It seems like all businesses want to be a part of Instagram these days. It’s like the new cool kids club – and everyone wants in. By now, you have recognized that Instagram is a very valuable space for your business. With more than 900 million active users, there's a good chance that you can find your target market on there somewhere!
But if you jump into Instagram without a clue, success will be hard to come by. Let’s look at 15 things to avoid on Instagram and how you can turn things around if you've been struggling.
1. Not Learning Instagram as a Platform
The first thing to do before you get started with Instagram for your business is to get familiar with the structure of the service. Visit the Instagram for Business blog to get up-to-date information on new features and how they are relevant to your efforts. Take some time to study how people are using Instagram. Though the social networking site is fairly simple to use, attention to the nuanced usage of successful companies will help your success.
2. Using Bad Photos
It seems so simple, yet it is such a common mistake; one that is so easily avoided with even just a filter and some cropping.
Much like Pinterest, Instagram is completely visual. On visual, social sites like these, posting terrible pictures will get you very little engagement. Bad food shots, blurry images, etc. all fall under the category of “not suitable for Instagram” – don’t post them.
Martha Stewart, renowned for her world-class housekeeping, crafting, and cooking, is just one example of a famous individual that shares sub-par photos; although in this case the network of choice is Twitter.
Make sure you learn a few basic Instagram photography pointers so that your Instagrams don’t look like this:
If your users saw that on your page what would they think!?
3. Branding Too Much
I follow lots of brands on Instagram, including Starbucks. Their feed is awesome, and any business should be proud to have a feed that is so popular. After all, this post is really cool, and it got 104,000 hearts. That’s some serious engagement!
But, I have to get something off my chest...
Obsessed as I am with Starbucks, brilliant branding and overpriced coffee alike, I still get tired of seeing shots like this…
Like most other social networks, no one wants to see only branded photos posted at hourly intervals. We’re bombarded daily with ads and unlike many of the other social networking sites, Instagram typically serves as something of a safe haven from all the advertising.
Of course, it’s perfectly fine to present yourself as a business. People who follow your business want to know more about your brand, obviously. But instead of just blasting your logo into their brains, show your gratitude by being respectful of the Instagram community. Engage and leave comments. Remember that your audience can learn about your business in more ways than through your advertising.
4. Not Following Your Followers
It is a bit of a status symbol to have more followers than those you are following. Besides being good for your Klout score, it’s pretty good for bragging rights. However, you could really be missing out on some influential Instagram relationships. What's more, it also gives off the vibe that only your business has interesting things to post and you can’t be bothered with others’ photos.
Building relationships and gaining influential followers should be a part of your online marketing strategy. Don’t let yourself slip by not following back your followers just to show how cool or popular you are. It makes sense to follow some of them, especially those who bother to comment on your photos or heart them every time they come up in their feed.
5. Forgetting to Use Hashtags… Properly
Hashtags are a great addition to online social communities. They work well for social listening for businesses and often follow (and sometimes create) trends of their own. Hashtags are also a great way to become a part of a worldwide conversation.
There is however, such a thing as hashtag overuse. Because of tag misuse, some people actually advocate against them! A photo shouldn’t have more than five hashtags, and even that is pushing it. Using tons of hashtags all the time and your brand will come off as spammy – especially if those hashtags have no apparent connection with your image. Think of it as the equivalent of keyword stuffing.
That's 30 hashtags in case you wanted to count. Also, a word to the wise: overuse of hashtags is actually linked to less engagement if you sync with Facebook, so be careful.
6. Not Posting Images in Context
One of the biggest differences between a photo that gets a lot of engagement and one that is ignored is context. Your followers should easily understand what you’re posting and why. Don’t clutter the internet with more one-offs and cookie cutter images that have nothing to do with your brand.
After all, anyone in my Instagram feed could post a shot of their coffee. (Maybe not as artfully as Starbucks does it, but still, coffee is coffee.) If coffee has nothing to do with your brand, I’m going to raise my eyebrows if you start posting shots of your morning cup o’ joe on your brand’s Instagram.
Brands that are successful on Instagram understand their audiences. They understand how to tell a visual story. And they understand that the power of content is in its context.
Just check out how easily the heavy equipment company Empire CAT uses their Instagram account. You would probably expect a construction company to have a pretty dry Instagram – but their feed is a total surprise!
Just one glance at their feed shows that they do an awesome job highlighting snapshots of their products and the construction industry without being boring.
7. Forgetting Your Posting Plan
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which both generally require daily posting to stay relevant, Instagram accepts a slightly more laid-back schedule. There’s nothing wrong with posting daily, but again, don’t overdo it. Instagram users don’t want your content to saturate their feeds, pushing all their friends' posts down.
Successful social media engagement and content marketing is about creating a good flow of quality content and staying in balance. This means sometimes foregoing your own posting to engage with others' posts and build a rapport with your network. Which brings us to our next point.
8. Neglecting the Community
Once you’ve managed to cultivate a set of followers on Instagram, make sure you are actively, but subtly pursuing them. Show your followers that you’re not just there to make sales (you’re not, right?). Show them that you’re there to understand their needs and build relationships. You can achieve this by actively commenting and liking photos by your biggest brand ambassadors (those people you followed back in point #4) and on photos that mention your brand. This creates a culture of exchange between you and your following.
But how do you monitor for your brand on Instagram? I’m glad you asked! The built-in notifications in the app can only go so far, so make sure you sign up for Iconosquare. This free tool helps you monitor for brand mentions, follow and unfollow people, and post right from your browser.
Beyond that, there are all kinds of paid analytics and brand monitoring tools, as well as more interesting projects like gazeMetrix, which monitors social images for appearances of your brand’s logo. But for a business that is just getting started, the features you get with Iconosquare will serve you just fine.
In case you want to see what good fan engagement looks like, look no further than Dunkin Donuts. They have a great rapport with their Instagram followers, and often share fan-submitted images. I love this one in honor of Shark Week!
9. Not Staying Committed
The reality is that not every social media platform is necessary for every business. Ultimately you should assess whether Instagram is where your brand needs to be. If you're reading this, it's likely because you've committed to the cause and are looking to truly make Instagram work for your business. Good for you, because if you’re creative enough and have enough time (or staff) you can make a serious impact on Instagram.
Your continued commitment and involvement will be essential to your success and this is where having that posting plan (#7) comes in handy. While Instagram is free to use, it’ll cost you time. So make sure you’re using it wisely and staying faithful to your commitment.
After giving Instagram a go for a few solid weeks, evaluate whether your audience is responding the way you expect and whether you need to (or can) put more effort into the process.
10. Not Using the Power of Trends
One way to get started with Instagram is to piggyback on the daily trends. #TBT (Throwback Thursday) is one of the most popular hashtags, and a great way to get involved by telling the backstory of your brand. There’s a trend for every day of the week, from #ManCrushMonday to #SelfieSunday, plus a bunch of other trends that change from moment to moment. Not every hashtag will be appropriate for your business, but participating in creative ways can be a great way to join the global conversation.
In this example, Panera Bread uses another extremely popular hashtag, #TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) to show off my favorite salad of theirs. So… hungry…
11. Publishing Across Platforms
Instagram allows users to connect their accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare. In the settings, you can selectively control which photos post to where. The idea here is to “selectively" control. Don’t send your Instagram photos to every platform all the time.
Also be careful about how other linked accounts post. For instance, say you have Twitter automatically posting to Facebook ( not a great idea), and then you have your Instagram photo post to both Facebook and Twitter. See the problem? You’ll end up with a double post to Facebook – which looks a bit dumb.
Even if double posting won’t be a problem, you don’t want to saturate all your social networks with the same content. Content loses value when this happens, and then there’s no incentive for people to follow you on more than one network.
12. Getting Too Casual With Your Posting
Unless your brand is very personal – as in you’re a motivational speaker or musical artists – don’t use Instagram like a person. We follow our friends for photos of margaritas or to see cool shots of outings. We expect something more from the brands that we follow.
There’s a fine line between “too casual” and “just right.” I don’t mean you should be all business all the time, but if you’re going to feed the internet’s love of cat photos, what can your brand bring to the conversation?
I can see plain old smartphone shots of cats from practically anyone I follow on Instagram. But when I need a fix of classy cat, right now, I know ModCloth’s feed is just where I need to go. (They have classy dogs, too, if you’re not a cat person. And, you know, a few pictures of clothes.)
Engage, inspire, and invoke emotions. This is what helps people connect with brands that might otherwise seem very distant and corporate. And this is what will lead a person to go out of their way to follow your brand.
13. Not Embracing the Culture of Instagram
The culture of Instagram was rooted in iPhones and hipsters; but since Instagram opened its platform to the world, that culture has expanded to embrace all types. The heart of Instagram is to take beautiful, artistic phone shots that rival professional photographers. That’s why ugly, boring, and fuzzy shots just won’t cut it. Even a nice shot might seem lacking if you didn’t bother putting a nice filter on it.
You will need to know how to use collages, mirror images, and filters (this one's a biggy). All of these things work together to tell stories, and that is what Instagram is about – using pictures to tell stories about moments in life.
Red & White Fleet posted this beautiful shot, using filters to create a stunning effect. Any hipster would be elated to have this shot come up on their Instagram feed. It’s a powerful, iconic image that serves as a great advertisement for their San Francisco bay tours without being overly sales-y. The app itself makes it easy to make images just like this (location-dependent of course). You too can have images this fantastic on your Instagram feed; and honestly, you should.
14. Not Embedding Instagram Content onto Your Website
Instagram added the web embed capability to their posts about a year ago. Embedding Instagram videos into your blog or website extends the reach and life of your content, and it’s a great way to refer to your Instagram content in a non-static way. As a warning, though, lots of embeds can really slow down a page. Here is an example of a web embed of this post's banner image:
<iframe src="//instagram.com/p/qmtNhoRkBM/embed/" width="612" height="710" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe>
15. Approaching Instagram as a Sales Platform
To be successful on Instagram, brands have to lose the out-dated advertising and sales mindsets that are often used in the business world. Instagram is your chance, as a brand, to let your audience in on who you really are, what you believe and how you view the world. There’s a way to advertise in a personal way without being an individual. Instagram lets your business walk that fine line… if you use it right.
Keep things interesting, understand the attitude of your following and engage with them often. Go far beyond your normal sales protocols and reach for relationship with your customers and followers by staying relevant in their lives.
Avoid these other social media mistakes
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Has your business found success on Instagram? Share your success stories – or your resounding failures – in the comments below!
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