By Ryan Harris
Analytics company Nitrogram recently released a list of the the top 50 brands on Instagram. Rankings included numbers of followers and mentions on the popular photo-sharing site.
At the top of the Nitrogram 50? Nike, Starbucks, Forever 21, the NBA, and Adidas.
These brands have hundreds of thousands – even millions – of followers who post their own photos with the brands’ hashtags.
#Awesome. But what do these brands have in common that helps them succeed on Instagram? Take a look at the top 5 brands on Instagram to find out what they’re doing right.
Number of followers: +1.8 million
Number of mentions: +14.2 million
What’s Nike doing right? The answer is simple: high-quality photos and videos with inspirational captions. Uploads include colorful Nike sneakers, action shots, and athletes in Nike gear. A recent post, a close-up of a flexed foot in a lime green Nike running shoe, is simply captioned “Innovation is the antidote to limits.”
Photo credit: http://instagram.com/nike#
But Nike isn’t number one just because of its photos. The brand is integrating Instagram with their business in innovative, exciting ways. Nike PHOTOiD allows users to design their own custom Nike footwear based on their Instagram photos. Just upload an Instagram, choose a Nike shoe, and check out a unique design based on the colors in your photo.
Number of followers: +1.3 million
Number of mentions: +3.6 million
Starbucks sticks to the classic Instagram formula: simple pictures that somehow look both artistic and amateur. Starbucks’ uploads aren’t glossy, in-your-face advertisements. They’re photos with artsy angles, muted filters, and simple subjects. This post, captioned “Enjoy the little things,” shows a flower-filled Starbucks mug in front of a stack of unfinished canvases.
Photo credit: http://instagram.com/starbucks#
But Starbucks’ greatest strength on Instagram? Their lack of self-promotion. Most of Starbucks’ posts include minimal references to the brand. One, a summery shot of an iced coffee by a fountain, is only recognizable by the ubiquitous green straw. Some, like a photo of a father and daughter playing in the ocean, don’t have any brand references at all.
3. Forever 21
Number of followers: +1.5 million
Number of mentions: +1.6 million
Forever 21’s young fan base lends to their success, since most of Instagram’s users are between 18 and 29. But Forever 21’s photos are classic Instagram, too: artsy snapshots with vintage filters. Many of Forever 21’s uploads show partial shots of complete outfits — the post below depicts just a pair of bright blue pants and a hand with a matching manicure.
Photo credit: http://instagram.com/forever21#
Another one of Forever 21’s strengths is its use of Instagram to interact with customers. Rather than just posting photos of their products, Forever 21 encourages fans to upload their own ensembles for the chance to be featured on the brand’s Instagram account. Fans get instant Instagram fame– and Forever 21 gets more followers and more mentions.
Number of followers: +1.2 million
Number of mentions: +2.4 million
It might be a surprise to see the NBA among the best brands on Instagram – basketball fans and photos with soft, artistic filters don’t seem to mesh. But the NBA’s Instagram account proves that they don’t have to. The NBA’s posts are typical sports photos: close-ups of athletes in action with minimal editing and no-nonsense captions, like this photo of Dwight Howard.
Photo credit: http://instagram.com/nba#
The NBA faces a unique challenge on Instagram: keeping the attention of its fans and followers even after the season ends. The NBA accomplishes this by capitalizing on current events. Recent posts include NBA trades, ESPY award winners, and the off-season activities of its biggest stars; one shows Miami Heat player Chris Bosh on a trip to India.
Number of followers: +799k
Number of mentions: +3.2 million
Adidas, which competes with top brand Nike in the athletic wear market, takes a slightly different approach. Their photos lack the artistic quality of Nike’s, instead trying for simplicity and consistency. Many of Adidas’ recent posts, like the one below, show nothing but a pair of Adidas shoes on a black background. They focus on the product rather than the presentation.
Photo credit: http://instagram.com/adidas#
Adidas also jumps on popular Instagram trends like #tbt, or Throwback Thursday, to promote their brand. Each week on Throwback Thursday, millions of Instagram users post old pictures with the caption #tbt. On a recent Thursday, Adidas posted a #tbt of several classic Adidas shoes, inviting followers to comment with their favorites.
Want to make the most of Instagram for your brand but not sure where to start? Take the lead from some of these big brands and apply them in the same way. Take simple photos and pair them with memorable captions that evoke a certain feeling you want to associate with your brand. Or go the way of Starbucks and go less promotional, more personal, which is what Instagram does so well thanks to its photo filters. Above all, be ready to engage with your customers by encouraging interaction with your posts, and maybe even asking for user submitted posts.