Instagram 101 – What is Instagram and How to Use it For Connective Marketing

Are you on Instagram? If so, you’re among 1 billion others who are also on the photo (and video) sharing platform. If not, you probably want to be.

Instagram has grown steadily in popularity since it was created in 2010. It was purchased by Facebook but maintains a lot of unique features that make it appealing to younger generations.

Instagram can be fantastic for growing awareness of your business or organization. You want to be where your users are, and you want to connect with them; Instagram can help you do that.

The platform has many interactive tools that allow for a social conversation. If all you’re doing on Instagram is posting pictures and adding a few hashtags, you’re missing the mark.

But don’t worry, I’m here to give you an introduction to the platform and an overview of the ways you can use Instagram for connective marketing.

Let’s get one thing straight first, Instagram is part of your overall marketing strategy. While it is considered a fun, informal platform, it is definitely a tool that you can use to converse with and learn about your end users. You can discover their wants and needs through conversation and by seeing what they are posting, liking, reacting to, commenting on, and what they aren’t.

Instagram should support your overall marketing strategy – posting to post is a mistake, so be sure to leverage this platform to support your overall business goals.

So, when considering whether to use this platform…

  • Know how you plan to use it (and how that fits into your marketing plan to fit business objectives)
  • Use it to connect, not to show cute pictures without substance (if you’re without substance, you’ll fall into obscurity very quickly with users). If you use Instagram to help you start a tribe and connect with people whose values align with your business’ or organization’s, you’ll become a trusted friend.
  • Be engaging – use the tools Instagram has built in to ask questions and start conversations.

The Nitty Gritty – Elements of Instagram

Your profile and profile picture. This is basically your photo album that lives on Instagram. When people want to learn more about you, they can visit your profile page. You’re able to write a very short “bio” about yourself/your brand and include a single website. You want to be sure to pick a good profile picture that represents who you are because everything you like or comment will show that tiny, circular profile picture and your username. My advice? Make your picture clear and engaging; something people will want to visit your page. You can make your profile public or private in the settings. As a brand, you should definitely be public.

Profile and home page of an instagram account.
This is the profile image from a desktop computer. Keep in mind that Instagram is optimized for mobile devices, so not all features are accessible from desktop computers!

Posting – this is how you share photos and videos with those who follow you.

You can take a photo from the share button, (which is hardly if ever done) or you can share from your saved photos. When you post, be sure to write captions on your photos that add value to your end users and try to engage them in conversation. You should also tag the location of the photo (or you can tag a general area that your target audience might pay attention to), and add additional hashtags that are relevant to your post.

This is the post interface – it lets you choose between your Library (the photos saved in your phone) or to take a new Photo or Video.

The Feed – this is where you see all the posts from people you follow. You’ll also notice sponsored posts mixed in. These always will say sponsored and will have a link to a website page. The feed is a crucial piece of your marketing plan – it’s a way for you to directly send love to individual followers. Use your “like” button (by either double tapping or by taping the heart icon on the post) but do be aware that everyone on Instagram can see which photos you have liked. Stay away from liking inappropriate/offensive photos or memes or anything that is off brand.

Stories – stories are ways to share photos or short videos that last only 24 hours and then disappear. Stories can be live, can be shared to only specific people, or can be pre-recorded video or photos. Many times, they have text and additional graphics. As they are named, they are meant to share a story with fellow users. In fact, Instagram stories are so useful at creating engagement that I’ll be doing a post this week that goes over how to do them and some of my favorite apps for making great Instagram stories. Stories can be found at the top of users’ feeds in the form of their profile picture. You know there is a new “story” added when a pink circle appears surrounding their picture. People can tap on the right side of the picture or video in a story to skip to the next image, or they can swipe to the right and skip the rest of the posts in your story. As a brand, you’ll get to see analytics about how many users do those…but we will explore that in a future post!

Story Highlights – You can save a series of photos/videos that you have shared as Stories and pin them onto your profile page. These are called “Highlights” and you can label them.

This is a photo of the instagram feed with arrows pointing out different elements of the platform!

Analytics – there are basic analytics about what users are liking on your page and on how users are interacting with your stories. We will cover this in a future post, coming soon!

Hashtags – Yup! You can find them here, too. Hashtags are very important on Instagram. People can subscribe not only to users, but to certain hashtags as well. So, you want to be sure to include hashtags on every post to make sure they are seen by the right users – people who might not follow you (yet) but who are interested in your subject matter. Make sure you use relevant tags!

You can only use 30 hashtags on a single Instagram post so be sure to pick tags that people you want to engage with might be following or searching for!

Direct Messages (DMs) – this is where users can send private messages to each other. They can share photos, videos, or text. It’s very important to read and respond to direct messages! This is the opportunity to connect and showcase your brand with an interested user. If you don’t follow a user and they send you a direct message, it will show up as a message request. They won’t know you’ve looked at it unless you answer them back.

Through direct messages, you can have private conversations with users. You can send posts, just chat, or when you react to their story, it shows up in their direct messages.

Heart button – This is your like button at the bottom of your interface. It has a dual purpose – it shows you what other people have liked and commented on for what you have shared, and it can show you what other active users are currently liking and commenting on! That feature is especially useful to get a feel for the other interests of your users. If you examine what they are liking and how they are interacting you can not only learn about them, come up with potential collaborations with other brands they find interesting, but you can also get inspiration. Is there a post a lot of your users like? What types of posts are they commenting on? Examine those photos and videos to see how you can improve your own posts.

IGTV – Instagram TV is a new feature that was created so that users can share longer videos. When your video is between 15 seconds and 10 minutes long, it can be posted to Instagram TV. As it is a new feature, not as many users are actively using it, but you can bet they will be soon. The most successful videos posted to IGTV will be funny and interesting the entire time – people’s attention spans are growing shorter all the time so if you do post to IGTV, make sure it’s a great video that will be useful to your viewers. That being said, since it is a new feature, there is less competition, so my advice is to get on there soon!

Live Video – You can go live on Instagram, and when you do so, just like on Facebook, it sends a notification to your followers. That means it’s an excellent tool to use as a brand. In my past blog post I cover How to Make Engaging Video Posts (go check it out!). Once a Live Video is completed, you can post it to your story (it shows up as a separate, live post), or you can save it to IGTV.

Search – this is where you can “explore” posts. A unique mixture of photos and videos comes up for everyone based on photos and accounts you follow and interact with. You can also search for people, accounts, hashtags (tags), and places. Places is how you “geo-tag” a specific location.

Settings – the top right hand side has an icon of three lines; this is how to access your settings. You can do all kinds of things in your settings and when you tap on it, the actual “Settings” feature is at the bottom of the screen on the right. From there you can access Notifications, Privacy, Account Settings and more. Explore this feature to configure the App to behave the way you desire.

By tapping the three lines at the top right of your account from the view of your profile picture, you’ll find all kinds of useful settings you should customize to your requirements.

That’s it for the basic elements! Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Final thoughts – a few more Instafacts

Verified accounts are accounts for public figures, celebrities, or brands. You generally need a certain number of followers or a certain notoriety. Verified accounts have a little blue check mark next to their name to show users that it’s a valid account (not an imposter) and these verified accounts usually have a few perks that aren’t available to all users yet. You can learn more on Quora’s post, here.

I’ll address this in a future post about Instagram Stories, but just to clarify, unfortunately linking in stories is only currently available to business accounts or verified users.

Keep in mind that Instagram is a mobile app. It was made for mobile devices likes phones and tablets, so some of the features don’t even work on desktop computers (like posting photos). My guess is that most platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, will become more and more optimized to favor mobile devices. You should keep mobile in mind for all platforms, especially your website and email communications.

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