Instagram is a social network that allows you to share photos and videos. It has a lot in common with Twitter, in that people can 'follow' you and the photos and videos posted are available publicly by default
Instagram launched in October 2010 and more than 400 million people use it regularly. Many brands and businesses have a presence on this social network, often using it to share product and company photos and to build relationships with potential customers.
Why should your business use Instagram?
Visual content is incredibly popular across social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. And Instagram focuses on the power of visuals, by allowing people to share and comment on images and videos.
This means it can slot in alongside other social networks to provide you with a specific channel to attract people who like to view and browse images.
It's also easy to connect Instagram to Twitter and Facebook, so you can cross-post images to all these social networks at once. (Instagram is owned by Facebook, so it's no surprise these social networks work well together.)
To have a real impact on Instagram, you need to do more than just post images and videos. You should engage with other Instagram users, commenting on their contributions and replying to people who comment on yours.
Instagram is informal, so it's a good way to add personality to your business, show your staff in action and what goes on behind the scenes. If you subscribe to the idea that a 'picture is worth a thousand words', then you could communicate frequently through Instagram.
For instance, you could use it to:
- show off images of new products;
- post photos of your employees at work (or having fun);
- showcase how customers use your products;
- demonstrate your manufacturing process in a short video;
- ask customers to submit photos of your products.
Although Instagram can be accessed from your computer, you need to use the Instagram mobile app to upload, edit and share images. If you don't own a smart phone or tablet, you won't be able to use Instagram effectively.
This may help you fit Instagram into your schedule, because you can take your smart phone out whenever you have a minute or two to spare. A good strategy is to use Instagram in short, sharp bursts – a few minutes each, perhaps three or four times a day.
How to set up your business on Instagram
Your can create an Instagram account for your business in just a few minutes.
1. Get the Instagram mobile app
2. Enter some basic information
Once you've installed the app, run it and select the sign up option. You'll need to enter your email address and create a username and password. You'll also have to confirm your email address via a message you'll be sent.
As with Twitter, your username is important. It's a good idea to incorporate your company name - and to use the same username as on other social networks, if you're already signed up to them.
3. Start following other Instagram users
It's important to make connections on Instagram - people will follow you, but you should follow other accounts you're interested in, too.
Instagram will help you discover people and businesses you know who are also using it. During sign up, it'll ask for access to your Facebook friends and the contact list from your mobile device, in order to see which of those people are on Instagram.
You can always perform these searches later (just tap Suggestions for You in the app), so you might prefer to finish creating your profile first.
As you use Instagram, it will suggest other accounts you could follow. This can help you find other relevant people and businesses on the service.
Algorithm changes made in 2016 mean that Instagram users no longer get a chronological feed. One way to ensure you don’t miss posts from Instagram users that are important to you is by engaging with them. By liking, sharing and commenting on your favourites, Instagram will show you those people's posts more often.
You can also "opt in" to people's posts by selecting "Turn On Post Notifications" from the three bar menu when you are looking at their latest post - this way you'll get notifications every time that person posts something new.
4. Add extra profile details
You should establish a strong profile for your business on Instagram. People will view this when deciding whether to follow you, so try to provide helpful information.
To edit your profile, tap the cog icon at the top of your screen, then choose Edit Profile.
- It's important to upload a profile picture. You might use the logo of your company or a photo of yourself (if you're a one-person company or freelance). Profile pictures help people recognise your business easily.
- You should add a bio. Tell people about your business - keep it concise and interesting. Remember that showing some personality will attract more followers.
- Add the address of your company website - or your blog, if you have one.
You might notice an option to switch to a private account. Don't choose this if you want to be found by potential contacts and customers. It prevents your photos and videos being seen publicly, making it hard for people to find you.
5. Start posting photos and videos
This is the most important step of the lot. As you start posting photos and videos on Instagram, your profile will increase and it'll become easier for other people to find you.
- You need to use the app to upload photos and videos. Just tap the middle button in the line at the bottom of the app's main screen. You can shoot a photo or video, or choose from your existing library.
- Instagram offers a range of filters that can be applied to photos and videos in order to create unusual effects. You can explore these once you've taken a photo or video.
- It's a good idea to add a caption to your image (this makes it easier for people to find when they search). If there are people in your photo, you can tag them. This identifies them via their Instagram username.
- You can add multiple images to a post to create an album.
Remember, any photos and videos that you post to Instagram will be visible publicly.
Instagram Stories was launched in 2016; this feature lets you share multiple moments in your day and turn them into "stories". You can share photos and videos and amend them with text and drawing tools - they will then appear together in a slideshow format. To avoid over-posting, these stories disappear after 24 hours and do not appear in your feed or profile grid.
You’ll see stories from people you follow in a bar at the top of your feed - when there’s something new, their profile photo will have a colourful ring around it. You can view someone’s story by tapping on their profile photo. You can also tap and send a private message to that person on Instagram Direct; however, there are no likes or public comments.
How to use Instagram in your business
Once you've set up your account, try and sign in to Instagram at least once a day. To begin with, aim to start following and interacting with people, and try to post a few interesting photos or videos.
As time goes on, you'll get a feeling for how to make Instagram work for your business.
Follow people in your niche
You can't expect many people to follow you on Instagram unless you follow others too. Spend some time searching for people who you think might have something in common with your business.
For instance, if you run a café, you might start following people who use Instagram to document their love of coffee.
You can also like and comment on photos from people in your niche. This will help you get noticed and build your own following.
Add other social networks
If you already have an established presence on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, use the Linked Accounts option to connect them to your Instagram account.
This will allow you to post Instagram photos and videos to your other accounts too - hopefully attracting people to follow you on Instagram.
Experiment with filters, edits and captions
You can create a vast number of effects by combining Instagram's photo and video filters and editing tools. Don't be afraid to experiment. Attractive, unusual and quirky images may attract more interest than straightforward photos - and the vast range of filters is one of the things that has made Instagram so popular.
Don't neglect your captions, either. You can encourage people to respond to you by posing a question. As with Twitter, you can use hashtags (like #trainers) to help people who are searching for posts about particular subjects.
Adding a location to posts may also help attract followers in your local area.
Try different approaches
Keeping these things in mind will help you use Instagram effectively:
- Instagram is a creative, visual medium. Try to do something out of the ordinary with your photos, while still bringing some benefit to your company. For instance, perhaps you can show teaser photos of a new product, taken from odd or unusual angles.
- You can find new contacts by searching for messages containing specific words. To help others find you, use keywords in your posts, too.
- A good way to build a following is to run a competition or encourage contributions on a theme. For instance, you can offer a prize to the person who takes a photo of your product in the most unusual location.
- Instagram is a great platform to show the more laid-back side of your business. For instance, photos or videos from a company outing or office fundraising event.
- Try to establish a loose theme. It's tempting to post images of anything and everything, but Instagram will work better if there are some themes running through your posts. For instance, you could focus on photos relating to your company culture, and your products in the real world.
As with many social networks, Instagram can seem confusing when you first start using it. But if you get stuck in - and search online for advice - you'll soon feel more comfortable.
To get to grips with things, you can also try signing up as a personal user first.
Explore Instagram business tools
In addition to the official Instagram app, there are a number of apps and tools that can help you use this social network more effectively.
- One way to grab attention on Instagram is to include text, logos or other graphics on your photos. Apps like Over and Quick can do this quickly.
- Instagram's own Hyperlapse app lets you shoot inventive timelapse videos.
- Tools like Iconosquare can provide detailed statistics about how your Instagram posts are performing.
There are thousands of other apps that work with your Instagram account. Try searching online to start exploring what you can do. Instagram also runs its own business blog for inspiration and ideas.
Instagram has now rolled out business profiles; much like business pages on Facebook, they provide extra tools including "Insights" analytics and "Promote" which allows you to "boost" posts. Business profiles also have a contact button and a linkable location tag. You'll need to make sure your Facebook page is connected to your Instagram account to get a business profile.
If your business only does one thing on Instagram…
Make sure your profile is easy for users to find for and that you're posting at least once or twice a week. This will tell readers what you can offer them - precisely and concisely.