Plenty of executives know Instagram, the photo-sharing social channel. Many probably use it to view pictures of celebrities, athletes and perhaps members of their family. Fewer realize its potential for business. Yet a growing number of PR professionals are using Instagram to tell stories about their brand through visual elements. With some 26% of online adults in the U.S. using Instagram, including 53% of them aged 18-29, according to Pew Research Center (Jan. 2014), there is a lot being seen and said about brands on the platform whether or not the brands know about it. “We realized there were thousands of photos about our brand” on Instagram, one communications director said, “that’s what got us interested.” Accordingly, we asked communications leaders for Instagram tips and best practices, hurdles and ways to overcome them and how to get started.
- No Money, No Problem: It’s natural for some brands to resist making a large financial commitment to social media, since they see it as a fad that will pass. Yet IBM has found it “didn’t need to invest a lot of money to plug in to our employees and various business partners,” Katie Keating says. This makes Instagram ideal for nonprofits and small businesses, she says.
- Don’t Sell, Tell: A mistake many brands make with Instagram is they dismiss it because they see little use for it as a potential revenue source. “Remember, Instagram was started by photographers, it’s aspirational and inspirational…many consumers use it as an escape” Keating says. For businesses “it’s useful as a storytelling platform… a place to connect your brand with audiences at a human level,” she adds. In addition to putting a visual face on your brand it attracts a young, millennial audience.
- URL Issues: A complaint Keating hears often is that users get just one outbound URL in their Instagram profile and URLs in posts aren’t hyperlinked. Overcome this, she says, by inserting a customized bit.ly link in your profile. This allows you to change the link you drive to in Instagram for specific campaigns without having to constantly update your profile. It also allows you to track clicks.
Notes: Keating’s tools of choice for listening include Rival IQ—“its robust Instagram metrics allow you to track your performance against competitors” and the freemium Iconosquare, which she uses to find out what’s resonating.
- Total Community: It’s best to make Instagram part of a “community approach,” Nicol Addison says. “There is no one platform [social or traditional] that will reach your entire audience,” she adds. Should you decide to use Instagram it is critical to devise a content plan and a schedule. In addition, brands should post regularly and respond promptly to comments. “If you owned a brick-and-mortar store you wouldn’t leave the display window empty for long periods. Not posting is the social media equivalent of that,” she says.
- Revenue Generator: While Addison encourages brands to use Instagram for employee engagement, relationship building, product introduction and other functions, she also believes it can help influence revenue. “You must make sure you have a long-term Instagram plan that drives back to the business,” she says. “[Instagram] needs to be a spoke in the wheel” of your brand’s marketing activities, Addison adds.
Change is Coming: Instagram was introduced late in 2010. When social media platforms come of age, “monetization has a way of making the rules change.” As more brands use Instagram, the platform likely “will filter out brand posts,” as Facebook does. More brands onboard also means additional clutter on Instagram. This situation behooves brands to put a premium on making their content relevant.
- Goals Focus Content: While he advocates using social media because the many platforms available allow brands to “create, deepen and engage in two-way relationships to an extent that was never possible previously,” Tom Dowling urges companies to define their social media goals. The chosen goal will “dictate the content.”
- Avoid This Pitfall: Brands get into trouble with Instagram when “they think they can use it as a cheap way to advertise while avoiding joining the dialogue…[Instagram] can’t be a straight marketing platform.” Brands can build community by providing useful information. “If [audiences] think you are all about telling them how great your brand and products are, you won’t build a community,” he says.
- Make It Look Good: Instagram is “first and foremost an opportunity to share a visual.” While its lack of a letter count allows it be “robust,” be sure your posts are attractive.
- Use UGC: “Customers tell our stories in visually compelling ways that we can’t mimic in terms of authenticity and genuineness,” she says. “We’re a firm believer that user-generated content (UGC) is the way to go.” FedEx nearly quadrupled its Instagram audience in the past nine months using UGC (7K to 26K followers). When FedEx “regrams” a user’s image it’s usually shared within that user’s network. “It’s a great way to get the FedEx Instagram in front of new audiences.” (PR News subscribers will have access to an extended version of this article.)
This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.