Learn from Instagram Idols

How to Strategically Learn from Successful Instagram Accounts

Don’t just peruse comparable Instagram profiles—be strategic about what you can learn

If you’re running an Instagram account for your brand, chances are that you’ve checked out your competition on Instagram. At least one of them is probably using the platform well.

So what can you learn from your competition’s success (or lack thereof) on Instagram? Start with the fact that you likely have a similar target audience who’d be interested in following you.

What types of images or posts work well for your competition? What gets the most engagement? What doesn’t work for them? Answering these questions and others can go a long way towards developing and refining your own Instagram strategy.

Start with the competition’s profiles

It might seem overly basic, but seeing how other brands present themselves on their main page or profile allows for an important insight into the way that they approach Instagram.

What have you been waiting for? Scout out not only your direct competition, but also companies who serve a different region, have a related product, or use the same hashtags.

Do they regularly post promotions, special events, or seasonal trends, or is it relatively static? Do they create humanized content or do they use stock imagery, and what works best for them? You’ll want to make sure your own profile falls in line with user expectations for your brand category.

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Understand the role of timing 

We all know that there are certain times of the day that are ideal for posting if you want to get likes, comments, and new followers, but you should get more specific with your competitive analysis.

For example, check out how often do they post, and at what times of the day? Which days of the week and times get the most likes and comments? Does this align with when their target audience are at work or at play? Look at timing in terms of

  • Weekdays or weekends
  • Mornings, afternoons or evenings

Do they increase posting based on the seasons, certain holidays, regular industry events, or do any other factors affect their timing? See how the audience responds to posts that are relevant to special events, and decide if you can do better—or if you even should.

You’ll still want to test and run your own analytics, but checking out when the competition successfully posts can give you a baseline for your own content calendar.

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See how they approach brand differentiation

Seeing how brands that do Instagram right maintain their brand standards (while retaining the creativity and visual impact necessary for the platform) can be an excellent learning experience.
What elements of their Instagram images make it very clear it is from X brand? Are their product photos on a consistent background, always use the same filter, etc? Do they put logos or watermarks directly on their images, or is the logo usually apparent somewhere in the frame? Maybe they’re using a color palette or scheme to brand their images.

Falling in love at an ice cream shop. Photo by @adventuregirltx

A photo posted by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on

By examining how the competition differentiates their brand’s content from the millions of other Instagram posts, you can improve your own Instagram content creation process.

It will help you from being too loose or too tight in your approach to branding.

Determine their creation versus curation ratio

Do competing brands typically create their own content, or do they share or curate content created by others? Or both? If so, what is the ratio, and what types of content do they share? Only images or content that directly mentions their brand, or do they also share content that is aligned with their message?

Learning the art of reposting other users’ content (and tagging them in the description of course) can not only increase your brand awareness, it can also help you fill your feed with relevant content more regularly. So be sure to pay attention to whether your competition is regularly curating content. If they aren’t (or if they’re not picking branded, attractive photos) that could be a big opportunity.

You should also understand the overall direction your niche is taking. Is it considered accepted or standard in your vertical to share content created by others or not? Where do they find the content they share? All of this knowledge can help you determine your own ideal ratio and come up with a strategy for interacting with users more closely.

If you don’t have an established following that users will appreciate reaching, it might be best to only repost their photos if they use your branded hashtag. Experimentation and adaptiveness are key!

Analyze how they engage with their audience

Check out if they like or comment on other users’ posts and the nature of those comments. Do they just say thanks or like the image when other users promote their brand, or do they contribute something more substantial to the conversation?

Knowing your competition’s level of involvement with the overall Instagram community can be a good baseline for your own efforts, or even a way to go above and beyond what they currently do.

Find new targeted followers

See if there are any overlapping or related followers to yours or another competitor. There are free tools that let you track this (like RivalIQ, Iconosquare, and Fanpage Karma). You can see what your followers have in common geographically and demographically along with any shared interests, and any other key takeaways that you can glean.

And of course, you’ll likely want to follow any accounts that follow your competitors and overlap your target audience, since they are the most likely to be intrigued by your posts and follow you back.

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Find influencers to partner and collaborate with

Discover and track key influencers who follow or interact with your competitors. If your competitors aren’t sponsoring them or working with them, it would be helpful to interact with them (via likes and comments on their posts) and see if they may also be interested in your brand or some kind of collaboration.

Consider reaching out to the ones who might be capable of partnering with your team to create some content around your brand.

Let competitors show you how to caption and hashtag

See what hashtags and keywords they use—memes, trends, and topics that you can also use if they are also authentic to your brand. And it can be useful as well as well fun to see how clever and humorous your competition gets in their Instagram posts.

Oh, snap! (Follow ‘JetBlue’ on #Snapchat.) ?

A photo posted by JetBlue (@jetblue) on

Check out which emojis they use too. If you’re not used to regularly using emojis in your personal life, don’t let that stop you from using them in your company’s Instagram account. Emojis are very likable and can instantly develop bonds with your audience.

Which ones are popularly used in your industry or vertical? Are they even used at all?

If it is relevant and timely, you may want to participate in the same memes or use the same hashtags for your own posts.

Continually review your Instagram competition—but focus on yourself

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do all this analysis by hand—there are a fair amount of tools available that will do some of the work for you, at least in regard to compiling numbers and keywords or tags.

Keep in mind that a competitor analysis on Instagram or any other social media site shouldn’t be a one-time project. Regularly re-assess what your competition is doing, track any new companies or brands on the market or platform, and update your own strategy accordingly.

Finally, remember that your company or brand is special, so your Instagram needs to be a unique presence. You can’t just draw all your inspiration from the competition. That said, being aware of what they are up and seeing what they are doing right or successfully (so you can build upon or adapt it) is a great starting point. And regular check-ins or reviews are good ways to reinvigorate or update your approach to Instagram as well!

No matter what, just be sure to focus on your traffic goals for Instagram and on positioning your brand.

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