Are you using the photo-sharing mobile app Instagram as a social media marketing tool for your business? If your customers are women under the age of 35, this guide may convince you the answer should be yes. If you’re in a male-dominated manufacturing setting, it may convince you the answer should be no. Each business is unique, so the ultimate decision about using any form of marketing will be up to you.

Instagram is a simple concept. A free app for iPhone, Android and Windows phones, it turns a photo from a smartphone camera into a sharing event. Like Twitter, it’s designed for quick and easy sharing with a group of followers (customers in the case of most businesses). And while Twitter now offers similar photo-sharing features, Instagram gathered a critical mass of users (and a $1 billion purchase price from Facebook) before Twitter (as well as Flickr and others) got serious about smartphone camera apps. Will Facebook end up making Instagram merely a feature of Facebook (they say they won’t, but let’s meet back here in five years and discuss it)? Are you in a business that will provide a good return-on-investment of your time and attention devoted to Instagram? Should you devote your social media marketing focus to other platforms and channels first? Use the following as background in making your decision:

Who uses Instagram?

According to recent research from Business Insider:

  • Instagram’s users are divided 50/50 between owners of Android and Apple devices.
  • Instagram skews heavily toward women; 68% of its users are female, according to Appdata.
  • Instagram also leans toward urban users; 17% of U.S. adult residents who live in urban areas use Instagram, compared to only 11% in suburban and rural areas.
  • Instagram is about quality not quantity. Instagram accounts for 7% of daily photo uploads among the top four photo-sharing platforms (544 million daily uploads total). “It’s not as much of a heavyweight, in volume terms, as some might believe,” says Business Insider.

The basics of using Instagram for business

Instagram provides a simple guide for how a business can set up an account. We suggest you bookmark that link even if you don’t think you’ll be using Instagram. You may change your mind, and it’s a great place to start. As Instagram is a very simple point-and-shoot camera app, there is only a slight learning curve in understanding what it is and how it works. But, like everything that seems easy on the internet, learning to use it in a way that helps you grow your business is where most companies find the challenge.

Get inspired by others

To help you get started with the challenging part–how your specific business will use it–start off by glancing through Instagram Business to see the various ways individuals and companies have used it so far.

Think visually

Instagram is all about sharing images. Don’t think in words when deciding what may work in your specific business, town, industry, shop, restaurant, etc, think in photos and style of those images. As a business, think about what causes your customers to think of you? What types of images do they associate with your company? Finding the kind of images that cause your customers to think of you and, better yet, trigger an interaction with you will be the difference in whether or not Instagram works for your business.

Make sure your customers know you’re on Instagram

Think of rolling out an Instagram account as opening an extension of your business at a new location. If you set it up without promoting it, no one will know it exists, but don’t immediately flood your mailing list with invitations to follow you either. Encourage some of your friends to monitor your account for a few weeks to give you suggestions on how to make your photos better. Make sure they understand you’re asking for help on an business account, or you may get suggestions more appropriate for a personal account.

Post smart

It’s important to post regularly, but for most companies it’s a big mistake to flood your followers with photos. At first, keep your postings to once a day to keep people updated on your company. Also, make sure to post a variety of photos. Alternate between photos of your products, moments at the office, behind the scene shots at work and more. Make sure the photos reflect the same personality and style as the rest of your marketing.

Reach out to your followers

Make sure to stay in contact with what Instagram may call followers but who you call customers. If someone leaves a comment on a post, make sure to reply to them. Doing so makes your account seem like a community rather than a firehose. Follow other accounts in your industry, market niche, hometown or other types of accounts where your customers may already be found. Social media is a community, and it’s rarely a community you exclusively host. You should belong to the same communities that your customers are a part of.

Keep customers interested enough to keep following

Contests, last-minute sales, first looks at new merchandise- think of ways you can make customers who follow you on Instagram (and other social platforms) feel like they belong to a special insiders club. Why? Because many of these Instagram users have a large follower group, and they love to share great inside secrets and tips to those friends, also known as your potential customers.

The hidden metric

On the surface, it’s an easy decision to dismiss Instagram. There are too many alternatives out there and, as the stats above indicate, despite the hype, it’s still a very niche service. However, the service has some significant momentum behind it. It’s easy to use and can be fun. So, if you’re comfortable with other types of social media or you’re frustrated that you missed out on the early waves of Twitter and Facebook, it’s worth trying out. But don’t measure success by the number of followers you get; Measure it by the conversations it generates with existing customers and new ones that walk in the door because of something they saw on Instagram.

Guide by Kimberly Honiball and Rex Hammock

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