Instagram is a powerful tool for connecting with your audience; by harnessing the power of visual content, you can increase engagement and get really creative with your marketing activities.
There is so much you can do with Instagram if you're willing to spend time growing your following - and that's not as challenging as you might think.
With talk of upcoming algorithm changes, here are a few simple hacks to help you expand your reach on one of the fastest growing social platforms there is.
Uploading high-quality, on-brand graphics is a must on a visual platform like Instagram but that's not the only way to curate a beautiful and engaging feed.
Share useful content from other users to build stronger connections and provide extra value for your followers. This will encourage those users to engage with you, bringing their audiences to your profile.
A really quick and easy way to start sharing external content is with the free Repost for Instagram app. To use, simply start viewing your main feed through the app and then just tap on any image you'd like to "regram". And don't forget to tag the creator.
Take advantage of any opportunities to interact with others. This is good advice for any social platform, but it can be particularly effective on Instagram, because it has a more informal, less salesy interface.
There are a number of ways to encourage engagement, such as:
You could also take part in @instagram community projects, such as #WHP (weekend hashtag project). This offers you the chance to get your graphics in front of thousands of new eyes - even more if your image gets featured.
Use your existing audience to help you build your following. The "tag a friend" strategy can be really effective if you're hosting a giveaway, launching a new product or running an event. Ask your followers to tag a friend that might be interested in your offer and before you know it you'll have a list of prospects to target.
Twitter turns ten this week, but it continues to suffer a difficult year, with share prices plummeting, key executives jumping ship and new user growth stalling for the first time in its ten-year history.
Last year, co-founder Jack Dorsey returned as ceo to try and bring the company out of a tailspin that has left it with a two billion dollar deficit and a product that seems increasingly unsure of itself.
Rumours of an impending takeover by Facebook or Google have been rife in recent months, but Twitter's long-term prospects depend on it sorting out several key issues which have left it losing ground in an unforgiving marketplace.
So what are Twitter's problems?
Social networks tend to build a large pool of users first and worry about how to monetise them later. Nobody wants to join a new social network that's plastered with ads. Twitter amassed a huge user base - currently around 300 million active users - but has struggled to find an advertising product that doesn't push people away.
Twitter's ad products were always designed to look native. Promoted tweets, trending topics and recommended accounts are nestled among organic results. But advertisers have been disappointed with the in-stream ads Twitter has offered.
Twitter's ads underperformed against Facebook's, despite the average CPM being five times as expensive. The fact is that Facebook's network reach dwarfs that of Twitter, it offers a far more diverse demographic and its users share things ten times as much. Twitter needs to work out a way of offering real value to advertisers without scaring off users. Not an easy task.
Twitter is an important part of modern culture. It's a place where revolutions are born and where vital information gets spread during good times and bad. Hashtags and live-tweeting have changed the way we communicate. Virtually every president and prime minister on earth has an account.
But none of this necessarily makes Twitter profitable. And tech investors are losing patience with social networks whose dazzling valuations are now causing worries of a second dot com bubble.
In a February earnings report, Twitter warned that user growth will continue to stall and profitability is unlikely any time soon. Its focus is now on making itself indispensable again.
Twitter has never been an easy sell to casual users. Dorsey recently conceded that "new users may initially find our product confusing", noting that there's a "perception that our products and services are only useful to users who tweet, or to influential users with large audiences".
The constant tinkering with its core product certainly hasn't helped. The possibility of changing the two features that have defined the platform since its launch - the 140-character limit and the chronological presentation - don't inspire confidence in the platform's staying power against other, more visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
Twitter is doing the right thing in trying to make its product simpler but it risks losing its identity by becoming a noisier version of a Facebook feed. The Lists feature is a great way to split your timeline into categorised groups but without a third party application you can't see them all at once. Twitter is the only social network that gets more frustrating the more you use it.
In addition, Twitter has become an increasingly hostile environment, with countless cases of individuals being publicly shamed on the platform. The dark side of Twitter's collectivist ecosystem is the "snowflake in an avalanche" effect that creates a diffusion of responsibility amongst those who participate in mass shamings. Nobody takes the blame, apart from Twitter itself.
Twitter's reporting system is notoriously difficult to enforce on a platform that encourages handles over real names and requires only a fresh email address to create a new account.
Anyway, editorial censorship is likely to cause a backlash from users who would see it as a slippery slope towards letting people silence any negative attention, however justified. And yet the difference between simply posting a negative opinion about someone and bullying them is difficult to judge even by humans, let alone an automated process.
Making headlines and getting celebrities and world leaders to use your product is great for attracting new users, but it won't keep them there unless you offer them something that's both enjoyable to use and provides genuine value - the huge number of dormant accounts is clear evidence of that.
Twitter is likely to sink more money into R&D and acquisitions in order to overhaul its product. Buying Periscope, a live-streaming video service, was a good start.
But there are still problems with its advertising product and the only way it can fix them is to put its users first and advertisers second. The recent acquisition of cross-platform tech company TellApart, which allows advertisers to remarket to users who aren't logged in or don't have an account, is concerning.
Jack Dorsey recently announced a big restructure of Twitter's staff, slimming down its team and pledging to recruit new top talent. A bit of downsizing isn't such a bad thing for the brand. Perhaps Twitter could benefit from changing its identity from "the big idea that was meant to change the world" to being just another quietly efficient tech company.
Copyright © 2016 Rob Diggle, digital marketing manager, Databroker.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of using social media for your brand in an ad-hoc way, especially when you are starting out. But setting standards for tone and branding on social media sites can be a crucial make or break decision for a fledging business.
When you're looking at social media for your business, there are several things you need to consider - from where your audience is, to making sure your social media pages have a consistent look.
It can be daunting to get your social accounts properly up and running, especially with each platform having their own nuances and tricks to learn, but if you do it right, it can be one of the best moves your business makes.
Here are some key tips for best practice if you're starting to use social media as a new business:
There is no point setting yourself up on social media if your target audience isn't using it too. Your audience's demographic will determine how much you use each social media site. For example, if your target market is young people, you'd be best off focusing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - with about 53% of 18-to-29 year olds on Instagram, 37% on Twitter and even more on Facebook.
Of course, you will have identified your target market when you establish your business. It's also worth browsing on social media platforms to see if your competitors' audiences are there and how much they are using it. You can also track the habits of your target market - if they are using Twitter between 5pm and 10pm, you need to be active during those hours.
Branding is huge for any business, especially a fledging one. If your marketing doesn't match your website, people will not necessarily recognise your brand wherever they find it. The aim of good branding is being able to recognise it at a glance - from your logo to your colour scheme. Social media is a great place to implement your signature look as you can ensure your profile picture, tone and font usage remains the same throughout.
We've all seen businesses who try a little too hard to get noticed. Tagging random people in pictures and posts can generate likes but it doesn't always make for good marketing. And refrain from spamming other people's posts with comments - it may seem like a great way to spread brand awareness but you'll just look like you don't know what you're doing.
Social media can be the best starting point for new businesses, if used properly. It introduces your brand to new customers you normally wouldn't find and provides free advertising. (Or paid if you wish!)
Remember our three magic rules of social media; be where your audience is; make your social media pages consistent with tone and feel; and don't try too hard. If you stick to these best practices, you should get real results from social media.
Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Elena Lockett, digital communications expert, FM Outsource.
Twitter recently made the decision to replace its Favorite button with a Like button giving users a new way to show their appreciation for Tweets.
Of course, Facebook has been using this feature for years. This sudden change at Twitter may have come as a shock to the system for avid social media users, but it's not the first time that something like this has happened. In 2013, taking a leaf out of Twitter's book, Facebook added a panel showing trending hashtags to its homepage.
Social media platforms seem to be slowly blending into one and to prove it, here are three examples of social media features that are now spread across a multitude of platforms.
To appeal to new users, Twitter has swapped its Favorite feature for a Like feature, symbolised by a heart. According to Twitter, newcomers often found the Favorite feature (with its star symbol) confusing and were unsure what they should use it for.
Crucially for businesses, it's likely that companies that use Twitter will get more Likes than they did Favorites because liking something has a much lower barrier than making it your Favourite. However, this move by Twitter could reduce the number of retweets and these currently generate the most social reach for many firms.
It's hard to ignore the surge in video across all social media channels.
Recently, Facebook introduced an auto-play feature, making it impossible to avoid the viral videos that fill our news feeds. Image-sharing platform Instagram also introduced a 15-second video feature, responding to the micro-video craze established by Vine. Twitter rolled out 30-second videos for tweets and began offering promoted video ads. Even Pinterest unveiled Cinematic Pins, a GIF-like video feature.
Video sharing has even created micro-celebrities, including Cian Twomey, an Irish Facebook user who rose to fame after posting videos of himself impersonating his girlfriend. Cian's Facebook page now has over three million Likes.
Anyone who has been tagged in an unflattering photo on Facebook will be unhappy to find out that Twitter has also adopted this feature. Rather than listing the names of the people in the tweet, users can now tag them in the photo.
Thankfully, anyone tagged in a photo can amend or delete the tag themselves. The photo will only appear in the original Tweeter's stream, unless tagged users choose to retweet. One thing worth knowing about this feature is that the default setting for private accounts is to not allow any tagging.
Like it or not, it's clear that social media channels are slowly converging on a single set of standards.
Copyright © 2015 Jessica Phillips, account executive at Stone Junction.
The stakes have never been higher when it comes to customer service; 46% of shoppers in the UK under 25 use social media to comment on their customer experience.
Amazon's Jeff Bezos describes a brand as "what other people say about you when you're not in the room". But today's customers are less discreet - in fact they are quite happy to shout about you on social media if you get it wrong. So how can you use social media to improve the customer service you provide?
According to a study by American Express, companies that respond to and resolve complaints via social media see 21% more sales than companies that handle complaints on the telephone or in written form.
Social media savvy consumers have higher expectations, but they'll spend more when they get good service and quickly ditch a company when they don't. So when you respond well, in real time, customers are impressed and become more loyal.
As a result, those taking a social approach to customer service are raising the stakes significantly in their favour. You'll now even see big brands signing off tweets with the first name of the person that wrote the tweet to add a personal face to the communications.
Digital is a great leveller. With so much choice for consumers, there's no room for average, mediocre or just okay. That means a smaller business offering the personal touch can really stand out.
Businesses built on products that truly deliver - with customer care that is personal and responsive - are creating genuine competitive advantage despite their limited budgets.
This is how King of Shaves - as a start-up with little budget - became a strong challenger brand in a market dominated by billion-dollar rival, Gillette. Up against their £40m UK advertising budget they used an incredibly personal service on social media to create genuinely happy customers who then went on to do their marketing for them.
Social is more than just a way to get your message out there; it's also fantastic for listening to your audience, responding to their needs and tracking your competition.
And it is great for getting feedback from your current customers and new prospects. Feedback can be given on your profile or it can be what people are saying about you in the feeds. So listen up; both positive and negative feedback will help make your business better and will make you more interactive on social.
At the heart of social customer service is transparency and honesty, but this isn't always easy when things go wrong. It is at this point that many brands try to stop anything negative going online but this can quickly backfire. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to be great - recognising that by responding to a criticism in a positive way you will often impress that customer, as well as all the others listening in on the conversation.
We all have those heart-in-the-mouth moments. Launching our social sharing tool Openr we've certainly had a few - including our entire domain not being available and users having to take to Twitter to tell us about the issues.
The trick is to treat customers as you would want to be treated yourself. Always respond to comments and when things do go wrong, make sorry the first word. Think about it from their perspective - they don't care if the issue wasn't actually your fault. It isn't their fault either, so sorry is the first step to making it up to them.
It seems strange that social media - a technology - is making businesses more human, honest and transparent, but it is undoubtedly raising the bar for customer service. Those that embrace it are standing out for all the right reasons.
One of the tried and tested ways to establish your business in your sector is to win an award. An industry accolade is an independent evaluation of your firm and a public recognition of your worth - and it's something that your customers are more likely to trust than your own marketing material.
Most business owners already know this - and yet many fail to take full advantage of a win and leverage it for the massive authority building that it provides.
Here are five ways to get more mileage out of an award:
Writing a press release can be one of the best ways to leverage an award. Not only does it increase your media exposure, but it also provides core content that you can adapt and use in a wide range of marketing materials – such as on your blog, on social media channels and to send in emails.
Potential clients often visit your website to look for proof of what you do, and the quality of what you do. An awards section will help this tremendously.
Convert your press release into a blog. Details of your win will persuade anyone that is sitting on the fence that you are credible and it will further reassure those who already believe in what you do.
Share links on your social media channels to your press release, any media coverage and your blog post. Share a snippet from your press release; something short, sweet and compelling, in line with the tone of your business.
Include a picture from the awards night. Social shares with photos tend to capture attention better than those without. Sharing to your social media is essential as many consumers look to social channels to find out more about you and gauge your quality.
Using your press release as a starting point, write a short announcement to those who have opted in to receive your emails. Upload any relevant photos to your Facebook or other social media platforms. Then place a link to the album within your email. This helps encourage readers to share via their own channels.
Gaining social shares contributes not only to your authority but to your "social signals" which is great for search engine optimisation (SEO).
Towards the end of the email mention how to get in touch, or flag up one of your latest offers, to encourage prospects to convert.
Take a break in your day-to-day activities and really celebrate this achievement.
This is an opportunity to build authority with the public and to foster a sense of achievement amongst your employees. It is their win as well and they need to see that you appreciate their contribution to the business.
This will allow you to get to know your team better and have a good time with them. Plus, it will contribute to motivating your team to keep your business on a trajectory of greatness.
Putting into action these five steps whenever you win an award may take some time out of your schedule. However, the time taken to leverage something like this is worth it for the authority building that has far reaching effects with your customers and with your team.
Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.