What is Instagram?

Chances are if you haven’t used Instagram yet, you’ve at least heard of it thanks to Facebook’s recent $1 billion acquisition of the photo sharing/social syndication site. Out of the gate, Instagram was only available on Apple mobile devices but in spite of that gating factor, this not so secret app had collected 30 million members by January of this year. In March of 2012 after several months of promises, Instagram finally launched on the Android platform — a fact that should easily double the member base in the second half of this year.

Why Should Brands Care?

If you’re a brand, you might be wondering why you should care about Instagram, especially now that it is part of Facebook. The simple answer is because it is one of the easiest ways for companies to make themselves more engaging and approachable. I also don’t envision that Facebook is going to do anything significant with the platform other than possibly create deeper integration with its platform a la Spotify or Pinterest. If a brand’s goal is to become a “relevant peer” as colleague and ex-VP of social media/community at Dell, Bob Pearson, describes in his book, Pre-Commerce, sharing photos and showing interest in customers’ photos is a great way to start.

How to Get Started

Beyond the obvious first step of actually setting up an account, here are three tips on how to successfully “engage” your customers on Instagram:

  • Integrate your Instagram with your corporate Twitter handle, Facebook account, Flickr account and Tumblr (if you use Tumblr). Note, it isn’t necessary to cross-post your pictures to all the channels Instagram makes available every time you update. And in fact, it might make sense to experiment to see which types of photos gain traction on which of your other sites before you go too crazy. Also, if you plan to take a number of pictures at an event/outing, it might be best if you limit the syndication to other channels as to not oversaturate your daily updates.
  • Before you start following hundreds or thousands of other users, make sure you get a good 10-20 pictures under your belt so that new followers can get a sense of what types of pictures you will be posting from your account. Also key is creating a profile picture — this should either be your logo or an image that fits your brand persona (like a smiling customer or a picture of your store/HQ if it makes sense).
  • Try and get on a regular posting schedule if possible. This doesn’t mean you have to post every day or three times a week but it also means that going for weeks at a time without posting also isn’t ideal. Out of the gate, it might make sense to shoot for once a day or so.
  • One of the downsides of finding people to follow on Instagram is that the search capabilities are pretty rudimentary. However, one good way to start connecting with your customers on Instagram is to let them know that you are there via other social channels and marketing vehicles like enewsletters, your website, ads, Facebook and Twitter. As you build your account, you might want to try and follow more people back than you might be comfortable with. This shows that you are willing to follow people back and that you understand that Instagram isn’t a broadcast channel.
  • Arguably the MOST important way you can engage with your customers on Instagram is to take the time to go in and like their pictures. If you have the time, go the extra step and leave a brief comment (things like, “great shot, well done, beautiful, wish we were there” are innocuous but demonstrate interest).

NOTE: Instagram now provides some useful tips of its own on its blog.

Which Brands are Using Instagram Successfully?

If you want a few additional tips on how to use Instagram, I wrote a post late last year providing a few best practices. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.