The Beginner’s Guide to Instagram Marketing

Instagram, the fun and quirky picture app, has taken the world by storm since its launch in October 2010. Hundreds of millions of people use Instagram to transform everyday photos and videos with filters and frames into memorable content that can then be shared with the world.

Chances are, snaps and shots of your brand are already on Instagram, and all that content acts as an authentic peer-to-peer endorsement of your brand – essentially, free advertising.

With a solid strategy, you can amplify this effect, increase brand loyalty, and drive sales as a result. Some have even called Instagram “the most powerful sales tool in the world,” so passionate are its users. They are young, they are engaged, and many of them are buyers.

Understand the “Culture of Instagram”

The brands that are most successful on Instagram all have one thing in common: they know what makes the app unique compared to other social networks, and they use that knowledge to their advantage.

While the definition of “Instagram culture” will inevitably change over time, at its core it’s users who take pride in the content they post – you will not see hundreds of impulsive selfies and blurry nightclub photos from the most popular “artists,” for example.

As a result, there’s a clear tendency towards quality over quantity. Creators take time to carefully compose and craft photos and videos, cropping and editing them until they are just right, so that when a post is finally published on their Instagram feed, it’s flooded with impressed followers, complemented with lots of likes and comments, and attracts new fans (“Wow, these people are posting great stuff and getting lots of love; I’ll stick around for more!”).

One of Instagram’s central mantras is to encourage people to “find beauty everywhere.” For businesses, this means showing how your company sees the world, sharing images that expand people’s perceptions of you beyond the usual, and providing a glimpse into the lifestyle your product or service enables, both through your own eyes and the eyes of the customers who use it.

In short, while visual images for sites like Facebook and Twitter are sometimes more ad-hoc or Pinterest more simple and atmospheric or sales-oriented, on Instagram you should be more creative, artistic and special, putting even more emphasis on visual storytelling, turning ordinary situations into artistic moments and capturing the essence of your brand.

Immerse yourself in the culture of Instagram by reflecting this more imaginative style of photos or videos in your own feed (by expressing a clearly defined personality and voice, and reflecting the attitude and preferences of the majority of app users), and you’ll be in a very strong position from the start.

What are the elements of a top-quality Instagram image?

As you now know, posting any old photo onto Instagram just won’t cut it with the app’s savvy audience; you have to be much more inventive and selective. One of the best ways to discover what kinds of photos Instagram really wants brands to post in order to keep fans happy is to look at its recommendations for Instagram ads:

  • No heavy use of image filters as a way to mask the “reality” of a shot, and no text overlays are allowed.
  • Brands cannot feature their logo in Instagram ads other than as a natural, non-obvious part of the scene.
  • Images used as ads must be “true to your brand”, i.e. not shocking or cheesy, and no use of gimmicks.
  • Photos used for ads should capture “moments”, not products. In other words, ads must not just be a shot of your product, but something more creative and inspiring.
  • Ads should use ideas and take cues from the existing Instagram community, especially from popular hashtags.

As you read through the rest of the advice in this article, keep these ideas in the back of your mind as you think about how you want to shape your own Instagram strategy. As with a lot of social media theory, they won’t apply to every situation all of the time, but as a good basis for your activity? Pretty good stuff.

Instagram Profile Optimization

1. Optimize your Instagram bio, add a profile photo that fits a circle

One of the easiest ways to connect with would-be Instagram followers is to optimize your bio. Use the whole 150 characters allowed to encourage followers: give them a reason to follow you, tell them what makes you unique, remind people that they’ll be among the first to know about special offers and promotions, first to get a sneak peek at new product lines, and have the first chances to enter

Instagram competitions to win stuff! Don’t forget to add the URL to your website in your bio section too – the only place on Instagram where a link will be directly clickable. Keep the tone light and fun, include relevant keywords (for SEO), an Emoji if the mood fits, and a business-specific hashtag.

Interestingly, many companies are deliberately choosing to include a link to their blog instead of a web store, showing how they see Instagram as an opportunity to slowly build their brand image as a whole, rather than “force” people into buying right away.

Equally as important is to add a photo or profile yourself if you’re the figurehead of your company (ideally of your smiley face) or, instead, your company logo, as this will represent you all across the service Like Google+, Instagram (on its mobile app at least) favors a circular profile photo, which suits faces better than it does company logos. If your logo is square and messily cropped when you upload it to your Instagram profile, use my square-logo-into-circle-fit template as an easy fix.

In late 2012, Instagram rolled out official web profiles for users. Login to your account; your web profile URL will be www.instagram.com/yourinstagramusername.

When an Instagram image link is posted to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and other sites, a user will be directed to your web profile when it is clicked. Web-based profiles mean that these people can comment and/or like the image direct on the web – no mobile app is required. Marketers can use this knowledge as an opportunity to promote more interaction among fans.

2. Take Great Instagram Photos

Learning how to take good pictures with your phone requires some basic composition and lighting principles, as well as sharpening your own photographic instincts.

Before you do anything else, check your camera settings to level up your Instagram images.

Most phone cameras are really strong, with a 12-megapixel front-facing camera and a /2.2 aperture, but knowing how to utilize them is the difficult part.

So the first rule of Instagram photography is to always look at your setup before you start shooting.

3. Only post your best photos, find inspiration from other users

The best brands on Instagram are extremely picky about the images they post on their accounts – unlike some other social networks (e.g. a gallery of photos of an event you’d post to Facebook), quality definitely trumps quantity where your portfolio is concerned.

Take your time in creating a collection of photos that you are really proud of – your very best efforts – as it is this that will catch the eye of users both when viewed as individual pieces of content, and when your gallery is browsed through as a whole. Many of the biggest brands on Instagram post just once per day, sometimes even less.

Here are some basic photography tips and guidelines that will help to lift the quality of your work on Instagram:

See the world in squares (but don’t fret about it too much)

Traditionally, photos on Instagram have been squares – like an old Polaroid snap – and this remains the most popular type of composition on the social network. So even before the shutter closes on your widescreen camera view, try and imagine how your composition might appear as a square once the sides are cropped.

However, if there’s a critical element of your content that a square will frustratingly crop out, you’ll be relieved to know that Instagram, in August 2015, added the ability to publish photos and videos in portrait and landscape mode. When uploading content, just tap the format icon to choose the orientation.

The rule of thirds

Just with other forms of photography, the ‘rule of thirds’ is deeply rooted in many of the great Instagram shots. Imagine your viewfinder is split into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (or turn on the iPhone Camera grid view via Options); now balance your composition between these areas.

Get symmetrical

Symmetrical shots look great with Instagram. You’ll finish with a perfect square crop of your image. When taking your photo, the key is to center yourself perfectly and make sure all your lines are dead straight.

Play with angles and lines

Instagram is all about encouraging its users to see the world in a new way. We’re all so used to viewing the world from head height, so experiment with high and low angles, from behind, or at the side, to add interest and intrigue to your snaps.

In addition, think about incorporating lines into your photos – natural elements like a line or trees or a road stretching into the distance – to draw people’s eyes into the image, or towards whatever it is you want them to focus on.

Zoom in on details

To make the most of the relatively small real estate of mobile devices (where most people will be viewing your Instagram content), make a habit of focusing in on particular details of products or service in order to draw customers in, rather than blander long or mid-range shots. For example, a clothing store might highlight the quality dye and material in a garment, while a decorating service could go a bit more abstract and use the close-up shot of a pot of paint and a brush to represent a job well done.

Find inspiration

If you are lacking inspiration, use Instagram’s Explore tab (the compass points icon) to see the latest emerging trends on Instagram, and consider implementing them in your own work.

4. Brand your images with consistent filters and image editing

Instagram’s popularity has grown in part because of the simplicity with which users can change everyday images with its vintage filters.

While these overlays remain essential to the app’s attractiveness, in response to competition, its image editing features have evolved over the years to offer a range of additional photo-tweaking choices, including as straightening, lux, brightness, contrast, tilt shift, sharpening, and more.

With a simple slider, you may modify the severity of each alteration on Instagram. Overall, I’d recommend using them in a subtle way (to align with Instagram’s preferred approach for brands, i.e. natural), and choosing a filter that will be used consistently; one that helps image to reflect your brand culture and personality (e.g. fun, playful, serious, professional, etc.) and makes your style instantly identifiable within the feed of fans. To develop a distinct branded Instagram account, study what your fans appreciate about you and continually generate content around that topic; filters can help with this.

Note: Just because the filters are there and everyone is using them, doesn’t mean that you have to. In fact, not using them can be a point of differentiation in a sea of heavily-edited photos. The #nofilter hashtag is often used by people as a way to brag about how they didn’t need to rely on one-tap overlays to produce a stunning image. Of course, some other slight image adjustments might have been made… but no one need know.

5. Consider not taking your photos in Instagram

If you shoot a photo within Instagram, you are instantly locked into using it filters and editing tools. As expansive as these options have become, it is often a better option to shoot a photo with your mobile’s native camera app (or any other digital camera).

Doing this will provide you with a ‘clean’ image that can be imported into whichever photo editing app you like (VSCO Cam or Afterlight, for instance – tools that may provide more unique and diverse filter and image editing options). When you’re done, you can then import the photo into Instagram for final tweaking and publishing.

This approach is how the pros get such great photos; ones that look so different to anything that Instagram alone can produce. Of course, if Instagram already provides you with the look and feel that you want your photos to have, then that is totally fine as well!

6. Headphone trick for perfect focus every time

Tapping your iPhone’s screen to take your shot after you’ve got the perfect framing and focus can jolt you out of position and blur the image as it’s taken. To prevent this, you can use your headphones as a cable release in order to take photos without having to touch the screen. Plug in your Apple headphones, and touch the ‘volume up’ button to take a photo while in the Camera app.

Instagram Marketing and Content Strategy

1. Make the most of the photo caption

The photo caption that accompanies every image on Instagram exists as a small but crucial part of your marketing strategy – never leave it blank. Use it as a way to anchor the content of the image, and to reflect your brand’s personality and tone of voice.

Examples of uses for the photo caption include adding a description of the product you are featuring, asking a question or starting a discussion and adding a call to action or including a URL that you want fans to visit.

URLs written within Instagram descriptions cannot be clicked on, so make sure that they are short and memorable, using a service like bit.ly to facilitate this if necessary. Related to this point, another popular strategy to drive click-throughs from Instagram captions to a destination of your choice is simply to include a phrase like “click the link in our bio.”

Your bio is always just one tap away and since the “Website” URL there is active, it will save people the time and effort of opening up a separate browser and typing in a URL, if that is their preference. Interestingly, Instagram captions do not have a character limit.

Some brands, like National Geographic, use this to make each caption read like a mini magazine article. It’s a tactic that, combined with high quality images, keeps viewers immersed in their content for longer, seeing them more than throwaway snapshots. Need to edit a caption for typos or additional detail? Tap the “…” icon next to your photo and choose “Edit.”

2. Double-tap to like strategy

As you scroll through the Instagram feed on your smartphone, you can quickly and easily ‘like’ a photo by double-tapping it; a white heart icon will pop up to let you know it worked. To unlike a photo, double-tap again. Encourage fans to use this method to easily ‘like’ your content.

One year, Coca-Cola used the slogan “Double-tap to unwrap” alongside a packaged Christmas gift as a way to encourage fans to engage. When the photo hit a set amount of likes, Coca-Cola revealed the hidden present. You can use the same tactic as a method to “unlock” special offers or price discounts on your products or services.

3. Hashtag your content, but don’t be spammy; jump on trends

Using #hashtags in your Instagram captions will have the content placed with other photos with the same hashtag and turned into clickable links to see said photo sets.

People use hashtags to search for content on Instagram, so using the right hashtags can help to put your content in front of people searching for keywords and phrases associated with your business (words in your description that are not preceded with a hashtag will not be taken into account when a user searches). Make it easy for users to find you by ensuring that your hashtags describe your content.

General hashtags like #clothes or #food might find you a few followers, but they’re widely used and your content will get lost within searches for them, so utilizing more specific and descriptive will provide a much better chance of being found and followed.

Alternatively, whole Instagram communities can be built around one actionable, custom-made hashtag – and it’s a tactic that works across social networks. Use the company-related hashtag you invent to bring customers together, encourage them to use it, and reward them with likes and comments when they do.

In addition, study the most-used hashtags within your business niche and incorporate them into your own strategy and consider taking advantage of popular, but not overdone, hashtag trends on Instagram to help shape your content.

A few examples of some of these include #thingsorganizedneatly (a top-down photo of several related items, e.g. a full outfit or multi-piece tool set, organized in a manner that is pleasing to the eye; often compounded by a use of complementary colors), #fromwhereistand (first-person, top-down shot of a person’s feet, with an emphasis on footwear and the ground below in order to tell a story), #onthetable (elegant top-down photos of items on tables, particularly food), and #symmetrysundays (marking the end of the week with an eye-catching symmetrical scene from your store, city, or elsewhere).

As you spend time on Instagram, you will notice how over-the-top hashtag use can be, given that each photo or video can accommodate a maximum of 30.

Although this generous limit helps individuals – often desperate for an audience – attract a few more views, I would not recommend so blatant a tactic for business, as it can come across as spammy, dilute your marketing message and damage your brand image.

The competitive analysis company, Trackmaven, found that using between 4 and 5 hashtags maximized Instagram interactions, but more than 5 hashtags worsened engagement. Personally – as with Twitter – I think anything over three hashtags per post can start to make the content look a bit messy.

4. The power of geo-tagging on Instagram (and a little trick)

Instagram allows you to geo-tag your photos with the location at which they were taken, which are then added to a Photo Map. When a photo is tagged in this way, Instagrammers who are close to your location or who visit it at a later date will be able to view your photos.

The resulting affinity may lead to a follow or a visit to your store, and generally adds a greater sense of place and interest to the snap. On a related note, if your business’ aim is to target an audience within a specific geographic area, then the Places search tab can help you do that.

As well as providing you the opportunity to engage with the Top and Most Recent posts from any location, use what you see as inspiration for publishing the type of content popular with people in a specific area. A stunning landscape shot, a unique take on a popular landmark, a subtle nod to your business and what it offers, etc.

Note: Even if you do not have a physical location, Instagram’s geo-tagging feature can still have an unconventional use – as extra promotional space. When a geo-tagged photo is viewed either on the app or your web profile, the location given is listed right at the top of the content (just below your username but above the photo or video), and is the first text associated with your content that a user sees, particularly if the content’s caption is hidden.

As an example, the sports brand Puma, which does not have a single dedicated physical location, geo-tags its photos with a random location, but gives that location a name associated with the product or message in their photo or video.

5. “Regram” other users’ photos

There is no better promotion for your business to new customers than to show photos of existing customers enjoying what you offer. Ask for photos to be submitted to you by happy customers, or – even better – proactively track them down using specific hashtags.

When you find an image you would like to use, utilize apps like Regram for iOS or PhotoRepost for Android to share these images on your own feed, and don’t forget to tag the person who originally took the image so that they are notified.

For example, pen manufacturer Sharpie regularly features sketches drawn by its customers, and Starbucks “piggybacks” on the popularity of Instagram users with large follow bases, reposting images (with permission, of course) that feature their products.

6. Schedule posts to maximize the impact of campaigns and promotions

Scheduling Instagram posts will come in handy if you have a lot of stellar content that you want to post consistently, but can really come into its own as a way to pace and maximize the impact of campaigns or promotions, e.g. posting themed photos at exactly the same time every day, or releasing contest details at a set time (having trained customers to come back to view both).

Instagram does not have a built-in scheduling function, but third party tools like Latergramme (at http://latergram.me and as an iOS app) will allow you to queue content (including caption and hashtags) for posting on a day and time of your choosing.

When the moment arrives, you’ll receive a notification to open up the official app to complete the publishing process. If you’re a Hootsuite user, you’ll also be able to publish posts direct to Instagram and manage multiple accounts.

7. Instagram contest strategy

Instagram contests are hugely popular and can provide a quick, cheap, and powerful way to encourage fans to engage with your brand, and spread the word about you across Instagram and beyond. Here are a series of simple steps to help ensure your Instagram contest is a success:

Choose a prize: Choose a prize that is unique to your business, e.g. a product or gift card so that you will attract entrants who are genuinely interested in your business, not just in winning an iPad or $500 cash, for example. Also, try to make the size of the prize proportionate to the effort it will take to win it, which leads us onto…

Decide on an entry method: Some of the simplest contest entry methods on Instagram include asking fans to like a photo, follow your account, or re-post an image (with an app like Regram or simply screen-grabbing your published photo). You can also decide to advertise a contest held elsewhere, like on your Facebook Page or your website, via your Instagram account, and drive people to those destinations via a memorable shortened URL in your image’s caption or a clickable link in your Instagram bio. Alternatively, some of the most common entry methods ask users to post a photo or a video on Instagram in order to be entered; often tied to a particular theme, e.g. food, colors, seasons, their favorite product from your range.

Build your contest: When you launch the contest with a post on Instagram, featuring an attention-grabbing title with a short call-to-action will help to maximize entries, e.g. “Enter to Win a $100 Gift Card from Sean’s Salon!” A photo of the prize is a great way to entice people to enter to win it. If you’re giving away a gift card, for example, include an image with the gift card value in text and a product that people can buy with it. Write the entry method and prizing info in the description – a paragraph with info about the prize, how to enter and any rules or restrictions for your contest, linked to with a short URL or a clickable link in your bio.

Monitor progress: To help gauge the success of your Instagram contest:

  • Use hashtags to easily track how many photos are being shared on Instagram that have your contest hashtag (ask fans to use one in the caption for the photos or videos they post as a requirement for entry, but make sure beforehand that your chosen hashtag is unique and hasn’t been used by someone else before).
  • Set up Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your contest across the web.
  • Use Wishpond or Woobox Instagram contest web apps for real- time campaign reports, which allows you to track views, entries, and conversion rates.

Promote your contest: In addition to organic marketing of your competition, send an email to your mailing list (these are the people most likely to enter), promote your contest on social networks, and add a banner to the home page of your website. You may also choose to stream contest entries to your website or a custom tab on your Facebook Page based on a specific @mention or hashtag, to help spread the word – the latter can be achieved via a service like Woobox.

Follow-up actions: After your contest is over, follow these steps to wrap everything up neatly:

  • Showcase winning photos on your Instagram account and other social channels.
  • Share a video showing you choosing the winning photo to create excitement.
  • Post teasers for future contests on Instagram to keep your followers hooked, keep momentum going, and prime followers for future contests on your Instagram account.
  • Run regular contests on Instagram (weekly or monthly) to get fans into the habit of looking forward to them and entering.

8. Share your photos across social media

One of the best ways to draw more attention to your Instagram activity is to share your Instagram creations to other social media, including Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr.

In Instagram’s “Sharing Settings” menu (found under the “Preferences” label of your account options), enter your social media usernames and passwords for the various accounts on offer, to make sure your Instagram photos are seen by your various followers on each site when you publish them.

For added exposure and social proof of your brand’s awesomeness, stream and showcase brand-specific photos based on a specific @mention or hashtag to your website or a custom tab on your Facebook Page with tools like Woobox (http://www.woobox.com) or Pagemodo (http://www.pagemodo.com).

9. Embed your Instagram photos and videos

When you view an Instagram photo or video on your desktop web browser, you’ll see a share button on the right-hand side (just under the comments button).

Click this button and you’ll get an embed code that you can copy and paste into your website, blog or article. Handily, the embedded image or features an Instagram logo, when clicked, will take viewers to your Instagram profile where they can discover more of your content.

10. Link to online Instagram Gallery from your own site or blog

Got a website? Don’t forget to add a link to your official online Instagram profile or webstagram (more on these in a later section) from there to announce your Instagram presence to your visitors, especially those browsing on mobiles.

If you blog, using your Instagram photos in your blog posts (and linking to your Instagram profile) is another great way of marketing your business to potential followers. In November 2012, Instagram rolled out official Badges that you can embed on your websites to promote your Instagram activity.

Sign into your Instagram web account and choose “Badges” from the left-hand menu. In addition to a set of pre-made badges, there is also the option to download and customize your own icon.

11. Leave meaningful comments

Replying to comments on your Instagram posts with a thank you or a friendly message and commenting on other Instagrammers’ work is a great way to pepper your username around the app, especially if you are complementing a customer who is featuring your brand or product.

To increase the chances that other users will click through to check you out, leave meaningful feedback and interesting comments. Ask questions about how a certain photo was taken, complement the composition, politely provide suggestions to improve a shot, etc.

All of this is good karma and will eventually lead to more followers. There are two places you can tag (or @ mention) another Instagram user: in the caption before you publish a photo, and in a comment.

To mention someone in a caption, just type @ followed by the username, [email protected] When you publish the photo, the username will be linked to the corresponding profile, and the user will be notified that they were tagged. If you want to reply to someone’s comment on a photo, tap and hold the username and select “mention user.”

Note: Responding to multiple comments within the Instagram app or even on the desktop site can be a cumbersome experience. To help relieve the burden, check out the third-party “Instagram for Chrome” browser extension. This little widget allows you to like and comment on photos or videos, get desktop notifications, and see what filters have been used by users.

12. Track and analyze your Instagram activity

While Instagram doesn’t have a native analytics tool, there are plenty of third party options out there, both free and paid.

Two of my favorites are Iconosquare (http://www.iconosquare.com) – a free analytics service that provides a variety of metrics for your Instagram account, including your Top 5 most- liked and followed photos, how often you use filters and which are your favorites, and your most engaged followers, as well as management tools like the ability to follow or unfollow users, like and comment on posts, and use Emoji in comments – and Collect.to (http://www.collect.to) – a platform with both free and paid options that provides you with analytics and data to help you run Instagram campaigns and contests.

A paid account provides you with enhanced filtering options for date, hashtags, locations, etc. Whichever you choose, sign in with your Instagram details and use the stats to monitor which of your Instagram activity best resonates with your audience, and use this as a basis for future content.

Don’t forget, too, that you can use a service like bit.ly (http://www.bitly.com) to shorten links and track their visits. Links aren’t clickable within Instagram photo captions, but they are in your Instagram Bio, which you can direct people to via a message underneath a photo or video that you post.

Recording Video in Instagram

In June 2013, video recording was rolled out to Instagram. The feature allows users to film clips of up to 15 seconds long to share with the app’s huge community and across other social media. The following are a selection of tips to help you make the most out of shooting video for Instagram.

1. Plan your shoot, record outside of Instagram

As editing on the fly is so limited within the Instagram video app, it is wise to plan your video in advance, and the shots that you will use. Without being forced to record within Instagram, you are free to use your phone’s own camera and/or other apps to create potentially more compelling content, before sharing it to a wider audience via your Instagram profile.

Some good options include combining your phone’s native camera with video editing and filter-adding apps like iMovie, Vintagio, and 8mm Vintage Camera (iOS) and Magisto or Videocam Illusion (Android).

2. Your video is how long?!

Although the maximum length of record time for a video clip on Instagram is 15 seconds, you do not have to use it all up in order to post a clip; in fact, the minimum length of a video is just 3 seconds. Considering the way that users engage with social media, 15 seconds is a lifetime to spend watching a video – especially if it is purely promotional.

In respect of this, I would not advise that you make your Instagram videos 15 seconds long on a consistent basis. With Vine videos (Instagram’s main competition, and discussed in the next section) lasting a maximum of only six seconds, this general time frame, in my opinion, is preferable.

3. Jerky camera work? Turn on “Cinema” mode

One of the features Instagram is most proud of is Cinema. With the tap of a finger, Cinema aims to remove as much wobble from your video as possible, making it seem as smooth and professional as if it was filmed by a Hollywood camera operator with a Steadicam. At the same step that you choose a filter for your video, you will notice an icon of a shaky camera. Simply tap this icon to turn Cinema mode on.

4. Choose a compelling cover frame

After you have recorded a video and added a filter, Instagram will ask you to add a cover frame. This will act as a thumbnail for your video in the feeds of your followers and in search results, so use the slider to choose the most compelling still shot available from those provided. The more appealing the image is, the better chance it will catch someone’s eye enough for them to want to check it out!

5. Instagram video enhancement

Instagram video’s editing and enhancement options are basic at best, but there exists a whole variety of apps to add a touch of style and distinctiveness to your mobile video efforts – if your video creation exists outside of the Instagram app, that is.

Some of my favorites include iMovie (of course), Videohance (iOS), and Vidtrim (Android). The Flipagram app can also be used to stitch multiple photos together in order to create a story-driven slideshow video.

6. Experiment with Instagram’s Hyperlapse app

In August 2014, Instagram launched Hyperlapse, an app that allows you to create cinematic, stabilized time-lapse videos on their mobile device – even if you move around while shooting. Simply tap to record (for up to 45 minutes), choose a video speed (up to 12x faster), and share your creation instantly to Instagram and Facebook.

It’s worth noting that that 3 minutes of recording sped up at 12x will generate 15 seconds of video, the current limit for videos on Instagram, so plan around this figure or you’ll have to trim your footage if you plan on sharing your creation with your Insta-followers.

Whether you choose to share right away or not, all recordings are saved to your Camera Roll for, if necessary, further editing and disseminating elsewhere. Coordinate your use of Hyperlapse with other Instagram marketing strategies (e.g. capturing the atmosphere or story of an event, demoing a product, using filters to create an on-brand vibe) to produce captivating and engaging content.

Note: As Hyperlapse outputs video at high speed, try to keep your mobile device stable while you record so that changes of direction aren’t too jerky – there’s only so much that its automatic stabilization can do. Talking of stabilization, the app will crop the edges of your video while achieving this effect, so try to keep your scene/subject in the middle of the frame.

7. Instagram Direct: Private and Group Messaging

In December 2013, a new function – Instagram Direct – was rolled out to the app. Instagram Direct is a private and group messaging function that allows users to send photo or video messages to select people – either to a single individual or to groups of up to 15 people at a time.

Whereas in the past, any content posted on Instagram was sent to the feeds of everyone who followed you and was publicly viewable via your mobile or web profile, Instagram Direct messages do not appear publicly.

When you send a message directly (after you take a photo or shoot a video and are done editing, select “Followers” to share the content with everyone or “Direct” to selectively choose who it goes to), you’ll be able to find out who’s seen your photo or video, who’s liked it and also watch the recipients commenting in real time via the “folder” icon that sits at the top of the Instagram home screen.

Photos and videos that you receive directly from people you follow will appear immediately in your inbox, but if someone you’re not following sends you a photo or video directly, it will be held in your requests list until you decide that you want to view it.

If you choose to view it, further private messages from that user will no longer need approval. Instagram Direct is primarily being aimed at casual users of Instagram to share messages privately between one another, but brands and businesses can also take advantage of this added functionality. Here are just a few ideas on how:

Target your most engaged fans by location and demographics

As you can message up to 15 people privately via Instagram Direct, you can use this as an opportunity to segment and target your audience based on location and demographics. To track down your most engaged fans, browse through your photo stream for the people who most comment and favorite your content, or often tag their friends as a way to spread awareness of your brand.

Once you’ve identified your most active fans, you can formulate different group messages to send to various segments of your audience. Use these as a way to share news on new products, announce giveaways and contests, conduct Q&A sessions, drive traffic to your website, and more.

Of course, since these messages will be largely unsolicited, you should be very sure, and extra careful, that sending them will not upset people who are most likely to be your biggest brand ambassadors.

Conduct customer service

Previously, any customer service issues that arose via Instagram were often forced to be dealt with within the comments section underneath a photo or video.

Now, public disputes can be ushered into the more private setting of Instagram Direct. This prevents your comments being clogged up by unsightly feedback and prevents your brand image from being damaged.

To make the transition, reply to a complainant in the comments telling them that you will send/have sent a direct message to them to help solve their issue, and then go from there. Photos, videos, and text can be used as a way to help solve problems – choose whichever means of communication works best for you.

To further enhance your customer service via Instagram Direct, advertise in your bio that people can contact you privately, and actively monitor negative mentions of your brand via your notifications and Instagram search to leap on and deal with problems before they get the chance to stew and escalate.

You can – similar to Twitter – also explore Instagram for hashtags associated with your product and services, then see if you can offer helpful advice to anyone talking about your area of expertise, as a way to break the ice. Again, this tactic works best if you are quite sure that your “out of the blue” message will not upset the individual in question.

Offer coupon codes/exclusive deals

While occasionally sending coupon codes out to all of your Instagram followers is a sound tactic in itself, messaging them to an exclusive group of followers can be even more effective. Make sure that each coupon code you create is unique so that you can track its success easily, and also limit the quantity and set deadlines for their use to encourage their use, and discourage abuse.

Tactics include: Send a direct message including a coupon code to new or milestone followers (e.g. 50th, 100th, 1000th).

Send a coupon code out as an apology for a customer service issue. Send a coupon randomly to surprise and delight a follower; encourage the recipient to share it with their friends both on Instagram and elsewhere.

Give ultra-exclusive sneak peeks

In a very savvy move – and one you can emulate – Kardashian Kollection offered 15 of its followers an exclusive behind the scenes photo from its latest fashion collection.

To enter, Instagram followers were asked to screen grab the image which told them of the entry instructions and re-post it with the hashtag #KKDIRECT. The promotion received over 4,000 likes and 650 comments in under 24 hours… and the really clever part?

By requesting followers to re-post the entry instructions, they put their fans to work in helping to drive more participants. After the promotion, screen grabs of the private messages being sent to the chosen 15 were posted publically for transparency.

Run Instagram contests

Private messaging on Instagram gives you the chance to run more types of competitions via the app, and promotions that can be held “ad-hoc” with smaller prizes. Example strategies include:

Hold a contest where the first person to reply privately with the answer to a question, or post a certain photo, or tweet with a certain hashtag wins a prize, e.g. “The first 10 people to send us a photo of themselves wearing a Shawn’s Sweater while standing in a bucket will win a $10 gift voucher towards their next purchase!” or “The next 5 people to post a video eating at Bob’s Burgers with the hashtag #lovebobs will get a very special Direct message from us…”

Hold a “friend referral” contest where the winner is the first person to get 5 friends to follow you and mention the username of their referrer in the direct message.

Host a scavenger hunt, where a clue is sent out at a time to an exclusive set of followers, and the next one is only delivered once you receive the correct answer to the first. The winner is the user who reaches the end of the hunt – in the real world or virtually (finding clues hidden on your website, for example) first.

Advertising on Instagram

Instagram’s history with advertising stretches back to 2013, when it tentatively began to test sponsored content with a select number of big brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Michael Kors and Mercedes. Over two years of research and experimentation later, in September 2015, the app’s advertising opportunities were opened up to all businesses.

Ads for Instagram are built via the Facebook Power Editor advertising tool (Instagram, of course, was famously bought by Facebook in April 2012), so you will need to have a Facebook account or access the site through Facebook Business Manager.

In this section, we’ll cover some of the essential information you need to craft successful Instagram ads.

1. Instagram ad basics

  • Instagram ads (which can be a photo or video) appear amongst the ordinary stream of content within the app, identifiable as they are marked “Sponsored.”
  • Ads can be created in a square or landscape format.
  • All ads will feature a linked call to action button such as “Learn More”, “Shop Now”, or “Install App”.
  • The recommended image size for an Instagram ad in the square or landscape format is 1080 x 1080 pixels. The aspect ratio for an Instagram ad in the square format is 1:1. If you use the landscape format, your image or video should have an aspect ratio of 1.9:1.
  • Video ads should be no more than 30 seconds long or 30MB in size.
  • The caption you use for your Instagram ad will appear below the content and can include up to 300 characters. As a best practice, avoid using URLs in your Instagram ad’s text. URLs will not be clickable from your ad’s text field.
  • Instagram ads should adhere to the same guidelines as Facebook ads, including the 20% text rule.

2. Instagram ads best practices

As you should now be well aware, Instagram is a place people go to discover and become inspired by the images they see. The best practices for ads reflect much of what you have learnt about content marketing on Instagram so far – make ads seamless to the experience, not disruptive. As a business, it is recommended that you focus your Instagram ad campaigns around 3 key objectives: on brand, concept driven and well crafted.

On brand

Like organic Instagram content, your ads should be creative showing your brand’s personality. Find unique ways to incorporate your brand’s logo, icon or a color, but stay consistent with your style between organic and paid content to drive familiarity.

Concept driven

When planning your Instagram ad, know what you want to make your audience think and feel, and what your core message is. With that, you’ll find it easier to apply some of the following ideas:

  • Tell a story: Take a series of images that tell a story about your brand and share them over a period of time.
  • Experiment with visual styles: Use different filters and colour schemes to create a visual mood with your images. You could even use a series of different filters to show a change in mood.
  • Develop a theme: Create a series of unique images that all share a common theme, e.g. different events from a single day or an object in a variety of settings.

Well crafted

With a bit of practice, anyone can create compelling images for Instagram – ads or not. Here’s some ad-specific tips.

  • Strong Focal Point: Avoid making your images too complex or busy. Instead, focus on one or two places where you want to draw people’s eyes. As a best practice, one focal point should include a brand logo or another brand element that’s recognizable to your audience.
  • Framing & Balance: Straighten out images to make them look cleaner and consider symmetry, the rule-of-thirds, and other composition basics as you’re snapping or shooting.
  • Lighting & Detail: Be sure to use clear and high resolution images. Pixelated images and those with bad lighting or other flaws may not perform well.
  • Caption and hashtags: Don’t forget a compelling tagline and, crucial for Instagram, a selection of on-brand and relevant hashtags.
  • Ad guidelines: To avoid your Instagram ads being flagged up and rejected, follow the Facebook Advertising Policies, including the 20% text rule. You can check to make sure your image doesn’t have 20% or more of its pixels dedicated to text, by using the grid tool to check your photos.

3. Setting up Instagram ads

To link a Facebook Page to an Instagram account, visit your Page and click Settings. In Settings, click on Instagram Ads and follow the instructions to add an account for Advertising. You can also create a new Instagram account here if you need to.

If you use Facebook Business Manager, you can assign an ad account to an Instagram account by clicking Business Settings > Instagram Accounts > Click Assign Ad accounts. To authorize one or more of your ad accounts to use the Instagram Account, check the box next to each ad account and click Save Changes.

To begin setting up Instagram ads, head to Facebook Power Editor and click the Manage Ads tab at the top of the page. On the left side of the page, click Create Campaign.

Click on the dropdown next to Objective and hover over Clicks to Website; choose “Create ads for Instagram.” The following ad objectives currently support Instagram ads: Clicks to Website, Mobile App Installs, Video Views. Then, it’s just a case of setting up your ad in the same way as you would for Facebook (target audience, duration, budgeting, and all that good stuff). Do check out the Facebook ads section of this book for some tips on these, if you need them. As with all social media advertising, don’t jump in without a clear plan of action and always keep a close eye on reporting in order to track the performance of your sponsored content.

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