Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Instagram is an image-based social network that was started in 2010 and acquired by Facebook in 2012. It’s seen rapid growth since its inception, picking up a million users in its first two months. It now claims about 200 million members, a 23 percent growth in 2013 alone. Roughly 60 million photos are shared daily on Instagram.
Setting Up an Instagram Account
Before setting up your Instagram account, read the company’s help center, especially the articles on Instagram’s PR guidelines and using Instagram brand assets. Review Instagram’s terms of service too. Brands have suffered or have been banned from Instagram for infringing these. (Instagram has suffered over its terms of service too, as when it gave itself the right to sell users’ images to third parties without consent or even informing them.)
When choosing a user name, you might run up against the issue that your business’ name is already in use on Instagram, in which case, see this guide. Once your account is set up, it’s time to work on your profile page.
Your profile is the only page on Instagram that can drive traffic back to your website. When you’re choosing a profile picture, remember that it will be reformatted depending on the device that will display it. Instagram profile pictures are rounded on mobile devices and squared on the web, so pick an image that will work in both formats. Your profile picture can’t exceed 110×110 pixels, and cover photos can’t exceed 409×409 pixels. Instagram profiles show a mosaic of pictures, so upload seven straightaway. Your profile page will display your most popular photos. The standard size of photos on Instagram is 612×612 pixels – unusually, Instagram photos are square – so make sure that the pictures you use look good at that size.
You should integrate your other social media accounts with Instagram. But know that Instagram has its own communities, memes, and traditions. As with any online community, the key to acceptance is figuring out these unwritten rules and not contravening them and contributing to the communities you’ve decided to join. When you’re building a unified social presence across the web, you’ll need to find the balance between fine-tuning your brand voice to fit in with Instagram and keeping things recognizable across platforms.
Building your Audience
Once you’ve begun posting to Instagram, you need to quickly build an effective, appealing account in order to increase your number of Instagram followers. Follow basic social media rules that apply anywhere. Update regularly. Find out the best time to update. Make sure your content is high quality. Engage with your fans, reposting their best content (remembering to credit them) and replying to their comments.
Creating high-quality content is a challenge for any organization without a large marketing budget. (Plenty of bigger organizations struggle too.) If you’re short of images to begin with, try repurposing images you already have in stock. Instagram provides a host of image manipulation options and repurposed images can be shared across Facebook and other networks to alert your current followers to the fact that your Instagram account is about to become active while you’re still researching it and building content.
Another method that’s been successful is to offer people something in return for liking your photos. Coca-Cola ran a contest on its Instagram account where liking its photos was the only required entry criterion. Not being Coca-Cola needn’t hold you back here: being a local business is a positive advantage when you’re looking for an Instagram audience, since you can offer giveaways like free products or services to your followers through a similar competition setup.
But move beyond this to more innovative options. If you’re a bar, try offering control of the jukebox for a night to the competition’s winner, for instance, or give the winner the opportunity to name a drink.
Promote on Other Marketing Channels
Another option is to add a “follow us on Instagram” link to a website or any other online service you offer, such as an email newsletter. This way, existing followers who are already engaged will come to Instagram and create a buzz around your brand for you, making you look good to other Instagram users.
When you’re working to build your Instagram audience, you’ll find there’s no “re-gram” function, meaning that virality like the kind that Twitter offers isn’t available on Instagram. But you can simulate it to some extent by simply asking people to mention your content to their friends.
Interacting with your followers should be proactive — find their content and comment on it and like it. Especially, get involved in discussions that offer the opportunity to portray your brand in a positive light. View your localness as an advantage, but don’t let it hold you back from engaging online with people far away who will never visit you. Other participants in the conversation might find that you’re worth a visit.
When you’re cross posting and promoting your brand on other networks, you can share posts to other networks as soon as you post, or you can wait until later. That means you can go down the real-time route or fit Instagram into a content plan that requires posts at certain times.
Instagram posts to Twitter show up as a simple shortened link. The text of the tweet will consist of the caption you gave the image on Instagram, but Twitterers will have to click on the link to see the post itself.
Posting to Facebook are flawlessly integrated — naturally, since Facebook owns Instagram. Reshared posts appear on your brand’s timeline and captions are translated in full, including hashtags.
One useful option is to use your Instagram account as a reservoir of image-based content to post to Facebook. This is an effortless form of repurposing that allows you to take advantage of the higher engagement rates of visual content on Facebook.
Whatever your industry or niche, there will be people on Instagram who focus on your space. Finding them and befriending them can be an effective way of spreading your content. Some influencers are at work on Instagram. For a fee, they will promote products or brands on their own feeds, or post as you from their own libraries of images and connections. If you don’t want to hire anyone at this stage, finding these people is still useful. You can join their discussions and engage with them socially on Instagram, a win for them and you.
Newsjacking is the practice of reporting news while injecting brand content, usually by reporting relevant news. It’s also effective to share moments from office life, or to capture moments from the lives of your team or customers that feel authentic and meaningful to your fans. For massive companies this can involve using models or actors; for a smaller local business you can look at satisfied or regular customers or interactions with other local businesses.
As for videos, Instagram allows you to film direct to the site itself, making spontaneity a well-rewarded virtue. Interviews are popular on Instagram and so is stop-motion animation, which can be short and quirky, without taking too long or requiring too much specialized skill. You can repost existing content by using Instagram’s import feature too.
Resharing fans’ content is a good way to build engagement and source content at the same time, but make sure that you’re legally allowed to share the content in question and that the fan in question is happy for you to do it.
Hashtags are Huge on Instagram
Instagram uses a hashtag system like Twitter; if you’re familiar with Twitter’s you should be good to go. There are some details you need to know first, however, such as the fact that special characters don’t work — question marks, exclamation marks, and ampersands (‘&’) will simply be ignored and so will everything that comes after them, so “#Q&A” will be read as “#Q”. Spaces don’t work either and the same rule applies — all the text after the space will simply be ignored. And some hashtags are banned, mostly for being spammy.
The major uses of hashtags are to extend the reach of your content and to crowdsource user-generated content. For a local business, using hashtags should help build engagement and cement your position as an authority in your space, whether that’s by being known for your content across your space on Instagram or building a good collection of relevant curated content.
It’s important to pick the right hashtag because hashtags are used to sort through Instagram content by people who are looking for something specific. The more specific your hashtag is, the less likely you are to wind up in the same bag with material that’s unrelated to your needs. To see how this works, try searching Instagram using hashtags —general ones give disparate, unconnected results that aren’t always related to what you wanted, while very specific hashtags usually return accurate results.
Choosing your hashtag with care should mean you get fewer involuntary submissions and unwanted noise. There’s an art to this because you also ideally want to choose a short hashtag so it’s harder to mistype or forget. In some cases it might be better to “triangulate” with two hashtags, whereby contestants have to submit to two simple hashtags rather than one complex one.
Building a Contest
Building a contest on Instagram can be a good way to grow your audience, but that’s not all you can do. Especially as a business with a physical location, tying online activity to real-life giveaways can pull more feet in through the door and build brand awareness and reputation at the same time.
Contests on Instagram typically have one of three different reward policies.
- Everyone’s a winner. Participation guarantees a reward, like having a photo featured on one of the brand’s web properties. That can work for a smaller audience by making the reward for participation an invite to an event at your business, which is particularly effective if your business is entertainment oriented.
- Instagram community decides who wins. The most-liked submission is the contest winner and receives the prize.
- Brands (you) choose the winner. This one can’t be manipulated by people boosting their like counts, and it lets you pick winners who are in keeping with your image.
Whichever you choose, remember that the contest itself is an excellent opportunity to turn fans into customers and begin to make your online and real-life communities mirror each other.
Finally, set clear contest objectives. Whatever you’re trying to achieve by running an Instagram contest, define it clearly in advance. What does success look like?
Track your metrics to be sure that what you think is happening is really happening. You should be monitoring at least one of the following, depending on your goals.
- Number of followers. The impact of the campaign on the number of followers for your official Instagram account.
- Total engagements. The number of submissions received throughout the contest.
- Engagement rate. The ratio of engagement to overall number of followers.
- Unique participants. Are you getting 90 percent of your content from 10 percent of your participants? More likely, it’s 80 percent from 20 percent of them. As much as possible, you want a broad contribution.
- Potential impressions. Measure the number of followers of participants, to get some idea of the campaign’s potential reach across Instagram.