Melanie Deziel is the former director of creative strategy for Time Inc. and an award-winning branded content consultant, educator, and speaker who travels the world educating marketing, sales, and editorial teams on branded-content best practices. Melanie is also the founder of The Overlap League, a native ad newsletter, and is on the board of the Native Advertising Institute.

You may remember her from episode 91 back in December 2015. Since her last appearance on the Social Business Engine podcast, she’s started her own consulting firm. She works with publishers and brands of all sizes, helping them to hone their content strategies across various platforms.


On this episode, we’re going to look at the “why,” and to some extent, the “how” of using Instagram in your social strategy.

What is Instagram and How can Brands Use it in their Social Strategy

Instagram is a visual platform for building a community. It’s perfect for identifying and engaging influencers and micro-influencers for your brand. Owned by Facebook, Instagram’s algorithm and sometimes mysterious rules are a bit of an enigma requiring experimentation.

Melanie says the platform should be integrated into your other channels and compliment everything your brand is doing on social. Not only is Instagram a great way to directly connect with consumers, but brands can use it to engage with employees too. A few other tips from Melanie:

  • Diversify from only sharing shots of your products
  • Add UGC (user generated content) to your feed
  • Get creative and do some kind of grid pattern (like we do for Social Business Engine)

Instagram Stories is a relatively new feature that’s similar to Snapchat. The short video clip or image appears in a separate area for 24 hours before disappearing. Brands can use Stories to provide their followers behind the scenes looks or influencer takeovers, among other creative tactics to drive brand affinity. This gives organizations a chance to be conversational with little regard for hollywood style polish.

Hashtags are a commonality on Instagram and are great for discovery and uniting a conversation. Hashtags on Instagram are usually around a theme, product, item, feeling, or person. There’s also a rotation of popular tags, like #TBT (Throwback Thursday), #TGIF, #WeddingWednesdays, etc. Based on the industry that you’re in, you can find or develop a set of relevant hashtags.

You can even create your own branded hashtag, ours is #sbeshow, and we use it across all of our social media platforms. When Melanie was employed by the New York Times her team came up with #mynytimes to collect images of the print version of the newspaper. They also created an account (@mynytimes) solely for the purpose of reposting consumer generated content. She said many people got really creative with their posts showcasing different sections and backgrounds, including a cup of coffee or their dog, etc.

A major challenge for brands is that there’s only one place to list a link and that’s in your bio. Creating shortened links and including them in your caption is one way to handle this. Another is to direct users to on universal link in your bio. Verified accounts can now include a link in their Instagram Stories and only require a downward swipe to access the URL.

Examples of Brands Succeeding with Instagram

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, you have to acknowledge that your followers and potential followers don’t go to Instagram to see marketing. They go for compelling imagery, interesting visuals, stories, and information about the things, people and places that they love. Brands should look for ways to make your content fit that construct.

One of the first brands Melanie ever followed was Starbucks. She says that they share photos featuring their products in the same way your friends might. Their images are not the typical brand assets with plain backgrounds. This feeling that their account belongs among your friends makes you want to keep them in your feed.

Another account that is doing surprisingly well on the visual platform is TSA. They have over 700,000 followers and mostly share images of the strange items they confiscate or screenshots of tweeted questions. Some amusing questions they’ve shared are whether a stained glass window featuring a unicorn, a bucket of crawfish, or a pinata can be brought on board a flight.

J.Crew, the clothing brand, has done a good job of showcasing an otherwise very diverse and incongruous set of products by choosing a rotating color theme. They post orange products for a few days, then pink ones, then green, then blue. It keeps the feed visually interesting and worth following.

A fun brand Melanie recommends following on Instagram is Sharpie. They’ve realized that they’re just one ingredient in other processes and projects, and they showcase those processes and final results by sharing customer’s projects and instructional posts. They also make some cute illustrated GIF-style videos just for Instagram.

Looking to the B2B side, General Electric shares images that give an inside look at their products and factories as well as showcase their employees. Their Instagram posts reveal their company values and also include their CSR initiatives including corporate charity work.

HubSpot has over 68,000 Instagram followers and shares a variety of content. Some of their posts are about their events, while others are inspirational quotes, or recommendations of books to read. Their inspiring posts encourage brands to take their business to the next level.

Integrating Branded and Employee Content on Instagram

Empower your employees to post content and use a unique hashtag. This makes it easy to collect images and share them on the branded account. Initiate a “day in the life” set of posts, asking employees to share on Instagram. Another way to involve employees is to reach out to your employees directly. Strand Bookstore in New York City does this well by letting employees make book recommendation posts. This allows them to showcase both their people and their product.

Measuring Results on Instagram

Since Instagram is not a traffic driver of website traffic, brands should measure engagement and follower growth. The number of followers, comments, and likes, however, are not necessarily a clear indicator of a quality audience. It can depict your progress, but for long term growth look beyond the numbers. Focus more on the quality of engagement itself. You can also look at your engagement rate, or the percentage of your followers that are engaging on your posts, as an indicator of audience quality. You’ll also want to use a trackable link in your bio to see proof of your efforts.

If you’re not on Instagram yet, Melanie recommends to look at your competitors and consider “why” you should consider it. She says to think about the human version of your brand. If your brand were a person, how would your Instagram account look? What do they like? Who would they partner with you for collaboration? Think outside of what a “brand image” means to you currently and get creative.

“Are your competitors investing in Instagram? That’s a good indication if you should be too.” @mdeziel #sbeshow
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Tune into episode 159 to hear Melanie’s critique of our Instagram account and to hear more of Melanie’s insights about using Instagram in business.

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