Four hundred million active users. Eighty million posts per day. You need more than a pretty picture to get noticed on Instagram. We asked those who have figured it out to show us how it’s done.
Joanna Huang is the digital marketing manager for Off the Grid (@offthegrid, a network of food trucks and street food vendors in San Francisco, which boasts nearly 32,000 Instagram followers. “A perfect Instagram post is one that embodies an experience,” she says, “whether it's a close up of a food item that shows the many ingredients that go into the dish or a ‘food in the air’ photo that captures the food and the sense of atmosphere a viewer can expect.”
1. Put your best photo forward
“Your photos will do best if you find the right lighting and use no filter,” adds Huang. “No-filter photos possess a certain authenticity, since it's the object in raw form with no simulated effects hiding anything.”
2. Don’t neglect the story
Focus on photos, but don't forget about the quality of your copy. The best Instagram posts, according to Gavin Kaysen, chef and owner of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, include good lighting and good stories. Kaysen runs his own personal Instagram (@gavinkaysen), which has nearly 24,000 followers, and he delegates the Spoon and Stable account (@spoonandstable), which has just over 17,000 followers. “I grow my page by sharing my daily life through food and the dishes we create at Spoon and Stable,” he says.
“We like to give an insider's look into menu items we're developing, events that are held at the restaurant and even the chefs and staff behind the magic,” says Callan Polmer, director of events and marketing at Faith & Flower (@faithandflower) in Los Angeles, which has just over 8,000 followers on Instagram. “Asking a question in the post always gets a lot of tags and reposts.”
3. Decide on a goal
What message do you want visitors to receive from your Instagram page? Do you want to be the fun restaurant? The sophisticated bar? Having a branding goal will help determine what your posts should look like.
“We have posts that are either entertaining or enticing,” says Teddy Heidt, brand communications specialist at Chicago-based Protein Bar (@theproteinbar), with 10,000-plus Instagram followers. “We switch between posts that are funny and entertaining, such as memes, and enticing posts that show really sexy food-porn style shots of our food.”
4. Track and engage
“We continually inspire engagement by tracking what our customers respond to,” says Huang. “Our Instagram followers have an extreme sweet tooth, so desserts always generate a lot of reactions. We hold contests, giving away cool things. Throughout the week, we make sure to check out all the photos with our events' geotags and engage with our customers. While staying on brand, we also try to engage in trending topics, especially when they’re Bay Area-focused.”
Polmer reminds fellow restaurateurs to interact with your clients and friends, “They are, after all, the fabric of your operation, and your absolute best source of advertisement,” she says. “It's important to encourage a genuine correspondence. Guests are thrilled when we repost their images and respond to their requests.”
“Quality images and thought-provoking content will encourage people to engage,” says Heidt. “Have a well-thought-out plan, whether that means you post twice a week or every day, it’s figuring out what works best for you. At the same time, understand that some content will really make a splash while other posts will just keep you top of mind. It’s all about the balance and knowing your audience.”
5. Follow back
Terry Heller, owner of L.A.’s Plan Check Kitchen + Bar (@PlanCheck), has an Instagram following of 16,400, thanks in part to previous partnerships and collaborations. “We’ve gotten to know our guests really well over the last four years,” says Heller. “Have fun engaging with your followers and commenters. It helps to follow frequent commentators and like their photos in order to establish a fluid rapport.”
6. Use hashtags
“The hashtag is your friend,” says Heidt. “When we first started building our Instagram, hashtags were very important in terms of getting our message out there. Then as you build your audience, you can take some hashtags out and use them to target more specific audiences. There are so many more people you can reach simply by following what the buzz hashtag is that day or week.”
Huang agrees, adding, “Use the Instagram search tool to find how popular a hashtag is to make sure you're not the only one using it.”