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A common sense guide to Instagram engagement

How small businesses and big brands can maximise user engagement and acquisition.

Instagram is now the fastest-growing social network in the Internet’s brief but illustrious history. This is a milestone well-prophesised by the Facebook executives who acquired the then 30-million user strong social network for a cool $1 billion three years ago.

Jump to 2015, and those 30 million users have grown ten-fold to 300 million people posting upwards of 70 million photos every day. That’s more than Twitter.

That also translates to exposure Donald Trump and his campaign committee could only dream of, and when played right, it can completely transform brands, businesses and jumpstart careers (take South African artist, Lorraine Loots, for example.)

The key question now is how do these hype-generating platforms intend to convert those huge user communities into viable revenue-producing ecosystems, and how can brands and businesses make money off of them?

The answer to the former is, of course, ads (more about this later), but the latter is one we’re still figuring out as we go along. For now, here’s a starting point on how small businesses (and big brands) can maximise their user engagement and acquisition.

  1. Get the basics in order
  2. Put a link in your bio, where followers can access it, not in the caption where they can’t. Include the handle of the person you’re responding to in the comment section so that they get notified. Post at times when your users will most likely have their noses in their phones (early morning always works). Make sure your Instagram handle matches those on other social networks like Twitter and Facebook (you have no idea how many brands get this wrong). Don’t link your Instagram directly to Facebook or Twitter (it’s just lazy).

    Before you even think about launching an elaborate marketing play on Instagram, have the basics down first.

  3. Go Sophie’s Choice on the hashtags
  4. #Blonde #fun #happy? Just don’t. Hashtags are a taxonomic device designed to help narrow the search for your brand and its associated campaigns, not to throw them all into the ether. Random hashtags are a waste of your time and your intern’s coffee-making skills. Decide on a distinctive branded hashtag that is unique and relevant to a specific campaign, feature or product, and is short enough so that it works with Twitter’s 140-character limit.

  5. Tell actual stories
  6. So many brands miss the boat on Instagram because they treat it like a product catalogue instead of using it to tell really interesting stories. Instagram is not a place to sell products, it’s a space to sell a lifestyle that in turn sells products, so your brand’s narrative and your company culture should be core to your strategy. Introduce your people, tell your users’ stories, talk about your brand’s history, take followers into your world and behind-the-scenes (if your behind-the-scenes is interesting). Inundate them with tawdry promotional messages and unimaginative merchandise posts, and you’ll see a massive follower drop.

  7. Be a little exclusive
  8. Don’t just churn out the same content across all channels. Users are more likely to go to your Instagram page, and stay there, when it offers something that your other sites don’t (and because Instagram offers the same features as Twitter without the 140 character limit, there is a lot of room to get your message across). Use your page to promote teaser content before your other platforms, add sneak peeks, exclusive Instagram-only updates and Instagram-specific contests, allowing followers to come to you.

  9. Get others involved
  10. The small team at Nifty250 do this exceptionally well. The SA printing startup (15K followers) partners with bloggers and SA locals to create stories by quite literally letting those individuals take over the official account every weekend (follow their #weekendtakeover hashtag if you’re interested). Instagram itself encourages followers to take part in a weekly weekend photo contest (#WHP) that begets millions of entries and millions of shares. Last week, the site got over half a million responses on a post that simply shared a painting of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai created by a 16-year-old fan in Kansas City.

    Creating partnerships with Instagram influencers and posting user-generated content is an easy win-win because it encourages action-orientated outcomes, allows you to engage with existing users and get free content in return, all the while gaining access to potential followers that otherwise might have never stumbled across your page.

  11. Video, video, video
  12. The really top tier brands on Instagram excel because they know how to use video.

    For example, in 2013, Lexus teamed up with more than 200 Instagrammers to create LexusInstafilm, Instagram’s first collaborative stop-motion film made up entirely of user photos. The resulting video generated a 1000 follower uptake in a matter of hours.

    It’s remarkable how many businesses don’t take advantage of the medium (although to be fair, while a high-production GoPro post or visually arresting Vanity Fair sneak peek can make for viewing delight, amateur video content can be equally disastrous.) But the video option does open up a whole new dimension of storytelling, whether it be told in gifs, as a micro-documentary, as an interview or timelapse. Do it, but do it well.

  13. Get ready for ads
  14. Amid speculation that the photo giant was set to pull a Snapchat and outlaw all advertising presence on the platform, Instagram rolled out a native advertising carousel product to North American and UK users (think Tinder for ads, instead you swipe left if you like what you see), and most recently expanded that ad play into Brazilian, French and German markets.

    Facebook also recently announced a new Johannesburg office – a sales hub, not creative – which makes the imminent arrival of Instagram ads in South Africa highly likely. According to the company blog, Instagram has only opened its Ads API to “a select group of Facebook Marketing partners and agencies”, but that is set to change as they expand. Do your homework and start planning now.

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Admittedly, this article is about Instagram, as a sales and marketing tool for businesses, but one cannot shy away from what Instagram is, as an app for the average Joe.

This, almost farcical, global selfie/photo-taking revolution that has taken the the world by storm is mind-boggling, with vanity clearly ruling supreme , ‘Instagrammers’ taking pictures everyday, of every single thing.

Personally, methinks nothing on Instagram is to be taken seriously and it will take, a really well thought-through, meticulous marketing plan, for me to give anything a second glance.

End of comments.





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