Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… We all have a substantial understanding of these social media and the advantages of using them for marketing your business. But what about Instagram?

Did you know that Instagram is the fastest growing social medium? Contrary to what some believe, it is not just a site kids and celebrities visit to get an ego boost from posting endless selfies.

There are more than 600 million active users on Instagram every day, averaging a total of 3.5 billion photo likes every day (Instagram, 2016).

With those numbers, it should be no surprise that Instagram receives higher engagement than other sites. Yes, even including the infamous Facebook and Twitter.

But why, you ask?

Instagram is Pioneering Visual Marketing

While content marketing is still superior, visual marketing is quickly becoming a contender. And Instagram is a visual marketing wonderland.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words then one could argue that Instagram has far more to offer than, say, Twitter—where you’re limited to 280 characters.

This social media site gives users the ability to create a story with their visual content in a way that only words can’t.

Brands that are Experiencing Success on Instagram

Some brands, like Nike, focus on their products.

This post on Instagram is simply a 20-second video with no words that showcases the new Nike Pro Hijab. You don’t hear about the features, you just see what it looks like on pro-athlete Muslim women.

Yet that one video has garnered over 2 million views and thousands of comments.

The first line of the caption reads “Sport is for everyone.” (I love that line.)

The product is so revolutionary and inclusive that even if you don’t wear a hijab, you kind of want to learn more.

Nike does a great job on Instagram revealing an enticing bite of their product and inviting you to further explore their products.

Some businesses make their brand on Instagram about community—like Smoothie King.

These are our sweet little Level 3 team girls at Team Central Gymnastics (where I used to work full time) showing off their smoothies.

Smoothie King does a great job at optimizing their content in posts like these. If you’ve ever been into a Smoothie King, one of the first things you notice is the screen with a feed of all the people posting about Smoothie King on Instagram. Nearly everybody gets featured with Smoothie King.

Not only does this incentivize local Smoothie King enthusiasts to support the business, the majority of their content is user-generated. That’s a pretty clever social media marketing model.

So how can you make the most of your marketing efforts with Instagram?

This largely depends on your marketing goals. What kind of image do you want to put in people’s minds when they think of your business? With Instagram, the answer to this question is more literal than in other social media sites.

But like with any form of digital marketing, there are specific ways to make the most out of your efforts.

Hashtags

Instagram has grown so quickly that it’s worth your time and effort to do research on keywords―kind of like your SEO keyword research.

Hashtags are really just keywords with a “#” in front. People can search hashtags on Instagram. With that in mind, you want to know what hashtags are getting the most search volume and use those that are most relevant to your photos.

30 is the limit on the number of hashtags you can include in your post.

And you don’t have to find a way to naturally squeeze them into the caption on your photo either. It’s acceptable practice on Instagram to list all your hashtags at the end of your caption.

However, it’s still important to use hashtags that are relevant to your photo. You’re not doing yourself any favors by stuffing in all the currently popular hashtags if they aren’t relevant to your photo.

When your photo pops on a hashtag search and it’s irrelevant to the search, people will just scroll past it. Don’t waste your energy with irrelevant hashtags.

You can also optimize your posts by asking your followers to use similar hashtags to get more exposure. Especially when you are holding a contest…

Contests and Giveaways

Prizes are a great motivator on social media, but particularly on Instagram. Remember why Instagram users are there in the first place—the images.

This is such a great opportunity for branding. Asking your followers to post “the best” photo with a particular hashtag by incentivizing it with a prize not only gets you more exposure but uniquely positions your business.

Contests on Instagram can truly help paint what your brand looks like. And when you pick a good hashtag to pair with the contest, anyone who searches that hashtag will likely discover your business. Plus— come on, giveaways are fun for everyone!

Featuring Followers

Interacting with followers on any social media site is good, as it makes your brand more accessible. But the fact that Instagram is all about photos really makes interaction that much more personable.

Featuring your followers on Instagram not only makes them feel important and more motivated to support your brand, but it also motivates other followers to interact with you.

Who doesn’t like feeling important? Especially on Instagram.

I like to feature my clients, my supporters, local business owners, or people I just think are really cool that deserve a little love.

This is one of my clients, Michelle, whose work and philosophies I really admire.

Featuring your followers helps give your brand a more accessible, communal feel.

Since my Instagram is about my business, my life, and my purpose, images like these of people I’m involved with (along with a well-written caption) goes a long way in building relationships around my brand.

I totally recommend this practice for your own brand. Plus, those who get featured are more likely to reciprocate if you feature them first!

Tools for Managing Instagram

There are a number of tools for helping you make the most out of Instagram.

Websta supplies you with the hashtags that people are using the most. It also allows you to filter by location―a really useful feature if your business relies on local marketing (or if you’re in a niche like me that doesn’t really fall into obvious hashtags).

The tool Iconosquare allows you to create a calendar of posts in a visual format. This layout helps to tell a story with the photos you’re planning to use.

Tailwind is a unique tool that allows you to bulk upload images and then schedule them. It has a useful hashtag feature as well that allows you to save groups of hashtags and add them to posts with just one click. I’m still waiting for Tailwind to open up its hashtag analysis feature to small business owners like myself (right now it’s only available to agencies) but it’s still a useful tool nonetheless.

For now, Instagram is still being stingy with their API which means that there’s no auto-posting on Instagram. You can only schedule posts and get notifications to post. We’re all (im)patiently awaiting the day that Instagram starts allowing third-party apps to auto-post for us.

Conclusion

This social media platform brings customer experience to the visual forefront. In this day and age of brand saturation, we are increasingly more likely to believe in a brand if we can visually see that it creates an experience we desire—rather than simply reading a review about a brand experience.

Additionally, with Instagram’s feature of only allowing hyperlinks within the bio of your profile, more high-quality traffic is driven from Instagram.

This is perhaps the most genuine of social media sites for customer leads because the user must put in so much effort to get them directed to your website.

Explore your options. What is your goal in marketing? Think about how you can manifest that goal on Instagram. How can you transform your efforts visually?

Check out some of the top brands on Instagram today for more examples of the best Instagram usage:

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