Stop Doing This On Instagram!

Not All Social Medias Are The Same

I’ve had the opportunity to speak on Instagram at The Special Event Conference, IMEX America, and soon in Barcelona at ibtm world. I’ve hosted webinars, been on podcasts, consulted on strategies, and continue to research best practices on this platform every single day. All that is a preface to say that I do my homework and many of you aren’t being nearly as observant.

Who Are You Talking To?

nick borelli ruleThere is nothing more important to study when publishing than knowing your audience. If you are speaking to a crowd, designing a print ad, creating video content, and posting on social media…it’s all the same game. You have to be speaking to someone specific or you are wasting your time. There is far too much noise and consumers are far too inundated with messaging for you to be speaking to anyone and everyone. They won’t hear you.

I’m going to assume that most of you using social media as a marketing tool know what you offer (hopefully [and more importantly] why you offer it) and who your target audience is. You should have a persona in mind when you are crafting your messages and that comes from listening to your clients all the time. That’s marketing 101 and you either get a pass or a fail depending on if you understand that or not. When it comes to  social media and how you express your messaging, there are shades of grey and I’m far more lenient with my grading. Knowing who your clients and potential clients are is one thing, knowing how to speak to them on one platform versus another is a specialized skill.

Constantly Evolving User Psychology

First and foremost, I’m a social media user. Many consultants and “social media marketers” recommend and advise their clients on the use of social media but they don’t really use them that way themselves. They aren’t natives. There are many subtleties to what people like in one social media experience versus another. I often compare it to the Starbucks menu. Most every drink is just coffee, milk, and sweetener but the combinations and specifics that make up the drinks have created loyal fans. Same thing applies to social media. Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Snapchat all allow you to post words, photos and/or videos to the Internet to be seen by others, but their users are much more passionate about one over the others. This is all to say that what works for one does not work for every other just because it allows you to do similar things. If you aren’t a native or have a firm grasp of what the expectations are for users of a specific platform you’ve chosen to market on, reach out to someone who is.

Pet Peeve Backed By Evidence

Since I am a passionate social media user first and a consultant second, I think it gives me a powerful intuition for things I like and things I don’t like. I trust my gut to give me my hypothesis but as a consultant and marketer, I have to find evidence to support what I feel. While perception is reality, marketers are concerned with mass perception and not the anecdote of just one super user.

I have a lot of “rules” for the content I create on different social media outlets and for different brands I post on behalf of. These rules are strategically created in order for me to get the most of one social media versus another. For example, I don’t post on Facebook after 9pm where the majority of my target audience lives but 9pm Pinterest posts are pretty optimal. Demographics, how a specific niche audience behaves, and an understanding of macro-behaviors on different platforms inform me on what I should do and when. One of my rules is that I try very hard not to post non-native graphics  (check out here for ideas) to Instagram. This is going to be this post’s example of a behavior that is perfectly optimal on one social media and disappointing on another.

Origins of Instagramtop_insta_6-large_trans++8EfY36S9juMgmFcalD7PW8q6ICIAU-bl0g4EiNHCMH0

The first Instagram post ever was of Instagram founder, Kevin Systrom’s dog. It’s not a particularly great photo. It is the basis of why Instagram has become so big and is a Rosetta Stone for what works here and only here. Firstly, this is a photo. It’s not a meme, or an infographic, and especially not an image from Google. This is a photo he took with his phone. Anyone could take this photo. It’s approachable, human, and gives his followers a window into his world. Instagram was always meant to be in the moment view of the world from one specific vantage point. The camera does not start out front facing (although Instagram Stories is different there) and originally you couldn’t even import images from your camera roll. It started that way, it’s early adopters followed suit, and the influencers who set its tone continue to work from that premise.

Why These Don’t Work On Instagram


Memes are meant to be shared. Look up the word’s origin, that’s the whole point of them before it gained another meaning through the Internet. Instagram doesn’t have a native share functionality. It’s why, unlike Twitter and Facebook, you often don’t have a feed made up of the same image all day.

Google Images

If you didn’t take the photo, there’s nothing weirder than putting that on Instagram. It’s implied your posts came from you.

CTA’s With Links In Text

Calls to action like this don’t work: “Click here to learn more –” That’s not how this works. Links aren’t clickable in Instagram copy. Hashtags aren’t clickable in your bio either. If they don’t work there, don’t try to shoehorn them in. You’ll be flagged as a non-native and seem out of touch.


This is my personal pet peeve as an Instagram user. I don’t think graphics created in Photoshop work well on Instagram. This mostly felt like an opinion to me but my gut is almost always right about things like this. If Instagram is what you see from your perspective, favors the tangible, and in the moment, how can colorful backgrounds and inspirational quotes work there? Turns out, they don’t.

Testing My Hypothesis

Since I’m paid to give people more than just met gut on why they should be doing one practice over another, I have to show my work. In my presentations on Instagram, I show people what optimal images and text should be based on how people react to the largest brands. While there are differences from industry to industry, when you start looking at which posts get the most engagement, you start to see patterns. One jumps out at you immediately. Large brands with almost unlimited marketing assets and budgets exclusively post real photos. It’s striking how few brands post graphics. Instagram themselves almost never do it. When you use the 2015 Best Nine website you can see which posts of any given Instagram received the most engagement and it’s never graphics.

Most Engaged Posts from Amazon, Shell, and Google from 2015.


Your memes, inspirational quotes, graphics, and general non-native images may give you exactly what you need on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn but Fortune 500 Companies with contracts with the best advertising companies know to shy away from them on Instagram. On top of that, people engage with those images more there too so why would you not follow suit?

The reasons I believe are:

  • Non-native users with bad intuition.
  • Not using data to support your decisions.
  • Perfectionists and designers who aren’t comfortable with the rawness of in the moment photos.

If you get anything from this besides my dislike of graphics on Instagram, take this: watch how others who are successful on social media are using their resources and deconstruct what they are doing. It’s a lot cheaper than hiring their advertising firms to handle your brand and you’ll start to understand what works for one platform turns off users on another.

Additional examples of large brands using real photos to engage with their customers: