Instagram is a powerful brand engagement network, with a user base that is growing at an incredible rate. At the core of Instagram‘s business model is a philosophy to help brands engage with their audience on a deeper level using visual content – which is why Instagram has become such a powerful social marketing tool for business owners, online brands and social marketers.  There are over 75 million users bouncing in and out of Instagram on a daily basis. The photo-sharing social network is no longer just an iOS-only app, but a major marketing platform.

But it’s not for everybody! At least, this has been the general perception. But as more brands and businesses find creative ways to visually promote their brand, marketers are seeing the potential to reach out to a wider audience.

When Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, the social platform became the largest grossing acquisition in digital history. Mark Zuckerberg saw the prospects.

In just three years, the photo-sharing app has emerged as one of the most visited social media networks on the web today. Well-known brands with bulging budgets jumped on straight away – but small businesses have typically shied away.

This is understandable. Instagram primarily attracts followers by using images. So the photo content you post has to be of exceptional quality – which can be expensive if you feel you have to use a professional photographer every time you share an image (you don’t by the way).

You don’t have to blow your marketing budget to be a success on Instagram. You just need to think outside the bubble and flex your creative muscles.

Instagram marketing ideas

Story-telling has become a marketing art, and telling a story’s through the use of images is arguably easier than writing an entertaining 1000-word article. And customers are generally interested in people – or more specifically, the people that work for the companies they are trading with.

Browse through Instagram and you will find numerous examples of how companies are using images as an open window into the business.

And given online marketing is essentially a faceless form of communicating and conducting transactions, photos of your employees at work is a great way for your customers to see inside your company.

The open window has to be interesting however. It has to tell a story. A team photograph outside your office does not tell a story. A photograph of technicians operating machinery on the other hand, provides visual information into the process of making your products.

Using influencers

Influencers are a great way to expand brand awareness quickly. If you don’t have a large budget you may need to be a savvy negotiator and sweet-talk influencers into sharing your posts.

A realistic option for accruing more followers is to run a giveaway campaign. Unlike Facebook, Instagram does not have rigid promotion rules. Asking users to tag a friend or post photos and videos drives awareness.

Instagram may not be effective for every company, but there is plenty of potential for many small businesses that are not already using images to promote their business.

To run a successful digital marketing campaign requires publishing a diverse range of quality content, and Instagram provide an ideal platform for online businesses to give their company a face.

Organic Reach On Instagram Filtered Out

As social media networks continue to evolve, Instagram recently announced it will be adding an algorithm that will determine what content appears in your feed.

The free ride is over.

So should businesses worry that marketing content will not reach their audience?

If the changes to Instagram are anything like its big brother, Facebook, then yes, online business owners should have cause for concern. But the changes could also benefit marketers.

In its current chronological format, Instagram calculate that users miss around 70% of content that appears in their feed.

The proposed change to filter content will help users free up the clutter and manage their accounts more easily.

But for marketers algorithmic feeds are a concern. There is the danger your content will bypass your audience altogether.

And since the algorithms are based on user-behaviour, marketing on social media becomes redundant for many small businesses that simply don’t sell products or services people want to read about.

Using Instagram for early stage engagement however, is another matter.  The platform provides a fantastic opportunity for you to engage with an audience whilst they’re still not sure they need your services and start to build reach.

Paid advertising

The real reason behind the change is to encourage business owners to purchase ad space – of course.

And because algorithm feeds limit the amount of content on the page, there is more space to slip in promotional ads. Instagram has gradually ramped up its ad options over the past year.

On its blog page, Instagram for Business, the social network explained the intent to focus on three key areas:

“Expanding ad offerings to include action-oriented formats, enabling more targeting capabilities, and making it easier for businesses large and small to buy ads on Instagram.”

With the introduction of advertising units – like Facebook did – online businesses have few options other than to invest in paid ads in order to gain visibility.

This is particularly true for businesses that are new to Instagram. Publishers that are already using the platform have an advantage – users are already engaging with content so they have more opportunities to appear in news feeds.

High-quality content for Instagram

The key however is to produce content followers want to engage with. Yes, we know, quality content has become the standard answer for all digital marketers. But that’s because quality is what end-users demand.

Failing to engage your community of followers is marketing suicide. Firms are rewarded by producing high-quality content that entertains readers or provides something else of value such as valid information.

Social media accounts require nurturing. You have to build and maintain a following. This means commenting, sharing, liking and responding to other users in your network.

To leverage your position in Instagram, try piggy-backing on the accounts of established users or even approaching influencers to host and promote your content.

With over 400 million users, Instagram is a marketing platform that is difficult to ignore. The difficulty for small businesses on a thrifty budget is not having the funds to post engaging images.

Gaining visibility and accruing a following will be even harder once the algorithm is launched. Content will be judged on user-behaviour.

If you have plans to market your online business on Instagram, you should jump on board and accrue a following before the algorithm hides your work.

Instagram Verification Badge

Instagram rolled out some changes after the photo sharing app which was acquired by Facebook for $1bn in 2012 reached a milestone of 300m users, the company announced they are also taking steps to protect users from falsified accounts.

Social media networks are subject to fake accounts as part of the black market business of buying followers and are typically used to send out heaps of spam. Celebrities, businesses and magazine editors are mostly targeted.

To tackle the problem, Instagram are introducing verification badges to authenticate real accounts. Top name brands and well-known celebrities will be the first adopters of the insignia.

As yet, it’s not possible to simply apply for an Instagram verification badge as the platform automatically assigned verified account status to know celebrities online.

The company has not announced plans to roll-out the verification system for all users as yet, but given the problem has the potential to become problematic verification badges may at some point be available for everyone.

Some users have already fallen victims to scams such as the infamous lottery winner’s scam earlier this year. Although the money exchanging hands on that occasion was minimal, there is potential for scammers to pose as legitimate businesses offering to sell products.

Instagram For Business Owners And Social Marketers

Instagram got a lot more serious for business owners and social marketers after it announced a new suite of tools to help brands get better insights into how their content performs on the social network.

Instagram appears to be listening

Business owners have been screaming out for better insights into how their content is consumed on the visual platform for quite some time. It’s no secret that Instagram boasts some incredible engagement metrics, but business users have been craving core data related to how their target audience interacts and responds to their photo and video content.

It seems Instagram has been paying attention as well and the network has announced that a new suite of tools will roll out over the “coming weeks and months” to give brands a better idea of how their organic and paid content is performing on Instagram.

What to expect from new Instagram marketing tools

The new tools are designed to help online brands get better insights into their content and improve their social media marketing strategy on Instagram. Three tools have been announced and select Instagram advertisers can expect to see them in the next few months.

Account insights mean you can measure how much you are increasing brand awareness on Instagram by monitoring engagement, reach and impressions. You can track an overall summary for the last 28 days and previous weeks, as well as more specific metrics for audience and overall performance.

Ad insights allow you to get more from your paid ad campaigns on Instagram – with analytics feedback for impressions, reach and frequency. You can access this data for each individual ad that reaches your target audience and compare their performance with your other paid ads.

Ad staging brings collaboration to Instagram’s paid advertisement service, allowing creative teams to work on ad campaigns, preview, save and collaborate more effectively.

Limited impact through Instagram marketing – for now

Instagram advertisers will get first access to these tools over the next few months – which will give the company a chance to get feedback and improve the services before a wider release at some point “later this year”.

At this point it’s worth noting that ads are still a rare thing on Instagram and limited to the US for a select few brands. Keep in mind that Facebook now owns Instagram and the social giant is very conscious of scaring away users by integrated ads too quickly. It’s simply a matter of time though as the network needs to start generating income as part of the Facebook family.

In the meantime, the majority of business owners will have to wait to see a wider release of the Instagram toolkit and a greater presence of ads on the visual network.