We all know the brands. They’re cool, they’re fun—and they never seem to run out of ideas for creative Instagram content.

The reality is that not every brand has a product or service that’s as easily “gram-able” as a company like Airbnb, with their endless supply of gorgeous user-generated travel photos. But that doesn’t mean a security company or a bank can’t also create engaging content that their customers love.

I spent some time searching for unexpectedly great Instagram accounts and found some truly excellent content. Continue reading to find out:

  • Real strategies that work—from brands with all types of budgets
  • The type of content any business can post for maximum Instagram engagement
  • The simple technique a flour company uses to gain followers

1. King Arthur Flour

You wouldn’t expect a flour company to have over 190,000 Instagram followers, but King Arthur Flour’s social media team knows what they’re doing.

Not only are the photos of delicious baked goods mouth-watering, but many of them are provided by King Arthur Flour customers themselves.

The brand’s Instagram bio encourages their audience to tag their baking pictures with the #kingarthurflour hashtag for a chance to get featured on the brand’s page.

Using a branded hashtag is an effective way to curate user-generated content while building brand awareness. To do this for your brand:

  • Create a hashtag that embodies your brand (this doesn’t necessarily have to be your company’s name).
  • Add a line in your bio encouraging your audience to use the hashtag in their relevant content.
  • Repost the best submitted content and highlight the fact you discovered it with the hashtag.
  • Make sure you use the hashtag on your own Instagram posts.

2. Dictionary.com

There are at least 143,000 Instagram users smarter than you. At least that’s how many are following Dictionary.com’s account for their word of the day.

The popular vocabulary site has a simple but effective approach to their Instagram account. Every day they post a word and its definition on a brightly colored background.

While this exact format won’t work for every brand, there are key takeaways that can be applied to most business’s Instagram accounts:

  • Use text in posts. Whether you’re sharing an inspirational quote or a piece of advice, switch up your Instagram content by including posts that use text. If you’re looking for new tools to help you design visual content for Instagram, Hootsuite integrates right into Adobe’s Creative suite.
  • Share educational content. It would be hard to find anybody who doesn’t want to be smarter. Like Dictionary.com, make a habit of posting valuable content that boosts your audience’s knowledge on a certain topic.
  • Work with the format. Instagram was built for quick and easily-digestible content. Don’t try to fit feature-length films or lengthy paragraphs of text into your posts as you most likely won’t be able to keep your audience’s attention.

3. 3M

If you hear the name 3M and immediately think about tape, it’s time to check out their Instagram account.

3M is a leader in industries “from health care and highway safety to office products and abrasives and adhesives.” In other words, they’re about a lot more than tape.

Their Instagram feed is a carefully curated mix of fascinating science and technology posts, along with more lifestyle-oriented content.

You can defy expectations like 3M by:

  • Carefully curating content. Give your audience an interesting mix. For example, if you are a furniture company, you could mix up beautiful interior design photos with content that shows how a couch is made.
  • Highlighting what defines your brand. 3M is about innovation and science, and they are constantly finding new ways to feature both in their content. Figure out what makes your brand unique, and think of different ways you can highlight these qualities.
  • Standing behind relevant social justice issues. 3M shares numerous posts featuring their diverse culture and commitment to equality and inclusion. While I don’t recommend trying to tie your brand to every social issue, championing those that you genuinely care about and practice is a great way to differentiate your business.

4. Trader Joe’s

How exciting can a grocery store’s Instagram account be? Just look to Trader Joe’s page to find out.

It’s generally recommended that brands not fill up their Instagram feeds with images solely featuring their products, but that’s exactly what the quirky American grocer does.

This would typically make for a boring account, but Trader Joe’s does it in a creative way that keeps their audience of over 234,000 followers engaged.

Make your product or brand the star of your Instagram by:

  • Focusing on lifestyle. Show your followers how your product would fit into their life—or the life they want. For Trader Joe’s, this means sharing posts of elaborate charcuterie boards using their products, romantic table settings featuring their wines, and healthy breakfasts fit for world-class athletes.
  • Know your audience. You need to know who your target audience is and what drives them in order to be able to engage them. For example, Trader Joe’s knows they’re reaching many busy parents, so they create content showing tiny luxuries (such as a glass of uninterrupted wine) that this audience can easily obtain.
  • Mix up the format. While their Instagram page is full of beautiful photography, Trader Joe’s also incorporates fun videos, clever illustrations, and slide shows. Don’t be afraid to pepper your Instagram account with a mix of formats, as long as your overall aesthetic stays on-brand.

5. Sharpie

Sharpie is a big brand with a small product—and their Instagram account brings it to life with incredible creations by employees and fans of the pens. Like King Arthur Flour, Sharpie encourages their audience to share relevant posts with their branded #StartSomething hashtag.

With this hashtag, Sharpie is able to find and share compelling content made with their products. For example, lettering artist Adam Vicarel designed a denim jacket with Sharpie markers and pens. He accompanied his post of the jacket with a story about his struggle to become a professional artist, and Sharpie was able to share his story.

How can your brand follow Sharpie’s steps to creating engaging content?

  • Share a story. Consider the story your brand is telling. Sharpie’s story is one of creativity without limits, and they share this with their artistic posts and user-generated content. Your customers are an endless source of powerful narratives, you just have to know how to get them to tell them.
  • Inspire others to use your product or service. Showcase the possibilities of your product and encourage your audience to think outside the box. Sharpie features clothing, shoes, and non-traditional canvases for their markers.

6. TSA

A mere mention of the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can make you sit up straighter. But this traditionally no-nonsense organization uses Instagram to show the lighter side of their business.

While any organization associated with security is liable to have a top-secret vibe, the TSA pulls back the curtain with their personable, behind-the-scenes content.

Besides their humorous Q&A posts, the TSA shares images of confiscated items, interesting (and permitted) luggage, and other snapshots of their day-to-day experiences on the job.

If your organization’s Instagram content could use more personality, consider these questions:

  • What makes your brand unique? The TSA deals with countless travelers (and their interesting luggage) everyday—a goldmine for content.
  • Is there an internal part of your business you wish others could see? While I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you’re a butcher, the behind-the-scenes content of many organizations makes for great Instagram fodder.
  • Who are your employees? The TSA often features their own employees on the account, which helps bring a personal touch to a giant organization. Think about your employees and their stories, and consider sharing these on a regular basis.

As Henry van Dyke once said, “If only the best birds sang, the forest would be silent.” Even if your brand isn’t frequently classified as fun or exciting, there are no limits when it comes to creating engaging Instagram content for your customers.

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