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Updated Apr 10, 2024

How to Engage Millennials Using Instagram

Learn how to successfully woo this large, often untapped customer base.

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Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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If you want to increase your business’s revenue and customer base, factoring the millennial market into your plans is essential. Millennials are the demographic cohort comprised of people born between 1981 and 1996. They’re the first generation who grew up using smartphones and social media and are comfortable and active online. 

Millennials show a preference for Instagram, the popular photo- and video-sharing social media platform, using it to connect with others, follow and interact with brands and feed their creativity. 

We’ll explain how to engage millennials through your Instagram business presence and share mistakes to avoid so you don’t alienate your millennial followers. 

How to engage millennials through Instagram

Millennials comprise nearly 22 percent of the United States population ― a larger portion than any other generation. According to Statista, Instagram has 2 billion active daily uses worldwide and 143.5 million U.S. users. According to Hootsuite’s Global State of Digital report, nearly half of Instagram’s U.S. users ― about 64 million Americans ― are millennials. 

With so many eyeballs at stake, businesses must prioritize this often untapped customer base. Consider the following tips to engage this market successfully using Instagram as a social media marketing tool.

1. Demonstrate your brand’s passion on Instagram.

If you think you’ll cast a wide net with your advertising campaign and assume millennials will be pulled in, think again. If you want to build a brand that speaks to younger generations like millennials and Gen Zers, you must be passionate about what you’re advertising ― whether it’s fashion, fitness, makeup, travel or luxury items. If you don’t believe in your content, neither will they. 

Here are some tips for showing how passionate you are about your business:

  • Narrow your focus: Once you start gaining traction, narrow your focus. For example, if you own a restaurant, what kind of food does your establishment offer? Do you offer great desserts? Fine dining? Begin with the end in mind. Start broad and narrow your focus to gain followers interested in your general niche before finding true fans who are super-interested in your deeper niche.
  • Use creative captions: Pair your posts with captivating captions that pique viewers’ interest and encourage them to respond. These can include call-to-action captions that ask your audience to vote, check out your product or share with a friend.

Instagram helps you build brand authority. When you’re passionate about a specific subject, you’re essentially an expert. As an expert, you’ll attract interested followers. 

TipBottom line
Use Instagram to tell your brand's story and connect with customers on an emotional level, giving them something to believe in.

2. Create captivating videos for Instagram.

Eye-catching, high-resolution images usually catch millennials’ attention. However, videos can make your marketing strategy more effective on Instagram. 

Here are some tips for using video on Instagram effectively: 

  • Make a big impression quickly: Make a big impression in the video’s first seven seconds. When you can grab and keep your viewers’ attention, they’ll usually stick with you until the end. Then, keep the videos coming and your audience could stick around for the long haul.
  • Show your brand personality through videos: Avoid stale, infomercial-type demonstrations. You can build brand trust through video marketing by showing your business’s personality. For example, viewers will enjoy seeing how employees interact behind the scenes. They also want to see the product being used in ways that appeal to them and enjoy witnessing the creative process behind product creation.
  • Use videos on your Instagram stories: Millennials particularly enjoy Instagram stories ― short videos available only for 24 hours. The time limit makes it easier to streamline your message, and you can keep viewers’ attention longer by adding unique filters and hashtag stickers. Consider using live videos to tease new products, run contests and post live Q&A sessions with your employees.
FYIDid you know
Use an "explainer" video to engage viewers with information about how your product works. An engaging explainer video may prompt viewers to seek out your sales page, About page and other website areas to learn more about your company and products.

3. Encourage user-generated content on Instagram.

Millennials can be less trusting of faceless corporations and they also like to be part of the action. For these reasons, encourage user-generated content (UGC) from your Instagram audience.

To encourage UGC, create a testimonial section on your website. You could also launch a contest where you encourage followers to submit an image or idea with a catchy hashtag you provide specifically for the contest.

Famous UGC contests include the following: 

  • Dunkin Donuts: During Halloween season, Dunkin Donuts encouraged users to decorate their cups to win a gift card.
  • Four Seasons: The Four Seasons hotel chain ran a contest that asked followers worldwide to snap pictures of specific landmarks to win a prize.

When you involve followers in your content marketing strategy, you lessen the amount of content you must create internally. Additionally, millennials tend to trust user-generated content more than other media forms.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to the recent State of User-Generated Content report, 72 percent of consumers trust testimonials and reviews more than a brand's direct information, and 76 percent have purchased a product because of positive customer reviews.

4. Utilize trending topics on Instagram.

Millennials are engaged in and informed about world events and cultural trends. To take advantage of this, add trending topics to your Instagram content. 

There are many ways to incorporate trending topics: 

  • Add your opinion on a topic in your advertising.
  • Engage your audience by asking questions about a current trend. 
  • Turn a hot topic into a meme.

The key is to be engaging without going over the line. Stay away from trending political or controversial subjects to avoid alienating audience segments. If you even get an inkling that a potential post may be seen as offensive, avoid it.

5. Use the right tools on Instagram.

Attracting and keeping millennials’ attention can be challenging. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Several tools can help remove some of the guesswork:

  • Iconosquare: Iconosquare is a comprehensive tool with a post scheduler, a post-approval and collaboration module and analytics measuring real-time engagement and brand mentions. It also includes two additional free tools: Twinsta, which captures screenshots of tweets for you to use on Instagram and Instagram Audit, which will tell you if your Instagram account is optimized.
  • Sprout Social and Hootsuite: Millennials demand engagement and constant content. Online tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite help you stay on top of your posting schedule by creating and scheduling content ahead of time so you can focus on running your business.
  • Shortstack: Shortstack is a tool that can help you run Instagram contests and coupon codes to drive engagement.
  • Keyhole: Keyhole analyzes your posts’ performance to ensure you hit your targets ― and shares insights on how to continue hitting those targets in the future. 
TipBottom line
Instagram-posting best practices include consistent posting, not over-posting, posting only quality content and being visually consistent.

Instagram mistakes to avoid

Like any social platform, Instagram has unwritten rules and best practices for engaging consumers, including millennials. Avoid the following pitfalls on Instagram to ensure you don’t go viral for the wrong reasons:

  • Posting low-quality content: Instagram is primarily a visual medium. For this reason, all images and videos should be top quality. Don’t post low-resolution, blurry or otherwise confusing or unattractive images. Instagram users expect beautiful photos and well-produced videos. Text should be understandable and free of typos and misspellings. Anything less will not generate likes.
  • Forgetting the hashtags: Instagram users can tell immediately if a post interests them by looking at its hashtags. Additionally, hashtags help other users find your posts and help you track engagement. Use hashtags to describe a photo’s subject, give more information about it, call out interested communities or industries and add your branding. (You can use up to 30 hashtags per post; using three to five hashtags is recommended.)
  • Not optimizing your Instagram bio: While much of your Instagram activity is fleeting, your Instagram bio endures. Optimizing your bio allows you to convert a casual follower into a more serious prospect or lead. Include your company’s full name, a description, a link to your website, bullets, emojis and your brand’s hashtags.
  • Not utilizing IG Stories: Stories are an excellent way to: capture attention; share company news; create quizzes, polls or surveys; and promote products. You can also use stories to show “behind the scenes” videos, interviews with employees or customer testimonials, all of which add an element of authenticity millennials crave. 
  • Winging it: Like any other marketing vehicle, Instagram requires a strategy and focused effort to achieve specific goals. A “seat of the pants” approach will be evident to users and can hurt your brand. Be prepared with an on-brand visual and written style, brand hashtags, brand differentiators, relevant content and unique selling points for your company and products. Know what you want to accomplish and track your progress. Use data analytics to tweak content so it performs better.
  • Broadcasting: Instagram is a social platform; users expect ― and want ― to interact with the brands they follow. They don’t want you to blast them with content. In contrast, they want you to respond to comments and talk to them as individuals. Neglect your followers at your peril; if they feel they’re being ignored, they’ll likely move on, possibly to your competitors. You can’t expect users to engage with you if you refuse to engage with them.
  • Spamming: Paying attention to your followers isn’t enough. Your communication must have some substance behind it. Empty or needy comments, such as “great photo!” or flatly asking for follows, doesn’t express interest or give anything of value. Be thoughtful about your comments and treat users like you care about them, not just what they can do for you.
  • Posting inconsistently: Create a content calendar and post consistently. Post about the same amounts weekly so followers can expect a certain amount of content flow. If your social media manager goes on vacation, ensure you have prescheduled and predesigned posts ready. A sudden posting drop-off can cause followers to think you’ve gone out of business or are otherwise irrelevant and they may unfollow you.

Engage millennials where they spend time

Millennials spend a significant portion of their time online and engaging with social media platforms. Their social interactions often inform purchase decisions and brand perceptions. Get your business in front of millennials by creating an Instagram business account and filling it with carefully crafted and engaging content. You could see striking results.

Zach Benson contributed to this article.

author image
Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Jennifer Dublino is an experienced entrepreneur and astute marketing strategist. With over three decades of industry experience, she has been a guiding force for many businesses, offering invaluable expertise in market research, strategic planning, budget allocation, lead generation and beyond. Earlier in her career, Dublino established, nurtured and successfully sold her own marketing firm. Dublino, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration and an MBA in marketing and finance, also served as the chief operating officer of the Scent Marketing Institute, showcasing her ability to navigate diverse sectors within the marketing landscape. Over the years, Dublino has amassed a comprehensive understanding of business operations across a wide array of areas, ranging from credit card processing to compensation management. Her insights and expertise have earned her recognition, with her contributions quoted in reputable publications such as Reuters, Adweek, AdAge and others.
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