It's no secret that Instagram can be an invaluable tool for small-business owners, but standing out on a platform with more than 500 million daily active users is a challenge, to say the least. Perfectly cropped, airbrushed images are lovely--until you've seen thousands of them cluttering up your feed. Luckily, there are several strategies that your company can use to help you cut through the noise. Take it from these five brands, which collectively count more than one million Instagram followers: There's more than one way to capture customers' attention.

Give your fans a dopamine hit

To build community, let go of those control-freak impulses and invite users in. Encourage followers to post photos and videos using a specific brand hashtag so your social team can then repost the best ones on your brand's feed.

In 2017, Chicago-based stationery retailer Paper Source grew its Instagram following by nearly a quarter, in part by reposting customer photos. The company's head of social media, Pearl Plotkin, says such images--often created by entrepreneurs who have their own craft shops on Etsy and Shopify--demonstrate the versatility of its products better than the company can.

Teach at the speed of social media

Video tutorials are more interactive than standard posts, and they help keep your audience engaged. Create clever, fast-paced 15-second video clips, or use Instagram's bundled photos feature, Carousel.

The social-media team behind San Francisco-based subscription food startup Sun Basket creates cooking tutorial videos on topics customers are interested in. One recent tutorial--demonstrating how to cold brew coffee--resulted in "excellent engagement due to the intersection of topicality and trend," says senior content marketing manager Sean Timberlake.

Act like you're on Snapchat

When Instagram unveiled Stories in August 2016, analysts were skeptical of the Snapchat copycat. But it serves up more data and allows you to add a call to action, such as inviting viewers to "swipe up" to view a product housed off the platform.

Stories' immediate, ephemeral nature makes it the ideal outlet for New York City bottlemaker S'well to promote its limited-edition products, like last fall's Forbidden Garden collection. "With Instagram's current algorithm, content may appear in a user's feed days after being posted, whereas with Stories, it's not a problem," says S'well director of social media Emily Bibb.

Transform product porn into an actual purchase

To maintain its user-friendly vibe, Instagram hasn't made it easy for companies to link directly to their products (although it's currently piloting shoppable photo tags). In the meantime, services like Link In Profile let companies direct fans to shop on a page of products featured in a post.

E-commerce accessories company BaubleBar works with Like2Buy, which was created by marketing firm Curalate and lets people buy items on BaubleBar's Instagram feed. Like2Buy also aggregates any BaubleBar-related hashtags that the New York City startup might repost, helping it increase Instagram conversion rates by roughly 25 percent.

Manufacture a moment to tune in

With Instagram Live, brands can stream hourlong real-time video sessions--interactive Q&As, classes, demos, peeks behind the scenes--that disappear 24 hours later, giving fans a reason to show up.

To promote its archery products, Eugene, Oregon-based manufacturer Bowtech Archery hosted a series of "Live Hunts" with veteran archers. "Because of the traction we saw on 'Live,' that's now how we'll be launching products," says Bowtech director of digital strategy Tim Glomb, who's ditching traditional advertising altogether. "Setting up a live strategy was a no-brainer: It costs under a cent per view."

From the March/April 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine