The last decade has brought us a smorgasbord of life-changing apps – from transport disruptor Uber to entertainment giant Netflix. But the accolade for biggest juggernaut must go to Instagram, one of the farthest reaching social networks on the planet.
Founded in 2010, the platform has come a long way since its early days of hipster sepia-toned photo-sharing. With constant updates and new functions – sponsored posts, direct messaging and disappearing ‘Stories’ – it’s no longer just a stomping ground for food porn. Now, Instagram is one of the most powerful marketing tools around. Want to harness its power? Here’s what you need to know.
Let’s start simple. For the uninitiated, the app is free to download on Apple iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Instagram users can upload photos and videos and share them with followers (or just a select group of friends) as well as viewing, commenting and ‘liking’ other users’ posts, too.
But when it comes to business, things crank up a notch. In 2016, Instagram enabled a business profile option, which means you can run adverts and access ‘Insights’ – essentially information about your audience demographics and how your posts are performing. You can add links to stories and enable Instagram’s ‘Shopping’ function too.
With more than 1 billion people using the platform each month and eye-wateringly high engagement levels (up to ten times higher than Facebook) it’s a great tool for businesses.
In terms of getting stuck in, it’s as simple as following the steps to creating a business profile and starting to post. In terms of what to post, that's up to you. Most businesses use the platform to more informally communicate with their customer base, showcasing new products or offers, and giving a behind-the-scenes look at the brand.
1. Use genuine fans as ambassadors
Ella Rauen-Prestes runs high-protein bakery Fitbakes and thanks to Instagram, successfully increased her turnover from zero to £55,000 in just under a year. Now projecting £160,000 for 2019, the Fitbakes counts close to 30,000 followers on Instagram.
“We regularly work with influencers to help us push our message out there, but we don’t pay anyone to promote us,” she says. “Instead, our strategy is to keep the product in the hands of real people, so we find women on Instagram who align with our brand values, sending them samples for review. Giveaways and working with other brands in cross-promotions works really well for our sales, too.”
2. Strive for authenticity
So big is the demand for influencers that specialist agencies are cropping to pair talent with brands. Former lawyer Jim Brough runs Blunt Communications, whose clients include Thermomix, Tesco and Ryvita, with the likes of ‘super-blogger’ Tanya Burr (3 million followers!), Lisa Snowdon and Vogue Williams on its books.
Brands, says Brough, are increasingly keen to work with “authentic” influencers – a trend he sees growing.
“In recent campaigns, we’ve enlisted Deborah James aka BowelBabe who is amazing. Battling bowel cancer, she is extraordinarily inspirational and proves that in the world of social media there’s a sense of community and understanding. Many titles like to bash influencers for their ‘perfect aesthetic' but in our experience, brands increasingly want reality and authenticity. Instagram is the perfect platform for explaining sometimes complex issues, and how brands are supporting these causes.”
3. Research the competition
The good news is you don’t have to enlist the help of an influencer to see a boost to your business. Just a few small tweaks to the content you share can have a huge impact.
“I’d recommend having a deep dive to figure out what works,” says Brough. “Personally, I love the coffee shop Grind’s account as well as its CEO, David Abrahamovitch. We’ve always been huge advocates of CEOs being part of a company's social media story since it adds a reality and a 'human' aspect to the brand - they’ve got it spot-on.”
4. Use the app’s functionality
Make use of the Instagram Insights analytics tools.
“Not only does this help a brand find out what works well – for example, do people respond best to Stories or IGTV? – but [the brand] should also be 'rewarded' by Instagram with better positioning on posts and better engagement rates.”
Another tip? Don't be afraid to utilise a lot of hashtags. The platform allows up to 30 per post, so get tagging. "It's startling what a difference it makes!”
5. Make it pretty
Of course, we can’t discuss Instagram without talking aesthetics. Brightening up photos and making content ‘pop’ has never been easier (try apps like Snapseed and VSCO) and there’s plenty of research available on what performs best. For example, images which include a face typically get more likes, and primary blue colours tend to get more likes than reds. Make the most of the location setting, too – it means when others are searching that location your image will be shown, increasing digital footfall to your page.
6. Don’t forget the power of words
Captions and comments are another way of increasing engagement but it’s important to be consistent, says Fitbakes’ Rauen-Prestes. “We post three times a day – 10am, 3pm and 8pm – and upoad five or six Stories. When Instagram declared Stories were more popular than posts, we listened - it’s crucial to use the new functions because their algorithm will support you, and your account ranking will be rewarded.”
7. Avoid buying your audience
“The biggest no-no is the most obvious – never buy followers,” says Brough. “It is so easy to spot and makes your account look, at best, naive. As a business it adds no value – fake followers won’t buy your goods or services – and as an influencer, basic maths and a cursory look at the comments will highlight fake followers to any brands considering using you.”
8. Declare paid promotion
If you find yourself among the influencer crowd and get a shot at promoting something, always declare it, says Brough. “There’s been a huge amount of controversy recently about certain influencers not flagging posts up as adverts or incorrectly labelling them and my background as a lawyer means I’m often advising brands and influencers on legal guidance. Ultimately, if you’re being paid to advertise something, always make sure you declare it.”