Before the first iPhone dropped almost seven years ago, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that today, people would use smartphones for photography more than they use cameras.
And if someone told you back then that people would use this advanced technology to take pictures that look like they’re old and faded – well, you probably would have thought they were crazy.
But you’ve gotta hand it to Instagram! Earlier this year, everyone’s favorite photo app hit the landmark of more than 200 million active monthly users – for perspective, Myspace peaked at about 76 million – and they’re not all using it for photographing desserts and snapping selfies, either. (Even I can’t resist showing off my inner shutterbug!)
Instagram is becoming a serious player in the social media marketing world, but for the uninitiated, the whole thing can seem a little…well, a little silly. That’s why today, I’m focusing on how you can use Instagram to market your business – and whether or not you even SHOULD.
How Instagram Works
Even if you’ve never used it, most people have at least HEARD of Instagram. The thing about apps like this, though, is they don’t exactly come with instruction manuals – so even if you’ve played with it long enough to slap a filter on your favorite picture of your cat, you might not see its full potential.
First things first – if you’re NOT one of those 200 million monthly users, Instagram is an app that allows you to take and/or edit photos on your phone (most notably by applying filters that automatically give them a vintage-y glow).
More importantly, though, it’s ALSO a social network, and one that gives you opportunities that other networks don’t. Think of it like Twitter, but with pictures – you follow people, and the images they take show up in a feed you can access on either your phone or a web browser. You can write captions for your own images, and you can comment and like other people’s posts, but you can’t share another person’s image like you would a tweet.
Get it? Got it? Good! Because now I wanna talk about what this means for your social media marketing game plan.
Should you use Instagram to market your business?
People ask me all the time about which social networks they should be on, and I always tell them the same thing.
Whether you should market your business on Instagram, then, is tooootally up to you – but believe me when I say that if you want to, you CAN, no matter what your business does!
“But I don’t have a very visually-oriented business! What am I supposed to take pictures of – spreadsheets?”
I can actually relate to this one a lot – I sell online marketing courses, for pete’s sake! It would be a lot easier to market myself on Instagram if I rented out seaside cottages or represented male supermodels, but hey, not everyone has a SUPER photogenic business.
All that means, though, is that you have to be a little creative. You can post a photo of an award you received, or of you on the job. You could post a behind-the-scenes picture of you and your team, like I did when we all met in Portland last month. One of MY big focuses is on teaching business owners how to give themselves more free time by improving their social media management – I actually have a new, free course focused on that specifically – so I upload pictures from my own travels, like that selfie up above.
But there’s a LOT more to killin’ it on Instagram than posting simple snapshots! What can you do to really set yourself apart on this social network?
Keep It Personal
A lot of business owners hesitate to use Instagram for marketing because it seems too personal – but that’s exactly what makes it so special! Instagram is the perfect place to form a personal and emotional connection with your audience.
While networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are ideal for more “official” business promotions and communiqué, Instagram is THE place for creating a close relationship between your biz and your fans.
Check out this list of the 50 most popular people on Instagram, and you’ll see they all have a few things in common:
- They share photos you won’t always find on other social networks
- They share personal pics that they took themselves (“OMG! They’re just like me!”)
- Their photos go behind the scenes and capture everyday life – NOT just business-y stuff
- You get to know their personality – especially the fun-loving side
You can see that I do the same thing on my own account – it’s the place where I can show a side of me that isn’t always the right fit for other social networks. Should you upload 26 pictures of your prize teacup pig in a row? Well, that might be overkill. But you shouldn’t be afraid of getting too chummy with your Instagram followers – that’s exactly the type of interaction this network was MADE for.
Forget About Photos
You read that right – forget about uploading photos to your Instagram account. (At least, every now and then.) Because uploading photos is one thing, but uploading images is another thing entirely!
Here – check out this example from my friend (and very successful Instagrammer) Leonie Dawson:
Look through her feed, and you’ll see that she balances out her personal pics with DIY images like this one. Turning an inspirational quote into its own graphic and uploading it to Instagram is the perfect way to add some variety to your feed and engage your followers – bonus points to Leonie for including her URL, giving people who dig the image direction on where they can find more nuggets of wisdom like this one! (Just remember to play by the rules when you’re making your own graphics, or the next thing you Instagram might be a subpoena!)
Linkify Your Bio
Like any other social network, Instagram can drive traffic to your website – but you have to play by the app’s rules. Right now, you can’t add URLs to the captions of your images. I mean, you CAN, but you can’t click on them – your audience has to copy/paste them into a browser. You can, however, add a clickable URL to your user bio – so make sure you do! This is also a great way for users already familiar with your business to make sure that they have the right you on Instagram – the URL confirms they’re in the right place AND provides easy access to your site.
Edit Your Images OUTSIDE of Instagram
Instagram is known for its iconic, faux-retro filters – but they aren’t the only tools you should be using to edit your images before uploading.
Pic Stitch, for example, is a free app that allows you to make those cute little collages you always see people posting. You can also experiment with adding text overlays to your images, like so:
This newspaper I used to read back in Chicago added text to the image BEFORE uploading it to Instagram, giving that pooch a little extra boost in the you-better-not-miss-this department. Adding text is perfect for making a company announcement or advertising a contest – and in this case, they made it a real one-two punch by adding a hashtag. Speaking of hashtags…
Don’t Be Afraid of Hashtags!
I’ll admit it – I don’t much care for casual hashtag use on Twitter of Facebook. They break up the flow of what you’re saying, and both of those networks have search algorithms sophisticated enough that they’ll locate keywords even if they don’t have little pound signs in front of them.
On Instagram, though, hashtags are the key to getting found – and you shouldn’t skip them.
You can and should use the caption area under an Instagram pic to write whatever you want. But after you do, feel free to throw in some relevant hashtags. Remember – if you upload a photo of a bicycle from your shop, Instagram doesn’t KNOW that it’s a bicycle, and users searching for bike pictures will never find it. You can use hashtags as a way of categorizing the subject of the photo, though, so that a user searching for those keywords will find it. Try including a short list of hashtagged keywords in your caption area, so you turn up in more searches.
Like in the picture of the dog embedded above, you can also encourage your followers to use specific hashtags as part of a contest or promotion – especially because you can leverage those hashtags on other networks. Which actually brings me to my next tip! (WOW, that’s convenient!)
Share Yo’ Pictures All Over the Place
The best way to get Instagram followers is to bring them in from other social networks – but there are a few things to consider when you do.
Earlier this week, I told you about how Instagram and Twitter don’t play super nice. In case you missed it, Twitter doesn’t actually display Instagram photos – just links to your photos. So while you should always share an Instagram pic on Twitter, you should also share lots of OTHER kinds of images on Twitter – but you can learn more about that here.
Fortunately, though, Facebook and Instagram are total BFFs (that’ll happen when one BFF literally OWNS the other one). Instagram photos show up right on your Facebook wall, so there’s really no excuse for not sharing and building valuable bridges between networks! You don’t have to share EVERY picture you take on Facebook, but make sure you do it at least part of the time.
Go All “Lights, Camera, Action” Up in Here
Instagram allows you to shoot video – 15 seconds of it, to be precise – and you can make those 15 seconds work hard for your marketing!
The trick? Don’t treat that time like it’s a commercial. (C’mon. Commercials suck.) Instead, try to focus on one of these angles:
- Informative – Got a life hack you can share in 15 seconds? Share a quick tip that your followers can really use.
- Demo – Show your product in action, so followers can see themselves using it.
- Fun and funny – Cut loose a little and show us some behind-the-scenes action – Instagram is a pretty casual place, homie.
- Montage – Use quick edits to show us how you make or do something – this one’s especially great for people like dietitians, fitness pros, and artists.
- Quiet – Instagram autoplays videos, and your followers may not have the volume up – make sure that your vids are as entertaining without sound as they are with it.
And of course, if you’re going to shoot Instagram video, make sure that your phone is stable! Shake that camera around “Blair Witch” style and the only thing your followers are gonna want is a Dramamine shot, ya dig?
Track Your Analytics
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that I’m always stressing the importance of following your analytics. Facebook, Twitter, whatever – they MATTER. And you can get them for Instagram, too.
Apps like Iconosquare give you access to all kinds of data about your photos, your followers, and alllllll those juicy details that make it easier for you to do what works and ditch what doesn’t. Seriously, don’t waste time with the guesswork thing – track your stats, and pronto.
Network and Tag People
Tagging other users on social is the perfect way to network – thankfully, Instagram got the memo. @-mentions on this network function the same way they do on Twitter, and you can also tag people when they show up in your photos. They may not be able to share your pictures like they would a tweet, but they’ll be more likely to return the favor when it comes to tagging. (It’s just the right thing to do, ya know?)
Schedule Your Snapshots
When you’re using Instagram for something like a contest promotion, it’s a LOT easier to create your images all at once and schedule posting times for them. A program like ScheduGram allows you to upload, edit, and schedule your images ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about doing it live over and over again. Instagram doesn’t move as quickly as networks like Twitter, so you need to be a LOT more wary about things like over-posting, but a scheduler like this can still come in reeeeaally handy for making sure you never miss an update.
Now Get on That ‘Gram!
Alright, so there’s a LOT more that I could talk about regarding the whole Instagram marketing thing – but I can practically hear your brain getting ready to burst from here. So we’ll give it a rest for now, but keep an eye out, because I’m gonna be talking about Instagram some more in the near future. Until then, get yourself signed up, practice your photog skills, and start making connections!
Already perfected the art of square photography? Share your Instagram in the comments so we can see what ya got! (Hint: It’s just www.instagram.com/yourusername)