Today I want to talk to business owners and marketers about how to better use Instagram for visual and effective “free” marketing without it being obnoxious to Instagram users. If you aren’t sure what Instagram is, or haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, head over to their site to view the FAQ.
Many businesses, when yet another social media platform is introduced, don’t want to be bothered with learning about it or adding another task to their day. But marketing is about psychology, and if you know about how people learn (some with words, some with pictures, and some with demonstrations) you will understand that the users of Instagram primarily like to view and understand things visually. Making use of this medium gives you another place to provide gentle reminders you exist, and have something to offer that people of like minds may want.
The reason I say “people of like minds” is that unless you are a widely known and beloved brand (like Harley Davidson) potential buyers may not find you by a deliberate search of your name and following your account. On Instagram the primary method of finding things you enjoy is via hashtags, and if you think using a ton of hashtags feels too obnoxious, you need to view them a little differently on Instagram. As long as they are appropriate, these tags are very helpful to users hunting for, say, #cyclingshoes. Click on that tag to see photos people have labeled with it. Now think about how user recommendations or information work. If someone has the shoes in the photo or loves/hates them, they might get into a conversation or add info for others similar to an Amazon review of a product. All of which benefits you as the seller. Excuse me a moment, I have to go check out these gorgeous Adidas shoes. 🙂
Your photos do not have to be shot professionally to be interesting. There are tons of tutorials for taking images using just your smartphone and using third-party apps you can combine photos into collages, turn photos into watercolor works of art, adjust photo settings so they appear more dynamic and brighter before uploading and even combine video with photos! (Awesome for sizzling restaurant shots or outdoor sports.) Doing this takes an additional few minutes after taking your photo. For images taken by users that you find online that feature your brand or product, you can use the Repost app to conveniently repost their images while giving full credit for the photo to the one who posted it.
Retail, Brands & Products
Taking a picture of a product on a white background and sticking it on Instagram is probably not going to be as effective as you would like it to be. Think of an Instagram photo as answering the question of “what are you doing?” For Macy’s around Thanksgiving, that means attending the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so they shared fun photos of the floats and scenes in NYC. On another day that might mean lusting over pretty new shoes, or going on a fall picnic in an adorable outfit, or even erasing wrinkles using some cool new cosmetics product.
Here are some accounts doing a particularly great job of mixing brand reminders, lifestyle images, helpful posts, and quirky fun stuff done by users that the brand shares with their followers, which helps build a community of fans, diminishing the feeling of being blasted with promotions.
Macy’s is using something that several large brands are trying right now that is a workaround to Instagram’s limitation of not allowing url links in your photo captions. It is called Like to Buy and you can read more about it on Econsultancy or check out the service here.
Martha Stewart loves dogs, and that is evident on the brand’s Instagram account, which seems to feature a dog photo about every 5-20 uploads, sometimes via a user’s photo like this one of Manny the Frenchie wearying a Martha Stewart brand coat from Petsmart.
Coke has some really fun brand-focused photos and emphasizes the quirky over serious. They are sugar water after all… brands that are in a position to be expendable may benefit most by being memorable and amusing.
Corona especially does a great job of creating longing for beach, friends and beer. I can almost smell the beer from here! Corona, quite simply, touches the inner call we all have for our own personal nirvana. For me, it’s the water, surf and sand so they could add even more hashtags that speak to finding bliss and reach more people seeking that.
Oreo is focused on the fun to be had with their products. From holiday campaigns to delightful finds within their customer base, they always seem to have something going on with this simple cookie that tickles their fans.
While a restaurant seems like an obvious user of Instagram, it’s amazing how few use it well or use it consistently, unable to see beyond showing a single plate of food. Any business with a lot of foot traffic has a built-in source of potential new content, from kitchen scenes to catering to photos of tables filled with happy customers that agree you can photograph them for Instagram. Mix in tantalizing food and drink shots as the icing on the cake.
Do not forget to add any appropriate hashtag you can think of (including ingredients like #egg or #scrambledeggs) and also to define the “location” so that anyone who finds you locally or while traveling can stop by to try what they saw online for themselves. Also, put your city and state hashtag on some posts… people may discover you who will be in your area this way. Everyday objects can also be made interesting when clustered together and unique compositions or surprising placement, such as this partial view of waiter on the street, can make your spot a must-visit for those who connect to what you offer once they find you.
Buvette, with locations in Paris and NYC, tops my bucket list of restaurants. Because, #brunch and #yolkporn! Their photos are exemplary and you can recreate their style by taking photos from an “aerial” view by arranging things on the table or counter and then standing on a chair or something a little higher to capture the arrangements, top-down. Such an effective way to include many items in the small square format you have to work with. Now pass me those eggs!
Cadillac Bar, one of my old haunts in Kemah, Texas is included here because they are such a sad example of having a great eye for what Instagram users would want to see, but not the vision to build community or even just blast out photos of delicious tex-mex so users could find them. Come back, Cadillac Bar… people need to find you and discover how amazing your veggie enchiladas are, among other tasty items. (BTW, I will see you in April when I’m in Kemah!)
Stumptown Coffee is full of pure personality and the kind of hipster product photos you’d expect from any self-respecting indie coffeeshop. If I’m ever near one I will make a beeline to check them out just based on their Instagram pics.
It’s a real shame Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles has stopped posting, because their photos exude a sense of playful whimsy along with, well, chicken and waffles, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re in LA, hit a location and tell them they need to keep showing off their wares on Instagram! Esquire Magazine would agree.
Forequarter does one thing very well: it makes you want to go there. The people shots mixed with action shots mixed with enticing plates and libations provide a glimpse into the good time you could have here with friends.
B2B & Other Unlikely Instagram Suspects
When it comes to B2B or industry-specific organizations the keyword to think of is “niche.” The masses may not flock to your account, but people who are into or need what you offer will if you enable your content to be found. While creating visual content may seem difficult, there are probably examples that will nudge your creativity if you search for them. From user experience, kitchen design and travel agents to book publishing, all sorts of services and specialties can be found on Instagram.
GE focuses on technology, engineering and manufacturing on Instagram and the results are spectacular.
HarperCollins Canada demonstrates an excellent use of simple props and interesting photo arrangements of something that isn’t always easy to make interesting in a photo: a book.
Square’s feed may actually inspire you to go and open a local business, so view it with caution! By focusing on the “why” they exist, they have a never-ending source of unique and interesting stories to tell, right from within their own customer base. Web hosts, web apps, tailors, personal shoppers, accountants and service-based businesses of all types can draw lessons from this approach.
FreshBooks focuses mostly on events and employees, but could benefit from telling customer stories for even more content to use.
Final Food for Thought…
The most effective psychological tool used via these Instagram photos is emotion. What do you provide people emotionally? Focus on that and not what you want them to buy from you. What do they see in themselves via your photos… A great time? Looking sharp in a cool outfit? Some awesome high-tech sports gear? Being a better athlete? Bass-thumping music, so they feel like they are at a Tiesto concert? The most adorable doggy outfit in the world? Beautiful skin or hair? Meeting a need or satisfying a fancy and helping people find you via hashtags is one way to lure them into your world visually. Plus, it can be a fun and satisfying way to tell your company or brand story over time.