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How to Use Instagram to Promote Your Business


This article is part of our series for Social Media Week London. Read all the posts in this series.

Instagram is a mobile photo editing and sharing app that saw its user base explode from 15 to 80 million since Facebook acquired the company back in April.

But even before the acquisition, many savvy brands had joined the platform—especially retail brands with stunning visual content. Clothing, media, and design-based brands were a natural fit for both the platform technology and Instagram’s early adopter user base.

However, unlike Facebook or Twitter, Instagram doesn’t have business-specific profiles, built-in visibility or engagement metrics, or paid advertising options.

So why are brands rushing to join yet another social network? Here’s why:

Instagram is easy-to-use — and awesome!

Instagram’s technology helps you easily create stunning images that you can easily use on your other social networks.

Both Facebook and Twitter have optimized how photos are displayed on these platforms and you can share directly from Instagram to those platforms (as well as to Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr, and email) automatically or by individual selection.

Instagram allows visual storytelling with no advertising

Both the way the platform works (the technology) and the way most users approach the platform (the user experience) allows brands to employ visual storytelling that has more continuity and artistic value than other platforms.

With the absence of advertising (or even clickable links in captions or comments), business uses for an Instagram profile begin and end (for now) with awareness and branding. However, a few images that encapsulate a brand moment in a second or two is much more impactful than lines and lines of copy—no matter how brilliant the writing is.

Instagram is mobile — perfect for what people want — instagramification

Instagram combines two of the most powerful forces in the social technology market—mobile and photo sharing—to create a platform that truly offers a unique value proposition. Brands with an Instagram presence can take advantage of that intersection where users are focusing their attention.

Here are six tips to help you get the most out of this powerful tool:

1. Use images to tell a story, not blast your branding

If you sell a product or service, make sure the images you use are about the experience of using the product or service, and not a product placement ad.

Starbucks is an example of a big brand that does this well. Sure their photos show lots of Starbucks cups, but their photos also tell a story—the focus is always on what the person is doing while enjoying their coffee—on the beach, reading a book, etc.

There’s not a lot of tolerance for marketing that’s obviously marketing. Keep it subtle and keep the focus on your customers.

2. Most photos fall into two categories: beautiful imagery or humor

Make sure your Instagram photos fall into one of these categories. Most users aren’t posting all their random party pics to their Instagram stream and brands should exercise similar constraint. Photo albums in that vein are for Facebook. Think of your Instagram photos as high value/low volume.

3. Don’t post too often

A general rule, don’t post more than three photos in a row or one every three hours. If you post more often than that, you run the risk of hogging your users’ feed.

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that most users follow between 50 and 250 users. I think this is a sign of social media maturity—folks are learning from their experiences on Facebook and Twitter that following too many accounts is overwhelming.

Also, unlike Facebook, the commitment level to an account is low—”unfollows” can happen frequently. Don’t automatically share your Instagram photos—editorially select and customize each one for the appropriate platform.

And remember, you can use apps like PicFrame to include several snaps in one Instagram. Just be sure the images are related and the impact is magnified (rather than splintered) when you use a collage.

4. Choose an account name that’s the same as your Twitter handle

Having the same Instagram account name and Twitter handle serves two purposes. One—your profile will be easily recognizable and easy to find. And two—if you are tagged by another user in a caption and that photo is shared on Twitter, that tag will link to your Twitter profile. It ensures that tagging makes sense when an Instagram photo is shared on other networks.

5. Use hashtags, but don’t be creepy about it

Like on Twitter, hashtagging photos enables discovery of your profile by users outside of your primary connections. You can use the search functionality on the app to find out which hashtags are often used. Like on Twitter, hashtagging Instagram photos by event, geolocation, or subject matter is a good idea.

Other hashtags people tend to use on Instagram are filters and colors. Hashtags tend to be somewhat limited on Twitter due to the character length limitations. Because Instagram doesn’t have these limitations, this has encouraged some users and brands to stuff Instagram captions with every hashtag imaginable. Don’t do this—it looks like you’re trying too hard. Even worse, it makes you look like a spammer.

6. Set up an account on a web-based viewer

Instagram’s focus continues to be all about the mobile experience, but the app recently added the ability to view individual photos on the web through a shareable link. This feature allows your Instagram stream to not only be seen by those not using the app, but allows those who do have an account to like and comment on a shared photo right from the web. However, using a separate web-based viewer can help you manage your presence and track your progress.

Using Instagram’s API, these tools recreate your feed on a webpage, so you can view multiple photos at a time (without scrolling) on your computer. Most often you can make the same actions (liking, commenting, searching, tagging, etc.) on these web viewers that you can make on the mobile app. My favorite tool is Statigram—they even have a few basic metrics, comment notifications, and an Instagram campaign toolkit.

Bottom line: As the old adage goes—a picture is worth 1,000 words. It’s still true today, but with Instagram, a picture may also be worth 1,000 “likes,” retweets, and shares!

Is your business using Instagram? Tell us how you you’ve used it to help promote your business!

Constant Contact’s Social Media Week London event on Thursday is sold out, but you can watch via this livestream link.


Leave a comment »
  1. Alicia •

    I really enjoyed reading this article. It had some interesting facts about instagram that I wasn’t aware of. I’m looking forward to started my own business one day and hopefully I can use instagram for promotion. (Alicia)

  2. Thanks for you post. I’m a Partner at a Social Media Marketing Agency for dental practices called My Social Practice

    We love Instagram! We just released this short, fun video to encourage people to use the hashtag #dentist on their Instagram posts when going in for their routine dental visit.

    Our hope is that they will also tag the office location of their dentist to help promote the practice. We also help them run Instagram contests/promotions in their office with these free poster downloads:

    It’s good to see that you guys are helping small businesses with a strategy for Instagram too!

  3. They need to get Blackberry on board. I am not interested in all of the pretend apps for BB. I want in on the Instagram party!

  4. Another great way to capitalize on the power of Instagram is to embed it onto your website. Postano is a social media aggregator that allows you to bring in as many social media feeds as you want that can unpack the digital media behind shortlinks. By embedding Instagram into your website, you allow users that aren’t on Instagram to engage with your visual content and share easily to other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest; thus giving you more exposure than simply just posting to Instagram or Twitter.

  5. I didn’t even THINK of using Instagram for small business. I think this will be quite useful…

  6. Take pictures of little things when traveling. Some details might not seem important when you take the picture, but when you reflect back on your trip, these pictures will recreate a particular ambiance or memory for you. Take pictures of street signs, strange products sold in stores or even small objects, like coins or bus tickets. This makes for awesome instagram moments.

  7. I just admit that i am not aware of this utility till now …..i will definitely give it a try and produce some of handful snippets which will help in business

  8. We are using Instagram but are struggling to gain more followers who also fit our demographics (we are a luxury menswear brand). We try and focus on our existing clients, and in the past week alone have had 2 sales because of an instagram post. #arisoho


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