With 500 million daily users, the marketing appeal of Instagram is hard to ignore, but any organic reach is saturated. Discovery, engagement and conversion can feel hit or miss among a sea of photo filters, but it doesn’t have to be—and it all starts with mindset.

“Treating Instagram as if you’re communicating with somebody you understand,” Tania Yuki, founder and CEO of Shareablee, told AListDaily. “This is probably the most useful head space shift from a marketing perspective.”

Set The Tone

“The experience of Instagram is like having a friend show you something that they find fantastic,” said Yuki. “Instagram is really about show and tell. It’s about experiences and it’s about the things you won’t find on the storefront—and probably won’t even find on the website.”

Instagram is, first and foremost, a photo-sharing site—so marketers need to consider the visual elements of a campaign up front.

“It definitely starts with the image,” Yuki said. “We’ve observed really big differences on how advertisers communicate with text alongside the image and whether they’re using hashtags to make sure the content is discoverable when people search. From a discovery standpoint, [hashtags] are incredibly important.”

“As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, ” Robert Rose, chief content advisor for Content Marketing Institute told AListDaily. “A wonderful picture can simply tell an emotional story in a very intimate way.”

Yuki described an “always on” strategy in which brands combine both organic and paid posts across Instagram. The site offers many ways to engage, but she has noticed particular success for brands that experiment with Stories.

“Create that closeness with the consumer,” she said, “[Create] that level of intimacy so that even if it’s an ad, it sure doesn’t feel like it.”

Rose mirrored this sentiment, noting that successful brands on Instagram create emotional messages such as humor and delight or inspiration to achieve one’s goals.

“I think if there’s something that ties them all together it’s that they focus on the emotional connection, without trying to actually sell anything,” he said. “They’re not trying to illustrate why their product is so awesome—they’re just trying to be awesome.”

Brands want to be professional, but having a bit of fun makes audiences feel that a real person is behind a post. When Shareablee ran an analysis a few months ago, it found that the effective use of three emoji increased engagement by an average of nearly 30 percent. Rose added that if emoji are appropriate so long as they are brand-appropriate and part of the messaging architecture.

“They are certainly popular and can quickly convey a message and save characters,” Rose said.

Spread The Love

With Facebook shaking up its News Feed algorithm—again—some marketers may look for organic reach elsewhere, like Facebook-owned Instagram. Yuki believes that despite these changes, both platforms remain important for marketers.

“Any brand wanting to make sure that they have a really viable paid and organic conversational strategy with their consumers should be focusing in on Instagram, but Facebook remains a really important way to build the brand and communicate stories,” she said. “Think about the two as part of a multi-platform strategy and know that maybe you’re not going to be able to count on Facebook purely for organic reach. [Facebook] really isn’t designed to create that sense of community from a content perspective.”

Rose doesn’t believe Instagram will offer anything in terms of organic reach that Facebook no longer provides, calling it “rented land.”

“Great, remarkable content, will certainly get its fair share of vitality, and organic reach,” said Rose, “but the days of building a big “community” on any social media channel are gone. All social networks are now simply broadcast media—where you must employ a thoroughly integrated paid and organic strategy to consistently reach your audience.”

Influencers: Risky But Worth It

Partnering with social media creators—aka influencers—has proven to be an effective way of reaching wider niche audiences for decades. One scandal can send audiences into an uproar, but Yuki says brands would “be mad” not to seriously consider the strategy.

Influencer marketing requires some steady constitution,” Yuki admitted. “There are no guarantees. As we’ve seen in the media very recently, you’re partnering with a person that you don’t own. That’s always going to come down to how much uncertainty as a brand you are willing to tolerate. One thing I will say with certainty is, influencers generate something like four to five times more total consumer engagement than every single advertiser, publisher, TV network and sports league combined.”

This doesn’t mean brands should enter into an influencer marketing campaign unprepared. Yuki recommends having a playbook just in case a partner goes off the rails—or at the very least, off-brand.

“It’s really about having good controls in place and paying really close attention, particularly with the bigger influencers,” she said. “If something were to go south, you’d have to have to react and decide how to respond very quickly.”

Data: Plan, Analyze, Repeat

Planning a campaign can be as simple or as complicated as a brand wants to make it—but knowing your audience should come first.

“Even before you even launch the campaign, use the data that is available to you to truly understand the sorts of images, messages and communication that is already resonating with the people you want to speak to,” Yuki recommends. “Make sure you’re crafting the right creatives for your audience.”

Data is certainly helpful, but social media comes with results built in.

“The really great thing about social media is that you don’t have to guess whether something is working or not or whether something appeals to consumers—there’s either a deafening silence or an astounding roar of feedback both positive and negative,” Yuki explained. “Monitor the results that you’re getting and make sure that you are doubling down on messages that are meaningful to the consumers.

“Your audiences are willing to help you understand what does and doesn’t appeal to them if you’re prepared to listen and adjust your approach based on the data that you get back,” she said.