There are many photo-sharing social media tools, and even more photo-sharing apps online these days. The largest among these – those with 50,000,000 registered users or more, include Flickr, Instagram, Photobucket, Pinterest, and Snapfish. And of these, the most popular is arguably Instagram, in terms of Internet traffic (traffic that marks it as the 41st most popular website in the world), and registered users (200 million as of August 2014). But beyond sheer size, Instagram offers a variety of benefits and tools to individuals and marketers that have cemented its status as a key social media tool. No wonder Facebook bought it in April 2012, a mere 18 months after its launch!

How to Use Instagram for Your Business

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In this article, we will cover: 1) the purpose of Instagram; 2) the benefits of using Instagram; 3) setting up an Instagram account; 4) using Instagram for Business; 5) Instagram terminology; and 6) best practices for using Instagram and a case study. 


Instagram allows you to share your photos, videos, and text updates on a variety of social networking platforms, such as its parent company, Facebook, as well as Twitter and Tumblr. The website lets you share photos with specific users, through the recently launched Instagram Direct (which competes with standalone photo messaging services like Snapchat). Instagram also offers Video by Instagram, a feature to rival video-sharing app Vine (owned by Twitter). Rather than Vine’s 7-second apps, Video by Instagram allows users to post 15-second videos. And in August of 2014, Instagram launched Hyperlapse, a feature that allows Instagram users to create high-quality time-lapse videos. 

History of Instagram

Initially built as an app for the iPhone4, Instagram was founded by fellow graduate students Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. The phone at the time featured one of the most sophisticated mobile cameras on the market, which Instagram was designed to harness. Kevin Systrom came up with the idea for a multi-functional version of what would become Instagram, while working at Nextstop, a trip recommendation website. He founded the first version as Burbn and raised $500,000 for it. However, Burbn was too complex and later was abandoned. The two then began working on Instagram, which launched in October of 2010. Within 24 hours of launch, it had 25,000 users. By its third week, it had 300,000. And by the beginning of 2014, the site had 150 million registered users, over 90% of them under the age of 35.

Yahoo’s Flickr and Mobli Media Group’s Pheed are among Instagram’s main competitors, but it is leading the pack. In April 2012, an Android version of the app garnered 1 million downloads in its first 24 hours. Many celebrities, such as actress Reese Witherspooon, singer Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, avidly use Instagram. 

For a firm only three years old, Instagram has already endured its fair share of controversy. A 2012 change to their Terms of Service allowing Instagram to sell user photographs cost them a number of users, including some celebrities. Another issue arose from users utilizing Instagram to sell illegal drugs. It’s a practice that continues to occur, but, on in which Instagram first took definitive action in November of 2013, by blocking certain searches used frequently by buyers. Further, some Facebook users did not take kindly to its acquisition by Facebook. And still other critics have argued that Instagram’s filters devalue natural photography, and in-depth photo-editing. 

Main purpose of Instagram

Still none of these occurrences have halted Instagram’s meteoric growth or hurt its popularity, particularly among younger users. Instagram remains, arguably, the best platform to upload, alter, and share photos across social media platforms in a quick and easy way. The filters are used frequently to make otherwise mundane photos seem more exciting. Idealizing social moments adds an aspirational aspect to the site: users want to show off how much greater their experiences were than those of others.

For marketers, the core function, to which Instagram caters, is building and showcasing your brand’s personality. Instagram presents you with the opportunity to chronicle the story of your business, credibly using images. Instagram pushes a firm’s brand awareness efforts beyond press releases and trade events into visual storytelling, which typically leads to higher levels of engagement. 


Besides speed and ease of use, Instagram users enjoy many benefits, particularly those who use Instagram for business. It can:

Unlike other social media tools, Instagram does not strategically curate posts based on internal algorithms – all of your photos appear throughout your profile. Firms can also reach a younger consumer base. As of December 2013, 76% of Instagram users were under the age of 30, as per Jenn’s Trends. Instagram has traction: it has grown faster than Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest; this coupled with Facebook ownership virtually ensure that Instagram is not a flash in the pan, as so some many social media tools have been. Further, Instagram is committed to brand engagement. In August 2014, they announced plans to launch a new suite of tools for businesses to analyze their performance, including deeper post and ad analytics, and an ad staging area.



© Instagram

Use of Instagram requires a smartphone with an Android OS or iOS, or a Windows Phone 8. In order to set up an Instagram account, first you must download the app from the relevant store. For Android Phones, this is the Google Play Store; Apple, the App Store; and Windows Phone, the Windows Phone Store.

Once the app has been downloaded, open the icon and register with your email address or your Facebook account. If you register with Facebook, you will be asked to login and Facebook will take care of the rest. When registering with your email address you will be prompted to create a username and a password, but once that’s complete, you are ready to begin your Instagram journey.

Because it is a mobile app, you cannot login or do much with it on your computer. Instagram does allow you to view your profile and photos online once you have logged in. also, make sure to create an Instagram tab on Facebook. Synchronzing these two platforms can expand your reach exponentially.

If you are setting up a corporate Instagram account, use your logo as your profile picture, and fill out all relevant fields fully to optimize your visibility on Instagram.


Using Instagram for BusinessThere are a number of steps to use Instagram for business, but when well-executed, this social media tool can revolutionize your branding and lead generation efforts. First you should develop a content roadmap and content, then introduce your product, brand and team, then work to grow your brand’s visibility and engage current and potential customers. 

Prepare content and content roadmap 

It is critical, before you begin using Instagram (or any social media tool) for business that you develop a content roadmap and initial content for a few reasons. One, it helps aligning your content with your overall marketing and messaging strategies. It helps you to plan who creates what content and when. And it helps you to ensure that you have content for posting consistently. Your content map should feature a posting calendar that correlates with user engagement, as well as list metrics for the assessment of your content’s performance. It should also clearly lay out, in the case any aspect of the content that will be used is unoriginal, what rights are necessary and/or have been granted.

Once your content roadmap is developed, you should start to create and gather Instagram content. Start by scanning your existing photographs and determining which can help determine your story, and then take new photos to increase your stockpile of content. 

Introduce your business & product

You will want to begin by introducing your products and services. You can do this through well-composed product shots, as well as shots of your facilities and leadership team. But remember that Instagram is a social network so balance serious product shots with light-hearted shots – perhaps a shot of a snowman in front of your office building in the winter. Remember that Instagram should be used to tell the story of your business – which is not just about the numbers. Also, share photos that are related to your product or brand. 

Introduce your team

People connect with brands, but frequently it is because they connect with the people behind the brands. The obvious way to introduce potential customers to your staff is by interspersing your primary corporate account with staff shots. But take a step further and empower staff to create Instagram accounts and take shots on behalf of the firm. Make sure there is a clear and firm, but loose set of social media guidelines in place, and let staff feel free to take the kind of candid behind-the-scenes-shots that humanize businesses, especially the management team. 

Expanding reach/visibility

An April 2014 study by marketing research firm Forrester revealed that social engagement with brands on Instagram is 58 higher than it is on Facebook and 120 times what it is on Twitter. Engaging these users is therefore critical and potentially, tremendously lucrative. The best way to do this is by creating consistently compelling content and developing a following by engaging with followers by liking, commenting on, and mentioning their content. You can also grow your brand’s reach and visibility by posting preview photos of a new product feature or product news; embedding Instagram videos in your website and blogs to drive traffic to those sites; and using industry-related hashtags, among other notable Instagram uses. 

Engaging customers/generating sales leads

Photos evoke an emotional response more readily than an intellectual response. And emotional responses can – and often do – outweigh intellectual responses. In a business context this might translate to consumers buying an overpriced product when presented with virtually identical alternatives because of their emotional connection to the brand. And any marketing efforts that deepen brand loyalty are, accordingly, valuable. 

Instagram’s users are already highly engaged. In 2013, 57% of Instagram users checked the site at least once daily, as per Jenn’s Trends. Compelling and consistent content can connect consumers to brands in a meaningful way. Incorporate your URL into some of your photo content and intersperse your storytelling photos with periodic calls to action. You cannot embed active links in photo and video content you post on Instagram, but those links do become active when you repost your Instagram content on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Make sure those contain a link to your sales landing page.

Instagram Marketing for you Business


Like every social media tool, Instagram has its own terminology and lino. Here are a few indispensable terms you need to know before using Instagram: 

Collage: An image comprised of multiple images, uploaded to Instagram, and usually requiring the use of an app for creation

Direct Message: a feature implemented by Instagram in 2013 allowing users to send photos directly to each other privately

Feed: A series of updates that appear on your profile or that of another user.

Filter: A software feature that allows you to apply a series of edits to an image to achieve a certain predetermined effect

Hashtag: a word or phrase with no spaces between words, preceded by a“#“ sign. Hashtags are used to categorize content; descriptive hashtags are often used to enhance the branding of content.

Regram: reposting content on Instagram.

Selfie: A picture take by a user of themselves

It’s also helpful to understand the following frequently used hashtags, collated by the International Business Times:

#FF: “Follow Friday“ – used, usually on Fridays, to encourage one user to follow another (most often many other accounts, in list form at once.

#TBT: “Throwback Thursday“ – used, on Thursday, to denote photos from the past. This can be a good opportunity to showcase photos from your firm’s early days.

#GFF: frequently used to denote spam sites that promise you more followers if you sign up. In your endeavors for followers, avoid these sites.


Best practices for Instagram include: 

  • Instagram was originally designed for smartphones with best-in-class mobile cameras. Pay attention to picture quality when uploading shots you’ve taken, and use filters to enhance them where possible.
  • Crowdsource content to gain quality photos, unique perspectives, and deeper brand engagement.
  • Show behind-the-scenes content – your staff in action. People connect with people. Highlight your consumers and followers as well to deepen their engagement and brand loyalty.
  • Create content relevant to trending hashtags, where such hashtags fit into your overall content strategy. Don’t be afraid to retool your strategy based on broader trends.
  • Use both filtered images and unfiltered images to create variety.
  • Use videos. Instagram videos vary widely in quality and content, but the one thing that unites them is that they all help tell the story of their respective Instagram user.
  • Read the Instagram for Business blog frequently, as the firm provides many helpful tips and notifications of new features.
  • Synchronize your Facebook account with your Instagram account by cross-posting content and using the same hashtags to promote content.
  • Take advantage of third-party apps. Apps greatly enhance the functionality of Instagram.
  • Analyze’s Instagram’s metrics and how they affect your marketing and sales goals, then adjust your content strategy accordingly. 

There are many brands working hard to cultivate Instagram users. One that does so especially well is Levi’s, whose ad recall was four times that of traditional online ads as per an Omnicom research study. Their recent #Commuter campaign used original photos to highlight its clothing collection as being ideal for young, fit cyclist commuters. In addition to firm-created photography, they used 20 photographers who fit the criteria to create official photos, then invited consumers to create their own and brand them with related hashtags.

In 2013, this campaign yielded 1,400 unique photos and, more importantly:

  • 330,000 mentions of the related hashtags; and
  • 240,000 total engagements (defined as Likes and Comments on a single post)

for an overall increase an annual engagement of 22%. While Levi’s used a digital marketing firm, the ideas contained in the campaign can be replicated, tweaked, and/or and scaled up or down depending on your time, expertise or budget to get the brand-building results you want.

Instagram Tips For Business

Image credit: Instagram.

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