How social is your business? You might be on Facebook and Twitter, but the opportunity many companies are missing out on is Instagram. Owned by Facebook, the social photo sharing network now has over 200 million active users, making it one of the 10 most popular smartphone apps. Visual content is set to drive social engagement in a big way next year, positioning Instagram as one of the most powerful platforms for businesses to be part of.
Only if they use it correctly, however.
Yes, Instagram is popular, but that doesn’t make it appropriate for every business out there. In addition, its focus on short video and imagery means it’s essential to have resources and a solid plan in place before you embark on establishing your presence in this arena. Don’t know where to start? Read on for our comprehensive beginner’s guide on how to use Instagram for business.
The first step in identifying how you can successfully use Instagram is to analyse how your customers are using it.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Instagram focuses solely on image sharing. People use it to snap photos of their everyday life to share with friends. So far so ordinary, but how Instagram really attracts users is through the provision of filters. For every picture a dozen editing filters are offered, changing your photo from dull and boring to bright or retro in a click (and thus improving the selfies of millions). Users of Instagram aren’t scrolling their feeds looking for information, products or news; they want to admire beautiful, aspirational imagery that represents an idyllic lifestyle.
As we mentioned before, not every brand will work effectively on Instagram. Do you offer plumbing services, or divorce law consultancy? These businesses are unlikely to lend themselves very well to an image-sharing platform, and efforts might be better placed on information gathering sites such as Facebook or Twitter, or instructional ones such as Youtube. However, if you sell jewellery, are a makeup artist or own a restaurant, Instagram is the perfect place to craft a visual identity and showcase your products.
It’s also worth noting that, according to Search Engine Journal, over 90% of Instagram users are under 35. Consider your target demographic carefully before investing your time and budget.
Instagram is free to download for desktop, tablet and mobile, so you can get started right away. But before you start snapping and uploading, think about how your brand might translate on a purely visual platform.
How you decide to use Instagram must also fit in with your wider social strategy. Different platforms can – and should – be used for varying purposes to get the most out of your efforts. Above all, Instagram is an authentic lifestyle app. People want to see photos that yes, are beautiful, but that also look genuine and accessible. Instagram is not the place for marketing stock shots. For this reason, you may wish to focus not just on your products and services but the personality of your brand and bring this to life through Instagram. For example, if you’re a sportswear manufacturer it’s a good idea not to just show photos of your kit; but to also include shots of it in action on real athletes, and incorporate this into a wider spectrum of healthy eating and lifestyle images in order to build your personality.
When you first set it up, link your Instagram account with your Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus accounts. This way, you’ll be able to share content simultaneously across your channels when you publish it. Your followers on other platforms will also be able to see you’re on Instagram too, and are more likely to seek you out and follow you.
Much like on Twitter, hashtags represent a powerful tool to get your content found by users. Use at least one hashtag per post to boost your chances of being found by, and attracting new followers.
A few words of warning; don’t over use hashtags in one post. A one word comment followed by ten hashtags just looks desperate and disingenuous. Also, be careful to only use hashtags that are relevant to your post or brand; you want to attract new followers, but only the right ones.
Instagram by nature lends itself well to user generated content. As you begin to grow your community, keep them interested by inviting them to share their own photos, tagging you or using your hashtag. An exemplary brand using this tactic is Starbucks; who regularly invite customers to share their snaps showing them enjoying a festive drink. When you respond and “regram” a user’s post you give them exposure, too, providing the incentive for them to share.
As we mentioned before, Instagram users are looking for inspiration, not a sales pitch. Keep your content output fresh by mixing product shots with natural lifestyle images to get users interested in you as a brand.
As with any other platform, it’s important to measure your success in order to get the most out of Instagram. Analytics tools such as Blitzmetrics will help you to track your performance, allowing you to decipher between the posts which worked well and those that didn’t. Keep paying attention, engaging and creating on Instagram, and you might soon find that you have a powerful new platform on your hands.