How to use Instagram for business

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Instagram is the free photo sharing app and social network that allows you to take a photo, apply a digital filter and then share with all your followers. Acquired by Facebook for $1billion in 2012 – it's cool, it's cross-platform and it has around millions of users (and growing) worldwide.

Why has it become so popular? Because today, we are hungry for visual content. We want to see pictures not words. We want to see the people behind a logo and discover what they're up to on a daily basis. Instagram is the perfect platform for brands to tell their own visual stories and build a loyal following, not just through Instagram but via Facebook and Twitter as well.

If you're running a business, Instagram should definitely be part of your marketing strategy. Whether you're a studio or creative freelancer, here are some top tips on how to use Instagram for business...

Create the right profile

When you set up your account on Instagram by downloading the app for your iPhone or Android device, you'll get the chance to choose a username that clearly represents your brand. You can then add a profile photo, a biography and a link to your website. Make sure your profile is a good representation of who you are and will encourage people to follow you.

Connect your account to other social networks

During installation, you'll have the option to 'link up' your other social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Foursquare. Go through the process and then when you start posting Instagram pics, you'll be given the option to share them whenever and wherever you like. Just be careful not to share everything – you don't want to fill up people's feeds with endless snaps that have no relevance or meaning to that particular network.

Know how to edit

Whenever you take a photo through Instagram, you can choose from various different filters to add that special finishing touch. But there's more to Instagram than these simple options. When editing your pics, make use of the 'focus' filter – the little droplet at the top of your edit screen.

And if you've got the right phone model, you can even add 'flash' to ensure you get the right lighting. NB. Apologies if this tip is a little obvious to some – but you'd be surprised how many people I know who didn't realise we had these extra features.

Optimise your photos

Whenever you take a new photo via Instagram, you're always given the option to add a caption. Make best use of this opportunity by writing a relevant, optimised description and add two or three hashtags so people searching for a specific theme or topic can easily find you.

Put your business on the map

Enable geo-tagging with every photo you take through Instagram. Geo-tagging means adding your geographical location, i.e. the specific place where your photograph was taken. By allowing this feature, you're making your brand and Instagram pics even more visible and easy to find by potential customers... especially in specific locations because your pics will be tagged with that area.

Make best use of Search

There is a fantastic 'search' function via Instagram that allows you to find photographs taken by a particular user or tagged with a certain hashtag. This is incredibly useful if you want to network, engage and find new people to follow. It's also powerful for events or things like conferences when you want to keep your finger on the pulse and see who's who.

For example, on a recent business trip to New York to DecodedFashion, I kept an eye on real-time Instagram snaps to see who was in the audience and follow their updates. This meant I could easily find Twitter names, new people to follow and I could 'comment' on their photos and start a conversation. At the same time, I Instagram-ed a lot of my pics for my client and found people engaging with us. As a result, my client attracted hundreds of new followers, not just on Instagram but on Twitter and Facebook too.

Find people to follow

Instagram allows you to quickly find potential followers through your Facebook and Twitter accounts. It can even access your Contact information. It might also 'suggest' people you could follow and you're able to search names and usernames accordingly. Build up a nice following by finding relevant people to follow – it's quite likely they'll want to follow back.

Engage, engage, engage

You can chat to followers and friends on Instagram by tagging their username as follows '@KatyCowan'. This becomes helpful if you're following a certain brand you'd like to make connections with and you want to share a snap of their product. Don't forget you can also 'like' people's photos and comment on their own pics.

Make every snap count

It's easy to get addicted to Instagram and take snaps of just about anything that moves. But remember that you have to make your content interesting and fresh. Keep things unique and special. Avoid being mundane. Instagram is a perfect opportunity to connect with people in an intimate, interactive and friendly way, so make every photograph count for something.

Tell your story

Today's digital era means we want to see the real people behind the logo, so don't be afraid to tell your story and show the real you. Share great 'behind the scenes' footage, document a special event, show the people behind your logo.

Stacey Bendet of Alice + Olivia is the perfect example of how to use Instagram for business. She doesn't hold back and shares her life, her inspirations, her passions and little snippets from her everyday life. As a result, I feel like I know her. I feel connected. I love her brand all the more. Follow her lead and tell your own story to gain customer loyalty.

Create a viral campaign or contest

If you want to encourage more followers and engagement, why not organise some hashtag-based content from your community? For example, if you're a fashion brand you could launch a competition to find the 'best dressed' by urging people to take snaps of their outfits, tag them with something like #WeLoveFashionUK or whatever is relevant, and then pick out a winner. Or you could even let other followers decide by allowing them to vote for their favourites.

Perhaps a viral campaign is more up your street? In which case, how about encouraging people to snap themselves wearing your product or sharing your movement? Global ad agency StrawberryFrog has its own 'Frogism' movement and sends out t-shirts to its fans who then proceed to take snaps of themselves wearing them. You can see the results on their Facebook page but this campaign would also work brilliantly on Instagram.

For further tips, check out Instagram's own tips on hosting a photo campaign, and then view some examples via its Instagram for Business page.

Remember to have fun

If you've still got that old 'corporate' persona weighing heavily on your shoulders, it really is time to shake it off and embrace a new way of doing business. Business is just about people, so show the human side of your company or brand by remembering to have fun and keeping it real.