Instagram for SMEs (even if you don’t sell cute stuff)


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You know your business needs a good Facebook page. You’ve got a Twitter feed. Your office is on Foursquare. You’ve even set up a Pinterest account for your webshop. So what’s this? People are telling you that you need to get on Instagram too?

Let’s get one thing straight. You don’t need to be on every single one of these platforms. It isn’t essential. For customer service purposes, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to be on Facebook and Twitter. But when it comes to the others, quality is more important than quantity.

If you are going to use Instagram to promote your business, you need to do it right. Three tips to get you started.

Instagram tip #1: Use the right hashtags and pictures

On the wider internet, people have to type search terms into Google to find what they’re looking for. On Instagram (just like Twitter), there are hashtags. Without hashtags, however striking your images, nobody will be able to find your Instagram pictures.

So remember: it’s just as important to spend time adding useful, well-thought-out hashtags to your images as it is to take, select and upload that amazing picture in the first place. Check out an up-to-the-minute overview of the most popular and the most recent hashtags to see which ones are popular, and get ideas for creating some of your own.

The best tags in the world, however, won’t get you re-shares if you have blurry, grainy, poorly-lit photos. Invest some time in checking out Instagram thoroughly and seeing which types of photographs get likes and re-shares. There are fashions in photography just like in everything else, so get up to speed before you start representing your SME with outdated images. If your Instagram style is outdated, your business is going to seem outdated too.

Instagram tip #2: Show who you are

Instagram expert Thibaut Davoult points out that one of the most common misconceptions about the platform is that it’s only useful if you sell cute, photogenic products. While uploading photos of attractive homewares or stylish, classy floral arrangements has obvious appeal, that doesn’t mean that all you service providers and purveyors of door hinges are left out in the cold.

Pics of everyday office life, community-minded activities (one company I worked for made a sizeable donation to a children’s home, for example) and celebrations – the regular Friday lunchtime fish & chips, the office Christmas party or a colleague’s birthday treat – all give a glimpse of what life is like behind the scenes of your SME. It’s a great way of promoting your brand as a whole, not just showing what you’re trying to sell to people. For bigger organisations, it has the added bonus of letting potential new employees see what a great employer you are.

Instagram tip #3: Listen before you speak

Just like you wouldn’t rush up to a group of people at a cocktail party and start talking without having the faintest idea of what they were discussing, it’s not polite (or wise) to rock up on Instagram and start chatting away. Explore the site and get a feel for what’s going on. Then you can start your own conversation with a much greater likelihood of getting people to join in.

A prominent example of a great Instagram user is Starbucks. But the beauty of Instagram is that you don’t need a big (or any) marketing budget. Finding and re-sharing great photos is one way that Starbucks built goodwill and increased brand engagement.

For SMEs, swap brand engagement for brand awareness – starting conversations and engaging other Instagram users – is a way of getting your name out there and letting people know what you do. Because if they don’t know you, they can’t buy from you! Just remember the cocktail party rule – gauge the mood before opening your mouth, or tapping on your keyboard as the case may be.

And last but not least: have fun. You might be on Instagram for business purposes, but the people you want to engage with are not. They’re there to have fun. The best way of holding their attention is to be on their level: social media is about two-way conversations, not one-way lectures. Get into the spirit of the thing and enjoy yourself. Instagram has caught on (with more than 100 million users to date) because it’s fun. So have fun. Especially since you know you’re working on your business while doing it.