Last September, Instagram announced it had over 400 million active users, many of which are businesses. In fact, eMarketer predicts that in 2016, nearly half of U.S. companies will be using Instagram as part of their marketing strategy (about a third did in 2015), with the number climbing to 70 percent in 2017.
While Instagram isn’t necessarily right for every business, for brands marketing products or services (e.g., food, fashion and photography) that could benefit from being seen, it can be a powerful marketing tool. However, with an average of 80 million photos being uploaded to the site each day, if you want to attract followers and keep them coming back to your Instagram page – and then going to your website – you can’t just post the occasional photo and hope Instagram users will find it.
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So to help your business get found, and get followers, on Instagram, check out these 16 simple Instagram marketing tips.
1. Use quality images. “The quality of your images can determine the success of your account,” says Ariana Gomez, marketing & PR manager, LA Fashion District Business Improvement District. So “avoid out-of-focus or poorly constructed photos and overly corporate images, i.e., stock photography.”
Also, take a moment to edit photos on Instagram before you post them.
“Editing your photos really makes them pop,” says Anne-Marie Faiola, CEO, Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies. “If you are photographing products, edit carefully so you do not misrepresent the product. Personally, I like to brighten my photos, increase the contrast slightly, sharpen [them] and increase the saturation a small amount,” she says. “Your style of editing might be very different, so play around with [Instagram’s editing tools and filters] and find a style that suits your products and business.”
2. Brand your content. “Whether that means watermarking your content with your logo, using a specific font or [creating an] overall style, it’s important for people to be able to recognize that you’re the original source of the content,” says Chris Gatbonton, founder, Creation Crate, which provides tech education in a box. “This especially helps when your content is reposted by other people.”
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3. Make the link in your profile trackable. “Tracking clicks to your website from Instagram is tricky, because you’re only offered one clickable URL (the link in your profile) and all clicks to that link open in a new window on your mobile device,” says Mallory Whitfield, an entrepreneur and small business consultant and the owner of MissMalaprop. “Use URLs with UTM codes and/or set up a trackable link with a shortening tool like Bit.ly. Better yet, create a custom landing page just for Instagram users and link to this page from your profile. The landing page should be set to ‘noindex’ so that it doesn’t get picked up by search engines,” she explains. Finally, “optimize the landing page for a great mobile experience and use it to convert your Instagram visitors into customers.”
4. Time your posts. “Make sure your posts go live at a time when your audience is likely to be online,” says Gil Eyal, founder, HYPR, a provider of real-time social analytics. “A younger audience may not be available during school hours. An older audience might go to sleep early.”
Also keep time zones in mind.
Not sure when the best time (or times) to post is? “Experiment at posting different times of the day,” suggests Patrick Wong, marketing & community manager, Nomiku, a sous vide immersion circulator. “For instance, you may find that posting at 5 a.m. Pacific Time gives you better engagement (more likes, comments, etc.) because East Coasters are already awake, checking their phones, when they wake up or go to work. Posting when people are leaving work or taking a lunch break can also provide extra engagement [as] people are more glued to their phones [then].”
5. Select the right hashtags.“Make sure you are using hashtags that appeal to your target audience,” says Heather Heuman, founder, Sweet Tea Social Marketing. “Yes, the hashtags #Starbucks and #McDonalds are popular, but they won’t convert to the right type of followers. [Instead,] use quality hashtags. A source like hashtagify.me is great for finding those specific hashtags you want.”
“Using hashtags pertaining to your industry or brand category, such as #foodie for restaurant businesses, is a great way for people to discover your content,” says Eric Dahan, cofounder & CEO, InstaBrand.
What is the optimal number of hashtags? There is no magic number, but posts with around a dozen relevant/popular hashtags (such as #fashion, #instafood, #cool, #foodporn) tend to do much better than images with just a few hashtags.
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6. Create a hashtag specific to your brand. “A good practice is to come up with one or two hashtags unique to your brand,” says Dahan. “For instance, accessory brand Fossil uses #FossilStyle. Branded hashtags are also helpful if you want to drive social conversations about your brand by encouraging fans to post images about you using your unique hashtags.”
“If you post a call to action to use your hashtag, your hashtag will start to grow exponentially as you gain more followers,” adds Finn Cardiff, owner & CEO, Unreal Drones. Just “be sure to comment and like [posts] that feature your hashtag. [And] don’t [leave] the same comments over and over. [Rather,] make them personal and descriptive.”
7. Utilize geotagging. “Some users view photos by location, so adding a location to your images can increase exposure and engagement,” says Andrew Meyer, senior account manager, Seer Interactive. “You can view a certain location and see all the images posted there, which can be helpful if you have products or services that can be found in different locations.”
8. Show people using or interacting with your product(s). “We’ve repeatedly seen higher engagement in pictures that include people in them,” says Kindra Svendsen, digital marketing specialist, Speak Creative, a full-service digital agency. So “include a person using your product or enjoying your service. Even a glimpse of a hand in the picture boosts engagement. [Just] pay attention to what’s in the background, removing it if necessary.”
9. Feature customer photos and videos. “If your company says that they care about their customers, show this by promoting customers who post about their product/service on Instagram,” says Alice Williams, communications specialist, Frontier Business Edge, a provider of data, voice, video and equipment solutions.
“Highlight photos of real customers incorporating your products and services into their everyday lives,” suggests Lux Narayan, CEO, Unmetric, a social media intelligence platform. “Instagram users can become evangelists for brands when they tell their own visual stories that engage other users.” You can even “design campaigns around user-generated photos. Encouraging and engaging consumers who submit photos results in genuine brand stories that spread to other users and boost sales.”
“Major fashion and beauty brands have reaped many benefits from user-generated content,” notes Dahan. “REVOLVE Clothing, for example, gained more than 35,000 followers with its #REVOLVEme campaign, in which fans [were] incentivized to post pictures of themselves wearing REVOLVE clothes for a chance to win $1,000. Another common incentive is to feature fan-created content on brand’s Instagram pages. Other sweepstakes gimmicks like ‘follow us and leave a comment to win XX’ are also highly effective for brands to gain followers and drive engagement in a short amount of time.”
10. Turn customer testimonials into images. “Use a free online tool such as PicMonkey to transform some of your clients’ testimonials into attractive images to share on Instagram,” says Cristina Castro Moral, owner/designer, Sombras Blancas Art and Design. And “don’t forget to include your [company’s] URL.”
11. Don’t be afraid of video. “Instagram understands how much their audience loves video, as evidenced by the recent focus on video in the Instagram Ads platform,” says Sarah Matista, marketing communications manager at Vistaprint Digital. “You don’t have to be George Lucas to succeed here. [You can] use Instagram’s integrated Boomerang and Hyperlapse video apps to make easy, creative videos your audience will love.”
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12. Engage with your followers. “Social media is built on relationships, so [my] top advice for Instagram is to engage,” says Nikki Fica, founder & CEO, Social Media Facelift. “Do not just do a ‘post and run.’ Interact with others by liking and commenting on posts and by searching relevant hashtags, as well as responding to every single comment on your photos. This will help you grow a following, find your audience and create relationships.”
13. Cross-promote. “Cross-promote with other brands that serve your target audience,” suggests Josh Winzelberg, founder & president, Vodka Mariette. “For example, we may take a picture of a Vodka Mariette cocktail in an establishment [i.e., a bar or restaurant] that serves our consumer base and then have that image posted on our [Instagram account] and [that] of the bar. That way we gain exposure to each other’s audience of similar buyers, show that we are part of the ‘cocktail community,’ explain how to use the product and subtly communicate where product is sold.”
14. Work with influencers. “Identify key influencers [who] align with your brand and have a large and active following,” says Jonathan Long, founder & CEO, Market Domination Media. “Negotiate a price (or a product/service exchange) for them to introduce your Instagram account to their audience and you can exponentially grow your account.”
“Working with Instagram influencers is a highly effective way to promote your brand and build your Instagram community,” says Dahan. “Especially for businesses that are just starting out on Instagram, product endorsements from Instagrammers who have huge social followings can help you raise brand awareness and bring substantial traffic to your own Instagram account.”
15. Use Instagram as a recruiting tool. “Instagram is a great way to help recruit top talent,” says Leeyen Rogers, vice president of Marketing, JotForm, an online form builder. “Showcase your company’s culture and employees in a way that accurately reflects what it’s like to work there. Images of employees having fun while at work [or playing on the company’s softball team or at a company outing or happy hour] is much more appealing than a constant flow of self-promotional Instagram posts.”
16. Measure interaction. “It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if no one is interacting with your content,” says Gatbonton. “Gauge what types of posts are getting the most likes and comments. Use that to refine your content strategy. Also use the feedback from the interactions to give your followers what they want.”
“Iconosquare and Simply Measured are both free for limited usage and can help you determine the following for your business, analyzing distribution and density, calculating popular filters and most engaged hashtags and evaluating the best time to post based on your audience and community,” says Meyer.