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What Marketers Can Learn from Fortune 500 Companies Mastering Instagram

Posted on Jul 6th, 2016
Written by TopRank Marketing
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    With more than 500 million monthly active users and counting, Instagram is growing fast and showing no signs of slowing down. According to eMarketer, Instagram usage is expected to grow 15.1% this year, compared to the 3.1% growth expected for the social network sector as a whole. In addition, eMarketer said the platform will add 26.9 million new users over the next four years.

    What does this mean for marketers? It means that now is the time to explore the platform’s potential for your brand. And looking to some of America’s biggest brands—the Fortune 500—can give you some great insights and inspiration for building your own Instagram strategy.

    Fortune Magazine’s annual Fortune 500 list ranks American companies by revenue. In its 2016 The Fortune 500 Instagram Report, TrackMaven analyzed how these top American brands are using Instagram to uncover the components of top performing posts, the most competitive and effective posting times, and offered up specific examples of brands doing it right. They looked at a year of posting data to compile the report.

    While this report dives into how the big dogs are using Instagram, the beauty of social media is that it’s accessible and effective for even the smallest businesses. Below are some key findings from the report and some tips that can help guide your big or small brand’s Instagram efforts.

    #1 – Instagam adoption among Fortune 500 brands has doubled.

    According to the report, TrackMaven found that 50% of Fortune 500 companies are using Instagram, which is up from 24.6% in 2013. In addition, a 2015 study conducted by the University of Dartmouth found that Instagram usage by Fortune 500 companies now surpasses Google+ and Pinterest.

    With teenagers and millennials being the most active on Instagram, coupled with the huge growth of the platform in general, I think it’s safe to say that Fortune 500 companies are pivoting their strategies to focus on the next generation of consumers—meeting them on their turf.

    Instagram may not be a viable social media platform for every brand, but it should certainly be considered. Determining whether its a good fit will ultimately depend on who your ideal customer and audience is, as well as your business objectives.

    #2 – It’s all about engagement.

    In the report, TrackMaven wrote: “For America’s biggest brands, Instagram is a sheer engagement game, not a reactive, community platform.”

    What exactly does this mean? I believe TrackMaven is suggesting that in order to find success on Instagram you must be present and actively work to draw your audience in. Throwing up any old photo and expecting people to show their enthusiasm with a like or comment isn’t part of a good strategy.

    Be authentic and provide your audience with quality photos and videos that will jump out at them as they scroll through their feed. As for measuring engagement, start with looking at the likes and comments your posts receive, and compile a list of characteristics that your top performing posts have in common. There are a number of free (and paid) tools such as Hootsuite, Simply Measured and Locowise that can help you gain some great insights.

    Also, if you notice that comments are tough to come by, but you’re getting good engagement through likes. Don’t worry. The big brands are seeing that, too. During its research TrackMaven found that 98.9% of Instagram interactions came in the form of likes or “double taps,” with the remaining 1.1% representing comments.

    #3 – Ask questions and use hashtags.

    According to the report, Instagram posts that included hashtags or question marks saw a marginal boost in engagement over those that didn’t have either. In addition, posts that had exclamation marks actually detracted from engagement.

    Asking your audience questions is a great way to encourage engagement and hashtags provide a way for people to find your content, so including them is a must. To find relevant hashtags, search Instagram natively or take advantage of a database such as Hashatit or

    #4 – The best dates and times to post.

    TrackMaven’s research found that Tuesday through Friday were the most common posting times for Fortune 500 brands, with Thursday being the most competitive and accounting for 17.11% of all posts. In addition, 88% of posts were published between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

    The bottom line? There’s a lot of competition during business hours on weekdays. Consider taking advantage of less competitive times, like weekend days. While you’ll probably have less eyeballs on the weekend, you may get better engagement. According to the report, Fortune 500 brands saw the most engagement on their posts on Sundays.

    Examples of Fortune 500 Brands in Action


    TrackMaven ranked Nike as the “Most Popular Brand” on Instagram, boasting 50 million followers and counting.

    “Nike’s Instagram popularity is fueled by brand recognition and stellar Instagram content; the brand averages 469,842 interactions per Instagram photo, twice the average engagement seen by the Starbucks in second place with 212,140 average interactions per post,” the report said.

    Nike uses both colorful images and videos to get the attention of their followers—as well as the athletes they work with and everyday people to inspire fitness. Below is a great example of using a regular person to relate to their audience and inspire engagement.

    Nike Instagram

    Follow Nike on Instagram.


    Publix was given the title of “Most Impressive Instagram Growth,” after launching its account in late 2015 and growing their following to over 30,000 by May 2016. From snack ideas to shoutouts to dads on Father’s Day, Publix connects its posts and products to the regular things that are happening in people’s lives.

    Here’s an example of offering up the idea of an impromptu picnic on International Picnic Day, that garnered more than 500 likes and a couple dozen comments.

    Publix Instagram

    Follow Publix on Instagram.


    Foot Locker

    Foot Locker tied with Live Nation for the honor of “Most Avid Instagrammers.” According to TrackMaven, Foot Locker averaged nearly 3.5 photos a day during the year of study. Many of the posts are product driven, but they also highlight current events in the sports world or pop culture. The example below combines new products with current events, announcing the launch of “Ghostbusters” gear before the reboot of the classic 80s movie hits theaters.

    Footlocker Instagram

    Follow Foot Locker on Instagram.


    Live Nation

    As the winner of “Most Avid Instagrammer,” Live Nation led Fortune 500 brands with the most video posts across the year of study. As a company that puts on music and entertainment events, they bring their audience a sneak peek of what they’ll experience at an event, along with intimate artist interviews.

    LiveNation Instagram

    Follow Live Nation on Instagram.



    While Live Nation produces the most Instagram videos, Disney gets the most engagement on their videos–with more than 7 million video interactions on their video content during the year of study. This video plugging Disney’s latest release “The BFG” posted just two days ago and has already earned more than 224,000 views and more than 660 comments. Their videos can be cute, sweet, funny and most of all, reflect the magic that happens at Disney.

    Disney Instagram

    Follow Disney on Instagram.



    Starbucks took TrackMaven’s “Best All-Around Instagram Account” honor for its large audience, awesome engagement and posting frequency. For me, I think what is so brilliant about their strategy is that it can put a delicious drink in your hand during any activity, holiday or state-of-mind. Take for example this recent post on Independence Day. Not only is the image beautiful and patriotic, but even the drink flavor matches the season and the sentiment.

    Starbucks Instagram

    Follow Starbucks on Instagram.

    Download the full 2016 The Fortune 500 Instagram Report.
    Are you currently using Instagram as part of your social media marketing mix? What tips would you share with other marketers? Tell us in the comments section below.