Instagram for Small Businesses: 4 Organizations Share Their Secrets

Have you heard about Instagram?

Instagram is a wildly popular photo-sharing app that lets average people turn everyday pictures into works of art. With just a few touches on a smartphone screen, users can: snap a photo, apply a digital filter and border, enhance the image quality, and share it across their social networks.

Instagram is also one of the fastest growing social networks, with over 100 million active users and more than 5 billion photos shared.

Small businesses are taking notice, and many of them have already seen some impressive results when it comes to telling their brand’s story and engaging with customers online.

Lucky for us (and you) some of those organizations are Constant Contact customers:

Recently, we reached out to these organizations to see if they would be willing to share their experience with Instagram and to offer any advice they may have for you, our readers. What we got was more than we ever expected—a complete introduction to the power of Instagram for small businesses from people who decided to try the app for the first time and have been thrilled with the results ever since.

Here’s what they had to say:

When did you start using Instagram?

Leanne Hendrikse, Director of Marketing, The Orme School: We started using Instagram in May of this year.

Lisa Ceja, Co-owner, Vinatero Wine Shop: We actually just celebrated one year on Instagram—so, last August.

Shannon Sardella, Owner, Oh To Be a Dog: I started using it awhile ago in my personal life, and have been using it for my business for a few months now.

Luke Hodson, owner, Awesome Merchandise: We started using Instagram last year.

Why did you first decide to download the Instagram app?

Leanne: We wanted to use every social media avenue we could to promote our school and Instagram is a fun and easy way to share our school’s story. As a boarding school, Instagram is a great way for us to share photos with friends and family of our students who may be far away from home.

Lisa: I think, with the economy the way it is, spending a lot of money on advertising isn’t an option for most businesses. We were already using Facebook and Twitter, and I take a million photos anyway, so it was perfect.

Shannon: Like most businesses, we’re always looking for ways to get our name out there. Instagram lets us connect with current customers and opens us up to a whole new audience. Current customers love it when they see pictures of their dogs and other people enjoy it just because, well … who doesn’t love looking at pictures of dogs?

Luke: We wanted to show our customers a behind-the-scenes look at our factory and our employees.

How are you using Instagram today?

Leanne: We use Instagram almost daily to share photos of the everyday happenings at our school.

Lisa: Instagram lets us share bits of our blessed life as wine shop owners. We aren’t just taking a picture of a bottle of wine and posting it—we’re telling the story behind it. I try to post once or twice a day.

For Lisa, Instagram isn’t just about showing off her products – it’s a way to tell the story behind her business.

Shannon: We’re lucky, because everyone loves looking at pictures of dogs. We use our pictures to give people a look at all the work we do. So whether that’s showing a dog sleeping—because people board their dogs with us—or showing a dog walking on a leash or going through training—it’s a great way to show all that we offer.

Luke: Instagram lets us show our work and the people behind our business. It also gives us a chance to showcase the different artwork that has been printed onto Awesome Merchandise products.

Do you make use of hashtags on Instagram? If so, how are you using them?

Leanne: We promote the photos through Facebook and Twitter. We do not make use of hashtags currently.

Lisa: We do use hashtags. It started with just taking some time to look around and search for people in our area and our industry. I used “wine” as a hashtag for example, and then searched for other people using “wine.” I also look for people in our area and will connect with people in LA by commenting on photos. And that’s not just commenting, “Hey follow us!” It’s real genuine comments on photos we like.

Shannon: Hashtags have been great for us. We started out by searching for users in Pasadena, who were sharing photos of dogs. It was a great way to introduce ourselves to people we knew were local, have or just love dogs, and would probably enjoy our photos.

Using hashtags on Instagram can help find customers based on industry and location, and can expose your business to a whole new audience.

Luke: We actually just started using hashtags. We hope it will boost our visibility and help us get our photos in front of a wider audience.

Do you incorporate Instagram with your other marketing materials?

Leanne: We promote the photos through Facebook and Twitter. We do not integrate Instagram with our email marketing but we do send a weekly “Photo of the Week” email—so it could be easy to implement.

Lisa: We’re all over social media—on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest—and we post our pictures everywhere. We also include photos in our emails. It’s another way for us to make them more enjoyable for our customers and something they actually look forward to receiving.

Shannon: We rely heavily on social media for our marketing. We’re active everywhere—on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. We get most of our activity on Facebook and we try to share our photos wherever we can.

Luke: We started incorporating our pictures into our email newsletter, as well as on our Facebook Page.

Awesome Merchandise is able to drive readers to Instagram and boost engagement by promoting it in its email newsletter.

What is the response? Do you find that it helps you engage with customers?

Leanne: The response is great. We are growing our Instagram followers and with over 2,300 Facebook followers, our Instagram photos get a lot of engagement from our Facebook fans. Our most popular Facebook post is an Instagram photo of the road leading up to our campus and it received 121 likes and 15 comments.

The Orme School uses photos from Instagram to boost engagement on Facebook.

Lisa: People seem to love it. We get a lot of people posting comments and asking questions—which is great because, for us, it’s all about finding a new way to connect with our customers.

Shannon: Our business is completely based on credibility. People trust us to take care of their dogs, and are often welcoming us into their homes. Making sure we are active on all these social networks—whether it’s Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram—really gives us that credibility.

How has Instagram helped you grow your business?

Leanne: As a school, Instagram simply helps us tell our story. It doesn’t lead directly to business, but by engaging our alumni and parents we hope to increase giving to the school. It is also a great way for prospective students to see the fun, informal part of our school.

Lisa: It has helped us a lot more than we thought it ever would. We’ve had customers come in and ask about certain products because they follow us on Instagram. We even had a group of people who came in recently that said they follow us on Instagram and needed to visit the shop. They drove an hour out of their way just to come visit us.

Shannon: In addition to giving us that credibility we’re looking for—it really just helps us get our name out there. I can’t say that we’ve seen any direct or immediate benefit, but we know people are sharing our photos and saving them for themselves. Hopefully, their friends see those pictures when they post them on their own pages and see that they were taken with us.

With Instagram, it’s easy for Shannon to put the best face on her business.

Luke: We really wanted to show that it’s a living, breathing business, and Instagram has been a great way to show interesting pieces of the stuff we make.

What advice do you have for small businesses that are just getting started on Instagram?

Leanne: Start taking pictures! With a smartphone, the Instagram app is really simple and you can create a post that goes across your social network in seconds. Instagram is all about using their filters to show everyday experiences in a different light.

Lisa: There are a few things. One thing that’s worked for us is being personal—not just trying to sell. Last week I posted a picture of me wearing these rubber dishwashing gloves. It was just something small and funny, but people liked it. But also make sure you’re paying attention to it and are answering questions when they come in. For example, I recently posted a picture of this “Hello Kitty” wine that we have and got a bunch of questions about it. I needed to be quick and really make sure to answer each question individually when they came in.

Shannon: Consistency is key in everything we do. But also making sure you’re showing ALL that you do. That’s what has worked for us.

Luke: Take pictures of things that are interesting. We use Instagram to help customers relate to the people behind the business.You shouldn’t just take pictures of your products, use it to feature wider-interest stuff, too.

Show us how you’re using Instagram!

Right now, we’re running our “Day in the Life” photo contest. We want you to capture a moment that best represents a typical day for your small business or nonprofit, and share it with us on social media. This is the perfect chance to get started on Instagram or to showcase the ways you’re already using it.

You can submit photos on the Constant Contact Facebook Page, or tag @ConstantContact and use the hashtag #CTCTday on Instagram. From the submissions, we’ll pick several businesses to be featured in our Instagram feed and a few lucky businesses will even be featured in our cover photo!

Is your organization using Instagram? Tell us how in the comments. 


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