Instagram Best Practices for Brands

By Sam Milbrath | 3 years ago | 15 Comments


In Part 1, ‘Secrets from an Instagram Power User: How @missyhelly got 51k Followers’ we interviewed HootSuite’s Mobile Designer, Helen Park on her best practices for Instagram users. “I’m amazed at the lack of engagement by brands for their customers in social,” says Helen. Over the last few years, Instagram has proven itself as a tool that allows celebrities, bloggers and youth-focused brands to effectively reach today’s audience. But are top brands “bringing it” to the same extent as these power users?

According to a Simply Measured study with Facebook, “26 of the top 100 brands have more than 10,000 followers, with 10 boasting more than 100,000.” But just under half of the top 100 global brands don’t actually have an Instagram account (Apple included). While brand’s presence is recently increasing, they are certainly dragging their feet. Don’t brands know that this social network has over 90 million active monthly users?

Today, we’re focusing on Instagram best practices for brands and why it’s important to tap into this mega social network.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Instagram for Brands

Before you start snapping away, what’s your brand’s goal for Instagram? Are you solely looking for an influx of followers or are you looking for engagement and retainment? Herein lies the fork in the road that every social business comes to: the churn rate (in this case is the rate at which followers or users unfollow your brand).

Let’s look at a recently trending brand Insta-success story: Oreo. During this year’s Super Bowl, Oreo came out with a clever commercial that had a 3 second call to action asking viewers to vote #cremethis or #cookiethis. Now that’s a growth hack… And where did they direct millions of attentive Super Bowl viewers? Instagram. Oreo exploded in followers, going from 2,200 to 86k in a matter of weeks.

So Oreo’s got followers. Now what? How do they keep them from falling off the churn rate cliff (Draw Something ring a bell)? As long as they continue their artistic battle between cookie or creme, they’ll have no problem… for now. But how do brands keep followers longer than their contest’s lifespan?

How to Retain Followers ~ The Brand Edition

First of all, who’s monitoring your brand’s social? This is a full time job. Yes, this includes Instagram. Find someone creative that understands your brand and the different ways to treat each social network, individually. Bring creative visuals and effective captions to the table, and perhaps you’ll gain a loyal follower (and eventual customer).

Let’s take a look at a quote from Simply Measured and Facebook’s study: “of those brands that use Instagram, 41 percent now post at least one photo per week, up from 34 percent last quarter.” Did you spot the issue? In Part 1, Helen said to post once or twice a day to gain and retain more followers. One word: presence.


Back to gaining loyal customers – Instagram can convert leads? To use myself as an example, as a social savvy young adult, I like online shopping. But how do I know when Topshop, asos or Free People have something I want to buy? I follow them on Instagram (and Pinterest, but that’s another story). To me, this social network (if done right) is a creative and interactive lifestyle zine for brands and people.

Online shopping site, Free People’s Instagram. What would your followers take pics of? Start there and then add creative photoshoots with your product. Treat Instagram like your brand’s lifestyle zine.
Online shopping site, Free People’s Instagram. What would your followers take pics of? Start there and then add creative photo shoots with your product. Treat Instagram like your brand’s lifestyle zine.

7 Top Tips for Brands using Instagram:

  • Understand your brand’s audience, even in Instagram. Amex or Burberry followers will expect something different than Starbucks, Red Bull or MTV’s.
  • Create a theme for your content and be consistent. Constant product placement is not a theme.
  • Take lots of photographs and make them aesthetically pleasing and creative.
  • Give your followers a reason to want to follow your brand in Instagram.
  • Spread out posts like you would any other network. Post once or twice a day.
  • Engage with your followers. Comment. Follow back. Like things. Be human.
  • Tell an interesting brand story through your images and captions.

Lastly, throw a creative #hashtag contest or #project to get interaction going and amplify it across your already-established social networks. Point to your now-built-up Instagram account and get followers involved. And, if you must roll-out a product photo, give it a human touch by making it creative, funny or awesome. Treat Instagram like your brand’s lifestyle magazine. Want to use Instagram in HootSuite? Learn about our App Directory integration

Redbull’s Instagram has very little product placement, instead it’s an photographic account of everything extreme.
Redbull’s Instagram has very little product placement, instead it’s an photographic account of everything extreme.

Get your business on Instagram today!

Add Instagram in Hootsuite

Written by

vikas1 5pts

Really like your post. I am also working as social media manager for 2-3 websites and use instagram since last 7-8 months. I have seen that  Amazing photo with creative caption and 4-5 related hashtags it's a success formula for instagram

Amy Do
Amy Do 5pts

Great post. Glad you also mention engagment. It's more than posting visually captivating content. It's about engaging your influencers and showcasing them when it's appropriate. 

EyewearInsight 5pts

Great article. ..thanks for the heads up. I needed the extra push to start with instagram.

dhatfield 5pts

Great post Sam! Thank you for this! 

One question I have  for you is: Should brands auto post everything from instagram to Twitter of Facebook? 

I personally think and teach that auto posting every thing is a no-no. 

Each platform (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) has it's own eco system and tagging other brand partners on one platform does not translate to tagging on another. . . and let's not for get hashtag trash that can happen. 

A brand could easily flood Facebook or Twitter with insta images if they machine gun post photos on one day vs. spreading out content over time and cultivating each platform. 


mollyporter 5pts

You forgot the most important tip: identify and connect with the influential instagrammers who have an authentic connection with your brand or products. Provide your goods or services for no fee or a reduced fee to those people. Ask them to post about their experiences with you (following FTC guidelines for social media posts). Easy peasy. 

Erik 5pts

I don't think these tips really helped.  You need to elaborate.  Explain how I give my followers a reason to want to follow my brand.  Why should I tell an interesting story about the brand?  Why would that retain followers?  Explain the reasons behind the tips, instead of simply telling us this is what we should do. 

You don't tell us how to do these things, why we do these things, and how will it help our brand.  That is where the problem lies. 

AyleenCrotty 5pts

@Erik Telling a story is good marketing. People like stories, the resonate. A good photo tells a story, that makes it interesting.

Sam Milbrath
Sam Milbrath 5pts

Right you are! Just added a link to follow us in Instagram :) Thanks!

Sam Milbrath
Sam Milbrath 5pts

Hi Richard,

Thank you for your comment. I agree that there are many flavours of the month so-to-speak with apps - but Instagram has proved that it's here to stay.

Perhaps lookup your brand's competitors or mentors, see if they have Instagram and make a decision from there. If they don't have Instagram, why not put your brand one step ahead them? If they do, perhaps you can draw their followers and surpass them.

Julian M
Julian M 5pts

Great article! Not too many write-ups on Instagram best practices. It's frustrating to think that there's ANOTHER social media network to worry about on top of FB, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Linked, etc., but I have been noticing a slow but gradual migration from FB to Instagram. As a result, it's imperative to have a presence on Instagram. And in my opinion, Instagram is actually funner than most other social networks because of the lifestyle zine tint the author emphasizes! Great post, love all the links in the article too!

Corey Clayton
Corey Clayton 5pts

Instagram's disconnection from Twitter, no longer showing image previews there, really hurt growth for us. It's hard to get our Twitter followers to click through to Instagram's site. But we do have good stuff there waiting.... (

Richard Hamer
Richard Hamer 5pts

Should brands have really have to use Instagram? There's far too much emphasis on having to be seen using the latest 'flavour of the month'.

Thibaut 5pts

Hi Sam! Great article and resource for getting a brand started on Instagram. You're wondering how Oreo will do once the contest is over.

It's actually been over since Feb 6, and they haven't shared a single photo since. Yet, it seems that they haven't lost so many followers, given that they're still at 86K. I think, more importantly than followers count, what matters with Instagram is to keep generating content and keep motivating fans to generate content for your brand. #Cookiethis and #Cremethis have crumbled since the beginning of the month, and I sure hope Oreo starts Instagramming again while trying to be a catalyst for their fans' content on IG. They've done it so well with this contest (albeit thanks to the agencies they worked with), so they can keep doing it.

Anyway, great article, thanks for sharing.