You've got your Facebook page and your Twitter account. But have you also considered setting up an Instagram business account as part of your small business marketing plan?
Instagram is a photo-sharing service that has soared in growth over the past few years — from 30 million users when Facebook bought the platform in mid-2012 to more than 200 million users worldwide today. Not only can you use it for posting pictures, but you can also upload short videos (up to 15 seconds).
Businesses both big and small have discovered that Instagram can help in their social media marketing campaigns, particularly if they have visually oriented products appealing to young women. That's because 68 percent of those using Instagram are women; overall, 90 percent of users in 2013 were under 35, according to Business Insider research.
For example, a hairstylist in Farmington, Michigan, posted a picture of a satisfied customer's colorful hair extensions one day — and the phone started ringing off the hook with people wanting similar do's, to the tune of at least $10,000 in additional business.
Instagram could be an efficient way to find new clientele for your business — even if you're in the service industry and don't offer an obvious visual product.
Here are some tips on how to use Instagram for businesses:
- Go mobile. Instagram is a mobile app, so you'll need a smartphone or tablet to upload pictures and manage your account.
- Don't hard-sell. Instagram is not meant to be a mini-billboard filled with pictures of your products. Instead, remember that it’s a community where you can build relationships with current and future customers. Service companies can creatively market themselves by presenting their company's culture in an authentic and intimate way. Curate your feed with personality and humor — post pictures of your employees and customers, behind-the-scenes videos showing life at your company or a series of photos that tell a story.
- Be concise. Keep your account name, profile picture and profile text simple, short and catchy. The same goes for the text you use to caption your photos and videos. (Remember, people are scrolling on the small screens of phones, tablets and mini-tablets.)
- Use hashtags. Just like with Twitter, hashtags help people who are searching the platform find you. You also need to search hashtags yourself in order to find other Instagram users to follow, whose pictures you can comment on (remember — it's all about building community).
- Blue rules. Use the color blue when picking pictures. Research finds that Instagram images that have a high amount of the color blue receive 24 percent more likes than photos with high concentrations of red and orange. Using a lot of background space and a single dominant hue also helps your pictures stand out.
- Try new tools. Consider using Hyperlapse, a new, time-lapse video app for iOS that Instagram recently began offering. This program lets you use up to 3 minutes of "real time" video, but sped up by a factor of 12. Also keep up with Instagram's many filters to give your photos cool effects.
- Link up. Don't forget to link your Instagram account to your website and other social media sites.
Instagram is developing an advertising service that will let businesses buy sponsored posts targeting specific demographics; once this becomes available, you may want to check it out. For now, the free service can still work to enhance your social media marketing, spread awareness of your company — and gain you new customers. Lorna Collier is a Chicago-area writer whose articles have appeared in the Intuit Small Business Blog, Workforce Management, Crain’s Chicago Business,CNN.com, USNews.com, the Chicago Tribune and many others. You can follow her on Twitter at @lornacollier.