Shanna Mallon

Visual Content: How Starbucks Uses Instagram

By: Shanna Mallon | September 24, 2013 | 

visual content

By Shanna Mallon

With 1.5 million followers (and counting!), Starbucks is a big brand that knows what it’s doing on Instagram.

From posting pretty pictures of its products to amplifying a strong sense of its brand with relevant visual content, the company uses Instagram to reinforce its messaging and to connect with its fans.

And while your company might not be Starbucks, here’s how you can learn from its example, no matter your brand’s industry or size.

Beautiful Product Shots

Starbucks regularly posts pictures of its products, but usually in unique and attractive settings. From three glasses of passion tea with a sprig of mint to a Starbucks cup being held by a girl on a blanket surrounded by fall leaves, the brand showcases its drinks in the best possible light.

How You Can Apply This: Follow the example of Starbucks and showcase your products or services in a way that is interesting, attractive, and aligned with your brand. If you sell cleaning products, take the best possible picture of a residence you just cleaned. If you run an island bed and breakfast, post pictures of Saturday French toast with scenery in the background.

Emphasis on the Emotional Connections with its Products

If there’s nothing else we learn from Starbucks, it’s that a product is never just a product. Thanks to Starbucks, a cup of coffee is more than a cup of coffee – it’s a statement. On Instagram, Starbucks shows this by posting pictures aligned with the image it’s created for its brand. Its feed includes more than its products; it also features lifestyle pictures, from a shot of a dad and his kid at the beach to one of a boat on the water.

How You Can Apply This: Think of Instagram as a branding tool. Who are you and what do you stand for? What are the interests and styles that define your brand? Use Instagram to consistently, regularly reinforce that branding message by posting photos aligned with what you want to represent.

Behind-the-Scenes Images

Starbucks gives its followers an insider look at what it does, from a bowl of coffee grinds to a vat of beans in Panama. Doing so enhances the information available on Instagram. It deepens connections between the brand and its followers.

How You Can Apply This: Share photos from event prep or office gatherings. Post images that show how your products are made, or what goes into your packaging. All of these peeks into your process give followers the feeling of being let inside the loop.

Custom Hashtags

Starbucks identifies its “Treat Receipt” promotion on Instagram with the hashtag #treatreceipt. Search that hashtag and you find thousands of Starbucks product pictures – and not just from the brand.

How You Can Apply This: When you run a promotion at your business, promote it on Instagram and use a custom tag. Then, on your blog or other social channels, encourage your followers to do the same from their Instagram accounts. This not only promotes your current marketing campaign, but it also encourages sharing of your brand.

Can you learn something from the example of Starbucks on Instagram? Might implementing the above tips point you towards savvy practices to promote your brand? Why not start today?

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a writer for StraightNorth, a Chicago web design firm providing specialized SEO, Twitter marketing strategy, web development, and other online marketing services. Follow StraightNorth on Twitter @straightnorth.


    Very useful examples that can benefit any brand.

    • Shanna Mallon Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Great points, Shanna.  As an individual user, I’ve shot my share of marginally decent, lazy shots for the sake of sharing what I’m eating or drinking (or doing) but you are so right — a company that takes time to really showcase their products may just entice me to engage with them more!

  • I love how they showcase more than just their product – B2B brands can really take that, be creative, and and run with it. 
    And YES on the behind the scenes! No matter how “boring” you think your company is, its still fun to see behind the scenes. Who works there? What does your office look like? It can showcase the company culture and puts a face behind the brand.

    • photo chris

      yvettepistorio ahhh, yes, but what if that face wants to remain faceless?

      • Shanna Mallon

        photo chris yvettepistorio Each brand has to evaluate this for itself, but as the article demonstrates there is value to come from sharing more of the personal side : )

    • Shanna Mallon

      yvettepistorio I totally agree!

  • Nice post, Shanna. I’ve found the challenge for many small businesses is to figure out how (or even if) they should use Instagram or other social media. I talked with a corrosion specialist who couldn’t see the benefit of Facebook, but what a great place to answer customer questions, post pics of new products, and troubleshoot corrosion issues. Not your passion tea and mint sprig kind of pic, but…

    • photo chris

      Word Ninja If I had a corrosion issue I’d be all over the web looking for pics, seeing who could solve what looked like “my” issue.

      • photo chris When I wrote a blog post about it, I found a pic of the Statue of Liberty. Apparently the tip of the nose is corroding. Who knew???

  • Starbucks definitely leads the pack in a B2C arena using Instagram. I can see where other B2C companies could easily adapt their own creativity to the platform, and then crowdsource the content.
    B2B…that’s a tad more difficult. Here, let me take a picture of my laptop screen showing an awesome 3-d pie chart…then throw some Fall leaves around it 😉
    What would be one good B2B example using Instagram or Vine? Pinterest is still workable because the picture just catches the eye…then drilldown to read technical specs or customer success story.

    • photo chris

      dbvickery Hey Brian! While I personally think that throwing fall leaves around anything makes it vastly more comforting, I might direct you towards images that evoke a feeling of what you want your clients to feel when they work with you or after they start using what you have to sell them. . 
      For instance,if your technology promotes, say, workplace harmony, then why not pics of a corporate picnic or company-sponsored apple-pie picking contest. 
      B2B or B2C- people are still people and react strongly to emotional imagery.

      • Shanna Mallon

        photo chris dbvickery Well said!

  • photo chris

    I have the interesting perspective that I am a photographer, but, I also develop New Business for our studio through referrals of companies who are higher up on a bride’s shopping list.  
    For venues especially, I’ll oversee the creative on (free) samples we provide to them to help THEM sell (think VISUAL ONLY content marketing) and you’d be amazed how many times I’ve had to talk them into pictures of PEOPLE being included. 
    Showcasing the emotion you WANT your clients to feel when they work with you always wins. A packed dance floor screams, “You will have a blast at your own wedding!”   A bride biting her lip as a tear falls down her face during her ceremony on that venue’s patio, golf course, etc.,  or better, a bride wiping the tears of the GROOM after he sees her for the first time, are winners each and every time at making the bride feel like she belongs there.
    And they show us off nicely as well 🙂

    • Shanna Mallon

      photo chris Yes. I think what you’re saying about showcasing the emotion you want your clients to feel is exactly right. Well said!

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