If you think of Instagram as just a photo sharing site, filled with pictures of people’s kids and cats and what they had for breakfast, it’s time to take a closer look at how the sleeper site (with more members than Twitter) is being used by businesses.
Used right, it can be a marketer’s dream.
While all sorts of businesses are active on Instagram, a great example of a business that knows how to use the visual platform to their advantage is the clothing company Bella Tesori (@shopbellatesori).
They don’t do all of their business on Instagram, but they have set up a nice Instagram boutique that has amassed over 7,600 followers (and counting).
7,600 followers might not sound like a huge number, but they’re killing it in sales via Instagram.
How are they doing it? To boil it down to the most simple terms, they treat their Instagram boutique like a “real” boutique:
- Items are added frequently.
- Items are displayed in an appealing way, usually on real models.
- They are present — if a follower has a question, left as a comment on a photo, it is answered swiftly.
- They post eye-catching discounts periodically.
- They even take orders via Instagram comments. Buyers can simply post that they want to purchase an item pictured, and they will receive an invoice via paypal. Item is shipped upon payment.
- They haven’t lost sight that Instagram is all about photographs and photo sharing.
Instagram works best for businesses that have a visual edge — but that doesn’t mean you have to sell merchandise. If you can visualize what your business provides creatively and translate that into images that appeal, you have a visual edge.
Many Instagram users see Instagram as part of a lifestyle. They use it to share (or create the fantasy of) an aesthetically pleasing way of life.
Although the particular aesthetic is not monolithic, successful businesses on Instagram sell a desired lifestyle as much as any product or service.
So, posting photos of people enjoying life while using your products (ie: your brand lifestyle) can be more effective than a photo of the product alone, especially if it’s something that isn’t necessarily visually appealing to begin with.
Bell’s Brewery (@bellsbrewery), for example, has 49.5 K Instagram followers, not by posting pictures of its beer products (although they do), but by posting visually appealing photos of the “craft beer” lifestyle, from harvesting hops to serving with beautiful meals, to people enjoying the product.
They’re just cool photos that people enjoy, and that gives them brand recognition.
Getting started with Instagram
Think you’ve got what it takes to succeed on Instagram? Here’s how to get started:
- Download the app. Instagram is available on both iPhone and Android, and is used almost exclusively as a phone app (technically, you can sign in to your account on the web and view photos, but you can’t really do anything, including create an account, on the web).
- Create an account just for your business. You can sign up via Facebook or Google, or create an account using an email and password. Do not use your personal Instagram — the one with pictures of your dog and your kid’s first day of school — for business.
- Follow your social media friends — Instagram will give you the option to follow all of your Facebook or Google contacts on Instagram with one click. Or you can go through and select who you want to follow. You can go back and do this at any time by going to your profile and clicking the three dots in the top right corner (Options).
- Upload an image to use as your icon. This can be your logo, or any other appealing image that fits with your brand.
- Edit your profile to add your website URL, contact email, and (optionally) a phone number. Write a quick, snappy bio to display on your page.
- Start adding photos. A good way to start is with an intro photo inviting people to follow you. Don’t forget to use hashtags!
- Keep an eye on your account. If someone leaves a comment on one of your photos, answer it as soon as possible.
- Come back to Instagram every day to add photos, like and comment on others photos, and respond to comment on your photos. Active accounts have the most likelihood of becoming successful. As a mobile app, you can check on it virtually anytime or anywhere.
Although you can upload any photo (e.g.: photos taken with a DSLR camera), Instagram is intended for use with your phone’s camera.
Of course, some phones have better cameras than others. The most important thing is that you post good photos that people want to look at and share. It’s up to you to decide the best way to create them.
Creating Effective Images
There is more to taking a good picture — composition, color, angle — than this blog post can cover, but there are plenty of great resources on the web with advice on how to take good pictures, whether on iPhone or with a traditional digital camera.
Do not underestimate the importance of your photos. Photos that don’t “pop” don’t get followers. If you have no idea what you’re doing, find (or hire) someone who does, or forget about succeeding on Instagram.
Once you have your photos, you can make them better with Instagram’s in-app editing tool. You can add filters, adjust brightness, correct color, and more.
This shutter-to-display streamlining is at the heart of the app. Use it any time you post photos taken with your phone.
One thing Instagram’s editing tool won’t do is add text — which should tell you what you need to know about using text excessively on Instagram.
But there are times when a bit of text is good. A periodic image telling followers about a sale or event can be effective, as long as you do it in moderation. For such images, use a graphics program like Canva.
Instagram’s Social Media Culture
If you want to do well on Instagram, you’ve got to understand the culture. Instagram is a place where people communicate with images and a very minimal amount of text (a sentence and a hashtag is all you need).
In general, there is a fun, laid-back attitude — the kind of place people go to get away from business, not engage in it.
The minute you start hard selling, you will lose the trust of the community. While this is true for any social media platform, this is especially true for Instagram.
If you’re used to selling your products or services by telling people how great they are, you’ll need to learn how to do it with less talk and more imagery.
Even infographics and article teasers, which are popular on Pinterest, another highly visual social media platform, do poorly on Instagram.
Not only that, but you’ll find that you can’t add links to your captions. Your main URL is displayed on your page, but you can’t direct link every blog post or new product on your site.
On Instagram, unlike Facebook and Twitter, where images are often used to draw people to your main site, the pictures are the content itself. You can use pictures to draw people to your blog, as above.
If you have the followers, it can be an effective way to bring people to your site.
Ultimately, though, you need to look at Instagram as more self-contained than other social networks. That’s why Bella Tesori is doing so well — instead of adding the steps of steering people to their site, searching for the item pictured, and making the online purchase through their store, they’ve streamlined things for Instagram by taking orders via comments.
That’s the kind of forward thinking necessary to succeed on Instagram.
What about you? Have you thought about using Instagram for your business? What kinds of photos do you post? Tell us in the comments below.