11 Strategies to Grow Like Popular Brands on Instagram + Examples

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Instagram has become a vital platform for brands looking to engage with current customers and reach new audiences. With over 1 billion monthly active users, it offers huge potential for businesses to drive awareness, increase sales, and build their community.

But simply creating an Instagram account isn‘t enough to achieve Instagram marketing success. Brands need smart strategies tailored specifically to leverage Instagram‘s unique features and culture if they want growth comparable to the platform‘s most popular brands.

In this comprehensive guide, we break down exactly how brands can develop an engaging presence that positions them for exponential Instagram growth.

What Makes a Brand Successful on Instagram?

Before we dive into growth tactics, it‘s important to define what Instagram success looks like for brands. Many may assume this means having the most followers or likes, but the real metrics that matter are:

  • Engagement rate: The percentage of followers that like, comment on, or share your content. Benchmark: 2-3% is good, over 4% is great.
  • Website traffic: Number of people driving from Instagram to your website or sales pages.
  • Sales: Revenue and conversions generated as a result of your Instagram marketing efforts.

The most popular brands on Instagram drive strong performance across all three areas. They‘ve built loyal, active followings that engage frequently with their content and convert into customers.

That said, amassing millions of followers quickly like the IG celebs of the world generally requires big advertising budgets most brands don‘t have access to. The good news is you can absolutely achieve stellar business results with a smaller, targeted following.

Now let‘s examine exactly how the top brands on Instagram built their highly engaged communities for inspiration on what works.

Analyzing Strategies of the Top Brands on Instagram

Here are five major brands crushing it on Instagram along with the tactics that have fueled their monster growth:

Nike (@nike)

With 215 million followers, Nike tops the charts as the most followed brand on Instagram. They built this enormous audience by leveraging user-generated content and emotion-driven narrative.

Nike empowers its followers to take part in storytelling by reposting customer images featuring Nike products. This builds a strong sense of community and gives followers a creative stake in the brand.

They also focus heavily on inspiration, sharing videos and photos highlighting extreme athletic feats, comebacks, and underdog stories that spark powerful emotional reactions.

This emotional branding helps followers form meaningful connections with Nike beyond just selling products.

National Geographic (@natgeo)

National Geographic sets itself apart from other popular Instagram brands with its relentless focus on truly jaw-dropping photography.

With 150 million followers, NatGeo has built an Instagram empire on highly shareable images capturing fascinating snapshots of nature, wildlife, culture, and exploration worldwide.

The consistent professional polish keeps audiences engaged during regular daily posts as well as Stories and IGTV documentaries diving deeper into their photographers‘ adventures. This balance between bite-sized shareable content and richer storytelling offers varied ways for users to interact.

NBA (@nba)

The NBA maintains a massive following of 53 million by recognizing Instagram‘s power as a platform to share in-the-moment content and commentary.

They post rapid-fire video highlights and photos immediately as games unfold for a you-are-there viewer experience. Instagram Stories expand on game coverage with behind-the-scenes glimpses that make fans feel special.

The NBA also leverages Instagram to build closer connections between players and fans with a peek into their personal lives. Followers feel like they personally know the league‘s biggest stars.

Adidas Originals (@adidasoriginals)

Adidas Originals has accrued 33 million Instagram followers not only by displaying products but also by celebrating nostalgia-inducing retro style.

They frequently re-launch classic Adidas shoe styles that tap into fans‘ fond memories of beloved looks they wore years ago. This sense of nostalgia helps the brand forge emotional connections with its audience.

Adidas Originals also partners with influencers and athletes to inspire aspirational outfits featuring hot new releases. Fans eat up this stylistic inspiration.

GoPro (@gopro)

With 18 million followers of adventure enthusiasts, GoPro builds their audience by cultivating awe through extreme user-generated content.

The brand relies heavily on jaw-dropping customer videos showcasing daredevils captured while surfing, skydiving, snowboarding down steep mountain peaks and more nail-biting footage all shot on GoPro cameras.

This UGC-focused approach makes audiences literally see the world through GoPro‘s lens while positioning the brand as essential gear for thrill-seekers.

Now that we‘ve seen Instagram domination in action, let‘s break down key tactics you can implement to develop your own highly engaged follower base.

11 Strategies to Grow Your Brand on Instagram

Here are the most effective tactics used by today‘s top brands on Instagram to capture audience attention and fuel explosive growth:

1. Optimize Your Instagram Profile

Your Instagram profile serves as your homepage on the platform, so ensuring it looks professional and compelling is crucial.

Here are key elements to optimize:

Profile Photo: Use your brand logo or product image. Consistent branding boosts recognition.

Bio: Include your brand name, product category, and mission. Use emojis and hashtags for extra flair. Keep it short and sweet.

Link: Add your website URL so visitors can easily learn more about your offerings.

Content Theme: Commit to a consistent style and subject matter fans can expect in your posts.

Check out GoPro‘s polished profile as a sterling example:

Example of GoPro's optimized Instagram profile

2. Post High-Quality Photos

Eye-catching imagery is essential to cut through the visual noise on Instagram. Images should align with your content theme and feature your product or convey your brand style.

Invest in professional photography or photo editing tools if needed to give your images a polished look. Maintain visual consistency with filters or effects to further strengthen your brand identity.

Check out fashion retailer Revolve‘s consistent vibe:

Example of Revolve's consistent vibe and high-quality photos

3. Share Compelling Stories

Posting ephemeral yet fun content to your Stories is crucial for brands on Instagram looking to drive engagement.

You can share company news, offer peeks behind the scenes, run deals and contests, post user-generated content, ask followers questions, conduct polls, and more.

Athletic brand Gymshark does a great job leveraging Stories to build community among their fitness-loving followers:

Example of Gymshark using Stories to engage their audience

4. Go Live

Broadcasting live video lets followers connect with your brand in an authentic, unfiltered way they can‘t get anywhere else.

Give factory tours, showcase new products, interview employees, stream events, offer Q&As, and more. Live video delivers a spontaneity and intimacy especially effective for customer relationship-building.

Outdoors brand The North Face uses Instagram Live for a "Virtual Campfire Chats" series to align with their adventurous positioning:

Example of The North Face's use of Live video

5. Create Reels

Instagram Reels are short, entertaining videos with creative editing and music that users quickly scroll through. The format has huge engagement potential thanks to its similarities with TikTok.

Focus Reels on trends and challenges popular in your industry or overall on Instagram. Short tutorials and hacks also perform well. Keep videos under 30 seconds ideally.

Cosmetics brand ColourPop makes the most of the Reels format with fun beauty content:

6. Partner With Influencers

Influencer marketing should play a major role in your Instagram strategy.

Micro and nano influencers in your product niche provide valuable third-party social proof and endorsement. Work out deals to have them feature your brand in posts or Instagram Stories.

Ensure influencers‘ followings and brand images align closely with your target demographic. Offer free products or special discounts in exchange for posts rather than paying upfront.

Here popular beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira artfully showcases Tarte Cosmetics:

Example of Tarte Cosmetics partnering for influencer marketing

7. Run Contests and Giveaways

Contests, giveaways and user-generated content campaigns should be in every brand‘s Instagram marketing mix to spur audience participation.

Require followers to tag friends, like posts, share on their Stories, or repost your images. Offering prizes like your products, gift cards, or cash rewards provides great incentives.

Ensure rules and calls-to-action are clear. Have contests align with your product and brand identity for maximum relevance.

For example, Casetify‘s smartphone case contest capitalizes on UGC and prizes:

8. Advertise Strategically

While organic content should be the foundation, paid advertising can amplify your reach and results on Instagram.

Target your ads extremely precisely using Instagram‘s detailed targeting capabilities – from follower interests to behaviours to demographics.

Focus ad spend on promoting your best-performing organic posts to laser targeted groups aligned with their content. Strong organic content optimized for scale is key.

Track engagement, website traffic, and conversions continuously to gauge performance then optimize towards top-funnel or bottom-funnel objectives.

9. Sell Products or Services

Prominently displaying products, driving traffic to product pages, and enabling seamless checkout all help Instagram function as a serious sales channel rather than just a branding play.

Ensure your bio link goes to a shopping-optimized landing page highlighting your strongest products or collections. Tag products in posts and enable visitors to easily shop particular items.

Consider setting up an Instagram Shop showcasing your full catalog of product images, descriptions, pricing, variants, and calls-to-action.

Provide an instant checkout experience letting followers purchase items without leaving Instagram. This streamlines and maximizes conversion potential.

For instance, makeup powerhouse Sephora connects Instagram content seamlessly into an in-app personalized shopping experience:

10. Double Down on Instagram Alone

Rather than just cross-posting content from other channels, consider creating Instagram-specific content and campaigns tailored to the platform‘s culture.

This might mean more Stories, Reels and Live broadcasting focusing on fun bite-sized content rather than lengthy educational posts that thrive on blogs and YouTube but don‘t translate well on Instagram.

Similarly, visual-forward contests and challenges perform far better on Instagram than text-based ones on Facebook. Adapt your initiatives directly to Instagram consumption patterns.

For example, cosmetics brand Milk Makeup launched the #MilkMakeupChallenge exclusively on Instagram prompting users to share their signature looks:

11. Analyze Performance Metrics

Consistently analyzing Instagram data should inform your ongoing content and strategy decisions.

Review engagement rates on each post as your top metric along with website clicks and follower growth rate.

Dive deeper by seeing which products or post types earn the highest engagement and shares. Find out youroptimal posting cadence based on when your followers are most active.

Use this intelligence to iterate and improve to maximize your Instagram impact over time.


Instagram offers limitless potential for brands to engage audiences, drive awareness, and ultimately boost revenue. But truly exploding your presence requires following the proven growth blueprint laid out by the platform‘s top performers.

Use these 11 tactics as inspiration to craft an Instagram marketing strategy uniquely tailored to your brand and offerings. Maintaining a consistent presence, high-quality content, and employing smart growth features like influencer partnerships, contests and ads will soon have you joining the ranks of the most popular brands on Instagram.

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