Is It Time For Instagram? Should You Use It For Your Small Business?

I remember the old days of Facebook. A time when you’d put something on your page and assume people would see it. Back then there were no insights, no stats, no like button. You had to rely on comments and sales as indicators of success.

These days I find myself cautioning businesses who want to use Facebook. I help them manage their expectations. Facebook today is full of insights and stats but it’s also full of challenges.

Twitter has changed too, it’s becoming harder to get into conversations, harder to get seen, harder to drive sales. I’m still positive about Twitter, it is still a good space for marketers. It’s the only place to get to know people and build relationships. Or at least it was until Instagram blossomed.

It’s not just about content

You may think of Instagram as a photo sharing app but it’s not just the content that matters. At first, it was all about the images, we followed people who took amazing photos. Now the images have become a conversation starter.

I’ve been focussing on my Instagram account recently. I shared my experiment to see if I could drive web traffic from Instagram on AgoraPulse earlier in the month.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the last two months using Instagram for business.

1. Have A Content Plan

Instagram used to be about sharing instant moments, photos of what you are seeing right now. But things have changed. Earlier this year they introduced an algorithm that just like Facebook, shows users posts they think they will be interested in first.

Although this isn’t necessarily a good thing for small business marketers it does let us plan more. Instead of sharing as it happens we can devise a content schedule and create images in advance.

I use AgoraPulse and Hootsuite to schedule posts once a week, I created a content schedule that combines tips, quotes and more personal content.

Here’s a bundle of content ideas if you are stuck.

2. Be Personal

It’s been said so many times that it’s become a cliche. ‘People buy from people’. It may be a tired phrase but it’s still true.

Customers are more likely to trust you if they know who you are. Sharing some moments from your day along with your designed content invites your followers into your world. They will begin to believe that there really is a human being lurking behind your logo.

It’s also a good way to subtly remind people what you do. I share photos of me presenting at events and training.

3. It’s A Conversation

Instagram really has become a place where conversation happens. If you are going to be successful you need to go out and find your customers and join the conversations they are having. Here are some tips for doing this.

Use hashtags relevant to your customer to find the right people to follow. Comment on their posts, look for posts that have lots of comments and find out what people are interested in.

You can even post content that asks a question, encouraging others to comment on your photos.

The Problem With Instagram

Although I enjoy using Instagram there are a few problems that jump out at me.

1. Automation

How many followers have you got? Does it really matter?

I get followed and unfollowed by up to 15 people a day. Most of these are using apps to try and get followers, most of these have no relevance to my business.

It’s easy to get sucked into the follower game but take a step back. Create a profile for who you want to follow you and actively seek them. This will make your newsfeed neater, more relevant and save you a whole heap of stress. The followers will come, slowly over time.

Aside from the follower apps there are tools that automatically comment on Instagram posts. Another cynical bid to get you to follow. Those comments you get saying ‘great shot’ or ‘love your stuff’ are all automated.

All this automation results in false positives. We get lots of likes on our photos but are they real people? We get lots of comments but how many are automated spam?

This can make measurement hard. I have a system for measuring website traffic from Instagram. Read about it here.

2. Declining Reach

I’m still bowled over by how effective Instagram seems to be. Even if a chunk of the likes I’m getting are spam I’m still getting my posts seen. Something that is becoming harder and harder on Facebook.

The problem of course, is the algorithm. Many long term users are reporting a decline in interaction since it’s been introduced and we know this will only get worse.

Facebook have slowly eroded our reach on their flagship site, they are bound to do the same on Instagram.

Two weeks ago I was given the option of a business account. I’m signing up for one, I feel I have to and it will be nice to be able to see my statistics and have more control. But I know by doing so I’m sealing my future decline in reach.

Should You Use Instagram?

There’s no easy answer to this.

Have a look at the social networks you are using and ask yourself how effective they are? Could your time be spent better on Instagram?

Talk to your customers, do they use Instagram? Do they still use the other networks you are currently focusing on?

Do you have time to experiment? If the answer to any of the above is yes, give it a shot.

This post was originally part of the September edition of the Social Snacks newsletter from Spiderworking. Sign up for weekly blog updates, podcasts, videos and tips and the monthly Social Snacks here.