Five Things Your Brand Is Doing Wrong On Instagram

Instagram food influencer

There’s nothing like knowing that a sneeze from a stranger could kill you to make you suddenly switch to doing all your shopping online. Experts estimate that the shift to ecommerce has been accelerated by five years due to the pandemic. The food industry has seen one of the largest shifts, with online purchases of groceries expected to more than double to $250 billion by 2025. As the dollars shift to digital, thousands of companies are scrambling to grow their digital presence. With more than a billion users and sky-high user engagement, Instagram has become the cornerstone for many brands. There are hundreds of articles about how to grow your business on Instagram, all saying some combination of more videos (reels, IGTV, etc), more hashtags, and more commenting. It’s much harder to understand what not to do.

I decided to sit down with a few Instagram experts who have the unique perspective of being both influencers themselves and running businesses on Instagram. They told me about all the newbie mistakes to watch out for when growing a brand on Instagram.

Overly Polished Photos & Videos

Though it may sound strange for a photo sharing app, overly polished, hyper-curated photos are a turnoff. As Ali Bonar, influencer at AliBonar and founder of Kween + Co granola butter put it, “I can instantly tell when a brand has outsourced to an agency and some poor intern is arranging beautiful stock photos.” The ideal photos feel effortlessly beautiful, as though you somehow caught the perfect candid photo. As Arla Heidrich, influencer at ArlaEats and founder of Eleventynine, an app for influencers, put it, the photos “can’t be too crappy or too staged, there’s a sweet spot.” Miyoko, influencer at MiyokoSchinner and founder of Miyoko’s Creamery, started making home cooking videos during the pandemic, teaching people how to make everything from tofu to ketchup. She quickly realized that her audience loved it when she made mistakes, or talked about how she’d been so busy she hadn’t had time to brush her hair. These messy, homemade videos led people to rave about her brand in a new way, with people writing in to say “I love you Miyoko” instead of just “I love your butter.” Authenticity is the antithesis of airbrushing.


Act Like An Influencer

Ask any good CEO how things are going with their business and they’ll give you a litany of successes, even if their business may be struggling to stay alive. For many of us founders, pitching is a profession, and we live by the mantra “fake it till you make it.” Instagram upends that. People want openness, vulnerability, and behind-the-scenes content that humanizes the brand. As Ali put it, “treat Instagram like you’re an influencer, not a business.” Show the struggles of being a small business, like the founder shipping out products, or the drudgery of standing in Whole Foods passing old samples for hours. While you might feel shame around how small your company is, your audience will love your vulnerability and empathize with your everyday challenges. When COVID-induced budget cuts forced Miyoko to play a bigger role in her company’s social media, she realized that her less curated, day-in-the-life posts did even better than what her brand was doing before. As she put it, “I brought the reality of my life into it, not talking about the product but talking about social justice, quarantine life, and effectively my company’s Instagram became our own influencer.”

Don’t Post Every Day

Consistency isn’t key when it turns posting into a chore. With every photo you post, you should be able to answer the question “do I care?” Is your audience learning something? Perhaps a health tip, or learning more about a farmer who grows the food they’re eating. Are they inspired? Perhaps it’s a recipe that inspires them, or a quote. Or are they entertained – is there a meme or a pop culture reference or a joke that will leave them chuckling? For Arla, every post should be able to answer that question. She freely admits that despite her ~400k followers, many days she doesn’t feel she can answer that question and so she doesn’t post to her feed at all. Of course, many experts advocate for posting to your story more frequently, but these can be smaller, spontaneous clips. The key is to not post every day simply for the sake of posting, but to post to your feed only when you have content that your audience will care about.

Outsource Your Content Creation

Scroll long enough down the feed of many influencers and you’ll realize a dirty little secret – they repurpose content all the time. As Ali points out, “only 10% of people who follow you see any one post.” It’s totally okay to take a photo that did really well a few months ago and bring it back. Not only that, you don’t need to be creating all the content. Send free product to influencers, particularly smaller or “micro influencers” who are more likely to take photos of products they like without charging anything.

Settle In For The Long-Term

Buying fast follower growth is sort of like fast food, it feels good in the moment but you’ll definitely regret it later. Fake followers will leave you with a lot of posts without any engagement, demoting you in the eyes of the all-mighty Instagram algorithms. Growing a strong Instagram presence is a long-term game of building up a loyal community that loves to engage with your brand.

I’ve never aspired to be an Instagram influencer, feeling like it’s hard enough to just build a business without trying to take lots of pretty pictures along the way. For a long time, Kuli Kuli didn’t even have an active Instagram account, and yes, I’ll admit, I outsourced the job to many an intern. My personal Instagram more closely resembles a baby photo album than a personal brand of a founder. But after speaking with Ali, Arla and Miyoko, I have hope that growing a strong brand on Instagram isn’t about the professional photos or constant creation, it’s about sharing who you are as an interesting and relatable person, which is something we all can create.

I’m the Founder & CEO of Kuli Kuli, the leading brand pioneering a green superfood called moringa. I’ve taken the company from an idea I dreamed up in Peace Corps and