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Photo-sharing app Instagram has long since left its hipster roots behind and is now a social network for the masses, which inevitably means that marketers are looking at ways to exploit its popularity.

According to the platform’s own statistics, Instagram’s 130 million active users share 45 million photos every day so there’s plenty of opportunity to gain brand exposure.

We’ve previously looked at nine brands making good use of Instagram and four others rocking the app’s new video feature.

And on that theme, here are nine ways in which brands can use Instagram for marketing...

Build your brand

All too often businesses use social media just to push out bland marketing messages, which is a real turn off for potential followers.

Instagram is the perfect medium for sharing images that build a brand’s identity and personality, which helps to create an affinity with followers and prospective customers.

This could involve posting images of staff, the company’s offices, pets, or cityscapes – basically anything that you want the brand image to be associated with.

It has the potential to be particularly effective for small businesses as it’s a cost effective way of developing brand personality without the need for huge ad campaigns.

However Burberry is probably one of the best examples – it posts frequent images from around London in order to promote its image as a traditional, British brand.

Shout about your products

While nobody wants to follow a brand that just posts boring stock images of its own products, there are ways of being creative with product images that will keep people entertained.

Starbucks doesn’t always find the correct balance, but its best posts are eyecatching images that manage to capture a topical or seasonal moment while also promoting one of its products.

Competitions

As with all social networks, competitions are a common way of starting conversations with users and driving up follower numbers. This generally involves coming up with a branded hashtag and asking users to submit images based around a particular theme.

We’ve previously rounded up a list of eight brands that have run instagram competitions, including Walkers, Absolut and Adobe.

One of my favourite examples is from pro skater Tony Hawk, who occasionally hides skateboards in random spots then posts a photo of the landmark with a clue as to the location.

                      

Though it won’t gain the same widespread exposure as the other examples that run for several weeks using a hashtag, it’s a really creative example of using Instagram to give away something that followers will truly value.

Dish out promo codes

The lure of discounts and promotional codes is often cited as one of the main reasons that people engage with brands on social networks and Instagram is no different. 

Clothing retailer Topshop has previously used Twitter and Facebook to drive customers to Instagram images that reveal promo codes and even new store locations.

It makes the code feel slightly more exclusive to Instagram users, even though other customers will inevitably manage to track it down.

A look behind the scenes

Instagram is a great medium for giving fans and followers a look behind the scenes at brand events such as fashion shows or product launches.

It acts as a reward for their interest in the brand and helps to build customer loyalty. Furthermore, it’s a simple way of maximising the amount of content you get from fairly standard marketing events.

ASOS is a great example of this, and often posts photos from its photo shoots and fashion shows.

Brag about celeb fans

If your brand is lucky enough to have celebrity fans then why not make the most of them?

Topshop recently reposted an Instagram photo of pop singer Ellie Goulding sporting one of its charity t-shirts, thereby gaining a sneaky celebrity endorsement...

Link it to Foursquare

This only really works for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations, but it’s a great way of injecting some interest into your foursquare listing and hopefully attracting more customers

Instagram uses foursquare’s location mapping so users can tag their photos to existing locations in their local area. 

Therefore restaurant owners can check-in on foursquare when uploading photos and embellish their listing with attractive, interesting images. Then when other users are searching for somewhere to go for lunch they will potentially see the images and be more likely to stop by.

#hashtag

Hashtags on Instagram work in the same way as they do on Twitter, so people can use them to search for interesting content.

While it’s definitely possible to overdo the number of hashtags on an image and start looking desperate, highlighting a few relevant words helps to gain exposure for your photos.

These examples from department store Selfridges are a good example.

                      

Choosing a few slightly more obscure hashtags will also help to surface your content to a wider audience and potentially attract a few extra followers.

Celebrate your followers

Sharing user-generated content is a great way to reward followers and help to increase brand affinity.

It’s a fairly common tactic and tends to work best for fashion or clothing brands. ASOS is a prime example and often asks users to submit ‘selfies’ using a branded hashtag, and then reposts some of them to its followers.

Jack Daniels has also just launched a similar campaign that asks its followers to posts photos of themselves raising a glass of whiskey to the memory of the company’s founder.

The campaign uses the hashtag #JacksBrthday and is designed to help promote the brand’s new UK Instagram account.

                      

It doesn’t appear to have been a great success just yet though as I could only find a couple of images that use the hashtag.

David Moth

Published 9 September, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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