When Instagram first broke onto the scene in 2010, it was viewed as an app with a whole lot of buzz, but no workable business model. Companies shied away from the new social sharing service, unsure on how to approach and market on a mobile-only, lightweight, photo-sharing app. Four years later and Instagram's popularity has since exploded with 200 million active users on the platform.
Despite these numbers, user interest in brands and companies is still low, especially compared to Facebook, but that interest is growing, and Instagram has been working hard to make their features more business-friendly. Brand engagement on Instagram is higher than on than any other social media site, with a per follower engagement rate of 4.21% - in comparison, Facebook's rate is .07%, and Twitter's is .03%. This kind of cross-platform connectivity also means your followers on Facebook can see and access your Instagram presence.
For many brands using the site though, marketing strategies lack inspiration. Posting a picture of your product or an ad might seem like a good idea to draw attention to your company, but there's no call to action included. Who actively wants to follow, and engage with, a business that does nothing but push its ads? If your business wants to see the same engagement numbers successful brands on Instagram have seen, you need to build a following, and the best way to do that is to get creative with your marketing approach.
1) Promotions for posts.
The Picture House, a pop-up diner in London, is capitalizing on their diner's "but first, a food selfie" tendency to photograph their food before eating it by incorporating the craze into their social presence. Take a shot of your meal, hashtag it #BirdsEyeInspirations, and you eat for free. It's important to note that there is a large corporation bankrolling this restaurant - Bird's Eye is a major manufacturer of frozen meals, and seems to be using this campaign to plug those dinners. But this promotion is a great way to drive awareness about the restaurant and find new followers to engage with.
Not every restaurant with a presence on Instagram can cut a deal like this for its fans, but you can still play off of the idea. For example, a clothing boutique could offer discounts to frequent customers that post pictures of their purchases online and tag the business. This kind of notice is how a brand evangelist is created and keeping up with these fans is what sets your business apart in the long run.
2) Be a catalogue, minus the models.
Instagram is fun and your photos need to showcase that, but having fun doesn't mean you can't try to convert posts to sales by including links to your business in the posts. If you sell jewelry, post a shot of yourself sipping a margarita by the beach, wearing the most popular bracelet the business offers. Add a quick link in the description to the product page and a hashtag too, if necessary. Don't overdo it - if your posts all look like they were made to sell something, people won't follow you. But there is no reason why you can't post a couple pictures of your product being "modeled" by your customers or employees to liven up the account (with their permission, of course).
3) Offer a behind the scenes look.
No matter what kind of business you run, everyone can use Instagram to show what goes on behind the scenes. Post pictures of professional photo shoots in action, staff members celebrating a birthday, or the exterior of a client's office that you're about to visit for the day. These shots humanize your business, and give your followers an exclusive look at the company. That exclusivity is why they will follow you. Instead of worrying about only including photos that will net you a sale, consider what your followers would like to see instead and dabble a bit in both areas.
4) Say thanks.
For decades, consumers have dealt with one-way advertisements from commercials to billboards with no way to connect with the brand. Social marketing works to break through the clutter to reach the customer directly and show them that you're listening to them. Saying thank you is a big part of that! Your Instagram account is a great way to just say thanks to your customers and vendors. Regram your followers, interact with other companies, and have fun. Familiarity breeds competence, and once you get comfortable with Instagram, you'll find it much easier to post the types of images and videos your followers wants to engage with.