#TheSweatLife: Inside lululemon’s Instagram Feed

Stretched out across four lines and sixty-six words, the self-description on Instagram’s FAQ page is—while decidedly thorough—not all that instant or in-the-moment:

“Instagram is a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a memory to keep around forever. We’re building Instagram to allow you to experience moments in your friends’ lives through pictures as they happen. We imagine a world more connected through photos.”

Such a description might be ideal for early investors or particularly nostalgic smartphone photographers, sure. But those weighing the app’s utility in audience building are deserving of a more targeted why.

Drop the name Instagram among the social media team at lululemon (current follower count: 581,094), for example, and you might hear a bit about filters and memories—but you’ll hear far more about the venue’s utility for sharing something else: stories.

Instants Evolved: It’s (About) You, Not Me

Recalling Instagram’s debut as “love at first sight,” lululemon social media manager Sairah Hearn originally saw the platform as a way to share in-the-moment, behind-the-scenes candids showcasing company culture—as did everyone else in the corporate world.

But browse through the photos and videos they’re putting out now, and it’s evident they’ve undergone a bit of a shift—aiming their cameras away from just their happenings at home and more toward the marathon-running, arm-balancing communities supporting them.

“You generally won’t see anything that is highly sales focused on our Instagram,” explains Hearn. “Our goal is to inspire our guests through photos to live #thesweatlife.”

What does this mean in non-hashtag terms? Less take a look over our camera guy’s shoulder as he shoots our pants and more let’s send a camera crew to capture a yoga destination or the art of getting lost .

Sometimes this means using pricey cameras and video crews, and sometimes not. Either way, it’s less about the filters and showing new clothing colors or materials—and much more about showing an approach to life.

Upload a product shot and you’ll gain a spike in sales, they’ve learned. Curate a way of life, and you’ll gain a true following.

Wide Angle Versus Cropped: Pitting Consistency Against Experimentation

While lululemon’s Instagram feed is made up of equal parts in-house photographer/videographer, external photographer/videographer, and trail runner carrying an iPhone, it’s all decidedly on-brand.

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s in any way one-note or cookie cutter.

“At the end of the day,” explains Hearn, “[Instagram is] an easy channel to test and play on; if something doesn’t land as well as we expect, it’s easy to move onto the next photo [or video].”

Does this mean brands seeking subscribers by the half-a-million should upload everything and see what sticks? Probably not, unless they’re marketing a lifestyle of indecision. Still, brands shouldn’t be afraid to test and experiment one photo or video at a time. Nor should they obsess over the pixels they’re accustomed to “fixing” in Photoshop.

Instagram feeds need not consist solely of candids, but the platform’s popularity continues to rely upon the presence of actual moments and memories—so go easy on the CGI and remember that authenticity trumps even the mightiest of Photoshop brushes; the noise you see in this night shot makes the image genuine, for example, not flawed.

Sairah Hearn manages social media content for lululemon and lululemon men.

Matt Siegel writes about the marriage of design, branding, and stock video for VideoBlocks.