Gini Dietrich

The Business Guide to Using Instagram

By: Gini Dietrich | March 17, 2015 | 

InstagramBy Gini Dietrich

Instagram is most noted by teenagers and college students as a way to connect quickly with friends through photos.

In fact, Andrew Watts recently wrote in A Teenager’s View on Social Media, “Instagram is by far the most used social media outlet for my age group. Please note the verbiage there—it is the most used social media outlet. ”

That said, there is a huge opportunity for every organization—including B2B—to use Instagram to create a humanness to the brand.

Instagram has 300 million users—and they aren’t all teenagers. Nor are they all big brands.

On the contrary, self-employed artists, small businesses and even software as service organizations are having success with the social network.

And, here’s the good news: You don’t have to have a visual product to have success on Instagram.

Use Instagram for Business

Instagram is a great way to promote your brand, connect the physical world with the online world, or launch a new product or service.

What you use—and how you use it—will depend on your goals and your organization.

For instance, if you have employees spread across several countries and in many different time zones, perhaps your goal is to connect them with one another and build morale and culture.

In that case, one of your Instagram strategies may include giving the account keys to a new employee every week and have them take photos of a “week in the life” to engage other employees—places they eat, meetings they attend, set-up of their office and more.

On the flip side, if you’re a clothing manufacturer, it could be fun to have people post photos of themselves wearing your clothes in their own environments.

What Kinds of Visuals Can I Use?

Visuals are the main currency of Instagram. Share compelling content your followers won’t be able to find anywhere.

The very best place to get ideas on how to use Instagram is in the social network’s best practices guide. They recommend all sorts of ideas nearly daily and they talk about new features there first.

Think about the kind of visuals you like and try to replicate that with the photos you share on your account.

Worried you won’t have something visually compelling to share?

Think about the following business opportunities to snap photos with your phone and upload directly to Instagram:

  • Your office. Take photos of the team’s offices. Everyone has individual taste when it comes to their workspace. This is interesting to those who might buy from you. Also take photos in and around your work environment—brick-and-mortar office, manufacturing floor, virtual office, the retail floor, or wherever it is you hang out during the day. Think about the behind-the-scenes photos that most people wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
  • Community events. Your employees have lives outside of work. Encourage them to take appropriate photos or video for you to use on the business’s Instagram page. Likewise, if you and your team participate in community service, get visuals from those outings.
  • Celebrations. Many organizations celebrate new babies, birthdays, work anniversaries and more. A few years ago, one of our young professionals didn’t believe human beings can’t eat more than six saltines in one minute. She took the challenge and we got it on video. Though it was completely silly, our followers loved it … and it drove a level of engagement that eventually brought us some business.

Encourage your team to get involved in submitting images, and your Instagram page should grow in popularity.

What is an Instagram Hashtag?

Like Facebook or Twitter, you can use a hashtag on Instagram that will help you attract new followers.

A hashtag provides an easy way to search similar topics for people who are interested in what you’re posting.

You should familiarize yourself with a few broad popular hashtags—#throwbackthursday or #TBT, #ootd (Outfit of the Day) or #selfie—and category-specific ones that apply to your business.

#TBT, of course, has evolved from Instagram to the other social networks, and millions of people participate every Thursday. You can piggyback on something like that or create your own and let others use yours.

The goal is to gain new followers who might eventually buy from you. Using a hashtag is one of the easiest ways for them to find you.

What are the Rules for an Instagram Contest?

Contests can be a fabulous way to gain more followers and engagement on Instagram, provided you follow the rules and terms of service.

It can be pretty scary to set up a contest only to have your page removed for not following the rules. Note that it should be stated that contests are not sponsored by Instagram and that the platform does not help brands and businesses administer contests.

To execute a law abiding Instagram contest, you should do the following:

  • Set your goal(s) for the contest.
  • Determine your key metrics.
  • Choose the hashtag you’ll be using. This is required so you can track users. As per the Instagram promotion guidelines, “You must not inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content (don’t encourage people to tag themselves in photos if they aren’t in the photo).”
  • Choose a selection method for winners.
  • Set up the rules, terms, and conditions. And make sure your users follow them.
  • Launch and promote the contest. Figure out how you’ll support the contest (other social networks, a news release, and/or advertising).
  • Notify winners and follow up with everyone else.

Though that list seems a little daunting, it won’t take you long to write down your expectations.

It could be worth the time because your followers, impressions and engagement may increase. And, if done well, so will your sales.

Measure Instagram Effectiveness

Of course, increased followers, engagement and impressions are nice, but where the real pedal meets the metal is whether your efforts drive business results.

So how do you know if Instagram is actually affecting your sales?

There are several platforms to help you track effectiveness.

  • Iconosquare is a deep (and free!) set of Instagram tools that provides data about your account and interactions—growth charts, engagement rates, best times to post, and much more.
  • Totems is an analytics suite for Instagram that includes an analytics dashboard, hashtag monitoring and a social CRM. It may be a little pricey for small businesses (pricing begins at $149 per month), but if you spend a lot of time on Instagram and think it’s generating qualified leads for you, it could be worth the price.
  • SumAll provides analytics for more than just Instagram. You can track social media, commerce and Web analytics all in one daily email. It’s free and as easy to set up as signing in with one of your social networks.
  • SimplyMeasured adds an extra level of help: strategy development. As you plan your Instagram campaigns, SimplyMeasured will help you determine the audiences you can reach, what kinds of visuals to use and what your competitors are doing. Then it tracks your activities, the audience engagement and your business results. It starts at $500 per month, but does have a free trial.

Now it’s your turn. How do you use Instagram for business?

A version of this first appeared in my monthly OPENForum column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • The problem with instagram is many. You need another app to really trick out photos. You need another app to repost instagrams. There is no built in stats or analytics. You are forced to always have a photo. Branded content tends to fail. Nature, Pets, Kids, Party Pics etc tend to get the most action. A Like is the lowest level of action I have seen on a network. The reason is we click Like….A Lot! Way more than for Facebook content we see. No idea if it is the heart vs the word Like that does it but I Love most pics I see. I rarely Like on Facebook To me that kind of devalues things Comments are spare but you can have conversations like you do on Facebook and they do get all in one place unlike Twitter where you need to view conversations.

    I think it is great for visual story telling. But stay away from canned brand content.

    Instagram is hot because it is still sequential with no pay to play…yet and because the activity numbers look good (vanity) but I find it the weakest in terms of connecting with fans so far. But those vanity metrics sure look good for a community manager to present.

  • decillis

    You missed my favorite part of Instagram: the offline component. There are communities that grow up around hashtags. They go on photowalks together and they are each other’s biggest supporters. And some of them are downright amazing photographers. The most savvy businesses will look for these communities to invite them to their locations and events to take the photos for them. This gives a much bigger reach for your account and creates a relationship with people that will have a steady stream of content you can use (after getting permission). I’m going on one of these photowalks on Sunday. The walks themselves are great for learning more about photography and what Instagram users like and want. Just a total wealth of information from the sources.

  • I enjoy using Instagram, promoting images from the cloud or android device storage to Instagram is straight forward. I will say, I am not a fan of the image size scaling when importing from the cloud. The 640×640 restriction is something to keep in mind. I tend to overlay and combine multiple images when working with my client, my process now is to start with a Photoshop canvas of 640×640 and scale all images to fit.
    Latergram is the closest scheduling app for Instagram, and it falls way short of delivering  proper scheduling functionality. 
    I enjoy receiving my daily SumAll email. 
    There are some good communities and nice people on Instagram, I have even received an invitation from an Instagram follower to connect in CapeCod during Easter when my wife and I down there visiting family. 
    I just started following ladder1grill on Instagram Howie Goldfarb

  • Digital_DRK OMG. I always delete my SumAll email. I guess I should pay attention to it! LOL!

  • decillis I love this! And it reminds me there is a store down the street that is opening this summer. They have #theampersand on the windows and, if you take a photo in front of the storefront and tag them, they’ll send you rewards for the opening.

  • Howie Goldfarb I don’t totally agree. GE does a fantastic job with their branded content. They have an entire community of groupies around their stuff. Most of it is branded and people love it.

  • decillis

    ginidietrich Seriously, there are so many things you can do to connect online to offline on Instagram. I sometimes refer to it as what Twitter used to be, because it’s honestly where I’m starting to meet people with similar interests that are local. I love it so much that my husband is threatening to join it just to ruin it for me.

  • decillis LOL!!

  • Kevin_Loder

    I agree with showing personality. I do not follow brands on Instagram just to be advertised to. I want to see evidence of the lifestyle of the brand beyond the product. Engagement is hashtags and promotions/contests will keep me from unfollowing a brand. I do not use Instagram to window-shop; I use it for entertainment and networking. Instead of using nameless models in the ads that a brand does post I’d prefer to see the brand repost one of my pictures of their product.

  • I love IG for personal use but I haven’t seen a lot of return using it for the office.. seems it’s the same circle of people. Which isn’t a bad thing, really. And for clients it’s cumbersome because the beauty of IG is that it’s in the moment and if I’m in my office uploading for a client, it’s better than nothing but misses the big punch obviously. 

    And as a side note? Can the person who told all those people selling body wrap that the most effective selling/marketing tool was to follow everyone and their grandmother on IG please step forward so we can smack you?

  • samemac

    Thanks for the tools. Instagram is on of my favorite platforms – but is the one platform that drives me crazy as a community manager! I am currently loading all content into SumAll – excited to see its capabilities!

  • Kevin_Loder I love that! I’m going to tell clients you said that. Thank you!

  • KristenDaukas LOL!! Slim Shady, please stand up!

  • samemac I didn’t delete my email this morning!

  • ginidietrich samemac YAY! (on the non-email deletion morning)

  • Jason_Rate

    jan_has Your ideas need to be shared with the world and this is how you can do it

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  • bestwebexperts

    Excellent post Gini Dietrich, here are some more tips on