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At 435 Digital, we love all things social media and are big supporters of brands incorporating social into their daily marketing efforts. At the same time, we will be the first to tell brands to be cautious when deciding which social networks are right for their business. It is important to get in front of your consumers and integrate your business into the places they spend their time, but it is just as important not to spread yourself too thin and not to force anything.

Stick with what works. There is no harm in trying a new social media platform, but make sure you have a strategy before you dive into it.

Not familiar with Instagram yet? No worries, it is still relatively new to brands and many are trying to grasp exactly what they should be doing with it. Instagram’s main draw right now is that it is completely focused on the love for visual messaging and sharing. From its early days in late 2010 with only two employees, the goal, according to co-founder Kevin Systrom, has always been to use the “power of images to connect people to what was happening in the world around them.”


Just a few years later, Instagram has been bought by Facebook and has more than 100 million monthly active users. Instagram gives brands a new and creative way to reach their consumer base. Best of all, it is easy to use no matter where you are and at any time.

So what exactly is it? Instagram is a mobile app where users share their life stories and events, using only photos with cool filters and captions. Similar to Facebook, photos are posted to a feed where followers can see what is being shared and leave comments or click on a ‘heart’ to ‘like’ the photo. Similar to Foursquare, people can tag a specific location to a photo. Similar to Twitter, users can view a feed of the most popular photos around the world from other public-sharing users or only view the photos in the feed of the people they are following.

Do you think your business should be on Instagram? Here are some things you should keep in mind.

1. Develop your creative strategy first.

Make sure you have a good idea of what you have to offer to people on Instagram. Give your followers something they can’t find anywhere else – something different from what you offer on Facebook and Twitter. Use Instagram to show off what you love about your business location and the surrounding community. Show your followers some behind-the-scenes shots to help them know and love your business. Show the pride you have in your brand. If you are a restaurant, feature your chef and show new specials before they are even introduced at the restaurant. If you are a workplace full of cubicles and 9-to-5ers, share your work environment, photos of your employees, and community outings.

This may seem strange, but if done right, it can work. Have you heard of Warby Parker? You might have if you are in the market for boutique eyeglasses. They are often applauded within the social media industry as being one of the most creative brands on Instagram. Why? They do a great job of showing off their merchandise in a completely non-salesy way, while capturing the unique culture of their employees and their community with every shot. They certainly found their strategy and are running with it.

Warby Parker Instagram

Warby Parker Instagram

2. Use hashtags effectively.

Hashtags — love them or hate them — are important on Instagram. Hashtags are words or phrases marked with the # symbol (ex: #hashtag) and are used to enable collecting all content with that tag in one place. With public Instagram accounts, anyone searching for a hashtag used in a photo caption will be able to see that image. This is a great way to get specific photos and brand accounts a lot more attention. Like Twitter, users need to be smart with hashtags because they can be annoying. Don’t overuse them, and only use words that are actually relevant to the photo you are tagging. Some brands overuse hastags with the goal of getting more likes and followers. This is not going to get the followers they want to have and will likely attract spammy comments.

Also, become familiar with some of the popular hashtags and use those that can naturally work with the content you are sharing. Some popular hashtags on Instagram include #tbt (throw back Thursday), #photooftheday, #food and #instafood. There are also a lot of hashtags that are popular by city. For example, in Chicago, hashtags like #Chicago, #Chitecture, and #Instagram312 are popular. Our friends at Chicago Tribune capture some great engagement from their followers by using a weekly hashtag theme encouraging Chicago area users to share their photos of anything from their breakfast to the CTA by posting their pictures with the hashtag #Trib2013. At the end of the year, we will all be able to browse through an impressive album of Chicago area images that document our 2013.

Chicago Tribune Instagram

Chicago Tribune Instagram

3. Decide how often you want to share.

You don’t need to post on Instagram every day. The ‘feed speed’ on Instagram is still mostly laid back. If you start posting a lot, you might over-saturate your followers’ feeds, and you don’t want to force yourself into the noise too often. Decide what you have ready to post and create a schedule to help you remember what to post when and to track what is working once you get going. If you see that your followers are starting to gravitate toward certain images, be flexible with your plan and change things to fit. Don’t forget to make engagement part of your strategy. Join the conversation, that’s what this is all about. Answer questions and thank people for being loyal.

4. Pay attention to your followers.

Take notice of who is following your brand. Follow them back, ‘heart’ their pictures if it makes sense — avoid the personal pictures unless you have a personal connection with them. Encourage your followers to share your photos and your page. This is a great way to spread your reach and attract other users. Once you get a good following, feature your fans’ photos by encouraging them to use a hashtag or tag your Instagram handle when they are posting a picture. Just be sure to give them credit for the photo. This is easy using an app like InstaRepost.

You can also reward your loyal fans with contests and promo codes based on user-generated content. There are a lot of brands catching on to this concept right now. Sony does a great job encouraging their customers and followers to post pictures using specific hashtags, and then featuring their favorites on the Sony feed. Bonobos and Free People essentially use their followers as models, encouraging them to post pictures while wearing the brand’s clothing. Starbucks customers are already used to using #starbucks to share their coffee breaks from all over the world.

Sony, Bonobos, Free People, and Starbucks on Instagram Sony, Bonobos, Free People, and Starbucks on Instagram

Don’t forget to take some time regularly to search Instagram and Twitter for your brand name to find customers that may have already shared images or reviews from your business. I post photos of my food all the time when I eat out, and every once in a while a restaurant will take my shot and feature it in their feed. I think that’s cool. It shows they appreciate my business and interest in them.

Think your business is ready to start using Instagram? Take some of these tips and you should be in a good place to get going. Already finding success with Instagram? Send us your shots! We would love to see them.