Imagine that you look at a page in your book, and rather than starting at the beginning of the page and progressing through the paragraphs, you understand all the words at once. Impossible, right? Yes. It’s because we read in a linear, sequential fashion. When we look at an image, however, our brain does put all the pieces of the image together simultaneously. This causes the average human to process visual stimuli 60,000 times faster than they process a message presented via words.1 It’s no secret that one of the key elements of social media and online marketing is visual media. Photos and videos are components that many experts deem necessary if you desire to interact with your digital audience.2 Among the myriad of social media sites and services, two companies stand out in visual performance. We’re interested in Instagram, the strictly-mobile, filter-sporting creative photograph sharing service.

Instagram is an easy way to share pictures from your life and experiences with your friends, via your smartphone’s camera and their Android/iOS app. The app, which emerged in October 2010, skyrocketed to mass popularity in a few months. The service currently has 100 million monthly active users. When a user uploads a photo, there are many different ways that they can use it to engage with other people. First, you choose the photo you want to use, and if desired you can add a filter or a tilt-shift focal point. When you share your photo with followers, you also have the options to add a location, post to services like Facebook and Twitter, or use hashtags to categorize and promote your photo.

40 million photos are uploaded to the service per day, and users are “liking” photos at a rate of 8,500 likes per second.3 That is over 73 million pictures being viewed, browsed, and approved of per 24-hour day. Hispanic and African-American people are more likely to use Instagram than Caucasians, and the age demographic is decidedly between 18 and 49 years. Studies also show that urban dwellers are 6% more likely to use Instagram than people who do not live in cities.4 Instagram users spend an average of 257 hours per month viewing their feed, whereas Facebook users only spend an average of 170 hours viewing theirs.5 That’s a huge potential audience for city and urban businesses to showcase their brand and connect with photo enthusiasts.

Instagram is an effective tool for business promotion because it is a way to be involved on the customer’s home turf. Not only can you view photos of your followers’ lives in order to find out their interests, but you can share your company in an organic way. Here are a few simple rules for using Instagram for your business. These are methods that brands such as Audi use, as tools for visibility and engagement with customers.6

Be professional, yet fun

Play with your photos and their composition when you take them. Don’t let them be stiff. Make sure your photos are well-lit, and focus in on what you’d like to share. Is it a fun moment at the office? What about a cool picture of your business’s new coffeemaker? Make sure your photos relate to your audience, but that they share something unique about your business, too.

Be consistent

Just as with any social media, the best results happen when you post regularly. Be sure to check your feed regularly, too. Using Instagram on a daily basis will get you more fans faster.

Be spontaneous

Don’t schedule your Instagram photos, take them on the fly. The best brand engagement comes from the most genuine and spontaneous posts. Share momentary emotion, laughter, and care.

Use outreach

Whether you add your favorite fans so that you can interact with their feed, you use hashtags to identify your topic (Ex. #socialmedia), you “like” other photos in your industry regularly, or you just comment on photos, you need to engage in outreach. Let people know you’re on Instagram. Talk about it on your other channels, but ultimately you must use the app itself and reach out to people. It’s a lot like Twitter: find your demographic and follow them. Find out what’s trendy and what matters to your audience.

Be easy to find

If your business’s name is Star Technology Ltd., don’t get the username WeLoveStars. That’s not going to help your fans find you, and it’s not going to make sense to the people who stumble across you. Use the same name you use on Twitter, or perhaps your Facebook Page’s custom URL title. This will make you more visible to anyone looking for you, and it will make the connection between your social media profiles easier for customers to understand.

The mobile application is free, and so is an account. The cost of using Instagram is the time and effort put into quality photos that promote your brand in a fun and spontaneous way. There are many examples of corporate and urban brands that are using Instagram to gain new followers and share their company and attitude with fans. MTV, Starbucks, Burberry and Nike stand at the top as examples, some with over 1 million followers.7 You, too, can use Instagram as an effective business tool. It is one piece of the social media world that will ask you to be spontaneous and venture outside your comfort zone. But you will find that once you share your company’s face with the Instagram world, it will drive more traffic to your website and other online profiles.

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