Instagram can be a powerful marketing tool

Instagram Tools_web

November/December 2017—

If you’re not getting the bang for your buck on Facebook, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

Originally, Instagram was considered a place to upload photos, play around with the filters, and post for friends to “like” with tiny hearts. But its popularity grew, and along came Facebook, which acquired the platform. Now, Instagram has marketers’ attention, although many still aren’t sure how to use it for a successful campaign tool.

First, furniture store owners need to know their audience. Instagram skews young, as 28 percent of Internet users between 18 and 29 years of age use Instagram, and it attracts 4 percent of Internet users aged 30 to 49. Also, there are more female users than male.

Next, know why Instagram matters. It’s all about the images, and—all those filters aside—there is truth to images. This is a time when everyone with 10 digits rants on Facebook and Twitter. But an image, with just a few words to accompany it, says more. An image can tell the real story.

When designing an Instagram campaign, think authentic and meaningful images. Think images that will make users want to stop scrolling and explore. Know that color and visual appeal draw users in, so get a good graphic designer on your team.

Next, know what your audience likes. Is it participating in contests or hearing from opinion leaders? Or maybe they really like storytelling. Stories are great to show off your brand, evoke emotions, and generally add a human touch to your message.

Also, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with all of Instagram’s new features. For example, there’s Instagram Live to help you interact directly with followers. You can choose between the live feed disappearing after its done or staying active for 24 hours. While you’re live on Instagram, look at the bottom of the screen to see the number of viewers and the users who have joined the live video. You can even prompt a conversation by starting and replying to comments.

Another big change is that Instagram increased the maximum length of its videos from 15 seconds to 1 minute. That makes a big difference, especially if you’re trying to get a story across. And there are the carousel posts, which offer a much better way to post multiple images together. Before, Instagram only offered the collage option, which minimized photos so they were barely recognizable. Now, the carousel allows users to flip through up to 10 images.

Secondary—but still vital—to a good Instagram campaign is your caption. Since you want your picture to do most of the talking, keep captions brief. Remember, Beyoncé often just posts an image without a caption. Also, don’t hashtag every word in your caption. It’s fine to create a hashtag for your campaign, but stick to one. You want to direct people to a defined community that you are creating.

Just like your images, captions should have a signature voice. If you’re into a story theme, keep it going as part of your campaign. Or, if all your images are about one theme, such as big jets, keep the theme going with aeronautical terms. Generally, don’t use emoji, but if you do, only sparingly, as they tend to make it look like your 4-year-old cousin stole your phone.

Promoting content through the Story option is a great way to keep your campaigns top of mind with your followers and ensure that they reach as many people as possible.

As with Facebook, you can purchase ads on Instagram. You’ll first need a Facebook page or Instagram business account. The process runs like Facebook advertising, where you can promote or boost postings and optimize them for your target market.

One of the major criticisms of Instagram is that it has many of the characteristics of Snapchat, so the question remains whether you need to market on both. Here are some factors that might help you decide.

Instagram is about beautiful images.

If you have good images, go with Instagram. Snapchat is perfect for the selfie aficionados or the video artist, but Instagram helps you get serious about visual images.

Snapchat has loyal users.

It’s the messaging platform frequented by teens, who use it the way adults use their phones to make calls. They’re active and receptive to the messages you’re sending and more likely to notice them.

Instagram has marketing muscle.

It’s owned by Facebook, so you can be relatively certain it will be evolving and improving for some time. The caution is that Instagram has been adopting Snapchat features (like My Story), which could irk Snapchat loyalists.

Both are an interesting alternative to Facebook. If your passion for Facebook seems to be slipping, especially as it seems to be the primary source of political venting, Snapchat and Instagram could offer welcome relief. Most importantly, know how many platforms your store can realistically manage and keep the content unique. Stores that simply try to repost Facebook items on Instagram are missing the impact of the platform. And sloppy Snapchatting doesn’t work for its audiences, either.

Whatever you choose, become familiar with the platform and its uses. Look at Instagram best practices such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast campaign or Lowe’s Home Improvement. And, if it sounds tempting, give it a try. You’ll expand your audience and, if done right, give a new lift to your store.

About the Author

Susan Solomon
Susan Solomon is a contributing editor at Thrive Magazine and regularly writes about marketing strategies.