Four Epic Instagram Takeovers And Why They Worked

If you have invested any time at all into creating an influencer marketing strategy for 2017, you probably thought a little (or a lot) about whether you should host an Instagram takeover for your brand.

In 2012, Instagram published a piece on what was then an emerging trend wherein big brands were getting Instagram influencers to take over their social accounts for a few hours, or even an entire day.

Fast forward five years, and everyone seems to be doing it. And we’re not just talking about beauty brands, or Kim Kardashian West’s Met Gala IG takeover a few weeks ago (#MetbyKim).


We’re talking about local businesses working with micro influencers in the same town to grow their audience. We’re talking about global brands working with top influencers to increase brand awareness. I’ve even seen a case where a college was able to boost its social engagement and its Instagram follower count by hosting a social media takeover. That particular case study made our list of four, actually.


Our Growing Fascination with Instagram Takeovers

Instagram takeovers are an event, which is one of the main advantages marketers have in hosting an IG takeover. An influencer’s genuine excitement about partnering with a marketer to promote a brand or product can help a previously unknown brand gain instant credibility with the influencer’s audience.

Takeovers, by their very nature, create a sense of urgency around products. They’re like the social media marketer’s equivalent of a blue light special (that’s old school, I know). The brand’s followers, and the influencer’s followers, have a very short window of time in which to engage with an influencer, as the influencer engages with the brand.


If the takeover coincides with an online promotion, followers also have to make a decision on whether or not they will take the intended action, like visit a  local store or make a purchase. Otherwise followers may default to doing some of the other takeover things like following the brand, visiting the brand’s website, using the branded hashtag created for the takeover, or just reacting to the takeover in some other way.


How Does an Instagram Takeover Work?

You may have guessed  by now that an Instagram takeover is a collaboration between two Instagram users, usually a brand and an influencer. But a  takeover doesn’t have to involve a commercial company or product; it can happen between any two users.

During an Instagram takeover, an influencer agrees to create and publish content from inside a  brand’s Instagram account. Logistically, a takeover is a lot like having a guest host fill in on a talk show while the regular host is out. As far as impact goes, it’s more like having the opportunity to interview a celebrity on your podcast.

Think of it this way: When a celebrity shows up on late night TV show, the appearance compels the celebrity’s existing fans to watch the show, even if the fans don’t normally watch the show. At the same time, the appearance introduces the celebrity to the show’s regular viewers.

Real-world example. I started following Gary Vee after seeing him on someone’s web series, like two years ago. I started following Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness podcast after seeing a YouTube video of Lewis interviewing Gary. I began following Gabby Reece after watching Lewis interview her on his podcast. During the interview, Gabby talked about her husband, Laird Hamilton. So, I looked up Laird and started following him for his high-performance breathing techniques. And so on, and so on.

In each of the above cases, I began following someone as a result of learning they were associated with someone I already knew, liked, trusted, and followed. That’s the foundation upon which the Instagram Takeover is built - trust by association.


Instagram Takeovers are a useful and effective customer acquisition strategy for brands, and a powerful method for cross-promoting content. Takeovers aren’t limited just to Instagram. They work within the ecosystems of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as well. So, you will be able to apply some of the strategies listed in this post on other platforms.


The Big, Bold Benefits of Hosting an Instagram Takeover

We’ve already established social media as a viable way for marketers to reach their target audience. But do you really need to bother mastering yet another skill by learning how to do Instagram takeovers too? Possibly.

When properly executed, hosting an Instagram takeover can help marketers quickly build brand awareness and push people further into the sales funnels. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to skip over the part of the sales process where you’re turning strangers into leads? That’s part of the advantage of hosting a properly executed Instagram takeover. Let’s talk about some of the other big benefits.


Social Media Marketing Eliminates the Ad-Block Problem


Competition is stiff out there in the Internet display ad industry.  In addition to the online advertising space getting more crowded every day, about 47% of online consumers now use ad blockers, according to Digital News Report. That means if you are running ads online, nearly half the buyers for which your ad is intended never see your ad. Social media marketing is an effective way to circumvent the ad-block problem.


Social Influence Converts

The 2016 Bloglovin Global Influencer Survey (you can download it by clicking here) reports that 59% of micro-influencers think Instagram is the most effective social media platform to engage their target audience.  Nearly 40% of Twitter users say they made a purchase as a direct result of a Tweet from an influencer. Tomoson lists influencer marketing as the fastest-growing online customer-acquisition channel, surpassing organic search, paid search and email marketing.

The takeaway? Social influence converts.


Access to Niche Audiences

One of the primary reasons marketers contact influencers for takeovers is the obvious one - getting their product or brand in front of a new audience. Hosting a takeover also provides a unique opportunity for marketers to get in front of a niched-down version of their target audience.

For instance, let’s consider a hypothetical cosmetics company that is in the process of pushing a new bronzer it wants to start selling to young women around spring break time. It makes sense that the brand would target a beauty influencer for an Instagram takeover. It makes even more sense for the marketer to seek out the handful of beauty influencers who focus on contouring, or influencers who focus on creating great sun-kissed / outdoor looks.

The Instagrammers who follow and engage with an influencer who specializes in creating sunkissed looks are more likely to be the marketer’s target audience for the bronzer product. That’s what a niche audience looks like.


50/50 Value Exchange

Instagram takeovers work well for another reason. They are a near-perfect example of a 50/50 value exchange, according to social media expert and Vayner Media CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk.

With Instagram Takeovers, the host gets the benefit of getting its brand in front of a new audience, while the influencer gets the social juice that comes from having a big brand choose the influencer as one of its online ambassadors.

You can sense micro influencer Sam Schuerman’s excitement (@SamSchuerman, 60.1k followers as of this writing) about being asked to do a TJMaxx Instagram Takeover in the final days before Christmas 2016.


Samantha is one-half of the husband and wife team who star in the popular daily YouTube series, The Schuerman Show, which chronicles the adventures of Samantha and Jay Schuerman, and their two kids, Lily and Phoenix.

“I’m so excited because when TJMaxx contacted me, I was like, ‘Whaaaat? My favorite store in the entire universe wants me to take over their Instagram? Like, yes, please! I would be happy to.’ So, I’m like, so excited.”


TJMaxx gave Samantha $50 to shop for someone for Christmas, and challenged her to find as many great gifts as she could in her local TJMaxx store for under $50.



Birth More Great Content

Half of all Instagram users follow at least one business, according to James Quarles, Instagram’s VP & GM of Monetization. But people follow people more than they follow brands.

A surefire way to get your business in front of more people is to leverage the pull of a popular online personality to create the type of powerful content that made him or her an influencer in the first place.

Good influencers produce compelling multimedia content. On Instagram, that’s likely in the form of entertaining videos and aesthetically-pleasing images. Playing hosting to an Instagram takeover means you get a expert content producer to create high-value (often evergreen) content for and about your brand.


Measurable Results

Every Instagram takeover needs to have a goal, some metric that tells the marketer and the influencer that the campaign was a success.

One of the big hiccups traditional marketers must overcome with marketing on social media is the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to measure the ROI of social media advertising. In truth, marketers can measure the return they get on their investment, as long as they understand that the return is not always going to be immediate in-store sales.

Hosting an Instagram takeover is often an exercise in long-term brand awareness. It’s more about getting on people’s radars than it is about getting 100,000 widgets sold by Saturday. So, it’s important to have reliable, realistic metrics in place to track before, during, and after a takeover.

The five big metrics to track are:

  • Followership - Know how many followers you have before the takeover (and the rate at which you are adding them), track how many followers you gain during the takeover (and a day or two after the takeover), and take a tally of how many followers you have after the takeover.

  • Post Likes - Monitor the number of likes for each takeover post to determine how the takeover content performed against your regular content.

  • Post Comments - How responsive was your audience to the content posted by your influencer partner? Did the posts get authentic comments, or just emojis and canned responses.

  • Clicks - If you added a link to your bio for Instagrammers to use during the takeover, that’s another good way to track the performance of the campaign.

  • Hashtag use - Branded hashtags that you create specifically for an Instagram takeover is another way to find out who engaged with your campaign.



Four Brands that Got Their Instagram Takeover Absolutely Right


The Calgary Stampede


In June 2016, The Calgary Stampede announced a contest to its social communities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, inviting members to snap pictures of Stampede-related happenings in and around Calgary, Alberta.


Photographers of images posted to Instagram and Twitter that were hashtagged #Instastampede, along with those pictures posted to the organization’s Facebook page would be entered for a chance to participate as one of 9 talented photographers selected to take over Calgary Stampede’s Instagram account for an entire day during the annual 10-day event.

On the day of each Instagram takeover, winners got tickets to the Stampede’s main events, $100 in food and drink vouchers, a gift card, and $50 in Stampede bucks.


What They Got Right

The city of Calgary is in the midst of building out its own brand with its Life in Calgary campaign that also invites residents to take over the city’s Instagram profile on a regular basis.

The Calgary Stampede took an important annual event to Calgary life and put in the social media limelight, inviting Stampede visitors to freely document their experiences and in effect, build up anticipation before the big event by getting hundreds or even thousands of people to keep the Stampede top-of-mind up to an entire month before the event.

To date, @CalgaryStampede has more than 45,000 followers. The hashtags #Instastampede and #calgarystampede, have 9,315 and 127,644 occurrences, respectively.


Sheffield Hallam University

In March 2016, the administration of Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, United Kingdom embarked on a mission to boost the number of followers on its Instagram account, which seemed stalled at 2,747.  The university’s IG account was adding just a few new followers a day and seemed to have hit a plateau. Sheffield was looking to ramp up engagement.


What They Got Right

The first thing Sheffield did was talk to select members of the student body. The administration wanted to know what kind of content would engage students. No assumptions.

Sheffield also created a campaign hashtag, #SHUInsiders, to raise awareness that something new was going on in the university’s Instagram account.

Each student was given a day in which he or she would take over the Instagram account. All content planning and activities Sheffield coordinated with students using a private Facebook group, ahead of the takeover. This way, the students knew what to to do and the administration knew what to expect. No surprises.

At the end of the seven-day campaign, Sheffield had 2,833 followers and Instagram users engaged with the #SHUinsiders hashtag more than 800 times. Some of the students even reported the number of followers increasing on their own Instagram accounts.


Food Republic

In 2012, before Instagram takeovers were the thing to do, Food Republic had a “guest Instagrammer,” New York City photographer, Sam Horine, to take over its Instagram account.

At the time, Instagram was still very new and Sam Horine was on vacation in Italy. Legend has it, when Food Republic discovered Sam was in Rome, the editors asked Sam to chronicle his trip to publish to Food Republic’s Instagram account. So he did.


What They Got Right

Before we had a fancy name for it, Food Republic had “guest Instagrammers” providing premium content for its Instagram account. In March 2012, Sam shot dozens of pictures for Food Republic using the hashtag #FRItaly. The images were cross-promoted on in a two-part series on Italian food, and grouped under the category Instagrammed.


At the time, Sam Horine had 80,000 followers (remember, Instagram was still very new and reportedly had about 30 million users back then), and was considered one of the most prolific photographers on Instagram.

Since that fateful trip to Rome, Sam Horine - who now has 521k followers and is still considered by some to be one of the 15 most influential instagrammers - has created more stellar content for Food Republic’s Instagram account and published more than 4,000 images to Instagram.



In the spring of 2015, Sephora recruited Instagram influencer and beauty expert Tamanna Roashan (@dressyourface) for a takeover during what is known as contour month. A celebrity makeup artist with more than 2.6 million followers (she had about half that at the time she did the Sephora Instagram takeover), Tamanna is a well-known expert in contouring. So, she was the perfect fit for Sephora’s Contour Month campaign.


What They Got Right With This One

Tamanna cross-promoted the takeover with her live online makeup school, While her focus was on selling out her course, Sephora wanted to sell its contouring products. I’ll bet you can guess what kind of content they created for the Dress Your Face Instagram Takeover.

That’s right. Makeup tutorials using Sephora’s contouring products, signified by the hashtag #DYFLSephoraTakeoveGiveaway.  As part of the campaign, Tamanna offered a free training course in her school for Instagram followers. As well, Instagrammers who followed both Tamanna and Sephora were entered to win a contouring goodie bag containing some of Tamanna’s favorite [Sephora] products.

The image announcing the contest garnered 7,787 likes.


A year later, Sephora hit another homerun by getting (drumroll…) Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to to post their first ever selfie online and to use the Sephora Instagram account to do it.


Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are notoriously reclusive. They may have been wild in their teens, but at the ripe, mature age of 30, these two hardly make a peep in public these days.

And they are NOT social media types.

So, having them show up one day in an early-morning selfie on the Sephora page with a caption that read, “First ever public selfie” was downright astounding.


What They Got Right With This One

The Full House alumnae were using the Sephora takeover to promote their fragrance Elizabeth and James, which is available at Sephora locations. The 24-hour takeover included a couple of pictures of the women together, as well as sneak peeks into the development of their line of handbags, their downtime, and a little bit of playful engagement online.

The response was impressive.

Their early-morning selfie garnered a whopping 76.1K likes in the first few hours, which is pretty good. Above average for Sephora. But the selfie also got  more than 3,500 comments, which trumps just about every other piece of content posted to Sephora’s Instagram page.


The Takeaway for Takeovers

There are three key takeaways that I tried to demonstrate with the case studies contained in this post. These are the three key elements that are essential to creating a successful Instagram takeover, and those are value exchange, proper planning, and great content.


Value exchange - In every one of the above campaigns, the common denominator was always the mutual exchange of value between the influencer and the brand hosting the takeover.




Proper planning - Recruiting influencers who understand the value of planning takeover activities in advance play a key role in making sure both the brand and the influencer are able to meet campaign goals.




Compelling content - Surprise, delight, educate and entertain. Those are the qualities of stellar content for Instagram takeovers. Do one or all of these and not only can you meet campaign goals, but marketers get the advantage of having excellent content living on their Instagram accounts.


As brands get better and better at figuring out how to use social media takeovers to support their offline marketing campaigns, marketers will be able to streamline the process of finding, wooing, and working with micro influencers like Sam Horine, and top influencers like Tamanna Roashan. And they will learn to do so with increasing success.  

For takeovers, you need to tread a fine line between what people that follow the account expect to see, and interjecting your own uniqueness. Too unique, and you will throw people off. Too similar, and you won’t be noticed. The content of mine that performed best was that which showed a familiar location in a slightly different way. I had some people complain about a lack of originality as well, but when I posted something more out of the box it would have less than 1/10th of the engagement.