Steal These Strategies: Instagram Marketing Tactics from the World’s Top Brands

Think about how much time you sink into promoting your business on Twitter, and then consider this:

Instagram is officially more popular.

For real! As of December, Instagram has more monthly active users than Twitter.That’s 300 million users and counting, yo. (Twitter is still around 284 million.)

So I’ll say it again: think about just how much time you spend on strategizing and posting for one network, and not the other. Do you use Instagram for your businessat all? (I warned you back in September that you shouldn’t ignore it. Just sayin’.)

Here’s the thing, though: If you’re interested in starting to market your brand on Instagram, even if you have an introductory guide to get you started, there’s probably one big, burning question on your mind:

What should your Instagram marketing strategy look like?

Well, now you can find out. The data geniuses over at Simply Measured collected a ton of info on the Instagram strategies for companies in the Interbrand Top 100 – that’s basically a list of the top brands in the world, including names like Apple, Google, Disney, Nike, and so on.

They put all the data in a report you can download here (I recommend you check it out), and right now, I’m giving you a crash course version in the biggest takeaways you can put to use for your OWN Instagram marketing.

What can you learn from how the world’s top brands use Instagram?

1. Post regularly – but not religiously

Engagement with branded posts on Instagram is growing. A lot.

On the surface, that might not seem super impressive – the more brands on Instagram, the more overall engagement rises, right? Kind of a no-brainer?

But it’s more complicated than that, and in a really good way.

Overall engagement with brands on Instagram isn’t JUST related to more brands joining. Even as the number of those top-100 businesses joining Instagram has started to plateau (because they’ve almost all joined by now), engagement is still increasing – basically, people are getting more and more receptive to brands being active on Instagram.

The short version? Between Q4 2013 and Q4 2014, the average engagement PER POST increased by 83%. And that’s just for branded content – not for Instagram users in general!

There used to be a time when branded content on Instagram was kind of a new and scary thing, and users didn’t necessarily want to embrace it – but now that it’s become so common, users are actually really, really into it.

So people are getting more and more receptive to branded content on Instagram. Awesome! But how often should you be posting there?

Three out of four brands post on Instagram at least once a week – and somewhere around 30% post 10-20 times per month. (The second most popular schedule is to post less than 10 times per month, so don’t feel pressured to post more frequently than you’re comfortable with.)

Instagram posting statistics

Unlike networks like Twitter – where you pretty much get noticed immediately or not at all – Instagram’s unique interface means quality can take you further than quantity. That’s where the second lesson comes in:

2. It’s worth investing the time in making every image count

Here’s a handy comparison: The half-life of a tweet is somewhere around 24 minutes – that’s how long it takes for it to get 50% of the engagement it will get in its entire lifetime.

On Instagram, though? The half-life of an update is closer to 10 hours. That’s a good long time for a post to be seen by new people, racking up likes and comments! In fact, 69% of comments are posted within the first 48 hours – can you imagine a Facebook update or a tweet having that kind of staying power?

There’s actually a trend on Instagram where posts that get higher overall engagement also stay relevant longer. Translation? The better your content, the longer its shelf life – so take the time to make every update count.

It’s not hard to guess why that is – after all, photos are a visual medium. How long would it take you to scroll through 50 Instagram updates, as opposed to reading 50 tweets? You can catch up on several days’ worth of photos in less time than it would take to catch up on your Twitter feed from a single afternoon.

It’s worth the time it takes to make every image stand out, because each one that does has the power to stop someone from scrolling through their feed and take notice, even several hours or several DAYS after you post it. Only posting one or two tweets per week may not be a sound strategy, but posting one or two photos to Instagram per week can go a long way when they’re eye-catching.

3. Don’t worry so much about your caption length

Don’t have a lot to say about a particular image you’re posting?

Meh. Don’t sweat it.

Seriously, though – it’s not a big deal. Yeah, you probably want to be clever and on-brand and make sure there are no super embarrassing spelling errors or whatever, but don’t feel obligated to write the Great American Novel or anything.

Most brands keep their captions pretty short, but there’s no real link between caption length and engagement. So if you WANT to write a longer caption, you can, but the average is around 141 characters – basically, the length of a tweet.

Of course, that includes hashtags, which brings me to a VERY important point…

4. DO pay attention to your caption CONTENT

Maybe length doesn’t matter when it comes to your captions, but content? Content matters a LOT – and it’s something that even the world’s top brands haven’t really noticed, so you can give yourself an advantage here.

Fewer than 2 out of 5 brand updates use @-mentions in their captions, but the ones that do score an average of 37% higher engagement. (That means it’s proooobably worth a try.)

What about hashtags? How many of THOSE should you use?

Because you can’t share someone else’s image on Instagram (like you would by retweeting, for example), using hashtags is important to getting yourself found.

Remember: Instagram can’t tell what you’re uploading pictures of unless you tell it with words. Think of hashtags like SEO for your updates – they’re how you show up in search results when people search Instagram by topic.

Just like SEO on a webpage, though, you don’t want to be all spammy by overloading every image with hashtags. It might make you more likely to turn up in results, but they’re also annoying. That’s why while 86% of brands use at least one hashtag per update, the average is three. (Want a good cutoff point for yourself?Only 9% of brands use more than 7 hashtags per update, so probably don’t go above that.)

And finally, one more thing that you should seriously consider experimenting with…

5. Think like a realtor: location, location, location

While you have the option to geotag your Instagram updates, most brands don’t do it. In fact, out of the thousands of updates used in this study, less than 7% had a location tag. The ones that did, however, had a 50% higher engagement rate – not a bad jump!

Of course, the percentage of geotagged updates is so low that this isn’t necessarily conclusive data – but it’s DEFINITELY enough for you to act on. Experiment with geotagging your updates to see how it impacts your engagement rates. (Why does it make a difference? People who don’t follow you can find your updates by searching using geotags, kind of like how you can discover new businesses by searching on a Google map.)

So go forth and Instagram!

Now that you have a better idea of how some of the biggest, most successful brands on the entire planet are marketing themselves on Instagram, you can start thinking a little more seriously about how you can start doing the same – after all, with 300 million users out there, it’s gotta be at least worth a shot!

So what do you think – are you already marketing your biz on Instagram? Has it felt useful? If you’re not, what’s been stopping you? Speak your mind in the comments below!