Beyond Celebrities, Kids & Selfies: Harnessing the Power of Instagram for PR Success


I started using Instagram recently and I can’t get enough. My thumb pushes that rainbow app icon at least five times a day. My heart delights at every new food photo, #OOTD (outfit of the day), milestone, or random bit of awesome shared by my favourite chefs, celebrities, brands, and friends.

Very quickly, following others wasn’t enough. My fingers itched to get in on the action and I started posting photos too. Want to see what adorable thing my kids did today? Snap, make cool collage, insert comment about my kids’ genius, share. Curious to know my thoughts on chokers being back in style? Snap, add filter to disguise wrinkles, insert quirky comment about wearing trends twice in my lifetime, share. I love creating a curated visual story of my life.

Let’s Get Strategic

Following my personal foray into Instagram, I started thinking about Instagram from the perspective of a PR professional. While it was fun posting my own pictures and seeing other people’s stories unfold in photos, how would you use Instagram as part of strategic communications strategy?

My head was jumbled with queries about hashtags and tagging, and the place for proper spelling and grammar in a world of emojis and acronyms. I even got caught up thinking about Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” concept and how this might impact a communications strategy that included Instagram. Add to this the idea that Instagram may already be old news, and Snapchat or some other up-and-coming storytelling app I haven’t heard of yet will transform communications, and you get a picture of my exhaustion and confusion.

Top 3 Instagram Learnings

After sifting through a warren of websites (mostly helpful) and conducting an informal interview (luckily I have an obliging friend who’s a millennial and works in marketing), here’s what I learned:

  1. Take the time to educate yourself: After a tutorial from (comprehensive tips for personal and business applications) or a seasoned user, you too will be posting pictures or videos like a pro (PR or otherwise). I learned basic techniques like how to tag and mention people, but also how to control the privacy of my personal communications. On the business side, Instagram walks you through how to grow your audience and their Instagram for Business blog  provides case studies and best practices. Keep in mind, Instagram is dynamic and you need to keep your personal and professional Instagramming skills current. Last week’s launch of Instagram Stories sent me back to the site for instructions on using this enhanced momentary photo and video sharing feature.  Spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of Instagram before you dive in, and stay tuned to app updates.
  2. Leverage global reach: Instagram is a refreshing communications tool for engaging your audiences. There are many reasons why I feel strongly about this statement, but mainly it’s because I am in awe of the reach and dynamic nature of Instagram. In June, the app hit 500 million monthly active users, and approximately 80 percent live outside the United States. Think about this—you can use photos and videos to communicate key messages instantly and globally. And, users can provide immediate feedback. Amazing.


  1. Keep communications best practices in mind at all times: You still need to know your audience. Research indicates that the majority of Instagram users are under 35, so if this isn’t your demographic consider another strategy.  Also make sure you send a consistent message. For example, if you issue a press release launching a new product, ensure your Instagram feed focuses on visually highlighting the same product. And, find a great hook! Yes, you need to figure this one out on Instagram too. Consider running a contest. Or show your product in action; a new line of workout gear might feature how-to exercise videos or a new shade of lipstick may feature famous lips in the feature shade. You get the idea.

Number three was the shocker, I will admit.  It was easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new app and then the possibilities of how it integrated with everything I knew about PR, that I had to remind myself to keep my eye on communications best practices. Whether you’re writing a press release or developing a social media plan for your client, knowing your audience and developing engaging key messages still need to be at the fore.

When I started in this business, carefully chosen words were my most powerful storytelling tool. Now the story includes pictures, or video, and the ability to reach a community instantly.  The medium may be evolving, but a good story is still a good story—we just have more ways to share the message.#PRPros #writer4life

Posted on: August 11th, 2016 by

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