How to use the growing power of Instagram to boost your business

Instagram is among the fastest-growing social sharing platforms, with more than 200 million users, 1.6 billion daily likes, and more than 60 million photos posted per day. Instagram is a mobile photo and video-sharing platform that was launched in 2010 and was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012.

The platform is especially popular with millennials, with comScore estimating that 51% of 18- to 34-year-olds are using it, a rate higher than that of other social platforms. Although Instagram revenue has been minimal (an estimated $200 to $400 million according to L2), Facebook had the insight to recognize the power of the platform. This potential is evident in reported engagement (as measured by likes and comments) that is 15 times that of Facebook and 40 times that of Twitter.

TrackMaven released a study in September 2013 that showed that 22.4% of Fortune 500 companies had established Instagram accounts, with Nike topping the list by number of followers, Foot Locker by number of photos, and Target by number of videos posted. L2 reports that 93% of prestige brands had a presence on the platform in September 2013. However, Instagram isn’t only for Fortune 500 companies. It’s increasingly being adopted by small to mid-size businesses as part of their social media engagement strategy. 

To help you understand Instagram, here’s a promotional video the company put together for business users:

Some tips

Once you have your Instagram account set up, you can use these tips to make your efforts more effective:

  • Develop a goal for your account — awareness, reaching new audiences, changing brand perceptions, etc.
  • Create visual stories about your company, products, people, services, customers, and community that align with your brand promise.
  • Tie back to your brand positioning with other textual and visual content you are sharing elsewhere.
  • Search out positive and negative posts about your company and brands, engage with these posts through comments and likes, and curate and “regram” content from your top followers. (According to the Instagram Business Blog, at least half of the photos that Ben & Jerry’s shares are from community members.)
  • Be authentic and creative with your images.
  • Don’t solely use professional promotional brand photos.
  • Experiment with Instagram’s 20 different filters or through third-party photo-editing apps to enhance your photos. (Mayfair performed the best, according to TrackingMaven, while Simply Measured found Amaro led the way in usage in the second quarter of 2013 for Interbrand 100 companies.)
  • Share photos in your blog posts using the Instagram embed code (see examples elsewhere in this blog posting).
  • Showcase user photos in your advertising campaigns. (Lexus created an entire ad using 200 “Instagrammers” for their 2014 Lexus IS.)
  • Use relevant and non-promotional hashtags (three to seven maximum) in your captions to facilitate sharing, social discovery, and interaction with your visual content
  • Keep your captions short and pithy.
  • Post regularly to maintain consumer interest. (Top brands, measured by engagement, are posting on average 30 posts per month, according to Simply Measured.)
  • Experiment with the best days and times to post.
  • Test videos. However, photos are driving more engagement, according to Simply Measured.
  • Promote your account on your website and other social and offline media. (The Company Store is failing in this regard, with its Instagram account not among those promoted for social following on its homepage.)
  • Be timely with content and use trends to trigger content ideas
  • Show people’s faces to increase engagement. (A Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs research study found that pictures with faces were 38% more likely to receive likes and 32% more likely to receive comments.)
  • Encourage interaction by asking questions in your post captions.
  • Tag your photos with locations.
  • Monitor metrics — traffic generation, likes, likes/following, comments, comments/following, followers, hashtag usage.

What to share

Depending on your objectives, there are various options for types of content that can be shared on Instagram. Among these are the following:

  • Showcase Company History
    Adidas reaches into its archives to celebrate its 65th birthday with a picture of an early catalog cover.
  • Share Event Photos
    MarketingProfs shares a photo of an icebreaker nametag it used at one of its events, #MPB2B.
  • Provide Demos or Tutorials
    McCallan Whiskey shows how to “nose and taste” a single-malt whiskey.
  • Share Company News
    Chobani shows its product refrigerator at a company sales meeting.
  • Showcase Landmarks or Unique Visual Content
    UW-Madison uses a unique filter and strong image to showcase Bascom Hill.
  • Be Playful With Your Brand
    UW-Milwaukee touts black and gold, its school colors, with a creative photograph of cone flowers.
  • Launch and Announce New Products
    Tiffany announces its new T Ring and achieves 38,000 likes on the first day of launch.

    Note: You might consider “sneak peek” teasing announcements about new products with slices of product photos to build suspense.
  • Show Your Products in Action
    Red Robin Gourmet Burgers asks consumers what their favorite restaurant wall art is and presents a picture of a sleeping cat being offered a Red Robin french fry.
  • Focus on Behind-the-Scenes Activities to Show Your Company at Work
    GE developed a robotic hand and shares a 15-second video showcasing the technology and positioning GE as a caring company.
  • Cross-post Content Across Social Channels
    Adobe promotes a Google Hangout where techniques to create certain image effects were being shared.
  • Encourage Photo Submissions With Contests
    Dunkin’ Donuts promotes its “Take a Bite, Take a Pic” selfie contest, tying it to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and the hashtag #DDSharkWeek.
  • Recognize Employees
    Constant Contact showcases one of its employees with the hashtag #FailFriday to educate consumers about using its product effectively.
  • Showcase Community Service and Support
    Dell showcases its support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with a simple photo of a pin.
  • Share Company Culture
    Marketo shows its top executives making root beer floats for employees.



Is it only for B2C use?

Some people argue that Instagram, like many social media channels, is not relevant for B2B companies due to the complexity of their products and lengthy buying process. However, given a clear objective and sufficient resources, B2B companies have opportunities to connect with some of their target audiences through Instagram. Among the types of B2B companies that have implemented Instagram are marketing automation companies like Marketo and Pardot, creative software providers like Adobe, email service providers like Constant Contact, corporate titans like GE, computer and service companies like Dell and IBM, and logistics and delivery companies like FedEx.

Uberflip recently released a slide presentation titled “Five B2B Brands That Rock Instagram.” It showcases the goals and results of a number of the B2B Instagram users referenced above. You can see it here:

Who is using Instagram in Wisconsin?

Some of you might wonder whether any Wisconsin-based companies are using Instagram. The answer is yes. Among these are online and omnichannel retailers like Boston Store, Company Store, Kohl’s, Lands’ End, and Madison-based ShopBop and Wisconsinmade; higher education institutions like UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and the UW-Madison School of Engineering; and hoteliers like the newly expanded The Edgewater.

Newer developments

As with all social media networks, Instagram’s challenge will be to maintain and increase engagement while figuring out ways to monetize the number of active users on the platform. As part of this goal, Instagram is experimenting with sponsored ads that will be delivered to Instagram users’ feeds. Among the companies that Instagram is working with to test advertising are Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Burberry, General Electric, Lexus, Levi’s, Macy’s, Michael Kors, PayPal, and W Hotels. Stay tuned for further developments as advertising opportunities continue to grow.

I’d love to hear from others who have been successful with their Instagram strategies. I encourage you to comment on this blog post or drop me an email.

You can find out more about social and digital marketing strategies and tactics by adding me to your circles at my Google+ page, following me on Twitter @theWebChef, or following my boards on Pinterest.

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