Image: GettyImages/Poike

In past decades, catchy radio jingles, in-print ads and prime-time commercials may have provided ample marketing coverage, however, the emergence of social media has transformed traditional audience engagement and brand familiarity strategies. While many companies may have a presence on larger platforms a la Facebook or even YouTube, Instagram offers comparative advantages and opportunities for companies to consider. Even though the platform landed on to the social media scene more than a decade ago, it’s not too late for companies to consider jumpstarting their ‘gram brand.

“Although Instagram shares similar features with rapid content sharing platforms like TikTok and Snap, its DNA shares roots with social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, making it an ideal place for cultivating sustained and recurring engagement from the followers,” said Mike Yao, digital media department head professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who teaches an online course on digital media and marketing strategies.

Social media platforms by the numbers

At the moment, there’s no shortage of social media options to choose from, although some platforms boast larger audiences than others. Overall, Facebook and YouTube are two of the most popular social media platforms, with 69% and 81% of U.S. adults saying they use Facebook and YouTube, respectively, according to Pew Research Center data.

Interestingly, 40% of adults say they use Instagram, per Pew, and while this may be a marked dip from the top two, it’s a noticeable uptick from the percentage of U.S. adults who say they use LinkedIn (28%); the popular networking and social media platform for professionals.

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Comparatively, Instagram’s core user base tends to be younger adults. Among U.S. adults 65 and older, 50% said they use Facebook and that number drops to 13% for Instagram, according to Pew data. However, 71% of adults 18 to 29 and 48% of people 30 to 49 said they use Instagram, per Pew.

“Most of these individuals are in businesses today, and most use Instagram to connect with companies they like. If your company isn’t on Instagram, you are likely missing out on sales, leads and active followers,” said Randy Hlavac, who teaches digital, social, and mobile marketing at Northwestern University and also teaches a related course online on Coursera.

Emphasizing similar sentiments, Yao said, “targeting young adults and establishing an early presence among them on a platform that they are familiar with has long-term benefits,” regardless of a company’s product or business type.

“For B2B companies, being on Instagram is like being a member of the community. It should be less about generating traffic and sales short term but more about building trust and familiarity,” Yao said.

Although Instagram’s reputation may not have the professional appeal of sites like LinkedIn, where companies and workers routinely share company updates, career news and even apply for positions, the social platform still offers an opportunity for tech and B2B brands.

“Although I think LinkedIn may still be a must-have platform for IT, software, and B2B companies, Instagram offers a safe space for these brands to safely experiment with creative content and social media marketing strategies at a low cost with minimal risk to brand reputation,” Yao said.

Additionally, Yao said Instagram is “mainstream enough” to reach “millennial professionals,” and the “highly visual content can allow brands to build a hip and refreshing persona.”

Daily and weekly viewing habits

With adults juggling numerous social media apps, it’s also important to take a look at daily and weekly engagement data. According to Pew data, 70% of U.S. adults use Facebook on a daily basis and 17% use the site weekly, compared with the number of adults who say they use YouTube on a daily (54%) and weekly basis (29%); for perspective, 59% of U.S. adults use Instagram on a daily basis and 21% use the platform weekly.

This mixed bag of viewing habits may make it difficult for companies to choose either a more limited approach with weekly posts or a more frequent strategy with multiple daily uploads. Hlavac said companies should focus on consistency.

“Most companies confuse creating content and marketing their content on Instagram. If you create content, you should market it aggressively on Instagram over a period of weeks. Then, wait a month, and do it again,” Hlavac said. “While Instagram’s market is broad, each message or content posting will only reach a small portion of your target market.

Strategies to keep in mind

Building a brand from scratch on social media may seem like a daunting task to companies new to Instagram. But there are a number of strategies to keep in mind when building a social media following from the ground up.

“The key is to determine the type of relationship you want to develop with your Instagram audience. Are you trying to sell them online [social commerce]? Are you trying to generate a lead? Are you trying to build a follower base within an industry?” Hlavac said.

“Each is a different type of social media marketing strategy, and each requires you to customize your Instagram feed to the market you want to develop,” he continued.

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Beyond setting early parameters on the general objectives, Yao suggested companies take time to “consider the impacts of communication context” and ensure that the company’s “marketing goals, the communication goals, the message/content, and the platform are strategically aligned.”

“Social media marketing is much more than creating memes and posting on Instagram,” Yao said.

“Start slow and small. Cultivate a small but supportive community first before growing the influence,” he continued. “Building a successful social media campaign is like comedians telling a good joke; it may seem spontaneous and effortless, but it takes lots of preparation, trial and error, and practices to make it work.”

Being fashionably late is OK

While many companies have a firm footprint on Instagram, many organizations still do not have a presence on the social media platform. More than a decade after the platform’s inception, some companies may feel as though they are too late to join. After all, there is a difference between being on time, fashionably late or just late to the party altogether.

Neither of the representatives we spoke with felt it was too late for companies to sign up. When posed the idea of being too late to the ‘gram party, Yao said he didn’t believe the platform had “become too crowded for new brands to establish a presence.”

“It is NEVER too late,” Hlavac said. “Any of your target markets is looking for consistent, relevant and timely content to help them in their careers. Just start, stay with it, and understand what they are discussing.”