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Instagram: The new form of social media for companies

Instagram has been a hot topic of conversation within the business world, and more and more companies of all sizes are turning to this form of social media to increase their awareness or grow their base of followers. From recruitment companies to young fashion labels, all types of companies are beginning to set up their own Instagram account in the hope that both a wider and statistically lower-aged audience can be reached. The user base of the platform continues to grow; Facebook acquired Instagram (2012) when it had fewer than 80 million users compared to today’s 300 million ‘active’ users globally. We’re now seeing that Instagram is becoming a ‘real business’ as talks of $2bn could be next year’s advertising revenue generated by the social media platform (10% of Facebook’s annual revenue). So what does that mean for your business? Should you immediately set up an account and become an ‘active’ user on the platform? Even if you do, what’s the best method to build a following on this form of social media?

In this article, my aim is to focus on how Instagram can help your business, talking about how Instagram works, and how some businesses are actually damaging their reputation with the way that they use Instagram.

The Everyday Instagrammer — Your Audience

In 2014, the following statistic was published:

Over 90% of the 150 million people on Instagram are under the age of 35, which makes it an attractive platform for many apparel, entertainment, and media brands focused on the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket. — Instagram

This figure is one that plays a significant role for the reason that companies are switching to Instagram, due to not only the age, but also the diversity and the type of people that are using the application. However, it doesn’t stop there. ‘Selfies’ were once considered something that young teens could be seen doing via apps such as Snapchat and Instagram between groups of friends, but this has now transpired into a worldwide phenomenon, with everyone getting involved. Partially due to virility, but also in part due to the social media platforms, it’s something that has changed the way that people take photos.

Your audience are going to be young, active and interested in what you do. However the times that you post, what you post and how to analyse your results must all be considered when addressing your audience. Think about how people plan when to post on Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms; the same goes with Instagram. Posting at the best time will have a fundamental effect on the success of your media and its reach. That’s why web-based platforms such as Iconosquare exist, allowing you to plan and analyse your audience and how you engage with them. Not only this but applications such as Crowdfire will allow you to track followers and their trends on the move, as well as compare your campaigns to those that you compete with. Both of these examples should be thought about when building your profile.

Building Your Profile

Leading on from when to post, something equally important is what you post and how it relates to your company. How many hashtags should you use, and how long should the description be when posting content? What type of content is acceptable?

These are all things that have no definitive answer, and will come down to your own trial and error. However, there are a few tips that can be given on the sort of content to post and how it can benefit your company. For example, if you’re running a fashion label, you don’t just want to post your product all-day everyday. You need to post content that relates to what you do, and that will lead potential customers and clients onto using your service. What’s the problem that you’re solving and how can you portray that problem over social media? Instead of providing a solution to people that don’t necessarily have that problem, portray both the problem and solution. Make it clear that what you’re doing has a positive difference to the market you’re operating in, and post content around this area.

When writing descriptions, the length will vary according to what sort of account you create, and what sort of business that you operate. However, don’t make the description too long, and make sure that it relates to the image that you post. With regards to the image, try to make it as clear, and photographic as possible. At the end of the day, Instagram is a photographic social media platform, and it’s photos that are going to grab the attention of people initially. Most people on Instagram have less than a second to look at your photo, so if you don’t grab them immediately, you’re not going to be able to convince them to read a description. Most of the best success campaigns come from real content; that is, content that has been taken using either the camera on the phone (#NoFilter) or using a camera. Photo’s taken from the Internet or with a blurry nature will very likely have considerably less success.

Finally, hashtags are something that must be addressed when creating content. Using too many hashtags is most certainly a problem that some struggle with, and you can find that your reader is turned-off by the number of hashtags that you use. However if you use too few, then your post won’t reach as many people as it has the potential too. It’s a difficult and sometimes dangerous game, and will take time and practice to master. The top 10 hashtags of all time are: #Love, #InstaGood #Me #TBT #Follow #Cute #FollowMe #PhotoOfTheDay #Happy #TagsForLikes. Some of these hashtags may be useful when posting content and these will have the highest reach (however for a very short time; more specific hashtags tend to yield better results). Building a base of followers will take time, and there is no easy way out, no matter what people tell you.

Black-hat tactics — How these damage your growth

Black-hat tactics exist, just as they do in every other Internet business and social media platform. However, they don’t help your business and more people are seeing through the superficial facade that you portray by using these tactics. While some are considered more acceptable than others, the only person that you inevitably damage in the long run is you. These tactics include buying both likes and followers, using a bot to automatically like content posted under a specific hashtag, and using bots to generate comments on photos. However, all of these have their downfalls and must be considered. Lets take buying followers for example. In the short-run, you appear to have a very active account, with lots of followers, but when you actually look into the content that you post and compare it with an account that has organically reached the number of followers you have, you will find that the interaction on your account is much lower. This is because the accounts that you buy are inactive or fake. 8% of users on Instagram are fake, something that Instagram is cracking down on heavily. Last year we saw the ‘Instagram Rapture’ with millions of accounts deleted in a spam purge. Rapper Akon reportedly lost 56% of his followers in the cull.

The big losers were Justin Bieber (minus 3,538,228 followers), and an online marketing specialist called Wellington Campos, who lost 3,284,304 followers overnight.
One account, chiragchirag78, lost 99% of his followers — 3,660,460 — before he himself was deleted.
Instagram’s own account on the site lost 18,880,211 followers overnight.

This just goes to show that it can come back and hit you harder in the long run. Black-hat tactics stipulate growth, but as mentioned, companies, followers and other accounts can see through these methods, and not only is it a waste of money, but it also damages the reputation of the company. It’s something that needs to be talked about, as there is currently a growing trend for using these tactics, with huge companies being big buyers in this fake and superficial industry.

Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, are naming a few of the larger buyers of such fake followers, a list that includes brands like Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton. — Forbes

How does Instagram effect your website analytics?

Instagram can have a positive effect on the number of hits, the genuine users and the reach of your website. An account with thousands of followers would expect to see an increased level of data on their website, as well as the potential increase in sales from the website. Those that are active with an Instagram account (particularly fashion labels) have statistically a higher proportion of sales than they would have without Instagram. This can be directly linked back to the success of Instagram as an advertising portal over other social media platforms. Partially due to the age and the number of ‘active’ users, Instagram is able to create stronger leads for those that advertise using the platform. This is one of the big reasons that companies are beginning to switch to Instagram as a medium for selling and promoting themselves.

However leading back to the black-hat tactics. These will skew website analytics, in a negative way. You will see that an account with thousands of followers would expect to see larger hits on it’s own website, as it generates organic searches for the content, and it also leads the user directly to the website. However those using fake accounts to boost the ‘popularity’ of their company will see little or no difference. Companies that are looking to create partnerships with your own business as a result of your Instagram profile will more than likely want to see or know about the sort of statistics that you’re getting on your website, and if this does not reflect the number of followers you have, or the activity of your Instagram account, it will damage the reputation of your company and likely lose you a sale or partnership. Analytics see through the ‘bought customers’.

If you want to track the number of people that you are getting from you Instagram account, the best way to do so is using shortened URLs via applications such as Bitly, to allow you to see exactly where the clicks are coming from. Facebook tends to have fairly high click-through rates, however those that are very active on Instagram will find similar. Twitter in comparison has much lower click-through rates. Tracking your analytics using Google Analytics with Instagram is a little trickier. It involves setting up a campaign using shortened URLs as parameters in order to track exactly where these clicks have come from. This is because currently Instagram referrals tend to come through as Direct Referrals as opposed to social media referrals, and can skew your data slightly.

Overall, whether you use Instagram comes down to your company, and the way that you want to promote the business. It’s a great tool for creating short, genuine and clear content to a wide base of younger and very active users, but does require time to build an audience. Black-hat tactics should be avoided like the plague; if you’re found to have a huge drop in the number of followers, or a seemingly unengaged account, people will begin to assume that foul play has occurred. Nothing comes quickly, and the results will pay off in time. You just have to be prepared to wait for them.