3 Instagram Mistakes That Can Land Your Brand in Hot Water


Any retailer who’s on Instagram wants results. If you’re marketing on Instagram, chances are you’re in it because you want increase customer engagement, followers, and ultimately, revenue.

This is why it’s important that brands constantly interact with the community and come up with creative efforts that draw attention, likes, and even sales. That said, retailers need to be careful with how they implement their campaigns. Being too aggressive with your efforts or running Instagram initiatives without thinking them through can cost you your fans and reputation.

Here are 3 examples of Instagram blunders that you should steer clear of.


1. Using customer photos without permission

User-generated content is gold for brands, which is why you should make it habit to scour the Instagram universe for fan photos that you could use to promote your store. Once you find pictures that you’d like to use though, get consent from the people who originally posted the images to ensure that they’re ok with you using their photos. Failing to take this step can lead to upset customers and bad press.

Consider what happened to Crocs when it used a picture that one of its customers posted, without asking for her permission. Shereen Way posted a snapshot of her daughter wearing a pair of pink Crocs sandals on Instagram, unaware that the company would publish it on its website.

It wasn’t until a reporter got in touch with Shereen did she discover what Crocs did. “No one reached out to me,” she told the New York Times. “I feel a little weirded out.”

What to do instead

You can avoid this Instagram faux pas simply by asking people’s permission before using their images. This can be as easy as commenting on the user’s post.


One retailer that does is well is REI. The outdoor sports store comments on the photos that they’d like to use then waits for the user to agree,

Another option is to create an official hashtag, and make it clear that users who tag their photos using the said hashtag are giving you consent to use the images. Apparel retailer Forever 21 did a great job at this when it launched its #F21SummerCool campaign in 2015.


The company gave customers a chance to be featured on their social channels by encouraging them to post photos of them wearing Forever 21 merchandise and then mentioning @Forever21 plus tagging those images with the hashtags #F21xMe or #F21SummerCool.

See if you can do something similar for your Instagram followers.

And when you see customers who are constantly sharing great photos of your products, consider building a relationship with them. Reach out to these individuals directly, thank them for helping spread the word about your brand, and send them a token of appreciation (like gift cards).

Doing so will not only score you extra points with the customer, but you’ll encourage them to keep generating content for your brand.


2. Failing to disclose sponsored content

Influencer marketing–the practice of collaborating with influential people within a community–is very common on Instagram.

There are several accounts on the platform that have garnered large followings, and brands are eager to team up with the owners of these accounts so they can tap into their audiences. Usually, companies strike up agreements wherein the influencer posts something about the brand (usually an image of them wearing or using the retailer’s merchandise) in exchange for products, free experiences, or even money.

There’s nothing wrong with influencer marketing. In fact, it can be an effective tactic to put yourself in front of a relevant audience. However, problems may arise if the people you team up with fail to disclose that they’re posting sponsored content. 


Check out what happened to Lord & Taylor earlier this year, when it launched an influencer campaign on Instagram. To promote its Design Lab collection, the retailer rounded up 50 fashion influencers one weekend, and got them to post photos of themselves wearing the same dress on Instagram.

The results were tremendous. According to AdWeek, “many of the posts generated more than 1,000 Likes each, with several surpassing 5,000 Likes and some reaching rarified levels like 13,000 Likes.” The initiative generated sales as well, and it sold out that same weekend.

But there was one hiccup: The Instagrammers who were part of the campaign weren’t upfront about the nature of their posts. While widely successful, the campaign received some negative attention because it may have violated guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requires brands and users to let audiences know if a post is sponsored or paid for.

Additionally, some users who follow the same influencers were put off because they noticed that the posts didn’t contain any disclosure.

What to do instead

Be very transparent about sponsorship campaigns that you’re running with influencers. See to it that they fully disclose their material relationship with your brand by tagging their posts with hashtags like “#ad” or “#sponsored”).

This will ensure that you stay on the good graces of the FTC and that you don’t break consumer trust.


3. Purchasing fake followers

It’s understandable to want to grow your follower count as quickly as possible, but recognize that this process may take time. Strive to organically grow your Instagram presence by posting great content and connecting with your audience in relevant and creative ways.

Sure, this route takes work and you likely won’t get hundreds or thousands of followers overnight (unless you’re Taylor Swift). But if you do the legwork, you’ll find that the followers you gain are ones who are genuinely interested in your brand and more likely to buy from you.

Whatever you do, do not purchase followers. Social networks periodically crack down on fake accounts and the firms that sell them, so while buying followers might give you a nice follower count to look at, it’ll likely be temporary.

What to do instead

Start by posting great-looking pictures. Invest in your photography skills, or hire someone who takes Instagram-worthy photos. Be sure to listen to your audience. What kinds of images do they want to see? How do they respond to different content types? Get the answers to these questions then incorporate them into your strategy.

Also explore ways to engage with the community. Run contests, encourage user-generated content, or team up with relevant accounts.

There’s isn’t a one-size fits all Instagram strategy, as each retailer is different. The best way to figure Instagram out is to try different things and see what works.


For examples and ideas, check out our previous post, The Ultimate Retailer’s Guide to Selling, Growing and Marketing on Instagram.

Your turn

Can you give other examples of Instagram blunders to avoid? Share them in the comments.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.