Earlier this year, Instagram announced they’d surpassed over 300 million users. More than 70 million photos and videos are shared, generating over 2.5 million “likes”…every day. For many businesses, this social media channel is overlooked in favor of Facebook or Pinterest, but with numbers like that, it’s easy to see why engaging fans, customers—even the brands you work with—is an important part of your marketing and branding strategy.
To help you make the most of this powerful communication channel, we’ve assembled this list of “best practice” tips, drawing inspiration from some of the most successful pro Instagrammers.
Get set up properly to start building your channel.
When setting up your account, start by connecting with Facebook to pull in your friends. At the same time, send out requests to employees, sponsored riders and teams, and partners—basically anyone your business has a positive relationship with—to mention your business in their own posts and use hashtags that are relevant or important to a marketing campaign running. It’s also a good idea to come up with a unique tagline and put it in your profile. For example instead of just using #joesbikes make it a little more memorable and zingy—almost a micro-slogan—like #joesbikesrock or #joesbikeslove.
Engage your community.
Instagram isn’t a one way channel for promoting your business. When posting an image on your channel, ask questions in your caption and respond to comments. Interact with your followers by liking and commenting on their posts. The results will pay dividends—both in terms of rewarding your followers by acknowledging them, as well as increasing your visibility to their network.
Use hashtags to build your community.
Hashtags are an effective and necessary tactic to use in your Instagram marketing. Knowing the interests of your community and the tags they’re using should influence the hashtags you use on your own posts. But don’t just hashtag #randomly. Look at what your audience is doing with their hashtags to learn new ways of reaching them. At the same time, #don’t #overuse #hashtags. Just because Instagram doesn’t limit the number of #hashtags you use on a post doesn’t mean you should use two dozen of them. Limit the number of hashtags on a given post to between 3-10 total.
Use @mentions to build your audience.
Another tag you can use to increase the number of eyeballs on your content is the @mention“tag”. Use a @mention in the caption to include the person, company or brand in your message. You can also use @mention in a comment, when replying to a previous comment. To mention someone, just type @ followed by the username. For example, you post a photo with the caption “Flat fixing in under 20 seconds with @fastbikepdx.” When you publish the photo, @fastbikepdx will be notified they were tagged, and the tagged name will be a clickable link which directs your followers to @fastbikepdx’s Instagram feed.
Space out your posting frequency.
Posting too frequently will cause followers to jump ship if they think you’re spamming them. If you’re posting multiple shots from an event or location, share just one per hour, not one right after the other. Spacing out your posts helps keep your engagement high, whereas sharing 5 photos in a row will likely cause followers to stop liking and commenting. Allowing 5 or 6 hours between posts keeps your content flowing through followers’ feeds, and keeps each post fresh and will produce more likes and comments.
Reply to comments.
Think of Instagram as yet another opportunity to talk to fans who may not be able to get to your store as often as they would like. If someone has taken the time to comment on your posts, it is important to respond to them. By responding to commenters, you’ll quickly grow a loyal Instagram audience. Make sure to @mention their name in your response to ensure they receive a notification of your comment.
Invite and share user generated content.
Sharing someone else’s photos without permission or attribution is not only a direct violation of copyright laws, but it also tends to really upset the original poster. However, user-generated content—or UGC—is a fantastic way to build your audience and provide quality content. After attaining permission you may share UGC content, provided you offer proper attribution with tags of the original photographer. Third party apps like Repost and Regram allow shares of other Instagram posts and apply watermarks or banners detailing the original source of the image.
Post authentic content.
The content you share needs to be authentic and representative of your business style. Your followers will love seeing authentic visual content from your account and will respond positively. If you’re like us—you love seeing photos of bikes and people riding them, but the behind-the-scenes views of your staff, before and after pictures of a shop display or project, or even a shot of the shop dog makes for a bit of relief from yet another bike photo. And while we’re on the topic, Instagram is for photos—save your infographics and illustrations for sharing on Pinterest or Facebook. Instagram is for photos, and the square format doesn’t suit charts and graphs as well.
Transform your so-so photos into so-cool photos.
Feeling photographically challenged? Not to worry! Instagram packs tons of photos editing features into a tiny, easy-to-use interface of filters and special effects. Experiment with the filters to determine your favorites. Manipulate your photo to get the most visually compelling result. Some of the most popular rated filters include Low-Fi, Valencia, and X-Pro II. These all give the photos a very distinct look that can easily help transform a flat image into something a little richer and more compelling. All that being said, less is more—keep the sci-fi Andy Warhol effects under control. Think of editing as enhancing your photos, rather than weirding them.
Ultimately, Instagram is the digital equivalent of sitting around a campfire sharing stories. If you use Instagram as just another channel to place ads for your business, you will lose followers faster than Sir Bradley Wiggins breaking the hour record. But if you begin to use Instagram as a showcase to tell the story of WHY you do what you do, you’ll find your audience growing and you may even enjoy connecting with your fans in the process.