Instagram is a tricky social media site to use as a business. It’s difficult to use mechanically, because you need to use a smartphone, tablet, or mobile device to access it. It’s difficult to use for marketing, because it’s not designed for marketers and the general audience isn’t generally a fan of marketing messages. It’s also difficult to grow on Instagram, because its users are fickle and prone to unfollows.
Even so, businesses have been flocking to Instagram over the last year and a half. This was primarily spurred on by posts like this one, proclaiming Instagram the king of social engagement.
It’s an instance of superficial thinking, but it’s also not necessarily wrong.
On one hand, you have the businesses that immediately started investing in Instagram, because they know that engagement is good and they know that if they can capitalize on Instagram’s high engagement rates, they’ll be able to benefit greatly.
On the other hand, many of these businesses have no idea how to use Instagram, so they do things that shoot themselves in the proverbial foot. Even those who do know enough to use the platform might not know what to do with success if they find it. High engagement is great, but if you don’t do anything with it, you’re not making use of the benefits.
On the plus side, it’s not actually difficult to use Instagram from a desktop or laptop PC. You have several options. There are a number of services you can use to post for you, or you can just use something like Bluestacks, an Android emulator for PC, to run Instagram natively.
If you have some idea of how to use your engagement and followers, by all means, read on. If not, maybe take a minute to think about how you’re making use of your growth before you invest too heavily in it.
Avoid the Scams
Have you seen a site that promises free Instagram followers? I have. While researching articles, no less than half a dozen different URLs I opened up had an identical spammy page plastered over it. I can’t even tell you it looks too good to be true. The fact is, it’s one of the most transparent and bland “landing pages” for a scam I’ve ever seen.
It leads to a site called insta-promoter, and that’s one of many similar software-driven sites you could use to buy followers. I really don’t recommend it. There’s nothing wrong with buying followers – that’s what advertising is, converting money into followers – but buying them from a site that just runs a piece of software and directs a thousand bots at your account is just a bad idea.
In a similar vein, because Instagram is a phone app above its social network aspects, there are dozens of other phone apps designed to get you followers. They’re all terrible, and they all work the same way; they throw bots at you and hope you don’t notice that, while your follower count goes up, your engagement does not.
One of the primary benefits of Instagram will not be in sales, because they don’t like promotional messaging unless it’s very stylish. Instead, it will be about brand building and awareness. That means you need real people to be seeing your posts, which means you need real people following you. Any software-based solution for getting you followers is going to give you bots or fake accounts, and those aren’t valuable at all, either for engagement or for branding.
Plus, you don’t want to end up on a list, do you? I’m talking about lists like this one, which catalogs the most famous, high profile accounts to have lost incredible numbers of followers when Instagram purged the fakes from its database. Unless you think you can spin Ma$e’s 1.5 million follower loss in a positive way, in which case, go ahead.
I don’t believe you, but I’d like to see it happen.
Aim Your Profile
Instagram is a site that is very focused on imagery. It is, after all, not much more than Facebook’s image galleries and associated comment trees encapsulated on a website. That’s a focus for the site, but what’s your focus as a business on the site?
Typically, you’ll be trying to build a brand and promote your products, whatever those may be. To promote your brand, you’ll be posting tasteful images along the lines of engagement-building posts on Facebook; pithy motivational quotes, pictures of events, that sort of thing. If you’re more product-focused, pictures of products work well, but you can’t just do the product-on-white-background you’re using for your shop. You need tasteful images of products in use, for example. Oreo does this astonishingly well, just look at their profile.
When you have a guiding purpose with your profile, you can begin to fill it out in a manner that promotes it. Your profile picture will very likely be a logo in some kind of stylish manner. Your description should be a description of your business from a promotional, brand-awareness perspective. It’s okay; this is the one chance you have to be truly promotional.
Be Consistent in Imagery
What sort of artistic style are you going for with your imagery? This will be pretty important, as it guides the kind of people who will follow you. You need to pick a style that meshes well with your brand and business, but also is attractive to your users.
The Oreo example is a good one for bright, colorful, cheerful images. They are good at poking fun of the world through light-hearted cookie humor, as well as just creating interesting pieces of abstract art with their cookies involved.
On the other hand, that colorful style might not work for you. Maybe you want something with a more faded, classic look for a shop that sells antiques. Maybe you want something more stark, with black and gold and richness imbued in the pictures for an upscale service. Maybe you want something with a bit of grunge, for a band venue or a skater-targeted business.
Be Consistent in Production
Posting frequently is the key to pretty much all social marketing. Instagram is more like Twitter than Facebook; the streams shown to users aren’t filtered or sorted by some algorithm, they’re just a direct feed of the people the user follows. You need to post frequently and consistently to make sure that there’s always something of yours visible on the streams of your followers.
I highly recommend posting at least once per day, though that isn’t always sustainable. Oreo, again to use them as an example, only posts once every 5-7 days. They are also a massive international brand, though, so they don’t need to be constantly in the consciousness of their potential customers. They can focus on artistic merit over brand building.
The trick is to maintain a consistent schedule. Don’t post three times one week, then once the next, then five times the next, then skip the next. This can be frustrating to your users, who would like to see more content. The only exception to this is gig-based photographers, who have inconsistent opportunities to show off their craft.
Instagram again is more like Twitter than Facebook. On Facebook, hashtags actually dramatically lower your shares and engagement. On Instagram, they become the backbone of both branding and visibility.
There are a few different ways to use hashtags on Instagram. One is to use tags that brand your posts, like Oreo using #oreo or #oreothins for their new product. Another is to use topic-related tags. For example, if you post a recipe, you can tag it with #recipe and other cooking-related tags.
You can also use event-based tags. If you keep up daily posting, you can use tags like #photooftheday. If you run a contest, you can use #contest. If you’re using a specific device to take your photos, you can draw attention to it with a tag. You can even use tags for filters, or even the #nofilter tag for unfiltered photos.
One trick you can try is responding to your posts with tags in the comments. This will make sure your post shows up in the feeds for those tags, but it also keeps your actual photo description clear of cluttered tags.
While we’re on the subject of cluttered tags, don’t over-do it. You can use up to 30 tags in your photo, but when you start reaching for that many, some of them may not be relevant. Test for effective tags, don’t spam them and hope for the best.
Comment on Relevant Photos
As with all social networks, you can’t make your marketing a one-sided experience. The best way to earn engagement is to engage yourself. You don’t have a brand page; you just have an account like everyone else. This means you can browse photos and comment on them just as you would as a user.
The ideal method to engaging with fans is using hashtags to search for interesting, relevant content. Oreo might search for #oreo and see what comes up. When you find interesting images, you can leave a comment on them. Doing so makes the uploader feel noticed and special for the attention, which costs you nothing but a little time.
Try to avoid commenting on old pictures. Instagram is all about the new, and digging up old content is typically not welcomed. Likewise, try to avoid commenting on pictures that already have hundreds or thousands of comments; yours will just get lost in the clutter.
You can also follow people, though this has gone down in the last year in terms of viability. Too many businesses following everyone they can find in hopes of reciprocal follows have killed the technique. Selectively follow your “superfans” as a reward for them being awesome, rather than using a follow as a cheap currency for growth.
Link Other Social Channels
You have a lot of other marketing channels and resources you can use to funnel traffic to your Instagram page to get more followers.
- Use Instagram images embedded in your blog and use social sharing buttons to allow Instagram users to share those images.
- Link to your Instagram and embed a prominent image in your email newsletter when you send it out. Regular digests only please, save your direct marketing messages for more focused content.
- Other social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow you to link to your Instagram profile in a few ways. One such way is by making it a link in your profile description itself. Another is to share posts from your Instagram and encourage users to click over to see more.
- You can use Facebook apps to link directly to Instagram, which will get you a little traffic, even though tab apps are on the way out on Facebook unless you give it marquee space on your top bar.
- Don’t forget tertiary social networks you may use, like Buffer, StumbleUpon, or Google+.
- Feel free to occasionally share your images on image-focused sites like Reddit or Imgur. Imgur in particular can give you a lot of traffic if you include your Instagram profile in the image description and somehow make it to the front page.
You can even take the mobile-only social image site into your physical media. QR codes can be scanned with smartphones, which will then open up the relevant app or link to send users to the site. You can create an Instagram QR code by following these instructions.
Spotlight User Content
Every business has its advocates and its superfans. These are the people who will comment on every post, who will promote you at every turn, and who will happily jump through hoops for you. One way to reward them, and to promote your brand at the same time, is to feature their content on your page.
GoPro is a great example of this. In itself, their brand isn’t all that interesting. If all they did was post pictures of their cameras, it would be a very boring Instagram account. Instead, though, they post pictures and videos that were taken with their cameras. The brand is focused on the sense of adventure and exploration, which means the pictures taken with their camera tend to feature exotic locations, extreme sports and hobbies, and picturesque vistas. All of this makes for some very strong branding on their page, which is made up almost entirely of user-generated content.
There are a few benefits to user-generated content on your page. For one thing, if you have a large and active enough audience, you pretty much never need to create content of your own. You can supplement user content with a post or two per week and no one will fault you for it. It’s an easy way to keep up activity levels.
Another benefit is that it’s a reward for those people who are seeking exposure. Everyone is on Instagram to share their content, and by earning a featured place on a brand page, normal users can find a lot of value.
Before you go “featuring” content left and right, though, make sure to do it properly. If you’re just saving and re-posting content you find in a branded hashtag, you’re stealing. That’s plagiarism and it can get you in a lot of trouble with Instagram. Always make sure to do two things.
- Message the creator of the content and ask them for permission to feature it on your page.
- Credit the original creator with a link in the description of the image, not in a comment.
This will ensure that you’re in the right and that you’re only using content you’re allowed to use.
Run Contests and Giveaways
Everyone likes a good contest, right? This can couple with the previous tip as well. You can ask for user-generated content – images and video on Instagram, of course – as an entry method for your contest. Pick something brand-appropriate to give away and you’re golden.
Contests can be tricky, and they’re not something you can run constantly. Use them sparingly, because they’re a powerful tool but they can also be very transparently marketing if you’re not careful.
Partner Up With Instagram Influencers
There are some power users on Instagram called influencers, who are distinct from general industry and brand influencers in that they have attained their position not on the back of knowledge, but of popularity. Instagram influencers may not even be high profile bloggers. Heck, they might not even have their own websites. They do, however, have hundreds of thousands of followers, and a lot of power amongst Instagram circles. Try to appeal to them, or partner with them, and you’ll have instant access to a huge number of followers, some of which will certainly follow you.