With its flattering filters, everyone can be a professional photographer on Instagram. Users clearly like the idea of creating their own art because there are 500 million users who post 95 million posts every day. Businesses have caught on to this trend because 70.7 percent of brands are projected to use as part of their social media strategy by the end of 2017. This means that it is especially crucial make yourself heard there, particularly if you want to reach younger audiences. (The majority of users are between the ages of 18 and 29.)

From Amateur Photographer to Digital Marketer

Before my previous position doing marketing at an education not for profit, I did not have much experience with Instagram. I did not have the app installed on my phone, nor did I understand just how powerful a storytelling tool it would be.

However, I did see its potential when I noticed that while the organization had an Instagram account with beautiful pictures, I could count on both hands the number of picture they posted on the account. And this was not due to a lack of quality photographs. The organization consistently had professional photographers take wonderful candid photographs of the students we served. The challenge was how to spin these pictures into a relevant and interesting story.

Building a Brand Persona

As I said before, I was not an early adopter of Instagram, so I did not know the difference between telling story and posting pictures into thin air. So I did my homework.

I decided to research how companies who did not necessarily sell a product or service that people find exciting (TurboTax, UPS) made themselves interesting and appealing on this channel. The two companies took opposite but equally effective approaches. While TurboTax branded itself as trendy and young by sharing highly filtered pictures of food, scenery, and young people enjoying life, UPS branded itself as service oriented with pictures of proud employees in uniforms and company facts. Establishing these distinct personalities allowed these brands to have a personality, and I realized that I needed to establish this same personality for my own organization.

Telling My Brand’s Story

Next, I looked at the Instagram profiles of other major education non-profits (City Year, Teach for America) to see how they shared their story and one consistent trend I saw in both profiles was that they both used pictures conveyed joy and excitement and that it would be in my organization’s best interest to do something similar.

Fortunately, we had a lot of high quality photographs of our students genuinely experiencing the joy of learning. The organization mentors middle school students from under resources areas by hosting after school programs with corporate volunteers from companies. For example, someone from Google might teach a group of sixth graders how to build an app. We have photographers coming into these sessions who photograph the students learning, and so many of these photographs capture both the joy on the students faces as well as the bonds they form with these mentors. A picture is worth 1000 words and these photographs spoke of joy and excitement.

In our Facebook and Twitter campaigns, we emphasize the benefits of mentoring, but not the joy, and after looking at those photographs, I decided to use Instagram to tell that part of the story and to use Instagram to fill in a piece of the puzzle that I did not even know was missing.

 Liking the Results

This tactic worked. In three months, we received a lot of positive feedback on the photographs and doubled the number of followers from 100 to 200 with increasing. The main take aways from this example are: 1. That Instagram is a great to attract new audiences, 2. developing a persona with your Instagram account will help you tell a story, and 3. Use it to tell a part of your story that pictures can tell better than words. Use these tips and you’ll master the art of Instagram.