Is your company’s Instagram reaching its potential? No longer can this social network be an afterthought for someone in your marketing department. The platform boasts an impressive 400 million monthly active users (75 percent of whom are outside the U.S.) who share an astounding 80 million-plus photos a day. EMarketer predicts that by 2019, Instagram’s audience will reach 111.6 million Americans, representing 55.8 percent of social networkers and more than four in 10 Internet users.

If you’re one of those brands that halfheartedly posts pics of Sheila in accounting blowing out her birthday candles or a group shot of everybody in their ugly Christmas sweaters — well, good. It’s a start. But you’ve got to build on that. These tips and tools will help your brand step up its Instagram game and make the most of this platform.

1. Get a hashtag education

Hashtags are used across numerous social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest), making them a great tool for reaching wider audiences and maintaining unity across your online profiles. Don’t just pop on random hashtags and hope for the best, however.

Brand Instagram

Use hashtag tools. Generally, the hashtags with the most circulation include #love, #tbt (throwbackthursday),  #photooftheday, #me, #pic and #instagood. When wanting something industry-specific, use a hashtag tool to find out what’s trending. Three we like: Hashtagify, Tagstagram, and for Hootsuite users, the TrendSpottr for Instagram app.

Create your own hashtags. Be sure to keep it simple and predictable, so that people don’t struggle to find you — e.g., #voguemagazine, #mcdonalds. Relevancy is also important here, so try tying new hashtags into current events and promotions to generate hype among your audience. Don’t forget to encourage people to use your hashtags, too.

Try #Regram. Regramming is the Instagram equivalent of retweeting someone’s tweet or sharing someone’s Facebook photo. It ensures you credit the initial poster. Unlike on Twitter and Facebook, you have to download the Regram app to do so — this functionality isn’t built into the Instagram platform. Repost photos related to your brand with the hashtag #regram. Encourage people to post photos of themselves interacting with your product, and regram those photos. There’s nothing better than someone’s favorite brand giving them a personal thumbs up in front of all their followers.

2. Partner with a cause that reflects your brand’s values

Instagram is all about showcasing your brand’s personality and giving customers an opportunity to connect and engage with you. What impact do you want your product or service to have on customers? What message do you want to send? Think about the values your company stands for, partner with an appropriate organization or cause, and then take to Instagram to promote it.


The U.K. brand Marks and Spencer is currently running a breast cancer awareness and fundraising campaign called Breast Cancer Now. The brand aligned its line of post-mastectomy bras with this worthy cause, asking people to post selfies that show their bra straps with the hashtag #showyourstrap and nominate three friends to do the same. This is a good way to shape your brand image, familiarize people with your brand and help a worthy cause.

3. Take advantage of apps

Our three favorite apps to help build up your Instagram:

 Iconosquare provides important metrics for your Instagram account. It tracks the growth of followers, likes and comments, notifies you of the best time to post for maximum engagement, records demographics of your online community and analyzes your most successful posts.

Latergramme. Latergramme enables you to create posts and schedule them to be automatically uploaded when you want. Additionally, it allows you to navigate Instagram on computers and tablets, manage multiple accounts, invite people to collaborate and repost Web content.

Crowdfire. Use Crowdfire to get more targeted engagement, keep track of how particular posts are affecting your following, find relevant users to follow (who will hopefully follow you back) and manage relationships with other social media accounts.

4. Get your followers in on it

What better way to engage your audience than by asking them to create the content? By requesting user-generated photos (often through contests), you get people talking about your brand and create a sense of community.


Starbucks asked people to draw an original design on their cups and share it on their Instagram with the hashtag #whitecupcontest. The winning design was made into a limited-edition reusable cup that was sold in stores. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, the iconic coffee company received over 4,000 submissions in under three weeks. That’s 4,000-plus people who had the Starbucks logo on their account, for all their followers to see. Think of the audience reach.

Why not run a similar contest? Social Media Examiner has some great tips on how to run a successful Instagram contest.

5. Make friends with like-minded businesses

Establishing and maintaining relationships with relevant businesses is a great way to reach untapped audiences and enhance your brand personality. You could try something as simple as hashtagging #likeforlike on your photos, through which you exchange likes with other brands to increase one another’s followers.

Or, go bigger. Wimbledon and Nike have a strong partnership in which they share compelling photos that tie the brands together (and thus, promote the values of each company). It can be subtle and simple, like these Wimbledon posts, but the online exposure it initiates is effective.


We’re all hoping to turn followers into customers, and while not everyone can be the next Annie Leibovitz, some of these more creative ideas can be adopted so that Instagram plays a real part in growing your business. #goodluck