How to Adopt Instagram Trends (While Staying On Brand)

July 20, 2021
Kyra Goodman

Not sure your brand gels with the dancing and lip-syncing on Instagram? Here's how you can stay trendy without sacrificing your identity.

To follow or not to follow? No, it’s not an existential crisis. It’s the question Instagram marketers are asking about Instagram trends. Should you follow Instagram trends? And if so, how do you follow a trend while staying true to your brand on Instagram? Great question(s). We’re here to help you find the answers.

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How do you decide if a social media trend is worth following for your brand? For some brands, trend-following is an easy and obvious decision. For others, it can feel unnatural and sometimes, even silly. So how do you make the right decision—free from personal bias—to make sure you’re creating the best and most relevant content for your Instagram account? Honestly? It comes down to knowing your brand and knowing what your audience expects from you. But sometimes, we overthink and overanalyze and land on the wrong choice. So... don’t worry, we have a few tips to help you figure out which trends are worth the efforts and which ones to say “thank you, next” to.

It depends

Oh great, a nice vague answer to kick things off. Just what the doctor ordered. But wait, hear us out. Not all Instagram trends are equal. There are some bigger, overarching trends. These trends often broader and offer an idea of the general direction Instagram is headed in. For example, this tweet from Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, makes it clear that “more videos, fewer photos” is clearly going to be the trend for 2021. As a brand, should you follow this trend then? Definitely yes!If your company is using Instagram as a marketing channel, the onus is on you to evolve as the platform evolves. So if the content is trending towards more video, fewer photos, then that is a trend you one hundred percent should learn to adapt to. There are also many smaller, micro trends that take off on the platform. These trends are fleeting, often quite specific, and relevant only for a short time before the next trend takes over. For example, certain music tracks trend for Reel usage each week. Or perhaps it’s a specific type of graphic or typography that becomes the trend. These micro-trends can sometimes be the harder ones to decide about. This is where it’s crucial to really know your brand, your audience. Ask yourself important questions such as:

  • Why should you follow this trend?
  • Is it relevant to your audience?
  • Does it match your Instagram aesthetic?
  • Do you have the resources to adopt this trend?
  • What will your audience get out of it?
  • What will you get out of it?

So whether or not you should follow a particular trend comes down to the type of trend it is. If you’re still unsure, the next few tips will help you find some answers to the above questions and gain further clarity.

Be clear about your brand and voice

Everything you do (or don’t do) on social media ultimately comes down to your brand. Your social media presence and marketing efforts perpetuate your brand in the minds of your consumers. You probably already know your brand inside and out. Now is the time to get super clear on it. If your organization has a branding identity document, refer to it as a refresher. Consider important questions about your brand such as:

  • What is your brand’s personality?
  • What is your brand’s aesthetic? (colors, design, typography, etc)
  • What kind of language does your brand use? (Professional, conversational?
  • What are the brand no-nos?
  • What emotions does your brand produce?

It’s also crucial that you are clear on your company’s tone of voice. Many brands already work through this process when creating their social media marketing strategy so you may already know this. If you don’t, now is the time to figure this out as well. For example, is your tone:

  • Casual or formal?
  • Serious or funny?
  • Irreverent?
  • Matter-of-fact?
  • Authoritative?
  • Educational?

Knowing what your brand stands for and what it doesn’t will be very helpful when it comes to choosing whether or not to follow a trend. If the trend doesn’t suit your brand identity or your tone of voice, reject the trend and move on. If it does, consider it and then continue to assess it using some of the other factors outlined in this article. For example, if your Instagram is strictly all business-like (in brand and tone), then it’s pretty obvious that some of the more casual microtrends aren’t the right fit for you. If your brand aesthetic is all about maintaining a strictly professional “face” then you definitely don’t want to adopt the more casual typography that is currently trending. However, you could still adopt broader trends such as increasing your video content or get creative with Reels. Hubspot is a great example of an Instagram account that follows trends without sacrificing its brand identity or its tone of voice. Throughout the Instagram content, the brand always maintains a coaching and/or educational position while adopting a conversational and sometimes funny tone.

Know your audience

A huge part of knowing your brand is also knowing your audience. In this case, we mean specifically knowing your Instagram audience. Use the Instagram data available to you to get to know who your existing Instagram audience is. Knowing who your content is addressing will go a long way towards helping you decide whether or not a particular trend is relevant to them. Another aspect of knowing your audience is also knowing the type of content they respond well to. This information is also available to you through Instagram insights and Sked Social. Additionally, you may like to keep in mind that different demographics prefer different types of posts or content. For example, if you are a fashion brand targeting women, it’s probably a good idea for you to hop onto all the fashion trends on Instagram from OOTD to the multiple outfit try-ons on Reels. You could also share relevant trending memes.

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Know your competition too

Every good marketer knows their competitor and always keeps their eye on what the competitors are up to. This is just plain good business sense.You probably already do this for Instagram anyway. You see what your competitors are sharing on Instagram and what they aren’t. This is awesome for setting the standard and often also valuable for inspiration (no we didn’t say copy your competitors.)If your competitors are embracing certain trends and the audience is responding well to them—it may be worth your time to look into the trend as well. On the other hand, if they’ve gone all out on a trending meme and it makes you cringe—stay away from it. Note: We’re not saying limit yourself to what your competitors are doing. We’re simply saying observing your competitors may be helpful when deciding a trend. Your job is to make sure your Instagram differentiates itself from others in the market. So feel free to be creative and do something they aren’t doing and become the trendsetter.

Always have your social media goals in mind

What are your goals for your Instagram? When creating any kind of social media content, it’s important to remember what your goals are. Then, think about how the content serves these goals. This rule applies to trends also. Trends will keep coming. But if following that trend doesn’t support your overall goals or your Instagram strategy then it’s a hard no from us. Say you are a luxury furniture brand. Your Instagram goals include building an engaged community and also driving more sales (obviously!) You may choose to jump onto the user-generated content (UGC) trend for your account. You feature your customers’ photos and videos, to follow through on your community goals. As your community sees these photos of real people using your furniture in their homes, it piques their interest and you drive more traffic to your website as well which then leads to more sales. Yay!

Create a decision-making process

So many things to keep in mind! Believe it or not, for most marketers, this trend assessment process starts to become very natural once they’ve done it a few times. It’s a good idea to create a decision-making process to help you simplify this further. This is especially helpful when you are managing a client’s account and want to get their okay on following trends on behalf of their company.

  • Create a checklist This can include brand identity, tone of voice, suitability for your audience, etc. If a trend checks these boxes, move on to the next step.
  • Set blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ rules if relevant If it’s ok with your client, establish a few rules (beyond the above checklist) that allow you to always say yes or always say no to certain trends. These blanket rules will help further speed up the trend-adoption process. For example, your brand might have a blanket no for any trends that involve swearing in the content.

Establish the approvals process

Beyond the above rules, also decide who gets the final say on whether a trend is a go or a no. Often clients are happy to leave this decision to the experts (i.e. you). However, some clients prefer to be a bit more hands-on so you may need to get clear on how much input they’d like to have on you creating trendy content as well.

Prioritize relevance over reach

Reach matters on Instagram. The more people your content reaches, the better for your Insta account (and for your business), right? Not always. Ever noticed a brand post memes that have absolutely zero relevance to their business? As a marketer, ever cringed and wondered what the purpose of the post was? Us too. If you’re jumping on every random trend without paying any notice to your brand, or your audience—it’s pointless. These posts will often give these accounts a temporary bump in reach but does it lead to any measurable growth or success for the business? Rarely! Always prioritize the relevance of your content—irrespective of trends—over the potential reach of a viral trend. Just because something is trending globally, doesn’t mean it’s of interest to your particular audience. Consistently creating quality and relevant content for your audience will lead to better, more sustainable Instagram growth than chasing high reach numbers.

Keep a finger on the pulse

Trends on Instagram (or any social channel) tend to develop faster than many of us realize. As marketers, it’s our job to keep our eyes peeled and look out for what is taking off on Instagram. Sometimes trends evolve as user habits change. For example, Instagram’s video pivot mentioned above shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. As we all know, video has dominated Instagram for a while now. If your brand hasn’t adapted to video yet… it’s time to catch up! At other times, trends take off very quickly. These trends are often fleeting. You may have noticed that this is especially true for Reels. For example, certain songs take off and suddenly everyone on your feed is recreating their version of a Reel with the same song. These trends are especially worth keeping an eye on as the window of opportunity is often small and you have to act quick. So our final piece of advice is this—always be hustling. Meaning—as the holder of the keys to the Instagram universe, it’s crucial that you keep up with trends. You must know what’s trending before you can decide whether is suits your brand or not.How do you this? By using Instagram (obviously) and seeing what other users (brands, influencers and event regular people) are doing. By keeping a finger on the pulse, you will be to adopt trends quickly when necessary and and keep your brand relevant on Instagram.

Going viral isn’t everything

It’s normal to want to join a trending conversation or hop on a viral challenge trend. After all, if everyone (including your competitor) is doing it, then why shouldn’t you jump on board as well? But to summarize what we’ve said above—you don’t have to do it all. When you see a trend crop up—ask yourself why you’re doing it. Remember: going viral isn’t the goal. Contrary to popular belief, virality isn’t what brands should aspire to. Social media marketing isn’t just about winning a popularity contest. It’s about connecting with your community—first and foremost. As an Instagram marketer, your priority should always be to create content that is relevant, useful and interesting for your audience. Follow the trends—when it makes sense. But if a particular trend feels off-brand, don’t be afraid to sit it out.


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