Anthony CoggineAnthony Coggine 

Instagram is one of the most popular and successful social media tools on the market today. Since 2010, the photo sharing platform has grown rapidly and now boasts more than 500 million users, making it one of the top social media outlets used by businesses to showcase their products.

For those new to Instagram, it may be tempting to pay for followers. It’s a seemingly easy way to strengthen your numbers and speed up the growth process, but buying followers comes with a lot more risk than benefit. Accruing fake fans is a lot like get-rich-quick schemes: basically too good to be true. Rather than running the risk of being seen as non-transparent and spammy, take the time to build a solid reputation through meaningful content and audience engagement. While it may take more time, it’ll certainly pay off in the long run.

Never underestimate the power of the hashtag

The majority of businesses on Instagram use hashtags. Simple and easy to modify to your specific needs, hashtags allow businesses to target their audience, in addition to creating a backlog of photos and information that can be accessed with just the tap of a finger. Think of hashtags as the ultimate tool to help you spread the word. If you’re putting out a new product, or offering a promotion, adding a catchy tag will boost awareness and encourage your audience to share your content.

In addition to helping you stay organized, hashtags are also a great way to tap into current or seasonal trends on social media. Many brands tweak their content based on current global events, like the Olympics or internationally recognized holidays. By relating your product to what’s happening in your consumer’s world, you’re engaging with them on a more personal level.

Be consistent

Consistency should apply to all of the content that you post on social media, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram. A steady stream of hashtags, photos and campaigns that have a common theme will help you create an engaging storyline, which ultimately creates brand awareness. Everything from your logo, general design, to daily content needs to be easily identifiable. First decide on what you want your audience to know about your brand, and then translate that visually.

When it comes to Instagram, you need to ensure that all of the images you post are of the highest quality. It doesn’t matter if you’re posting photos of the office dog or your latest product, each photo needs to look as if it was shot with the utmost care and intention.

Create rich content

While Instagram seamlessly lends itself to visual brands, such as e-tailers and design-centric products, there are numerous companies today that don’t necessarily offer physical products, which have found ways to utilize Instagram to create brand awareness. Brands that can’t simply rely on a more straightforward approach, like posting photos, have had to get creative with their content. Several years ago, Penn State University held a “day in the life” campaign where students, staff, and alumni could share their experiences at the university through social media over a period of 24 hours. Rather than simply posting photos of the school campus, Penn State took a human-centric approach that focused on their community to illustrate daily activities as a way to generate interest in the university.

For brands that are more traditional and may be new to social media, conducting market research before you starting posting content is key. Knowing who you are speaking to, and what they want to hear, will help you create more rich and meaningful content that users will actually want to share. Making the most of tools like Google Analytics or consulting a market research analyst can help you identify these specific needs.

Engage your audience

You’d be hard pressed to come across someone who’s never heard of Starbucks. The corporate coffee giants have made a global name for themselves, so you might wonder why they would need any more press than they’ve already had. But, consumer needs are changing and a growing on-the-go generation of buyers are demanding more engaging campaigns, causing even the biggest brands to rethink their marketing strategies in order to stay relevant.

Starbucks is one of the many companies that’s turned to Instagram to freshen up their audience engagement. Inspired by customer doodles on cups, Starbucks in 2014 reached out to their audience through their My Starbucks Idea, asking them if they had any suggestions that could make their brand even better. Thus, the #WhiteCupContest was born, receiving close to 4,000 entries. The winner’s cup was sold as a limited edition item on their website.  

So, before you consider taking the easy way to Insta-fame, remember that it takes a bit of finesse to get the most out of any social media strategy, and putting in the work is worth it in the end. Paying careful attention to your target market, and getting creative with your content is a great way to gain traction naturally, without having to pay for followers.

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Anthony Coggine is a HR professional turned business writer. He has been covering a range of topics including training, HR, recruiting and cryptocurrency news.