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Instagram is the most powerful social network on the planet.
I'll let that sink in for a moment.
Still with me?
Instagram is the fastest growing social network in the world. Launched just 3 years ago, the network already boasts over 300M monthly active users (MAUs).
Instagram has the most active user base. Albeit the overall number of monthly users falls short of other major networks, Instagram presents a much more engaging platform. A marketing agency conducted a study using the music band Paramore's social network accounts. The same content was posted to their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts at the exact same time. The results?
- Facebook (3.2m fans): 9,405 likes
- Twitter (3.35m followers): 433 re-tweets, 289 favorites
- Instagram (360k followers): 52,237 likes, 315 comments
Paramore's Instagram profile has merely 10% the following of their Facebook page, yet generated 5 times more engagement from their following.
A similar study was conducted by Forrester Research. Their results found that Instagram's engagement was 58 times greater than Facebook and 120 times greater than Twitter.
Instagram is a pure network. Instagram is a content marketers dream - but why?
From a UX/UI perspective Instagram is the best laid out social network. Unlike other networks that bombard you with colors, ads, links, statuses and spam, Instagram keeps it simple.
The network utilizes simple colors, clean design and only one post on the screen at a time (both mobile and desktop).
As a marketer, this presents a powerful opportunity, The ability to clearly communicate your message to a willing and engaged audience.
Despite this, businesses are very hesitant to allocate resources to Instagram. There is a common stigma that Instagram isn't great for selling.
Well, that stigma is correct. While you could use Instagram as a direct marketing platform, you would be doing a major disservice to your following and your business.
Social networks are not for selling. Let me repeat that. Social networks are not for selling.
Don't be "that guy" commenting on people's photos trying to sell your product. It's annoying and it doesn't work.
Social networks, Instagram in particular, present a platform to connect with people where they spend their time. It's your job to create content that is interesting to get their attention and then over time, convert them into customers.
It's a lot of work - but when done right, it's worth it. When you connect with people with great content, they refer you to their network by sharing and re-posting.
If I've convinced you to start using Instagram for your business, let's get into how you can build your own engaged following.
Method 1: Use #hashtags
This has been beaten to death on marketing blogs, but I still feel the need to cover it. When used correctly, Instagram hashtags are extremely effective. Hashtags helps users find your content by grouping them with other photos tagged with the same hashtag. This helps to get visibility and targeted views from other like-minded Instagram users. Here are 3 ways I use hashtags:
- Create a Brand. A branded hashtag is specific to your business. I suggest you use your business name or slogan in all of your posts (i.e. #automateyourmarketing or #moz). A brand that does a great job of utilizing hashtags is KitKat. With every post they encourage followers to use "#haveabreak" and create giveaways for those that abide. This helps spread brand awareness and skyrockets sharing and user engagement.
- Trending Hashtags. These are hashtags based on what's going viral at that moment. When you come across a trend that's related to your business, engage in the conversation by posting content using the hashtag. This can put your message in front a large, highly engaged audience. This technique requires a little bit more effort because Instagram doesn't currently show what's trending. However, you can use the same trends on Twitter and Facebook (found on the side of your feeds) to join in on Instagram.
- Niche Specific. Finding related hashtags takes some digging. Head to iconosquare.com and type in a keyword related to your business. The platform will return a long list of related hashtags and their associated volume. From these you will be able to build a list of relevant hashtags to use in all of your posts.
Since you'll be posting from a mobile device, we suggest you keep a note pad with your hashtags in them. This will allow you to copy and paste them into each post and save you the hassle of typing them out each time.
Method 2: Link Accounts
When posting a photo or video, Instagram offers the option to push the content to 6 other social networks: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Flikr, FourSquare and Mixi; I strongly suggest you take advantage of this. Not only will it save you time posting on other accounts, but it will allow you to cross pollinate your followings.
When you push content from Instagram to other networks, the post shows as coming from Instagram. This is an easy way to leverage your followings on other networks instead of blasting "follow us on Instagram".
Linking accounts is simple to do - all that is needed is the login and password for the 6 accounts listed above and you can begin pushing content with each Instagram post.
Method 3: Use Your Website
As an SEO, I specialize in driving organic traffic. I drive thousands of unique visitors to my blog each month so I was easily able to leverage my website to grow my business' Instagram account from 200 to 3,000 followers over the course of 6 months. I did this in 2 ways:
- I added a simple Instagram follow widget to the sidebar of my blog. If you're using WordPress or Drupal for your blog there are dozens of free plugins that do this for you.
- Instead of just uploading images from my desktop to my website, I uploaded images to my Instagram account and then embed those images in the blog post (see image below). This simple distinction drew a ton of awareness to my Instagram account and a huge boost to my following. Embedding images is simple:
- Access your Instagram account from a PC. Click the image you would like to embed on your site
- Click the 3 little dots in the lower right hand corner of the image
- Click 'embed'
- Highlight, copy the code and paste into your HTML
Method 4: Like + Comment
Admittedly, this method requires a significant time investment on your part. However, if you have an intern or VA you are under utilizing, this is perfect. Essentially what this method entails is interacting with like minded users by liking and commenting on their content. The key here is to find users that fit your target demographic and actually engaging with their posts, not spamming them.
The best way to do this is to search for content by hashtags. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer - what type of hashtags would they be using?
After you have your hashtag, click the list all option (3 horizontal lines - this will list all photos 1 by 1). Scroll down the feed liking every photo that represents a potential target customer. By liking their photos, those users will be notified and in turn check out your content. If they like what they see, they will follow you back.
Comments work better, but are consume more time. If you use comments, make sure you write constructive posts like "love your photos [@nameofaccount] - keep them coming!". Don't spam profiles with "follow us", etc - it will undercut your efforts. In addition, this method needs to be used in moderation. Instagram has filters that only allow 350 likes and 50 comments per hour. If you go over this limit, the comments and likes won't stick and you'll be wasting your time.
Method 5: Use Influencers
This method really deserves a post all on its own, and if Moz would have me back I would gladly explore this in more details. For the purpose of this article, I will keep this to the high level points.
You've seen influencer campaigns in the form of bloggers, Twitter and JV product releases - but Instagram puts them to shame. Influencer's on Instagram have bigger audiences, generate more engagement and they cost a fraction of what other influencers charge.
SHREDZ is a direct marketing nutritional supply company that was built by influencers on Instagram. In 2012, before partnering with Instagram influencers, the company did just under $90,000 in annual revenue. Their marketing team noticed that there were some Instagram users who posted daily about fitness to their hundreds of thousands of engaged followers. SHREDZ approached a dozen of these Instagrammers and offered to sponsor posts on their accounts. SHREDZ offered free supplements and small payments to post images using SHREDZ products. At the end of 2013 the company did $5,000,000 in gross sales.
Instead of approaching celebrities (athletes, movie stars, etc) SHREDZ approached every day users that happened to have a large and targeted following. Unless you work for an advertising agency (with a large budget), you will want to target these types of users. There are thousands of them and they are relatively easy to connect with. I recommended the following two methods:
- Popular page: Click the star on the bottom menu bar and you will be directed to the "explore" page. This page uses an algorithm that shows content based on the people you follow. The algorithm is triggered by content that generates a lot of likes and comments - aka from users with a large following. Sift through these images and you will find numerous potential influencers.
- Hashtags: Again, they come in handy. Search for hashtags related to your business and sort through the results. Look for content coming from
Once you've identified a list of influencers, there are 2 ways you can reach out:
Start by clicking on images in the popular feed and then click through to that user's profile. Look through their images to see what type of content they're posting and if it matches with your business. If it does, you have two ways to reach out:
- Contact info. More times than not, people will leave an email address for inquiries in their profile. Send them an email about your business and your interest in using them as an influencer.
- Direct messaging. If you follow that person, you're then able to send them direct message. To send a direct message, use the same button you would to post a photo. At the top of the screen you will be given the option to send out to all your followers or direct - select direct and locate that person in your address list. You can now send them a direct message requesting their services.
Before you start contacting influencers, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep a spreadsheet of each influencer, their contact info and the dates reached out. I've made the mistake of reaching out to the same one twice - it undermines your efforts by making you look unprofessional and unorganized
- Look for influencers with at least 15,000 followers. More importantly, look through their content and make sure it is getting an engagement rate of at least 5% (engagement rate = likes + comments / number of followers)
- Make sure you do a thorough analysis of your potential influencer. Fake likes and followers are easy to come by so you need to make sure that your money isn't being spent on spam
Be prepared to commit to a long term strategy. Influencer marketing is a form of advertising and you need to be patient and utilize multiple posts from dozens of influencers to get the results you need. A few posts here and there won't do anything - commit to the long haul.
Instagram is impactful when properly utilized. The true power of the network lies in the ability to build a one on one connecting with users and grow a highly engaged and active following. It takes time and patience to master, but you will see a tremendous boost to your content marketing efforts once you do.