Instagram is one of the fastest growing social media networks out there and if you it's no surprise that more and more businesses are finding ways to turn it into a valuable marketing tool. While Facebook might seem like the obvious choice for most businesses, there's no denying the fact that Instagram is powerful way to reach customers and build relationships.
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Instagram today looks much different than Instagram of 5 years ago -- or even 5 months ago -- and the way we see businesses using it to connect with followers is a beautiful thing. The visual environment of Instagram, with its lack of clickable links in descriptions, means your audience can be captivated and kept busy, gliding through your feed and double-tapping to show their appreciation.
It can also mean that if your posts aren't grabbing and keeping their attention, then they've already swiped by you without a second thought.
It's obvious to say that Instagram is GREAT for shops with visually appealing products, but what exactly are these successful Instagram marketers doing that grows their following and boosts their sales? Let's look at 8 things successful brands are doing on Instagram... and let's see how you can emulate their social media marketing prowess!
1. They are consistent
There are a few different types of consistency that I'm talking about here. One, is that they are showing up daily, or several times a day in many cases. They have made Instagram a priority for their business and because of this, they'll remain in your mind -- repetition is key. You want your followers to instantly know it's you.
Another is that their style is consistent. If you've ever scrolled through your Instagram feed and spotted an image that you KNEW was from a certain person or brand, before you looked at the username, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. You want your images to look familiar to your audience -- this boosts the trust factor because they know what to expect from you.
Grab your phone and open up your Instagram account. Take a peek at those first 9 images that you see when you view your grid. Are they cohesive? Are you using the same filters? Do they give the impression that they belong together.
The brands above have done a great job to make sure potential followers get an overall view of what they're going to get when they hit that little FOLLOW button.
A quick and simple way to start converting your feed into one that has a cohesive style is to limit the number of filter options available when you post a photo. You can go into your settings and deselect the filters that you don't want to use, keeping only the ones that will you. For instance -- I keep only one colour filter and one black and white filter. I adjust from there, but all of my photos will have one or the other.
Select your photo, then click "manage". You can select or deselect filters so that only some show up when you are ready to filter-ize your photo.
Brands who are doing this really well are often using other photo editing apps on their mobile devices as well. I've put together a list of awesome Instagram apps that will help you with your photo taking, editing, and sharing. Just enter your email below to get instant access.
2. They communicate
It's the social part of social media that so many brands forget about, but those who are doing it well are reaping the rewards. Serving your community, engaging with customers and would-be-followers, and showing up on Instagram are seriously beneficial because they show that you actually give a shit. Think back to the last time a brand personally addressed you after you commented on a photo of theirs. Feels pretty darn good, eh? Now think about how easily you can connect with your customers by simply responding to them, helping them, or asking them a question. Don't be faceless or absent from your account -- let people know you're there.
Katja Presnal from Skimbaco (@skimbaco) sets the bar for personal interaction. She always takes the time to respond to comments on her images, growing an authentic community of people who can't wait to see her next snapshot.
3. They aren't afraid to get personal
Whether you are a solopreneur or a big wig company with 1000s of employees, you can still share your own sort of personal content on Instagram. Personal can mean a look behind the scenes of your business, personal can mean a snapshot of your morning before heading to the office, or it can mean letting down the curtain and sharing from the heart. Share a mistake, share something that brings out an emotional response, share something that reminds your followers that you and the people behind your biz are HUMAN.
Moorea Seal (@mooreaseal) does this very well. Here she is sharing personal info while tying it back into her business. Beautifully done.
4. They put serious thought into their hashtags
Instagram is the one social network where hashtags make a HUGE impact. While hashtags are great on Twitter too, the limited space makes it less of an opportunity to use the tags you really want to use. In the 140 characters of Twitter, more hashtags = less value. So you really only want to use 1-2.
With Instagram, however, you can use more -- but there's a GOOD way to do this and a really BAD way, so here's my advice: If you're using hashtags in your Instagram post, put them in your second comment.
You want to do this so that it becomes hidden when people start commenting on your post. You want your first update to be nice and clean -- so if you're using 10-30 hashtags (which sounds like a LOT, I know, but if they are relevant and helpful) it's ok to use these in the second comment since they won't always been seen as your followers scroll through.
Edited February 2016 to add: With the newer layout of your Instagram posts, the main feed now only sees your first three lines of text. You can continue to add your hashtags to the second comment, or you can add hard return, then add your hashtags to the end of your first comment. The first three lines of your post will be visible, followed by a "..." leading to the rest of your comment and tags!
So, how do brands know which hashtags they should be using? They search for them! Make up a few that you think might be popular in your niche and that will relate to your post, then search for them right on Instagram. If there are thousands of uses, then you've found a good fit -- just be sure to scroll through the feed and make sure you want to be included in that search. Some good examples might be #freelance, #fallfashion, or #coffeeshop -- just make sure they fit your brand and the message you're conveying in that post.
Some hashtags denote Instagram communities -- another great way to connect with others and grow your following.
You can see how Rachel Allene (@rachel_allene) uses tags in her second comment. Some are specific to her niche (#handlettering, #moderncalligraphy) while some are communities (#theeverydayproject, #typeoftheday).
If you add all of your hashtags to your first comment it will look spammy. Tuck those babies down into the second comment where they'll soon disappear, while still giving you the advantage of being connected and searchable.
Note: If you're using a hashtag specific to YOUR BRAND and you're using that as a way to connect your followers, I would say that hashtag could go in your first comment. You'll see a great example of what I mean later in this post with @thenectarcollective.
5.They give back to their community
Giveaways and contests are alive and well on Instagram, my friends. We love when we see brands treating their loyal following to something special -- like this cool skateboard deck giveaway from Slingshot Coffee (@slingshotcoffee).
Make sure your contest is a) easy to enter, b) isn't spammy, and c) is desired by your following. If you're not a product based brand, or your product is too costly or big to giveaway (ie. if you're a real estate agent or sell cars) you can always reward followers with a Starbucks or Amazon card instead.
Note: Always be sure to check in on the current Instagram promotion guidelines before hosting a giveaway on your Instagram account. Better safe than sorry.
6. They re-purpose their instagram content
While I would NOT recommend doing a blanket copy on every single Instagram post to your Twitter or Facebook, there are great ways to share your images across your social media networks that don't look like the exact same content each time.
An effective way to do this is to re-share your Instagram images with new copy on another social media network. Instead of selecting the options to share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. when you share your image, just share it on Instagram with an Instagram-specific message/formatting. Then, click the three dots beside your image to bring up the menu and click "Share". Change your text before sharing on your other networks so that it fits the vibe of each social media platform -- ie. less text to fit in a tweet, more text for Facebook.
You can also go into your smartphone album and then upload the images to whatever networks you want without using Instagram -- you can just use the Facebook or Twitter app. For Twitter, just keep in mind that images will be cropped so only the middle shows in the timeline. Make sure this is the part you want people to see at a first glance.
7. They feature their followers
This is a wonderful way that brands are using to connect with their followers and to build a rapport. Brands are regramming fan photos (i.e. sharing a customer's Instagram photo on their own Instagram account with credit) by asking customers to use a hashtag (often the business name or slogan) so that they are easily found. One shop that is doing this really well is, again, Moorea Seal (@mooreaseal). They ask followers to tag their pics with #mooreaseal for a chance to be featured. This creates community, gives beautiful social proof for the brand, and makes customers feel special when their photos are chosen. Rewarding your followers for being in your tribe is a big deal!
Another shop that's doing this really well is Freshly Picked (@freshlypicked). They feature cute photos of kids wearing their moccasins -- and you can't help but love them! Be sure to tag the owner of the photo when you are regramming it on your Instagram account! You never want to share an image that isn't yours without giving and internet high five to the rightful owner.
8. They optimize their profile link
Since you only get ONE clickable link on your Instagram account, you want to make the most of it. While many brands stick to having their business' website link in this space, many brands are utilizing the space by changing it frequently to correspond with new product, current promotions, contests, or news. If your brand has a blog, you can use this concept to share your most recent blog post, as XO Sarah (@xosarahmorgan) does. The image shows exactly what the post is about, there's a little more information in the caption, and she lets followers know there's a link in the profile.
Each time she creates a new Instagram post for one of her blog posts, she will update the link in her Instagram profile. (It's easiest to do this on the web interface, but can be done from your smartphone as well.)
Mariah Coz from Femtreprenuer (@mariahpcoz) does a great job of this. When you click the link in her profile, you are sent to a page where you can get a free training. She's even mentioned it in her profile.
Amy Bellgardt of Mom Spark (@momspark) uses the #linkinprofile hashtag to let followers know they can find more DIY details when they click over to her bio.
Some ideas for optimizing your bio link:
- Link to an opt-in page for your newsletter
- Send customers to a sale or promotion on your website
- Update it every time you share a new post on your blog (use Bitly to shorten and customize)
- Put a call to action in your images to let people know they should click the link (a simple "Link in bio!" or #linkinprofile works well)
- Change this link often so there are always new reasons for followers to click
If you're not already taking advantage of your one link, hop over to your account NOW and switch it up!
9. They embrace seasonal content
You don't have been be "salesy" to share seasonal content on your Instagram page. Many brands are doing a wonderful job at expressing the vibe of a certain season on their page -- be in Christmas, summer vacation, or back to school -- which results in to relationship building throughout their following.
I love when brands hop on board for holidays because it shows their human side and helps them connect. This one's a double whammy, as you can see they're ALSO using #LinkInProfile to guide followers to their bio. Good job Indigo! (@chaptersindigo).
Another big brand that does a great job with seasonal content is Starbucks (@starbucks). Autumn is a big season for them, so of course they're going to share cool pics! Around the holiday season they do a wonderful job of sharing their cozy vibe while also sharing gift ideas to boost sales.
There's a fine line between sharing lifestyle images and promoting your products -- once you find your sweet spot of doing BOTH, your account will never seem ad-ridden or spammy.
10. They provide value
If you're using Instagram as a brand, your main goal -- as with any social media network -- is to GIVE VALUE first and to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS second. One will seamlessly flow into the next and without the first, the second is much more difficult.
Entrepreneur Melyssa Griffin (@thenectarcollective) does a great job of offering value through her account. She builds trust through offering valuable information and tips to her audience.
TIP: If you're wondering how Melyssa is using line-breaks within her post, try this tip which will help you to format your posts while also taking up more space the Instagram feed:
- Type out your post in another program, such as Notepad, on the iPhone.
- Copy/paste it into your Instagram status. Your formatting, which you can't replicate from within Instagram, will remain when you share your image.
This is a great way to make your content more easily to consume by your followers. Just look at those likes! We can see how Melyssa's community is engaging with her posts!
You can also see that she is using the hashtag #TCNtip which is a great way to catalogue your posts so that new followers can see them all at once if they've just found you.
Is your brain buzzing with ideas on how you can boost your Instagram prowess?
I hope you're walking away with some fun ways to make your Instagram account even more awesome! Don't feel like you have to implement every single one of the ideas on your account TODAY, but even trying out one at a time, one week at a time, is going to make a difference.
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