Instagram is probably my favorite social media platform. In saying that, though, I must also admit I'd be embarrassed to tell you just how much time I waste in what I call the "Instagram rabbit hole."
The Instagram rabbit hole starts out harmlessly enough. I'm on the main search page, spot a random post, and click on it. Next thing you know, I'm 40 posts deep on a health food blogger's page reading all about the benefits of kimchi and other fermented foods. (I'm sure most of us have fallen victim to this, but if you're scratching your head right now, bless you.)
Yes, Instagram's platform is visual and user-friendly, two traits that make it a fun platform to use — but perhaps what gives it lasting power is its ability to evolve based on what its audience wants.
Sometimes that evolution entails politely borrowing what other platforms (ahem, Snapchat) are doing but modifying it so that people will, I don't know, actually want to use it.
Shade aside, one thing is for sure: Instagram knows how its users like to consume content. That's why it's a no-brainer for brands in any industry to be using the platform — especially if they're trying to distribute their content and reach their audiences where they are.
With a platform that shakes things up almost weekly, it can be hard to keep track of the various tools and functions that make Instagram so user-friendly and helpful for businesses. But social media is essential for marketing today, and Instagram can be a fantastic platform for reaching your audience and achieving your goals. That's why I've broken down five must-know features and updates that you can use to make the most of your brand's presence on this powerful social platform:
When you register your account as a business, you gain access to really cool metrics regarding who's following you and how your account is performing. You can access things like:
This information can inform you of the best time of day to post, what kinds of content generate the most engagement, who your audience members are, and where they're located — all things that can help you refine your Instagram strategy and deliver better content over time. Traditionally, accessing this kind of information would cost money, and you'd have to work with a company that specializes in this sort of thing, but Instagram makes it super easy.
I remember when I first used Twitter and had no idea what hashtagging meant. It's funny to look back on a time like that, especially now that people are hashtagging on pretty much every social platform, and Instagram is no exception.
When you hashtag something you share on Instagram, that content is placed on another page of posts and stories that use that same hashtag. This helps users who are searching or following that particular hashtag to find posts that are relevant to their interests and likely to engage them.
On the other side of the coin, hashtags can also help you discover content users share that might be relevant to your brand. For example, our team members often use #ICoFamily when they're posting photos from our annual company retreats, holiday parties, company culture events, and individual events like birthday celebrations and cross-country client visits and conferences.
Members of our team can search that hashtag to find photos from events or special occasions, and as the manager of our account, I can search it to find posts to engage with, too. This makes it a lot easier to find content that showcases some of these day-in-the-life moments that a business's Instagram feed is perfectly suited for sharing.
I can't speak for every brand account, but one thing I've noticed while running Influence & Co.'s is that the more we post in our stories, the more likes we get for the photos in our feed and the more follows we receive.
Remember just a second ago when I said your business's Instagram account is perfect for sharing those little day-in-the-life moments? That extends to Instagram Stories, too. Posting videos in your stories is a great way to further humanize your brand and build even more genuine connections with your audience members.
People love video content, and with Instagram Stories, you get the chance to give the people what they want. Still, don't just post random videos. Show your audience who your team is, what a day in the office looks like, and even what your team does when it's outside the office.
Not all Instagram Stories are videos, though. We use our stories to share updates when we have an exciting announcement, an event coming up, or new content on our site we want our audience to know about. Here are some posts we made when we updated our website:
Stories makes it easy to incorporate GIFs, fonts, and colors that make your posts fun and engaging. And if you have more than 10,000 followers, you can add the "swipe up" option and link directly to your content.
Instagram's newest feature, IGTV, allows people to upload long-form videos up to one hour in length. It's literally like turning on your television, as videos just load as soon as you hit that TV icon in the top right corner. Each creator is a "channel," and whichever creators you choose to follow, if they have created a channel, then they're available for you to watch.
From a business standpoint, I say embrace this offering and see what it can do for your company. Post tutorials, answer frequently asked questions, or provide a step-by-step guide to something crucial to what your business does. Just keep in mind that these longer-form videos may require higher production values than traditional videos on Instagram, so make sure you have the resources for the quality you're after.
There's been a lot of negative talk about Instagram's algorithm, and I'll explain why. A couple years ago, Instagram moved away from real-time posts. Instead, users see images that Instagram's algorithm believes they'll be more inclined to like based on their previous like and engagement history. The same applies to stories; if you consistently view certain people's stories, pretty soon theirs will be moved to the top of your list.
A lot of brands and influencers didn't actually love this development because it made their posts harder to see, and a lot of individual users didn't like it because it often presented days-old posts before newer ones from the accounts they follow.
As a result, Instagram has started to make some changes to ensure newer posts do appear higher in users' feeds. While this is good news for a lot of users, it's also a reminder that Instagram evolves pretty frequently. Brands need to stay on top of the platform's algorithm updates if they want to keep getting their content to the right people at the right time.
Whether you're debating starting an Instagram account for your business or you're looking to improve your existing account, hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how this social media giant works — and how it can help you. If you'd like to follow us on Instagram, check us out here.
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Natalie Slyman is a content marketing and social media professional. She enjoys reading her favorite blogs, perusing Instagram, and talking about her cats (even when no one is listening).