INSTAGRAM IS FOR BUSINESS, NOT JUST FOR SELFIES
Does a picture speak 1,000 words, or does a picture paint 1,000 words—or is a picture worth 1,000 words? Whether it speaks or paints, we know how much a picture is worth and would be inclined to say it’s more than 1,000 words. In fact, the power of visual content is so well defined that the emergence of the Instagram social media phenomenon—one that is based solely around pictures—has significantly changed the strategies for communicating with people, not only on a personal level but in the business world too.
Created in 2010, the mobile photo sharing application has grown from a networking platform to post your selfies on, to a site where people are engaging on levels unparalleled by any other social network.
Images are growing faster than any other form of shared content online, due in part to the phenomenal growth of camera equipped smart phones. We are living in a society where people use smart phones for photography more than they do cameras. With no instruction manual, Instagram’s potential has been discovered through trial and error, and less error than trial has enabled it to build up more than 300 million users.
In a nutshell, Instagram is about uploading photos for followers. We choose to upload a photo for one of three reasons: because we want people to see what we have, to see what we are doing or to see where we are. We are a species that thrives on the feel good factor associated with people liking what we have and by extension who we are. Well hang on, what is marketing? It is the tool we use to raise awareness of products and increase sales, profits, and in the long run, growth. On a personal level we upload photos in the hope that our followers like them and our profile fan base expands. Much the same holds true for business users. Marketing is about telling stories to engage potential clients and few things tell a story faster than a picture.
What does Instagram offer that other social media networks don’t?
At first sight Instagram does not seem to offer much that other social media platforms don’t. It has often been described as “Twitter but more about the photos.” Just like Twitter (and Facebook), you follow people, your home page is all about your followers’ posts and you like and comment on people’s photos. That leaves the only apparent difference being the inability to share another person’s photo on Instagram as you can on Twitter.
On first reflection it can be difficult to see where the niche for Instagram lies. Yet with such a large network of users, it clearly has something! We believe it is the ability to create a casual bond with your followers. Linkedin is a much more formal platform for promoting business, whilst Facebook and Twitter don’t seem to allow businesses to form the friendly bond that Instagram seems to permit so well.
With social media the days are gone where a firm had to spend thousands on marketing to increase brand awareness. That is positive news for any start-up business that may otherwise be overshadowed in the marketing world by bigger competitors.
Naturally, image-heavy businesses such as hair salons, restaurants and graphic design companies have obvious uses for sharing photos on Instagram, but in reality any business can find ways to use the network without thinking the best they can post is a photo of a spreadsheet.
Whilst photos are at the heart, increasing awareness comes from obtaining followers—although the trick isn’t in following every Instagram user in the hope that they all follow you back. Strategic marketing techniques centre around gaining relevant followers. To use a cliché—it’s about quality not quantity. To add the icing on the cake, if you can master the art of #hashtagging you will increase the exposure of your business. Instagram organises the data, which allows other like-minded users to find your content through the search of keywords that you have hashtagged. They are not only the key to your business being found, but they are the key to reaching customers. Hashtags drive traffic to your profile, which then drives traffic to your website (provided you include links to your webpages).
Maintaining an active presence and posting a photo a day (even if it may not be specifically advertising a product or service) is crucial, as is writing what the photo is about if you wish to help Instagram categorise the subject of the photo and increase the chance of people searching for it.
Enabling consumers to see others using the product or service can be entertaining and engage users. Indeed, customers feel more involved when they are able to submit feedback. This helps explain the gradual turn away from more traditional radio and newspaper advertising and an increase in social media involvement.
Does success take more than publishing attractive images?
Well, the simple answer is yes. You have to maintain customer engagement, reply to comments and make them feel special. In the long run they will reward you with their loyalty. You have to make your profile fun and entertaining, so as well as images and unique filters, utilise the 15-second video upload for a shot of informative marketing. First impressions count too, so spend time optimising your 150 word biography and include a link back to your website. Actually, if you publish attractive images, you’re half way there.