How to market your business on Instagram

Social media, marketing and business experts share their tips on how brands can get the most out of the photo- and video-sharing site.

instagram

Last September, Instagram announced it had over 400 million active users, many of which are businesses. In fact, eMarketer predicts that in 2016, nearly half of U.S. companies will be using Instagram as part of their marketing strategy (about a third did in 2015), with the number climbing to 70 percent in 2017.

While Instagram isn’t necessarily right for every business, for brands marketing products or services (e.g., food, fashion and photography) that could benefit from being seen, it can be a powerful marketing tool. However, with an average of 80 million photos being uploaded to the site each day, if you want to attract followers and keep them coming back to your Instagram page – and then going to your website – you can’t just post the occasional photo and hope Instagram users will find it.

[ Related: 7 ways social media can improve customer satisfaction ]

So to help your business get found, and get followers, on Instagram, check out these 16 simple Instagram marketing tips.

1. Use quality images. “The quality of your images can determine the success of your account,” says Ariana Gomez, marketing & PR manager, LA Fashion District Business Improvement District. So “avoid out-of-focus or poorly constructed photos and overly corporate images, i.e., stock photography.”

Also, take a moment to edit photos on Instagram before you post them.

“Editing your photos really makes them pop,” says Anne-Marie Faiola, CEO, Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies. “If you are photographing products, edit carefully so you do not misrepresent the product. Personally, I like to brighten my photos, increase the contrast slightly, sharpen [them] and increase the saturation a small amount,” she says. “Your style of editing might be very different, so play around with [Instagram’s editing tools and filters] and find a style that suits your products and business.”

2. Brand your content. “Whether that means watermarking your content with your logo, using a specific font or [creating an] overall style, it's important for people to be able to recognize that you're the original source of the content,” says Chris Gatbonton, founder, Creation Crate, which provides tech education in a box. “This especially helps when your content is reposted by other people.”

[ Related: 7 simple, low-cost ways to acquire new customers ]

3. Make the link in your profile trackable. “Tracking clicks to your website from Instagram is tricky, because you're only offered one clickable URL (the link in your profile) and all clicks to that link open in a new window on your mobile device,” says Mallory Whitfield, an entrepreneur and small business consultant and the owner of MissMalaprop. “Use URLs with UTM codes and/or set up a trackable link with a shortening tool like Bit.ly. Better yet, create a custom landing page just for Instagram users and link to this page from your profile. The landing page should be set to ‘noindex’ so that it doesn't get picked up by search engines,” she explains. Finally, “optimize the landing page for a great mobile experience and use it to convert your Instagram visitors into customers.” 

4. Time your posts. “Make sure your posts go live at a time when your audience is likely to be online,” says Gil Eyal, founder, HYPR, a provider of real-time social analytics. “A younger audience may not be available during school hours. An older audience might go to sleep early.”

Also keep time zones in mind.

Not sure when the best time (or times) to post is? “Experiment at posting different times of the day,” suggests Patrick Wong, marketing & community manager, Nomiku, a sous vide immersion circulator. “For instance, you may find that posting at 5 a.m. Pacific Time gives you better engagement (more likes, comments, etc.) because East Coasters are already awake, checking their phones, when they wake up or go to work. Posting when people are leaving work or taking a lunch break can also provide extra engagement [as] people are more glued to their phones [then].” 

5. Select the right hashtags.“Make sure you are using hashtags that appeal to your target audience,” says Heather Heuman, founder, Sweet Tea Social Marketing. “Yes, the hashtags #Starbucks and #McDonalds are popular, but they won't convert to the right type of followers. [Instead,] use quality hashtags. A source like hashtagify.me is great for finding those specific hashtags you want.”

“Using hashtags pertaining to your industry or brand category, such as #foodie for restaurant businesses, is a great way for people to discover your content,” says Eric Dahan, cofounder & CEO, InstaBrand.

What is the optimal number of hashtags? There is no magic number, but posts with around a dozen relevant/popular hashtags (such as #fashion, #instafood, #cool, #foodporn) tend to do much better than images with just a few hashtags.

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6. Create a hashtag specific to your brand. “A good practice is to come up with one or two hashtags unique to your brand,” says Dahan. “For instance, accessory brand Fossil uses #FossilStyle. Branded hashtags are also helpful if you want to drive social conversations about your brand by encouraging fans to post images about you using your unique hashtags.”

“If you post a call to action to use your hashtag, your hashtag will start to grow exponentially as you gain more followers,” adds Finn Cardiff, owner & CEO, Unreal Drones. Just “be sure to comment and like [posts] that feature your hashtag. [And] don’t [leave] the same comments over and over. [Rather,] make them personal and descriptive.”

7. Utilize geotagging. “Some users view photos by location, so adding a location to your images can increase exposure and engagement,” says Andrew Meyer, senior account manager, Seer Interactive. “You can view a certain location and see all the images posted there, which can be helpful if you have products or services that can be found in different locations.”

8. Show people using or interacting with your product(s). “We've repeatedly seen higher engagement in pictures that include people in them,” says Kindra Svendsen, digital marketing specialist, Speak Creative, a full-service digital agency. So “include a person using your product or enjoying your service. Even a glimpse of a hand in the picture boosts engagement. [Just] pay attention to what's in the background, removing it if necessary.” 

9. Feature customer photos and videos. “If your company says that they care about their customers, show this by promoting customers who post about their product/service on Instagram,” says Alice Williams, communications specialist, Frontier Business Edge, a provider of data, voice, video and equipment solutions.

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