Instagram home page screenshot

A Step-by-Step Guide to Instagram for Business

Instagram has more than 300 million users (Source: Instagram Blog). Is your brand tapping into this mobile-friendly, social network source of visual content and ready buyers?

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Internet Project announced that Instagram was the fastest growing social network of 2014. Not only that, but its meteoric rise during the year was the biggest jump in users seen in any social media network ever… and that includes the most popular ones like Facebook and Twitter.

The research found that 26% of the adult population was now using Instagram, and that more than half of those ages 18 to 29 were using it. And this is just users in the United States. According to a report by research firm L2, the US accounts for only about 40% of users worldwide.

While Facebook is still the most-used social network with about 70% of the US population using it, the study says that while Instagram shot upward, Facebook saw little or no growth.

Instagram is a visual content social media network that’s a powerful tool for brand building and reaching new customers. It harnesses the power of both social media and visual content. Brands can use Instagram to stand out from their competition and build strong, long-lasting relationships with their customers.

According to Instagram, the photo sharing app has grown into a community that shares more than 70 million photos and videos every day. Many business niches, such as food and fashion, are using this platform. For example, brands like Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream have embraced Instagram as a way to keep and gain followers by sharing mouth-watering images of their newest flavors.

Even if you aren’t in one of these niches or don’t have a tangible product, you can still use similar strategies to gain a following on Instagram. The NBA doesn’t promote products on Instagram. They promote an emotionally charged experience. Their page gives followers a small sample of being courtside, which tempts followers to get the full experience in person.

Still not sure your business can benefit from using Instagram? Consider these facts:

  • Instagram users primarily interact with smartphones so it’s readily accessible.
  • Nearly 7.3 million people use Instagram on a daily basis.
  • The average user spends about 257 minutes on Instagram per month.
  • The average number of daily likes is 1.2 billion.

With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see the business boosting potential Instagram can have on your business. Before you get excited about the numbers and jump in, you need to know a few more details in order to make your experience more pleasant and profitable.

What is Instagram?

Instagram, a combination of the words “instant” and “telegram”, is a mobile visual content sharing app and social network. In 2012, Facebook purchased it from its founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. As of December 2014, it’s gained more than 300 million users.

Instagram is unlike any other social network in that it is based solely on visual storytelling with photos and videos. Users can post images and short videos up to 15 seconds long. Every photo and video posted on the Instagram app is square, much like the old Polaroid pictures. This feature gives the app a more streamlined look and inspires creativity among its users.

Why should your business use Instagram?

You may be using Facebook and Pinterest for business already. So why would you want use Instagram as well?

  • Like no other social network, Instagram provides solutions to common problems, which plague mobile photographers and video enthusiasts. They provide advanced tools to make mobile images more professional looking. They also optimize upload times, making it quick and efficient for users, compared to other platforms.
  • Instagram lets you show your customers the human side of your business. You can post pictures showing the positive side of your company and the actual people behind your brand.
  • All of the visual content you share on Instagram helps you to connect with your target market or one of its subsets. For instance, sharing your latest product and showing how people use it, attracts repeat customers and potential customers.
  • The visual nature of Instagram even breaks down language barriers. With around 60% of Instagram’s users outside of the United States, it offers opportunities for expanding brand awareness beyond borders.
  • Instagram can be used to update your customers on the latest news about your company or things that interest them. It can be a kind of news feed that disseminates information that’s interesting, entertaining, new, or exciting.
  • You can use Instagram to show off your valued employees or inside aspects of your company. This is a way to spread your company culture, humanize your business, and make it more fun. Furthermore, this can attract more of the same valuable employees who already understand your corporate culture before they’re even hired.
  • Almost every business has some type of visual content they can share with their customers. Instagram is one of the best platforms to do this.

Instagram is a goldmine for brands. In fact, brands account for 40% of the top 1,000 most-shared videos on Instagram. Engagement is the key to branding, and a 2013 study by research firm L2 found that Instagram offers 25% more engagement than other social media channels.

A large part of the success of Instagram is due to the fact that people naturally connect more with visual media than with text. Even on Facebook and other social media sites, visual content outperforms text-based content. Images are immediate. Visual content can be taken in at a glance. The connection we feel with an image or video is visceral and emotional. This is why visual content is so powerful, and that powerful emotional appeal can be taken advantage of for the benefit of your brand.

Although it’s not for all businesses, most businesses have some type of visual content they can share. Obviously, a restaurant, tourist organization, or design company has visual content to share. But if you get creative (and you’ll learn some ways to in this guide), any type of business can find good visuals to share.

The first step is to get an Instagram account set up. Use the site for a while and you’ll get a feel for how it works. Follow your competitors and favorite brands to see how they use it and what kind of response their activities get.

Are you ready to get started with this visually appealing app? Follow this step-by-step guide to set-up your account and leverage the power of Instagram.

GETTING STARTED: SETTING UP YOUR INSTAGRAM FOR BUSINESS ACCOUNT

Setting up your Instagram account is easy. You will quickly be adding photos and videos and connecting with your potential customers.

The first step in setting up your Instagram account is to download the app and choose an account name. Ideally, you’ll want it to be your business name so that is tied to your brand.

Many people use Instagram’s app to their iOS, Android phone, or tablet. It can be found in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. Instagram is also available on Windows Phone 8 and later from the Windows Phone Store.

Important: You must create your account using the Instagram mobile app, not a computer. However, once your account is created, you can view Instagram on a computer.

Once you have downloaded the app you are ready to create an account.

To sign up:

Once the app is installed, tap on the Instagram icon to open it.

You can sign up either with your Facebook account or with an email address.

To register with your email address, enter it and tap “Next”. To sign up with your Facebook account, tap “Log In with Facebook”.

If you register with email, fill in your preferred username and a password. Fill out the profile info and then hit “Done”.

If you register with Facebook, you will need to log into your Facebook account. Your information will be automatically filled in, including your name and profile picture. You will need to create a username and password, however.

Now that you’re account has been created go to the Profile tab via the button on the bottom right of the screen to add more to your profile. This is where you will see your own posts.

Click the “Edit Your Profile” button to change your name, username and profile picture. You can add your website URL and a short biography here as well as change your password, update your email address and phone number and toggle whether you want your posts private or not.

Adding a Profile Photo

At this time, you can only add or change your profile image from the Instagram app. To change your profile picture:

Go to your profile by tapping on the person tab at the bottom of your screen.

Tap on your profile picture. If you don’t have a profile picture, tap the blank circle next to your name.

Choose where you want to get your picture:

  • Take a Photo
  • Choose from Library
  • Import from Facebook
  • Import from Twitter

Simple is best! Use your brand’s logo or graphic symbol.

Your image will be cropped into a circle and appear as a very small 150 x 140 pixel image on most phones.

Navigating the App

Instagram is simple to navigate. The app is set up with five buttons, across the bottom of your screen – the home tab, search tab, camera button, activity tab, and your profile tab. Each button serves a different purpose.

The home page is where you see your own posts as well as the “stream” or most recent posts from people that you follow.

The Search tab lets you find interesting content and new users to follow. A t the top of the Search page is a search bar. Here you can type in keywords and then tap Users to see those who have that keyword in their name or tap on the Hashtags to see what includes that keyword in the hashtag.

The camera button is where you create new posts. It also where you edit and add filters to your images. We’ll go into this further later on.

The activity page gives you two different streams of content. There are two tabs on this page: Following and You. The default page is the You page. It shows your most recent notifications, such as when a user comments on your photos, mentions you, or likes your photos.

The Following tab shows the recent activity of users you are following.

The Profile tab is where you see all your posts and where you can edit and update your settings. Under this tab are four buttons. The default view shows you your photos and videos as a collage. The next button allows you to view posts as a stream. The third button gives you access to your photomap for geotagging in your posts. The final button shows the photos you’ve been tagged in.

That’s it. You’re ready to begin using Instagram for your business. Get familiar with how the site works by reading up on anything you aren’t familiar with and then practicing. When you’re ready, we’ll begin adding content in the form of video and photographs.

Take the Guesswork Out of Creating Visual Content with Instagram

Instagram is a visual platform so you have only two options when creating content: photos and videos. You might not think you are very good at photography or taking videos but with Instagram taking pictures and editing them is extremely easy. This makes it extremely popular for those wanting to take professional quality pictures when they feel adept at design.

In this module, you’ll see how you can take and post a photo or video and how you can use Instagram’s filters for editing it.

Let’s get started. To post a new photo, tap the camera button on the Instagram app screen. To take a photo, tap on the big blue circle. You can adjust to camera to face you as well as add the flash. This is where you can also record the video.

You can also upload photos from your phone or tablet’s library by tapping the page (iOS) tab or keypad (android) tab and selecting the photo you want to share.

Once you take your photo or video you’re taken to the editing section. Here you will see the filters you can use as well as feature called Lux and the Tools button.

You can edit your image or video by applying filters by tapping on the filter button. Then tap on the image filter you want to apply. There are 24 filters from which to choose. They range from coloring to softness of the image. If you tap the name of the filter again, a slider opens. This lets you adjust the strength of the filter. (I cover much more detail on filters later in this guide.) When you’re finished, tap the arrow to save.

The Lux feature adjusts things like exposure and sharpness of the image. To do this, slide the bar back and forth to find the best look for your image. Tap the check mark when you’re done adjusting.

The Tools feature gives you several options. Here you can use the editing tools make your images more professional looking and appealing.

  • Straighten to adjust the tilt and rotation of your photo.
  • Brightness adjusts the light of the image.
  • Contrast adjusts the light and dark values.
  • Warmth adjusts the tone of the image from cool or blue tones to red or brown tones.
  • Saturation adjusts the intensity of all of the colors in the image.
  • Highlight adjusts the amount of the lightest areas.
  • Shadows increase or decreases the shadows in the image.
  • Vignette darkens the edges of the photo.
  • Tilt Shift blurs the outside edges of your image.
  • Sharpen focuses the image.

To record a video, tap the recorder tab once. To begin recording, tap and hold the red record button. Tap the arrow to continue to the editing features.

The options for editing videos are similar. You can add filters, adjust the screen size, and choose a cover frame for the video.

Once you are happy with the way your video or image looks, click “Next”. On this screen, you can write a caption, add the post to your photomap, or choose to share it on another social network (Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, and Foursquare). You also have the option to post the image or send it as a direct message. Click Share when you’ve completed this step.

Wait. You forgot to add a hashtag or tag someone. Don’t worry. You can go to the image on your Profile page or the Home page and tap the ellipses button. Select Edit to update the image.

All of the steps and options might seem overwhelming at first but using Instagram’s tools and filters for adding photos and video content is simple and fun even if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Ideas for Types of Photographs to Share

Now that you understand more about taking and using photos, it’s important to grasp the best practices. For example, using just any old photo or image won’t help you accomplish your goals. Photos should convey a message that resonates with your viewer. In short, they should help you connect with people on some level. Of course, this will vary depending on your niche, brand, and the action you want them to take.

To help you get started, here are a few visual content ideas you may want to try:

  • Images of your products or services
  • Images of your customers using your products
  • Events your brand is participating in
  • Images of your employees or customers
  • Photos showing how your product is made or specific features of your products
  • Images of upcoming promotions, products or events
  • Entertaining, funny, or cute images that show your fans you’re human.
  • Post exclusive deals on your Instagram for your followers. Share an image with instructions on how to use the deal.

Here are six content strategy tips to help you choose the right images:

  1. Choose images that are cohesive to your brand. The colors, style, and message should all relate to your marketing message and should be cohesive to all your marketing materials.
  1. Choose images that elicit an emotional response from your followers or create a buzz. For example, cute, funny, beautiful or inspiring all elicit some type of emotional response.

  1. Follow a theme if possible. This ties all your images together and creates a storyline.
  1. Try not to be overly promotional with your photos. Look for creative ways to include your products in your images. Share images related to your brand.
  2. Create visuals around a text. Use quotes, helpful tips or inspirational thoughts with an appropriate image.
  1. Keep the captions short and fresh with hashtags. Ask questions to engage your followers.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to use Instagram for business. But you do have to know what types of images to share and how to keep your audience interested in your company.

8 Tips for Leveraging Instagram for Business

Now you’re probably wondering how you can leverage Instagram to build your business. Instagram gives you the opportunity to engage and convert leads, partners, and current customers as well as build a long-term loyal customer base.

  1. Build a community using an actionable hashtag.

    This strategy is very versatile. It can be used across multiple social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, just to name a few. Hashtags help with brand recognition, encourage your followers to participate, and help your images reach a broader audience. Research the most popular or most searched for hashtags with a service like Iconosquare.com. A few of the more popular hashtags at this time are #throwbackthursday, #tbt, #regram, #nofilter, and #latergram.

  2. Build trust among your followers.

    Gain the trust of your followers by providing value and establishing yourself as an expert in your field. Share the proof of your expertise with testimonials before you try to sell anything. For example, Kayla Isines, an Australian personal trainer, often posts individual workouts to her Instagram account. This allows her followers to preview her program before they make the commitment to buy it. Find ways you can offer value to your Instagram followers.

  3. Connect and collaborate with other influencers in your niche.

    Instagram, like the other social platforms has communities in every industry. The key is to reach out to a large number of influencers. The more others see your products in a user’s feed the more they will pay attention. Research and connect with Instagram influencers who are a good fit for your products. The influencer and his or her followers will probably have similar interests. This means that the followers are likely to be your potential customers. Consider collaborating with these leading influencers.

  4. Make it a habit to post regularly.

    The key to being successful on Instagram is to be visible. To be seen, you have to be consistent and post frequently. The Instagram feed is constantly refreshing, meaning it’s essential to post frequently to stay in your followers’ feeds. One way to stay on their minds is to post several times a day. Experiment with different post types daily and at different times of day. Then measure your results to find what works best.

  5. Partner with a good cause that supports your values.

    Promote and share partnerships with a good cause with your followers. Align your company’s values with your consumers.

  6. Stay relevant to your brand while relating to your followers.

    Think in the mindset of your target market. You likely already have a few buyer personas established and have an idea of who your consumer is and what they like. Try to think about why they are on Instagram. For example, maybe you’ve discovered your target market likes high tech equipment and tend to follow popular tech brands on Instagram You sell financial consulting services. Instead of posting pictures of high tech equipment all the time, what you might do instead is occasionally post images of the newest gadget with the caption of how they could own this when they start making better financial decisions. And give a call to action.

  7. Promote your Instagram account everywhere.

    Place an Instagram social icon on your homepage and product pages for visitors to connect with you. Connect your Instagram account to your Facebook account to pull in your friends. Run Instagram campaigns across all your social networks. Send out reminders to associates and partners to use your business hashtag and relevant hashtags.

  8. Get inspired from others.

    Follow incredible brands such as Charity Water, GoPro, Starbucks, and Taco Bell just to name a few. Follow top brands in your industry or a closely related field. Copy their best strategies with your own ideas. Copy their followers.

There you have it. Eight ways you should be leveraging Instagram for your business. These tips should help you get off to a good start on Instagram quickly.

The No-Nonsense Approach to Finding and Converting Customers on Instagram

No doubt, about it, Instagram is a fast-growing resource for businesses to grow their business. You’ve already gotten some ideas for what kinds of content to share on Instagram and how you can leverage it for your marketing. Now it’s time to build the following to make it all happen. In this module, you get ideas on how to get new followers.

  • Connect with your followers on other social media sites. Interact with them on Facebook and Twitter. Learn about them through their profiles. Keep in touch with them on other social media sites.
  • Interact with other Instagram users. Tag other users in your photos or send them private messages. Tag them before you post an image or a video. Tap the Tag People option before sharing it. Then, tap in the photo where you want to add a tag. Type in the person’s name and add the name to create a tag. Once you share the photo, other users can tap the photo to see who’s been tagged.

  • Make use of the hashtag, location, and Photos of You tabs to find other people who have liked, added, or shared similar images as well as your own images. Interact with these new people by liking and commenting on their images. Hashtags help other users find your content on Instagram, which allows up to 30 hashtags in a post or comment. Use fewer hashtags for quality responses.
  • Create contests to find potential clients. Contests are very popular among users. To get new followers from your contest, encourage customers to share the content using a specific hashtag for the contest or offer.
  • Offer exclusives to get new followers and inspire loyalty. Do this by offering a sneak peek at a new product to your Instagram followers only. Offer discounts only your Instagram followers get.
  • Encourage your followers to take action with enticing product images or events. The key is to create images that evoke a strong emotion in your followers. For example if you are in a food industry, take pictures that make viewers hungry and their mouths water. Williams Sonoma does this well with images of food, parties, and decorating using their products.

  • Let your followers create their own content for you. Create opportunities by running contests or creating collaborative projects where users take pictures using your theme or motif. Starbucks partially built its Instagram followers by asking customers to make and share artwork with Starbuck cups.

  • Be personable and likeable by creating and showing your company’s face, whether it is your own or that of a spokesperson. The face of your company should be on your profile and in content that you share. Interact with your followers as often as possible.
  • Build relationships and a sense of community with your followers. Share content that triggers emotions, asks questions, or addresses a specific problem. People feel more comfortable buying from brands they are a part of and trust.

As you can see, finding and converting followers into customers is a lot like any marketing you do. Build relationships with your group. Take advantage of being a part of influencer’s networks. Share relevant and fun content that readers want to see.

USING INSTAGRAM TO BUILD YOUR BRAND THROUGH VISUAL CONTENT

If you don’t feel that you’re adept at photography or design, there’s no need to worry. Instagram makes taking pictures and touching them up extremely easy. This is actually another reason for its popularity: it allows even those who are totally clueless with a camera to take professional-grade pictures.

What this means for a brand is that no matter what your level of skill or experience, you can create compelling visuals that can help you build brand awareness. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this module and by the end you’ll have at least five solid ideas for visual images you can use to promote your brand on Instagram.

Ideas for Instagram Images

If you’re new to Instagram, you may have trouble deciding what types of images to use. This, of course, depends on your brand and what you want to communicate to your audience. Hopefully, by now you’re getting some ideas by using Instagram and connecting with other brands.

Some ideas for visual content include:

  • Anything related to your brand, even if it’s not about your products or services.
  • Your products in action – images of people using your products.
  • Behind-the-scenes photos that reveal how your company or industry works.
  • The smiling faces of your employees or customers.
  • Events that your brand is involved in.
  • Statistics or data presented in an easy visual format.
  • An image with a question to get your audience interacting.
  • Images that show how your product is made or distributed.
  • Images that focus on unique features of your products.
  • Images of the local area where your business is located.
  • Photos from fans (you can ask them to send you themed photos).
  • A sneak peek of a future product, promotion, or event.
  • Recommendations of products from other companies that you think your audience would like.
  • A quote surrounded by a related image.
  • Something that’s just cute, funny, entertaining, or amazing.

Creating Visuals that Communicate Your Brand

Your visual content needs to incorporate the design aspects that your brand uses. Here are a few aspects of this visual look to consider:

  • Color: You should already have a color scheme that you use for your brand. If you don’t, decide on one now. The images you share on Instagram should go along with this color scheme.
  • Style: Your brand should have a certain style in its communications with its fans. This could be formal or informal; fun or serious. It depends on the type of business you’re in (for example, a security company would choose a more serious style, while a company that sells outdoor sporting goods should be more fun).
  • Message: All of your marketing materials, including the visuals you use on Instagram, should relate to your brand message. What idea or value do you want to convey?
  • Instagram Filters

Amaro

Hefe

Sierra

Instagram’s wide variety of filters can turn anyone into a great photographer. Filters allow you to turn plain, novice photography into works of art. There’s a dizzying array of filters and choosing the right one, especially if you’re new to Instagram, isn’t easy.

According to Populagram, the ten most popular filters are:

  • Normal (No Filter)
  • Valencia
  • Earlybird
  • X-Pro II
  • Amaro
  • Rise
  • Hudson
  • Lo-fi
  • Hefe
  • Sierra

You can see examples of each at the Populagram site, as well as 3 of them in the sample images above.

However, you have to be careful when choosing filters. Make sure that you use one that will create an interesting and engaging picture, not just one that looks unique. Certain filters enhance certain images, so play around with them a bit.

Guidelines for Creating Instagram Images

Aim for images that elicit a response from people. Choose images that elicit an emotional response or that get people talking. Images that elicit this emotional response are often those that are cute, funny, inspiring, or beautiful. Cuteness is especially good for Instagram. Whether it’s an animal, a child, or just something fun, a cute image is more likely to stick in your customers’ minds.

This is not the place to be controversial or provocative. Some brands try to stir up controversy but it usually backfires. When building your brand, it’s best to stick to images that engage and stimulate, rather than those that could upset people.

If you can, try to follow a theme. A theme ties all of your images together. Whenever a customer sees a new image, they think back to the other images that used this theme. With a theme, your images follow a kind of storyline. Your images aren’t all individual, unrelated photos.

Take care to avoid being overly promotional with your photos. Try to find creative ways to work your products and company into images instead. You have to keep your promotion somewhat under the radar. If you’re following other brands now on Instagram, you probably realize that most of their images aren’t promotional at all. Those businesses may just share images that are related to their brand. This is a good tactic because too much promotion turns off Instagram users. Try to strike a balance that’s about 20% promotional and 80% non-promotional.

TIP: One very easy idea for a visual is to create an image around text. You can use a quote, a helpful tip, or statistical data, and combine it with an appropriate image.

Tips for Creating Sharable Images

To improve your photography, try using the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is an important concept in professional photography. Photographers divide an image into a 3×3 grid, like a tic-tac-toe game. There are two horizontal and two vertical lines, which cut the image up into 9 portions. The idea behind the Rule of Thirds is that the spots where these lines intersect are where the eye is most likely to be drawn. For this reason, you should put the most important feature of the image there.

Consider cropping your images. Instagram images don’t have to be square. Sometimes cropping the top and bottom or sides can bring a new sense of balance to an image, or draw the idea more effectively to its subjects. Horizontal cropping is especially effective for landscape pictures.

Take advantage of Instagram’s straightening tool. This feature helps when you have a horizontal line in a picture, like a wall or a horizon. It shows whether or not the image is level.

In addition to Instagram’s filters and other editing features, you can also run your images through third party apps. Many of the best pictures on Instagram use these third-party apps. Some third-party apps are free while others charge a fee.

Earlier, we discussed using quotes. You can actually share any type of image on Instagram, not only photos. This includes infographics, charts, diagrams, comics, lists and screenshots. Be creative and don’t limit yourself. Experiment with different types that are suitable for your brand, and see how your audience reacts to them.

Don’t forget that you can also upload, edit, and share videos on Instagram. This opens up whole new possibilities for using it. You can shoot videos on your phone and upload them through the Instagram app.

REACHING NEW CUSTOMERS VIA INSTAGRAM

Now that you have some ideas for what kinds of content to share on Instagram, it’s time to build a following for your brand. In this module, you’ll learn some ideas on how to create an Instagram feed that people will pay attention to, as well as some insider tricks on getting new followers.

Tweak Your Message

It’s important to stay true to your brand’s message. For every piece of content you post, you should consider carefully what kind of message it’s relaying, and whether or not this message is consistent with your brand. In other words, you should only post content that’s appropriate for your brand.

Once you’ve used Instagram for a while, you’ll start to develop a sense of what’s appropriate, or “on-brand,” and what isn’t. You can also ask yourself:

  • What is the tone of my brand message and does this piece of content also share this tone?
  • What unique elements about this content help to convey my message?
  • Is there any way that the message could be misunderstood, misinterpreted or potentially seen as inappropriate to some users?

Make sure the message your content conveys isn’t all about your company and promoting products. As we mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t be overly promotional and this can’t be stressed enough. Instead, post content that’s personal. This personal, human side is what builds a solid relationship with your followers. No matter how big or small your business is, your target customers want to feel like they’re connecting with people, not a company. Plus, personal content is generally more popular with users. They’ll enjoy it more.

Post the Most Engaging Content Possible and Vary It

Instagram is all about visual content, so naturally it’s the most visually appealing content that gets shared and gains new followers for a business. We already discussed effects that you can use to enhance your images. If you learn a bit about photography and what makes a good image, you can enhance your Instagram images.

Some brands hire an outside photographer to create their visual content for them. You can hire a photographer for a reasonable rate and the new followers you gain through their high-quality content can be well worth it.

You should also vary your content. Don’t always post the same types of images. Your audience will get bored of seeing the same thing over and over again. A potential follower will be more likely to follow you if they see a variety of visual content in your Instagram feed.

If you look at clothing retailer Forever 21’s Instagram feed, you’ll notice that they vary their content between images of products, customers wearing their clothes, and images that are simply interesting or artistic but not strictly related to their merchandise.

Making Sure Your Posts Are Found through Hashtags

Hashtags are important for all types of social media. These are keywords or key phrases that start with the # symbol. When you use hashtags in your posts, your posts become searchable. When someone searches that hashtag, your post will come up in the search results.

Certain hashtags are more popular than others and some marketers try to tag their posts with these popular ones. However, a much better strategy is to use appropriate rather than just popular hashtags. There is a balance to be struck between popularity and relevance.

While it’s good to use popular hashtags, it’s much more important that they’re relevant. A little-searched but relevant hashtag will attract few people, but they’ll be the right people. On the other hand, if you use popular hashtags that aren’t relevant, a large number of people will find your content but most of them won’t be interested.

A great tool for researching hashtags by specific product or business is Populagram. The best possible scenario is to have hashtags that are both relevant and popular, but relevancy should be the primary consideration.

You can easily overdo it with hashtags. A particular post should only have two at the most. Too many hashtags clutter up a post, making it less visually appealing, and may not be relevant.

Searching for Potential Customers through Hashtags

You can also use hashtags to search for people posting content related to your brand or industry. If you find someone who fits your target market, you can start following them and there’s a good chance that they’ll follow you back. These hashtags don’t have to be specific names of products or brands. They could simply be words like #cute, #happy, #smile, #beautiful, or #picoftheday. Anything that’s related to your brand could help you discover potential customers. If you get in the habit of regularly searching for new people to connect with, you’ll see your number of followers gradually grow.

Coordinating Instagram with Other Social Media Sites

Another good way to learn about your followers is to connect with them on other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and interact with them there. Facebook profiles tend to be quite thorough and there is a great deal you can learn about your followers there. Your followers may also be more active on another social media site, so keeping in touch with them there can yield much more information about what they like, share, post, and so on.

You should have information about your Instagram account on other social media sites you use as well. On Facebook, Twitter and other sites, you can post your Instagram content. When users view the content, they’ll be asked to connect with you on Instagram or to create an account if they don’t already have one. Cross-posting your content is a great way to build each individual social media presence, including your Instagram following.

Once you’re connected with your followers on other social media sites, you can use all social media platforms to coordinate your marketing campaigns. Your followers will see your content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other social media sites you use, and it will thus have a greater impact on them. You can also reach new customers through other social media sites and direct them to your Instagram profile.

Learning about Your Customers through Instagram

There are several ways you can use Instagram to learn more about your followers and make your content more engaging for them.

Once you’ve built up a good number of followers, look at their profiles and learn about them individually and personally. From the data you see on their profiles, you can create an accurate profile of your target customer, not based on your assumptions but based on objective data. This is very valuable. If you know what demographic or type of person likes your brand the most, you can focus your efforts on attracting more of that particular type of person.

You should also carefully examine customer feedback. Wherever there are comments, likes, shares, and any other type of feedback on social media, take the time to see what your followers are saying. This can reveal insights about how they feel and what they think.

Finding the Right Timing

Human beings are creatures of habit. There are certain times of day and days of the week when your customers and potential customers are using Instagram. If you learn these times and post the bulk of your content during these times, you’ll expand your reach.

You can discover the right “sweet spot” by experimenting. Post at different times of day and on different days of the week. Monitor the engagement your posts get and you’ll start to see a pattern emerge.

You should also post consistently. Create a schedule and stick to it. It doesn’t matter as much how often you post, but more that you post consistently. Your followers will expect to see regular content and it will offer more opportunities for engagement. By posting regularly, you’ll also be sharing more content through which new followers will find you.

Encourage Interaction

One of the wonderful things about social media is that it’s not a one-way street. This is why it’s great for branding. The key is to encourage interaction with your followers through the content you post.

You should actively comment on the content your followers post. It helps a follower feel connected when they interact with a brand’s content, but it’s even more powerful when the brand takes the initiative and interacts with the customer first. Research shows that 65% of users state that they feel flattered when a brand likes their content. This is a very simple thing you can do to be friendly and show you’re paying attention.

When you reply to a comment or mention another user anywhere on Instagram, use the @ symbol to tag them. This will notify them that there has been a reply or comment, and then they can respond to it.

A more direct way to drive engagement is to invite followers or guests to contribute to your content. One way to do this on Instagram is to create a contest. Present a challenge to your followers to create some kind of content related to your brand. Ask them to take pictures of a particular scene, scenario, object, etc. They can then submit the photos and you post them for all of your followers to see.

Another way to encourage interaction is to reward the most loyal followers. Take note of which followers interact the most with your brand and offer them some type of reward, like a freebie, an exclusive preview, a discount, or exclusive access to other valuable content.

Steal Your Competitors’ Followers

Stealing your competitors’ followers may be a slightly dirty trick, but it works. Fans of your competitors are already interested in the type of product or service your brand offers.

You can steal your competition’s followers by following your competition (as you already are) and simply engaging with them. This means liking, sharing or commenting on their content. When you interact with their content, they’re likely to notice and they may follow you.

Gaining Momentum and Going Viral

Once you’re sharing content, building your followers and interacting with them regularly, the next step is to expand the effectiveness of your marketing efforts with Instagram. Your excellent content and interactions with your followers will help you do that, but it also helps to have tools at your disposal that allow you to optimize your Instagram activities.

IconoSquare

IconoSquare helps you optimize your Instagram marketing by providing a detailed analysis of your posting history and follower engagement. It offers an overview page with simple statistics that track user engagement over the past seven days. This data tells you which posts were hits and which weren’t. You can also expand the data and get more details with its monthly reports. Here, you can see which followers interact with your brand, which times and days are best for posting, and which tags are the most popular.

Similar analytic programs include Piqora and Picdeck.

Schedugram

Schedugram allows you to set up a schedule for posts so that you don’t have to post each one yourself. Once you find the right times and days for posting (the “sweet spots”), you’ll have to stick to that schedule. Things happen in real-time on social media. Schedugram takes the hassle out of it by allowing you to set a schedule and forget it. You can also post images to multiple accounts and there are other features as well.

Other scheduling tools include Latergramme, Onlypult, and Takeoff.

Webstagram

Webstagram provides a web interface for Instagram. This means that when you log in to Webstagram, you can view your photo feed using a PC instead of a mobile device. This is great for users who aren’t particularly fond of mobiles or prefer to work on a PC. Not only can you see your own photo feed on Webstagram, you can also use it to search all of Instagram. In addition, it has a variety of different features.

Other web interface tools include Collec.to and Ink361.

Other useful tools include:

Over – Over offers a wide variety of fonts and styles for putting text on your images.

SnapWidget – SnapWidget allows you to embed your Instagram images on your website as you post them.

Tagboard – Tagboard allows you to manage your hashtags across all of your social media accounts with one easy dashboard.

Repost – With Repost, you can browse other users’ images and post them on your feed.

Instagram’s Carousel Ads

Instagram has a new feature that’s useful to brands called Carousel Ads. When a user sees one of these images, they can swipe to the left to see similar images or more information. For example, a car manufacturer may share an image of a feature that’s installed on one of its new models. If the user swipes the image, they can see other features that the model offers, and/or a page that lists nearby dealerships where they can see the new model in person.

Some big brands that have used Carousel Ads effectively include:

Old Navy – Old Navy used Carousel Ads to show people where and how to wear clothing in its new Baja line. Each image showed someone wearing a piece of clothing from the line in casual daily situations.

Samsung – Samsung used Carousel Ads to demonstrate the features of its new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones. Each ad is showcases a different feature and offers a mini-tutorial on how to use it.

Showtime – Showtime was one of the first companies to use Carousel Ads. It used the feature to promote the second season of its show “Penny Dreadful,” which each ad dedicated to images of a certain character.

This is an ideal feature for Instagram, where users are more likely to be shopping as they browse, as opposed to Facebook or other social media sites where people generally don’t shop.

CONVERTING INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS INTO NEW CUSTOMERS

Building a large and engaged following on Instagram will help you build your brand and spread brand awareness. However, the goal of most businesses that use Instagram is to turn these followers into loyal customers who will not only buy from you, but tell others about you and encourage them to do the same.

One of the great strengths of Instagram as a social sharing site is that it’s used for shopping. This is not the case with Facebook, Twitter and most other major social media sites. Businesses find it difficult to make sales using these other sites, but Instagram’s younger demographic uses the site not only to share content, but also to buy.

IconoSquare conducted a study in 2015 which found that of the 16,000 users asked, 70% of them said that they’d already searched for a brand they like on Instagram. Of the respondents, 62% said that they followed certain brands using the site simply because they love the brand. Unlike other social media sites, Instagram users actively seek out the brands they love.

One reason for this is that Instagram users tend to be younger people who are accustomed to shopping online and using social media to make buying decisions. Separate studies in 2014 by Frank N. Magid Associates, Cowen & Company and AVG found that nearly half of 18-29 year-olds and over 60% of 11-16 year-olds had used Instagram in the last month, while only about 20% of baby boomers and even fewer of those older reported the same.

Don’t take these statistics too seriously if your market is older since numbers like these can change quickly. Traditionally, as older age groups start using a social site, such as Instagram, more and more, the younger groups start shifting their loyalties to other social media sites, such as SnapChat!

Engaging and Encouraging Shares

The best way to convert Instagram followers into customers is to encourage them to get involved, share, comment, and so on. More good news about Instagram: A social analytics and research service called Socialbakers conducted a study which found that on average, an Instagram post sent to 10,000 users resulted in 331 likes, shares, or “re-grams.” Compare this to only 7 out of 10,000 users doing the same on Twitter. The study clearly illustrates that Instagram users love to interact with the content they see.

There are many ways you can leverage this engagement and turn your Instagram followers into customers. Here are a few methods.

Exclusive Content and Products

A good way to inspire loyalty, get followers interacting with your brand individually, and turn followers into buyers is to offer something exclusive. This could be exclusive content, information, or products that are only available for your Instagram followers. Although you may cross-post content on your other social media sites, offer some Instagram-only content, deals, or information.

Ways to do this include:

  • Offering a sneak peek at a new product to Instagram followers only. They’ll be more likely to buy the product.
  • Offering discounts to Instagram followers.
  • Creating Instagram-only content, contests, or other means of engagement, which make your Instagram followers feel like part of a special group.
  • Offering products that can only be purchased by Instagram followers.

The “Wish I Were There” Effect

Instagram is great for creating images that make the viewer wish they were there. It could be the filters or effects, or maybe it’s something about the mindset of the user. But in any case, a great way to lead your followers to action (such as buying) is to show images of products or events that make them want to be there; in other words, the “Wish I Were There” effect.

If you sell snacks, you can take pictures of them and apply just the right filter to make them look scrumptious. Your pictures of an event you held or participated in can be framed and presented in such a way that the user will wish they’d gone. Create spectacular images that will make people envious, and this will lead them to take action.

A company that does this well is Virgin Airlines. Virgin’s mission on Instagram appears to be to make its flights look like parties. In this image, where the lighting is done in such a way that it looks more like a dance club than a flight, director Kevin Smith is handing out cocktails to other passengers.

Online store Old Faithful Shop produces the “Wish I Were There Effect” through images of its products. It sells a great variety of different products that have no overall theme, so it takes artfully shot pictures of the products it sells. Many of the pictures feature a cute dog, which has become a sort of mascot for the brand.

Tell a Story

Use your Instagram account to tell the story of a new product, event, project, or your company. Start from day one and keep a steady flow of content documenting the progress, and make it interesting and engaging. Your followers will follow the story from the beginning, and this will make them feel closer to your business. Obviously, if you’re creating the story of a product being developed, this will make people want to buy the product. During the weeks or months that it’s been under development, their excitement has been building. The same effect works indirectly on whatever story you’re telling, even if it’s not a product.

For a good example of storytelling, look at the Instagram content of a company called DODOcase. DODOcase makes cases for a variety of digital devices. Its Instagram content showcases how its products are designed and made. By telling the story of the design process, the company generates even more interest in its products. Followers can see the unique and interesting qualities of its products.

TaylorStitch is another brand that uses its Instagram presence to tell a story. Its content showcases how its products are made, including images of actual workers making it. This content not only tells a story but also humanizes the brand, which builds a better relationship with followers.

User-Generated Content

Create opportunities for your followers to create their own content for you. You can do this by running contests or creating collaborative projects. For a contest, you could ask users to take pictures using a certain theme or motif. You could ask them to take creative pictures of how they use your products or similar products. Anything is acceptable as long as it’s related to your brand and fun.

This is powerful because you become known as a brand that posts its users content. In other words, you’re not just a company broadcasting its own ideas and messages. You listen to and care about your users, and this builds a strong relationship.

Dr. Marten’s used user-generated content gathered through Instagram for its ads. It released a video charting its history as a brand and then invited its followers to create photos and videos sharing their own personal history with Dr. Martens. This content was then used in an advertisement.

Starbucks has leveraged its Instagram presence by inviting its customers to make artwork with Starbucks cups. Another clever user-generated content strategy was its #HowWeMet campaign, which encouraged its customers to share their stories of meeting friends at Starbucks. This humanizes the company but is also effective because it doesn’t focus on the products, but rather on how customers feel about the brand.

Follow Your Followers

We covered this in a previous module, but keep following your customers, and sharing, liking, and commenting on their content. This builds a strong connection and shows that you care about your followers. This strong connection makes it much more likely that your followers will buy from you.

Reach out to Advocates

Your followers are much more likely to buy from you if they hear your brand message not from you, but from someone else. This is how social media works – it’s a vast network of word-of-mouth advertising. If you can get your followers singing your praises, this is much more powerful than even the most skillful self-promotion.

A good way to do this is to build even stronger relationships with your most active followers. Identify your brand advocates, the users who are most engaged with your brand. These could be users who have already bought from you, or they could be just those that are your biggest fans. Communicate with them often and offer them exclusive content and products.

An example of a company that has successfully leveraged its advocates is the 1888 Hotel in Sydney. In addition to offering views specifically for Instagram users to photograph and share, as well as a “selfie-space” in their lobby, the hotel offers a free night stay to any guest with over 10,000 Instagram followers. This encourages active users to stay at the hotel and tell everyone they know on the social media network about it.

Be Personable and Likeable

Show your face on Instagram (or delegate someone in your company to be the official “face” of the company). Show the face of your company on your profile and in your shared content. Make your interactions with your followers as personal as possible. The effect of this is that people feel less like they’re buying from a company or brand, and more like they’re buying from a person.

Build a Community

Try to use your content to build a community. You can do this by sharing content that starts a conversation, asks a question and specifically addresses the problems of your followers. Identify the similarities that all of your followers share and speak to these similarities. Like the exclusive content idea, this is a way to create an “in-group.” People feel much better about buying from brands that are part of their group.

One brand that has successfully built a community and, in fact, owes much of its success to its Instagram efforts is Fresh-Tops. Fresh-Tops is a quirky and stylish clothing brand for women. It has created a community on Instagram by encouraging user-generated content (women wearing the brand’s clothing) and its use of creative hashtags. It has created its own unique hashtags like #AreYouInHeaven that followers can use. The brand now has over 800,000 followers on Instagram.

Know Your Audience

Finally, although it’s been stated many times before, get to know your audience as well as possible. In any type of sales situation, this is important. Luckily, Instagram offers a wide variety of ways to do this. Keep learning about your customers and soliciting their feedback.

NEXT STEPS

By now, you should have plenty of ideas on how you can use Instagram to communicate your own unique brand vision to your followers and turn them into brand advocates and loyal customers.

Take a deep breath. I know this is a lot to take in.

So far, you have seen how Instagram is perfect for almost every type of business to begin sharing and building relationships with their customers. It’s an easy to use mobile app you can use anywhere you are. In addition, you have:

  • Learned the basics of what Instagram is and why it’s useful for communicating your brand.
  • Created an Instagram account to use for your brand.
  • Followed other brands and competitors on Instagram to get a feel for how it works.
  • Learned the basics of what kind of images do well on Instagram and tips for making your images noticeable and sharable.
  • Identified several ideas for visual content that will effectively communicate your brand to your followers.
  • Learned how to discover more about your customers through Instagram.
  • Started sharing your visual content and watched how your followers reacted.
  • Learned tips on how to make your posts stand out, such as hashtags and tagging.
  • Learned how to use your Instagram content to engage customers and why this is important.
  • Explored several tools for using Instagram more effectively.
  • Identified a number of tactics you can use to turn your Instagram followers into customers.

No More Excuses On What to Do Now!

To get the most out of your Instagram account, these tips need to be kept in mind:

  • Instagram’s photo tools helps you resize images and add filters to make your images look inviting.
  • Your posts should be related to your business or brand when possible. However, occasionally you can include images, which are related to your niche as well as an additional common interest. For example, if you have a catering business and one of your employees was caught in a funny photo while working, share it with a caption that highlights one of your company mottos such as, “The ability to see humor in situations is a big part of celebrating even the smallest, unexpected events.”
  • Giveaways and promotions are a great way to drive more people to your profile and get followers.
  • Keep in touch with your followers. Reply to users’ comments when they comment on your photos.
  • Embed your Instagram posts on your website. This can be done with the desktop Web version of Instagram’s embed code.
  • Be sure to share your Instagram posts on Facebook and other social networking platforms. Posting your content on several platforms is a great way to build all your individual social media presence.

You’ve learned how set up your Instagram for business account. You’ve also discovered how to take photos and videos that people will want to share. The next step is to decide how you want to incorporate these strategies in Instagram. Then start practicing the techniques to fine-tune your skills while interacting with your followers.