Not too long ago a reader asked me how to use Instagram hashtags within a social strategy. Well even before being asked me that question I was thinking of a bigger question. In which ways can a marketer use Instagram in social media marketing? But until now I haven’t had the time to put my ideas down on paper.

In this article I will discuss 9 key points in marketing with Instagram. Since marketing is not holistic for any company, product, or situation, I encourage you to read these points and comment below if you want to expand on any ideas raised or especially if you disagree. I am open to anyone’s thoughts and questions and will always respond quickly, with a value of One Billion dollars and 80 million users Instagram can’t be ignored.

1: Don’t rely just on Instagram

When forming your social media strategy Instagram is a great mobile marketing tool, but it is not the only tool. By design Instagram works best in conjunction with other sites. Especially visual friendly content sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook, as these sites also offer the best viral impact for sharing and discussing photos.

2: Involve your Community

As with any social media campaign not only should you reply on your own pictures, you should reach out liking and commenting on their photos too, especially if they mention your product or brand. As we have seen before customer service through social media can be a great way to retain a customer who is having a problem.

Create contests, scavenger hunts, and other promotions that encourage your community to display your brand on their photo feed and on their other connected social media networks.

3: Let Your Community See Behind the Curtain

Often examples of companies and people doing great jobs marketing with Instagram have a few things in common. They’re active, they post interesting pictures, they engage their base, and they show people the world beyond the faces at the counter.

Personally my favorite examples of this are:

  • @BarackObama which shows many pictures not only of President Obama at political rallies, but also more to my point the faces of the volunteers that make campaigns like his possible.
  • @Starbucks is also a great example and has been referenced by many marketers for their use of Instagram. Often their pictures range from their brand to the fields in which the coffee beans are grown.

 4: Let Your Employees be Involved

As with any social media strategy your immediately accessible and most loyal brand evangelists are your employees. One great way to develop legitimate activity on your social media profiles quickly is to encourage your employees to participate. But don’t just encourage them to follow your company and like your images, encourage them to submit their photos too. This ties back into seeing behind the curtain, what is a greater way to let your community see behind the curtain than to have your employees submit their photos. Set clear guidelines on proper decorum, but work to make sure that the guidelines are not so restrictive that they stifle clever and creative contributions.

5: Popular Hashtags on Instagram are Dead

Instagram image by Tessa Violent (@Meekakitty)

Instagram image by Tessa Violent (@Meekakitty)

There I said it, someone had to say it. While hashtags are far from dead or falling from use in the internet, Instagram’s popularity is out pacing people’s ability to monitor these tags from within the app. Even with third-party monitoring tools these tags and their photos have a very short half-life before they’re replaced by another photo. If you’re a regular visitor to my site you know that every month I update a post on the top 15 popular Instagram hashtags. This page is set up so that readers can easily copy and paste the hashtags into their Instagram captions. However from my own use of these tags I’ve noticed where photos that previously would have received 20 likes receive only 5 to 10. Therefore the use of generic popular hashtags on Instagram by companies and brands isn’t necessary. I’m not saying to not use hashtag your brand photos but instead use photo and promotion specific tags rather than cluttering your comment area with hashtags.

Individuals looking to promote themselves should and still use these tags as I do, but they should also focus on Instagram group hashtags and contest tags to gain greater recognition.

6: Create Your Own Hashtag and Engage People that Use it.

Creating, Using, Promoting, and Monitoring your own hashtag has some great benefits.

  • People can easily find photos related to you or your brand.
  • It is easier to determine who your fans are beyond the users that follow and like your photos.
  • It is easier to engage your community and for your brand to be shared when you encourage the use of your own hashtags. Did you know when a user likes a photo on Instagram it appears in their newsfeed on Facebook? And did you know if one of their friend’s clicks on that liked photo they immediately go to Instagram’s hosted picture and can see all of the comments and your hashtags? They can also share the photo from there as well, this is a great possibility for a viral effect.
  • ROI! Creating your own hashtag adds yet another dimension to which you can measure your impact against. While it does not show a direct ROI to sales it does show yet another measure to relative ROI for the number of users involved in a given campaign.

7: Geo-Tag Instagram Photos

The geo-tagging feature on Instagram was great even before the 3.0 update because on upload it gave the user the ability to transfer that location information to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Foursquare all at the same time. After 3.0 users still can geo-tag and upload their content but now the Instagram app also incorporates a photo map on user’s profiles.

Geo-tagging involves your communities on another level on multiple platforms at once. Using it can help you promote your event or your participation at an event in a great way. Beyond that restaurants, retailers, and any other brand can promote their location and their products in use using and promoting geo-tagged Instagram photos.

  • For example a restaurant can by ensuring Foursquare lists their business could encourage patrons to post Instagram shots that are linked to Foursquare. This also notifies their patron’s friends of the restaurant and of their food presentation.
    • Photographer Monica Lo (@lobese on Twitter and Instagram) does a great job of incorporating her client’s food presentations with their Foursquare locations.
  • In another example a company could make a scavenger hunt out of geo-tagging for contests and other promotions.

8: Find the Perfect Timing

Distribution of Instagram Comments by Time of day

Distribution of Instagram Comments by Time of day

SimplyMeasured has a fantastic study into engagement with Instagram showing which tags, filters, and times have the greatest correlation to comments on photos. From their work we can derive that the best time to post pictures for engagement is between 5-6pm.

The article is definitely worth a read:

SimplyMeasured: Instagram Analytics Tips

9: Finally Play with your Photos

  • Encourage you staff to take photos with their iPhone’s, Galaxy S 3’s, DSLRs, and even with their Polaroid cameras. Youtube and internet star Meekakitty has created some great examples of this.
  • Use editing/enhancement tools
    • Picstitch, Photoshop Express, Picfx, Diptic, Lenslight, and Slow Shutter are all great tools. Feel free to recommend other tools in the comments which you like to use.
  • Don’t be afraid of creativity and experimentation
  • Don’t always work with the square box. 4:3 photos with white filling the empty spaces on the sides will match Instagram’s photo feed and look strikingly different from other photos.
  • Text only Instagram photos using an app like Textgram while arguably weird looking to long term users, is just that, weird. Used correctly and sparingly these will stand out to a brand’s followers and can develop help develop engagement.