Image courtesy of Jose Moutinho on Flickr

If you have a strong visual element to your business, Instagram is a great way to show off your products or services. The whole platform is photo-based, so obviously it’s meant for visuals, but it also incorporates hashtags for easy tagging and it’s all done through your phone, making it super simple to use.

Generally, because it’s so visual and because you can add location information to your photos, Instagram works best for brick and mortar shops that sell visually striking products. Two examples that come to mind are a specialty cake shop or a rug shop. Both sell visually stunning products and both have physical locations that people can visit.

So, if you run a cake shop, you can just whip out your phone after you’re done making your latest creation, snap a quick photo, apply some hashtags and send it out to your followers to marvel at.

You may think that Instagram is just another social media site hassle to deal with, but don’t forget that social media users are getting more fragmented. Facebook users aren’t always on Twitter and Twitter users aren’t always on Instagram etc. This allows you to reach more people and encourage sharing of your content to reach even more people. And, just playing the odds, the more people you reach, the more opportunities you have to convert them to paying customers.

The Basics

Some of you may be completely unfamiliar with Instagram. If that is the case, the first section, Instagram 101, will give you an overview of how to work the Instagram app. For those of you who are familiar with how to work it, please skip down to the Marketing with Instagram section below.

These tips are culminated from around the web and are also courtesy of RhinoForce’s own Instagram expert Olga Stoyan.

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Instagram 101

1. Phone/Camera

Before you even download the Instagram app, make sure the phone you’re using has a good camera on it. Most phones nowadays have good cameras, so this shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Although Instagram’s main focus is to make it easier to share the photos that you take with your phone, you can also upload photos taken with a regular camera that you an access from your phone. So, if you have a nice, fancy camera and you like taking photos with it, you can put those into a cloud storage service that you can access from your phone to upload to Instagram.

2. Account Name

It’s best to use the same account name that you use for your other accounts, like Twitter, if you can. It’s already familiar to people who follow you on your other social media networks.

3. Contacts

If you have a database of contacts saved in any of your business email accounts, import them to see if anyone you know is also on Instagram so you can connect with them. You can also use the contacts from your Facebook and Twitter accounts, too.

Also, announce you’re now on Instagram on all your other social media accounts and via your website.

4. Uploading & Editing Photos

Uploading photos is easy. Clicking the “Share” tab — the large camera-shaped tab in the center at the bottom of the screen — allows you to either take photos or select photos from your device’s photo albums.

Generally, it’s probably best to take a few photos with your phone and then choose the best one from your albums afterward to upload.

If you already have a photo, click the layered photo icon on the bottom left to select a photo from one of your photo albums. Once you find the photo you want to add, then tap it to select it. Click ‘next’ to move onto the next screen where you can edit your photo.

Personally, I prefer to download a photo editing app and pre-edit photos before I upload them to sites like Instagram. A photo editing app allows you much more robust editing capabilities. If you’re uploading photos from a non-phone camera, you might have photo editing software on your computer that you can use to edit them prior to uploading them onto the web. But, you may find that Instagram’s limited photo editing capabilities are good enough for your purposes.

With Instagram, you can rotate your photo, add a frame, create a blurring effect, or brighten the photo. You can play around with editing to improve the photo, but if you find that you don’t like what you’ve done to it, you can click the icon again and it gets rid of the edits you’ve done to that point. When you do get it looking good, click save.

You can also use the various filters that Instagram has to give your photo a different look. Just tap on a filter that you want to try. You can only use one filter, so tapping on a filter will take away the previous one and replace it with whichever one you just tapped on. Don’t want a filter? No problem. Click the tile on the far left and it will take all filters away.

From here, you just input information about the photo and then share it. More on this below.

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Marketing with Instagram

1. Info and Hashtags

The information section of the photos that you upload is a great way to let people know about your business, including where it is. You can write a description of what the photo is about, you can input location information, which is important if your business has a physical location, and, of course, hashtags.

You’re probably familiar with hashtags (#) from their ubiquitous use on Twitter and now Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Most social media networks use hashtags now to make things easily searchable for people.

Think of any words that you can relate to your business and put them into the description with a hashtag at the front. Use as many as you like, pertaining to your industry, your products, your geographical location and anything else that you can think of. You can even hashtag the colors that appear in your photo. You’re just trying to make it searchable in as many different ways as you can that pertain to the photo and your business.

2. Sharing

Instagram makes it easy to share your photos not only within Instagram, but with other social media networks, too. Just click on the icons to the networks that you want to share to and sign in to connect those accounts to your Instagram account.

The more you share, the more people are likely to see your posts. And, if it’s a great picture, the more likely they are to share it, too.

3. Photo Composition

You don’t just have to limit your photos to products. You can share photos of events your company hosts or is involved in or things that are of interest to you and also pertain to your business.

However, keep in mind that if you go to an event like a run for cancer awareness, for example, that you don’t need to share every single photo you take there. You may end up taking 50 shots, but out of those 50, you’ll likely only end up with a handful that are worth sharing. Stick to only sharing your amazing and great shots. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll likely find that you only have a handful of these (probably fewer than five). Sharing five great photos is much better than sharing 45 good to mediocre shots, which is what a lot of people do.

Don’t inundate people’s feeds with dozens of photos that will make them go “meh.” Give them one or two photos that will make them say “wow!”

And on that note, keep in mind the composition of your photos. Here is a link to a great Huffington Post article about photo composition with a phone camera. And while those tips are good, they are really for people who want to take artistic photos.

For business purposes, though, you can get away with a couple of basic points for taking good photos.

These can be summed up quite simply as:

  • fill the frame,
  • try different angles, and
  • try different lighting.

These three things alone will help you take better photos.

Fill the Frame

Here is a photo of the fancy bottle that I keep my dish soap in (because I hate having tacky looking plastic dish soap bottles sitting beside my sink):

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The problem with this photo is that there is a whole bunch of wasted space around the subject of the photo (the bottle). All that wasted space above, below and beside the bottle distracts from the actual subject. Get close to whatever you’re shooting.

Here is the bottle again completely filling the frame:

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See how much more focused the photo is when there isn’t so much background? This is especially important when you have a “busy” background. A plain wall is best to use as a background if you have one available.

Try different angles

If all your photos are shot from head on, your photos are going to start to look boring. You can switch things up easily by just altering the angle of your shots.

The bottle again from two different angles:

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By just moving the camera a little, I’ve completely changed the photos. The first one accentuates the cork (’cause it’s a good lookin’ cork) while the second one accentuates the designs in the glass (and the fact that I have coffee grounds in my dish soap).

Try different lighting

The bottle using natural light, natural light with the flash on my phone and natural light combined with the kitchen lights turned on. The differences can be subtle or striking. You can try candlelight, spotlights, colored lights or whatever other lighting you think might work. Experiment.

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And, finally, the one I thought was best, edited with a free photo editing app on my phone:

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4. Encourage your customers to snap and engage them

As an idea, visitors to your store can be encouraged to take a pic there. You can have a little banner at the checkout with an example Instagram post and a suggested message and hashtag.

Using the aforementioned cake shop example, you could have a photo of people standing beside the cake they’re picking up with the suggested message: “Picking up our cake from RhinoForce Cake Shop! #RhinoForceCakeShop #exciting #nameofyourcity #cake.”

You can offer to take photos of people with the products they’re picking up or ask them to do it themselves. Your banner can also have all your social media accounts and encourage people to follow them.

Using a banner like this or an announcement on your actual Instagram account, you can encourage people to tag their photos with a certain tag and have something like a contest. A photo with the chosen tags that gets the most likes wins. Or, you could tell people that if a photo with your chosen tag gets a certain number of likes, it’s worth a discount on their next purchase. 

People love to be engaged. Use your imagination to engage them.

You can follow people that like your posts. This often prompts them to follow you in return. You can also try to find and follow some of your current/potential clients. Make sure to “like” their posts in return. Everybody likes a thumbs up!

Once you get the hang of snapping, editing, uploading, hashtagging and sharing, Instagram will become one of your most valued tools.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. […] I’ve said this before about photos, but it’s worth mentioning again: a couple of amazing photos are much better than a dozen meh […]

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About Rob Swystun

A former journalist, Rob has been writing professionally since 2006 and now focuses on copy writing, website content, articles, blogging, ghost writing, editing, proofreading and public relations. Currently an Athabasca University student studying for a BA in Communications, Rob holds a Journalism Diploma from Langara College in Vancouver.

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