With Instagram arguably winning its battle against Snapchat, it's becoming a more and more vital arena for brands of all shapes and sizes. But if you're looking for strategies to amplify your company's presence and capitalize on Instagram, don't just look to other brands -- look to influencers.

Want to crack the code on Instagram? Here are the top three tips from influencers and accounts doing it for real.

1. Useful content beats professional content.

To an extent, your Instagram content is a representation of your company brand. Since companies want to present a high-quality brand, they'll often spend tons of money and time making their content look professional, but completely neglecting to find out what their audience wants from the content in the first place.

This is a fool's errand. Ultimately, content on social media functions in the same way as products in a marketplace: users will like and share content that's useful and provides value to their lives -- not useless content that looks good.

When I recently interviewed beauty influencer Farah Mereb (@FarahProMakeup) for my podcast, I was struck by just how powerful this strategy was for her. She's grown her following from 0 to 450,000 and founded a makeup line called Lashylicious -- and the kicker is she immigrated to the US only 6 years ago. Impressive, to say the least.

When Mereb first started making videos, she didn't have a budget for her content. She'd record using only an iPhone in her bedroom, often holding the phone in one hand and applying makeup with the other. Yet her posts still garnered millions of views.

Professional-looking or not, Mereb took the time to research what her viewers wanted. Based on that research, she took a different approach with her content, focusing on making her looks accessible to even the most novice of makeup beginners. She held the camera inches away from her face, showing close-up detail shots of exactly how she applied each layer of makeup. Even though her videos lacked production value, they were incredibly useful to her viewers -- and because of that, they went viral in spite of their low-budget feel.

Instead of shooting for high production value, aim for content that your customers actually find relevant and useful. You'll see a higher ROI every time.

2. Research is everything.

Here's how most companies go about creating a content strategy on Instagram: they have a few employees -- er, let's be honest, interns -- sit down in a room and brainstorm topics they think their followers would like. Then, they create the content, build out a posting schedule, and hit go. What's wrong with this picture?

It's all coming from someone's head. Not from real users.

Airbnb's Instagram presence circumvents this problem entirely. Instead of trying to create marketing collateral, the company posts photos taken by hosts and guests, pulled directly from its website. Because Airbnb's Instagram team has access to virtually endless customer ratings and reviews, they can identify the listings, locations, and photos that users like the most, then leverage them.

They take their cues on what to post directly from users -- and to succeed on Instagram, you should too. It's a genius way to crowdsource user research, and it's something that any business account should try to emulate.

3. Make sure you know why you're doing it.

Finally -- and this is a lesson I learned the hard way -- it's critical to understand what you want out of an Instagram presence. Are you only looking to build "brand awareness?" Or, like most companies, do you actually want to make money from that awareness?

I invested thousands in content production and built my personal Instagram from 0 to 120,000 followers last year. It generated exactly $0 for my company. While my Instagram followers liked my content, most of them were young and couldn't afford the services my company was offering. It was simply the wrong market.

Don't make the same mistake. Before spending time, energy, and capital on building a presence on Instagram, make sure it's a sound business decision. Are your core customers even using Instagram? If not, what's the point in building a presence there? In the end, I found that LinkedIn was a far more profitable network to create content for. When it comes to social media, you need to go where your customers are.

Used well, Instagram is one of the most powerful platforms around right now for amplifying your brand and driving revenue to your company. But you have to be smart about it. Do your research, prioritize useful content over flashy content, and always make sure you're barking up the right tree in terms of your target market. Follow these tips and you're well on your way to dominating Instagram in 2018.

Published on: Aug 13, 2018