For Millennials and Gen Z, pictures are worth a thousand words.

The cool kids are on Instagram. You need to be there, too.


I was scrolling through posts on Instagram for a lifestyle brand I follow recently, and the comment thread stopped me in my tracks. The call to action was a request to sign up for an email newsletter.

“Sign up for email?” one commenter fumed, condescension practically oozing off the screen. “I don’t have time for email! Why can’t you just post the link here?” Others quickly piled on. The wounded outrage was kind of funny, but real nonetheless.

And that, in a nutshell, is the challenge marketers face with engaging Millennials and Gen Z. They are not here for email. They are busy. And, by the way, in 2019 the oldest Gen Zers are recent college grads and include aspiring new teachers. So, you need to start reaching them, but where do you go?

Start with Instagram.

The photo-sharing app may be just 10 years old, but it has grown exponentially since being bought by Facebook in 2012. With one billion active users, it is second only to Facebook in influence. Beautiful photography and fun editing apps help savvy individuals and brands create identities, evoke lifestyles, and become influencers. It is the visual, picture-book quality of the channel that makes it irresistible to people who were seemingly born knowing how to selfie and scroll. The ability to directly interact with influencers and brands adds to the appeal.

Instagram, like Twitter, relies on #hashtags to help users find content, and each other. (Did you know there are over 10 million posts about #bacon?) Using just one hashtag on a post increases engagement by 12.6%. In general, the collective thinking is the more hashtags the better. However, there are limits–specifically 30 hashtags per post–and brands in particular should hashtag mindfully.

Speaking of brands, they are there and they’re doing really inspired work. An advantage to marketing on Instagram is that the channel isn’t over-saturated yet, especially among education-centric brands. That’s good news because there’s still an opportunity to become an influencer. The visual nature of Instagram is also an excellent fit for education marketers since education products, not to mention the end-users (students and teachers), are extremely photogenic. Also great for Instagram: educators are a naturally collaborative bunch, so the opportunity for highly engaging user-generated content (UGC) is high.

As you think about how to integrate this channel into your own marketing plan, consider what others are doing. Here are some examples of how very well-known brands are using Instagram to reach a new market, create authenticity, refresh their image, and connect with their community.

1. Reinvigorate your brand identity.

Tiffany and Company is an iconic brand name. But a younger audience (if they know the name at all) may equate the name more with lamps than fashionable jewelry. To counter any perception of being old or stodgy, Tiffany has reinvented itself on Instagram by adopting a modern look and feel. The signature Tiffany Blue factors into each post as a graphic trademark. Beautiful images of the products are interspersed with pop culture references and famous influencers wearing stunning Tiffany jewelry, the epitome of modern luxury.

2. Tell a story visually.

National Geographic is legendary for its magazine, magnificent photography, and arresting film. However, everyone may not be aware of the 130-year history of this venerable institution. Instagram is a natural for reaching a youthful new audience. The photos and videos are the stars. This photo of Valley of the Gods in Utah perfectly captures the name of the park in this stunning tableau of the landscape against the heavens.

3. Get creative.

Lego is a brand that’s all about the fun. Their Instagram reflects that with eye-catching posts and videos that are designed to enthrall. This video uses Legos in a unique way to create something completely new and unexpected. Followers react with joy. Lego is also checking the authenticity box with exceptional UGC like this.

4. Know your audience.

University of Wisconsin Madison understands that it is the student body that powers the college experience. UW-Madison’s Instagram reflects that by painting a college “slice of life” story that appeals directly to its target audience, prospective students and their parents.

5. Create a connection.

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society tells the stories of Leukemia and Lymphoma patients, survivors, families and friends to put a face on the mission and create an emotional connection with the community around them. LLS optimizes their grid by interspersing personal stories with inspirational posts and incorporates their signature red to make the connection to the organization.

To reach a Millennial/Gen Z audience, you first have to track them down. You’ll find them on Instagram. Build a strategy with your brand identity as the foundation. Create a visually captivating story of who you are, what you do, and who you serve. Share those values that are central to what you do to make your brand come alive. Don’t be stingy with those hashtags. And remember, we are here to help.