Here is the fourth and final installment of our “Effective Use of Social Media for eCommerce” series with our Instagram edition.

Instagram presents retailers and manufacturers with a prime opportunity to be creative with social media marketing by interacting with current and potential customers in a visually compelling way. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and they are remarkably effective in drawing attention in this extremely attention span-challenged society; 40% of people respond better to visual information than just plain text.

The only limit to utilizing Instagram to effectively keep your customers engaged and grow your ecommerce business is your creativity. Here are 10 best ideas we recommend retailers and manufacturers do on Instagram to build brand awareness and drive increased sales.

1. Post Instagram Photos Across All Your Social Media Channels

People love visual social media content, and that’s one of the primary drivers of Instagram’s success. Sharing your company’s Instagram images across all your active social media channels exposes your user generated and stock image content to a wider audience while essentially unifying your customers experience across all your Social Media networks.

2. Display Instagram Photos at Live Events

If one or more of your retail locations is holding a live event or you’re attending a trade show, you can gain considerable additional exposure for your Instagram account by displaying your Instagram photos at the event. Social media and live events go together, and social media displays can help energize the crowd. Display your Instagram photos at events and encourage people to use hashtags to connect with your brand by adding their selfies into the mix.

3. Avoid Repeats and Overloading Your Feed

People don’t want the same photos repeatedly, so commit to fresh content for Instagram. As for posting frequency, a few times a day or week is typical. To determine your ideal posting frequency, track your Instagram follower count and note if there’s an increase in people unfollowing you. When that happens, try cutting your posting frequency. People will unfollow if they feel they’re being overloaded with posts.

4. Consider Hosting Photo Contests

Holding an Instagram contest can build significant buzz around your brand and encourage valuable word-of-mouth marketing. They’re also great for user-generated content about your brand, which adds credibility and authenticity. You’ll need to pick a prize to giveaway, a campaign hashtag, and a theme. There are plenty of tools that let you grab contest photos from Instagram’s API. Use contests to highlight both your products and your loyal customers. Here is an example of Social Annex’s Instagram content at eTail West 2015.

5. Include Promo Codes Within Photos

Images featuring exclusive discount codes give you a fast, low-cost method of gaining fans and increasing sales. Clothing retailer Topshop regularly uses other social platforms to send consumers to Instagram to find discount codes on images. Be sure to hashtag these photos with #promocode to reach people searching on that popular hashtag.

6. Tell Your Company’s Story with Behind the Scenes Info

Giving Instagram followers a “behind the scenes” look at your company and that builds a very strong bond with them. You can use photos from around the office, a day in the life of picture, historical images (if your brand has been around for a while), or photos from company celebrations or charity events. Mixing such photos in with your feed personalizes your company and builds trust with customers.

7. Highlight a Follower of the Day

The simple act of choosing a follower each day and tagging him or her with an @mention is a powerful way to gain followers and solidify the loyalty of individual followers. Make sure to reward your most loyal customers. People love being personally recognized, and generally spread the word when they’re singled out. Sharpie has excelled with this by showcasing Instagram drawings posted by followers who use their markers and pens.

8. Use Hashtags Well

Hashtags on Instagram are used just like the Twitter hashtags. Some popular ways to use them on Instagram include

  • Using hashtags in your username or profile description
  • Adding hashtags to photo descriptions
  • Using hashtags in comments on other people’s photos
  • Creating hashtags for events and contests

9. Follow Some Basic Photo Tips

You can’t link to your online store from individual Instagram posts, but you can watermark images with your domain name. Keep in mind that Instagram crops images so that they’re square. Use your judgment with filters and avoid getting cropped out. On the one hand you want users to see your products clearly and in the right light, and you also want to create a mood with your photos. Which brings us to …

10. Think “Lifestyle” Rather than “Product” Pictures

People don’t want to look at “catalog” photos on Instagram, but want to see products being used in real life scenarios by real people. Plain images on white backgrounds can make people feel as if they’re being “sold to,” and they are typically using Instagram for inspiration or diversion from their busy lives. Part of the charm of Instagram photos is their “real life” look, and that’s often what people want.

Instagram offers your retail business a great platform for showcasing new products and existing products being used by everyday people who have made your brand what it is. It’s more authentic than marketing, and when you use Instagram as a platform for customer engagement, contests, and user-generated content for your products and your brand, you have the ability to build your brand, increase following of your products, and deliver a great user experience.

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