Before you take on the visual world of Instagram, make sure you learn about the social network, what it does and how to make it work the best way for your brand.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a mobile photo-sharing app and social network that was created in 2010 by founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. In 2012, Facebook purchased the service for $1 billion, and as of September 2015, Instagram had more than 400 million users. Instagram is completely photo/video-centric, so users can edit and post mages and short videos (up to 15 seconds), but there are no text updates.  Forrester has named Instagram the “king of social engagement,” citing the fact that top brands’ Instagram posts generated a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21 percent. That means Instagram delivered these brands 58 times more engagement per follower than Facebook, and 120 times more engagement per follower than Twitter.

How does Instagram work?

Because Instagram is primarily a mobile app, you’ll have to use it from your mobile device. Currently, there is no way to create a business-specific account, so business and personal accounts are created and function in the same way. Instagram allows users to post two different types of content: photos and videos. 

There are many ways to interact with other users on Instagram. The service offers the ability to like posts, mention and tag other users, as well as direct message people. These features are all very similar to other social networks.

Hashtags are popular on Instagram and used the same way they are on Twitter. Since users can both search for hashtags and click on hashtags they see in posts on the app, using relevant hashtags can be a highly effective tool for getting noticed. Hashtags like #nofilter (if you’re sharing a photo that hasn’t been heavily edited with filters added), and #tbt or #throwbackthursday (if you’re sharing an old photo) are all incredibly popular on Instagram, but they may not work for you or your brand. Using popular hashtags just because they’re popular might annoy your current and potential new followers, and it will be obvious you’re just trying to get more followers and exposure.

One interesting and less used feature on Instagram is geotagging. Instagram allows you to add your location to your photos when you post them, and if you use this feature, the service will create a photo map of your posts. This shows you, on a map, where all of your photos have been taken, so this is especially useful if your business is related to travel or if you travel a lot in relation to your brand.Since people can click on geotagged locations and see all of the posts in that area, this can be another great way to gain followers and interactions. And if your building or office is a place that is open to customers, you can add your location so they know where to find you. Followers who live or work nearby may be more likely to interact with you or do business with you if they see that you’re nearby.

How can I use Instagram for my business?

After getting your bearings in Instagram and getting comfortable with the service, I suggest you try some of these strategies:

  • Include your employees. Share pictures of your team members hard at work or having fun at company outings. Doing so will show followers that you care about your employees, and it will make them feel invested in your brand.
  • Show off your products or services. Is your brand a retail business? Take pictures of cool new products as you get them in, or share pictures of your most popular products. Or, if you run a service business like a hair salon or a restaurant, take the time to take photos of your work. 
  • Ask your customers to show off their photos. Own a restaurant? Put your Instagram handle and custom hashtags on the menu so that when your customers inevitably take a picture of their new favorite dish, they tag you in it.  This works with any type of product or service.
  • Go behind the scenes. Take pictures and videos to show how your products or goods are made, especially if the process is unique or interesting, or something your customers ask about often. 
  • Post exclusive deals on your Instagram. Give back to your Instagram followers by offering them discounts for following you. Share an image with instructions on how to use the deal. This will make your followers feel special, and likely get them telling their friends about your business, too.

Instagram tips and tricks

Some last things to keep in mind while using Instagram : 

  • As with any social media platform, make sure you have a content strategy in place. Knowing how often, when and what to post is essential to social media success. This will also help you to stay on brand so that you don’t get disjointed and confusing posts with no goal.
  • Links don’t work on Instagram. The only place you will be able to share a working link that actually takes users to your website is in your profile. Links don’t work in captions or photo comments, so if you’re trying to direct people to a specific Web page, you won’t have any luck writing it out under your pictures or videos because users won’t be able to click on it. You can, however, note in the caption that the link is on your profile.
  • Tell a story with your caption. Instagram is a visual social network, so many people end up neglecting the caption, when this is valuable real estate. Captions allow you to expand on the image, give it context and even make your followers laugh (especially if you are proficient in emojis). It can also tie an image back to your business.
  • Keep your posts about your brand. It can be tempting to share photos of food, fashion and animals because they’re so popular, but make sure you stay on brand. Keep things relevant to your business, and the followers you gain will be there because they support your brand — not just because your dinner looked delicious. 
  • Respond to comments. When people comment on your photos, make sure you reply to them. Interacting with your customers and followers will show them that you are paying attention and that you care about whether they see your photos and what they have to say.
  • Consider collaborating with a popular Instagrammer or influencer in your field or industry. Give them control of your branded account for a day, or ask them to share their thoughts on your brand. This could pay off big time as they expose your brand to their large Instagram community. Take a look at our previous blog post about influencers for some ideas on how to work this strategy.