8 Mistakes Brands Make With Instagram

This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Marketing Blog.

Since coming into existence in 2010, Instagram has given brands the opportunity to engage with their audience and tell their story through the power of visuals. The Facebook-owned app was one of the fastest growing major social networks in 2014, and is now home to more than 300 million accounts.

In addition to the network’s impressive growth, users are also highly engaged with the platform. Each day, half of all users use the app and spend an average of 21 minutes on the app. Top brands have quickly realized the potential Instagram presents. Simply Measured’s Quarterly Instagram Network Study (Q4 2014) found that 86% of Interbrand’s 2014 Top 100 Brands had an Instagram account, which was up from 71% the year prior. Instagram is quickly turning into the go-to network for brands looking to drive engagement.

Whether you’re considering joining, are brand new to the network, or need tips and best practices to get more out of the app, I’ve gathered 8 of the most common mistakes brands make on Instagram backed by the ones that are creating a memorable presence. 

Mistake #1: They Lack a Goal-Driven Strategy

Instagram offers brands a means of telling their story through photographs and video clips. The network is ideal for showcasing products being used in real-life situations, showing the progress of something through photos over time (such as the construction of a vehicle, the making of a new record, showing a new office space from empty to furnished and functional, or a new or favorite recipe from ingredients to the plated final product), or even answering frequently asked questions through short video clips. Possibilities are near limitless on Instagram, but like any other form of digital marketing, you’ll want to define goals early on and create a strategy to help you reach them.

Whether you’re on Instagram to increase brand awareness, showcase a new product line, or add a human element to your brand, each piece of content you publish on the platform should be adding value and help you attain goals.

Who’s doing it right? Quest Nutrition

Quest Nutrition is a nutrition company popular amongst the low carb and fitness crowds. They create nutritional food and drink products to help people reach their own health and fitness goals. According to TOTEMS Analytics, Quest Nutrition grows in follower count by roughly 15k / month. There’s no questioning how well of a job they do connecting with their audience and their lifestyles.

Furthermore, they’re making it work in a somewhat surprising fashion, through video. Instagram introduced a 15-second video component to their platform back in June of 2013, and the adoption and engagement rates have been lesser than photo content. However, Quest Nutrition has found a way to make it work, driving far more engagement with video content, according to PicStats.

Here’s an example of Quest Nutrition creating a “how-to” video with one of their products, all while sticking to their #CheatClean (health and wellness) message and strategy.

Mistake #2: They Aren’t Focused on Quality

Just as important as having a goal-driven strategy, your content’s quality may very well mean the difference between a successful Instagram presence and one that’s easily forgotten.

Take a second to think about how Instagram works. Users typically scroll through a single column of photos, quickly glancing at photos and skimming captions, only slowing down and stopping when something catches their eyes or piques their interest. Other times they’re exploring content via hashtags, scrolling through a 3-column search layout until a photo or video stands out. The more focus you put on the quality of the content you’re publishing on Instagram, the more likely users will be to slow down, stop at, and engage with your account and content.

Compared to other social networks, posts on Instagram tend to have a higher shelf-life. This means continued engagement days, and sometimes weeks, after your original post. In their Instagram study, Simply Measured found that a number of posts by top brands take more than 19 hours to hit 50% of their total comments, and another 10% of comments coming after 19 days.


Who’s doing it right? Taco Bell

Taco Bell is a fast-food chain based in Irvine, California and is no stranger to effectively utilizing social media. According to TOTEMS Analytics, Taco Bell grows in follower count on Instagram by roughly 6k / month. And while you might not typically group fast food and photography, Taco Bell makes it work and is taking full advantage of the highly-engaged user base Instagram has to offer.

The fast-food chain does an extraordinary job leveraging vibrant colors in their photos and creates a laidback, entertaining feel through photo and video captions. Although they only post an average 0.68 times-per-day, when they do post, it’s eye-catching, relevant, and engaging. This approach has worked for Taco Bell as they’ve built a dominant presence on Instagram, boasting 488k followers, 19k likes-per-post, and 581 comments-per-post, according to PicStats.

Below are a couple of examples of Taco Bell’s energetic Instagram posts that have turned them into a must-follow on the social network.

Hello, my love. #ValentinesDay

A photo posted by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on


You fit in here. #CrunchwrapSliders

A photo posted by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on

Mistake #3: They Don’t Post Enough

According to a study by Union Metrics, brands post on Instagram an average of 1.5 times-per-day. In the same study, certain brands posted once an hour throughout the day and saw above-average engagement rates on almost all of their content. In addition, Simply Measured found that brand posting frequency is becoming more normalized as illustrated below.


As part of your Instagram strategy, post frequency should be addressed and followed closely. Look for a happy medium between quantity and quality, ensuring one isn’t sacrificed for the other. If you determine that you’re able to post quality content 15 times-per-day, it’s important you stick to a similar posting schedule thereafter. The reason being that in the Union Metrics study, some brands experienced a loss in followers due to a lack of consistent posting.


Who’s doing it right? MAC Cosmetics

MAC Cosmetics is a cosmetics manufacturer founded in 1984 in Toronto, Canada. According to TOTEMS Analytics, MAC Cosmetics grows in follower count on Instagram by roughly 231k / month. A post on Instagram earns the cosmetics manufacturer an impressive 34k likes and 300+ comments on average according to PicStats.

MAC Cosmetics is close to hitting 3 million followers and that’s due in part to their frequent and consistent posting schedule. It’s uncommon to go a day without seeing several quality posts from the brand. On average, they post to Instagram 4.54 times-per-day and it’s worth noting that they’re not sacrificing quality or showing signs of laziness in keeping up with this frequency. On March 5th, 2015 alone they posted 8 photos and earned an average of 33k likes.

Again, it’s worth noting that the brand isn’t sacrificing quality, as you’ll see in the examples below.

Batting a lash for @carmenmarcvalvo’s tartan schoolgirl crazed #AW15 collection. #MACBackstage #NYFW

A photo posted by M∙A∙C Cosmetics (@maccosmetics) on


Fashion forward – models on moving walkways at the upbeat @house_of_holland #AW15 show. #LFW #MACBackstage

A photo posted by M∙A∙C Cosmetics (@maccosmetics) on

Mistake #4: They Misuse Hashtags

It is entirely possible to misuse hashtags on Instagram, whether you’re using too few, irrelevant ones, or none at all.

Similar to other social networks, hashtags play an important role in the discovery process on Instagram. Lesser-known brands or brands with low follower counts can utilize popular but relevant hashtags to build momentum and increase their content’s exposure.

In addition to discovery, hashtags can help build brand awareness. Consider creating and promoting branded hashtags as a part of a more in-depth strategy.

When it comes to an optimal number of hashtags per post, a QuickSprout infographic points out that posts with 11 or more hashtags received nearly 80% interaction, compared to just 22% when using 10 and 41% when using two (Instagram limits the number of hashtags allowed per post to 30).


Furthermore, AgoraPulse found a direct, positive relationship between hashtags and engagement, likes, and comments.


In terms of relevancy, don’t misuse hashtags in an attempt to increase exposure. This is a surefire way to lose credibility and come off as lazy on a network that was built on authenticity and quality.

Who’s doing it right? GoPro

GoPro is the creator of the “world’s most versatile camera,” a favorite amongst extreme athletes, amateur photographers, and pets around the world. According to TOTEM Analytics, GoPro grows in follower count on Instagram by roughly 221k / month and is one of the most popular brands on the network.

With 4.3m followers, GoPro could probably eliminate hashtags completely without sacrificing engagement. The brand chooses to leverage the discovery mechanism and it’s just one of the reasons they’ve created such a memorable Instagram presence.

Below is a GoPro post that gets a couple things right in the hashtag category. For starters, they’re utilizing more than one hashtag. More importantly, they’re utilizing hashtags that are relevant to the photo.

Mistake #5: They Purchase Followers / Engagement

Like it or not, buying and selling Instagram followers and engagement is a big business. If you don’t want to spend the time building your following organically, Instagram is likely a waste of your time to begin with. If you need another reason not to purchase followers and/or engagement, the network is cracking down on fake and spam accounts, and they’re taking them out in massive numbers.

Overall, engagement rates on Instagram are on the rise. The easiest way to tap into this growth is (as I mentioned before) through quality content and a consistent posting schedule. According to Simply Measured’s study, the Interbrand 100 received over 130 million total engagements in Q4 of 2014 (photos accounted for 93% of those interactions).


That’s a lot of real engagement.

Who’s doing it right? Nike

Nike is a multinational corporation known for their footwear, apparel, sporting equipment, and services. The brand is often referenced for their innovative marketing strategies, and they’ve earned an impressive Instagram audience with close to 13m followers. On average, each of Nike’s Instagram posts garners 128k likes and close to 900 comments according to PicStats. In addition, TOTEM Analytics shows that Nike grows in follower count by roughly 1m / month.

Although they only posts 0.45 times-per-day on average, Nike’s attention to quality, compelling and influential messages, and an ability to create genuine connections with their audience through photo and video is what’s earned them one of the most dominant presences on the social network.

The high-quality photos, captivating captions, utilization of location tagging, and branded hashtags are working well for the brand as you’ll see below.

Make it rain. Let it snow. #justdoit

A photo posted by nike (@nike) on


Mistake #6: They Fail to Maximize on Their Following

Instagram users are engaged and they’re consuming and enjoying branded content at impressive rates. The social network continues to give brands huge opportunities for growth. However, an engaged following today doesn’t guarantee an engaged following tomorrow. How you interact with and leverage your Instagram following can mean the difference between flourishing and flopping on the social network.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to offset the additional resources needed to create a successful Instagram presence can be found within your audience. Instagram is the perfect platform for promoting user-generated content (UGC), probably more so than any other social network. Whether you’re running a photo contest or are encouraging the use of a branded hashtag, Instagram is the perfect platform for building real relationships with real people.

Give your followers the opportunity to spread your message, share your content, use your hashtags, and serve as advocates to your brand.

Who’s doing it right? BarkBox

BarkBox is a monthly surprise package for dogs that includes toys, treats, and goodies. The company donates 10% of their profits to dogs in need and has already rescued 800 puppies. According to TOTEMS Analytics, BarkBox grows in follower count by roughly 32k / month.

The brand has one of the funniest, most entertaining accounts on Instagram. They feature some of the most popular dogs of Instagram on their account, which has helped them promote engagement, grow their following, and promote branded hashtags. They’ve also created a VIP program that helps them earn business return via Instagram.

There’s a reason BarkBox is raking in 15k likes and 1k comments average on each post.

Try not to laugh (volume recommended).

One more for good measure.

Here’s an example of their VIP program in action.


Mistake #7: They’re Overly Promotional

Is there anything more unflattering than brands posting nothing but promotional content on their social networks? Buy this, sale on this, big savings, free shipping!

Overly promotional posts come across as selfish, lazy, and depending on timing, potentially distasteful. While there’s certainly a time and a place to be promotional, brands succeeding on Instagram are the ones delivering powerful and meaningful messages, visually presenting their culture, sharing quality photos and videos, and engaging with their audience.

In addition, it’s no secret Instagram is a Facebook-owned entity. If you remember, Facebook made a News Feed update back in November of 2014 announcing significant drops in organic reach for promotional posts.

Don’t be tacky on Instagram.

Who’s doing it right? Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s is a dairy company known for their delicious ice cream, and more recently, their mouth-watering Instagram feed. According to TOTEM Analytics, the Ben & Jerry’s Instagram account grows in follower count by roughly 14k / month.

Instead of posting pictures of ice cream every day (which would most likely still work for them), Ben & Jerry’s regularly shares fans’ photos on their page. What better way to get people excited about taking pictures with your product than sharing them publicly for the world to see? It’s worked well for the brand that on average scoops 20k likes-per-post according to PicStats.

Below is an example of user-generated content shared by Ben & Jerry’s, along with a video post delivering a very powerful message while utilizing their product.

It’s Friday!!! photo by @jess_mink

A photo posted by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on


Mistake #8: They Aren’t Sold on Instagram

Do I have enough time to manage another social network? Is it even worth joining Instagram if my business / products / services aren’t visually friendly? Do I have the right resources to create quality photos and videos? If you’re questioning whether or not Instagram has a place in your social media marketing strategy, you’re not alone.

According to Rival IQ’s 2015 Social Media Trends research, 38% of marketers stated that Instagram was unimportant, with another 20% stating it was only somewhat important. As the fastest growing major social network with one of the most engaged audiences, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to overlook Instagram’s value.

In less than five years, the network has grown to a whopping 300 million users who in one day share an average of 70 million photos while liking 2.5 billion.

Instagram is worth the investment.

Who’s doing it right? General Electric

General Electric is a power and water, oil and gas, energy management, aviation, healthcare, transportation, and capital corporation. According to TOTEMS Analytics, General Electric grows in follower count by roughly 2k / month. While they may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think Instagram, General Electric has been known for leveraging social media to connect with their audience.

GE gets Instagram.

The brand does an incredible job bringing their core values to life through photo and video on Instagram. In addition, they’ve found a way to take an otherwise very serious subject matter and make it educational, interesting, and exciting.

Working around the clock to build, power, move, and cure the world is the theme they showcase throughout photos and videos like the following.



Over the last 4+ years, Instagram has gone from a social network known for selfies and food pics to a platform brands are leveraging to deliver meaningful messages, tell stories, and engage with people on a human to human level. We’ll continue to hear about, read about, speak about, and experience firsthand the opportunity Instagram presents to brands and marketers as network continues to grow.

Brands getting the most out of the network are the ones posting quality content on a consistent basis, and are doing so with a purpose. Even brands that aren’t thought of as visually friendly are leveraging the network and seeing it work.

The Instagram community is genuinely interested in connecting with these brands; so much so that they’ve expressed interest in learning more about brands and products after they’ve been inspired by what they’re posting.

Are you taking advantage of what Instagram has to offer?