How Brands Can Use Instagram for Marketing

By December 8, 2011Inbound Marketing, Social Media

Image courtesy of http://www.oakesdesign.ca/feature-kyle-steed-on-instagram

Instagram has captured the hearts of the iPhone community. Since its launch in October of 2010, it has grown to over 7 million users who have shared more than 150 million photos. Currently, instagram is only available to iPhone users, but recently Instagram announced that it is developing an Android app.

With its already large user base expected to at least double in size, marketers cannot overlook this application.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a app used for taking pictures, adding creative filters, and sharing over a variety of social platforms.

Though other photo-sharing platforms are available (such as Flickr, Posterous, PhotoBucket, and Picasa), two distinct features set Instagram apart. First is its utter simplicity. With one easy to use interface, users can take photos, edit them, apply several retro-style filters, and share them across their social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, and Tumblr. Second, Instagram itself is much like a social network with features such as hashtags and following. Its like a twitter specifically for images.

Why Small Businesses Should Care

Though designed primarily for personal use, Instagram, if used correctly, is an ideal marketing platform for businesses both big and small. Marketing is essentially about telling stories.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what better medium for telling a story?

Facebook, the largest photo-sharing platform, has acknowledged the power of images. Their most recent redesign, timeline, is much more visually focused than previous designs, and typically, photos elicit higher engagement levels. Instagram not only offers a way to generate interesting content for the social networks you currently use, it also provides brands with a new medium through which to generate awareness and engagement.

Tips for Brands Using Instagram

1. Focus on interesting content, not branding

One of the most compelling features of Instagram is the simplicity of turning the seemingly mundane into art. Users are drawn toward interesting images. In order to succeed on the platform, your brand has to respect the platform.

2. Post regularly

Instagram is by no means a set it and forget it type of social media. It is important that your brand post regularly. Much like twitter, followers get annoyed when a user blows up their feed with several posts in a row. On the other hand, if you want to generate continued engagement, you must post often. Successful users are able to find the balance between posting too often and not posting enough.

My best advice is to make Instagram a regular part of your day. Have fun with it. Take pictures of anything, whether it seems picture worthy or not. Often these are the most engaging pictures on Instagram.

3. Engage your followers

Like all social media marketing, Instagram is a two way dialogue. It is not enough to simply upload pictures; successful users also participate in the community. Comment on your followers’ pictures and respond to their comments on your pictures. Share your users photos that you like. Ask questions and encourage engagement. This adds a human element to your brand and allows your fans to connect on a new level.

4. Integrate Instagram into your overall social strategy

One of the greatest features of Instagram is how easy it is to integrate it into other social media platforms. Don’t let Instagram stand alone. Share your photos on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites as well as your website.

2 Brands That are Using Instagram Well

1. Starbucks

Starbucks was an early adaptor of Instagram and has had great success with the platform. They encourage customers to take photos of their Starbucks experience and tag them with #Starbucks.

Why it works

  • User generated content – By encouraging customers to engage with the brand on Instagram, Starbucks is acquiring tons of user-generated content. It is cliché but has a ring of truth: in online marketing, content is king.
  • Gives customers a voice and community – When customers  share photos on Instagram with Starbucks, they are connecting with the brand and other customers in a new way. They are able to share how Starbucks fits into their life and see its role in other customers’ lives. Essentially, the customers are establishing what it means to be a Starbucks customer and tying their own personal identity to the brand.

2. Threadless

A behind the scenes look at a Threadless photo shoot on Instagram.

Like Starbucks, Threadless was also an early adopter of Instagram. Though their product is primarily visual, they have found creative ways to develop unique content that is not simply focused on branding by focusing on behind the scene shots and product sneak peaks.

Why it works

  •  Behind the scene shots – Giving followers a behind the scene view at your brand is a great way to humanize your company. Rather than only seeing the final product, customers are able to see the people and processes behind them.
  • Sneak peaks – Sneak peaks are a great way to reward your most loyal fans. Offering your fans access to exclusive content gives them a sense of importance and connectedness.

So go ahead, get started with Instagram and start engaging your customers in a new way!

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