social media how toWondering if the rapidly growing Instagram photo sharing community could benefit your business?

As teens quickly migrate to Instagram, could their photo sharing addictions include your pictures?

Instagram was the smartphone photo sharing tool of choice long before its acquisition by Facebook and the release of an Android version. And it’s growing faster than ever.

What Is Instagram?


Instagram makes sharing pictures easy.

Instagram is a free application for iPhone or Android that lets people take photos, apply filters to change the look of the photos and then share them. Users can share them on Instagram while also choosing to share them to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare.

twitter tumblr foursquare facebook

Instagram photos (from left to right) on Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Facebook.

Like most social networks, users can accrue followers who will see their photos. The use of hashtags is encouraged as a method of photo discovery.

Instagram is unusual in that users review their photos via the app only, not online. However, several websites, including Pinstagram, Webstagram and Statigram, provide that ability.

In the last year, photo sharing has become an increasingly popular method of social sharing.

Facebook has made photos a bigger part of their experience, Pinterest has exploded in part because of their simple photo-based interface and brands are seeing increased engagement from sharing visual updates online.

This represents a great opportunity for businesses to participate in this thriving community. Like all communities, however, you need to do it right to be accepted.

Here are 5 ways to grow your presence on Instagram.

#1: Discover how you are pictured as a company

Part of joining any community is listening first.

For many brands, there are already hundreds or even thousands of pictures of your products.

For example, as of this writing:

  • #BestBuy: 13,361 photos
  • #Sharpie: 69,402 photos
  • #Skittles: 68,924 photos
  • #Samsung*: 113,723 photos
  • #Jeep*: 127,464 photos

You can discover photos either in the Instagram app itself, under Explore > Hashtags or in one of the websites that provides an online version of Instagram, like Webstagram or Statigram.


Webstagram search results for #Sharpie.

sharpie photos instagram

Several of the many #Sharpie photos on Instagram.

When you do this, you’ll learn at least two things about your brand. First, you’ll see which hashtags are the most popular for your brand.

For Jeep, #jeep has 124,000+ photos, while #jeepwrangler has 5,400 photos and #jeeplife has 3,400 photos.

For Sharpie, a marketing manager might be tempted to use #sharpiemarker as the hashtag, but a quick review shows the massive difference between #sharpie and #sharpiemarker in popularity.

Second, you’ll begin to see what kind of content your community already posts about your brand. This should give you a good sense of the type of content that will resonate with them.

Like most communities, blatant self-promotion is ineffective on Instagram. In fact, Instagram actively discourages it. This doesn’t mean you can’t show pictures of your product and your product in use. Just make them interesting so they can work for you.

#2: Create and promote your account

Instagram doesn’t have brand pages right now, but they’re not prohibited. Just sign up for an account. If you already have one, sign up for a second one for the brand using a different email address.

signup instagram

Signing up is quick and easy via the application.

Once you do that, it’s time to promote your content. The first step is taking good pictures and using the right hashtag for your brand, but you can go well beyond that.

Promote your account the way you promote your other channels. Just like you link to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, promote your Instagram profile.

Since Instagram is a mobile application, you can’t effectively link to your account on the web, but Webstagram and Statigram automatically compile each user’s content on a page that lets users follow that account from a web browser.

Webstagram even offers a free brand Follow button for you to customize.

follow button

Webstagram allows you to easily make a button to promote your Instagram account.

Here are screenshots of Burberry on both Webstagram and Statigram so you can compare.

burberry webstagram

Burberry shares a wide variety of pictures on Webstagram.

burberry statigram

Burberry on Statigram is more visual, but has fewer links than Webstagram.

#3: Use Instagram as your default photo app

Who has time for another social network, you may ask? That’s a reasonable question for businesses. But you already need to create content for your Twitter or Facebook account, and photo content should certainly be in the mix.

Since sharing Instagram photos on Facebook and Twitter is so easy, use Instagram as your camera app when you take pictures for your brand.

That way, you’ll be feeding Instagram while you’re feeding your other social channels. This is a way to dip your toe in the Instagram waters with very little commitment.

You can also Instagram to feed Flickr, Tumblr and/or Foursquare if you have those accounts. Just open the app, go to the Profile tab and click the gear in the upper right-hand corner. Scroll down to Sharing Settings and add whichever accounts you need.

instagram settings

Instagram's photo sharing settings allow you to feed Instagram to other social networks.

#4: Aggregate your content

Instagram has an API, so any programmer can easily pull Instagram pictures into other assets to aggregate them and display them any number of ways.

You might do this on a Facebook tab, as A&E did for Longmire, a new Western-themed drama they were working to promote.

longmire instagram

Longmire photo contest on Facebook pulled in Instagram photos.

Tiffany & Co. chose to put aggregate Instagram photos on a website. Since Tiffany is, above all else, about love (packaged in a really, really expensive blue box), they asked their followers to post a picture about love, calling the campaign “True Love in Pictures.”

Followers used the hashtag #TrueLovePictures and took photos inspired by the phrase, “It was true love when _________.”

The resulting pictures on the micro site are outstanding, as you can see in this screenshot, and they do a great job associating Tiffany with love—a nice and simple (but powerful) branding play.

love in pictures

Tiffany fans' Instagram photos are pulled in and ranked by popularity.

The site (quite cleverly) allows you to upload a photo right from your computer, apply a filter and participate without using the Instagram app.

They also include other love-inspired content and more information on their flagship New York store to complete the package.

#5: Host events or promotions for your community

Social promotions can be great ways to grow communities or increase brand awareness. Instagram is no exception. The Longmire photo contest and True Love Pictures are just two examples of brands running promotions on this platform.

Running a promotion can be as simple as asking your fans to use a specific hashtag to have their photos reviewed. (Don’t be too clever here, or fans may hijack your hashtag.) As with any promotion, cover your bases with official terms and conditions.

In fact, Instagram itself runs weekly promotions called the Weekend Hashtag Project. Statigram offers a Contest Toolkit.

Warby Parker, an eyeglass maker, hosted an Insta-Walk in New York City where they invited their fans to get together on a Sunday and take pictures together. I’m not sure how many folks attended, but they did generate 672 photos with their hashtag for the day—a strong showing for a brand with just under 12,000 followers around the world.

warby parker

Warby Parker brought their Instagram fans together in real life.

Get Started

Instagram is an unusual program. Part community, part camera and part content resource for your other communities. That enables you to use it in different ways and experiment a little bit.

In my view, it’s also less of a commitment than opening a branded Facebook page or starting a blog. You can easily open an account, take a few pictures and see where the adventure takes you.

For a lot of brands, the results may be surprisingly strong.

What do you think? Are you using Instagram? What tips do you have to share? Please leave your comments in the box below.

*Editor’s note: Samsung and Jeep are clients of the author of this post.

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  • I have used Instagram for my photography business, so much so, that I don’t even carry my ‘real’ camera (Nikon D300) anymore!  People/Customers/Businesses love this stuff…they’re all the rage right now.  I’ve been lucky enough to sell thousands of dollars worth of my Instagram photography for clients in the hospitality industry over the past year…I could quite possibly be one of the first(if not the first) photographer to shoot a project for a national brand using only my Iphone and a .99-cent app!

  • I love instagram and I have been thinking how to add my instagram account in my blog, this article came at the right time! I love webstagram, I didn’t know you could add a instagram gallery on your website, a button or view my personal profile so easily! my photos looks very good in my computer haha, I’m used to just look at them in my phone.
    I don’t use instragram to promote a business but more to share beautiful photos and so far, I love it, I really recommend instagram.
    my profile in webstagram: 

  • Fabulous. As visual content gets more and more popular (and phone cameras get better), I suspect others will join  you.

  • Great article, Jim! I absolutely love Instagram. I follow a bunch of brands and like that they aren’t overly-promotional with their pictures. All I really want to see is Starbucks’ pictures of lattes and Converse’s pictures of shoes. That’s what they post, and that visual image is all I need. 

    Contests are great on Instagram because it’s a great way to get your audience involved. Aim and click? Easy enough. And participants will generate hundreds of pictures for your brand. I entered an Instagram contest for Converse, and there were a few hundred photos submitted. It’s crowd-sourcing at its finest.

  • Leah Mackey Schultz

    Black Milk Clothing does the best job of aggregating Instagram content of any other company I’ve seen.  Check it out.  Any product on their website has it’s own Twitter & instagram hashtag.  the aggregated photos are then shown on the product’s page.  So awesome for a clothing product.  It is a great way for customers to see how other people are wearing the product and how it looks on real life people rather than just on a model

    Also, follow them on instagram at @blackmilkclothing.  I don’t work for them or anything.. I’m just a big fan of their products and their marketing!

  • I’m seeing more sponsored posting campaigns that are adding Instagram photos to the mix. I’ve also used it in freelance writing when I’ve done travel and restaurant reviews.

  • Kristy C. Cartier

    You made my afternoon including a clip from Longmire, one of my fave new shows this summer.

  • Ace

    Wow, this popped into my inbox while thinking do I need instagram for my business. Looks like there is no harm, and may aswel give it a go! 

  • We love Instagram @gadventures:twitter  and use it to inspire our fans/followers to travel the world with us. We’re planning our first contest soon. Good tips here. 

  • Ijaz

    no doubt instagram is something cool and after getting these tips it would be great to use it for my web design business 🙂 

  • Their leggings are very distinctive as well, which makes for great Instagram photos. 

  • Excellent. Glad it helped!

  • Excellent. Give it a try. If you’re respectful of the community and add value, you should have good success. 

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  • My teenage daughter (and dozens of her friends) are constantly sharing what I’d describe as ‘fun/casual’ photos, with Instagram.  The nice thing is you post once, to be seen by many – like this blog

  • natashaattal

    I’d like to integrate instagram for my company but already have my own account on my iphone. how can i manage 2 accounts from one phone without having to sign in and out of instagram each time?

  • Good to hear, looks like Instagram is really working for you. Hope to learn more of your success.

  • Great job on the article. Learned much more than I expected. Instagram is a pretty new platform for branding and will definitely give it a good look in.

  • Pam Jones

    Instagram is a great way for me to mix my business with a bit of my personal life.  It allows my personality to come through allowing my customers a glimpse into who I am as opposed to a faceless business entity.

  • Alyssa

    Great ideas! I was showing one of my potential small business clients how they can use instagram to easily showcase new merchandise in their store by pushing it to social media platforms. For busy small business people, Instagram could be the easiest way to engage!

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  • I use instagram for my personnel work, but not for the day job…though I’m using it this weekend for work for the first time. We’re attending a large festival in the UK called CarFest and I plan to use Instagram as part of my tool set to promote our attendance and involvement live over the weekend, by uploading photographs I take during the course of the two day event. These will be posted to the company twitter and Face book page, as well as to my own FB and twitter accounts. I experimented with the idea whilst on holiday posting images to my own accounts, the reaction from friends was positive. They enjoyed the images being posted live from the various places we visited, so this prompted me to do the same for work. This event will be a test and if it goes well I’ll be doing it at all events and motor racing meets the company attends in the future.

  • OBVAVirtualAssistant

    I was looking for some clarity on Instagram and here it is, thanks to this article. Its a great platform for all entreprenuers.

  • Hi @twitter-8064862:disqus 

    In this post, you forgot to mention of, the first platform linked to instagram which has developed capabilities for brands ( Currently we have the important case histories of Brand like Armani, Mercedes, Dolce & Gabbana, Fiat, Ikea and many more.
    I think it’s a severe lack … in the post!

  • Instagram is a great new Social network. However, very few people
    really know, how to use its potential. This article gives you a great insight
    on how you could use the Insta-power. Thanks for this article.

  • How can i manage 2 accounts from one phone without having to sign in and out of instagram each time?

  • Natasha, I believe you need to sign in and out as the way to communicate which account you mean to use. 

  • Thanks Dylan. Glad you enjoyed it. 

  • Jason, be sure to use the right hashtags so that other people looking for images from CarFest or images of particular vehicles can also discover your photos. Good luck!

  • natashaattal

    Is there another app to use that would allow me to manage both accounts?

  • Karenkellybrown

    Thank you! Great article, Jim. Any advice for someone that IS their own brand? It’s kind of hard not to sound self-serving or blatant! 🙂

  • On Instagram it shouldn’t be too hard. Figuring out what images you have to share that are interesting and helpful to you is where the thinking comes in.

  • hey! I follow a youtuber in instagram and she always post beautiful pictures not of herself but things she likes or made. But, she also post tons of pictures of herself like everyday, thats something I don’t recommend, it’s piss me of, she is beautiful and all but its a little but too much of ‘me me me me…’
    being honest… who cares…

  • AimeeS

    Thank you for such an informative article.  I have been toying with the idea of how to use instagram for my business, and this definitely reassured me that it’s possible.  Do you have any suggestions on what those of us who don’t sell actual tangible items… sell services instead?

  • Lotte Mahon

    Hi Natasha, Hootsuite has recently added Instagram to its supported apps and I believe you can add multiple accounts. 

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  • I really like using Instagram, even with the new updates and acquisition by Facebook. I follow a blogger who posts a photo to Instagram whenever she has a new post. This ensures that her followers see it, as well as followers of her followers. It’s a great, easy way to increase exposure.

  • Pingback: Online Marketing News: Facebook Tests Sponsored Search Ads, Google’s Page 1 Results Possibly Getting Smaller, Klout Revamps Metrics | Web Marketing Orlando()

  • Alex Wivell

    Fantastic post! I love Instagram but haven’t been using it to it’s full potential. Thank you for saving me endless time in working out the finer details.

  • Insightful post Jim. I use instagram for my food blog and have recently started to think about using it for work. Our target demographic tend to be 40+ and I wondered if anyone out there had any statistical info on instagram users? I have been of the feeling that the average user is 25-35yrs old….but I could be wrong. Thoughts?

  • Insightful post Jim. I use instagram for my food blog and have recently started to think about using it for work. Our target demographic tend to be 40+ and I wondered if anyone out there had any statistical info on instagram users? I have been of the feeling that the average user is 25-35yrs old….but I could be wrong. Thoughts?

  • I really used to love Instagram now. I do love to share pictures and it is a beautiful way to share your world. Mobile apps are now effectively used by companies whose sales leads are already familiar with their brands such us Instagram and other social networks.

  • Carra

    Good post, I think Instagram is another social platform that businesses shouldn’t ignore. We’re still trying to build our fan base on there but I absolutely see the potential. I like the idea of promoting events on there as well as the gamification part. We actually made an Infographic showing how B2B Companies can utilize Instagram: – Carra at Marketo

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  • I don’t think you can… and it sucks. I’d love to know if you can, though.

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  • Gary_lvn

    This is a tremendous app to both experiment with and use directly as a business marketing tool. I am in the health club business and gaining a meaningful presence is crucial to growth.

  • Is there a way to share Instagram photos with my Facebook business page (fan page) but not my personal Facebook page?  So far, the only way I have found is to post the Instagram to my personal and then “share” to the business.  I don’t want my business photos on my personal page.  Or, there is a “tab” on my business page for Instagram photos, but fans have to specifically click it to see images.  I just want them to post in the timeline of my fans.  Possible?

  • luruke

    there is too

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  • Great info. I will have to open an account too.

  • Goruss

    What did you choose as your 99 cent app?  Just wondering!

  • Luvbpromo

    Awesome…i’d love to follow u #inspirational

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  • AreaWoman

    Statigram has a Facebook widget that will put a tab on a FB business/brand page. Instagram will also allow you to share to a brand page; you may have to download the FB Pages Manger app (this allows you to manage a brand page remotely as the page itself and not as the named Admin) to accept the link to Instagram.

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  • Kayln

    Great info! Really helpful.
    I was in search of such type of information about Instagram & found this blog.
    You have cleared almost all my doubts.
    Thanks for sharing this fantastic post..

  • Andrew Scarella

    I have been using instagram at my job, I work in social media. It is great for brand exposure and gaining fans, but the nature of this social media site makes it very difficult to get fans to actually go to your website. I track social media visits and don’t get any from instagram, statigram or any other “gram”. I use it to take photos around the office to offer a behind the scenes look at the company. Employees at events or trade show take photos as well.

  • M Va

    Does anyone know if its possible in using the Instragram API, is it possible to aggregate photos with a particular instagram hashtag into a Facebook Application? I know its possible to aggregate a hashtag but not sure if it can be built into a app on facebook? Would appreciate if anyone has any feedback if its possible and if so how would it be done?


  • Thanks!

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  • Kaylee

    follow me on instagram and I will follow back @officialkaitlynbrown

  • utkarsh srivastava

    follow me on insta @ karshmoney2992

  • Julianna Carfaro

    I am an avid Instagrammer and i am thinking about advertising on my page to my many followers. If you are interested in featuring your items on my lifestyle page please message me on Instagram @juliannacarfaro