Last week, we looked at what sets Instagram aside from other social networks. Here we delve into what Instagram, and its recent changes, mean for brands.

In particular, we look its recently-announced plans to roll out carousel ads globally following a successful introduction last year in the US.

The first use of paid ads were introduced by Instagram in 2013, and it has been a drip-feed process, with many users even now only having seen a couple of ads on their feed. This is wise, considering the dedicated and passionate community of users Instagram has fostered. The carousel ads mean that a brand can pay to publish a set of images which users can scroll sideways to flip through, rather than just one image at a time. Instagram has stated that this means that brands can share more images in the manner of a multi-page print campaign, in order to ‘tell more complete stories.’

However, carousel ads, and indeed Instagram ads at all are, for the moment, out of reach for all but the biggest multinational brands. But this doesn’t mean that brands of any size can’t learn from Instagram’s advice for businesses, and the recent practices of big brands.

In fact, Locowise’s April 2015 findings show that brands organic growth and engagement is still standing firm on Instagram, with organic follower growth at around 2.3% compared with 0.18% on Facebook, and average engagement levels of around 2.81% (with some brands even pushing 6.1%) compared to 0.2% on Twitter.

We’ve pinpointed five guidelines to help your brand generate organic growth and engagement on Instagram.

Tell the whole of the story

The idea of using different images to tell a story can be utilised without paying for carousel ads. Creating a relationship between images; be it different items in an outfit, ingredients in a recipe, or members of a team, will have your audiences anticipating the next post and being reminded of the last. Some retailers have been doing this well by showing the products being handmade, or staff out on location sourcing materials.

Get in sync with your audience

Use Instagram to find out what your audience likes and what they’re posting about, and then use what they engage with to propel your posts. This has been done successfully by a US brand, Chobani Yogurts, which realised that its Instagram followers were more inspired by images of healthy recipes involving the product that they could attempt themselves than product launches, offers, etc. This has led to incredibly successful hashtag campaigns, where their audience create and share recipe ideas.

Stay exclusive

Instagram allows you to post content that nobody else has access to, from your point-of-view. There’s no point posting visual ads that you’re using elsewhere as that creates no draw for your audience to follow you. Instead, post things that they’d never be able to find anywhere else. It’s for this reason that celebrities gain vast follower bases. Remember - Instagram is about building relationships rather than about converting.

Show behind the curtain

The level platform of Instagram puts you on an equal footing with your audience. This means it can be used to humanise your brand, show how things work and what goes on behind the scenes, and to shine a spotlight on the less well-known aspects of your brand, be it a manufacturing process, the people involved, or how your product reaches its customers.

Find the excitement

This is particularly relevant for brands that provide an essential service, or a product that isn’t traditionally the most enthralling. General Electric, a US power supplier, has utilised Instagram to display the most striking uses of its power; from wind farms to huge jets and trains storming across dramatic landscapes.

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