This article was originally written in 2016 and has been updated using Nike’s latest figures, plus Instagram trends + media. 

In 2016, Nike became the 19th most followed Instagram account, with over 32.3m followers. According to a 2015 survey by the IAB UK, they were voted second as a brand that “does social media” well.

Today, Nike is the 2nd most followed account, with 75.6m followers (a growth of 134% in under two years) They have the second highest number of followers after National Geographic, and currently boasts the 5th most-used branded hashtag, #nike.

It’s no wonder the brand is investing in the Facebook-owned platform. According to a 2015 report from Emarketer, Instagram generated $595 million in mobile ad revenue, this was predicted to have risen to $2.81bn in 2017. Instagram now has more than 800 million monthly active users and 300m+ accounts use Instagram Stories every day. With 75% of users living outside the US. Among the last 100 million who joined, more than half came from Europe and Asia.

Instagram state that 80% of accounts follow a business on the platform. The platform is great for commerce brands but works well for just about any brand that has a story to tell and a service to sell.

So, what is Nike doing that makes them so successful on Instagram?

Nike post a mix of content. From celebrity-endorsed, through to lifestyle-based performance shots. Using still imagery, animated imagery, and video to “define moments”.  Whilst we know not everyone has the luxury of celebrity endorsements and access to world-class events, the core premise should provide you with an understanding of how to begin and/or run your own Instagram marketing.

I have picked some of their recent examples below to go through how they use “moments” to engage their audience.

Emotive +Motive = Reactive 

The last decade proves that humans have become fearless and highly productive. This may be because we have people like Serena Williams, Barack Obama and Oprah leading the pack but, the fact is, people are achieving more by believing in more. This mentality is native to Nike, having been woven into the fabric of the brand, quite literally, by Co-Founders, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. The brand uses this emotive motivation often in their posts, earning them up to 500,000 likes per post.

How Nike Win At Instagram

Nike Instagram

Women + Sports = Win

Nike has been an early advocate for women in sports. The brand dedicates an entire account, @NikeWomen, to strong female athletes, and non-athletes, alike, who epitomise their core audience. The world around us is changing and you must ensure your brand embraces it because chances are your customers do not belong to one single gender.

Granted Nike has access to events your brand doesn’t, yet. However, you are able to support local events that are suitable for your brand, whether they are sporting events or something closer to your brand.

It takes more than one star to bring home your third. #nomaybes

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

Product + Lifestyle = Brand

Like every other company, Nike exists to make money. However, the key to making sales via Instagram is to post lifestyle-related content. Users of this platform do not buy your products, they buy the lifestyle associated with that product. Nike continually promotes their products, but they do it via untold storytelling.

Another example of how Nike use their sneakers to give prominence to an active lifestyle.

A sunset is not a stop sign. @nikesverige

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

An example of an animated image that promotes a product and still looks good enough to share. It’s all about context.

Topical Relevance

Nike are no strangers to taking topical events and adding the Nike “flavour” to it. Take the below post, for ‘Skateboarding Day’. Nike took a global celebration, keeping in context with their brand, and created a ‘likeable’ image for their gallery.  Note there is no Nike logo except for the subtle accent on the child’s sole. You barely notice it.

With Instagram, it’s best to avoid imagery with harsh branding, no matter how small your brand.

Visuals Native to Instagram 

Nike ‘gram photos that are visually stunning – something followers prefer to see. Below are a few examples. Again, notice the lack of branding – as they are highlighting the lifestyle associated with the brand.

Why walk on water when you can fly? #askwhatif

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

It's not always sunshine and sand. #justdoit

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

It's a fence. Not a finish line. #justdoit

A post shared by nike (@nike) on

Promote other Instagram accounts 

With Instagram, you want to remember: “we’re all in this together” – reward customers who have their own accounts by sharing their photographs. Not only will it give you something to share but it’ll earn brand loyalty.

Nike’s most-liked post

Surprisingly, Nike’s most-“liked” post is food related. This one is creative. Not only does it target Insta-foodies, it’s also paying homage to its origins.

Key Takeaways

1. Get creative, visually

Instagram is a visual medium and you have to create exciting imagery. Dull images rarely get shared, just look at how stock images seem to be dying a slow death. Even as a small brand, you can take your smartphone outside and snap exciting photos of your surrounding, your team, and your products.

2. Plan ahead

If you want to remain relative, you need to plan in advance. Think about when specific days/events (think Skateboarding Day above) occur, so you can make the most of the hashtags surrounding them. A social content calendar will help you out here.

3. Advertise products the “Instagram way”

In the end, you are a business and you want to sell something. Stock imagery will not cut through the noise. Focus on your product and service by promoting the lifestyle associated with it. For example, a luxury watch retailer would showcase the high profile lifestyle that comes with wearing their watches. A marketing or PR agency would showcase their talent behind the scenes to both clients and possible prospects.

4. Involve your audience

Nike repeatedly asks their audience to share their motivational images for the brand to then share these on their Instagram feed. Most people love the opportunity to be shared by a brand with millions of followers, and it provides Nike with tons of marketing collateral. Win/Win. Of course, you can also try and reach out to influencers.

5. Don’t forget about the caption

The majority of Nike’s captions are motivational or inspirational and are kept on-brand. They use what is going on in the world to create a story. Use captions to enhance the visual and include hashtags that are not too common but are used by your community. Nike are fortunate as they have their own, but it is not difficult to find relevant and popular hashtags for your own captions.

For more tips, you can read Instagram For Brands: Best Practices.

I would love to hear your tips or share your own Instagram experiences in the comment section below.

Tobias Matthews

Tobias Matthews


Writer at Fourth Source.