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The state of brands on Instagram

The state of brands on Instagram Drew Hubbard

You know how people initially complained about the 140-character limit of Twitter being too brief to say anything meaningful? Well, these days, we don't even want or need those 140 characters. We let photos do our talking, and it's a more beautiful internet these days for it. Nowhere is this more evident than on Instagram, where every photo is worth 1,000 words plus whatever other words are thrown into the comments. It's no wonder that the platform has the attention of marketers. Consider these simple yet impressive stats:

  • Instagram has more than 200 million monthly active users.

  • More than 20 billion photos have been shared on Instagram

  • About 1.6 billion "likes" are racked up on Instagram daily.

  • An average of 60 million photos are posted per day.

The state of brands on Instagram

Perhaps one of the most compelling brand draws of Instagram is its popularity and engagement rates among younger users. Nearly a quarter of teens cite Instagram as their favorite social network, with more than half of high school grads in 2014 using Instagram daily. Instagram's mobile app user base grew 25 percent between December 2013 and May 2014.

The marketing play

For 2013, Instagram was declared the "best platform for brands" by analytics company SumAll. It beat out Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ in the company's assessment of the platforms' effectiveness in driving new followers and -- importantly -- revenue growth. U.S. brands reported revenue lift from Instagram of 1.5 percent to 5 percent.

That said, although the majority of top brands are now on Instagram, marketers' overall interest in the platform still doesn't match the opportunity. Socialbakers reported that only 19 percent of marketers are making Instagram a high priority in 2014, with nearly a quarter of survey respondents giving it no priority at all. So despite the platform's meteoric rise over a relatively short time span, there's still lots of room to play and be creative. (Just ask Ikea, which recently devised a way to turn an Instagram account into a full website.)

Most of Instagram's marketing punch comes without media buys. Instagram Ads are still in their relative infancy, having debuted back in November to a slow and surprisingly cautious rollout. (We'll see how long a Facebook-owned entity can resist completely slutting it up ad-wise.) But at the moment, the biggest brand plays are still happening organically, making the platform all the more fascinating, relevant, and strategic for marketers.

Top brands on Instagram

If you're looking to get a handle on what the top brands on Instagram are up to, the TOTEMS List is a great place to start. It ranks the most popular brands on Instagram by both their number of account followers as well as the number of posts being made on the brands' hashtags. It also tracks the overall status of brand growth on the platform. For example, as of the end of June, TOTEMS reported that 54 brands had 1 million followers or more.

As of July, Nike was the most popular brand on Instagram with more than 5 million followers and 28 million posts using its hashtag (#nike). The most followed brand account was National Geographic with more than 5.8 million followers. Not much of a shock there -- can you think of a more visually compelling brand than National Geographic?

What makes for a popular brand on Instagram? Sure -- size helps. None of the top five brands on Instagram (according to TOTEMS) is an unknown or even regional brand. But it's also not just a list of the top five brands according to marketing budget either. These brands know how to speak visually to customers. Let's take a look at a post from each that epitomizes why the brand is so popular. Note: Two of the top five (and four of the top 10) brands are athletic shoe brands. If you love sneakers, this makes sense to you. If you don't, just trust me -- it's quite a thing.


Celebrities, a massive party, and the world's largest sporting event. Yes, that's how you get 240,000-plus "likes" and nearly 2,000 comments on Instagram.


Like Nike, Starbucks has a lot of followers on Instagram, but it really sees a lot of activity with its hashtag. That's simply the deal: People like to Instagram their morning coffee drinks. Why? Who knows. Whether Starbucks forcibly started this trend or simply embraced it (likely something in between), it sure as hell reflects it with its own Instagram content. And people love it.

adidas Originals

Starbucks and adidasĀ -- vastly different products, but very similar Instagram presences and strategies. In its own posts, adidas reflects the vast Instagram activity on its hashtag, which often revolves around product glamour shots.


Among the top five brands on Instagram, the NBA -- not surprisingly -- is the one best capitalizing on the Instagram video opportunity. It's not fancy, but the lesson is simple: If you're an action brand, show some action.


Fashion brand? Duh. Clothes and models. Easy, right? What's interesting about Topshop, though, is that it's not afraid to go a bit outside its comfort zone. In fact, some of its most popular posts of the past month or two have been food photos of varying quality and brand relevance. The lessons? Don't pigeonhole your brand on Instagram. You never know.

Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing strategist and owner of L.A. Foodie.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @LAFoodie. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Mosaic with pictures of different places and landscapes" image via Shutterstock.

Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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