Selfie: Branding on Instagram

I’ll be honest. There are plenty of articles on Instagram out there. If you’re curious about how many times you can take a picture of your dog before someone wants to throttle you, you’re set. Google it and you’ll have the basics of Instagram etiquette. The problem is that no one explains how a business should behave on Instagram. And trust me, your business needs to be on Instagram.

What is Instagram?

Let’s back up a minute. Instagram is a social media tool. It’s a free app you can use on Android and iPhone platforms at the moment. Unlike other social media, it’s less about words and more about pictures. People typically post snapshots of their lives and share them with friends and followers. Others can like those pictures and leave comments on them. If you’re familiar with Twitter (using hashtags and following interesting people), you’ll be comfortable with Instagram.

How is it good for business?

So what does this have to do with your business? Well, you should already have a general understanding of the benefits of Instagram, but let’s review. Instagram has more than 15 million active users on it right now. Those users aren’t just looking at each other’s cat pictures; they’re researching. Does a trip to Paris actually look fun? How does that water filter look in a real house? Is the food at the local Greek restaurant appetizing? With the world at their fingertips, consumers are doing a lot more research at this point. So, you need to wow them before they even get near your store. And more importantly, you need to let them see your branding quickly and easily.

Step One: Have a theme

Before you start converting those followers into customers, you need to know the basic protocol here. When you start an Instagram account, try your best to tie it into your other social media. If you’re Bob’s Jerky Shack on Facebook, then you are BobsJerkyShack on Instagram. Don’t make people hunt for you. Since you’re Bob’s Jerky Shop, you should probably focus your Instagram theme on jerky. Get a picture of your shop and use it for your profile picture. Follow people who are also in the jerky business. When someone visits your Instagram profile, they shouldn’t be confused by a lot of dog pictures.

Step Two: Picture do’s and don’ts

Speaking of dog pictures, don’t do that. Unless you have dog as a store mascot, keep your greyhound out of your pictures. This is about your business—you can get a personal account. Also, avoid using stock photos or screen caps. People don’t want to see a picture off of the website, they can get that on any other social media. Even worse, do not “borrow” (i.e. steal) other people’s pictures. It is the height of bad taste.

What should you be taking pictures of? Your business, but not just shots of what you’re selling and prices for them. People are on Instagram to see interesting, striking shots. They can get a marketing picture of beef jerky anywhere. Show them pictures of your store, your staff and interesting things around your shop. Do you have a big moose statue in the middle of your sales floor? Take a picture of it and explain why it’s there. And then tag it, so people know where they can see this crazy moose. If the businesses around yours have interesting qualities, that’s more photos you can capture. Then you can find out if those businesses have Instagram accounts and you can tag them, hopefully leading to some cross-promotion between you and your neighbors.

And this should go without saying, but I will say it: keep it professional. Also, do not spam people. This can take many forms—from liking every picture you see to begging for likes and follows. It will have the opposite effect you want, I promise you. People will like you if you’re interesting, so just be yourself! See, mom was right.

Step Three: Be social

While you’re being yourself, also be social. This is social media, after all. Follow leaders in your brand and engage with them. If they have a really sweet picture of a beef jerky waterfall, like the picture and comment on it. Find people that might be interested in your brand, start following them and engage with them as much as possible, but keep it honest. If people or brand leaders don’t follow you back, don’t sweat it. After you gain some momentum on Instagram, they’ll come back. If someone is starting to spam you—or connect your brand with uncomfortable topics—then you have my permission to unfollow.

In closing, follow the competition and learn. Take some risks. Maybe every picture won’t be directly about your store, and that’s okay. People that see you as a satisfying and original source of content will reward you with follows and comments. And that is worth a thousand marketing words. Next week, I’ll be talking about hashtags, and how to use trending topics to help your brand.