Can businesses use Instagram as a marketing tool

Can businesses use Instagram as a marketing tool?

Figures first:

  • Launched in 2010 Instagram now has 200 million active users, with 70% of users logging in daily.  As a platform it is relatively new and constantly evolving.
  • Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 for approximately $1 billion dollars in cash and stock.  In 2013 Instagram grew by 23% whilst Facebooks growth was 3%.
  • Ads have been trialed in the US since November last year and 3 days ago Instagram announced that ads will be rolled out for just 3 countries initially – Canada, here in the UK and also Australia.
  • 1 week ago, new creative tools were introduced on the platform, giving users the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, warmth etc. to images to greatly enhance their quality.
  • 6 months ago, Instagram Direct went live, enabling users to share imagery with up to 15 people privately, away from the public posts and create a private conversation.
  • Percentage of the worlds top 100 brands who have an account with Instagram? – 65%. 


What is Instagram exactly? Here’s a snapshot:

It’s a free way to share pictures and videos which users can then comment on or ‘like’.  Imagery created can also be shared across social media platforms or used for blog posts and website content for example.
On Instagram you can filter or transform photos enabling you to enhance photos taken on mobile devices to produce a more professional quality.  Similar to Twitter, hashtags are used across the platform to categorise posts and allow you to see what’s trending.
Videos are limited to 15 seconds, compared to 6.5 seconds on Twitter’s Vine, the bonus is videos can be edited on Instagram.
Unlike other social media platforms you cannot re-share someone else’s content on Instagram but there are apps available which allow you to do this.
Instagram Direct is a new addition to Instagram which allows users to share an image privately with up to 15 people for an ‘off the record’ conversation.
To learn more about the new editing tools click here.


From a marketing angle, what can it do?

Visual content is vital for social media marketing campaigns in 2014, as we’ve mentioned in posts since the beginning of the year.  In the past many small to medium sized businesses have struggled with budget constraints to create professionally produced video and photographic content.  With platforms such as Instagram emerging and with mobile cameras significantly improved, the trend is moving towards DIY content, making creating visuals accessible to all.  The content produced is arguably much more spontaneous and allows businesses to show a more human, behind the scenes perspective to their organisations.
Instagram advise “be true to your brand”  – ensure that your images reflect your company’s personality and voice.  For businesses to engage well on Instagram they will need to be creative, Instagram style is fairly informal, for example rather than dry shots of products you can include people, lifestyle, products in use etc. which better suit the style of the platform.
The use of the hashtag is key on Instagram, by linking to trending topics your imagery will gain a much greater reach and promote engagement and ‘likes’.  Iconosquare is a great tool for finding out if businesses have a presence on Instagram, finding brands and hashtags relevant to your sector and analytics in general for your account.
Ultimately for businesses and marketeers the aim for an Instagram presence is to engage with and enter into conversations with your followers.  In order to achieve this you must tag them with the @ symbol i.e. @frontpage, otherwise they will not receive notification you are responding.
One further tool is businesses can host a photo contest to encourage interaction and this can be promoted to your audience on Facebook too.  so far brands have used this to create a buzz around an event or theme.


Getting started, 10 vital tips

  • When setting up your business profile ensure you have a profile picture which includes your company logo and a URL link to your website to drive traffic (URL’s are not permitted anywhere else on the platform).
  • Select a user name which resembles your company name to help users recognise your brand and if possible use a keyword too, such as Frontpage – Social Media.
  • Connect your Instagram account to your Facebook profile/business page and connect to other platforms such as Twitter to enable sharing content across your social media audiences.
  • Use popular and relevant hashtags when creating text to accompany your images, this will broaden your reach significantly and encourage increased engagement.
  • Follow others and comment on their posts to promote interaction and don’t forget to follow some of your key followers back!
  • Consider offering perks, discounts, tickets etc to your followers to keep them revisiting for exclusive deals.
  • Instagram is quite an informal platform, think creatively when taking images, and ensure they include places, people, or products actually in use.  Unusual angles, or behind the scenes shots will encourage engagement compared to a standard shot of a product.
  • Devise a strategy of when to post, if you post daily you risk filling up your followers newsfeeds.
  • Learn what people like about your brand or business and track popularity of imagery you post (there are many apps available for analytics).
  • For inspiration, look at the Instagram Business blog for some great examples of how companies have used the platform so far to build a dedicated following.