How to Get Started Marketing on Instagram

by Adrienne Erin June 2nd, 2014 

For a lot of marketers, the land of strictly-mobile social apps like Instagram and Snapchat is completely foreign. We're more comfortable building campaigns on the networks we understand: Facebook, Twitter, and maybe Pinterest.

But the world is becoming increasingly mobile-first. Desktop-first social networks like Facebook are starting to give way to other networks that suit the quick and easy environment of your smartphone. If you want your social campaigns to survive, you need to keep following users to the networks they're using. And right now, Instagram is growing – in fact, it's growing faster than any other network, and almost twice as fast as the second fastest growing, Reddit.

If you dont want to be left behind in an era of growing social media influence and mobile use, you should embrace Instagram as a channel for increasing brand recognition and engaging your potential customers. Here's how to get started.

Creating Your Account

If you don't already have an account, you can create one through the Instagram app. Do your best to snag a username that is short and obvious; get the name of your business if it is available.

Your followers will associate your profile photo with your brand, so pick something iconic and easy to understand. Your logo, if it is square in format, is probably your best bet. If you use any words, be sure they are large and legible, as the profile photo will typically be shown at a very small size. Here are a few brands doing this well:

instagram-starbucks

instagram-chobani

instagram-target

instagram-benandjerrys

Next, write a short bio for your business – this might consist of your tagline, mission statement, or just a sentence or two about your brand. You have a 200-character limit, which is just a little longer than a tweet. Be sure to include your website URL, and make sure it's mobile-friendly! Visitors clicking this link will almost exclusively come from smartphones.

Ben & Jerry's uses their tagline; Target gives a good reason to follow.

instagram-bio-benandjerrys

instagram-bio-target

Getting the Techniques Down

If you think you can just barge onto the Instagram social scene using techniques that worked for you on Facebook or Twitter, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Like every network, Instagram has its unique qualities and techniques that you'll need to become familiar with in order to succeed when marketing on the network. Here are some basics to get you started:

Instagram Photography

Instagram is an opportunity to bring out the artist in all of us; photos are expected to be user-generated and will do best if they are eye-catching. Note that it is this user-generated factor that makes it stand apart from Pinterest, which is more about collecting others' powerful imagery.

When you start shooting photos for your Instagram channel, you need to keep in mind that Instagram requires a slightly different style of photography. Most obviously, all photos on Instagram are in a square format. This will somewhat limit your compositional possibilities. In addition, users tend to favor images with a high level of contrast and bright, at times even overblown lighting; filters apply more easily to images like this than to darker ones. Speaking of filters, an analysis by Curalate found that users tend to prefer images with a blueish tone and a single, dominant color.

instagram-curalate-blue

Hashtags

Like many other social networks, Instagram uses hashtags to connect thematically-related posts. Unlike other social networks, using the most popular hashtags really do seem to have a big impact on how well your images do. Users are often surfing the popular hashtags, seeing what interesting images come up – will yours?

Starbucks does a great job using hashtags. Here's an image they posted just a day ago – their popular hashtag choices, like #love and #chocolate, were probably partially responsible for the 106 thousand hearts it's gotten. In fact, #love is the most popular hashtag on Instagram!

instagram-hashtags-starbucks

If you're curious about what the most popular hashtags on Instagram are, you can check out this list.

Instagram Video

Created as a direct competitor to Twitter's Vine, Instagram Video has a lot in common with it. However, since it was created second, it also has some unique advantages. Whereas Vines are just 6-second loops, Instagram Videos give you up to 15 seconds. There is also a camera stabilizing feature and the ability to add filters.

To take a video, go to the camera screen of Instagram and click the video button. Holding down the record button will capture video. You can record a single shoot or combine multiple clips.

Geo-tagging

Geo-tagging is an often-overlooked feature of Instagram. Instagram can capture a record of where you shot a particular photo – if you let it – and puts these photos on an interactive map accessible from your profile. For users, this is a fun way to see where you've traveled; for brands, this is a new way of collaborating with your fans. For a great example, check out this collaborative map of Bergdorf Goodman's shoes around Manhattan.

instagram-bergdorfgoodman

Deciding What to Post

Now that you've got the techniques down, what should you post? It's a good question, and the answer is not always the most obvious one. What do your fans want to see? Do they want to see the human side of your company? Do they want to learn new ways they can use your products? Do they want to see cute pictures of animals, or pictures of food, or pictures of feats of engineering? If it ties in with your company, go for it.

But it can be a little tricky to keep your posts diverse and relevant to your business. Every brand must blaze their own path on Instagram, but here are a few tried and true post formats to give a try:

Pull Back the Curtain

What are you and your employees really like at work? Many businesses want to show off their fun side online, and Instagram is the perfect place to do so. Take candid shots around the office, at company events, and behind the scenes on your production lines to tell the story your products don't.

ModCloth, a women's clothing retailer, occasionally shares behind the scenes images of their photoshoots or shots of their spokespug, Winston.

instagram-modcloth

Quotes & Sayings

Like on Pinterest, quotes, sayings, and factoids do well on Instagram, especially if they are created with powerful images and nice typography. Once you figure out what types of sayings resonate with your audience, you can use an app like PicLab to add the text to your image before sharing.

12 Keys, a treatment center in Florida, shares inspirational quotes and interesting facts with their Instagram followers.

instagram-12keys

Contests

Contests are a great way for businesses of all kinds to grow their following. They work so well to build up your follower base because by asking users to share a photo entry into the contest, they are posting out your Instagram handle and contest hashtag to all their friends, who might then be inspired to enter the contest.

The contest can be as simple as you want it to be. Safer Brand recently did a contest where they asked people to post a photograph of their favorite garden with their #GrowOurWay hashtag. The prize was a $25 Amazon gift card, as well as an entry into a larger sweepstakes to win a vacation.

instagram-saferbrand

Some brands hold longer-term contests, while others do monthly or even weekly contests. It depends on your budget and what you're able to keep up with, but it's undeniable that contests are a great way to build engagement.

Your Products

If you have a large variety of photogenic products, or a single very iconic one, a product-centric Instagram feed may be the way to go.

instagram-adidas

instagram-oreo

However, not everyone can be Adidas or Oreo, so if you don't already have a loyal following of brand advocates, a feed entirely composed of product photography isn't going to excite anyone.

If you do choose to share your products, take a cue from the popular brands and find new and interesting ways to share them: close up, arrayed in a pattern, in use, on a unique background, or in a beautiful setting. Grabbing plain product shots from your website and Instagramming them, even with a filter, is a definite no-no.

Coupons & Special Offers

If you're looking for a truly unique and exciting way to use Instagram, why not reward your followers with a coupon or special offer? Walgreens did this in an especially unique way, unveiling a 40% off photo printing coupon at the end of a special video.

instagram-walgreens

Your coupon doesn't have to be that thought-out to succeed with your fans, though – here's a far less ambitious example from Top Shop:

instagram-topshop

The description gave the promo code for free worldwide shipping. Sometimes, the word "free" is all you need.

Creating a presence on Instagram isn't rocket science, but it does require a take on social marketing strategy unique from other social networks. Does your business have an Instagram account? What types of posts have brought you the best results? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Adrienne Erin

Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in social media marketing.

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