped the brand develop a global community of runners. Groups like those encourage long-term customer loyalty, while making multi-billion dollar brands more accessible. Using Instagram's marketing tools, Nike's followers spiked to over 14 million.


The InstaMeet movement, which gathers people with a shared passion for photography, is a new strategy that brands can use to directly engage with consumers. TOMS hosted an InstaMeet, which perfectly demonstrates how brands can best organize the event structure.

Finding a Place for Brands in the InstaMeet Movement from Instagram on Vimeo.

TOMS' InstaMeet embraced two important attributes. First, the brand connected with a local personality to give the event a more organic feel. TOMS partnered with a Los Angeles photographer, situating itself authentically alongside the community rather than infiltrating it.

Second, the TOMS InstaMeet was about more than just photography. Attendees spent a portion of the event cleaning up trash in surrounding neighborhoods. The connection, although subtle, imbued TOMS with a positive reputation, increased branded awareness outside of traditional product placement, and likely earned the brand long-term customers.

Instagram's community-centric tools are great for capitalizing on branded personalities. Unlike other social channels, whose parameters can stigmatize a brand's most exciting qualities, Instagram's flexibility optimizes a brand's more unique characteristics. Each photo uploaded can help further objectives, allowing businesses to localize marketing strategies with millions of potential consumers.

Branded Advertisements

Although Instagram is fundamentally a photo-sharing platform, the channel has developed strategies to mimic large-scale video campaigns. These features are an effective way for brands to generate consumer intrigue and engagement.

Carousel ads

Instagram's carousel ads give users meaningful mobile-content that replicates the strength of a multi-page print ad. These pictures rotate through sequential photo streams to tell a brand's story. The tool's clickable URLs prompt users to immediately purchase featured items that they like most.

Along with Instagram's more basic editing features, carousel ads strategically highlight a brand's products. For industries like retail and restaurants, the feature can demonstrate how products work. For example, the stream can create before-and-after photos to convey the transformative power of cosmetics or the duration of a meal.

Video ads

When photos aren't enough, Instagram's video advertisements allow brands to tell their stories completely. The 15-second spots tease potential consumers with branded information. The video ads also follow a specific set of parameters—pacing, sound, movement, and perspective. Negotiating these variables, brands can create the most effective ads possible.

Recently, Gap found success in a micro-series of 12 videos specially designed for Instagram. Together, the videos tell a strange love story evocative of spring's unpredictable nature. Each spot is filled with Gap clothing and features looks that viewers are encouraged to purchase.

Videos help brands bring their products to life.

* * *

Instagram offers marketers a larger, more involved audience. In 2014 alone, brands on Instagram experienced an average of 278% growth in followers. And, because of the platform's commitment to producing unique interactions between brands and consumers, those followers are highly engaged and eager to connect.

Instagram can be an invaluable source for achieving long-term business growth.

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image of Bob Sybydlo

Bob Sybydlo is director, Market Intelligence and Deliverability, at Yesmail, an enterprise email marketing provider.

LinkedIn: Bob Sybydlo