I'll admit it.
I came late to the Instagram party.
You post pictures?
And you can't share them?
Although my understanding was a little rudimentary at first, once I saw the way it could showcase products and connect with customers who weren't necessarily on Facebook or Twitter, I was hooked.
At its most basic, Instagram is all about pretty pictures and finding creative ways to show off your world. But beyond that, like all social media, it is about building community around shared interests and passions. But instead of using words, you use images.
Instagram, and the expectation of beautiful product photos, is changing the way businesses present their products and also changing the way they talk about products. If a picture is worth a thousand words, which words do you still need to use? That is where informative, helpful captions come into play.
Let’s assume you’ve already set up your Instagram account, and it has the same name as your business. Why? To make is easier to find you! If your business’ name is already claimed, you may need to get a little creative, but try to stay as close to your actual business name as possible so customers can find you.
You’ll want to completely fill out your profile and add a link to your main website. The link in your profile is the only place links work on Instagram. In captions, on photos, or in comments, they are just text and not clickable.
Let's also assume you are already planning on watermarking your photos in some way (I like the Phonto app, but there are others), and you already know that Instagram is designed to be used from your smart phone/tablet and know there isn't much you can do with it on an actual computer.
How to use Instagram for Business
Instagram for businesses works on three levels. Each are equally important.
The first level is the ability to showcase your products in beautiful, fun, and engaging ways. Sure, you can hold your product up and take a picture. Or you can lay it on the floor and take a picture. Or prop it up against a decent background. But what if you could use your photo to show how amazing and wonderful your product is? The right lighting, a good angle, and some basic props can really make even a simple product shine!
If you need inspiration, search for magazines and social media accounts that are within your niche. Don’t copy (because that would be rude), but pay attention to how they are using light, props, angles, and textures to create interesting photos.
If you’ve never taken photographs designed to be seen by customers and the general public, it can be a little intimidating when you start! I really like this article about how to take better photos. Also, don’t be afraid to get close up, you might sell something that has gorgeous detail – show it off!
Once you take the photo and you are happy with it, it is time to think about the caption. If you are selling a product, I like the idea of listing the price within the caption. Why? One of the drawbacks of Instagram is that you can’t link directly to a product page, so there is no easy way for a user to learn more about a specific product in a photo. So why not give them all the information they need in the caption?
The second level is discovery via hashtags. The correct use of hashtags is crucial for viability and growing a following. If you aren’t clear on the purpose and use of hashtags, think of them like a giant filing system. Everything image using a specific hashtag gets “filed” in that drawer. Pretty easy, right?
There are a few things to keep in mind:
Singular vs. plural hashtags – There is a difference, so make sure you are using the one you intended.
Misspelling – If you misspell a hashtag it gets filed all by itself (or sent to live on the Island of Misfit Hashtags).
Volume – There are some hashtags that are wildly popular and everyone uses them. Which means you can use them (preferably during peak hours so you get more views), but it also means the competition is fierce and your photos will have a harder time standing out. On the other hand, there are some hashtags that have low volume. Which means you might be using a hashtag no one is looking at or even one that one user has used 2,000 times over four years.
Keep these in mind as you research hashtags. You are looking for a mix of hashtags that includes both semi-popular and very specific (but widely used) hashtags. If you are a local business, use your city as a hashtag. If your location is in an established neighborhood, use that as a hashtag.
If, for example, I was a book seller in Portland, I would want to use hashtags like:
#Portland (3,959,925 posts)
#pdx (2,561,982 posts)
#bookstore (487,390 posts)
#amreading (103, 280 posts)
As well as using the author and the name of the book as a hashtag. I'd also spend some time looking for Portland and book-related hashtags with under 10,000 posts.
You might think that something like #pdxbooks or #booksinportland would be a popular hashtag, but it isn’t. In this case, it might make sense it use those hashtags anyway because after 20-30 posts, you’ll be the dominant account using that hashtag – which can be great for branding, future contests, or gaining the interest of book lovers in Portland.
How many hashtags is too many? Everyone has a different opinion. I’ve seen articles that suggest posts with three hashtags get the best interaction, but I think you also have to take into account the size of the social media following. An established brand can use fewer hashtags because their reach and client base is already established.
On the other hand, 25 hashtags always looks excessive and in many cases it is overkill.
I like the balance of 7-15 hashtags, depending on what serves the photo and the audience the best. Experiment and see what works best for you.
The third level is community, or making friends. If you are simply posting image after image and not engaging your audience, then you are broadcasting instead of being social.
This is social media, which means this is your chance to interact with new people. That doesn’t mean being salesy and pushy. It means being a genuine human being and making friends.
You can do that by responding to comments left on your posts. You can use hashtags to find others who are interested in the same things you are interested in. You can use it to connect with other complimentary businesses and support each other.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to using Instagram for business because there are always specific nuances and unique things to think about that apply only to your business, but I hope this has been helpful!
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.