Instagram for brands and marketers


Through the eyes of the IGer…

Deen Schroeder
Deen Schroeder

According to techno-philosopher and popular YouTuber, Jason Silva, Instagram has given people the opportunity to experience moments and all their richness – capturing fleeting reality, crafting images with photo filters and publishing them for the world to see. Thus the Instagram Generation has the ability to experience the present as anticipated memories. This is far removed from the misconception that Instagram is simply a place for narcissists, over-sharing teenagers and wannabe photographers.

Instagram has continuously encouraged its users to get out of their comfort zones, explore new spaces, meet new people and share their stories with the rest of the world. And over time we have started building photomaps of our lives. Instagram seamlessly guides us down memory lane to moments that might have been forgotten.

I personally am infatuated by the square photo-sharing app. It stimulates my creativity. It ensures that I am constantly chasing novelty. Instagram is the only social media platform that encourages and facilitates real world social interactions – it’s fairly easy to master YouTube, Facebook and Twitter from the comfort of your own home, but not Instagram. This photo-sharing application has formed communities that are reclaiming their cities and public spaces through art.

Instagram has, however, been a challenging proposition for many brands, who see the 4 million SA active users (according to as an opportunity to engage with consumers in a new space. Unfortunately, too many brands perceive Instagram as what marketers often refer to as a hygiene platform – everyone is doing it and therefore we should too. The challenge arises when marketers assume that Instagram is simply another platform to post print ads and sell stuff rather than a stand-alone social media platform with niche communities and nuanced behaviours that are completely unique to the platform. To overcome the traditional marketers approach when using Instagram, brands need to start being authentic rather than taking reference from competitive brands in order to find their market position. They should be looking to influential Instagrammers (Igers) that produce great content and connect communities.

Here are five guidelines brands and marketers should adopt to optimise their Instagram profiles:

Accounts thrive on Instagram when authentic content is posted. It offers communities an insider’s look into your business or brand that typically could not be done through stock photography. Large multinational corporations may see the generation of this content as a challenge because there is rarely a dedicated resource that can go out and capture unique, high quality photographs without spending huge amounts of money on the very best photographers. However, gathering great content does not have to be an expensive proposition, once you realise that there are over 4 million potential photographers capturing incredible moments that may be relevant to your brand. The opportunity arises when brands partner with Instagrammers in a meaningful way, opening up the channels for collaboration. Engaging with great Instagrammers and influencers will immediately increase a brand’s opportunity to capture authentic images on a larger scale. It is important for brands to partner with the right influencers and for the right campaigns – this does not mean throwing money at an influencer simply because they have massive reach, but rather engaging in an exchange where the brand and the Instagrammer both extract value. Collaboration and relevance is key.

Brands need to be more human. When conceptualising your next Instagram strategy, or simply what to post next, it is extremely important to think and behave like a person. Instagram is the perfect platform for marketers to humanise their brands in relevant and meaningful ways. This is a tough conversation to have with business executives who are only concerned about the return of investment. Brands have the opportunity to capture the hearts, minds and imaginations of their communities if human stories are placed ahead of profitability.

Human centricity is key on Instagram and it is critical for brands to put their community first rather than their brand agenda. Some brands have been able to tap into the Instagram community through a very specific and niche set of Instagram influencers. This has been invaluable to brands that are focused on getting maximum impact and broad reach, however when every brand is using the same set of influencers – the authenticity of those messages can be lost. The Community First approach should be that of collaboration between the influencers and the broader Instagram community. One of the simplest ways to do this is to host Instameets and Instawalks – a gathering of Instagrammers. These meets create an ecosystem of value exchange. The brand may provide exclusive access to new areas for exploration. Influencers mobilise communities and the Instagrammers bring their own creativity and perspectives to the meet.

The power of Instameets in South Africa has really been brought to the fore by @keenangrams and @matthewkanniah, who in their personal capacity organised South Africa’s largest Instameet that hosted over 250 Instagrammers from all over Gauteng on Youth Day (check out #ExploreZA).

Quality photographs are fundamentally important to brands on Instagram. This is the platform to showcase your brand in new and creative ways, offering your community an insider’s perspective into what it takes to bring products to life. For example: if you are a shipping company, show the scale of your massive cargo ships and the incredible sunsets in the middle of the Atlantic. If you are a clothing brand, show beautiful full-length portraits of people in the real world living their lives wearing your brand’s clothes. If you are a bank, don’t ask people to open accounts but rather showcase the incredible CSI work that is under-documented. There are opportunities within every single brand to own a beautiful space within Instagram, showcasing your brand through new eyes and in more creative ways.

Great story telling is not synonymous with brands on Instagram in South Africa as many assume that short form copy is more impactful on social media. The legacy of Twitter lives on in the way that content is crafted for Instagram. However, Instagram allows for captions that are up to 2 200 characters which gives users enough space to craft interesting, well-written narratives. Captions on Instagram give brands the opportunity to provide rich context to the image. Great images will earn more Likes but rich engaging captions will drive conversations. The Humans of New York account (@humansofny) demonstrates the power of rich narratives on Instagram – incredible portraiture draws you in and powerful captions pluck on your heartstrings.

Instagram is a wonderful social media platform that is still very pure and for many, is an escape from the mundane into wondrous places. Brands have a responsibility to positively contribute to Instagram without disturbing it. A Community First approach that places value on quality content, rich narratives and creativity will inevitably thrive on Instagram. Rather than trying to sell your latest gadget or shampoo, attempt to inspire your community by telling your brand story in incredible ways.

by Deen Schroeder, Social Media Manager NATIVE VML

Instagram & Twitter: @deenschroeder