Once a fairly niche mobile app, Instagram grabbed the world’s attention in April when it was snapped up by Facebook for a cool $1bn.

That useful piece pf PR, coupled with the launch of an Android version of the app, has seen its number of users grow from 15m to 80m since the beginning of the year.

And brands are definitely taking notice, with new research showing that 40% of the Interbrand Top 100 Global Brands use Instagram.

The power of Instagram for marketing is obvious – even the most carefully drafted copy can’t hope to have the same impact as an eye-catching photo.

And the fact that Facebook redesigned its interface to place greater emphasis on visual content proves that images work well in social media.

But as the inevitable rush to join social’s newest darling begins to gather momentum, I thought it would be useful to take a look at which brands are already using Instagram to good effect…

Red Bull

Red Bull uses Instagram to promote its image as lifestyle brand for extreme sports.

Its feed includes images of snowboarders, skaters, skydivers, F1 cars and people partying, interspersed very occasionally with photos of Red Bull cans.

                         

Red Bull makes frequent use of hashtags such as #flyingfriday and #instawings to encourage fans to contribute their own content.

Burberry

It should come as no surprise that Burberry is on Instagram as social media has long been central to its marketing strategy.

The fashion label has nearly 500,000 followers and its photos regularly get around 15,000 likes.

Burberry uses Instagram to showcase some of its products, but recently a vast majority of its post have been photos taken around central London. This helps to develop its image as a cosmopolitan, British brand.

                         

A few months ago Burberry also used Instagram to give its followers a look behind the scenes at the launch of its new range, teasing the campaign with an image of an invitation addressed to its Instagram followers.

This is a great way of building a community through the social network by rewarding followers with exclusive content.

ASOS

ASOS is another fashion brand that relies heavily on social media marketing, so it’s no surprise to see that it is leading the way with its use of Instagram.

As well as posting images of its latest ranges and behind the scenes looks at fashion shoots, ASOS places great emphasis on featuring user-generated content.

                         

It asks followers to post images of themselves sporting a particular look using a branded hashtag, then reposts several of the images in its own feeds.

It is a great way of building a connection with your audience and rewarding them for engaging with your brand.

Starbucks

Though nearly all of Starbucks’ photos include one of its products, the focus is on what people do while drinking Starbucks coffee rather than on the product itself.

So, for example, several of the posts feature summery scenes of parks and swimming pools with a Starbucks ice coffee somewhere in the foreground.

                         

As with Red Bull, the idea is to promote the brand as part of a lifestyle choice and as something to be enjoyed with friends.

Starbucks also used Instagram to cross-promote a Google Hangout with Maroon 5, showing how the mobile app can be used as part of a multichannel marketing campaign. 

Selfridges

One of the more active brands on Instagram, Selfridges frequently posts images of products and displays from its UK stores.

It attempts to drive engagement with its photos by asking questions about its followers’ fashion preferences, which seems to have varying degrees of success.

Even so, it has clocked up almost 20,000 followers which isn’t bad for a UK-only department store. 

                         

Audi

Audi’s feed only includes images of its cars, yet it has managed to clock up 117,000 followers. All the photos are sleek and colourful, promoting the idea that Audi is a luxury, aspirational brand.

It also encourages followers to post images of Audis using the hashtag #instaaudi. More than 1,000 users have posted using the hashtag in the past month, showing the potential Instagram has for fan engagement.

                         

Tiffany & Co.

Another example of an aspirational brand performing well on social, Tiffany & Co. has attracted more than 118,000 followers mainly by posting images if its products.

                         

There are also occasional images of its New York stores, but in general Tiffany’s feed is very product driven.

Nike

All the brands on this list are obviously using Instagram for marketing, but Nike’s seems to be the most obviously corporate use of the social network.

All its recent posts are part of a campaign to get people to use its Nike+ and NikeFuel fitness products, featuring images of various groups of people working out and updates on how many people are using the products on any given day.

The messages are very on-brand but they lack the personal touch that other companies manage to include in their posts and comments.

                         

Each one is essentially a small advert for a specific Nike product, littered with branded hashtags. Compared to the striking cityscapes that Burberry uses, Nike’s feed comes across as a bit cold.

Innocent Smoothies

Innocent follows the trend of using Instagram to associate its product with a lifestyle rather than just pushing out cold brand messages.

Its posts include various images of fruit, the company’s staff and content to promote its sponsorship of the London Olympics.

                         

Innocent’s feed also includes frequent pictures of cute dogs, which is a clever tactic as photos of animals are always popular on social media.

The one that isn’t…

eBay

It looks like eBay created an Instagram account about six months ago to promote its ‘Walk the Red Carpet’ competition where users could post photos for the chance to win a $100 gift card.

Just four weeks and 22 photos later, the account became inactive. Assuming this is an official account, eBay should really have deleted it by now as leaving it up makes the brand look a bit sloppy.

                         

Have you seen any other brands with quirky or interesting Instagram feeds? Let us know in the comments.