instagramOh good, another social network/website/app thingy. You may have heard some buzz recently over something called Instagram. Or maybe you didn't, because you're now purposefully blocking out all mentions of anything new happening in the social world to maintain your mental health. We're here to break down what Instagram is, let you know without social media buzzwords whether you should care, and if you decide after that section that you do care, we'll tell you the best practices to follow so you can get started smoothly. Sound good? Let's get started.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a photo sharing application that lets users take photos, apply filters to their images, and share the photos instantly on the Instagram network and other social networks like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Foursquare. The app is targeted toward mobile social sharing, and in just over one year, it has gained almost 15 million users. Currently, it is only available for iPhone devices.

As an inbound marketer, should I care about Instagram?

Not everyone should be on every social network. But here are some reasons that, as a marketer, you should at least keep an eye on Instagram, if not begin participating.

  • There are over 14 million users, growing at a rate of 2 million users per month.
  • Instagram is quickly outgrowing Foursquare, the largest mobile social network.
  • 91% of US citizens have their mobile phone within reach 24/7. 25% of people in the US have totally abandoned their laptops for exclusive use of their mobile device. Mobile apps have been downloaded 10.9 billion times and are expected to peak in 2013. Mobile is huge, and its growth is not stopping.
  • Social media is not just for twenty-somethings; it is part of everyone's daily life. In 2004, it was just for college kids. In 2008, the age of the average user jumped to 33. In 2010, it was up ever further to age 38. Over the holidays, be prepared to help grandma remove Farmville from her account.
  • People love visual content. We're visual creatures, and photos are engaging pieces of content that transcend the boundaries of language.
  • Photos tell stories. Storytelling is crucial to the social success of your content, and the emotions associated with photos carry a lot of weight. HubSpot has been carrying on a caption content using Instagram that literally asks users to tell the story of what's happening in the photos. That kind of engagement is hard to come by in non-visual content.

That's a lot of data that seems to imply I should use Instagram. Is that what you're trying to tell me?

No. What this data means is that Instagram has created something that successfully taps into the mobile and social marketing trend, but that doesn't mean it will inherently help advance everyone's marketing objectives. While the application for service providers is not as easy to see, there does seem to be potential for product-oriented businesses to utilize Instagram.

Creative Ideas for Using Instagram in Marketing

  • Ever seen the show How It's Made? Do your own version on Instagram that shows the process of creating your product and the smiling faces who do it every day.
  • Get feedback on products as they are in beta. Snap a photo of a new interface, and see what suggestions your users have to improve it.
  • Highlight out-of-the-box uses for your products. You can upload photos of a creative way to use your product, or even better, your customers can!
  • Don't have a name for your latest creation? Upload a photo of it to Instagram and have a naming contest! Most creative name wins, and revel in the pre-release buzz that comes along with it.
  • Offer a discount to customers who snap a smiling photo and check in at your storefront.

Will some marketers out there find ways to incorporate it into their mobile and social strategy? Yes. Again, HubSpot has been doing a caption contest with Instagram to which people have responded well. The ROI is not crystal clear, though. The results are more in the realm of "more engagement" and "stronger branding"; very important, but harder to measure. If you're rocking other major social media networks like clockwork and have some time to dedicate to Instagram, go for it. Not doing so, however, will not cripple your inbound marketing.

If I want to try Instagram, what best practices should I follow?

If you've read this far, you think Instagram may be able to improve the inbound marketing strategy of you or someone you love. That's great! Here's what you should look out for to ensure you don't get off to a bumpy start.

1.) Maintain a consistent posting frequency. People should come to expect the same amount of content on a daily or weekly basis if you want to see follower growth.

2.) Care about quality photography. That's the medium in which Instagram operates, so people on there tend to care about it. Focus on posting interesting images with good production value.

3.) Tap user-generated content. This helps increase engagement, feed your content machine, and get more followers.

4.) Integrate your Instagram strategy with other social media networks. You can use hashtags and share images on networks like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and Foursquare.

5.) If you think you'll get started on Instagram in the future, snag your username before someone else does.

6.) Engage in the conversations that are going on, both on your account and others. You can do this via likes and comments. You won't increase your follower base by staying in your own little corner!

7.) Tag your location to make it easier for people to find your account when searching for you.

8.) Research what people in your industry are posting by searching relevant #hashtags. This is also a good way to find new people to follow.

9.) Speaking of which, start following people in your industry and interacting with them. You've got to let them know you're out there!

10.) Make use of apps. I know, an app on top of an app; it's insane. But there are some cool apps out there that you may find helpful. Once you get your sea legs with Instagram, browse what apps are out there to make your experience even better. The Beginner's Lens has curated a nice list of Instagram apps to get you started.

Are you using Instagram, whether for personal or business use? What applications do you see for an inbound marketer?

Image credit: diego.russo

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Originally published Dec 20, 2011 1:30:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


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