How 4 Top Instagram Brands Keep Their Competitive Advantage


We are all aware of the “best in class” Instagram brands — like National Geographic and GoPro. They have enormous, highly engaged followings (we talk about them further here and here).

Today, I wanted to pivot away from National Geographic and GoPro to focus on four other extremely successful brands on Instagram: Audi, Forever 21, Patagonia, and Vans. I’ve narrowed my selection down to these four from a list of 35 best-in-class brands, choosing those with the largest audiences and highest engagement levels. These brands represent a variety of industries and product types, but their successes on Instagram can guide every brand’s content strategy.

Patagonia’s partnerships help build an engaged community on Instagram

Patagonia excels on Instagram for a number of reasons. For one, they have strategic partnerships with photographers and adventurers like MikeyLikesRocks and Austin Siadak. In fact, eight of Patagonia’s top 10 most engaging posts from the last 90 days mentioned one of their partners. And there’s data to back this up — Instagram captions that include a user handle receive 56 percent more interactions.

Patagonia is also an active geo-tagger. Out of their top 20 most engaging posts, 10 were geo-tagged. According to Hootsuite, posts tagged with a location see a 79 percent increase in engagement.

Takeaways from Patagonia: Geo-tag your content when possible and mention relevant accounts to increase engagement.

Forever 21 makes their Instagram account about more than clothes

Forever 21 has one of the largest audiences on Instagram, with over 9.5 million followers and an average of over 137,000 interactions, including likes and comments, per image. So, which strategies work for this fashion brand?

Surprisingly, the majority of Forever 21’s top content doesn’t include images of clothes. Out of their top 20 most engaging Instagram posts, 13 did not capture clothes or accessories. Instead, these posts included four photos of painted nails, two of desserts, and two of skylines, among other subjects.

What strategies don’t work for Forever 21? That would be text-over-image sales posts. The posts below are two of the five least engaging pieces of content posted by Forever 21 over the past three months. If you’re a retailer,try to avoid these types of posts.

Takeaway from Forever 21: Your content doesn’t have to be directly related to the products you sell to perform well.

Audi creates emotional connections through their Instagram captions

Audi excels at eliciting an emotional response from Instagram followers through their captions. Their top performing pieces of content include statistics that invoke feelings of excitement and fearlessness. Below are two examples that were among their 15 most engaging posts from the last 90 days.

Captions consisting of short sentences that include statistics can create a powerful impact, regardless of what emotion you are aiming to invoke. In addition to Audi’s use of statistics, there’s one more theme I noticed in their content — the use of red in their images. Four of Audi’s top 10 most engaging posts on Instagram used the color red (often in coordination with black).

Takeaways from Audi: Use statistics in your captions to evoke an emotional response from your followers and consider incorporating a bright focal color into your images.

Vans keeps it simple

The top content from Vans keeps it simple. Their most successful Instagram posts are images of Vans shoes — or the marks they leave behind — in different seasons. Their top content avoids all distractions by excluding people or any other objects in the image.

When the brand attempted to share Instagram photos that included people or events they sponsored, there was a drastic dip in engagement. Here’s an example of one of their posts that performed below average:

Takeaway from Vans: Simplicity works!

What you can learn from these top Instagram brands

Let’s go a step further and look at what we can learn from how frequently these brands publish. The majority of these brands are posting photos once per day, with the exception of Forever 21, which is the most active of the four brands.

For these four brands, videos are scarce compared to the number of photos published. With the exception of Patagonia’s two videos, these brands have only published one video each in the past month. This isn’t surprising given that photos generate 36 percent more likes than videos on Instagram, according to Hootsuite.

What times of day worked best for these top Instagram brands?

Of the posts published in the last 90 days, those published between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. EST, were the most impactful.

However, if you take a look at the last 30 days, you see that content published between 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST performed the best. This could indicate that these four brands have seen change in the best times of day to post on Instagram, or that both the morning and the afternoon are both good times to post.

Takeaways: Aim to post on Instagram once per day, share more images than videos, and experiment with publishing in the mornings and afternoons.

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