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The Secret Formula for Event Instagram Success

By Nick Borelli

The world of social media moves very fast, as does the lifecycle of platforms. Some never get off the ground and die quickly while a select few get through their growing pains, pivot to different extents and eventually blossom into applications that change the media landscape. Instagram has been through it all. Within two months of its launch the app had a million users and a year later had 10 million users after being named the iPhone app of the year. Since being purchased by Facebook in 2012 for 1 Billion dollars, Instagram has evolved into one of the most important social media channels in the world.

The Secret Formula for Event Instagram Success

The Instagram Audience

Instagram’s user base is 41% made up of the demographic of 16 to 24 year olds, so it skews young. It also skews a bit more female than male. 30% of teenagers consider it the most important social media and it has more active monthly users than Twitter. What this means is that its users are addicted and its future seems bright with a new crop of users coming in every day. So how can you take advantage of Instagram for your brand and for your events?


The Social Media Of ‘In The Moment’

Instagram, at it’s core, found success from users being able to share their perspectives primarily through photos (later videos as well). These perspectives originally all had to be in the moment but they eventually gave way to users being able to upload pictures and videos not created natively. The impact of its evolution matters because users have always since preferred content created in the moment and behind the scenes a.k.a. “real moments”. It’s why Instagram is one of the last holdouts of allowing its API to be utilized to schedule content in advance – real moments happening in real time is what its users really react to and enjoy. It’s vital you don’t treat Instagram like Facebook for your success. Skip the political rants, memes, stock images, graphics, coupons, and motivational quotes and rely on actual moments as they happen in order to win over the hearts and minds of this platforms savvy users.

Is Instagram Right for Your Strategies?

As with any strategic decision, you have to set goals, determine tangible objectives, create strategies that will help you accomplish your objectives, and implement tactics to do the work of achieving your strategies. It has to work in that order and you can’t skip a step. Instagram is a tactic. You have to know why and if it makes sense for your goals, objectives and strategies. If the people you want to be in front of are using Instagram, then it’s a tactic that will help you get to where you want. Know the key demographic traits of your target audience – age, gender, location, and average income. Also, before you create any content, I urge you to watch others using Instagram, especially the types of people you want to follow your brand. Once you understand what Instagram users react to and that it fits in your strategic plan, it’s time to optimize the content you create on the platform.

Think Inside The Box: Rules for Instagram Success

There are 4 rules for Instagram success.

  1. Plan

Planning might seem counter intuitive to a platform that stresses being in the moment but it's not. You should know the story you are trying to tell and then find supporting collateral to back it up. If your goal at an event is to highlight sponsors, determine which of their contributions you want to show and find those moments. If your design aesthetic is important to your business, make sure you find the most creative ways to express that in your images.

  1. Compose

Composing a photo in Instagram is all about follow through and standards. Before you take a photo, make sure you know what you want in the shot and what you don’t. What you show and what you don’t tells complexly different stories. If you are trying to show idealized beauty in order to inspire, wait for your moment and be critical of every detail. If you are trying to show behind the scenes of an event, know that what’s in the shot and what isn’t tells that story as well. Think of things like lighting, textures, symmetry, and emotion before you take a photo and certainly before you upload. What you don’t show is just as important as what you choose to share.


What makes my vantage point unique at this event is that I am the social media moderator. Showing my laptop running the moderation while the panelists present gives important context that strategically made the decision to include.

  1. Stay Consistent

Consistency translates both the frequency you post, the timing of your posts, the voice of your copy and the overall look of your photos.  While there are general times that are optimal to post on Instagram (Monday -Thursday 11am-2pm/5pm-10pm) every audience is different. The answer of when to post is always: test and measure. Take away as many variables as possible and just try different times to see when people are reacting to you the most. Consistency of voice and images matter more than anything you do. Make sure each post is something you can back up strategically. If someone asked you about any post you create: “What was the point of that?”, you should have an answer. If you have your own rules for posts, consistency will just come.


Jordan’s images balance the glamorous looks his company creates for their clients with the less than glamorous work that goes into making it happen.

  1. Be Real

Being real simply means that your posts reflect your sensibilities, language, view of the world, and is identifiably you. If you do all those things and are authentic, you will be using Instagram with purpose and you will stand out from those posting without strategy.

If I wanted to talk about this conference on Facebook, I would have posted their logo and some copy. On Instagram, I make sure I show myself opening the flyer in my office. It’s a subtle difference but this shows how I emphasis real, in the moment, and behind the scenes.

Tips, Tricks, & Tactics for Instagram

Here is a list of tricks learned from posting around 15,000 Instagram posts in total, across many different accounts.

Taking The Perfect Shot

  • Don’t shoot photos natively in Instagram. There is often a delay and it’s far more likely to crash than your built-in camera app.
  • If you have a “burst mode”, use it when trying to capture movement. Choose the best of the bunch and don’t rely on getting the perfect shot in one take.
  • Hold your breath or use a tripod when shooting. Beautiful images are rarely blurry.
  • To adjust your image on the go, try the Photoshop Express app on the App Store or Google Play.
  • If you are shooting in a dark room with uplights and other décor lighting, don’t use flash. You’ll wash out the lighting design. Hold a video camera light in your hand and bounce that off the people you want to show. You’ll have more control over your lighting that way.

My view from the @clevelandclinic's #CIS2015

A photo posted by Nick Borelli❕ (@nick.borelli) on

My strategy is to show my specific role in events from my vantage point so my followers understand what I do and how I think.


  • Follow large brands to see how they are using Instagram to tell their stories. They have unlimited budgets but still have the same platform limitations as you. Look at their photos and deconstruct their messages.
  • Go to www.2015bestnine.com to see the images with the most engagement of any public Instagram account. Use this to find out which images from brands you respect got the most ROI so you can learn.




Examples of Taco Bell, Starbucks, and my most engaging posts from 2015.


  • 5 to 7 times weekly should be your goal for posting but remember, set realistic goals for yourself and do your best to keep to a consistent frequency.
  • Pack your bio with features about you that people will connect with. Unlike Twitter, profiles and hashtags aren’t clickable in bios.
  • You can’t add clickable links in Instagram copy. The only place you can is one link in your profile. Consider changing this link regularly and drive people to the link from the copy in your latest post.
  • Posting more frequently than usual at a live event is the norm and your followers will not have a problem with is as long as it is interesting.

Examples of good Instagram profiles:




Compelling Copy




Well-Rounded Insights


All of the above


  • Hashtags help you be discovered by users who are interested in what you’re posting about. Without them, it's very unlikely anyone but a portion of those who already follow you will see your posts.
  • Placement of hashtags is debatable. Many add them after the copy. Some add them within the copy and still others follow up a post with a comment featuring all the hashtags. Your guide should be to do whatever gets you noticed without making reading the copy awkward.
  • How many hashtags you use is up to you but you should only use what is relevant. Think of each hashtag as a new discussion. Does your image belong in that discussion? If it’s adding something to the conversation, it’s fine. If not, it’s possible people will see you as disrupting the conversation and it will hurt your credibility.
  • For a hashtag to be clickable, it must contain only numbers and letters. You can have your list of hashtags all together with no spaces and only the hashtag mark separating them and it they will all be clickable independently. I don’t recommend this, however, because it looks cluttered and is hard to determine what you are clicking on. Use spaces.

Gaining Followers

  • Make sure you curate your images and give people a reason to follow you. Don’t deviate too much from what your audience wants and make sure it’s never random.
  • Your copy should always strive to be helpful, timely, informative, generous, credible, entertaining and above all else…brief!
  • Following the right people and making sure you interact with them will give you the best opportunity to be followed back. Be an active commenter on images using hashtags relevant to your images.
  • If you can, create contests that ask your followers to share your images or use your hashtag in order to win something.

AFR Rentals gained followers and engagement through this contest.

My Favorite Instagram Apps

  • Schedugram - http://schedugr.am I’ve been using this site for years to schedule my Instagram posts at the optimal times to be seen.
  • Regram – Essential app for Instagramers. Repost other images and give proper credit.
  • Followers+ - Quick engagement metrics at a glance on your phone of your efforts.
  • Cinemagraph – Turns videos into works of art by only animating portions of the video which gives way to what looks like moving pictures.
  • LiPix Pro – My favorite collage maker but there are many other choices.
  • PicPlayPost – Stitching together images and videos into collages.
  • Hyperlapse from Instagram (iOS) or Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile (for Android) - Lets you create easy time lapse videos.
  • Boomerang – Also made by Instagram, video loops in forward or reverse.
  • Instasize – Takes images with unusual aspect ratios and adds an all white background in order to have them fit on Instagram.
  • Zoom, Enhance (iOS only)  – Turn photos into videos that zoom into a specific portion of the photo.
  • Font Candy (iOS) or Font Studio (Android) – Add stylized text on top of images.
  • Lively (iOS only) – Turn iPhone live photos into exportable videos.

10 Essential #Eventprofs To Follow

Jcarbotti - Jordan Carbotti is my favorite event prof Instagramer. Every picture tells a story and is beautifully constructed while being 100% real and in the moment. Break down what he is doing intuitively and learn how to apply what you see to your own work.

Liesegardner - No one curates their images more than Liese. It’s obvious that everything she posts meets her high standards of quality and is matched by her gift for storytelling.

Makingthemoment - Pro event photogs with incredible style unafraid to adapt to the medium of Instagram.

Pinkdeb - Large scale sculptural event designer and the architecture that inspires her.

CateringChicago - Catering by Michaels features delicious looking short plate menu items and culinary displays.

Davidbeahm - Unique perspectives of event experiences designed by one of industry’s most celebrated talents. They also do an amazing job of tagging collaborators.

Redvelvetevents - Showing all the work behind what a world-class event planning & DMC firm does shows what a tremendous value they offer.

Onesquigglyline.visualthinking - Hand-drawn visual representations of speaker sessions, meetings, and any live event. These images tell stories in a very human and impactful way.

Drapekings - Rentals are hard to translate into engaging Instagram success but Drape Kings has provided event context, behind the scenes looks, and even install pictures that set them apart from most in this category.

Jasonjani - Thought leader for event DJs, his Instagram images are full of swagger and energy.

In Conclusion

Events are inherently visual and no social media platform is focused more on imagery than Instagram. If design and details matter to you, optimally expressing your work through Instagram should come naturally if you rely on your instincts. Use, don’t abuse, hashtags, be consistent in what and why you post, and always be you. In a world of 140 characters and shrinking attention spans, let your pictures be worth 1,000 words that will actually be seen and enjoyed.

about the author

Nick Borelli
Nick Borelli is the President and Strategist for Borelli Strategies which focuses on consulting, coaching, and management of digital marketing for events and event companies. He is also an international speaker and the International Marcom Chair for the International Live Events Association.  
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