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Marketing your business on instagram. What’s your most effective marketing platform? The days when an advert in the newspaper was the only way to spread the word about your business are long-gone, and savvy entrepreneurs know their online presence is as important as their physical one.

Instagram doesn’t figure highly on everyone’s list, even though it has more than 200 million active monthly users – a figure that is rising – and is now a serious player when it comes to social media. It’s not all about selfies and what you’re having for breakfast – it’s a bona fide source of potential new customers.

So how can you tap into that to market your business – and should you?

If you’re unfamiliar with it, Instagram is an app that allows you to take and/or edit photographs on your phone, and offers a social network where you can interact and connect with other users. It’s a bit like Twitter, but with pictures – you follow people and their posts show up on your timeline. You can caption your images and like other people’s, but you can’t share a picture someone else has posted.

So, as a business, how can you get the best out of Instagram marketing?

Think beyond products and services

If you’re lucky, your business is already visual – you may have plenty of photographs of products that you’re selling. If not, you’ll need to start to build a library that you can use. But think more widely than product alone. How about behind-the-scenes team pictures during meetings or shots taken during your travels to and from client meetings? If you’ve won an award recently or have a habit of tea and cakes for staff in the office on Friday afternoons, these can provide material for your Instagram posts.

Keep the personal touch

One reason a lot of businesses don’t think of using Instagram for marketing is because they consider it too personal – but that’s exactly why it works. You can be less official and form closer connections with your audience.

The most popular Instagram accounts are the ones that share less formal images, and especially ones that aren’t also on your other social channels such as Facebook or Twitter. Images that capture everyday life behind the scenes are great – so don’t be afraid to share your personality, and that of your team.

It’s not just about photos

When we say ‘images’ we don’t just mean photographs. Turn an inspirational quote or even a client testimonial into a graphic – if it looks good and is meaningful, it will engage your followers. Don’t forget to credit the source if you’re using information from elsewhere, and always keep graphics consistent with your branding. After all, you want your posts to be immediately identifiable with your business!

Include your web address in your bio

As with any social network Instagram can drive traffic to your website, but one thing you can’t do – at least currently – is add clickable links in your captions. However, you can in your profile biography – so make sure you do! This also helps other users who want to follow you as they can be sure they’ve got the right profile if they’re using the ‘search’ facility.

You don’t have to edit your images using Instagram

If you simply want to add a filter, you can do this within Instagram – but you’re missing a trick. There are any number of apps out there that allow you to edit photos on your phone before you upload them – which means you can turn several images into a collage or add any relevant text you really want your audience to see before you post.

Get to grips with hashtags

They can be irritating on other social platforms, but on Instagram hashtags are the key to getting found so don’t skimp on using them. After you’ve captioned your image, add as many relevant ones as you like – the app will make suggestions based on the words you start typing, and show you how many other posts have used it too. Users often search for people to follow using specific words or terms, so think about what someone might look for in relation to your image and use all the variants. So, if you have a picture of a grand house in a rural area, you could use #countryhouse #countryliving #countrymansion for example, along with others.

Vary it with video

You can shoot short videos for Instagram too, so consider that as an alternative sometimes. Someone’s birthday in the office? Film them blowing out candles on the cake. Got a quick tip for sellers making their home attractive to viewers? Film it and post it. Remember to keep your phone stable while filming, though – shaky footage isn’t a good look!

Remember to tell people you’re there

This is especially important when you’re just starting out and trying to gain followers. Share your Instagram profile on your Twitter feed, your Facebook page and anywhere else you can. Add it to your other social buttons on your estate agency website so online visitors can find you easily.

When you post on Instagram, you also get the option to share your image to linked accounts on other social networks – we don’t recommend doing this too often, but now and again is ok to help promote your account.

Network and tag

You can tag other users on Instagram in the same way as on Twitter – the @ symbol works the same way here. Even though they can’t share your images, they’ll be aware you’ve mentioned them and are likely to return the favour – sharing your name with their own networks when they do.

Don’t worry if Instagram seems confusing at first – remember when we all first started using Facebook and Twitter? It seemed like we’d never get the hang of it – but we did. Instagram is a lively and useful social network that you can leverage to market your business – so jump on and enjoy it.