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Instagram. Like Hansel in Zoolander, it’s so hot right now. For teens, it’s so necessary. For brands…it’s so much opportunity.

Should you be gramming? That’s the real question. Don’t jump on board just because you heard Taco Bell is spending millions of dollars advertising on the platform.

First step: Look at your company and ask, “Is this where our audience is?” “Is this where our future audience is?” “Can we provide something interesting to our users via this platform?”

If the answer is no, then let it go. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, so don’t waste your time on a platform that doesn’t connect you to your audience, or allow your brand to shine.

For example, if you’re in the banking or finance industry, your audience probably doesn’t expect you to be posting pictures of spread sheets. But if your company involves retail, food service or lifestyle components, then Instagram might be the perfect platform to influence new audiences and captivate existing audiences with your arsenal of visual imagery.

So how do you, as a brand, use Instagram, and more importantly, how do you WIN?

A great example of a brand using Instagram to gain new audiences and cater to existing audiences is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine jumped on Instagram about a year and a half ago to deliver a fresh perspective and high-quality content to its new and emerging audience. With the joint efforts of an editor and staff photographer, the account has become a robust platform full of behind-the-scenes action shots, city skylines and visual extensions of the print magazine.

The real win is the publication's ability to strategically develop brand voice via visual libraries and audience engagement. Two examples of this are their #fromthedeskof series and #SummerinMSP.

Instagram does not allow outside links to be posted in the content fields, so you have to be creative in goals and calls-to-action. Instagram hashtags function similarly to Twitter hashtags, allowing users to brand a content series, as well as develop a library of all related content. assistant editor, Erin Kincheloe, and photographer, Caitlin Abrams, came up with the concept for #fromthedeskof after seeing what Vogue and other, mostly digital-first properties were finding success with. The concept combined the feel of popular “what’s in their bag?” photography with larger-than-life, in-house editor personalities. The scoop satiated the Instagram user craving for beautiful overhead photography, but also provided an insider look at the people who produce and publish the magazine that the digital content users are already enjoying.

When possible, the photos tagged featured local products, as well as the editors themselves. This grew reach and gave users the bonus of being able to learn more about the products by clicking through to the profile.

The second campaign, #SummerinMSP, was an extension of the June 2014 print publication, which featured an expertly crafted guide to summer in the Twin Cities. The Instagram campaign gave print content a longer lifespan, by releasing new tips and summer guide information every few days. The platform allowed flexibility for new content (not featured in the magazine) to be included as well.

The kicker and real engagement came from asking the audience to share their summer photos by tagging them with #SummerinMSP. Each week a user-generated image was chosen to be regrammed on @MSPmag and to be displayed on In a little over a month, the hashtag had 452 photos associated with it.

(user-generated photos)

So what’s the ROI in campaigns like this? For Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, it’s capturing a new audience. It’s positioning the brand as an expert—not only in what to do and what to eat in the Twin Cities, but as an expert in conversing with the audience, when and how they want to consume information.

Mpls.St.Paul Magazine has thrived in this atmosphere by prioritizing flexibility and experimentation of new strategies.

This isn’t possible in every company, but it is something worth striving toward. If you or your team is eager to dive into Instagram, keep these tips in mind:
  • You’ll need a team (having an editorial component, as well as a visual overseer helps keep voice and tone in check)
  • Define your goals in advance (so you know what the purpose of your mission is when asked)
  • Put metrics to your goals (i.e. Mpls.St.Paul Magazine knows the post is a hit if it receives 15 “likes” in 15 minutes)
  • Make a schedule (test to see what time your audience engages most with your content—for @MSPmag it’s Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays before 11:30 a.m.)
  • Use PERTINENT #hashtags (this allows users to discover your content)
  • Tag photographers, stylists, models, products and other companies featured in photos (to share the love, and help your users find out more info)
  • Make sure superiors have agreed to the voice and tone (so everyone is on the same page)
  • Be flexible
  • Have fun with it

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Carly Reynolds
As MSP-C's campaign development manager, Carly Reynolds manages social media processes and best practices, and develops social-media based campaigns focused on audience development, engagement and revenue generation.She also works with clients to reinforce the integration of social media into overall business strategies and marketing campaigns, assists with email marketing integration, and works to develop lead generation procedures and tactics.
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