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The best and worst brands on Instagram

The best and worst brands on Instagram Lauren Friedman

With the launch of social networks like Instagram and Pinterest -- and, of course, Facebook's dive into Timeline -- social is transforming into a visual world. It's becoming increasingly important to show instead of tell. Show your audience that cheeseburger that's on special this week. Show your fans that picture of your gorgeous car driving off into the sunset.

The best and worst brands on Instagram

About 40 percent of top brands use Instagram. But that doesn't mean they use it well. Some brands are using Instagram as a way to reach specific demographics within their audiences, to showcase their creative sides, or to humanize their brands. Others are using it without moderation or maintenance, to cross-promote or advertise their content from platform to platform, or in an entirely unengaging way.

Let's take a look at some of the best and the worst brands on Instagram. Consider this your checklist of what to do -- and what not to do -- on the platform.

Instagram winners

Reaching a specific demographic
MTV posts highly engaging, authentic, exclusive photos on Instagram -- photos that are perfectly suited for its younger, hip audience. The photos complement the brand's lively, creative culture by featuring artists, backstage shots, other celebrities, and more.

Posting photos of celebrities and artists in their own elements drives credibility for MTV while generating engagement based on affiliation with the celebrity or artist featured.

Posting photos from backstage is another way for MTV to gain credibility in the space. Such photos create a sense of exclusivity for followers, as there's nowhere else they could get photos like this.

Sharpie is not necessarily considered a "creative" brand. It makes and sells permanent markers. That's why its presence on Instagram is so powerful. It posts images of ways its products (Sharpies) are used in a highly creative manner. This reflects its inner culture and product without directly marketing. Instead of taking photos of Sharpie pens, the brand creates artwork with the pens and posts photos of the art.

This is a way for Sharpie to showcase the value of its product -- the actual art that can be created with the pens. Sharpies can do much more than just label moving boxes; they're artistic tools.

Sharpie lets its personality shine through its Instagram photos. The photos above are branded, but with a creative approach that reaches the brand's audience perfectly.

Starbucks uses Instagram to post photos of how its products affect the lifestyles of its customers. It publishes seasonal images, photos that are taken in-store, and photos of customers drinking Starbucks coffee in their daily lives. This adds a human touch to the brand's presence on Instagram.

Taking photos of in-house staff is also a great way to humanize your brand on Instagram. Now you're able to put faces to a brand name, and those are the people who build the strongest relationships with your customers.

Many brands are doing it right on Instagram. But there is certainly a handful that could use some improvement. Let's take a look at them now.

Instagram losers

Lack of moderation and maintenance
Tribal DDB Israel has created an "Officegram" that curates Instagram photos posted with the hashtags #tdilpeople and #tdilworks. In theory, this seems like a great opportunity to encourage team members to participate with a low barrier to entry. (All people have to do is post a photo to their personal Instagram accounts and use the hashtag to appear in the office feed.) However, this can quickly go awry when others begin using the same hashtag.

When creating a curated Instagram account, moderation is key to ensure all images are on-brand and appropriate.

Cross-promoting or advertising
While many of Vans' photos are on-brand and engaging, the photo below is essentially a print ad published on Instagram.

There are ways to get the word out about events and sponsorships that are much more engaging than a plain advertisement. Instagram is an avenue for creativity, and there is nothing creative about this advertisement.

Instagram is a breeding ground for engagement. There is little to no barrier to entry -- if users see images they like, all they have to do is double-tap and they've liked the photo. With Instagram's filters and image-editing options, there is a plethora of opportunities for brands to showcase their creativity and artistic qualities.

NBCTV (not to be confused with NBCNews) has missed the boat. NBCTV's photos are largely unedited (no filters in Instagram), are not creatively taken, and are just not engaging. The majority of its posts are photos taken on red carpets. There's no feeling of exclusivity, as many of the same photos from these events can be easily found online. NBCTV has positioned itself as a paparazzi-like figure on Instagram.

There are so many possibilities for NBCTV to leverage on Instagram -- live news coverage, interview images, backstage in the newsroom. The list goes on. Photos from the red carpet might not be the best strategy for this Instagrammer.

Although Instagram is a valuable social network for many brands, it still requires the same thought and strategy development as other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Determining goals and KPIs, developing a strategy in terms of what types of photos to post, creating community guidelines (if applicable), and consistently participating are crucial to the success of brands on Instagram.

Lauren Friedman is manager of community engagement at Adobe Systems.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Computer designed highly detailed film frame" image and "Camera icon lens" image via Shutterstock.

Lauren Friedman is the head of Global Social Business Enablement at Adobe.  She's a digital and social marketing authority, with extensive experience working with Fortune 500 brands to integrate digital and social media into their overarching...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Ashley Edwards

2013, March 04

Great article. I've been following Sharpie on Instagram for some time now, and definitely consider them to be one of the brand leaders in this landscape.