April 14, 2016
Case Study

Inbound Marketing: BBC Earth and 500px increase Instagram followers 5% in one week with brand takeover

SUMMARY: BBC Earth and 500px were looking for a way to shake things up and offer Instagram followers a different perspective – the opportunity for that came in the form of a week-long "Instagram takeover." The two brands posted content for each other for a week, bringing each other's community and conversations with them.
by Courtney Eckerle, Managing Editor


BBC Earth, a brand used by BBC Worldwide to distribute the BBC's natural history content, has its own photography community called Earth Capture. Its marketing team was contacted by 500px, a photo community and marketplace, for a unique opportunity for both brands and their Instagram communities.

"Initially, we were contacted by Klassy [Goldberg, Social Media Editor], who works for 500px. She reached out to us through Twitter to say that she was a fan of what we do at BBC Earth and that they thought their community would align nicely with ours," said Kara Segedin, Community Executive, BBC Earth.

Looking into it, Segedin and her team found that a lot of the people who were submitting to Earth Capture were either semi-professional or hobby photographers, and many of them already had 500px accounts.

"There was a natural overlap with the two communities there," she said.

From that point, BBC Earth and 500px began taking steps to launch an "Instagram takeover" campaign, where for one week, the two brands would post for each other to each other's audiences.

"We saw this Instagram opportunity as a way to show off our community to the world, in particular [to] the 500px community of really highly skilled photographers," Segedin said.


500px has more than seven million people worldwide registered to use the global photography community for sharing, discovering and licensing photos – a large audience that was comparable to those BBC Earth appeals to.

"Our users are really a full range of photographers, everybody from those who are just starting out with photography to very serious hobbyists and even professionals," said Ellen Desmarais, Head of Marketing, 500px.

BBC Earth, on the other hand, is the natural history brand for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"We are part of BBC Worldwide, which is the main commercial arm of the BBC. … It's our job to bring the content that the BBC makes and expand that out to a wider audience," Segedin said.

BBC Earth's main social media platforms are YouTube, with an 'Earth Unplugged' channel; Facebook, with over five million followers; Twitter, which reaches over 200,000 and Instagram, which is currently at 220,000.

The largest platforms for 500px are Google+, with over three million followers; Facebook, with about 780,000 and Twitter at around 495,000 followers. Instagram currently has around 228,000 followers.

"Wildlife photography and nature photography are actually our most shared content," Desmarais said. "So, there was great alignment in terms of the communities, the content and also from a quality perspective. I think both of these are brands that really focused on bringing forward great photography and videography."


From BBC Earth's perspective, Segedin said, "It was not just the beautiful content that we were going to get from 500px and the chance for us to show our content to a new audience, but sort of to help publicize our UGC [user generated content] communities, which is something we're always trying to grow and develop.".

She added, "500px is just full of all these talented photographers; I think it was the perfect opportunity for us."

Desmarais added that 500px's foremost goal was in deciding if it was an opportunity to grow the community and, from there, brand awareness.

"The opportunity to be associated with such a respected brand as BBC Earth was definitely a great opportunity for 500px, a brand that's still trying to build its presence," she said.

BBC Earth had a similar motivation, according to Segedin. Although attached to a well-known brand, she said, "We've only been around for just over a year. So, we figured that 500px is already a highly engaged community. It might be a great way for us to show off the people who are already sharing their content with us, but then also potentially make a new audience as well."

At the beginning of this campaign, both Instagram communities were relatively the same size, around 100,000 to 120,000 followers. By the conclusion of the week-long swap, both brands would grow their Instagram following by 5%.

Step #1. Work out mechanics of integration

Although both brands recognized a lot of natural integration between 500px and BBC Earth, there were still many details that needed to be worked out prior to the campaign.

The first step after 500px initially reached out was to gain buy-in from each brand's editorial teams and managers, Segedin said.

"It was our first time doing this sort of takeover," she said. "The most important part … is that we really wanted to maintain the editorial control of our accounts and that any content that we were sharing kept meeting our standards and the expectations of our followers."

It was decided that both brands would have ultimate control over which pictures would be featured on its own account.

"I think that's very important because you know your audience and you know the things you're expecting and what's in line with your brand and your account. So, aside from sharing things, you need to have that final authorization that everything is okay and it meets what people expect," Segedin said.

She added that the teams also had to work on the mechanics of "how we were going to format our captioning, what sort of credits we were going to use, the hashtags. There were all these little back and forth [conversations], who was going to load what where and how we were going to get the photos to each other as well, all those little things."

The teams also decided that while normal posting rate is around three times a day, it would range between five to seven times a day during the takeover.

These details weren't too complicated, Segedin said, but they were very important to work out before Instagram accounts were exchanged in order to ensure a smooth transition for audiences.

Step #2. Promote brand takeover on other social media channels

Both brands posted an image on Instagram at the beginning of the swap with text informing followers that the other would be sharing its photos across the account for the week.

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The swap was also promoted on Twitter and Facebook, with link backs to drive those communities to view the swap on Instagram as well.

"We were pointing people also to the 500px site to show them that the Earth photos were going to be showing up over there as well — so a real cross-promotion across social channels and also each other's accounts," Segedin said.

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It was very important to promote the swap on other 500px social media platforms, according to Desmarais.

"We promoted it on our Facebook, Google+ and Twitter feeds, very much trying to encourage the community to have an opportunity to get to look at the cross-sharing that was going on," she said.

For all of this promotion, and to help followers keep track of the posts during the campaign, there were two hashtags used: #EarthCapture and #500px.

"Those were the ones we use to promote our content anyway, rather than complicating it with giving a long hashtag or something, we stuck with our standard ones and the way to sort of loop it back so people could click through and see what we've done in the past as well," Segedin said.

Step #3. Encourage community discussion during takeover

According to Desmarais and Segedin, both communities saw increased engagement during the swap, with increased commenting and discussion on posts.

"[BBC Earth] found the 500px community is so engaged, and they're willing to comment on each other's photos and give each other positive feedback. So, it was nice to bring that in, as well as the usual fans that we see," Segedin said.

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She added that 500px has a unique community that fosters a lot of communication, with members giving each other advice and sharing each other's work, which they brought over to BBC Earth's Instagram during the takeover. It's a facet BBC Earth is hoping to build upon.

"The positive that I saw through it was the way 500px came with their community, really giving a lot of feedback with their photographers. I think that was really nice, and … that made me think that was something we could do a bit more on our accounts," she said.

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The process was very smooth throughout the week, Desmarais said, adding, "If anything, the surprises were very pleasant and happy ones, that we were seeing great engagement with the content very early. The community was very interested in the fact that BBC Earth was taking over our channel. Those were all just really more happy lessons."


"For us, because we already have a high stream of available content to use, for us it's really getting yourself in front of a new audience," Segedin said. "It was a really highly engaged international audience of the exact sort of people we want to reach, which is high-quality photographers."

500px had approached this brand takeover similarly, as an opportunity to leverage the power of another organization's brand and audience, according to Desmarais. It was also a test-run for this type of campaign – which was the brand's first, outside of takeovers with individual photographers in the community.

"Sometimes there's a tendency to feel protective of your own community as well. I think this was really a positive and learning lesson for us that when you go through the process of ensuring that there's great audience and content alignment, it can actually open up the opportunity," Desmarais said.

Segedin agreed that the success of this collaboration opened up BBC Earth to similar opportunities in the future.

Both brands increased Instagram followers by 5% during this week-long campaign, which for BBC Earth, "pushed us right over 100,000 and we've grown quite fast since then as well. So, it was a real good boost in the right direction," Segedin said.

One of the biggest takeaways, she added, was to encourage the type of engagement her team saw during the influx of the 500px community.

"Something to aim for is the real encouragement we saw with the 500px community. … Giving each other really good feedback and being really positive. I think something for us to keep working on is, how do we keep building that feedback loop in the community?"

Creative Samples

  1. Instagram takeover announcement

  2. Facebook announcement

  3. Fan tweet

  4. Instagram post during takeover



BBC Earth

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7 Surprisingly Successful Brands on Instagram [From MarketingSherpa Blog]

3 Instagram Lessons You Can Learn from Taylor Swift [From MarketingSherpa Blog]

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