Three years ago, if you asked most businesses what social media platforms they were active on, almost all of them would say Facebook and Twitter. Today those two are still in the lead, but we’re also seeing a lot more variety. More companies are seeing success on other social networks that aren’t as large as Facebook and Twitter—such as Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram—but still allow businesses to reach a very active and engaging group of consumers.
Out of all of the newer social networks, Instagram is doing a lot to set itself apart. With over 300 million active users, Instagram ranked in the top 10 smartphone apps of 2014.
To make things even more interesting, the company has started to become more business and advertiser friendly. From starting its very own business blog to introducing advertisements within the app, it’s clear that Instagram is expanding.
But here’s the problem. Since Instagram marketing is still fairly new, businesses are struggling to gain traction. It’s similar to being one of the first people to get an iPad. When the iPad was first released, some people were skeptical about it, while others saw a mountain of potential. It’s capable of so much, but you have to learn the ins and outs of how to make it work best for you.
That’s where businesses are right now with Instagram. The potential is there. And the companies that “got it” early on are seeing a lot of success while companies who were iffy about the app are just now starting to catch on. Trying to decide what images to share, how to engage with users and how to implement an Instagram marketing plan are all problems companies are facing.
So how do you cross over from being just another company taking up space on the app, to achieving the level of success companies like Bon Puf, Simple Green Smoothies and Umoro have? We’ll share some strategies and tips on how to get the most out of Instagram for business and build a loyal following.
Instagram Marketing Myths
Before we get into what you should be doing on Instagram, it’s important that we dispel some of the common myths that stop businesses from using Instagram in the first place.
1. Instagram Is Only for “Visual” Industries
This has been a big myth ever since Instagram first launched. It’s true that companies in more visually driven industries like fashion and e-commerce are more naturally apt for Instagram, but those aren’t the only types of companies that can benefit from being on the app.
There are plenty of things you can post to Instagram aside from product photos. What matters the most is that your content is entertaining and compelling. A great example of a service-based company on Instagram that doesn’t sell any physical products is Pure Om Hot Yoga. The brand posts a mixture of motivational pictures and people in its hot yoga classes.
2. You Can’t Measure the ROI
If you’ve read our post on social media ROI, you know this is completely false. Using tools like Sprout Social, Google Analytics and Iconosquare, you can get a clear picture of how effective your Instagram marketing campaigns are.
3. It’s Only for Large Companies
The beauty of not only Instagram, but all social media sites is that they help level the playing field a bit. Since the barriers to entry are basically nonexistent, companies of any size can use Instagram to grow their brand.
As you’ll see in this post, the examples we’re using are of companies that aren’t necessarily huge, but they’ve been able to use Instagram very effectively to compete with larger companies.
4. Local Small Businesses Can’t Benefit
As a follow up to the previous myth, the misconception that Instagram is mainly for online brands or lifestyle brands can go right out the window too. National brands will have more reach, but neighborhood coffee shops and other local small businesses can succeed on Instagram.
Mobius Records is a small record shop that is very active on Instagram and uses the app to get the word out about its products, sales and events.
Our 1 year anniversary sale continues today till 5pm. 10% off everything in the store! Sidewalk sale for Stillbrave is in full effect!!! Thank you all for making this a memorable weekend and for paying it forward! #payitforward #fairfaxcity #stillbravechildhoodcancerfoundation #shopsmall #shoplocal #records #vinyl
Don’t let any of these myths scare you away from Instagram. The reality is that there is plenty of potential for any business to use Instagram to build their brand. You just have to go about it with the right approach.
Get Set Up the Right Way
It’s a good idea to connect your company’s social accounts. This is particularly true if you already have social media profiles with a strong following. You’ll be able to push your followers on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other sites to your new Instagram account.
Instagram lets you connect your other profiles so that your new posts can get published to those accounts automatically.
Don’t forget to add in your website and write a bio for your profile that explains what your company is all about without being boring. Fallen Industry’s profile does a great job of letting users know what they do while making it intriguing at the same time.
Another good way to use your bio is to add in additional contact information. By default, you can only have one clickable URL in your profile. But what you can do to get around that is include URLs in your bio.
Here’s a pro tip: Shorten any URLs you use in your bio using a service like Bitly. It’ll take up less characters and make it easier to track your traffic from Instagram.
Check out our post on how to write Instagram bios for businesses to learn more about crafting your Instagram bio and putting your best foot forward.
Get Familiar With Hashtags
If you’ve used Twitter, Pinterest or virtually any other popular social network, you’re probably somewhat familiar with hashtags. In order to start gaining traction and earning some initial followers, you’ll want to start using relevant hashtags when you post pictures. Hashtags make your content more searchable on Instagram which makes your account visible to users who aren’t already following you.
The trick is to use the right hashtags. The mistake a lot of businesses fall into is using random hashtags. But the real value of comes from finding ways to post pictures related to trending hashtags. When you do this, your images have a chance to show up in the Trending Tags section of Instagram.
What’s trending at the moment might not always be relevant to your business or the images you post though. In those cases, you can use Websta to see a huge list of popular hashtags that might not be trending, but they’re still being used heavily. Websta will show you more generic and broad hashtags that are easier to fit into the content you post.
Something unique to Instagram that you don’t see on many other social networks is that using a lot of hashtags can actually get your images more likes. On Twitter, having 10 hashtags in a Tweet would be crazy. But on Instagram it’s pretty much the norm.
Glimpse of today's on the go meals featuring lean steak, brown rice, and asparagus ?Simple and delicious ? Happy Monday! #meals #mealplan #mealprep #mealplanning #onlinecoaching #onlinecoach #girl #gaugegirl #gaugegirltraining #weightloss #girlswithmuscle #musclegauge #tag #teamgaugegirl #teamMGN #11weeksout #kasandrinos
In this case study from Max Woolf, he analyzed over 120,000 Instagram photos and found that photos with the maximum allowable hashtags (30) received three times the amount of likes as photos with a few hashtags.
This doesn’t mean that every photo you post needs 30 hashtags. Using hashtags just for the sake of it isn’t recommended. But the point is that photos with hashtags will get a lot more attention than those that don’t.
Post Eye-Catching Content
This may seem obvious since Instagram is all about images. But so many businesses are failing on the app because they’re not posting photos that pull people in. Posting a bunch of photos that are just ads for your latest sale or promotion isn’t going to earn you followers.
Here are some tips to avoid posting boring pictures on Instagram:
- Instead of posting pictures of your products, post pictures of customers enjoying them
Way too cute!!! #repost @miyu213213 #camdensbluestardonuts #bluestardonuts #domoarigato #iheartdonuts ?CAMDEN'S BLUE☆DONUTS? * 札幌から遊びにきてた友達とカムデンズブルースタードーナツ食べにきたよ? * ドーナツふわっふわで、あまぁ〜くて美味しかった♡♡♡ #クレームブリュレ味は完売#CAMDENSBLUESTARDONUTS #ブルーベリーバーボンバジル #THEMARTATFREDSEGAL #donuts#yummy#sweet#instafood#instagood#daikanyama#カムデンズブルースタードーナツ#ドーナツ#フレッドシーガル#代官山#ログロード代官山#thprycolor#スプリーカラー
- Take promo pictures outside in front of interesting backgrounds
- Use bright and vibrant colors to make your photos stand out
- Post something that forces people to look at your images for a while
- Post high quality photos that really pop
- Don’t just limit yourself to images. Mix in videos to spice things up.
Another important thing to note is the use of filters. When you first get started on Instagram, it’s extremely tempting to add random filters to every photo that you take. It’s fun and helps give your pictures a more artistic look. However, photos without filters actually get more engagement.
One of the quickest ways to get a surge of new followers is to get a shout out or mention from someone that already has a large following. The great thing about Instagram is that a lot of popular accounts aren’t owned by huge corporations. They’re owned by regular people and lifestyle entrepreneurs who have done a lot of the leg work to build their own audience already.
When these people give a brand a shout out, their followers instantly go to check out the account and will more than likely give you a follow. This is one of the techniques Neil Patel used in his infamous $57,000 Instagram case study.
There’s two ways to get mentioned by established accounts:
- Pay for a sponsored post (this can cost you anywhere from $20-$100+ per post)
- Establish a relationship or partner up with them
Obviously the second method is ideal, but let’s start out with the first option.
Paying for sponsored Instagram posts is something that a lot of businesses aren’t aware is even an option, but it’s a very popular way to start generating some attention and get the ball rolling. The male accessory brand Bachelr used sponsored Instagram posts to promote its website when it first launched, and saw great results.
One of our most successful posts was a model holding one of our products in a natural setting, no logo anywhere. This got 10k likes and 100+ comments.
Make a list of the top influencers related to your industry on Instagram. Focus on individuals rather than businesses. Most users who accept sponsored posts will have their contact information in their profile so it’s easy to reach them.
When you’re looking for influencers, choose people who are a good match for your brand. Otherwise the new followers you’ll gain won’t be very likely to engage with your content.
The second technique is simply good old fashion networking. Start following companies who are complementary to your brand and engage with their content. Leave comments, like their photos and even reach out to them via email. As these relationships start to grow, look for opportunities to promote each other on Instagram. Maybe you can team up on a joint venture or host an event together. Post photos on your Instagram pages and tag each other in them. There are plenty of possibilities.
One company that is putting an interesting twist on both of these techniques is Gym Shark. Gym Shark is an active wear company that caters to athletes, bodybuilders and people who live all-around active lives. One of the company’s techniques for growing its following is sponsoring influencers in the fitness niche. Its sponsored athletes post pictures on their own Instagram pages wearing Gym Shark’s products, and Gym Shark posts images of them on its page as well.
Engage With Your Competitor’s Followers
There are two characteristics of a loyal Instagram follower:
- They’re interested in your niche/industry
- They like the content you post
With this strategy, the first part is already taken care of. If a user is following one of your competitors, they’re more than likely already interested in your industry. That makes it easier to win them over and get them to follow you too. From that point, it’s all about keeping them engaged through the content you post.
Make a list of your top competitors who are active on Instagram. You may want to put them all into a spreadsheet to make it easier to track. Start with the first competitor and follow about 50-100 of their followers. This step alone will get you a few new followers. But we’re not just after followers, we want loyal followers who will help spread the word about our brand. In order to attract those users, you’ll need to engage with them. On Instagram, there are three basic ways to engage with people:
- Follow them
- Like their photos
- Comment on their photos
You’ve already followed them, so now you just have to like some of their photos, comment or both. This will increase the likelihood of people following you back, and also reciprocating your engagement. The more you engage with your audience, the bigger your return will be.
Host An Instagram Contest
There’s no denying the fact that people absolutely love free stuff. Instagram contests give your company an interesting way to engage with current and potential fans.
There are certain elements that you’ll want to include in your contest to maximize your results:
- Make a theme for your contest instead of the generic “follow us to win a free product” approach.
- Create a custom hashtag for your contest.
- Make people tag a friend and comment to enter the contest. This will help your contest spread a lot quicker.
- Start promoting the contest at least a week before it starts to build anticipation.
- Consider collaborating with other companies or influencers to get even more reach.
Before you start, read through Instagram’s promotion guidelines to make sure you’re doing everything above board. Since the goal is to get loyal followers, whatever you’re giving away should be somewhat related to your industry. That way you’re not just attracting freebie seekers, but people that are legitimately interested in your brand.
Growing a dedicated following on Instagram won’t happen overnight. But the bright side is that Instagram users are very active and love to engage. So once you start to get the ball rolling, you’ll notice that your brand will start to build organically. Start putting these techniques into action and you’ll see how powerful Instagram can be for your business.
Is your company using Instagram to build your brand? Leave a comment and let us know what’s working for you.