This series of online tool introductions is one of my favorite types of posts to write. I’ve covered different types of online tools (design, forms, email, to-do lists, bookkeeping, and social media post sharing) and in this post we’re going to delve into social media marketing and take an in-depth look at Instagram.
What is it?
Instagram is a social media network that functions as an app on your smartphone and allows you to take share photos and 15-second videos. You take photos or videos with your camera phone, select a filter to make it look better, and then post it for your followers to see. It was bought by Facebook in 2012 and has been steadily been growing as one of the most popular social media networks with over 300 million users, especially among the younger crowd.
With the smartphone app, you can also share images that are not photos (like an image with text overlay) but you still have to do it from your phone. There are companion apps that give you additional functionality for Instagram, with features like collages, more filters, slow-motion videos and re-sharing Instgram posts.
You can use hashtags to categorize your content and make it easier for other people to find your content. Additionally, there are public and private accounts, with the latter meaning that someone has to request to follow you before they can see your photos.
Why I love it
I am only using Instagram personally at the moment, not for my business. I like it because it allows me to share photos when we travel (or of everyday life) in a more concentrated way. I have less followers there than I do on Facebook and I’ve chosen to keep my account private so I know exactly who is following me.
To me, Facebook and Twitter are overwhelming with the deluge of all types of content, and while there can be a ton of photos coming in your feed in Instagram if you follow a lot of people, you’ll still only be looking at photos or videos.
Also, many business owners and businesses use Instagram to connect with their community, but the focus with Instagram is a more personal and behind-the-scenes look at a business rather than outright promotion. Instagram helps businesses present and reinforce their brands in a visual way that doesn’t feel overly sales-y.
3 ways it helps your business
1. Reach a new audience
Every social media network has a different type of audience and with Instagram you’ll be reaching a younger, more technically-saavy community. They like beautiful and honest photos and videos. They like to see photos presented with a story. If you have a service or product where you can take a lot of photos, Instagram may be a network for you to try.
Just like with other networks, you need to follow other people, comment and like their content, and then they’ll start following you back. And by using smart and relevant hashtags, more new people will be able to discover you.
2. Reinforce your brand in a big way
Presenting your brand visually will have a big impact on how people think and feel about you and your business. It’s one thing to write a blog post explaining a topic or to share links about content that is related to your industry: that content will attract and help people connect with you. It’s another thing to show your desk space, your products during the design stage, or show views from the conference you’re attending.
Photos and videos will help reinforce your brand and Instagram will help you share them.
3. It’s free
This item is usually included in this list because for many small businesses or freelancers using free online marketing tools at the beginning can help you establish yourself and your business and try out that tool before jumping into a big investment.
Instagram does have paid ads so that may be an option for you down the road. But if you’re curious about trying it, and love taking pictures of everything you do, then give Instagram a try!
Features to look out for
When you get started with Instagram, you need to follow a few people! If you connect your Instagram account with Facebook (you’ll be prompted upon setup) then you’ll be able to see which of your Facebook friends have an Instagram account. This is a good place to start.
Then you can use the search function to search for people, tags, hashtags, places, or just posts that are related to your search keyword.
So, try keywords you usually use in your business, topics that are related to yours and then start following some businesses or people that are aligned with your business. This will alert them that you’re following them and you may be able to connect after that. You can also search for people that are interesting or who are influencers in your industry.
The use of hashtags (a keyword or keyword phrase following a # symbol, i.e. #womeninbiz) varies by social media network. You don’t usually use them on Facebook, you need 2 – 3 per Tweet, and on Instagram a lot of hashtags are recommended, up to 20! What this does is categorize or group your content with content that is also tagged with the same hashtags.
For example, if you have a blog about vegan food, you could use the following tags on your posts: #vegan #veganfood #vegansofig (that is, vegans of instagram) #veganrecipes and so on. People may search for any of these terms and if you have popular content then it will appear in search results.
And just as I noted above, people use hashtags to discover new content and new people to follow, so don’t forget your hashtags!
No link in description
Because of the style of Instagram, any links posted in the description of an image will not be live (i.e. you cannot click on the link and get to a webpage.) It will just be regular text. This is how it works on Instagram, so the workaround is to update the allowed link in your profile based on the content you’re sharing. It’s not a foolproof method, but it works if you’re posting about once per day.
So, a simple URL (like sparkvirtualassistance.com) may work in the description if it’s easy to remember, but any type of shortlink will be hard for some one to use to get to your post or website. Just update the link in the profile or don’t use any links at all.
Instagram is great for tagging other people who appear in your photos.
Say you go to a conference or networking event and want to post a picture of you and your colleagues who also have Instagram accounts. You’ll need to be following your colleagues but then you can “tag” them in your photo and then they will be notified and that photo will appear in their profile under “Photos of You”.
And you can also add someone as a tag in the description of your photo and in the comments. Once you tag them they’ll get a notification that you’ve done so.
This is a great way to make a connection with others and to show a connection. For example, celebrities do it when they want to highlight the designer of their outfit or their hairstylist. You may want to highlight the name of the company who is hosting the networking event or if you use a product and love it, you can take a picture of you using it and then tag the owner. This is really the essence of the social part in social media marketing.
Call to action
As an Instagram user, there are a few things I can do when I come across a photo or video that I like:
- I can click the heart or double click the image to “like” the image
- I can leave a comment
- I can leave a comment and tag someone in that comment
- I can send that image to someone that I follow
Liking an image is clear, the name of the user will appear below the photo if they’ve liked that photo. The comment will appear and the advantage of tagging someone in the comment is that you can bring their attention to that post. I can also do this with sending the image to someone, but that is private and can only be seen by the person receiving the post.
Within your description, sometimes you’ll want to have a call-to-action (CTA). Actually with Instagram, you don’t always need to have a CTA, sometimes a simple description and some hashtags is enough, but when you do want a user to do something, you can ask them nicely.
Asking them to like the image, or double click the image, is good. Asking them to tag someone who would also like your content is better. And if you have a link in your profile, you can tell them that they can find out more if they visit the link in your profile. You can also include your username in the description so it’s easy to click on your username and get to your profile and the link is there.
With Instagram you are looking for more and more people to see and like your posts, and to get more followers. If you create good content, the more likely people will share it and like it, and that’s good for business!
I want more!
I suggest this post by the Talented Ladies Club: Seven tips to help you unleash the power of Instagram for more ideas for using Instagram for your business, and here are 7 companion apps that help you enhance your Instagram posts. I have also been recommended the Instagram resources by Sue B. Zimmerman.
Would you consider using Instagram, either personally or professionally? Why or why not?
I’d love to hear from you about it in the comments.