Photo-sharing app Instagram has become one of the fastest growing social networks in history since its launch in October 2010. With over 400 million monthly active users and the highest per-follower engagement rate of any current social network, it's become an important promotion tool for brands looking to sell their products. Finding the balance between authenticity and marketing in social media can be difficult to navigate, but many brands are finding great success with Instagram.

People come to Instagram for visual inspiration and the simple design allows captivating visuals to take center stage.

Instagram Business

Use great photography

Instagram is all about the photos, so make sure that your photography is as high quality as you can make it. Whilst originally only photos taken on a phone via the Instagram app could be posted, these days many brands use professional photography shot on DSLR cameras or graphic put together in Photoshop.

If you don't have access to professional equipment, you can still get a great result by taking photos in good lighting conditions, styling your products artfully and editing with apps. Try to keep any filters relevant to your brand and as consistent as possible for a strong visual identity.

Instagram interface

Show the lifestyle behind the brand

Alternate product photos with lifestyle images that speak to your target audience, and reinforces your brand as a whole. This could be behind-the-scenes snaps, inspiring or aspirational photos or well-curated quotes. Even if these photos don't include your products or logo, they will build on how users view your brand and mentally tie it to the particular lifestyle. 

For example, a swimwear brand aimed at 18-24 year old women might include photos of the beach, sunsets, and happy, tanned beach-goers which will then enhance the impact of posts showing the products themselves, whilst establishing the brand as related to these things.

Be authentic (but curated)

Instagram has only recently become a popular platform for brands, so users tend to favour authentic, timely content over a stream of polished advertisements. Show the personality behind your brand and the process behind your products to really connect with your audience. These posts don't have to be as polished or targeted as your more marketing posts, but try to maintain a high level of quality as much as possible and ensure that everything you share is reinforcing your brand identity.

Post regularly and consistently

Regular posts will be better received than a large number of posts at once followed by silence. Aim for a schedule you can maintain at a consistent pace to ensure that your followers are being reminded of your brand without being bombarded. 

Create images to post in advance wherever possible to always have something lined up and ready to go. Whilst it's not currently possible to schedule Instagram posts for automated posting, a spreadsheet could be used to write out posts ahead of time and keep ready for posting.

Instagramming on phone

Don't forget about video

Videos may take longer to produce than a still image, but give more opportunity to capture a potential customer's attention and create a lasting impression. Instagram now autoplays videos and allows up to 60 seconds in length, meaning that those first second or two are crucial in convincing your followers to keep watching instead of scrolling past. Don't worry about trying to produce a polished, minute long television style ad - short videos of product demonstrations, behind-the-scenes or 360 views can enhance understanding of your product or brand without extensive effort.

Interact with your audience

Many brands make the mistake of creating posts on Instagram without interacting with their audience - completely missing the 'social' part of 'social media'. Follow back users or find ones who might be interested in your product, like and comment on their posts, and most importantly answer their questions or comments on your posts. Interacting with your audience takes some effort but can have a huge impact on your engagement and brand positioning. A strongly positive experience with your brand can win a loyal customer and word-of-mouth referrals in future.

Use #hashtags (but not too many)

Hashtags have become an important way for users navigate Instagram and discover posts that apply to their particular area of interest. Adding a small number of relevant hashtags will help more people to find your posts as they browse. Many brands also create their own hashtags to link together a series of posts, a campaign or to encourage their followers to use in their own posts. Top brands keep to less than 7 hashtags per post - too many can look desperate or irrelevant.

Add a location

If you have a physical shop or office, be sure to add it to your posts - posts tagged with a location have been shown to receive 79% higher engagement than those without. A location can help users find your brand through locale based searches, and encourage visitors to your premises to also add your location to their Instagram posts too.

Pay for advertising

Instagram advertising can reach a much wider audience and gives the ability to have a call-to-action leading straight to your website or product pages. A well-executed advertising campaign can earn your brand conversions as well as Instagram followers at a faster rate than organic content.

Summary

Instagram is a powerful and highly visual tool, perfect for selling products and creating a strong visual identity for your brand. With its extremely engaged audience, it can be a great way to share less polished behind-the-scenes peeks, engage with your customers on a new level and discover more of their lifestyle and needs.If you have products to sell it should be an essential part of your digital marketing strategy.