Trending Titans: 6 Lessons Taught by Instagram’s Biggest Brands


These days, snapping photos is second nature, and having a social media presence isn’t just recommended – it’s essential. And though Facebook and Twitter remain king and queen, Instagram is quickly rising in prominence as social media’s place-to-be.

It’s no surprise, then, that Instagram is home to some of the largest brands in the world, many of which have accrued millions and millions of followers within Instagram’s population of over 400 million users.

It’s true: big brands have an advantage based on their existing stature and reputation, and these factors probably have a lot to do with how these brands attracted their Instagram following.

However, it’s clear that they’re doing a heck of a lot to keep these followers around and stay relevant in a platform ruled primarily by individuals (77 of Instagram’s top 100 accounts are athletes or celebrities). We’ve picked a few of the platform’s top brands (namely Nike, H&M, and the NBA) and put together advice any entrepreneur can apply – whether your business is tiny or titanic – while embarking on an Instagram adventure.

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Nike (49.4 million followers)

Business Takeaway #1: You are more than your product

Athlete. Running. Just do it. These are words that come to mind when people hear “Nike”, and it’s the image the brand has worked hard to create and maintain since its inception in 1971. Every post on its Instagram page reinforces the idea that Nike is the go-to brand for athletes who are serious about their sport. Because of this, the brand’s products – though present in most shots – take a back seat to the Instagram page’s real stars: the athletes.

It’s this human quality of Nike’s photos that allows it to succeed in associating its brand with an ideal or lifestyle that resonates with its target market. By showing us the people – the life – behind your products, you have the opportunity to sell a lifestyle that’s sure to attract new followers every day.

Business Takeaway #2: Quality is everything

Catch of the Day. #justdoit

A photo posted by nike (@nike) on

This seems like a no-brainer – and it should be – but you’d be surprised at the number of brands that can’t seem to get it right when it comes to taking a great photo. Unfortunately, people aren’t likely to click a photo on the Explore feed that looks like it was taken by somebody’s water-damaged Motorola Razr (no offence to any flip phone aficionados).

Though you might be inclined to think big brands like Nike have a huge advantage when it comes to quality photography – you’d be wrong.

You can fake it ‘til you make it with a great location, a new smartphone and a steady hand. Apps like VSCO and Enlight make it easy to take the photos you’ve snapped on your iPhone from great to gorgeous, and will help your business exude professionalism.

H&M (14.5 million followers)

Business Takeaway #3: Have a “signature”

What’s your everyday must-haves? #HM??

A photo posted by H&M (@hm) on

We all know that tone is important when it comes to things like writing copy; why should it be any different for Instagram? Though this means keeping captions consistent in terms of voice, it also means making sure your photos remain visually similar to each other.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, but the above example is a great one. The way H&M composes its photos is unmistakable; they often feature outfits laid out or hung up with a theme of similar, vibrant colours. It’s their way of letting you know, in the midst of the frenzied scrolling through your Instagram feed, that you’re looking at something that’s undeniably H&M.

So, whether it’s a recurring theme (we like pandas), a familiar backdrop, or a specific filter, having an Instagram “signature” is a good way to help your brand maintain individuality and stand out in a crowded feed.

Business Takeaway #4: Recognize the people behind the products

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a brand post a photo of people without tagging a single one. On one hand, I get it: at the end of the day, it’s a company’s job to sell the product, and somebody needs to wear the shoe/watch/jacket they’re selling.

On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to tag these people in the photo or caption; trust me, it goes a long way towards making photos feel a lot more personal, which will help relate customers to your brand. H&M does a great job of keeping their models at the forefront of their posts, as you can see in the above examples.

NBA (15.7 million followers)

Business Takeaway #5: Moments can be magical

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, so assuming they’re right (and inflation hasn’t yet taken its toll on the value of a photograph), videos are worth millions. As much as I’ve talked about the importance of quality and composition, sometimes those things can be put aside to make room for some truly magical moments, like the one above.

Don’t be afraid to use video on your profile. It can be a very powerful tool, especially now that the platform allows videos up to one minute. Do, however, try to save it for moments worth more than a thousand words. Your audience is much more likely to take a few seconds to glance at a photo than a minute to watch a video.

Business Takeaway #6: Embrace pop culture

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

As you can see in the photo above, even the NBA isn’t too big to piggyback (that was a Hodor joke) on whatever that flavour of the month is – and neither are you! Finding ways to craft and insert clever – and relevant – references to the season’s biggest pop culture trends is an easy way to reach new audiences through hashtags and accounts associated with your reference of choice.

Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it – make sure your feed is still comprised primarily of original content – but take these opportunities to have a little fun with your brand while increasing brand awareness.


That’s it for today’s post! These are just three of the millions of accounts on Instagram today, and I hope to cover quite a few more in the future. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments section below, along with any Instagram accounts you think are doing inventive things in marketing!


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