Snap happy: how to use Instagram
The picture-sharing network has become one of consumers’ favourite social networks – and a winning marketing tool for small businesses. But how do brands make the most of Instagram?
Forget Twitter and Facebook, for many startups Instagram is the social media tool of choice – and it’s easy to see why. The app has built up such a strong following it’s now more popular than Twitter, with monthly users topping 300 million.
SMEs have quickly succumbed to Instagram’s charms, posting creative daily shots of their own brand and garnering thousands of fans while doing so. Premium womenswear boutique Black White Denim joined Instagram six months ago and has quickly usurped other social networks to become owner Jo Davies’ favourite platform.
“We tweet and use Facebook, but because of the visual nature of our business – covering fashion and style – people can easily identify with us on Instagram,” she says. Black White Denim’s posts can range from a picture of the team at a buying appointment in Paris to a shot of a new pair of leather trousers hitting the shop floor.
For many businesses owners, Instagram has not only catapulted brand awareness but also acted as a powerful sales driver. “Instagram makes a big difference to our business,” says Alienor Falconer, director of The Bright Company, a sleepwear and bedding brand for babies and young children. “If I launch a new collection, it’s the first place we post it. I’ve tested products on there and we receive loads of feedback by doing that. We’ve also posted pictures of matching parent and children pyjamas and they sold out within 36 hours.”
Similarly, Davies says Instagram has become a “powerful sales tool” for Black White Denim. “When I post pictures of new products, followers often comment, asking me when it’ll be in stock. Sometimes I post pictures when I’m on a buying trip and people will get in touch asking for me to hold one for them when I receive it. So actually it’s become a way of pre-selling the collection.”
Adelle Frejus, owner of children’s cupcake and cookie decorating classes BKD London, says she has acquired stockists for the company’s baking kits through Instagram and it’s proved to be a great platform for winning new customers.
“I’ve had parents who have seen us Instagram then attend our classes and others order baking kits from us, having seen what we do on Instagram. When people book a class or sign up to our mailing list I ask where they’ve heard of us and Instagram comes up a lot.”
So how do you become a success on Instagram? First off, have a strategy for the platform, says Charlotte McEleny, digital editor of trade title Marketing. “Businesses should think about what are they looking to get out of Instagram,” she says. “What do you want to project and what’s your objective? Is it to find out more about your customers and what they like, is it to find new business, promote a service, or to show off some cool things you’re up to?”
Once the motive and strategy is established, the app – which can be downloaded to your phone – is simple to use: users take a picture, choose from a selection of filters to enhance the imagery and add a statement to the post. Then, just send it out to your followers.
As a visual-led social network, pictures and short videos take centre stage at Instagram and therefore it’s important that images are high quality and in focus. Creative shots garner more attention, so it’s worth ensuring images stand out to those scrolling through potentially hundreds of shots on their Instagram feed.
Falconer set up her business Instagram account over a year ago. She tries to post a picture everyday – whether that’s pictures from a photoshoot, special offers or reposts of images that customers have shared of their children wearing The Bright Company’s pyjamas.
For Instragram beginners and even those looking to fine-tune their visuals, she recommends posting images that are in focus and relevant to you and your business.
“If you’re taking a picture in your house, make sure there’s no rubbish in the background,” she adds. To ensure a clean background, Falconer uses a whiteboard to photograph products against.
However, a word of warning: while owners may feel the urge to post numerous business-related pictures, there’s nothing more off putting than an oversharer. “The key with Instagram is that it’s about quality and not quantity,” says McEleny.
While your brand may take centre stage in your images, some businesses advocate presenting a glimpse of your own personal life. “We’re very inclusive of everything that involves Black White Denim but also outside of that so we might post pictures of a coffee shop we visit,” says Davies. “People can relate to that and like to have a peek into people’s lives outside of work.”
To find success on the photo-sharing app, businesses need to build up followers. While existing customers often find brands naturally, businesses can do a little legwork and build fans organically by adding links to their Instagram profile on their website as well as on existing social media sites.
One effective way to build follower headcount is to use hashtags – words proceeded with a hashtag symbol – which help users to discover specific Instagram posts.
Take Black White Denim, which posted a picture of a member of staff modelling a Maison Scotch gillet in December together with the hashtags #maisonscotch #gilet and their own hashtag #bwdchristmaswishlist. Such methods will help attract more eyeballs and ultimately more followers.
When Frejus set up her BKD London Instagram account, she built up her user base by following many parents she’d already connected with on her personal account. “I also grew my connections by following hip parents and kids’ boutiques, whose feed was of interest to me, and I found a lot of people followed back.”
Once active on Instagram, businesses should think of it as a community. Do comment and “like” other people’s posts – that will raise awareness of your own brand and encourage new followers to check out your profile – and like Twitter and Facebook, engage with your fans.
“We encourage people to post pictures of our classes or their creations using our baking kits,” says Frejus. “We often repost these and always ensure we respond to them and let them know we like their bakes.”
Although Instagram has yet to fully capitalise on the potential commerce opportunities its platform presents – for instance, there’s no “Buy now” button – many small businesses issue invoices via PayPal when a customer adds their email address under images of products they want to purchase.
Currently a crucial sales tool for small businesses wishing to present a cool, creative window to their brand, in the near future Instagram has the potential to become a retail hotspot – and that’s an opportunity worth capturing.