Instagram – Sales Versus Engagement [Research]

Instagram Sells: 5 Keys You Need To Know

Instagram Sells On DollsKill Instagram makes our lives look better.

It was no surprise that “selfie” was 2013’s word of the year. Arranging your life for its visual beauty on Instagram allows you to instill your family and friends with jealousy.

Marketers have found Instagram’s visual platform is a great tool for branding. This intuitively makes sense since it shows your products and customers in the wild, so to speak.

Further, unlike other social media platforms, you can incorporate calls-to-action and links to your site.

Instagram sales research

But recent research by University of Wisconsin marketing professor Purush Papatla reveals that marketers shouldn’t stop there. (Note: While this research has been written up on several blogs and news sites, I was unable to find the original documents. That said, the findings make sense from a marketing perspective.)

How the Instagram sales research was done

Researchers analyzed customer responses to over 130,000 collections of images, across over 60 retail sites that used Olapic’s photography based curation platform, over a 6 month period. They studied people who viewed user-generated Instagram photos placed on a brand page. Then, they tracked whether that person eventually purchased from the brand. If so, they checked whether the item bought was featured in an image the shopper had previously viewed.

The Instagram secret sauce

Place customers’ Instagram images on your site. Even better, move them to specific product pages.

  • Instagram images on product pages provide critical how-to and styling information that customers seek pre-and post-purchase. They can see how the product looks in the way that they intend to use it.
  • Placing customers’ Instagram images on product pages provides an implicit recommendation from another customer.

Key finding: Instagram sales versus engagement

On Instagram, the researchers found that images showing customers wearing or using the product resulted in sales. This helped with fit and use. By contrast, attention-getting or aspirational images drove engagement such as likes and comments. Interestingly, Instagram photos drive 1.5 times more engagement than video.

5 Key Instagram sales tips

The University of Wisconsin-Olapic research discovered 5 key actionable marketing tips for Instagram that resulted in sales.

  1. Include longer photograph captions. Short captions tend to minimize sentimental content according to the research. The objective is to make potential buyers feel connected through your content. This makes sense since your prospects want and need more context for your products.
  2. Skip the filters. For users, Instagram is about making your life appear spectacular through the use of different filters. The research discovered that viewers held brands to a different standard. Brands had to be authentic.
  3. Be selective with your Instagram posting. Unlike other social media sites, the most successful brands were discriminating with their posts. The brands with multiple posts per day did worse.
  4. Mind your punctuation. Skip the question marks or exclamation points in your captions. They have a negative impact on buyers.
  5. Show yellow and blue in images. The study notes that other scientists have found that these colors are also effective in ads. As a point of reference, this is consistent with Curalate’s findings that showed a 29% increase in likes on blue images over red images. (By contrast, reds work well on Pinterest.)

Bauble Bar and Dolls Kill are two examples that use Instagram photos to encourage sales. Of particular note is the gaming element both sites use to increase customer participation.

Here are Instagram photos of customers wearing BaubleBar product.

Instagram Helps Bauble Bar Sell Product


Here’s how the BaubleBar incents readers to share their Instagram photos.



Instagram shows Bauble Bar Product


Dolls Kill had a contest to “To Be A Doll.”




Example of Instagram Photographs To Sell

Dolls Kill encourages Instagrams and selfies. It knows its audience.

Dolls Kill host Instagram photos to sell product

Customer photographs on Instagram help increase your branding and convert sales. Many customers have a hard time visualizing how a product will look without seeing it on someone else. Many customers aren’t very original. They walk into a store with the photographs they’ve found online.

Have you used Instagram to improve your branding and/or sales? If so, what were your results?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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  • Maël Roth

    We want to integrate instagram into our online marketing strategy for our startup and I was just working on how to incorporate it into the sales cycle and defining the strategy. Few helpful tips in your post, thanks Heidi ;)

    • heidicohen

      Mael-Glad to be of help. Instagram is a great way to integrate UGC (user generated content..) Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • Daisy

    I like seeing brands that are embracing Instagram, I noticed over the past few years how edgy brands like Jeffrey Campbell and Nasty Gal using it as part of their shopping experience. I like how it comes of like a mix between a recommendation and inspiration of ways to wear the item. Thanks for sharing this.