Using Instagram to Build Brand Awareness

March 31, 2014 by

Social media users in 2014 know that if an endless litany of Candy Crush invites, political sloganeering, and viral video after viral video is what they’re after, Facebook stands ready to deliver. For those who just want to take a few minutes to peer into the lives of their family and friends—or to make some new connections in a more relaxed and intimate setting—Instagram is increasingly the social platform of choice. That’s not really a dig at Facebook, but it should come as no surprise that this former “niche” platform is taking more and more users’ social media time.

Your brand should be there, too. There’s an old saying about show business, that just showing up is half the challenge; if you want consumers and clients to remember your brand, then a big part of the struggle is to just be present where they’re present—which means being present on Instagram. And if you can actually take the time to optimize your presence for building strong, positive brand awareness—well, that’s even better.

Encouraging Engagement

Many brands are active in sharing photos on Instagram—product photos, behind-the-scenes shots, and so on—and that’s certainly an important part of Instagram brand building. Important though it is, you’re not really using Instagram as effectively as you could be unless you’re actively fostering user engagement. To put it another way: any brand can share photos of its own products, but the real test is whether you can persuade your followers to do likewise.

Here’s a compelling case study. Last year, Ford used Instagram to create a Europe-wide social media campaign, celebrating its new Fiesta vehicle. The company encouraged its Instagram followers to upload images featuring the vehicle, tagged with the #Fiestagram hashtag. The best images were celebrated in online galleries and even on digital billboards in major European cities; the very best entries won brand new Fiestas.

Ford encouraged its followers to really engage with the brand, and to become brand ambassadors in their own right. The result: 16,000 photo submissions, 120,000 new Instagram followers, and hundreds of thousands of visitors to those online galleries—all in just about a month and a half.

Part of the Story

To put all of this another way, social media marketing is all about storytelling—telling the story of your brand. Sales pitches don’t really work on social channels, least of all on Instagram; you need to have a strong narrative thrust in order for your efforts to bear fruit. The sweet spot is when you can not only tell the story of your brand, but also feature your customers in leading roles.

Related Class: How to Use Visual Storytelling to Build Your Brand

Clothing company Free People is excellent at this. The company places a heavy focus on Instagram, essentially turning its customers into fashion models by encouraging them to upload photos of themselves wearing Free People clothing. These photos are featured on the site in virtual galleries, and other users can “like” or comment on the outfit combinations that they like the best.

This is not only a great way to foster involvement—because who doesn’t want the opportunity to shine as a real, honest-to-goodness fashion model?—but it has the added bonus of showing off the sheer array of clothing combinations Free People’s lineup allows. For those who may not want to model themselves, the Instagram account offers some creative, helpful fashion suggestions. Win-win.

Call to Action

A final point to make about Instagram brand building is that here—as ever—your best efforts may offer little return unless you adorn them with a strong call to action. On the Starbucks Instagram account, the company offers a simple prompt: “Tag your coffee photos with #Starbucks.” In doing so, the company has encouraged customers to submit countless whimsical, creative, or simply beautiful images of their daily lives, with Starbucks products somehow worked into the frame—an elegant and effective way to engage users and boost brand awareness.

That’s the secret to smart Instagram use: to build awareness for your brand, you have to call on your customers to show how your brand means something in their lives.

To take advantage of Instagram and other social networks to grow your business's social media reach, view Jason Kane's Online Marketing Class, "Fundamentals of the Tier 2 Social Platforms: Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Quora & Instagram" in the eLearning library today.


Amanda E. Clark is the president and editor-in-chief of Grammar Chic, Inc., a full-service professional writing and editing company. A published ghostwriter, Amanda is currently under contract with literary agencies in Malibu, California, and Dublin, Ireland. Her company specializes in brand management, content marketing, social media strategy and professional resume writing. Amanda invites you to visit Grammar Chic online at and

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