Sure, every brand has social media accounts, but getting the most out of those channels is still widely misunderstood. You want to show off your brand aesthetic, but too many companies misuse social media, relying too heavily on a buttoned-up representation of themselves or ignoring what’s at its core: Entertainment.

That’s especially true on Instagram. Some brands are thriving because they’re right on message. Others are coming off super lame.

How do you put your best, most authentic face forward? Here are six Instagram do’s and don’ts that are sure to show off the funnest, funkiest version of your company — then drive ecommerce and purchase intent.

Don’t use stock photos, we beg you

One of the unofficial Instagram commandments is authenticity — or at least the illusion of authenticity. More often than not, people will see right through that cheesy stock image and scroll right by. People are quick to associate stock images with advertising — and advertising is seen as an annoyance to someone perusing Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest hoping to be entertained.

Instead, turn to user-generated content from within the brand — Urban Outfitters empowers store employees to share what’s happening on the ground level by pulling content from their accounts and certain hashtags. Not only does it boost pride and involvement within the company; user-generated content also restores that sense of brand authenticity to your followers.

Image via @UrbanOutfitters

Don’t use low-quality photos

This may sound like a no-brainer, but there are major brands with huge fan bases that post blurry images on the regular. If you don’t take your Instagram seriously and take the time to curate your feed, people will start to unfollow.

Do create your own visual content

Your Instagram should tell a story, both on a micro and macro level. Try to make everything posted — be it an image, Boomerang or video — something that either tells a story, elicits a strong emotion, or is shareable in its own right. Make your viewers want to tag their friends or send it to their moms — not because you’re a brand trying to sell something, but because that image is interesting on its own.

One company excelling at branding on a macro level is Free People, whose feed creates a mood that’s representative of the brand overall and doesn’t show merchandise in every post.

Image via @freepeople

Do show a little personality

This isn’t traditional marketing we’re talking about here. Social media is used to entertain and inform, in that order specifically. No one likes a PR pitch, and Instagram isn’t the place to do so. Remember that a well-timed meme or gif is your friend, as well as cool video that offers viewers a sneak peek inside the back-end of brand operations, or a cool Boomerang to illustrate some excitement. If a viewer wants the white backdrop, curated-elevator-pitch version of you, they’ll refer to your web site — not your Instagram.

We love the Good Man Brand for it’s stylish clothes and accessories, but its Instagram feed leaves something to be desired. It’s largely made up of product photos — and they even post the same product multiple times throughout the day. Some simple changes — like adding user-generated content or more environmental shots — would make its feed much more dynamic.

Image via @goodmanbrand

Don’t ignore your followers

In fact, use their photos on your own account, always making sure to give credit back to the original person who posted. It will not only make their entire month, but it’ll also make them love your brand forever. Not to mention, they’ll tag their friends in the comments section, making sure they see that your brand re-posted their photo. What a rush! Also, be sure to respond to commenters as much as possible. Sure, not every comment can be answered, but the importance of fan engagement cannot be overstated — even if it’s just posting a photo with a caption or text overlay saying: “Wow, we hit 10,000 followers today; thank you all!” 

Don’t underestimate the power of a good influencer

6-instagram-dos-and-donts-060716_image01People love influencers, and they tend to love the things they love. If a beauty blogger like Amra Olevic of @amerzy uses a contour kit over and over again, fans will buy it in droves — not because you, the brand, hit them over the head with it, but because she, the influencer, endorsed the product. Plus, bloggers have a way of making things look even cooler than brands can, because they combine products from multiple labels — something that a consumer relates to and appreciates.

At the heart of social media marketing is the basic tenant of all marketing — don’t tell someone to buy your product. Show them why they want it. Couple that rule with a millennial-centric twist: Be authentic, aspirational, and entertaining; transport the viewer; make them laugh and connect on a deeper level than just consumerism. Follow those rules and your followers will love you forever.

How can you tell better visual stories on Instagram? Check out our guide Instafamous! A Guide to Taking Better Photos from 12 Instagram Influencers.