5 PR Lessons From Our Favorite Instagrammers

With more than 400 million users monthly, Instagram can be a powerful tool in a PR campaign — as we previously noted here. With 68 percent of users saying they engage with brands on Instagram, big brands, small businesses, and influencers alike have embraced the social media platform, producing content that professional communicators can learn much from. Here are some PR lessons we gleaned from some of our favorite Instagrammers.

Find creative ways to make the standard announcement. Store openings, fundraising rounds, new product launches — consumers and businesses have come to expect these, but our Instagram feed shows us they don’t have to be a yawn. Take Nordstrom: it tapped Instagram’s popularity by launching an annual sale with a 14,000-square-foot image designed to look like an Instagram screen shot of one of its dresses — viewable on the rooftop of its flagship Seattle store. Yes, real news and announcements merit media coverage on their own, but creative storytelling tactics can make a bigger splash and leave a more lasting impression.

Appeal to the imagination. Whether you’re speaking to millennials, chief marketing officers or stay-at-home moms, everyone wants to be surprised and delighted in ways that spark the imagination. We see this in brands like Solestruck, which takes a shoe-selling platform to new levels by sharing unexpected juxtapositions and bright pops of colors in its feed. Maybe it’s a media event in the middle of winter that transports attendees to warmer places, or a product that has implications for how the world will be different in the future. If your PR campaign triggers thoughts and associations with places we don’t normally go, you’re likely to win new fans and keep loyal followers.

Be true to your brand. We draw this lesson from the queen of Instagram (among other things), Taylor Swift, the world’s most followed Instagrammer with 64 million followers. Equal parts glamour girl and girl next door, Swift uses a combination of cat videos and world tour shots to reflect her persona — both the pop star we all want to be, and the ordinary girl we believe we are. For PR programs, whether the moment calls for media pitches or creative extensions, it’s best to make sure ideas, language, and core messages are authentic. An incongruous message or delivery only raises suspicion that something is amiss, or is just a media ploy.

Don’t underestimate the power of words. Here’s one to show we have a sense of humor: in the Instagram feed of Wafflenugget, the irresistible Bernese mountain dog with more than 38,000 followers, it’s the captions and suggested dialogue that bring this “influencer” to life. Words matter, and the phrases and descriptions in your PR pitches or press releases  — even on the phone, informally — can have lasting impressions and ramifications. We remember instances when words spoken off the cuff were quoted in an article, underscoring the importance of choosing words wisely and not going off script.

When possible, mix media. Food blogger Julie’s Kitchen shares artful collages made of fresh ingredients (sourced from local farmers markets) on her Instagram feed and sells the prints online. It’s the perfect example of how different mediums converge. Does your media push translate into a foray into another medium? Simple sharing on social media is an obvious one, but what about turning the content from your in-depth interview into a Twitter chat? Or making your spokesperson available not only to be interviewed by the press, but by a crowdsourced group on Reddit, as we recently did for a creative client? Repurposing material for different mediums is a great way to reach different audiences and maintain buzz.
With Instagram now in its sixth year, it continues to evolve and grow in popularity, and there’s no shortage of inspiration of ideas we can learn from it.

5 Brands With Great PR On Instagram

Instagram is a powerful PR tool for brands to develop their audience and voice. A 2014 Forrester study found Instagram is 58 times more engaging than Facebook, and 120 times more engaging than Twitter. When used alongside other PR tactics, Instagram can complement and amplify a brand or company’s core messaging in distinct ways. So what makes a brand’s Instagram content stand out from the others? Here are five examples – from consumer tech and tech startups to art materials and tasty beverages – to help answer that question.

Sonix Cases (@shopsonix): The product is the star. These are not your ordinary phone cases, and Sonix’s Instagram feed shows you why. The cases come in many styles and designs, and the brand’s Instagram photos are creative and colorful. Oftentimes, the patterns on the cases are matched with beautiful scenery or fun props. But the key is that the product is always the star of the photo. Sonix is also reliable with responding to its followers’ questions, which allows the company to show it’s listening and it cares. Hats off to Sonix for finding ways to take a product that’s typically a yawn and turn it into one that is “Instaworthy.”

Veuve Clicquot (@veuveclicquot): A clear call-to-action. This champagne brand knows how to package a well-loved beverage to make it even more exciting, and then convey that to its customers through great photography. Through its social media handles, the company announced that this summer, the Cliqcuot Mail Truck is traveling cross-country to bring champagne to people all around the US. Beautiful “#CliquotMail” photos are taken at each stop and shared on Instagram with backdrops of the various cities. How can you resist? It speaks to champagne lovers and wanderlusters alike, with a call to find the truck while it’s in your city and take a picture of it, too. Bring on the champagne, please!

Misfit Wearables (@misfitwearables): Embrace popular hashtags. Hang on – is this really a tech product? Misfit Wearables’ offerings are so well-designed you’d never know they’re so packed with technology. Pictures on Instagram show you how the wearables can be integrated into your daily life. Whether it’s worn as a fashion statement at your next cocktail party or as a fitness tracker when you play tennis, there’s a way for it to fit your lifestyle. Misfit isn’t shy with using keyword hashtags (e.g., “#activitytracker”) to attract new followers, too – a good tactic to increase awareness of your products as long as you don’t go overboard.

Codecademy (@codecademy): Humanizing the brand. This NYC-based startup that teaches coding for free is not only cool because it’s filling in a gap in STEM training among millennials, but it’s also got an Instagram feed that shows how much fun everyone is having in the process. A timeline of the company’s milestones on the office air duct? How creative. You’ll also find lots of photos of staff and students eating cake, celebrating birthdays and attending workshops. Followers want to see less promotional content and more behind-the-scenes info on social media, so it’s important to feed that through your Instagram visuals. Showing who’s behind the company and what they like to do “humanizes” the brand, which resonates with followers.

Sakura (@sakuraofamerica): The well-played Instagram takeover. This beloved stationary and art supplies manufacturer is from Japan, but they know how to make a splash in the US. By including artists as guest Instagrammers, Sakura shares ways to use their products to create beautiful pieces. These “Instagram takeovers” are highly effective as they lend an authentic voice to the brand’s social media content and allows experts to share their tips (in this case, which types of pens they like). Product mentions strategically include branded hashtags (e.g., “#pigmamicron” for Sakura micron pens) and the posts are highly engaging, as followers ask the guest Instagrammers questions. It’s also a win for the guests themselves, since they’re able to gain visibility by tagging their own Instagram accounts. No doubt, these photos inspire consumers to pick up some supplies to try out themselves!

Five Ways To Use Instagram For PR Programs

Visual images often have an emotional punch that text lacks — a worthwhile consideration for anyone developing a compelling PR campaign. To understand the power of visual communication in our business, look at the meteoric rise of Instagram. Since the photo-sharing app is based entirely on pictures, certain limitations apply, naturally. But with its more than 200 million users, Instagram offers plenty of potential as a public relations tool. Here are five ways to incorporate Instagram into your PR practices.

Share the more casual side of your brand. Instagram is all about authenticity, fun, and engagement. The professional headshot might work well for the company website, but Instagram can capture the lighter, human side of your brand — the moments people connect with. (The boss in her Halloween costume, perhaps?)

Make announcements creatively. Use Instagram to push out gorgeous shots of new products, an upcoming event, or fun media pieces. And remember to write great captions: include basic information, inspiration, and anything else helpful for followers to know. Add hashtags as you would on Twitter, to increase “searchability” and add to your following.

Research with it. Google lets us ask any question or research any individual and get dozens of answers in 10 seconds flat. But Instagram, as a mobile application (and not a web-based one) often flies under the radar of Internet searches. It’s worth searching through the volumes of captions, hashtags, and location identifiers on Instagram to find information relevant to your products or services. For example, a new restaurant can do a search to identify foodie-types in the neighborhood (based on location tags), who often share photos of their dining experiences, and follow them on Instagram to build clientele.

Crowdsource ideas. Jamie Oliver brilliantly mined his 2.3 million followers on Instagram to help decide which foods to include in his latest book, “Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food.” It was brilliant not only because it was a smart way to come up with lots of ideas and determine (unscientifically) which foods were most popular, but also because it engaged and empowered his followers, a big coup for any brand trying to build loyalty and support.

Crisis communications. The old phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” applies here. Especially during sensitive moments, images tend to carry more weight and poignancy. Case in point: after Jill Abramson’s ouster from the New York Times, the picture her daughter posted on Instagram — of Abramson in boxing gloves —  became the telling image of the whole saga.