There’s a natural tension between B2B brands and Instagram. After all, Instagram is a very consumer-focused channel. In fact, if you asked the typical B2B marketer to rank social channels based on how relevant they are to their business, they’d probably put LinkedIn at the top of their list as “very relevant” and Instagram near the bottom.
But does that make sense? In some instances, yes. In others, not so much. In fact, some B2B brands translate quite well to Instagram. However, before you start reformatting all your existing marketing materials into square proportions, may we suggest you continue reading in order to first, confirm your offering and brand are a good match for this relatively unique social channel; and second, if they are, learn how you need to adjust your typical approach in order to see success.
Is Instagram a good fit for your business?
This may seem like a dumb question, but for the sake of due diligence—and to potentially help you address some of the stronger perspectives that might surface around your office—we’ll ask it: Does the audience you’re trying to reach actually use Instagram?
As a well-informed marketer, you’re likely aware of how your customers spend their time and money. So incorporating Instagram into the mix when the audience you’re trying to engage doesn’t spend time on the medium is wasteful. But that doesn’t mean you’re not getting pressured to create a brand presence on Instagram anyway. (“What? Who doesn’t go on Instagram!?”) If that’s the case, consider using data to keep those opinions at bay. And if you don’t have data, it probably makes sense to do some up front research before you travel down the Insta-path.
Is your brand’s DNA a match?
At this point we’ll assume your audience is on Instagram. So let’s determine whether or not your business is a fit for this very visual medium.
Users go to Instagram to see beautiful, creative things—and to be inspired. So for a company like SketchDeck, which sells graphic design and is in the business of making things beautiful, Instagram is a perfect fit. But the fit for every business is not this obvious.
It may be tempting to look at your product or service offering alone and let that drive the decision (Corporate photography? Of course. Diesel engines? Nope.) But not so fast. Just because you’re selling server racks or accounting software doesn’t mean your brand isn’t able to be successful in this channel. Perhaps your company manufactures beautiful high-end server racks that have a cult following. Or your spreadsheet software is elegantly designed and very visual (e.g. Airtable).
Instead of your product or service category being the sole factor, consider how you’ve positioned your company, and the brand qualities/values you want to communicate. If these align with the core values of Instagram—and what users expect to find in this channel—it can be a great match.
How to apply your B2B brand to Instagram
Okay, if you’re reading this section you’ve likely determined Instagram is a worthwhile marketing channel. So the next thing you need to know is that the Instagram world plays by different rules that you might not be used to. And you’ll need to adopt these rules to be successful. Simply squarifying everything is not going to do the trick.
Most B2B businesses are used to strict corporate communications structures, and this results in communications that are often stripped of character, human voice and personality in the name of consistency— or an attempt to appease the various stakeholders who have skin in the game (we’re looking at you, Legal...).
For “standard” marketing efforts, this works well. But for Instagram, that approach doesn’t cut it. In fact, that style of content is what the Instagram audience is trying to escape.
Social media gives B2B brands an opportunity to communicate with a real voice, with heart, and with authenticity. In fact, this is what the audience craves and demands. Typically, Instagram calls for you to be more playful, less strict, and speak in a believable (decidedly not sterile) voice. Jamming your standard marketing campaigns through Instagram is a great way to be ignored as readily as sponsored content. Don’t do it.
In short, to do well on Instagram, you have to go native.
But enough lecture and theory. Let’s see how it’s actually done.
Planning your approach
By reading to this point you now you know that Instagram can be as viable as any other social channel if:
Your audience is there, and
Your offering and/or brand exhibit characteristics associated with Instagram.
So let’s have a look at a few overarching concepts to consider when building out your Instagram content strategy:
It’s better to give. The best content provides some sort of value to the audience. Nobody wants to follow an endless stream of commercials. Your Instagram posts should give something to your followers—whether that be a moment of beauty, creative inspiration, or a smile.
A ‘gram with a plan. Before you start creating posts, think through the overarching stories you want to tell, and use your content to relay them over time. For variety’s sake, individual “storylines” could have a different approach/look/feel, but they should all be part of the higher-level plan—each advancing your holistic channel strategy.
Try and try again. Consider using this as an opportunity to test new things or stretch brand boundaries. Instagram is a great place to try low-cost “experiments” without any long-term brand damage. It’s a creative safe zone if you will—and one where you’re able to get immediate feedback.
Story time. Instagram Stories are where you’ll likely divert the furthest from “typical” given their ephemeral nature (24-hour lifespan) and the fact they’re created (on-the-fly) from within the app itself.
Intelligent humor. Humor can have a place because people generally want to be entertained. But be smart about it—don’t post something just because it’s funny. Your content still needs to work on Instagram, and be relevant to your audience, while still telling your broader brand story. The National Park Service does this very well.
Lastly, we’ll wrap things up with some practical design guidance for this “design first” channel.
Less is more (appropriate). Your canvas is small and users are scrolling (think mobile phone viewing). So your design needs to be minimal, but eye catching as well. Don’t try to fit too much content into a single post.
Be better than fine. Instagram expects a more advanced design intelligence than other social media platforms. So even though, as previously mentioned, you’ll want to be authentic—you are expected to look mahhhvelous doing it.
Unrefined beauty. Although it may seem contradictory to the previous point, this can also be an opportunity to lower the bar on production quality. Good design in this channel does not have to be expensive or time consuming.
Breaking isn’t bad. As mentioned in the Strategy section above, this can also be an opportunity to thoughtfully break existing visual brand rules—or experiment with new, fresh ideas. And what works well here might be worth trying elsewhere.
Bringing it all together
Let’s review: You’ve confirmed your audience is on Instagram; your offering and/or brand make sense in the channel; and you’ve got a good handle on strategy and design best practices. So now it’s time to bring it all together and build your content pipeline. Or, if you already have an Instagram presence, now might be a good time to think about ways you can push your brand envelope in 2020. Instagram may be a consumer-focused channel, but it could also be a powerful place for you to connect with key audiences that can help drive your goals.
If you need help bringing your B2B brand to life on Instagram, get in touch with us at SketchDeck. We’re always excited to help brands break fresh ground.
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I'm a content professional who migrated to Northern California a few decades after graduating from the College of Communications at the University of Illinois. I market and I write, but I'd rather be biking.