How brands should use Instagram

Speaking at an Instagram event in London yesterday, photographer Adrienne Pitts, Instagram creative strategist Alistair Cotterill and Jade Harwood of knitwear brand Wool and the Gang shared their tips for using the platform, offering advice for brands and creatives on hashtags, comments and content…

Speaking at an Instagram event in London yesterday, photographer Adrienne Pitts, Instagram creative strategist Alistair Cotterill and Jade Harwood of knitwear brand Wool and the Gang shared their tips for using the platform, offering advice for brands and creatives on hashtags, comments and content…

In a discussion chaired by CR’s Patrick Burgoyne, Pitts, a lifestyle and travel photographer based in London with over 83,000 followers, said she uses the site as a visual diary, taking images every day and creating hashtags to curate libraries of her photos which are inspired by a particular place or theme.

Image via @hellopoe (Adrienne Pitts) on Instagram


On whether she has ever been wary of sharing so much of her work online, Pitts said: “I’m happy to share it, I get so much inspiration from what I see and I’ve learned so much from other photographers using the site [for example, how to create a certain effect or take a particular type of shot]. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your knowledge and getting your voice out there,” she added.

Pitts said her account is very much a reflection of who she is and her daily life and, as such, is very different from her commercial portfolio. Nevertheless she has been contacted for commercial work on the basis of her Instagram posts, and is happy to work with brands who fit with the aesthetic and feel of her feed.

Images via @woolandthegang on Instagram


Harwood, who co-founded Wool and the Gang with designer Aurelie Popper and model Elisabeth Sabrier, said the brand’s Instagram photos are taken by an in-house photographer and often tagged with the hashtag ‘share your knits’, which is printed on its packaging (Instagram photos are also featured on the brand’s website, and are being built in to product pages). Wool and the Gang uses its account to start conversations with customers, encouraging them to share knitting tips and photographs of their purchases, said Harwood, and regularly posts images of new products and materials.

Images via @woolandthegang on Instagram

“[When we started Wool and the Gang] we wanted to make knitting feel sexy and cool, and as a visual platform, Instagram was perfect for that. We try to share pictures that we call ‘knit porn’, that make people want to touch our product,” she said, adding: “We always try to have a balance between selling the product and using humour [for example, through pictures of kittens and alpacas], and behind the scenes pictures – people want to see the real people behind your brand.”

Discussing their use of hashtags, Pitts said she will encourage brands to use just one hashtag and one ‘mention’, adding that “audiences know when they are being bombarded” and will “respect your content more” if it is carefully curated. Cotterill agreed, adding that users should only add hashtags that are relevant, rather than simply using multiple ones “for the sake of it.”

Harwood and Pitts also recommended keeping comments on posts “short and sweet”. Cotterill agreed, but said it can depend on the content – “there are no set rules…Humans of New York does some great posts, sometimes with very short comments and sometimes longer ones…it really depends on whether you are adding something [with a longer comment],” he explained.

Image via @hellopoe (Adrienne Pitts) on Instagram

With Instagram still a relatively new platform (founded in 2010), Cotterill said it was very much trial and error and that brands should experiment with their content. The company only launched ads late last year – a risky move after four years without them – but has been working with a handful of brands to test the new feature, and said Cadburys, Film4 and John Lewis had all seen significant results so far.

“I think Instagram can work for any brand – but its about working out who you want to be, establishing a visual voice and making sure you are adding to people’s experience of the platform,” he said. Citing brands who are using it in creative or surprising ways, Cotterill said Hermes was doing great work with video, while Philips has built a strong following by posting photographs that explore the role light plays in people’s lives. “It’s about standing out by fitting in,” said Cotterill, recommending that brands create bespoke content for the site wherever possible, rather than simply repurposing existing imagery.


Philips’ Instagram page


Speakers also recommended a fairly restrained approach to posting – Wool and the Gang posts three to five times a day, said Harwood, but Pitts said that for some users, once a week will suffice. Cotterill recommended a ‘less is more’ approach, adding: “wait until you’ve got something to say and say it well.”


John Lewis’ Instagram page. The retailer has recently been using Ads on Instagram


Despite Instagram’s recommendation that users only share photographs shot on phones, Harwood, Cotterill and Pitts admitted that this was often not the case – and that it was no bad thing. “For a lot of people, this is their biggest audience, so you should share your best work,” said Pitts, while Cotterrill said he was starting to see audiences posting stop-motion animations and illustration as well as mobile photography.

The discussion was followed by a Q&A with designer Paul Smith, who discussed creativity and his love of music and photography, as well as his use of Instagram (Smith has almost 200,000 followers and regularly posts pictures using the hashtag ‘takenbyPaul’. He has also made scarves featuring some of his Instagram pictures). An edited version of his interview and the panel discussion will be published online later this month.

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  • Tom

    Interesting read.

    As someone who actively uses Instagram to share my daily experiences and interesting (I hope) observations, the idea of companies posting curated, edited, and styled images that aren’t that authentic really grates on me—I can go to their polished websites for that.

    I love the idea that through social media I can get to see a glimpse into the life of someone I’ll never normally get to meet but really admire. Sir Paul Smith on Instagram is a brilliant example of this, really adding value to his brand and reputation.

    Those authentic, spontaneous, and ‘behind the scenes’ moments are what made Instagram so great, my worry is that this is fast becoming just another way to shove your logo down people’s throats.

    Be interesting to hear other readers thoughts on this!

  • This is a great article and a super interesting event. Was it organised by you guys?
    Wool and the Gang and Paul Smith are both great examples of how to grow a community around a brand message and proposition. Well done!

  • Kay

    ‘I love the idea that through social media I can get to see a glimpse into the life of someone I’ll never normally get to meet but really admire.’

    Tom, I was shocked to discover I could follow people I really admire and get glimpses of their personality and daily life. I’ve been inspired by so many artists, everyday people, friends, random connections.
    It brings the global community closer – into the palm of my hand.

    I really can’t say how shocked I was to be able to follow people I usually only get to read about online.
    Eye opening, unimaginable and slightly worrying that I know more from a few months on instagram than I have ever accessed in the last 15 years of a love affair with Korean Culture and Arts.

  • Christian Santilli

    This was a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Instagram because I currently use Instagram for my job. It gave me some great insight on how I can utilize the social media platform better. My favorite part was about establishing a voice for the brand which I think could be difficult. I really hope that Instagram can keep the steam going because it is such a great app.

  • At over 280K followers, are a great use case for growing followers, hashtag use, and even further – recycling submissions from users (who have themselves reiterated the hashtag – #adventuremobile in this case). It is a lifestyle brand (don’t think they would be mad at that characterisation) so lends itself to instagram – rather than an established name like Phillips…

  • A very interesting read, thank you.

    We’re new to Instagram so it’s interesting to see how others approach and manage their accounts. It’s always nice to see accounts that are considered and themed in some way.

    We use our account for brand awareness and development. We aim to create an understanding of our partnership by presenting images of colour combinations (often two contrasting colours) to represent us as individuals and how we complimant each other’s style and approach when we work together.

    Instagram allows us to constantly question and evolve our brand whilst having a bit of fun too.