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Want to Kill it on Instagram? Post Authentic Product Pics

This summer, vodka brand Stolichnaya found the right mix of visual content on Instagram.

As the brand’s director of marketing, Sarah Gorvitz, told Digiday, Stoli used to assume that its Instagram fans wanted to see the same blend of lifestyle and product shots that it runs on Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier this year the brand switched to a more analytical approach and took a close look at how various posts performed. The research prompted an interesting finding: Pictures of Stoli bottles did very well on Instagram. Eventually the brand began adding more and more bottle pics until it settled on a current mix of two-thirds bottle shots.

It might seem odd that fans follow Stoli to get pictures of bottles. However, there’s likely pass-along value for such pics from young fans who want to show that they’re out partying for the night or perhaps to send a friend a pic the way you might send them a drink at a bar.

Ever since Instagram emerged in 2010, brands have been trying to figure out how to best use the platform. Over time, some best practices have emerged that could apply to any social network – tell a story, engage with your fans, use hashtags. While those are all good ideas, as Stoli’s experience shows, it’s clear that at least for some brands, winning on Instagram also requires heavily using product shots rather than “telling a story” with lifestyle posts.

Looking at the Top Brands on Instagram

The top brand on Instagram is Victoria’s Secret with some 21 million fans, according to Social Blade. Of course, that one’s a bit of a red herring since it’s likely that many are tuning in to see models, rather than clothes (a likely contributing factor of VS getting into the Kardashian and Beyonce stratosphere).

Moving on, the rest of the list includes Nike (20.9 million), H&M (9.1 million), Nike Football (9.1 million), Forever 21 (8 million), Adidas Originals (7 million), Louis Vuitton (6.6 million) and Chanel (6.2 million). Clearly, being a fashion and/or athletic brand is a big advantage on the platform.

There’s one thing that all of these feeds have in common: They are all about the product. Admittedly, this is pretty easy to achieve if you’re in these categories – all you have to do is run pics of models and athletes wearing the items.

What do you do if you sell, for instance, soft drinks? Red Bull has accrued a respectable 3.3 million Instagram followers with a feed of action sports photos that more often than not include a Red Bull logo. That’s way more than Coca-Cola, which has a somewhat tougher mission: Trying to convey “happiness” while also providing a subtle plug for the product. Pepsi is also struggling on the platform, but Starbucks is not.

So, What Have We Learned About Instagram?

Why do some established brands do poorly on Instagram while others thrive? Perhaps it’s causation: Millennials don’t think Coke and Pepsi are cool, so they don’t want to follow them on Instagram no matter what they do there.

Instagram marketing data
Data from L2’s Intelligence Report on Instagram Marketing shows product photos get the highest engagement.

On the other hand, running product pics definitely doesn’t hurt. As recent research from L2 and Olapic shows, 65% of the best-performing brand posts on Instagram feature product shots. That compares to 43% for lifestyle. In particular, Patagonia, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Maserati manage to punch above their weight class by supplying a steady stream of product shots, the report notes.

As an added bonus, brands should consider the possibility that what they post in their feeds can prompt fans to post similar content, which can amplify the effect.

As usual though, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. As another L2 Digital IQ report notes, while bottle shots are most popular for liquor brands, for beer brands, a mix of product shots and lifestyle work better. As alcohol purveyors know, there’s more than one way to create a buzz.

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