Instagram has nearly 1.5 billion monthly active users, and according to an Insider Intelligence report, as of 2019, Instagram was used by 69% of marketers who work with influencers. 

For brands interested in marketing to people from 13 to 34 years old, the social network can be an extremely effective place to increase brand awareness, audience, leads and sales. 

Let’s take a look at the ways brands are using Instagram for marketing, best practices and the challenges of Instagram marketing.

Why Instagram Should Be Your Social Media Go-To

An August 2022 study titled Scrolling Social Media for Dopamine revealed 70% of those polled are Instagram users, more than any other social media platform. 

A July 2022 report by Statista indicated 27.3% of Instagram's audience in the United States are between 25 and 34 years old, and almost 6% are between 13 and 17 years of age. 

For brands whose customer base is largely Generation Z, Instagram provides an amazing opportunity to reach and engage their audience. 

But there’s more to Instagram than just Gen Z. CouponFollow recently released its 2022 Millennial Shopping Habits Trend Report, which revealed 78% of millennials in the United States follow brands on social media, and 54% indicated that their shopping habits are most influenced by Facebook (28%) and Instagram (27%).

Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence, a warm-contact influencer marketing network, told CMSWire that brands seeking to attract millennial and Gen Z consumers have moved away from using large celebrity influencers and are now more inclined to work with niche micro-influencers who have built up trust and expertise in their market.

"Getting direct sales on Instagram is easier than it used to be with the use of profile links that lead a user to a list of current offers, but when paired with an influencer providing limited offer coupon codes for their audience it works quite well," he said.

Instagram is a highly visual medium, so video, imagery and illustrations work very well on the platform, especially for brands that wish to showcase their products or the services they provide. The way brands use Instagram should be dictated by the brand’s strategies and goals. 

Cat Koehler, senior social media manager for HorsePower Brands LLC, a portfolio company of franchise brands in the service industry, told CMSWire the visual nature of Instagram made it extremely useful for their franchise brands. "Because it is so visual, we’re really using Instagram to build our awareness and show the power of what our brands bring to our franchisees and their customers."

Because Instagram users have short attention spans, Koehler said to keep your presence eye-catching and straightforward. “Having a great image or video with a simple text overlay — there’s not a lot of question as to what it is. It’s clear and identifiable as a brand.”

Related Article: How Influencers Help Build a Better Customer Experience

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

Many brands already use Instagram for marketing purposes, and some, such as Nike, have extremely large numbers of followers (237 million).

Many influencers who primarily use other social platforms such as YouTube or TikTok also have an Instagram presence they use to allow their followers to see more of their personalities and personal lives. 

Sam the Cooking Guy, a YouTube influencer, does this on his Instagram page:

As with other social media platforms, Instagram is a great place for brands to allow their customers to get to know their personalities and sense of humor. 

Not every post has to be a marketing or advertising statement — by regularly providing beautiful images, funny or entertaining pictures or informative content, customers will be much more likely to be receptive when brands actually post marketing content. 

Additionally, Instagram is a great place for brands to show their products and services in action. Chandler Redding, publicist and brand strategist at Otter PR, an Orlando-based public relations agency, told CMSWire Instagram is where brands curate a library of moments where their product or service can be seen being used, whether it's through a professionally captured photo or video or in a review by an influencer.

 “Brands should look at Instagram as a stage to show off their products and services and educate, entertain or inspire viewers,” suggested Redding. 

Insights and Highlights Are Essential Tools

Cassaundra Kalba, publicist at Otter PR, told CMSWire the most powerful tool available to brands through Instagram is the Insights tab, but she said this feature is only available to business accounts. 

“Insights allows the organization to see when their followers are most active, by hour, on each day of the week. This is key to posting content that will reach the largest audience,” Kalba explained.

“Reach is also incredibly important, which indicates the number of accounts that have seen or interacted with your content,” Kalba said. “The larger the reach, the more likely your brand is to grow, and generate potential customers. To increase a post’s reach, brands should always enable their location (to HQ, or relevant places elsewhere), complete the ‘alt text’ section with keywords that relate to the content, and include all relevant hashtags.” 

Kalba recommended that brands reply to all comments and interactions with at least four-word responses, which will help build meaningful relationships with customers and tell Instagram they are creating meaningful and thoughtful content, which boosts the content as well.

Vicky Wu, chief marketing strategist and owner at Vicky Wu Marketing, spoke with CMSWire about the use of Highlights, an Instagram feature that she said many brands are missing out on — even some well-known profiles. 

“When someone visits an Instagram profile, like when they want to learn more about your business or find your links, those bubbles are the first thing that shows up right after the profile info. And if you check out most businesses — other than perhaps the huge corporations with large marketing staff — those highlights are sporadic and haphazard,” said Wu, who explained that it's really simple to make great use of this area in a brand’s profile. 

Learning Opportunities

“Some ways you can do this is to have separate Highlight bubbles for your services, or perhaps break them down for different audiences.”

Wu suggested most businesses already have content on Instagram that can be categorized into some Highlights that make sense for their audience. 

“If they don't, it's easy to quickly create some stories and reels that can be used here,” said Wu, adding that brands can probably spend an hour on this and get their sections set up with branded covers and some strategic content added to each one, “and it will be an hour well spent.”

Related Article: Understanding the Connection Between Social Media and Great Customer Experience

Attaining Hashtag Heaven and Other Challenges

HubSpot’s 2022 Instagram Engagement Report indicated many brands are confused about the type of hashtags they should use on their posts and how many they should use. Although avoiding popular hashtags may seem to go against marketing logic, it's more effective to target niche communities, which usually have a more dedicated following. 

The report indicated there are five main categories of hashtags used on Instagram:

  • Location (#Orlando, #NYC)

  • Branded (#Nike, #Kelloggs, #RedCross)

  • Industry (#Travel, #bikes)

  • Community (#photographers, #campers)

  • Descriptive (#makeup, #DIYsolar)

Although one may believe that #travel would do well, it’s such a vast category that such a post would tend to get lost among the thousands of posts using the same hashtag. A more narrow niche, such as #glamping, #hiking or #biking would tend to draw a more dedicated community. 

“When brands understand the type of content and specific niche to target, it really helps streamline the creation process,” said Redding.

Although brands need to ensure their hashtags are relevant to their niche, the HubSpot report indicated the more tags used on a post, the better — using a lot of tags doesn't harm post performance.

Koehler told CMSWire although there are a lot of challenges, many are due to the continuing evolution of the platform itself. “I feel that Instagram is still really trying to figure out who they are as a platform. We’re excited that they’re testing a repost feature, which has been frustrating for many brands for a long time.” 

The limitations of the platform also pose a challenge for brands that wish to get their message out. “It’s important to us that our audience shares our content, which they are not able to do.

It’s frustrating for the brand as well as the users,” Koehler said, adding there is always a lot of change with Instagram, and keeping up with those changes can be frustrating.

Redding explained that above all, brands must keep in mind Instagram, and similar social platforms, require a lot of time to plan, prepare and execute to be successful — what they put into it is what they get out of it.

“Many people make it look easy, but creating a 15-to-30-second video that's timely, captivating, niche-specific, and posted during the right time of the day, using the right features and hashtags, takes a few hours and a lot of proactive thinking,” he said.

Redding added Instagram is one of the more demanding social media platforms to market on because it's no longer a platform just to post photos anymore. 

“Its engine is much more complex, providing the potential for greater results. Brands who want to see their Instagram channel succeed should devote a team to achieve that goal, not one person,” said Redding.

The Takeaway: Target Niche Markets, Stay True to Brand

Instagram is a valuable platform for brands trying to reach Gen Z and millennials, and most brands already have a presence on the social platform. 

By targeting a niche market while staying true to their values and goals, brands can increase brand awareness, provide interesting, informative and entertaining content to their customers and leads and showcase their products and services in a visually appealing way.