In today’s social media world, a picture can actually be worth more than a thousand words. In general, most companies establish their electronic presence in the form of websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or any combination of the five. However, one rapidly expanding social media platform that brands shouldn’t immediately count out is Instagram. At just four years old, Instagram has over 300 million followers that are interacting at a rate of 2.5 billion likes per day. Based off of previous success alone, this is an app that won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Before we get started, it’s important to understand that managing an Instagram account is not as simple as posting a few pictures or videos with some hashtags and expecting the masses to immediately follow along. While it’s not an incredibly difficult task (and often fun) there is no “magic filter” or “magic number of posts” that will equal success. However, there are five basic fundamentals that you need to consider before activating your brand’s Instagram account. Mastering these ideas will help you build the foundation for a successful Instagram presence.

  1. Have a plan: I’ll expand on this later, but as with any marketing effort, it’s important to have a strategy. What do you want your Instagram account to say? What do you want your brand’s image to be? How often do you want to post? Who from your company will post? Like I said, there is not a “magic answer” to any of these questions, but it’s important to pre-determine the structure and voice of your account. For example, it’s incredibly ineffective if you decide to post 10 pictures in one day and then leave your account sitting without any activity. Instead decide that you’re going to post once a day, or three to five days out of the week, whatever works for you. Not only will it make the account easier to manage, but if you get into a posting routine, your followers will eventually understand the routine and have an idea of what to expect and when to expect it.

  1. Prepare to interact: Like any social media platform, prepare to interact! In the Instagram world, this is a two-pronged approach. First, take the time to communicate with fellow people on Instagram. Devote time every day to search through images, videos, and hashtags about your company or related to your company on Instagram, and if it’s appropriate, interact! (like, comment, follow, etc). Secondly, you have the opportunity to organize campaigns and contests. Create a brand specific hashtag or contest where your followers post themed images on their own accounts and the “best one wins”. This will not only encourage users to interact with you socially, but depending on the contest, it could showcase customers interacting with your products. This is an added bonus because everyone that follows the participants will also be able to check out your company. A basic example of this would be if you were a clothing or accessory line, ask your followers to post a picture styling their favorite piece for a chance to win a gift card. Make the initial post on your brand’s account, create a deadline for the contest, and add a few rules or terms if you feel that it’s necessary (you have 2,200 characters worth of space)! If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some examples of top Instagram campaigns.

  1. Understand hashtags: Hashtags operate the same way they do on other social media platforms. You do however have a little more wiggle room with the number of hashtags, though. Instagram allows users up to 2,200 characters and 30 hashtags per post. The beauty of a great hashtag is that it can drive additional traffic to your brand’s account. However, it’s important to use them correctly. Don’t use popular hashtags on images just to drive traffic to a certain picture if it isn’t relevant. This won’t help with your credibility. That pointer seems obvious, but I’ve seen it done before and it never ends well for the brand in question.

  1. Picture quality and content: Bottom line, you want your picture to stand out. Instagram’s impressive growth also directly correlates to the tremendous amount of images that are accessible on a daily basis. Users generally sift through the app looking for images, captions, or familiar brands and industries that will immediately grab their attention. Again, there isn’t a “magic filter”, but with 20 to choose from, along with the other picture editing tools, the best option will almost always be an obvious one.

    Under any circumstance, don’t just “post to post”- it shows through in your image. This is your opportunity to show a side of your brand that you may not be able to show through other social media platforms. With Instagram you can tell your company’s story, introduce your employees, show the progress of a specific product (i.e. before and after shots or videos), and engage your followers, sometimes all at once. You have the ability to add the human element, if you will. Cut back on posting stock photos, crafted images pushing “limited time sales”, or forcing image after image of a product you have on the market. Through your account, show the IG-world a well rounded version of what a day in the life looks like for your company.

  2. The potential to make money: Now that we’ve covered the bases on what to do with your Instagram account, understand how it can help your business. It’s also important to understand that you don’t necessarily have to be a company that sells goods, like a clothing or a food-based store to reap the benefits of Instagram. You should always include your website in your online bio, but whether you want to directly drive traffic to your online store, or you simply want to increase brand awareness, there is a lot of opportunity here. Using this social media platform not only allows you the opportunity to turn your followers into customers, but it also gives you the opportunity to work with other companies. You can be successful in one of two ways. First, you could find companies that complement your business, and work together with a larger business to help drive traffic and increase sales. For example, and clothing and a jewelry store could create a limited time Instagram based collaboration for a larger department store. Another way to make money is to find companies that would benefit from working with you and write up a contract. This more so applies to marketing based businesses. In either instance a contract is key. Determine things like how many pictures you’re expected to take or promote and bonuses for things like an increase in followers.

 

If you want some examples of who’s doing it right, check out the Top 25 Brands on Instagram.

Additionally, Instagram has been testing a limited release of their carousel ads. Think of this as a multi-page print campaign for the mobile phone. Right now this feature is only open to bigger brands. The “ads” allow users to “swipe left” for more information, images, or videos on a specific company’s post. Regardless of if you decide to use carousel ads, these five principles are important to consider. It will be interesting to see how the carousel ads take off in the coming months.