Instagram has long since passed the point of being a place to browse heavily filtered shots of beaming selfies, soft-focus flat whites and avocado toast, although there’s still plenty of that to be had. With users numbering in the hundreds of millions, Insta is a popular target for brands to express themselves visually.

But unless you’re Kylie Jenner or Cristiano Ronaldo, going viral on Instagram is easier said than done. People are often skeptical of brands on social media, and the vast majority of the most-liked Insta pictures of all time relate to celebrities having babies or getting engaged, or big news from superstar sporting legends.

For most of us, achieving Instagram likes in the millions for a branded post may seem out of reach – but that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Read on to discover five lessons to be learned from some of the most successful branded Insta posts… 

01. Get an influencer endorsement

For two months in 2016, the most-liked Instagram post was an advert for Coca-Cola (above). Granted, it was posted by global superstar Selena Gomez, who comes with over 140 million followers attached – but it’s still an advert, and carefully art directed as such. It has almost 7 million likes to date.

The shot was taken by noted fashion photographer Guy Aroch, and features Gomez sipping from a Coke bottle with some of her lyrics on the label. “When we compose a shot like this, it feels real and authentic as well as complementary to the symmetrical Coke bottle,” James Sommerville, Coke’s VP of global design said at the time.

Of course, while the art direction is impeccable and Gomez looks… like Gomez, those factors pale into insignificance next to the value of leveraging a savvy celebrity endorsement in the first place. Sure, Selena Gomez may be a little out of reach for the average brand campaign, but the lesson here is to find an influencer who resonates with your target market.

02. Have a witty take on current events

As a brand, LEGO is incredibly smart about turning product placement and advertising into entertainment in its own right – just look at the success of the LEGO Movie franchise for evidence. Its Instagram feed is no different, packed with pop culture references and witty takes on current events, all expressed through those distinctive plastic bricks.

So when millions around the world were talking about the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, you bet LEGO had a piece of the action – including a highly impressive life-sized carriage made from LEGO bricks, and a quirky little animation (above) of the happy couple, which to date has garnered over 150,000 views.

03. Actually stand for something

At its core, the Airbnb brand is all about experiencing new places in a more authentic way – living like a local. Accordingly, its Instagram feed is primarily used to inspire and entice followers to explore and travel more, using user-generated photos to sell the Airbnb experience.

Its 2017 #WeAccept campaign, however, embraced a deeper, very topical message, expressing the brand’s acceptance and welcoming spirit for those from all manner of backgrounds. While many brands prefer to shy away from anything too political in case of backlash, Airbnb nailed its colours to the mast.

The campaign stated that anyone should be welcome in an Airbnb, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or beliefs – and shared 12 diverse people’s stories. Against a backdrop of widespread discussion of immigration, particularly in the States, this stance definitely resonated, with over 100,000 views of the launch video, and  between 4,000 and 15,000 likes for each story.

04. Provide a compelling experience

A brand like GoPro is something of a gift when it comes to engaging, immersive video content to post to a platform like Instagram – and it doesn’t disappoint. Like Airbnb, the account takes full advantage of user-generated content to show off all manner of experiences and adventures. 

You’ll struggle to find a product photo here – it’s all about showing, not telling; a lesson many brands could apply. Their ‘photo of the day’ and ‘video of the day’ contests keep content rolling in, and enable GoPro to keep a finger on the pulse of how people are using their cameras, and what they’re passionate about. 

That distinctive first-person perspective makes it truly immersive and compelling, as well as unmistakably ‘GoPro’ in flavour. One particularly successful recent post (above) shows high-adrenaline highlights from the winning run at the UCI Cycling DH World Cup 2018 – with over 650,000 views of the suspension-shaking ride to date.

05. Build up anticipation before a launch

One of the most popular brands on Instagram, with almost 80 million followers – just over half of those commanded by the mighty Selena Gomez – Nike has a reputation for creative, unique takes on its Insta posts, including product launches.

By way of example, the post to announce the new Nike Epic React shoe came in two parts to build anticipation – the first, posted on 22 January 2018, a month before the official launch date – featured a conceptual, stylised image (above) designed primarily to entice and intrigue: “The inspiration for a running innovation that feels like this (without actually looking like this).” 

In the image, the ‘shoe’ was a mannequin foot cushioned by three layers of foam, a pillow and some heavy-duty springs, all duct-taped together. It definitely caught the eye, and garnered almost half a million likes. 

This set the stage for the official concept video the following day, which to date has clocked up over 6.5 million views. Proof that when you do talk about your products on your branded Insta feed, if you do it thoughtfully and conceptually – rather than just doing the hard sell – you can still engage and excite people.

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