With a monthly active user base of 500 million, Instagram is one of the fastest growing social networks.

The medium is hugely popular among millennials and is entirely visual-driven – whether images, videos or stories that self-destruct in 24 hours.

Small businesses from all sectors are increasingly taking to Instagram and registering impressive results.

If you considered using this channel in your social marketing mix but are unsure of where and how to begin, you’ll hopefully have the answers you need by the end of this post.

1. Determine if Instagram is the right social network for your business

Every social network has its unique strength, a distinct flavor and accordingly attracts audiences from across the globe. (With the exception of Facebook, maybe, because it attracts anyone and everyone.)

Due to the image-driven nature of Instagram, it is hugely popular among selfie-taking population – and that tends to be a younger crowd.

Filtered and photo-edited images suit fashion, beauty, food and hospitality industries. Similarly, the health and wellness industry also sees a huge following here.

If your business belongs to any of these industries, you must consider joining Instagram.

Ultimately, your success on this platform depends on how well you are able to make it work for you. If you can post engaging images and tie that in with the philosophy of your brand, you’ll have got a winning account!

2. Post high-quality, informative photos

What are you trying to achieve with this account? When an interested user clicks on your feed, what do you want them to take away from it? What would you want them to think of your business? What do you want to be known for?

If you own a local restaurant, for instance, you would want to attract more customers by sharing drool-worthy photos of the food, the décor, the surroundings, the guests, as well as any festivals you participate in.

This can be executed in many creative ways. You could post a picture of the soup of the day, an unusual meal, a compliment you may have received, a picture of the outside seating in the first rays of the sun, your coffee art, etc. Once in a while post a how-to video, so that you give your followers something concrete instead of just images to lust after.

Invest in high-quality visuals that are an accurate representation of your business. You’ll be building your brand with every photo that you post.

3. Use the right hashtags

Instagram allows the use of up to 30 hashtags in each post. Now that might sound like an overkill, but it isn’t. Find out the most popular hashtags in your niche and use them diligently. You’ll be surprised at how fast the number of likes notches up.

Here’s a list of the most popular hashtags on Instagram. Not surprisingly, #love and #life appear here. You don’t necessarily have to use these if they are not pertinent to your business, but it is helpful to know of the trendiest hashtags. It’s also perfectly okay to use #followme or #f4f (follow for follow back), even recommended. As they say, ask and you shall receive!

We recently observed the National Dog Day on August 26. What an amazing opportunity for businesses to become a part of this huge trend by posting photos of their furry friends, or just those of cute puppies in general. Everyone loves a cute puppy!

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Pets are huge on Instagram anyway. Occasions like that present tremendous potential to businesses to get noticed, and build user bases. Not surprisingly, the hashtag was a hit, racking up 5.7 million posts in a day!

5. Follow the right people

The moment you post an enticing photo of a linguini pasta, you’ll get a few likes. These may or may not be related to what you do as a business. It’s easy to gain followers on Instagram; the challenge lies in gaining the right kind of followers.

You don’t necessarily have to follow back each and every account that chooses to follow you. In fact, we would strongly recommend discretion in this regard. But one thing you must ensure is to follow influencers and all the popular accounts. This will considerably increase your chances of gaining a relevant user base.

6. Like and comment generously

It takes nothing to like a picture, but your likes can make someone’s day. It’s not just good manners to heart pictures and leave positive comments, it’s also good for business. Here’s some science on what it takes to gain one follower on Instagram, as well as when is the best time to post for maximum likes. These are just guidelines though, and your mileage may vary, especially depending on the location of your business/target audience.

Our experience? Comment on 10 to 15 pictures a day. Like around 50 of them. The more you comment (within a relevant niche), the more likely someone will follow you back.

7. Encourage user-generated content

As you build a following of your own, encourage users to send in their pictures and feature them. You may provide a discount coupon for those who get featured, to encourage more entries and hence a greater overall interest in your business.

Also encourage users to hashtag your business wherever applicable. A number of photography and fashion accounts do this in order to help users get featured. This gives followers the exposure they want for their photographs, and businesses a greater base they target.

8. Take advantage of sponsored posts

Sponsored posts on Instagram are beautifully integrated within user feeds. They blend in with all the other great content being shared. Make sure to choose the most flattering picture with a caption that speaks to the target audience.

The final word

Instagram is an excellent place to engage a young and vibrant audience keen on discovering the world around them. The social protocol is pretty relaxed and the place has a cool, informal vibe to it. We’ve recently launched our own Instagram account and the experience has been amazing. We have found our target audience is very eager to interact with us; in fact, users are generous in liking content that exudes personality. This is a great place to build a voice and a brand. With a little bit of creativity and a few strategic moves, you can create a unique place for yourself here.

Are you on Instagram? How’s it going for you over there? Struggling, or swimming along? Find us and drop in to say hello! #f4f #tagsforlikes

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Pete Peranzo

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