Instagram marketing is a hot trend these days, but it can be a tricky endeavor for small businesses.
How do I create compelling visual content on a budget? What hashtags should I leverage? Is Instagram even relevant to my business? If you’ve thought about Instagram marketing, you’ve (hopefully!) thought about these questions, even if you haven’t had the bandwidth to figure out answers.
Why do businesses bother with Instagram, yet another social platform to keep track of? Instagram has at least one significant advantage for businesses over other social platforms, and that’s engagement. The platform has 400 million active monthly users and sees 58 times more unpaid interactions per post than Facebook. Currently, about 11 percent of small-to-medium businesses say they’re using Instagram, and according to a recent survey, the majority of them report anywhere from “good” to “extraordinary” return on investment (ROI) from the platform. So, not only is the field not saturated with your competitors, but you’re likely to see some real ROI if you use the channel strategically.
According to Techcrunch, the photo-sharing platform has more than 200,000 users who actively advertise, and a majority are small-to-medium businesses who’ve figured out how to really make Instagram marketing work for their brands. Acknowledging the popularity of the platform among small business users, earlier this year, Instagram released new tools with smaller businesses in mind. To its credit, Instagram “engaged with hundreds of businesses [who were] using its platform ahead of developing the tools in order to determine what needs were currently underserved.”
Businesses on Instagram can now leverage:
- Business profiles: This is a free feature for users who want to be seen as a business. It integrates contact information, unlocks insights, and gives you the ability to promote content.
- Insights: With Insights, you can see data about your followers and which posts are doing well, to help you create more timely and meaningful content.
- Promote: This feature enables you to convert top-performing content into ads within Instagram. Using Promote adds a button to content that prompts followers to take action. Ads are served to the audience you define or a target audience suggested by Instagram.
What types of businesses are really suitable for Instagram? More than you might think. If you’ve been on Instagram, you know most any kind of retail shop, restaurant, food service, or bar can produce an endless supply of visually exciting content that people like sharing. Any lifestyle company can do the same. If your product or service isn’t obviously visual, don’t despair.WeWork, which provides shared workspace,Movember, a nonprofit that supports testicular cancer programs, Headspace, a digital meditation app, and technology company Intel all have hugely popular and visually inventive feeds. If there’s one thing Instagram isn’t short on, it’s inspiration.
Many businesses had already found success with Instagram marketing before its new tools were released. Camp Brand Goods, whose feed is a mixture of products and scenery, is a good example. In aninterview with Ernest Barbaric, the owner of the Camp Brand Goods revealed that the company saw impressive growth on Instagram in just a few months. Because their brand is more about a lifestyle and less about a product, the company feels Instagram gives them a “purer” interaction with their customers, as it’s not focused on selling. This “soft” approach to their content is also part of why followers often share branded posts on their Instagram feed. Despite the fact that many of their followers don’t own the company’s products, the company has noticed an increase in sales after someone follows them.
Camp Brand Goods collaborates with other Instagrammers occasionally to gain greater traction. The business also created its own hashtag, #keepitwild, which it uses with specific campaigns.
Instagram Marketing for Your Business
Here are five actionable marketing strategies to build an engaged Instagram following.
Make Sure Your Account Has a Running Theme
You always want to be posting content that resonates with your followers. Consider a few themes that make sense for your brand around which to create your content. As you brainstorm, remember to consider both retaining followers as well as gaining new ones.
Be consistent. What happens if someone follows you for hashtag #fancyboots but finds that the first few posts on your account are images of handbags? They unfollow your account. Irrelevant content is the reason why small businesses struggle to retain Instagram followers. In other words, if folks are following you for the hashtag #bestcocktailinNYC, you’d better have some gorgeous pictures of elegant and colorful cocktails, as well as your beautiful zinc bar and loads of patrons having a good time.
You can increase the appeal of your content by focusing your content around one or a series of themes. For example, you might publish content in a mini-series—perhaps visuals in a group of four or five—so when new followers check out your account, they see a pattern.
Collaborate with a non-competing business in your neighborhood or outside your locality for co-branded Instagram marketing, or collaborate with an influencer in your market. In co-marketing, both partners promote a series of content to their followers, and thus share the results of that promotion. It’s an ideal way to increase engagement and gain new followers.
Your co-marketing campaign can be something like the CBS Instagram takeover. The company utilized the reach of primetime producers and actors to create interactive content for fans. Fans could follow the official account to see the new content posted by their favorite stars.
The stars mentioned the hashtag #CBSInstagramTakeover and told their own followers about their CBS shows. The network also mentioned the Instagram handle of the content creator.
Camp Brand Goods followed a similar strategy, but partnered with an influencer instead of a business. It collaborated with Mike Seehagel, the talented photographer who won the company’s #keepitwild contest. Seehagel shot the brand’s winter lookbook—a win for both Seehagel and Camp Brand Goods.
Camp Brand Goods also occasionally collaborates with Instagram friends to create image essays for Good Company, the business’s online journal.
Host an Instagram Contest
Contests can increase your following and boost your engagement if your followers are interested enough. And they’re one of the easiest ways of encouraging user-generated content, which often gets better engagement the brand-produced content because it’s seen as authentic.
A law-abiding Instagram marketing contest has more or less the same rules as a Facebook contest. Of course, in order to see a return on the time and money you spend on it, you need to do all the usual planning: set contest goals, determine key metrics, choose a hashtag to track entries, choose how to select winners, set up terms and conditions, promote the contest, and notify the winners.
There are several types of contest you can host.
- Product selfie contest: Customers submit a unique picture of themselves with your product. If you sell clothes or accessories, or customers take your product traveling, this is a natural for your marketing.
- Wishlist contest: Around the holiday season, ask followers to pick one of your company’s offerings and submit a fascinating story explaining why they would like to own/experience it.
- Caption contest: Post a picture with (or without) a caption and ask followers to share the image with their own caption.
- Recipe contest: This is often used by restaurants and grocery stores. Customers are asked to include a product in recipes, or create a custom recipe, and share images of the completed dish.
The boutique vegan cookie company Om Nom Nom Cookies, utilized a product selfie contest to attract followers and increase engagement on their Instagram account.
The business ran a “selfie photo” contest, asking followers to create an image of themselves with an Om Nom Nom cookie. The results were submitted with an @mention of the business, and winners received a branded t-shirt as a prize.
To track their entries, you can ask your followers to mention your account when posting photos or use a custom hashtag. The latter is a more popular method; it also gives you an opportunity to leverage a branded hashtag in the future.
Practice Local Newsjacking
Instagram marketing can also mean posting content about local events and mixing it with branded content. This tactic is useful for sharing moments like your staff having a good time at a networking or community-based event. A local hashtag can be used to attract followers within your area.
Local newsjacking can be done with both images and videos. Record and post footage of a local event or interviews with employees or loyal customers on Instagram. Stop-motion animations, question-and-answer sessions, and time-lapse videos are popular on this social network. Make sure the videos are short (no more than 60 seconds) and quirky so that you can appeal to customers within their attention span.
Whatever your location, there will likely be Instagram users searching for events and happenings in your area. Finding and engaging them is an effective way of spreading your brand reach.
Use Apps To Increase Your Content’s Appeal
Quality should be your top agenda when it comes to composing your Instagram marketing. With over 70 million images shared on a daily basis, you’ll have to do much better than posting “look at me” images and videos if you want to stand out.
Of course, there are a plethora of Instagram apps that can significantly increase the creative appeal of your posts. They allow you to create unique content without requiring pricey visual production investments. Here are a few recommendations.
VSCO Cam: This app enables users to post intriguing pictures with unique filters. It has easy-to-use adjustment tools and inventive filter options to turn normal images into works of art. The app includes strengthening filters and sliders for different effects – from saturation to warmth.
Hyperlapse: This native app from Instagram allows you to shoot time-lapse videos without tripods or other costly equipment. Users can distill events into 30-second spots. The app will automatically smooth out the final result to add a polished look to your video.
Afterlight: The app offers a range of filters and adjustment tools. Users can crop images into squares, circles, and other shapes. Afterlight offers 59 adjustable filters, 68 textures, and 128 frames. For just $0.99, you can increase the visual appeal of your posts.
Repost: Small businesses may not have the time or resources to create branded Instagram content on a consistent basis. But they still need to keep a regular posting schedule to increase following and engagement. Repost allows you to seamlessly “regram” and credit another Instagrammer’s post. This is an excellent tool if your strategy includes sharing a lot of user-generated content.
Regardless of how comfortable any of us is—or isn’t—with rapidly evolving technology and marketing platforms that seem to proliferate like bunnies, it’s the age of visual social networks. Small businesses can develop an Instagram marketing channel that builds brand equity, user lifetime value, and buyer loyalty, just like the brands with vastly bigger marketing budgets. It’s your turn to gain exposure for your brand and its community, and Instagram is the perfect tool to promote your business identity.
This post originally appeared on the Townsquared blog.