RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For local businesses, promoting their messages on social media is a big deal with big dollars at stake.

And one North Carolina State professor says there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Turning the art of Instagram into a science, Heather Dretsch has been tracking the social media accounts of local businesses to find out what keeps consumers coming back to them — and found it helps to have a secret.

“My No. 1 piece of advice right now is to give consumers a behind-the-scenes look into the brands,” said Dretsch, an assistant professor of marketing at the university’s Poole College of Management.

She has spent years tracking how businesses engage with their consumers, and says Instagram has emerged as the social media platform of choice, beating out Facebook and TikTok.

“For companies and for brands in particular, it’s still important to think about social media platforms that can create sort of a curated story about the brand,” Dretsch said. “And Instagram is something that brands use that can create that story.

“What’s so captivating about Instagram and the rise of Instagram over Facebook, which is where eyeballs were several years ago, it’s about being able to sort of lose yourself in the beauty of the visual experience with the brand,” she added.

Where Instagram can be most valuable, Dretsch says, is in what she calls brand secrecy — letting the consumer in on something that’s happening out of public view.

“They love to get a sneak peek into what the brand is doing,” she said. “And they really love that aspect of discovery. And my own research on brand secrets suggests that brands actually have a lot of secrets up their sleeve that they like to tell.”

And secret items on the menu, or introductions to employees who might ordinarily go unseen by the public, also tend to be big hits.

“The more you can tell about your brand story, the better,” Dretsch said. “Consumers want to feel like they know you, they know the brand and who they’re going to see if they walk through the door.”

Other techniques that can be effective: The Vogue-style 73-question interviews or open-door tours in the style of Architectural Digest, she said.

Dretsch pointed to a couple of examples of local businesses that are doing it the right way:

— Trophy Brewing and its Young Hearts Distilling in downtown Raleigh has been effective by showing on its Instagram feed an inside look at the dishes and how they are created, Dretsch said.

— Bartaco in North Hills frequently serves a “secret taco” that is leaked on social media. “They’ll change what that secret menu item is, too, so that consumers always have something new to discover,” Dretsch said.