Not all social-media apps are created equal. Instagram, first launched in 2010, now has 500 million total users, and 300 million people use the app every day. Those users interact with the platform much differently than Twitter and Facebook users, who tend to be pretty indiscriminate when it comes to the accounts they follow. Instagram just about requires you to post visually appealing and cleverly captioned content to have any chance at growing an audience--and at turning that audience into sales.
It's not surprising, then, that many of the app's best-performing brands have a visual element to their products: Nike (54 million followers) posts photos and short videos of its sportswear and athletes; Starbucks (9.8 million) features its drinks in exotic or colorful locations. Plenty of startups, from T-shirt companies (Mizzen+Main) to backpack brands (Herschel Supply Co.), have used the app as a way to increase awareness and enthusiasm about their brand.
So how best to do this? Thanks to the upcoming rollout of Instagram's business tools, brands will be able to connect with their customers more easily than before. All you need is a Facebook page (Facebook owns Instagram) from which the Instagram app can import your company information. From there, you can take advantage of a handful of useful features, including special business profile pages, an analytics tool, and the option to pay for advertisements.
As with any business decision, make sure Instagram is worth the investment for your brand before diving in. If you run a software company or a consulting agency, for example, it might be hard to create posts your fans get excited about. But it still may be worth experimenting to see how much engagement you can drive.
Here are six of the best practices for using Instagram for your business.
1. Make sure your customers can easily contact you.
There's no need to jam information into your bio anymore. Instagram's new business profiles allow followers to reach out and email, call, or text your company--or pull up a map with directions to your location--with the press of a button. Make sure all your info is filled out accurately so customers can easily find and contact you, enabling you to respond to inquiries and comments as quickly and efficiently as possible.
2. Use the Insights tool to determine what kind of posts are getting the best response.
Think you know what works? Think again--and then make sure you analyze your data. The Insights tool will show you how many people are engaging with each post. Use this info to track how various caption styles, filters, and photo subjects are faring. Interior design startup Homepolish, for example, thought its audience might like to see the occasional human mixed into photos of its completed projects. When careful analysis revealed that those posts garnered fewer likes than the others, the company decided to remove people from its shots.
3. Create a posting calendar.
When are the best times of day for you to post? What's the right number of posts per day? Experiment with one post a day or several, then use the data you collect to find the sweet spot. As a guide, many brands say more than two or three daily posts might oversaturate your audience. And while lots of companies post more frequently during business hours, one study shows that late night and weekend posts actually pull in slightly higher engagement levels, possibly because there's less competition. Play around, crunch the numbers, and see what your audience most responds to--then plan out your posts days or weeks in advance to make sure you stay on track.
4. Post material that engages and drives comments.
Comments are the holy grail of Instagram interactions. The aforementioned study found that for big brands, comments accounted for only 1.1 percent of user engagements. That's a shame, because very often commenters include the tag of one or more of their friends, leading to more eyeballs on your page. How can you drive more comments? Men's outdoor company Huckberry (179,000 followers) advises using photos and captions that provide value and insight, or ask questions: suggestions for a recipe, or the best landmarks to visit in Seoul. Homepolish recommends using subject matter that appeals to several emotions--a post that's both witty and loving has a higher chance of racking up comments than a post that has only one of those qualities.
5. Point followers to your website--but only every so often.
The point of marketing your company on Instagram, after all, is to eventually turn followers into sales. While much of this is a long-term strategy, you can use your captions to let users know of sales or new releases--and point them to a link in your company's profile. But don't overuse this tactic or your feed will start to feel less like a fun account to follow and more like just a sales tactic. "The less often we ask, the more we train our followers to understand that we're here to present rad content and stories," Huckberry managing editor Zach Pina tells Inc., "and we wouldn't ask anything of them unless we were really, really excited about it."
6. Keep your voice and subject matter consistent.
Once your followers get hooked on your page's breathtaking photos or inspirational words, they'll expect you to keep it up. "Find your voice, hone it, and then stay super consistent," says Pina. Homepolish founder Noa Santos agrees: "In a world where things are so unpredictable," he says, "being somewhat predictable is good."