How To Bring Instagram Love To Your Email Marketing

11 min

You’ve probably heard a couple of things about Instagram and email marketing. You’ve heard that email is the old, reliable work horse of marketing, and you’ve probably heard that Instagram is the “big thing” on the social media scene. But did you know that they could work together to increase engagement with your email marketing?

What’s Email Engagement?

The definition of engagement in email marketing is the level to which subscribers are spending time with and paying attention to your email messaging. Some activities, such as clicking through an email, are a form of engagement. Social sharing or forwarding a message would also fall under this category. The metrics to watch include:

  • Open Rate
  • Click through rate
  • Social sharing
  • Forwards

The key is that not all activities are examples of engagement. Opening an email and immediately deleting it is not a sign of an engaged subscriber.

Instagram Content in Email?

Yes, use Instagram content in your email newsletters. Social images, in general, are good to use. Instagram, in particular, has a little something special. Food for thought: 76% of emails include social icons, but only 14% include social images, according to Curalate and Movable Ink. Of those 14% who do use social images:

  • 53% leverage Facebook
  • 14% use Twitter content
  • and less than 3% use Instagram content.

Remember that Instagram is the king of social engagement. In 2015, Instagram delivered 29% more engagement than Facebook, and 60% more than Twitter. While those numbers may be down significantly from 2014, they’re still too big to ignore.

More than that, social media agency Laundry Service found that using Instagram-style photography increased click-through rates to 8% and conversion rate by 25%. If that wasn’t enough, an Elon University study found that a majority of consumers trust user-generated content (UGC) more than they trust the brand-created content. (In this context, people usually think of online reviews, but photographs also fit the bill.)

It’s easy to add the Instagram icon and link it to your emails. If you’re using Instagram, that should be a no-brainer. And it’s easy enough to use your own Instagram content. That will get you some new Instagram followers. Depending on your industry, adding your own Instagram images to an email, paired with a coupon, can be a huge revenue driver.

But I’m talking about taking your community across your marketing channels. And that requires pulling out the big gun of Instagram: user-generated content. The good news is that there’s a lot of UGC available. The bad news is that you have to figure out how to find the UGC specific to your brand that you’d want to feature in your emails.

How to Find Instagram Images to Feature in Your Emails

Fashion and beauty brands, like with many things Instagram, tend to lead the way. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and have their methods down to a science. If you wanted to check out one retailer who does this well, look at Urban Outfitters. They feature Instagram content (their own and UGC) in their emails and their website (see the image below). They’ve built a large community around their brand.

Urban Outfitters community website featuring their customers' Instagram photos

And they’re not the only one doing that – take a look at this email campaign from MeUndies. What’s interesting here is how thanks to these user-generated photos, they’re able to show who their customers are and what values they stand for.

MeUndies newsletter containing user generated content from Instagram.
(Image Source: Really Good Emails)

On top of that, they’re using their brand followers’ photos and quotes as social proof. This tactic, as mentioned before, makes their communication more trustworthy.

MeUndies using photos and quotes as a social proof

Here’s another one, this time from MVMT. It includes an animated GIF showing email subscribers that they can follow their favorite brand on Instagram, too. The animation is a nice bonus, as it makes the email stand out from the inbox even more.

Animated Gif showing photos from Instagram in an email from MVMT

Kate Spade too uses Instagram photos in their newsletters. Inviting email subscribers to share and shop their products.

Kate Spade using instagram photos in her email campaigns

Another brand that connects these marketing channels well is United By Blue. Check out their email footer, featuring their brand followers’ photos and inviting others to share their moments using a dedicated hashtag.

Featuring Instagram photos in an email newsletter from United by Blue

And just another one, this time from Huckberry. I decided to add it here because it just shows that you can end your newsletter in an interesting and somehow inspiring way. That’s how I feel about their “See you out there” headline and beautiful photo from one of their Instagram followers.

Huckberry Instagram photos ending their email newsletter

So how can you start using Instagram photos in your email campaigns?

Here are two ways you can find user-generated content to feature:

Related: Small business email marketing guide

1. Hashtag engagement (on and offline)

Spread the word to your customers to show themselves using your product, tagging the photo with the hashtag you’ve specified. If you’re a retail brand, hang signage around your stores telling your customers to photograph themselves using your products. You should include the hashtag(s) in your other marketing efforts – your current email promotions, your other social channels, on your website, and anywhere offline that you deem appropriate.

Don’t forget your Instagram bio. Social media strategist, author, and Instagram expert Peg Fitzpatrick says, “To encourage brand loyalty photos, smart brands will add a message in the Instagram bio saying “use the [insert your brand hashtag here] to be featured.” You can tailor this message to fit your brand’s personality. Make sure to monitor the hashtag and engage with the fans who use the hashtag.”

Beauty retailer Sephora does a great job at this. In a recent email, they requested their most loyal customers (the VIB Rogue program) to engage with the brand on social with two hashtags #BeautyTogether and #VIBRouge.


2. Photo Contest/Challenge

This will operate similarly to the hashtag campaign, but with a prize, of course, and a time limit. But, you can be a little more creative than just “take a picture using our product and post it to your Instagram using #thishashtag.” Don’t get me wrong, that works quite well. But if you’re running an awareness or a cause-based campaign, the product pictures wouldn’t be appropriate.

For example, Dove has two missions that they promote: girls’ self-esteem and real beauty (positive body image). Self-esteem and body image are closely linked topics that are important to Dove’s customers. Dove has several different hashtags for these mission projects.

  • #SpeakBeautiful
  • #BeautyIs
  • #SelfEsteemProject
  • #LoveYourCurls
  • #RealBeauty

All these provide a great opportunity for lifestyle images from Dove’s fans. Fans can show how they do things like build up their self-esteem, what beauty looks or feels like to them, what made them love their curly hair, and so on. Every photo submitted to Dove’s (hypothetical) contest would continue to spread the message. Every photo would build awareness of Dove’s pet projects. And these could also include a Dove product as well. It’s easy to make the leap that a shampoo or skin care product could help a woman feel beautiful.

It’s important to note that these types of campaigns should use unique hashtags. During the hashtag creation process, use a tool like Tagboard to ensure what you choose is unique.

It’s important to remember that there are requirements for contests on the platform. Instagram expert and social media strategist Jenn Herman says:

While Instagram offers a lot of leniency in how you run contests or the types of contests you can administer on the platform, there are a few things you must adhere to on every post related to that campaign or contest.

On each post associated with your contest, you must include:

  • the official rules and conditions
    • how to enter
    • time frame
    • entrant requirements/restrictions
    • special conditions, etc.
  • an official disclaimer alleviating Instagram of any affiliation with the contest (you can find this verbiage on the Instagram Help Center).”

Read their full rules before starting any contests for your brand. Better to know about these before you start.

Not following the rules can put your brand at risk. Herman continues, “If you were to forget/neglect to put this on any post associated with your campaign, the consequences could range from nothing to a costly lawsuit.”

Not everyone follows the rules, of course, for a couple of different possible reasons. Herman acknowledges, “Yes, there are plenty of people who do not include all of these conditions on any or all of their contest posts on Instagram. And they may very well get away with it because it’s a newer medium, people aren’t policing the platform, and smaller companies tend to fly under the radar. However, this doesn’t mean it’s right and it doesn’t mean they are exempt from full prosecution or legal action.”

Failing to follow the platform rules can have serious consequences. Herman says, “If it can be shown that an entrant or participant engaged with a contest based on a post that did not include the legal disclosures, your company could be held liable in a court of law for a variety of charges. Of course, this is the worst case scenario. In most situations, either nothing will happen, or you may end up with a disgruntled customer who posts a few negative comments. But, given the simplicity of the process to protect yourself legally, it is not worth the risk.”

You can keep all the legal language together on your phone (using a notes feature, or an app like Evernote or Trello), it’s really not hard to comply with the Instagram regulations. Herman says, “Take a few extra minutes to ensure every post associated with your contest reflects all of the contest rules, details, terms, and disclosures.”

How to Choose Which Social Media Images to Feature

Once you hold your contest/campaign, you’ll have more photo submissions than you could imagine. And now you have to go through all the submissions to figure out which ones to feature. This would include contest winners if you went that route. And yes, you have to review all the photos submitted.

There are two big things you’ll want to look at when you’re choosing the images to use in your newsletters:

  1. Does the photo match your brand?
  2. What are the photographer’s metrics and does the account’s overall look match your brand?

In this case, the photographer’s metrics are the number of followers s/he has. What kind of engagement does s/he usually get? What kind of engagement did the photo s/he entered get?

When I say “match your brand,” I mean asking yourself if it fits within the look of your brand. That’s more than just brand colors, it’s the entire visual story your company tells. Even if a photographer has a gazillion followers with tons of engagement, if the submitted photo doesn’t match your brand, it won’t work.  You’ll need to balance the perfect, on-brand photograph with the photographer’s account statistics.

How to Get Permission to Use the Chosen Photographs

The methods of gaining permission and legal rights to the photographs will depend on how you gathered them. If you used a hashtag engagement campaign to find photos, the methods will be a little different than if you hosted a contest. Fitzpatrick explains,

When a brand or small business wants to use Instagram images in their email campaigns, they should make sure they have permission to use the images in their marketing. When a brand finds a photo that they want to use, they can send a direct message (DM) on Instagram or comment on the post asking permission to use the image.

Keep in mind that an Instagrammer might turn you down, for good reasons. Fitzpatrick says, “Some influencers may not want to allow brands to use their content due to having arrangements with other brands or without compensation. But there are many Instagrammers that will be happy to have their photo shared on a brand they love’s Instagram page or to their followers.”

Once you have permission, it’s important to credit the original Instagrammer. Always give the original photographer credit for the image. Then, work with the photographer to get any written permissions, just to be on the safe side. Your legal team will guide you through this. Those permissions will vary greatly by company and industry. In healthcare, for example, using a legal release that ensures Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance.

If you’re gathering photographs through a contest, the legal work is done for you as you plan the contest. Your company will set up the contest rules. You can set it up so that entering the contest functions as a release for your company to use the image for marketing purposes. You have to make sure they’re posted somewhere so the entrants can see them. On the Instagram side, though, you have to do a few things to follow their

Once you have all the legal i’s dotted and t’s crossed, you’re all set to start adding user-generated Instagram content to your email newsletters. Your next step is notification. Tell the photographers that you’re going to feature their image. Give them a date when the newsletter will be mailed out. Ask the photographer to share that information with his/her followers. Although, honestly, that part may not be necessary. If the photographer is a fan of your brand, s/he’ll more than likely be thrilled to be included. Especially if there’s winning a contest involved. S/he may shout it from the rooftops without any requests. That’s the beginning of your increased engagement.

Don’t Stop With Just Newsletters

The possibilities for UGC are endless. Once you have permission to use a user’s photo, you can use it anywhere in your marketing. Like landing pages, thank you pages, and even a section of your website.

Have you used UGC in your email marketing? Are there any other techniques to find Instagram UGC to feature in your newsletters? Share your thoughts in the comments.

For more inspiration, check out this article on how to connect email newsletters with your social media campaigns.

Krista Liebmann
Krista Liebmann
Krista Liebmann is a freelance digital marketing manager. A blogger, writer, and Instagram addict, she loves all things social media and digital marketing. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @kristaliebmann