How to get the most out of Instagram for business

instagram logo

There’s an app for that

Make as many jokes as you like about Mark Zuckerberg not understanding how to purchase an app, he knows what suits his business.

Instagram has been a runaway success. The instant integration with social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr makes the sometimes solitary act of taking a photo an instantly more sociable one. And the retro, fuzzy effects users can add to their photos make every person with a camera phone a wannabe David Bailey with a Polariod camera.

When Facebook paid $1m for Instagram two weeks ago many commentators noted that the acquisition was perfectly timed. The Android version had only been released a week previously and a million people downloaded it that day.

The might of Instagram on mobile devices perfectly complements Facebook. And the combination of Instagram’s visual capabilities with Facebook’s social element gives Zuckerberg a fighting chance of staying ahead of Pinterest, which is currently the fastest-growing social media site available. For more info on Pinterest, take a look at my recent blog.

Maximising its use

So with Instagram now part of the Facebook stable, how can you best use it for business? This article presumes you’re on board with using social media as a tool for business. If you’re not sure or new to the idea, you might want to make a start with my article on why you should use social media for business

Instagram is a useful example of one of the cardinal rules of online engagement – go to where your customers already are. More than 30 million iPhone users registered accounts in the 18 months after its launch, and while not all of them will be individuals, that’s a huge number of people using the application.

So get in the game and start by signing up for a corporate account at Instagram’s website. Choose a username, write a brief bio and you’re ready to upload your first picture.

Businesses selling products are the natural users of Instagram, but it can suit many other industries, in particular anyone dealing in the visual – from hairdressers to clothing brands, graphic designers to artists.

Once you’ve taken a picture you can use one of Instagram’s 11 filters to create different moods according to the demands of your brand and the picture itself. Or there are a host of other apps and programs which you can use to do more sophisticated things with your images.

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Diptic (for Android), for example, helps you combine up to four pictures into one image. Or Adobe’s Photoshop Express (for iPhone) can help you quickly alter exposure, saturation, tint, contrast & brightness quickly for simple image edits.

And don’t forget to geo-tag your pictures. Adding a location tells people where the picture has been taken. You’ll need to make sure your business is added to FourSquare’s location database so that people can tag your business as the location of their picture. Find out how here


To get the most from it, Instagram needs to be integrated into your existing social media activities. You can take beautiful pictures and upload them to any of the six platforms Instagram currently offers – Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous and Foursquare. Once you’ve registered your account you can add your details for the other sites and Instagram will automatically upload your pictures to them.

Another options is to integrate Instagram pictures into your website – Starbucks does this really well, featuring a scrolling gallery of customer Instagram pics. Encourage your customers to use your hashtag when taking pictures of your products or at your locations.

Build interest

People can follow you on Instagram in much the same way as on Twitter. The first, and pretty logical, step to building a good number of followers is to only upload beautiful pictures. And don’t publish them all at once; spread them out so people looking at different times have chance to see them.

Do your research. Check out the “popular” stream on the site and see which pictures are getting the most interest. Can you create something similar with your pictures?

Another way to build followers is to use popular hashtags. Instagram uses hashtags in much the same way Twitter does. Search for your business name or key words to see what users are posting, take pictures which fit with popular hashtags or create a hashtag for your own event or product.

Competitions are another way to generate interest in your Instagram account. As an example, General Electric are currently running a competition for people to use Instagram to take pictures of how they believe GE has influenced the world. There is a hashtag and the pictures are hosted on GE’s Facebook site where users can vote for their favourites.

If you host events, create a hashtag and encourage attendees to use it for their pictures. This will create a gallery-like record of the event through your customers’ eyes and will become a useful resource for publicising and evaluating your event.

You should also pay attention to how much you engage on Instagram. So reply to comments on your pictures, follow other users and don’t forget to like or comment on the pictures of others. Both of these will help build interest in your account.

So what kind of pictures should you take?

Of course, if your business sells products you have a fairly rich subject matter, but what if you don’t?

Teasers, sneak peeks & behind the scenes pictures work well. You can give your followers a new level of access by uploading Instagram pictures of places or things they haven’t seen before.

People buy from people,  so add a bit of personality. It’s likely your brand already has a character, even if that’s unintentional, so build on this with some non-business pictures. Has someone in the office baked cakes or have you had a monster planning session and filled the walls with Post-it notes and flipchart sheets? Instagram has a way of making even the most mundane picture look beautiful, so get creative with your subject matter and start engaging your followers. Jamie Oliver does this well.

The future?

So, if you invest time and energy into developing your profile on Instagram, will it all be for nothing? Commentators pondered Facebook’s motivation for buying Instagram. After all, it has a track record of buying sites and apps just to close them down.  After all, Instagram doesn’t yet have a proven way to make money. However, what it does have is a talented team working on the development of the platform.

In his announcement of the deal, Mark Zuckerberg gave assurances that he is “committed to building and growing Instagram independently,” so a closure doesn’t seem on the horizon right now.

Zuckerberg even confirmed that they intend to keep the ability to upload Instagram pictures to other social sites – another potential concern for Instagram users.

For as long as Facebook owns the brand, its competitors don’t, which can only be a good thing for such a runaway success.

Whatever the future for the brand, Instagram has the potential to be a great tool for your business. After all, if a picture paints a thousand words, Instagram can turn anyone into Shakespeare.

Don’t forget to sign up to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter 5 tips for improving your Instagram marketing strategy

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  • 5 brands that are brilliant on Instagram
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