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Q. Many of my competitors are on Instagram. Before I dive in, can you tell me whether it’s worth the time and effort?
A. Used well, Instagram (or any social media platform) is definitely worth doing. That’s the lesson learned by many mass-market and luxury giants—from Starbucks and Zappos to Burberry and Gucci—that are cashing in on the connectivity craze via Facebook’s free photo-sharing app, Instagram. If you own a small business and you’re not on Instagram, start posting today. With a reported 100 million-plus users of Apple iPhones or Android mobile devices, Instagram has become the go-to place for building brand recognition and consumer loyalty.
For the uninitiated, Instagram is similar to Twitter, except instead of posting 140 characters of text, users post a photo designed to resemble an old Kodak Instamatic print. As with Twitter, you follow people and can like or comment on their images.
Instagram “allows us to interact with customers, build awareness of our business and drive buyers to our website,” says Nissa Wegienek, founder of vintage-inspired Nissa Jewelry. “We post sneak peeks of our merchandise to show fans what we’re working on and to promote new collections.”
“It’s a great way to engage with other brands through powerful visuals, which inspire partnerships, collaborations and other business,” says Shameeka Ayers, who owns an Atlanta-based company called The Broke Socialite, which hosts festive events and conferences. “I also use it to share my life, which, of course, lends to the transparency of my brand.”
Los Angeles manicurist Sarah Bland, who specializes in celebrity-inspired nail art, snaps iPhone photos of her work and posts to her Instagram feed @sarahbland. The result: More than one new client per week books an appointment after discovering her creations on the site.
Here’s how to join them: Create an account using your business or brand name as you’d do on Facebook or any social platform. Snap pictures that convey what you do or who you are. Post them to your feed to tell your visual story. Don’t post more than a few times a day; if you do, it jams up your followers’ newsfeed and they may dump you.
As with Twitter, use hash tags that allow others to search by those keywords to find relevant content. Avoid being cutesy. If your business is about pets and you post a photo about your dog product, it’s OK to hash-tag #dog #pets and the name of your business. But it’d be going overboard to use #dog #cute #puppy #fun #petlover. That’s annoying.
Instagram is not about perfectly posted, art-book-quality pictures. It’s about the quirky and offbeat, providing interesting details you normally wouldn’t see in a publicity photo. So a jewelry maker can show off the beauty of a single bead, not the entire strand. Or that same designer can post a photo of a woman’s ear, with a gorgeous dangling earring.
Go behind the scenes to reveal aspects of your lifestyle and interests. Remember: You’re selling your style and sensibilities more than directly plugging products and services. If you’re a fitness coach, you might post photos that capture cool details on your new sneakers or pictures of the green juice you blend.
Focus on other people. Feature your customers by running contests that encourage them to submit photos while using your product. Follow interesting people and comment on their posts. Curate a thoughtful list of feeds you follow that relate to your business, which will enable you to stay on top of trends and may inspire new business opportunities.
“We follow stores and businesses that we work with in the fashion industry,” Wegienek says. “It keeps us up-to-date on what they’re doing.”