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Twenty PR tips for using Instagram

With over one billion users worldwide it is impossible to ignore the power of Instagram as a marketing tool. As Kieran Sheridan-Lawler, senior earned media consultant at marketing agency Hallam, says: “If you're B2C and targeting an audience aged between 16-25 then this is the social media platform you should be spending the most time on”. Here are 20 tips for making the most of this photo-sharing site.

1. Use Stories

Emma Streets, senior PR manager at logistics company Hermes: “For us in the UK, the most popular feature by far is Stories, which are increasingly taking priority in the feed. Although they have a limited shelf-life for marketing purposes of 24 hours, when you’re working with verified users with a large following, the ability to swipe up for external links has extended the impact of influencers on the channel.”

Adnan Bashir, senior manager for corporate communications at telecommunications company Sigma Systems: “One of Instagram’s standout features is undoubtedly Stories. Why? It enables extended and engaging storytelling, unbound by the limits of a static post. Whether it’s behind-the-scenes videos, audience quizzes, filter overlays or simply images, Stories has opened the floodgates of creativity, allowing brands to be experimental with their content in a way that might not be possible with other social networks. What’s even more appealing is that Instagram Stories always appear at the top of a follower’s feed, keeping brands top-of-mind with their audiences and driving visibility, allowing them to subvert algorithm-related barriers."

2. Post regularly

Hallam’s Kieran Sheridan-Lawler: “You'll benefit from regular posts of around seven a week, with a mix of diverse content suited to your audiences’ preferences.”

3. Think about words

Ben Fox, group social planner at PR agency TVC: “Give as much thought to your caption as you do to your visual asset. Although Instagram is a visual-first platform, the most successful profiles are often those which use more than 300 characters in their post description.”

4. Use people

Ben Fox: “People like to see people. That's not different to other social channels, but often on Instagram brands feel they have to post the 'coolest' shots from the most abstract of angles. Yes, the channel is about beautiful visuals, but it's also the opportunity for transparency and honest, real-world content. That's why content featuring people is significant – it's the people behind the brand that make it really tick. By showing the people associated to the brand, whether that's the employees or the customer case studies, we're giving other customers/new consumers the chance to understand the brand values in way that they can immediately understand.”

5. Get the production level right

Michael Dowell, creative director at communications agency MSL: “Creating content for Instagram doesn’t have to cost the earth and in fact we’ve found less polished but clearly authentic cuts through more effectively.”

Sarah Jane Thoms, senior account executive at PR agency Fourth Day: “You need to make sure content is high-quality, captivating, and aesthetically pleasing, but this doesn’t mean you need to invest in industry standard equipment and software; the camera on your iPhone alongside free editing apps such as VSCO are perfectly adequate. Unlike news articles where the headline is used to hook the audience in, on Instagram, the image is where you capture attention… so it’s got to be good.”

6. Use live streaming

Louise Chandler, PR and communications manager at healthcare company Hartford Care: “I like to use Instagram because it is brilliant for capturing the moment, as it unfolds. I like to use the live streaming video option which allows your followers to see what you are seeing, and experiencing at the exact same time. This creates a sense of community so your friends can comment, applaud or share funny emoticons to endorse your live activity.”

7. Be instantly recognisable

Adam Cooksey, senior account manager at agency Stir PR: “Developing a distinctive stylistic tone and presence can be helpful so posts are instantly recognisable in consumers’ feeds, regardless of whether the brand name or logo is featured. To support this aesthetically, imagery should be selected with similar tones and colours, using the same (or one of two) filters. And when it comes to content that doesn’t fit the overall look and feel, use Instagram Stories – the perfect format to showcase more of your brand’s identity without messing up its distinguished feed.”

Be unusual

MSL’s Michael Dowell: “Look at grid stories that break out the normal confines. It not only looks great when your profile is viewed, but it results in intriguing crops that entices the viewer to give you a follow due to FOMO.”

9. Have purpose

Megan Murray-Jones, head of content studio at PR firm Lansons: “For every teenage girl who is needlessly trolled, there is someone using the platform to truly make a difference, like Mamalina teaching us how to live plastic free. And that is what Instagram should be; a platform for positive change and purpose; it shouldn’t be a shop window, an echo chamber or a new identity. Modern users are like sniffer-dogs for authenticity; they will always disengage when they feel a brand is being too self-serving or boring. We advise our clients to only engage with Instagram when they actually have something to say because that sense of purpose is what will inspire people to connect with you; you increase your followers through engagement and when you also have something interesting to say.

Mamalina went from 12K followers to 25K in the space of a week when she launched #plasticfreeparenting because she understood her purpose and the power of her platform for positive change. Take her lead and stand for something you believe in.”

10. Engage, engage, engage

Dan Bermingham-Shaw, content marketing executive at marketing agency Builtvisible: “Building an Instagram profile is all down to engaging with accounts and creating a community. Like and comment on posts you enjoy and DM pages that you genuinely like to build relationships and perhaps start mutually beneficial collaborations. Reply to any comments you receive on your posts, positive or negative and thank them for their feedback – the more comments, the higher engagement Instagram sees your post having, and the more likely it is to be seen by others. Engagement is key on social media, and Instagram is no different.”

Sam Williams, social media manager at agency Ranieri Communications: “People look to Instagram to be inspired and entertained, and any content you publish needs to reflect that. This means you want to ensure any content seeded really drives engagement from your target audience. You’ll very quickly learn what type of content hits that sweet spot helping to inform your overall content strategy.”

11. Have a consistent identity

Builtvisible’s Dan Bermingham-Shaw: “If you are building a brand page, ensure the images you use are consistent with the brand. If possible, use the same kind of filters for each photo to create an Instagram grid which can be instantly recognisable. This can help to create an identity which users can become familiar with and associate with straight away, which helps to build loyalty and recognition of the page and the brand, whilst also establishing a high-quality Instagram feed.”

12. Use hashtags

Dan Bermingham-Shaw: “Tagging and hashtagging are crucial to open yourself up to a wider audience and get your content seen. Research and then refine your hashtags to a highly relevant 10-15 so as not to ruin the aesthetic of your captions and look too spammy. Then be sure to geo-tag your posts, as wherever you go you can leave a solid trail of content, that if it performs well, may appear in the "Top Posts" section of each Geo location. For small businesses especially, taking over and dominating a geo tag could be vital to pulling in new customers. Tagging relevant accounts in your images also improves the like and engagement rate of content and may be reciprocated by them, which ultimately leads to more users being exposed to your page and content. “

13. Make use of sales features

Hayley Coleby, senior social media director at PR agency The PHA Group: “Don’t forget the all-important sales benefit of being on Instagram. The platform continues to evolve its features to support ecommerce, and business profiles are now able to tag products which take users straight to the purchase page. The platform is also currently testing a new feature in the US, which allows users to purchase directly within the Instagram app itself. We’re excited for this be rolled out in the UK soon.”

14. Consider your customers

Amy Kelly, activation marketing manager at Facebook: “Brands constantly think of their own online reputations, but how often do they think about their customers? Always think to create content your audience would be proud to share on their own profiles that stand for what they believe in or showcase their interests.”

15. Don’t derail your story

Amy Kelly: “Unpredictability can be effective, but irrelevant and incoherent content can be confusing for your followers. Be succinct and consistent with your online story. Ensure you map out your long-term vision for how you want to execute your brand online and make yourself dependable for your followers.”

16. Avoid the hard sell

Amy Kelly: “74% of buyers are influenced by a brand’s social profile, so by all means, post that beautiful image of your product, but leave it at that. Let the image do the talking and keep the sales chat for elsewhere. Instagram is a culture hub, and pushing the sales pitch there will only irritate followers. Descriptions should be informative, and always include a link to purchase, but avoid boring your audience with lines and lines of how amazing your product is.“

17. Use the 4-3-2 rule

Brittany Farquhar, senior client executive at agency Milk & Honey PR: “A good rule of thumb when planning content is the 4-3-2 rule. This content mix helps develop a good relationship with followers and allows them to get to know the brand, rather than simply pushing services at them. Four posts should add value and help your ideal client Three posts should create connections with your ideal client. Two posts should promote or sell your service. ” 

18. Work your Instagram name

Lauren Devlin, digital marketing manager at Carrington: “Naturally you will enter your business name only, however your name acts like a keyword that can be searched much like a hashtag. You have 30 characters to work with, so be sure to include a keyword relevant to your business.”

19. Include a prompt

Lauren Devlin: "Include a prompt in your Insta story to visit your profile for a look at your latest post. With a huge amount of content filling your followers feeds, your most important posts could be getting lost. Include a “tease” of your post image in your Insta story by hiding the content behind an emoji with an incentive for your followers to check out your latest post. 

20. Do your research

Isabelle Peters, marketing assistant at recruitment agency Moxie and Mettle: “My advice for marketing a brand/business on the app would be to really research your audience and ensure the content you post is of interest to them, otherwise it’s just white noise.”

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