The Rise of Instagram as a Marketing Platform

Before putting together this article, I poked around to find alternative perspectives for social media. I was curious what most people are using social media for. I asked my friends and family, and some other people who weren’t that happy I was separating them from their morning coffee.

The Result?

To the surprise of no one, I found that many of these people used social media for selfies, pictures of cats, and to share their adventures in food. The average person doesn’t seem to know (or care) that social media has been such a powerful tool for global businesses, as highlighted by the infographic below about Instagram.

instagram-business

The value of social media has always been underestimated. An article from 2012 predicted that only 57% of CEOs in the world would be engaging customers on social media within 5 years. By 2015 – just three years later – the percentage of CEOs engaging their users via social media is up to 80%.

If you’ve been given the chance to engage audiences using social media, and you aren’t taking advantage of it, then you’re really missing out on great opportunities. Advertising on social meda drives the majority of online business and it reaches out to every aspect of business.

No matter whether you’re a niche pizza place or a massive conglomerate, everyone and their mother is on social media. One of the best horses to bet on now and for years to come is Instagram.

Power of Imagery

Have you ever seen a prompt that told you that you should join Instagram? Did you ignore it and dismiss it as being annoying? If you did – and you’re a business owner – then you should be kicking yourself. You’re just tossed away the keys to the business big leagues.

Instagram has managed to claim a lot of the marketing strength of Facebook through brilliance and simplicity. Instagram is so good in fact – and so much better than Facebook – that Facebook have bought it for themselves.

Starting Out

There are a few plans you need to make before hopping on Instagram and getting started.

Instagram isn’t niche-dependent in the slightest. The only thing limiting you on the platform is your own imagination. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve really seen someone who runs a cookery program moonlight as a hip-hop artist.

The key to Instagram success is finding innovative and creative ways to market yourself and your brand. Find some inspiration online as you’re sure to find competitors coming up with things you would never have imagined that is, quite simply, also better than anything you could have imagined.

Build Your Instagram Strategy

When starting out on Instagram, a great first step is to run a mock campaign. This would be the time to create an Instagram account if you haven’t already yet. Do a little research on what the big players in your niche are using their Instagram accounts for. Find the best ones out there and see if you can improve on them and make them your own.

Your campaign needs realistic and measurable targets and goals. It’s important that you document your progress so get the metrics ready. Things you should consider including are increasing sales, increasing traffic website, and increasing brand awareness.

Creating a mission statement is going to go a long way towards helping you focus. A mission statement will prevent you from treating Instagram like it’s any other social media platform, when it isn’t.

The mission statement should include what you’re using the social account for and the business goal you hope to reach.

Next you need to decide the content that will be posted to the Instagram feed. There are other things that should be planned in advance, including;

  1. Posting frequency
  2. Time of day you’ll make posts
  3. Creating a content calendar
  4. Choosing themes for your content

Keeping a regular posting schedule helps you spread the word to the potential followers that you’re a committed and dependable brand. You should try to reward followers for giving you their time, but you must avoid overdoing it too.

When deciding which times to make your posts, I adopted the good old fashioned method of trial-and-error. I sent my posts out at various times and gauged how my followers responded to them. With the information on hand, you’ll be able to create a great content calendar which details who will make the post, when they will make the post, and just what they will post.

Instagram is a visual tool, which means that themes can be a big deal there. We’ll get into that a little later.

Identity and Brandingg on Instagram

As I just said, Instagram is all about putting together a single, cohesive, visual campaign that reflects your brand. The choices you make will decide the direction the brand will follow. The first thing to do is choosing a color palette that matches your brand identity. Then you must choose the best attention-grabbing filter you can, or make your own and maximize the effect.

KFC provides a great example of what to do. Their Instagram page is filled with warm colors that better enable visitors to identify with the brand. The same red from their advertisements is also splashed around most of their photos and they employ fun hashtags. KFC is a great example of perfect Instagram brand-building.

Getting Started with Instagram

The Instagram app is completely free and compatible with almost every mobile device.

The all-important first step is to choose a username. The username needs to match the name you have on other social media services. This increases your visibility and simplifies the process of discovering the brand. In this case the real name you enter would be the name of the company.

Instagram allows you to create a short bio about the company/brand. There’s also space to insert your URL and I definitely advise taking advantage of it. So companies make creative use of this space to link to special discounts and sales.

Let’s go back to the KFC Instagram page. We’ll see that their link takes you to one specific page on the website. This page could feature seasonal discounts or special offers, depending on the time of year.

Make Posts and Engage the Audience!

It’s time to get started with the good stuff now that you’ve done the important stuff. If you want to engage the audience with Instagram then you need to remember that the platform is primarily mobile-based. As such, any picture you post needs to be optimized to appear just as good on the small screen.

You shouldn’t get lazy and discount quality though. The pictures you use should be high-resolution and optimized completely before being posted to the feed.

When it comes to engagement, this should be you getting to know the customers, or at least other people in the company getting to know them. Engagement should never be automated because customers will notice it immediately and call you out on it. They are smarter than that. You should also follow the people who follow you, particularly if they’ve put some work into their own Instagram profile and it looks good. To put it simply; buying Instagram likes can help boost engagement with the target audience.

Using location tags goes a long way towards getting locals to see and share your content. It can also be a great way to connect with tourists looking for amenities in your area.

Instagram Analytics and Tools

You must have some way to track how the changes to social feeds are affecting the numbers. The way to do this is using a great analytics system and using it to find out how the target audience responds to certain images and albums.

Instagram analytics provide you with everything you need to know. It gives you simple reference points showing just when you made the change and how it affected the campaign.

There are plenty of tools on the market for this job, some of which can be used for free for basic needs, expanding as your company does and taking you to the top of the mountain.

Pixlee

Pixlee entered the market during StartX’s Demo Day in 2013 and has kept up with some of the biggest and best Instagram analytics advancements and marketing tools. The philosophy of Pixlee is to bridge the gap between brands and users that could create advertising opportunities.

What sets Pixlee apart is that they make use of their own proprietary technology – PhotoRank – to assist brands and organizations with finding the right Instagram feeds, photos, and videos to match their image. Pixlee defines itself as an “end-to-end” platform for Instagram marketing, and this is also what I would call them. Another unique function of Pixlee is it allows you to repurpose images. So you could use the photo of your new watch to connect with the manufacturer easier and, who knows, maybe they’ll give you a discount the next time you make a purchase!

Iconosquare(formerly known as Statigram)

iconosquare

You might already be familiar with the earlier version of Iconosquare, known as Statigram. The strength of Statigram is that it can benefit both newbies to the world of social media and as well as the mavens of social media.

Iconosquare is a desktop that provies in-depth analytics such as the number of endorsements you receive, the average value of various attributes such as comments, views, charts on follower growth, and much more – all of which cover the entire life of the Instagram account.

Another great feature of the service is that it gives users the ability to create custom Instagram tabs for their Facebook account to improve engagement across channels. This feature has become less important following the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook, however.

Simply Measured

simply-measured

SimplyMeasured is a tool that caters specifically to social media markters. It gives marketers a high-level summary of their instagram accounts for the purposes of management or for the team in charge. You can also get a free Instagram user report.

Because this tool is web-based, it means having to stay connected while using it. If an account has less than 25,000 followers then it can provide you with comprehensive two-month reports on those accounts. This tool has an incredible number of great features including providing analytical data on average engagement per photo, most active followers, keyword ananlysis of user comments, the best time to post to get maximum engagement, and the best geo-tags and filters for you to use.

InstaFollow

instafollow

InstaFollow is a great tool for both Android and iOS platforms that offers a wealth of information on your followers. Syncing the app to your account enables it to provide you with information including new followers and the follwers who stopped following you, along with a list of people you follow who aren’t following you back. It also makes following and unfollowing users a one-button affair.

Union Metrics

union-metrics

Union Metrics is an online Instagram analytics tool that takes about 2 minutes to work according to the developers. Much like SimplyMeasure, it dives deeply into your instagram account and gives you a wealth of analytics.

Some features of the paid version are included in the free report. This report includes all teh infromation you could possibly want, such as your biggest fans and followers, when the best time to post is, which type of content has the best engagement, and if you are posting too much or too little.

Crowdfire (formerly known as JustUnfollow)

crowd-fire

This free analytics tool for Instagram and Twitter can be accessed on both your mobile device and online. It’s perfectly compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

The app is a customer relationship management tool that provides you with all the statistics you could need to know about an Instagram user and how they interact with your food.

Best Practices

Be Unique; Not Like Everyone Else

Being unique and standing out is great, especially in a world with so many people adopting the approach of “Don’t fix what isn’t broken”. While you can get some ideas from the competition, you need to ensure that they are a part of your niche.

Use the Caption to Paint a Picture

The caption on a photo needs to be short so that people remember it, but also long enough to capture and keep the interest of readers. Intel – one of the biggest names in computers – used elements that appeal to the 18-34 demographic such as building custom pcs, top-end gaming components, and that awesome game Fallout 4.

There’s Nothing Wrong with a Little Competition

Social media platforms are the ideal place to have a contest. Use your account to run giveaways, offer discounts, and run limited-access campaigns to draw attention and engage the audience.

Get Some Major Players to Play for You

Have you ever heard the expression that there’s always a bigger fish in the sea? Social media is definitely a case where this holds true; particularly Instagram. Make friends with the biggest players in your niche and network with them. You need to friend them and follow them. There are some great advantages to having the leaders of your niche following you including getting hashtagged on their post (with a little luck).

Busting the Four Big Instagram Myths

Many people regard Instagram as a revelation with how it created a brand new generation of creative and effective “visual marketers” who know how to spread a message. Despite the popularity and success of Instagram, some people remain unconvinced.

The reasons for this are all assumptions and not an ounce of fact. Let’s take a look at four of the biggest Instagram myths and reveal the truth about them.

  1. Instagram Only Works for Visual Products

The reality is that this is completely untrue. You aren’t handicapped at all if your product isn’t visually appealing. It just means being more creative and making the most of it.

Instagram has plenty of ways to draw attention and increase appeal. Even if the company doesn’t offering anything visually you can still do a good job with Instagram. Show pictures of people working together, picnics, office parties, and the like. There are endless possibilities.

When it’s all said and done, Instagram should be used to reinforce the idea that your company is all about people, and not just a giant advertising billboard.

One extreme example of a service that doesn’t make anything visual is sceptic services. So, if they were able to convince you that they could market visually, you’d be convinced that anything could be marketed visually, right? Well, that’s just what the sceptic industry did. They got very creative; going so far as to create comedy with their truck exteriors.

This includes creative captions such as “Stool Bus”, “Full of Political Promises”, “Dr Pumper”, “You Don’t Want to Hijack Us!” and more. What mattered most is that they were creative and dealing with competition, and it brought out an extreme evolution.

  1. Only Big Brands can Use Instagram

Some people believe only the big names and their big marketing checks can make the most out of Instagram. This is completely false. If you have the time and you don’t mind using some elbow grease, then you can do much more than your budget should allow with Instagram. Classic examples of this are Shwood Eyewear, Mission Bicycle, and Folk Fibers. These brands all started small and are now featured in Instagram blogs; and they achieved their success without spending a ton of money or investing in a huge marketing firm.

They got where they were with intelligent and creative campaigns that turned them into real winners.

  1. Instagram is Just About Posting Pictures

Okay, this one is a little true. But what you have to understand is that images need to convey emotions. Similar to how artists create emotions with colors, you’ll be creating emotions with links, hashtags, and other non-artistic components.

It takes the right kind of images to really captivate the audience and enthrall them. It’s just enough to just post a few things and hope for the best. It takes a little work to get them just right and get the effect you want out of them. Don’t bother posting boring and mundane pictures.

  1. Instagram Sells Images

There was some outcry about the Terms and Service section of Instagram at the end of 2012, but the gray areas were quickly cleaned up by the creators.

The new version of the ToS was released at the start of 2013 and it shows that users are the sole owners of uploaded photos. Instagram isn’t about to take away your pictures and your toys, so don’t let yourself worry about it.

Conclusion

Social media can often be found right at the top of the cultural and technological wave, which is why it’s such a perfect choice for entrepreneurs and established entities. The best part is that starting with social media couldn’t be easier!

I hope that you were able to glean some new knowledge about Instagram from this article, and I wish you nothing but the best on using Instagram to gain maximum exposure!

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