Among social media platforms for business to consumer brands, Facebook might have the most overall users, but Instagram is dominating the market in terms of engagement. Instagram's brand to customer engagement rate is the highest among all social media outlets -- 15 times higher than Facebook and 40 times higher than Twitter.

Instagram is known as the social media outlet for adolescents and young adults seeking refuge from the older generations flooding Facebook. In fact, over half of 18- to 29 year-olds have an Instagram account. By 2020, U.S. adults born between 1980 and 2000 will represent 30 percent of total retail sales, according to Accenture.

Considering those statistics, it's clear Instagram can give brands access to a sea of potential business opportunities. The key is turning your Instagram account into a lead generation machine. Here's how:

1. Optimize your profile for search.

You've probably optimized your businesses website to show up in Google Search, but will your profile or content show up if someone is searching for a business like yours on Instagram?

First, start with your name. This section isn't the same as your username. It's the area where most users would put their full name, but as a business, it's a great opportunity to incorporate keywords. "Put niche-related words in your username," said Zach Benson, founder of the social media management company Assistagram. "This is an SEO hack, so when people search those keywords your account pops up first."

Second, use hashtags within your posts and profile. Hashtags have the ability to expose your content to a larger audience, but only if you use searchable keywords. While Instagram allows 30 hashtags per post, even one will do the job.

Posts that include at least one hashtag tend to drive 12.6 percent more engagement than those that don't. As you define your hashtags, your content will gain greater exposure, and your profile will be more accessible.

2. Be consistent and authentic.

As with most marketing strategies, commitment and consistency are key to finding success on Instagram. "It usually takes five to eight exposures before someone makes a decision to buy something," said Benson. "So be consistent day in and day out, engage with your followers on a daily basis and create a dialogue."

Also, it's critically important to keep everything honest and authentic. Just because you have 100,000 followers doesn't mean that you're getting actual customers clicking to your website and viewing your posts.

Schedule time each day where you engage with your followers through replying to comments, liking your followers' content and posting in real time. Proving to your followers that there is an authentic personality behind your profile is the best way to generate engagement and leads.

3. Avoid third-party apps.

It's tempting to automate their Instagram efforts to save time and resources, but doing so can condition your followers to tune out, undermining any previously established trust and engagement. Users want to know there are real people behind the profiles they follow, and that requires a human touch.

Additionally, some apps can compromise the quality of your following, which in turn hurts your engagement rate and lead generation opportunities. "Don't talk to robots," Benson advised. "Third party apps and tools are not good for your Instagram account's health rating, which can lower your engagement, genuine followers and more."

Unfortunately, the social media industry has plenty of scams and spam. Some third-party tools promise you tons of new followers and engagement, only to send robot accounts your way. These accounts are often run by people who are paid to create fake accounts. This means you'll get plenty of followers, but they won't provide a true value to your business.

4. Include a call to action.

Another important tip is to always include a lead magnet or call to action in your posts and profile page. Offering a free download, such as an e-book or webinar signup, is a great way to get people interested in your business, as well as a proven way to capture their email address for future follow-ups. Post about your lead magnet often, and always keep a link in your bio.

If done right, Instagram lead generation efforts can yield powerful results. Benson explained how a recent campaign his company executed for a client generated over 1,000 opt-ins and thousands of new followers with a single post.

Posting is easy, but gaining value from your followers requires commitment to a strategy. By applying these tips, you can turn your Instagram profile to a lead generation tool and broaden your sales pipeline.   

Published on: Jan 22, 2018