Social Media Breakfast Madison

SMB’s February “Ultimate Instagram Smackdown” provided the strategy you need to succeed on the world’s most visually-focused social platform. The Hiebing Group shared a presentation both inspiring and informative, which showcased the power of the image in the marketing mix.

As the presenters shared, Instagram (IG) gets all the value-add of Facebook with the additional bonus of solid organic reach (for now). It also provides a unique opportunity to set your brand up for aesthetically strategic success if you plan appropriately.

To make it work for you, Hiebing’s Sara Tetzloff, Katie Helscher and Garth Beyer presented us with a four-point methodology.

Instagram 4 step plan

  1. Start with strategy

Sara Tetzloff kicked off the presentation with a logical place to start: Strategy. “It’s the foundation of the plan or campaign,” she said. “It sets the stage, and without it, you’ll wonder what’s right?”

It starts with setting your platform goals and specific metrics. It’s not just numerics, however. “You want to determine how your brand story will translate into the visual medium,” Sara said.

This involves everything from the cadence (how much or how little will you post) to creating a style guide, complete with brand guidelines. That includes backgrounds, fonts, hashtags, emojis and more — all of which requires buy-in from the client, so there are no surprises.

Style guides help build the beautiful feed

As was noted in a previous SMB presentation on social media policy, these types of guidelines actually empower creativity. Your creative team knows its boundaries, and now it can work within those parameters.

With the strategy established, Tetzloff said the result will be a “beautiful” feed. “It will be fun to look at, fun to scroll through. There will be a consistent look and feel on the platform.”

Next, use that style guide to plan ahead with a publishing schedule. Establish a series of “content buckets”, and then use those to fill gaps on the calendar. All this upfront work will make deadlines easy to hit and reduce the stress of having to come up with last-minute creative ideas.

Instagram Style Guide

  1. Create the thumb-stopping content

Katie stepped into the ring with information for creating the Instagram content that will keep those thumbs at bay long enough to be sucked into the content. (Those in the over 40 crowd may substitute “index-finger stopping” for “thumb-stopping.”)

She walked us through a few tactics:

Tactic 1 – concept…then create. Keep your target in mind as you begin to create content. This is about who you’re trying to reach, and how you can inspire them. People aren’t on Instagram as much to be informed as they are to be entertained.

With that in mind, concept them create. Discuss ideas long before the shoot. “Sketch out concepts,” Katie said. “It will make the shooting go that much smoother.”

Sketch to Post

Tactic 2 – Create a shot list. Stay one step ahead of the game with a detailed shot list. Be detail-oriented, but not rigid. Be flexible enough so that if you’re inspired by what’s happening in the moment, you can take advantage.

Milkshake and sunsetNote the milkshake framed by the sunset. The photographer was inspired by the light and the moment during a photo shoot. “Always be rolling,” Katie advises.

Tactic 3 – Consider video and motion.  Katie shared a few amazing shots in which video was integrated into the picture. The takeaway is to put animation and stop motion to work as budget will allow.

Tactic 4 – Find the right props and backdrops. Step outside the box and take advantage of scenery and seasonality. Think also about when you will be posting. Do you want someone featured in a shot wearing open-toed sandals when the post will go up in February?

Tactic 5 – Think about the lighting. Lighting is going to be a big factor in the quality of your shots. Find rooms with natural light, and plan for the best time of the day. You can experiment with a wide range of lighting effects. For example, Katie said they once incorporated an LED bike light into a shot.

She also shared some Instagram editing tools:

Dramatic superzoom
Stop – motion

Living planet

URL optimization
Link tree

Stories: Creating the long-form content

Much like longer blog posts are more likely to be engaged with, Instagram Stories work the same way. Unlike single photos, Stories draw people in.  “They’re more than a blip on the radar,” Garth said.

He talked about a number of different story tactics, including:

  • Put your brand on the map by using geographic specific hashtags
  • Experiment with easy-to-use polls to engage your followers
  • Create engaging GIFs from your images
  • Use IG’s “Go Live” feature, especially to engage influencers
  • Keep the journey going by using “Swipe Up” features that allow you to add links to other content
  • Support the Stories with other posts driving traffic to them

Instagram Stories

  1. Cultivate the community

You’ve spoken. Or at least, you’ve posted. Now to truly cultivate a community of followers, it’s your turn to listen.

Listen to community. See how they’re reacting to your posts. Engage with your community and build on their questions. Reach out to people who have posted, and communicate with them. This is a great way to build relationships (although Katie cautioned you should always vet the person.)

These types of interactions can truly build community. Katie shared an example of a user-generated post of a girl eating a Culver’s ice cream cone. Culver’s reached out to the dad who posted the picture with some freebies, and the dad wrote an appreciative post in return.

Engage your community to create their own content with promotions. The more they engage, the more you win.

Cultivate community

  1. Measure to gauge success and establish benchmarks

Now we’ve arrived at the measurement point, in which we determine if our IG content is meeting the pre-established strategy. A few key notes Sara passed along:

Have an “always-be-testing” mindset. You’re going to learn new insights about your target along the way. Test, learn, revise and move forward.

Measure Instagram against goals and objectives that have substance. Drill down into the metrics that IG provides, and think about what you’re trying to achieve. Are you reaching the right people? Are there certain days your followers are more active? What types of content is generating the most response?

Take your cues to revise your strategy and revisit your content. This is all a work in progress, much like social media as a whole. Hiebing’s 4-step plan for success is a fantastic framework for you to build your own Instagram following. But it’s up to you to take it, run with it, and learn from it.

Have questions? Feel free to reach out to Sara (, Katie ( or Garth (


This post was written by Greg Mischio, the Owner and Strategic Director of Winbound. Winbound provides an all-in-one content marketing and conversion optimization package specifically designed for small marketing departments. Twitter: @gregmischio