An image flashes. A study participant responds. Researchers can’t believe what they’ve just witnessed.
According to that MIT experiment, humans can process images faster than the previously thought 100 milliseconds.
And not just a little faster — nearly 8 times faster.
It takes only 13 milliseconds between the time light hits your corneas to the moment that image is processed by your brain.That’s 10-30 times faster than you can blink.
Seemingly just as quick has been the rise of social media platforms that capitalize on our brain’s obsession with images.
Networks like Periscope, Pinterest, and Snapchat have all seen some rapid growth in the last few years. But, arguably none has been more impressive than Instagram.
The rise of the visual social network
What started as Burbn, a messaging app with photo sharing capabilities, would soon become the go-to visual storytelling platform for brands.
Its journey from a two-man coffee shop operation to billion-dollar buyout took only two years. And since Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, it’s continued to grow at a staggering rate.
With currently over 400 million monthly active users, Instagram has positioned itself as one of the most influential social media networks in just over five years.
Today a total of 26% of adults on the internet use the platform — more than 1 in 4. That number rises to 1 in 2 when you look at web users between the ages of 18 and 29.
As an agency, you’re responsible for making that transition as smooth as possible, while finding new and inventive ways to boost key performance indicators on the network.
Below you’ll find 11 tips to do just that – from improving your visual storytelling game to boosting leads to your Instagram post-click landing pages. Use them for your clients’ accounts, and for your own.
1. Create posts that elicit visceral reactions
If you’ve ever looked at an image and felt a sense of discomfort, or fear, or safety without knowing why, it’s likely the result of a visceral reaction. Kevan Lee over at Buffer offers some insight:
“When we feel a visceral reaction, we are responding from the part of the brain responsible for survival instincts and fight-or-flight responses. The response is subconscious. It originates from the central nervous system whenever we’re stimulated by vital factors like food, shelter, danger, or reproduction.”
So if you’re trying to elicit a feeling of comfort, use pictures of a warm hearth or a cozy bed, the way HGTV masterfully does with their account:
A towering canopy bed draws you into this master bedroom from designer of the month Kelly Sutton. A groupings of framed artwork, a pair of tufted ottomans and an antique chest standing in for a nightstand completes the eclectic space. Click the link in our profile to see more from @kellysuttoninc #DesignerOfTheMonth
Thanks for sharing all of your #HGTVSpringHouse photos with us and our friends at @AtHomeStores! We love seeing your party-ready outdoor spaces. Extra shout-out to @tobicurtis, @wormsandsnailsandpuppydogtails and @homedecormomma for sharing these photos. We’d hang out here any time!
A photo posted by @hgtv on May 16, 2016 at 7:26am PDT
The more you make your fans feel, the more likely they are to engage with your content.
2. Feature customers using the client’s product
On your post-click landing pages, when you want to convince someone to convert, a powerful, persuasive tool is social proof.
The way it works is this: The more people who use a service or buy a product, the more likely it is you will too. To you (and humans in general), a higher usership is proof that a product or service works well. If it didn’t, why would so many people want it?
On Instagram, this same psychological principle holds true. Take advantage of it by asking your followers to submit photos of themselves using a hashtag (that you designate) using your service or wearing your product. With each one who does, you gain additional influence.
3. Give them an inside look into your agency culture
Agencies are often so focused improving client feeds that they forget to keep up with their own Instagram account.
Giving your followers an inside look into what goes on day-to-day in your agency can attract potential hires that better fit your corporate culture. HubSpot does a great job with all their social media accounts:
They even go so far as to regularly highlight employees using the hashtag #HumansOfHubspot:
Today’s #HumansofHubSpot is Roberta Ocampo – Event & Field Marketing Manager in Sydney! What is something you cannot live without? “In this tech-filled world that we live in, funnily enough, I couldn’t live without pen and paper. Preferably a black Staedtler triplus fineliner pen and a soft-bound, blank-page Moleskine. To help me destress, I draw. I keep a daily planner where I draw a moment from my day that stuck with me the most. Every time I finish a page, it feels so good to look at it and reflect (kind of cheesy I know). But I grew up drawing pictures and cartoons, and that love for “art” has stuck with me ever since.”
A photo posted by HubSpot (@hubspot) on Apr 27, 2016 at 6:49am PDT
Posts like these humanize your brand by giving followers an idea of who the faces are behind your logo.
4. Use a link in your bio to drive them to your website or post-click landing page
There’s a lot for agencies to like about Instagram, but there’s one very big thing to hate. If you’re already on the social network, you know what it is:
You can’t add URLs to posts. The only place Instagram will allow a link (just one) is in your bio.
And while that started as a creative constraint, marketers eventually found a way around it (like they always do). Now they simply change the URL in their bio to suit their most recent promoted post and include a call-to-action that directs people to that bio.
For example, check out how Starbucks sold snowman mugs in the winter:
5. Use branded emojis
Heart. Sparkles. Paint palette. Musical notes.
Posts containing these emoji’s saw the most engagement in 2015, according to a report from Simply Measured:
Keep in mind, adding these to your posts won’t automatically get them more engagement. What’s more likely is that these emojis indicate the type of content that’s most popular.
For example, posts containing the heart emoji may have drawn more engagement because they expressed a higher level of emotion. As we all know, emotions spark reactions.
Emojis are an excellent way to differentiate your clients from their competitors. Showing some more personality in the form of visual expressions like musical notes or a paint palette to signify creativity could help humanize your client’s brand.
But be cautious. Using an emoji inappropriately could earn you some bad PR, the way it did House Of Fraser earlier this year in their #Emojinal campaign.
Goofy smiley faces for somber posts, and off-brand attempts at using emojis to stay relevant will do more harm for you and your clients than good.
6. Include sensory currency in your images
“Nobody gets together in person together anymore. They play on their phones, send endless text messages, and post to Instaface all day. What’s happening to the world?”
We hear it from our parents, and (ironically) read articles about it online almost every day. Because technology has infiltrated nearly every moment of our daily lives, today Instagram users crave more of what Curve calls “Sensory Currency.”
“As technology takes over more and more of our lives, we’ve seen a desire for things that are ‘real’ like human contact and old-time, hands-on activities and professions. This trend combines nostalgia and a new appreciation for traditional skills, and seeing handmade products re-establishes the connection between maker and consumer.”
Instead of constantly posting about your client’s product, give their followers a behind-the-scenes look at the people, parts, and processes involved in making it. Here’s a great example from jewelry designer Junon Jewelry:
Along with appealing to their sense of nostalgia, as an added bonus you’ll also get to reinforce your brand identity.
If you’re a luxury designer, fans will get to see all the rare materials you carefully source for your products. If you’re an organization committed to sustainability, you can showcase all the green techniques you use to create your goods.
These behind-the-scenes looks give your followers a more transparent, 360-degree view of your organization.
7. Use photos of people in your posts
Even if posting colorful photos of mesmerizing patterns seems to be working for your client’s fashion account, consider adding more people to your posts. Research has shown that Instagram photos containing people get nearly 40% more engagement than those without.
The reason might be that we’re hard-wired to respond to faces.
An area of the brain called the “fusiform gyrus” triggers the firing of neurons when we’re confronted with highly specific facial patterns.
So specific, in fact, that one 2005 research study at Cal Tech gave birth to the “Jennifer Aniston” cell, a neuron that only fired when one particular patient saw a photo of the actress.
“No other faces or objects or anything else got a response from this cell,” explained neuroscientist Andrew Tate in a blog post for Canva, “it only wanted Jen.”
Implementing these changes in your clients’ accounts doesn’t mean substituting every appealing pattern with a familiar face. Just mix it up, the way Vogue Magazine does on Instagram:
From the gardens of the Mughal courts to wedding rituals, flowers have always held an important role in Indian tradition—and design. Henry Wilson’s new book “The Floral Patterns of India” takes a closer look at the latter. Click the link in our bio for a peek inside.
A photo posted by Vogue (@voguemagazine) on May 12, 2016 at 12:33pm PDT
8. Grow your clients’ following by teaming up with other brands
Partnerships between similar brands have produced high ROI on other social networks, but data shows that they’re particularly effective on Instagram. According to Simply Measured, posts that include another user handle in the caption get 56% more engagement.
By cross-promoting with other Instagram influencers, you can tap into new user groups.
Nathan Chan from Foundr, who grew the company’s following to 400,000 in just 12 months, explains how he does it:
To start, create a list of popular Instagram accounts that reach your target audience. When you’ve found them, you can then partner with them for what they call “shout-outs,” which can be either paid or unpaid.”
Unpaid shout-outs essentially come down to share for share. You share my content; I’ll share yours, thereby giving you access to each other’s audience. Here’s an example of an unpaid shout-out between Foundr and Rich20Something:
Paid shout-outs, on the other hand, are an excellent way to grow your follower base by thousands — that is, if you have the budget for it.
“Foundr spent about $100 on shout-outs in the first two weeks of our Instagram account, and it was $100 well spent,” added Nathan. “This became instrumental in getting us to our first 10,000 followers.”
If you have the money to spend, look around for accounts with not only a high number of fans but high level of engagement as well. And when you finally form a relationship, ask your partner to include a CTA in their shout-out to, for example, follow your account.
Once you begin gaining followers, you can use your own account to drive them to your website, post-click landing pages, and other social accounts.
9. Tag locations in your posts
More numbers from Simply Measured show that posts tagged with a location receive 79% higher engagement.
No one’s 100% sure why, but it could have to do with the small boost in discoverability. Tagging your posts with a location makes them much easier to find and highly searchable.
Regardless of the “why” that kind of ROI from such a small tweak means it’s certainly worth exploring.
10. Use relevant hashtags
To Instagram users, hashtags are a great organic method of content discovery. And research has shown that posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement.
So use them, but sparingly. Instagram allows for up to 30 in a post, but data shows that top brands don’t use nearly that many:
And that’s for good reason.
A post filled with hashtags not only looks cluttered and spammy, but it can also make your brand look attention-starved. Are you so desperate for an audience that you need to stuff your post with 30 different hashtags?
I hope not.
11. Showcase your creativity
As part of an agency, you make your living by finding imaginative solutions to business problems. So, above all else, shouldn’t your Instagram account be filled with creative shots?
Whether it’s a goofy logo variant…
A photo posted by Huge (@hugeinc) on Oct 31, 2014 at 1:17pm PDT
or a snapshot showcasing your creative success…
it’s worth posting to your account.
Remember that many people who have never even worked with you before will refer your agency based on visible expertise. If you don’t show them you know what you’re doing on your website or social media accounts, they’ll never believe you do.
12. Experiment with Instagram advertising
If I asked you to remember some of your favorite ads of all time, you’d probably be able to tell me everything about them except for one major thing:
What they were advertising.
For that to happen on Instagram is highly unlikely, Nielsen has found. According to research, ads on the network are 2.9x more memorable than average. But should we be surprised?
Not really. You see, we’ve evolved to remember images over all else.
For example, if I ask you to remember the last time you sat down to eat a home-cooked meal, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
If you’re like most of us, it’s not the sound of family chatter around the dinner table, nor even the taste of mom’s famous meatloaf.
It’s the sights — what’s in front of your face that you’ll remember.
The food, the tablecloth it sits on, the people around you — they’ll all be remembered visually. And according to neuroscientist Andrew Tate, memorizing imagery is something we’ve been doing for thousands of years:
“We have not evolved for words, we have evolved for images. Before the wonders of GPS came along you definitely wanted to remember your surroundings, otherwise a sabre-tooth tiger might eat you for breakfast. Therefore, it made sense for our ancestors to be very good at object and scene recognition, something that has been passed down to us as a talent for visual understanding.”
That means text-based ads on other platforms are far less likely to be remembered than the image-based ones on Instagram. It’s just science.
Today over 200,000 brands use the power of visuals to drive user action — 70,000 more than Twitter — after only being open to advertisers for six months. And the only place to go is up, according to some experts.
New video ad capabilities and an analytics platform that’s in the works will only drive advertising revenue even higher.
If you have yet to give it a try, start here.
What technique have you used to tell your clients’ stories on Instagram? What have you used to boost your own agency’s ROI?
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