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The Meteoric Rise Of Instagram As A Marketing Platform

Before I sat down to write this, I dug around for some alternate perspectives for social media. By that I mean: what does the everyday person use social media for? I asked friends, family, and few other people who were not too happy being disturbed before their morning coffee at their regular deli.

Here’s What I’ve Found

Alarmingly(but not surprisingly) most of the results turned out to be cats, selfies or food at various eateries. It seems the general public was happily oblivious to the fact that social media has literally been (a) rocket fuel for global business. The infographic below highlights the massive potential of using Instagram.

Instagram-infographic

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People have forever been underestimating the potential of social media. This article written in 2012, for instance, predicts the percentage of CEOs around the world participating in social media would grow to 57% in the next 5 years.While that number is nothing to be scoffed at, it’s blown out of the water by a massive 80% of CEOs currently engaging users via social media sites. And it’s only been 3 years since.

If you aren’t taking the chance to engage your audience with social media right about now, then you’re passing up on a great opportunity to make it count.

Social media advertising drives a phenomenal amount of business online and it extends to all spheres and scopes of business.

Regardless of whether it’s a huge conglomerate or that specialty pizza place, everyone’s on social media and one of the horses to bet on the coming years is Instagram.

Power Of Imagery

You know that annoying prompt that appears on your news feed asking you to join Instagram which you kept ignoring? If you are a business owner, artist or someone looking to create something revolutionary, this is where you kick yourself in the head.

You just threw away the keys for a chance to break into the big leagues of business, my friend.

Instagram has wrested away most of Facebook’s marketing strength through the sheer simplicity and brilliance of its interface and marketing. So much so that Facebook has seen it fit to buy Instagram off the market.

Yep, it’s that good!

Starting Out

Before you scramble for your keyboard, there are a few things that you might need to plan first.

Instagram is in no way niche dependent, and you are only truly limited by your imagination. I’ve actually seen a woman who runs a cookery show and moonlights as a confused hip-hop artist. I’m serious!

The key is to find innovative ways to market your brand and in the process, yourself. Look around for inspiration online, there are bound to be several contenders who can floor you with stuff you never thought possible.

Build Your Instagram Strategy

The best way to get started here would be to try a mock campaign on your own. If you don’t have an Instagram account yet, now would be a great time to get it.

Get some research done on what popular people in your niche are doing with their Instagram accounts for business. Collect the most appealing ones and see how you can make them even better.

You need to create targets and goals for your campaign that are realistic and measureable. The need to document here becomes critical and so you need to have metrics in place. Here are a few things you might include:

1. Increase product sales
2. Increase traffic to your website
3. Increase brand awareness

Crafting a mission statement can help you a great deal when it comes to keeping your eye on the ball. This will be in place to prevent you from using Instagram like other social mediums like Twitter or Facebook.

Something like:

We will (purpose of social account) via Instagram to help us attain (business goal)

The next step would be to decide on what type of content you are going to be putting on your Instagram feed. Some things you need to plan well in advance are:

1. Choosing how often to post
2. Choosing what time of day to post
3. Establishing a content calendar
4. Choosing content specific themes

A regular posting schedule can help get word around to your potential followers that you are a committed and dependable as a brand. Do take care to make it rewarding for your followers and don’t try to cram too much into too little.

When it comes to deciding at what time you need to post, I prefer the age-old trial and error method compared to other tools in the market. I sent out test posts at various times through the day to gauge follower response.

Armed with all this info, establish a content calendar which has a) who will post b) what to post c)what time to post.

Since Instagram is highly visual, themes depending on the subject are a huge deal. We will talk about this in depth later in the article.

Instagram – Identity And Branding

Like I just said, it’s all about envisioning a cohesive, visual, campaign that relates to your brand. Your call here will decide which direction you will lead your brand.

First, you’ll need to choose a color palette that your brand identifies with. You also need to choose a filter (or create your own for maximum effect) that can help get attention.

For example: KFC’s Instagram has a warm tinge of colors which they feel helps people identify with their brand better. It also has the same red they use in their advertisements on most of the photos, along with catchy hashtags. This is an example to brand-building done right.

Getting Started With The App

The app is free and you can download it on most mobile platforms.

The most important step here is choosing a user name. Your username should match the ones on your other social media services. This can increase visibility and make it easier for people to discover your brand. Your real name would be the name of your company in this case.

Instagram gives you the option of a short bio about your company/ brand and the option of including a URL here and you are well-advised to make use of it. Some companies are creatively linking to a sale or discounts through that URL.

If you can visit that KFC link again (I swear I’m not getting paid by them!) you’ll find that it takes you to a specific page on their website. This page might have special offers or seasonal discounts depending.

Post And Engage!

Now that you’re done with setting up important stuff, it’s time to get down to business.

The key to getting engagement levels up is to remember that Instagram is a platform which tends to mobile users first. This means that you have to optimize your pictures so that they look as good on a smaller screen.

Don’t get lazy and skimp on quality though, use high-resolution pictures and scrutinize every last detail before you upload them to your Insta-feed.

When you talk about engagement, it should be either you or other people from your company getting to know your customers. Don’t ever try automating this as you will get called-out by your followers.People are smarter than that. Also, you can follow people who follow you, especially people who have actually put some work into their Instagram profile and made it eye-catching In short, buy Instagram followers to boost your engagagement with your target audience.

Location tags can do wonders for getting visits and shares from locals. It also gets traffic from tourists who usually search for different amenities particular toan area.

Instagram Analytics And Tools

Of course, you absolutely need to have the means to track how changes you make to you social feeds affect your numbers. This is solved by having a good analytics system in place with which you can find out how a certain album or image gels with your target audience.

Instagram analytics can give you all that you are looking for initially at your fingertips. It can give you points of reference where exactly a specific change was made and how it affected your campaign.

There are a lot of tools out there, some of which are free for basic use that can expand along with your company on your way to superstardom.

Pixlee

Pixlee

Making its debut during StartX’s Demo Day way back in 2013, Pixlee has incorporated some of the best advances in Instagram analytics and marketing tools in recent times. Their philosophy is to create a bridge between the brands and their users who are creating advertising opportunities for them.

Pixlee differs from other brands in that they use proprietary technology, PhotoRank, to help brands and organizations find the right kind of Instagram feeds, videos and photos that would suit their own image. They call this an ‘end-to-end’ platform for Instagram marketing and I believe that it hold true! Another unique function of this platform is that you can repurpose images where they want to. The way they see it makes that photo of your new watch easier to find for the manufacturer and you might even get a discount next time you purchase from them!

Iconosquare(formerly known as Statigram)

ICONOSQUARE

Most of you may know the earlier version which was called Statigram. Its strength is that it applies to both the average social media newbie as well as the social marketing maven.

A desktop app, it provides in-depth analytics, including the number of endorsements received, averages of various attributes like comments, views, follower growth chars and much more for the duration of your Instagram account.

Another important add-on is that it allows users to add a custom Instagram tab to their Facebook pages to boost cross-channel engagement. Since the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook now, it’s not an often used feature.

SimplyMeasured

simplymeasured

This tool caters to the specialized spectrum of social marketers. It provides you with a high-level summary of your brand’s Instagram account for team or management purposes. It also offers a free Instagram user report.

Since it’s a web-based tool, the caveat is that you need to stay connected while you utilize its vast array of functions. It can give you comprehensive two-month reports for account that have less than 25,000 followers. Important analytical data like average engagement per photo, keyword analysis for user comments, most active followers, bestperiod to post for maximum engagement, top geo-tags and filters are just scratching the surface of this awesome tool.

InstaFollow

instafollow

This is a pretty nifty tool available both on the Android and iOS mobile platforms which provides extensive information about your follower base.

When you sync it to your Instagram account, it can give you numbers about new followers and people who have unfollowed you and also followers who don’t follow you back. You can also follow/unfollow people with a tap of a button.

Union Metrics

union-metrics

Union Metrics is a web-based Instagram analytics tool with a pretty short turnaround of about 2 minutes according to the creators. Similar to SimplyMeasured, it offers great depth when it comes to analysis of your Insta account.

They have included some features of their paid version into their free report, which includes all data like best time to post, top fans and followers, what type of content your followers prefer and if you should post more or less often.

Crowdfire (formerly known as JustUnfollow)

crowdfire1

This is a free Instagram and Twitter analytics tool that you can access on the web and via your mobile device. It’s currently out on Android and iOS.

This apps works as a relationship management tool which gives you every little statistic about users and their interactions with your Insta feed.

Instagram for Business:Best practices

Being unique, unlike everyone else

It’s good to be different especially when a lot of people are into the ‘if it works then don’t fix it mentality’. You can also get ideas from competitors but make absolutely sure that they are in YOUR niche before you do.

Paint a picture with your caption

A caption should be short enough to remember and long enough to keep your followers interested. Take this post by computer giants, Intel.It incorporated a lot of elements people in the 18-34 demographic take interest in like Fallout 4 (yep, it’s awesome!), custom pc building and high end gaming components.

A little competition is a good thing

Social media is a great platform for contests. You can run numerous giveaway, discounts and limited-access campaigns that can garner interest from your audience.

Get a few big guns on your side

Have you heard the expression, “There are always bigger fish in the sea”? Well, it definitely is the case for social media sites and especially, Instagram. Woo the top people in your niche, network with them, friend them and then follow them. There are massive advantages to having leaders in your niche follow you like being hashtagged on their post if you are really lucky.

Busting Four Big Instagram Myths

For many, Instagram has been a complete revelation in how it has jump-started a whole new generation of ‘visual marketers’ who are creative and effective at getting messages across. While there are a lot of people who swear by Instagram, many people are not yet convinced.

And believe it or not, this is all based on assumptions rather than facts! Come, ride shotgun with me while I put these new-age myths to rest. Yes, you can have the radio.

1) It Only Works if You Sell Visual Products

This couldn’t be farther away from the truth. Rather than being handicapped with a seemingly ‘unsexy’ product, you need to get your game up in the creativity department.

There are several areas where you can draw attention with Instagram to appeal to people. Yes, even if your company has nothing to offer visually. Get pictures of people working together, office parties, picnics and so on. The possibilities are endless!

At the end of the day, you have to reinforce the point that your company is about people and not just another billboard.

Let’s take a pretty extreme case to reinforce my point.

Septic services. I mean if I can convince you guys that these guys are able to market visually, then anything out there is fair game, right?

These folks can’t obviously market anything that they do visually. So, what did they do? Put their best foot forward, of course! Some of them have used the exterior of their trucks to hilarious effect.

From the reasonably old “Full of political promises” now we have “Stool Bus”, “Dr Pumper”, “Nope, we ain’t haulin’ Milk”, “You don’t want to highjack us, trust me!” and more. This extreme evolution was brought about by competition and creativity!

2) It’s Only for Big Brands

Some believe that only the big boys with their huge marketing paychecks can bend Instagram to their will.

Totally untrue. If you are willing to put in the time and a bit of elbow grease, you will be punching much above your weight class in no time. Take examples Mission Bicycle, Shwood Eyewear and Folk Fibers. They all pretty much started out small and have now been featured on Instagram blogs. And they did all this without massive funding or a huge marketing team.

They used smarts and creativity to run their campaigns and came out on the other side as winners.

3) It’s Only About Posting Pictures

Well, while this is sort of true, what you need to understand is that you need to use the images to convey emotion. Like how artists do with different colors but here, you’ll do the same with hashtags, links and other non-artistic components.

What people need to understand is that you can captivate and enthrall your audience with the right kind of images. Rather than go “meh, just post a few clicks”, you need to work on them a bit to get the desired effect.

Look at these and tell me that these are just mundane pictures.

4) Instagram Sells Your Images

While there was a lot of hue and cry about Instagram’s Terms of Service at the end of 2012, the creators quickly amended the grey areas.

According to the reworded ToS which was released January 2013, users are sole owners of the photos that they upload. Instagram is not going to take away your toys and pictures. So no, don’t worry about it.

A few case studies

Again, Instagram can work for ANYone. It doesn’t matter that you are big, small or not catering to a visual audience. The marketing power of Instagram makes it so that you are only limited by your creativity.

Let’s take a look at few people and establishments who have made quite a name for their niche.

W Hotels Worldwide (@whotels)

The first thing you notice about the W Hotels’ Instagram feed is that they are very rarely about their own brand. Simply put, they don’t blow their own trumpet. You’ll notice that there is a lot of style and panache in their images and it’s all about people and places with them.

Exotic locales and creative angles make up most of their feed, no doubt with a good dash of user generated imagery as well. They have actually got their engagement plan right down to a ‘T’.

A photo posted by W Hotels Worldwide (@whotels) on Nov 20, 2015 at 1:27pm PST

 

Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts (@fourseasons)

The first thing that you get from their Insta feed is that it all about luxury with these guys! They have classy photos that have subtle filters, vignetting and hue shifts. Striking beaches, island getaways, rooms with great views, glorious platters of food and elegantly presented wines are all part of their Insta feed. Even though their presentation is a polar opposite of what W Hotels goes for, they show us that it can be equally engaging and attractive.

 

Matthew Karsten (@expertvagabond)

Matthew has spent last four years of his life backpacking, travelling and ‘chasing adventure around the world’. And believe me, he doesn’t disappoint! You can find pictures of one-eyed lions, fantastic beaches, a shark moving in for the kill, gladiatorial plays, castles, hills and sombreros.

Nope, I haven’t even covered half of what is on offer on there.

In this short span of time on Instagram, he already has 40,000 followers and his feed is gaining more popularity.

 

Michael Christopher Brown (@michaelchristopherbrown)

A professional photojournalist, he covers vast swathes of areas from China in the Far East to Africa, and Libya. His feed is characterized by powerful imagery mostly of people and his portraits are especially hard-hitting. He has over 304K followers and has no signs of slowing down. If you want informative and vivid images of things happening around the world, this man is hard to beat.

A photo posted by @michaelchristopherbrown on Dec 7, 2015 at 11:26pm PST

 

New Fork City℠ (@new_fork_city)

Acclaimed food-lovers who like their namesake are from the New York area, they have a huge collection of tastefully (pun unintended!) taken photographs of food and drink all over their feed. Chocolates, ice creams, pizzas and more, everything is featured on their feed.

They recently broke into 500k followers and still their enthusiasm hasn’t dampened one bit. Do check them out when you have time.

This box of doughnuts in California is 100% worth the trip Credit: @damn_delicious #newforkcityA photo posted by New Fork City℠ (@new_fork_city) on Dec 7, 2015 at 11:07am PST

 

RealFoodz (@realfoodz)

Thought I’m not a huge fan of substituting S for Z, these guys have an awesome Insta feed showcasing a huge variety of food plus their unique attitude to their pictures. Their catchline is ‘it’s healthy or is it?’ probably puts their attitude towards food into better perspective than I ever could. They’re also partial to Oreos, but so am I! They have close to 322K followers and still going strong!

 

Intel (@intel)

Okay, I admit, I crave radical tech. Intel’s Insta feed helps me satiate my urge for cutting edge technology news and reviews delivered with a bit of panache and style. If you are an interested party, you should check them out as well!

They have about 262k followers at the moment, but if their new campaign ‘#expertmode’ takes off, there could be even more people who sign up for it.

 

AMD (@amd)

Competitors AMD are not too far behind, people can get more information on new hardware, games and pc builds from their Instagram. There are also user submitted images which have been uploaded by the company. They have over 62k people following them which comparatively might be a small number, but they are steadily making inroads into the competition.

A photo posted by AMD (@amd) on Dec 3, 2015 at 8:01pm PST

 

Chad Carroll (@chadcarroll)

Calm, cool, confident and collected describes Chad perfectly and his Instagram feed reflects just that. Calling himself ‘South Florida’s Top Real Estate Broker’ his feed is full of classy pictures that make you want to get in touch with him.

Considering that he has nearly 151k followers, I think he has done a great job of reaching out to potential clients.

A photo posted by Chad Carroll (@chadcarroll) on Dec 7, 2015 at 7:34am PST

 

TheBrokeAgent (@thebrokeagent)

Contrast that to this: hilarious, creative and extremely tongue-in-cheek, TheBrokeAgent makes light of several issues that real estate agents have to deal with in their daily routine. It’s full of memes and references to popular culture and you’d enjoy reading it even if you are not checking for the latest prices on a house. He has about 37k followers who think that his methods work, and I’m one of them!

A photo posted by thebrokeagent (@thebrokeagent) on Dec 7, 2015 at 12:14pm PST

 

Brandon Stanton (@humansofny)

One of the largest followings ever garnered for a cause has to go to Brandon Stanton who started up Humans of New York, a page where he posted pictures of people who he met in the city. He has combined powerful imagery and extensive use of angles to come up with a beautiful collage of people.

He has over 4.5 Million followers on Instagram and close to 17 million fans on Facebook.

 

Grace Ciao (@grace_ciao)

Since she was a little girl, Grace was fascinated with creative designs. When she posted a design which she had come up with on Instagram, it caught like wildfire and she was an instant celebrity! She now works as a full-time illustrator and uses Instagram to keep in touch with her followers.

She has a chic and beautiful Insta feed almost all of which have been created by hand. She has over 52k followers of her art.

A photo posted by Grace Ciao (@grace_ciao) on Dec 6, 2015 at 11:14pm PST

 

Top Tips From People Who Have Made Instagram Work

 

We want to give a visual marker of our standards, what guests can expect from our site.

nikki

Nikki Woodson Blair @clanventure

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We post pictures of our properties to show what our villas are like in terms of features but also service.

Daniel Rouquette

Daniel Rouquette @villabalicom

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We use Instagram to announce our new properties and promote our blogs and testimonials.

Karleen Lewis

Karleen Lewis @timeandplacetravel

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Your Instagram feed is only as good as your photographs, so starting with high-quality photos makes your Instagram marketing more effective

Peg Fitzpatrick

Peg Fitzpatrick @pegfitzpatrick

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To move your users further down the funnel, you should consider identifying ways to capture your followers’ email. One of the best ways to capture your followers’ email is to ask for it.

Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds @thecoolestcool

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Considering that a video can generate three times more inbound links than written posts, it’s a valuable tool that can be used to engage fans, grow your following and drive traffic.

Sarah Quinn

Sarah Quinn @misssarahq

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To monitor accurate click rates, I recommend businesses use a customized bit.ly link exclusively for the URL in their Instagram bio.

Jenn Herman

Jenn Herman @jenns_trends

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Finishing Up

Social media tends to ride on top of the cultural and technological wave, which presents a perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs and established entities alike. And it’s not even that difficult to start off with!

I hope this was able to add some value to your knowledge about Instagram and I wish you well on getting maximum exposure through the fastest growing social media platform, Instagram!