Too many brands fail on Instagram because they use it to sell their products. In reality, Instagram is not the most ideal platform to promote or sell your products. I repeat – it’s not where you sell your products. It’s a place where you sell your ‘brand’; and that’s what makes it more powerful than any other social platform out there. It forces you to build your brand like no other social platform does. If you want to sell products, go to other platforms such as Pinterest. But if you want to succeed on Instagram, you must look to create a ‘brand’ marketing strategy and not a ‘product’ marketing strategy.
And there is a logical reason why Instagram doesn’t allows you to link out from your post. They actually want their platform to be used by brands and business owners to get discovered by their customers and emotionally connect with them, and not necessarily to sell products.
This is how typical users engage with a brand on Instagram:
On Instagram, users discover your posts from their hashtag searches or because some another Instagram user shared your post. A user then goes to your Instagram profile, checks all the other Instagram posts, reads the bio, follows your profile and clicks on the only link on your profile page, which takes them to your website. Or they just follow you, look at your posts everyday and one fine day decide to type your website URL in their browser. So, the traffic from Instagram is a combination of referral and direct traffic. (The way we often measure effectiveness by the correlative spike in traffic at a given time when an Instagram post goes live).
In this post, let me share with you some of ‘the’ right ways to use Instagram for your brand’s marketing and how you can grow your business using Instagram, like ‘other’ successful brands out there are doing. Let’s dive in!
1) Create Instagram’s native content
The first step towards using Instagram the right way is to understand what kind of visual content ‘works’ on Instagram. Broadly speaking, any visuals that can inspire people to ‘be someone’ and to ‘be somewhere’ will do well on Instagram.
Your posts should be able to stimulate and captivate the right side brain of people on Instagram. For example – images of glitter, blue sky, ocean waves, cupcakes, fresh blooms, sunsets, glitters, lighthouse… and just about anything that has a ‘positive’ emotional correlation with human brain.
Here are few additional tips to create brand selling stories:
- Your Instagram photos & videos must show unexpected moments that feel authentic and immediate.
- Whether your picture/video is of a person or an object, it should be in context with your brand’s identity, values and point of view.
- Your pictures and the story inside these images should authentic to your brand.
- Your posts should give users a sense of progression and journey that also remains consistent over time in your future posts.
There many articles written already about what kind of content works well on Instagram, for example:
2) Use hashtags strategically
Instagram doesn’t allows more than 30 hashtags in a post and it has been tested that posts with 7 hashtags get the optimal exposure (more than 7 posts are seen as spammy). We recommend a max of 3 hashtags per post in order to keep your post natural and not hungry for attention.
We all know how important hashtags are on Instagram. It’s the single most effective way to increase the reach of your Instagram posts. The way you use hashtags should resonate with your brand, its values and the kind of content you post.
Think of it as how you would use Google Keyword Planner to do keyword research to figure out what keywords you want your web pages to rank for on Google and you use these keywords strategically on your home page, category and product pages. Similarly you must use Webstagram to find relevant hashtags for your brand and product categories in advance.
Types of Instagram Hashtags
Broadly speaking, you can classify hashtags into 5 types:
1) Post specific hashtags: This one has to be the most fundamental type of hashtag. It’s the hashtag that most closely correlates with the image. It’s also the hashtag that causes most confusion as many retailers use flat hashtags such as – #fashion #pant #time #rose etc. Using such generic hashtags is useless because there are hundreds of pictures being posted every minute with such generic hashtags and there is a tiny probability that anyone is going to discover your post. In other words, the shelf life of your posts will be small if you use generic hashtags.
2) Branded hashtags: This is the hashtag of your brand name, for example – #nike, #toyota, #burberry etc. Using these hashtags is like you’re stamping each post as your own. You want your followers to see it over and over again and remember it. Using this hashtag is a great way to create a brand recall in your followers.
3) Idea hashtags: What is the unique idea that you’re trying to promote with your brand? What is the personality you’re trying to project? What does your brand stand for? If there any one hashtag that would explain it? What would it be? Use such hashtags whenever it makes sense. You must see this hashtag(s) as an extension of your brand identity, such as logo, business tagline.
Toyota – #Keepitwild
Huckberry – #seeyououtthere
Ripcurl – #SurfingIsEverything
4) Event hashtags: Event related hashtags are the most powerful kind when it comes to giving exposure to your Instagram posts. Create a list of local specific hashtags that relates to your Instagram post and brand. For example:
5) Category hashtags: Do you want your Instagram post to show-up for specific category keyword searches? Make a list of them in advance. For example, if you sell sweaters on your website and have posted something related to sweater, you can use hashtags such as:
3) Manage your hashtags
To save time, you should create a list of your hashtags in advance. For example – 15-20 hashtags for each category, 1 brand hashtags, 1-3 idea hashtags, 5-10 location hashtag would be great start. Save these tags in an app in your phone such as – Evernote.
Please note that hashtags are trending in nature and they change quickly. The list of hashtags you have today can get obsolete in few months. So, we suggest that you revisit your hashtags after every couple of months. If you find new hashtags, add them to the list. In fact, you can also add newly discovered hashtags in your previously published posts to keep your Instagram posts more current and discoverable.
Often, brands don’t use hashtags in the caption area, but in the comments section. By doing so, they keep their post caption natural. Notice in the above snapshot that threadless has posted hashtags in comments section and not in the caption.
4) Maintain consistency in Instagram filters
Using Instagram photo filters is a great way to give your photos a signature look, so that all the pictures seem to belong to same family. These filters give your images that signature “Instagram” look that makes people engage with it. We suggest that you should experiment with various filters and select not more than two filters that go best with your brand image. Think of it as an extension of your brand’s identity and whichever filters you use, make sure you maintain consistency in their usage to maintain a consistency in your Instagram theme.
Do you know that 60% of the photos brands post on Instagram have filters applied? TrackMaven recently published a study which reveals that photos with the Mayfair filter, no filter or the Inkwell filter had the most number of likes and comments.
5) Keep your content exclusive
When Instagram users stumble on your Instagram profile, they should find your posts to be unique. Only then they will see value in hitting the follow button. On the other hand, if they see the same content that’s there on your Instagram profile, also on your Facebook, Blog, etc Tumblr, they will feel that content is generic, easily-accessible and they don’t see any value in following you.
There are two important things to notice in the above Threadless’ Instagram posts:
- They took a different Instagram friendly picture to share same product, instead of sharing same image on their product page. Notice the difference between product page image and its Instagram version.
- They have mentioned a tiny URL in the image caption, which even though is not clickable but it does makes it easier for customers to buy this t-shirt if they want. It also makes it easier for them to track the sales coming from this Instagram post.
Paid And Promoted Posts: Instagram has never been about call to action and ‘buy now’ marketing. However, only recently they introduced sponsored ads in the form of paid carousel banners, that comes with a specific call to action button. Soon, you will not only be able to run ads but also drive traffic to specific pages on your website.
6) Get the timing right
Similar to Facebook, the timing of your posts on Instagram is critical if you want to maximize the post engagement. And every business has different kinds of customers and they are active at different times. Thus, to be able to figure out what’s the best time for you to publish your Instagram posts, you must first know their behavior, habits and psychology. A good way to start is to ask your self questions such as:
- Is your typical Instagram follower a mom, daughter, both, a student… so on and so forth.
- Do they go out for a 9-5 job?
- Why are they using Instagram? (there can be many reasons…shopping discovery, to know what their friends are doing, to know what’s happening outside their own network, to know what’s trending, to look for reasons to laugh, etc)
- What kind of content people like on Instagram?
- When do they take their lunch break?
- What time do they go back home from work?
- What are the other things they may be doing while using Instagram on their mobile – watching TV, traveling on the road, working in their office etc?
- What is the tone of voice they appreciate on Instagram?
- What is the core objective of most people who use the platform?
- What do they like more – videos, photos?
- What time are they most likely watch a video? (Videos perform best after work hours; only few people watch Instagram videos during working hours)
When you ask these questions, you will make many interesting discoveries and which will help you better time your Instagram posts. You can either do your postings manually or use tools like Schedugram to schedule your Instagram posts in advance.
7) Work with Instagram influencers
There are many fabulous, fabulous Instagram influencers who will be happy to promote your Instagram page/posts to their followers. A good way to find them is to do a targeted hashtag search. They usually mention in their bio that they welcome any business inquiries and they also mention their blog and email, so that you can contact them easily. Typically, they charge $20-$60 per sponsored post depending on how influential they are and they might charge you more as you increase the scope of work.
8) Reach out the followers of your competitors
Stop waiting for the followers of your competitors to find you and engage with you. Go to the profile of people who are following and engaging with your competitors. Follow them, like their post, leave thoughtful replies to their comments. If your Instagram posts are good enough, they will be happy to engage with you.
9) Respond to any negativity on your Instagram page
Even though Instagram is inherently a positive platform and customers usually don’t post negative comments here. They will first go to your Twitter and Facebook page to leave a negative feedback and only if you don’t reply them there, they may post something negative on Instagram. But if they do, it can hurt your brand. Thus it’s important that you address their complaint. In my opinion, the most effective way is to talk to them. If they say that this dress sucks, give them another option? Ask them, what about this one? Listen and respond in the most positive way. Not replying to a negative comment is as damaging as the negative comment itself.
10) Keep the profile bio simple and brand oriented
Instagram allows you tell people about your brand in not more than 150 characters. It’s important that you use the space wisely. Keep it simple. We suggest that you use a brand slogan, a business tagline or a even elevator pitch. Avoid wasting it with special characters and emoticons.
11) Use 3rd party apps. to manage multiple accounts
For some of you, managing Instagram might mean running more than one Instagram account; maybe you run one for work, or for a community group of some sort, in addition to your personal profile. Unfortunately, the default Instagram app. doesn’t have a native functionality to enable its users to maintain multiple accounts. However, there are many 3rd party apps. such as Fotogram & Multigram, that can make it easy for you to easily manage multiple social media accounts on a single phone.
12) Don’t depend on your camera
Often retailers believe that Instagram pictures only work if taken from a phone camera. That’s not true. If you look at the pictures posted by GoPro, their pictures are obviously not taken from phones but their own cameras. Remember, it’s a mobile platform for visual content distribution. Yes, because it’s accessible from a mobile device, which comes with a camera, but it doesn’t mean Instagram expects you to only post pictures from that same camera. Feel free to use DSLR, Photoshop or any hardware / software that allows you to create stunning visuals.
Instagram is an extremely powerful avenue for rich visual storytelling. Building your brand on Instagram is the way to drive sales from this platform. You can use this platform to increase brand awareness, shift perceptions and reach a new customers. Direct, on-the-face selling doesn’t works too well on this platform. Your success will depend on your ability to produce captivating imageries in a way that’s native to the platform. I have seen companies thriving solely on Instagram and there should be no reason why your brand can’t do well on Instagram, if you know the rules of the game.
Agree, disagree? Let me know what you think. If you have any additional tips on Instagram Marketing, please feel free to share them in comment section below.