Creating continual hype is something that every brand aspires to. Historically, it seemed as if a brand’s level of marketing success largely depended on what they were willing to spend. However, with the advent of free social media services like Instagram, a successful marketing campaign depends on at least five different factors, none of which include a sizeable budget.

Find Your Niche & Stay in it

Regardless of whether the company in question sells toilet paper or rehomes pets, it’s absolutely crucial to find its niche and stay within it. For the previously stated examples, this could include:

  • Attractively positioning your product, or
  • Sharing the fruits of successful rescue/adoption efforts.

One example of attractive product positioning with Instagram is Hawaiian Gun Rack, a company that manufactures surfboard display and storage products. Knowing that his target audience are surfing enthusiasts, owner Dennis Kahn takes high quality photos of vintage and collectible surfboards along with his company’s products, encouraging engagement and shares.
This focused approach, when used in conjunction with relevant hashtags, not only creates helps establish niche authority, but also engages HGR’s target audience in a relatable way.

Offer Followers an Inside Glimpse

People enjoy a “human” company. The more transparent, the better. In fact, some companies have outright encouraged their employees to share their work experiences on a daily basis on social media. Given Instagram’s photocentric service, this gives followers an intimate glimpse into daily operations and if positioned properly, can translate into multiple shares beyond established followers.

Certain companies like Zappo’s have successfully utilized this open-door policy, which can:

  • Create a publicly viewable network,
  • Encourage a sense of pride in current employees, and finally
  • Attract like-minded prospective employees.

By allowing their company culture to be a part of their marketing campaign, nothing is left to interpretation and offers multiple benefits beyond the primary focus on conversions.

When it’s Posted Still Matters

To get the largest return on investment, it pays to know when the brand’s optimum posting time is. It wouldn’t make much sense to post awesome content when most of the brand’s following is sleeping. However, when timed effectively, a high-quality post has a good chance of going viral when the brand’s followers share it with their own followers, and so on and so forth.

Though there are no conclusive reports for optimum posting times, some studies suggest between 2-3 PM and 8-9PM, with an emphasis on posting during off-work hours. This is not dependent on timezones, but the best approach will be the one that is determined over time. Keep an eye on engagements during suspected peak hours and alter the posting schedule when necessary.

Encourage Engagement through Contests

Once a rough idea for optimum posting times has been established, a brand can encourage even more engagement by holding contests. These have the added benefits of imaginatively engaging existing followers and attracting new ones. Some of the most successful campaigns typically revolved around people engaging with the product or service and sharing it with a predetermined hashtag. Typically the ones with the most “likes” selected as winners in these types of contests, which also generates a very natural result.

Some examples of successful campaigns include:

  • Macallan Whisky, who asked fans to share pictures of them enjoying the product along with the hashtag #meandthemacallan. Five winners were selected and sent prizes, with the winning pictures being displayed on the brand’s blog and social media.
  • Tony Hawk hides signed skateboards in random locations and posts clues and landmarks for users to follow.

Regardless of whether a product or service is offered, contests on Instagram benefit from large amounts of natural engagement, including shares, mentions and possibly new conversions.

Make Your Product/Service Look Awesome

Similar to tactic employed by Hawaiian Gun Rack, making your product look its absolute best is critical to a successful Instagram campaign. This could include a turkey company displaying their product front and center in a tasteful manner surrounded by standard trimmings or a quick video of mechanics at a specific service station rushing out to a vehicle to help a customer in need.

At minimum, a high quality camera will be needed to capture every detail along with the appropriate lighting, but for those who only have access to a smartphone, there are some apps that offer features beyond Instagram’s native filters, such as:

  • VSCOcam
  • Afterlight
  • Litely

Beyond filters, making simple adjustments to lighting and saturation levels can turn a typical picture into one that gets shared multiple times. Just remember that in many cases, less is more, so don’t go too crazy!
Basic rules of winning at Instagram? Post your best stuff at the right time and above all, be human!

Robert Conrad is a former Business student who learned the power of social media not through college courses, but through sheer attrition. You can follow him on Twitter.