When you think of using social media to promote and advertise your business, Instagram probably isn’t the first network to come to mind.
Typically, you think of Facebook Ads or networking on Twitter as traditional avenues many businesses use.
But, with Instagram being one of the fastest growing social media platforms in the last year or two, more and more businesses, brands and solopreneurs are looking there to reach a new, younger market.
And it makes sense if your brand has a strong visual component to it. But, Instagram is also great even for businesses that are more content focused. So, whether you are a freelancer, blogger, or small business, it’s time to start looking at how Instagram can help you grow.
What is Instagram?
Instagram started out as a trendy, mobile photo-sharing app on iOS.
It made the square photo hip, it let people add digital filters to their photos – the “Instagram look” – and it incorporated social features like profiles, followers and comments.
In the spring of 2012, Instagram launched on Android phones and was bought by Facebook for one billion dollars – cementing itself as the social photo-sharing app.
Nowadays, Instagram also allows you to share video, and they have a growing advertising platform, but it’s still mainly a mobile app. You can’t, for instance, upload new pictures to your account from Instagram’s website.
Instagram and Business
With Instagram primarily photo-based can businesses of all shapes and sizes really succeed on this platform?
As of September 2015, Instagram had 400 million active users, and it’s still growing. Thirty-one percent of all women online use Instagram, with 24% of men using it too – over half of these users are 18-29 years old.
That would put Millennials as the largest demographic and if you’re targeting teens in particular, they consider Instagram to be the most important social network.
So, if your target audience is in this demographic, using Instagram can be the perfect platform to reach them. And if you’re in the food, travel or fashion niches, there’s no better place to be than on Instagram since those industries rely on visual marketing strategies.
But even if you’re not in those niches, don’t overlook the brand building and audience engagement potential of Instagram.
With a solid strategy, your business can really get a boost from spending some time using this platform.
Developing your Instagram strategy
You probably have a content strategy for your blog, and a social strategy for Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook; Instagram should be no different.
Without a strong visual presence on Instagram, your business and brand will be easily ignored by the short-attention span of its demographic.
To start, try using Instagram yourself to get accustomed with the platform. Go ahead and download the app (it’s free) for either iOS or Android.
Also, look at other businesses in your niche to see how they are positioning themselves on Instagram, and to see what sort of images they post.
Once you create an account for your business, you’ll need to choose a username. For brand consistency and recognizability, use the same nickname you use on other social platforms, if it’s available.
Once you create your account and update your bio (which we cover later), you’re going to want to start participating. Follow influencers in your industry and follow engaging users and past clients – some should follow you back – to get the ball rolling.
From there you’ll want to establish your presence by commenting on other people’s photos. You’ll quickly see how fast your Instagram follower count grows by doing a few simple things.
But, don’t feel you have to devote hours a day to developing your strategy. For entrepreneurs and business owners, social media is usually a task that’s automated or outsourced.
Scheduling apps like Hootsuite allow you to schedule your Instagram posts, but it’s not entirely hands-off like many other platforms.
Instagram requires all posts to be published through its mobile app so you’ll receive a notification from Hootsuite on your phone when it’s time for a post to go live. Then, you just open the photo in the Instagram app and share it.
Let’s look at three ways you can strategically build your presence on Instagram and grow your business at the same time.
1. Optimize your Instagram bio
One of the first things you can do is optimize your bio to attract more followers, which means, more potential business.
Focus on using your copywriting skills to fill this valuable space – you only get 150 characters – with a brief benefit-laden description of what followers can expect from you, and a call to action.
Your URL – the only clickable link you’ll get on Instagram (they don’t enable live links in comments) – can direct people to your homepage, or better yet, a landing page featuring your lead magnet or email capture form.
Check out Pauline Cabrera of Twelvekip and her bio copy on Instagram.
Pauline makes it clear who she is and where she’s based. She also includes a link to her services page, helping her seal the deal if prospects happen to check out her Instagram account.
If you’re going to use a branded hashtag, include it here too. Lululemon, an athletic wear company, makes sure to include their hashtag #thesweatlife, along with their Snapchat username.
On the other hand, depending on your industry, sometimes you can let your photos speak for themselves. Lindsay’s Pinch Of Yum bio is short and sweet, but she still has nearly 160,000 Instagram followers.
Food is a tremendously popular niche on Instagram, so she can take advantage of that. Although if Lindsay put a CTA in her bio sending people to a landing page, it would be interesting to see the impact on her email subscriber growth rate.
2. Grow your community
The number one tip for growing your community is to be attentive and genuine. Use a real profile photo, leave sincere comments on people’s pictures, and respond to your followers quickly – and engage with them.
One thing many online businesses use Instagram for is to show the behind-the-scenes of their growing business. People always want to feel they are getting something exclusive, so include photos you don’t share anywhere else.
For example, Nesha Woolery, lets us know about her new podcast.
This not only indirectly promotes her podcast, but it also humanizes her and shows her dedication towards her audience by getting them engaged in her activities.
Another way to use Instagram is to create visually appealing quotes. This is something Kaitlyn of the Crown Fox does, and she makes sure to brand each of her quotes.
One thing to note is that hashtags are used extensively on Instagram. You can find a list of the most popular hashtags here, but to really stand out on Instagram and grow awareness of your brand, create a branded hashtag.
You don’t just want to use your company name as the hashtag. Instead, be creative. Think of using a hashtag that embodies your presence on Instagram. It should be something that encourages your followers to get involved and share.
Hootsuite’s branded hashtag is #hootsuitelife, which has generated over 10,000 posts.
3. Build your Brand
Instagram is a visual medium, so to build your brand you’re going to need to incorporate strong photos. Now these don’t have to be professionally staged photos – it’s actually better if they’re not – but they do need to relate to your brand, and your audience.
To maintain brand consistency, if you’re going to use an Instagram filter, pick one and stick with it. The Normal filter (no filter) is the most popular, but if you want to enhance your images, Clarendon is a close second. Try a few of the top choices to see if your style of photos benefit from a filter.
You can also use Canva to help you create an Instagram post with their Instagram template.
Finally, to build a consistent visual brand, keep your images similar-looking in terms of color and composition.
Allison from Wonderlass has a magnetic and colorful personality and her brand exemplifies this.
Just take a look at her Instagram posts.
A follower won’t mix up her posts with someone else’s posts, that’s for sure.
By creating a clear visual brand on Instagram, you’ll be able to reach more people and grow your business at the same time.
Wrapping it up
If you’re currently focusing all your social marketing efforts on Twitter, Facebook and maybe Pinterest or LinkedIn, you’re missing out on the hottest, most popular social network around – Instagram.
It’s not just a place for people to post selfies or pictures of their food, but a prime social platform with a rapidly growing audience in the 18-34 demographic.
Take some time to plan out your Instagram strategy. Be sure to optimize your bio with a strong call-to-action, and work towards building a community of brand advocates.
Develop your visual brand by deciding on a certain style of image, stick to a consistent posting schedule, and interact genuinely with your followers.
Instagram might not seem like the ideal platform for all industries – especially non-visual ones – but with the right approach, you can have success.