Instagram has become a formidable force in the social landscape since its $1bn acquisition by Facebook back in 2012. Recently it added even more revenue generation potential to its offering by announcing that it’s opening up its advertising from big brands to businesses of all sizes, with ads now available in 30 more countries globally.

Wild predictions of Instagram’s success include eMarketer’s recent report that the photo sharing platform could exceed $2.8 billion in annual ad revenue by 2017 - a pretty huge jump from the $595m it’s expected to pull in this year.

Is the hype justified? It’s not all good news - brands’ Instagram interaction rates have fallen quite significantly over the last year. But it still outperforms the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest by quite a margin. Figures from last year showed that FMCG brands have the highest Instagram engagement rates overall, followed by household goods.

Initial reports from brands who’ve invested in ads on the platform, which includes launch partners Waitrose and Cadbury, are also encouraging. Across more than 400 campaigns measured globally with Nielsen Brand Effect, ad recall from sponsored posts on Instagram was 2.8x higher than Nielsen’s norms for online advertising.

With stats like these, FMCG marketers who haven’t yet hopped on the Instagram brandwagon or given the platform the attention and investment it deserves, will be wondering if the time is right for them to up their game on Instagram. Maybe it is - but before jumping in, there are a number of considerations to be aware of. Here are my five tips for creating a successful Instagram strategy.

Formulate a bespoke strategy for Instagram
Instagram is a different beast to Facebook and Twitter. For brands to be successful on the platform, they need to be prepared to invest in first class creative assets, and less importance should be placed on copy and links. Paragraphs of text below an image are also a massive turnoff to most users. While Instagram has started to improve its call to action offerings (which I mention below), content on the platform should fully engage the user without it being necessary to travel to an external site. People use Instagram in a different mindset to Twitter and Facebook - as content is harder to skip past (which is part of the reason why you get those great engagement rates) the community is a lot less forgiving to something that doesn’t feel 100% right for the platform.

UGC is your friend
Instagram is the perfect platform for campaigns that allow users to express their creativity, and many brands have seen success by publishing user generated content (UGC); giving greater authenticity to the account and emphasising the two-way relationship expected on social media platforms. For example, we worked with Red Bull to launch its new Editions flavours on Instagram, asking the online community to share their most inspiring pictures from where they lived tagged with the colours of the cans; red, blue or silver. Starbucks’ #whitecupcontest was an Instagram hit, allowing its customers to get creative with their plain white Starbucks cups. And for Bulmers’ first ever brand site, we used the huge bank of UGC the brand had generated on Instagram using the hashtag #livecolourful to form a key part of the design, resulting in a site that was not only socially-led but also one that the community felt a part of.

Set specific profile objectives
Is your current Instagram strategy based around content likes? If so, it’s time to move on. While Instagram might not be as advanced as parent company Facebook when it comes to tracking ROI as well as other business metrics, it is becoming a more sophisticated platform. Instagram now offers new direct-response formats - purchase buttons and interactive ads, as well as expanded targeting options, with help from Facebook. Brands should be considering how to best to use these tools as part of their Instagram strategy and, bringing me onto my next point, tracking them.

Track performance
At the moment, Instagram's official analytics are only available to those investing in ads on the platform. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to measure Instagram performance. Until the platform releases its fully fledged native analytics to all users, using third party software is crucial to gain an understanding what strategy works (and doesn’t work) on the platform. Current tools are able to track follower growth, engagement rates, optimal posting day and time, the most effective hashtags - they can even look at which filters are most engaging for a particular brand. And those brands who are investing in the platform using the direct response formats should be monitoring click throughs and frequency (how many times a user is seeing promoted content in their feed) through Instagram’s analytics. With these metrics tracked over an ongoing period, as well as during campaign activations, brands can tailor their Instagram strategy to specifically meet their objectives.

Be real
Yes, Instagram with its growing portfolio of filters makes the world a prettier place. But, overall our experience is that real world imagery is more impactful than overly retouched studio photography. The best Instagram content should be something the viewer feels a connection to, encouraging an emotional response; whether that’s awe, admiration, desire and so on. If you manage to crack this, you’ll give people a reason to come back for more.