Instagram is scaling back its fantastic reach and engagement and introducing an algorithm. However, this doesn't mean you've missed out on the wealth of opportunities offered by the social media site. The changes also bring benefits for promoting your business on the platform.
With 300 million monthly active users, Instagram is one of the top social media channels at present. Unlike Twitter, which seems to be in decline, user numbers are growing. There tends to be good engagement with posts on the platform: 2.5 billion photos are liked each day. According to Forrester research from the end of 2014, more than 4% of followers interacted with a brand's posts on Instagram - that's compared to less than 0.1% on Facebook. It is thought that engagement at present is up to 10 times higher on Instagram than it is on Facebook and 84 times higher than it is on Twitter.
Why is engagement so much higher in this channel? Perhaps it's because Instagram offers far less clutter than other social media platforms. There's a lot less content on Instagram, and much less in your eye line, compared to the noise of Twitter or Facebook. There's also a younger audience base, and this demographic tends to engage well with social media.
Many of Instagram's biggest fans and most active users are refugees from Facebook, where they've got tired of the onslaught of nonsense in their feed and bored of their space being abused by unwelcome updates. What Instagram offers is something of a haven from that. Everything tends to look good on Instagram, so it's a more enjoyable experience and one which demands less of its users. Many celebrities are using it to create a sense of real intimacy with their fans.
Brands such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) have used it to communicate with loyal fans, offering them insights such as locker room snaps and other behind-the-scenes action:
The platform obviously works particularly well with brands that lend themselves to visual content, such as fashion, lifestyle and food. If you operate in this type of industry, good for you. If you aren't, you'll need to find some creative ways to produce good visual content for this particular channel.
Instagram is well known for offering in-built filters and tools to improve the appearance of your photos. These are all great, so make use of them, but don't be afraid to bring in other tools as well. Photoshop is really the king of image editing software, but it's a pricey package.
You can get good results with free software such as Pixlr and Gimp. These let you crop images and edit them by applying filters and masks. If your talents don't lie in image editing, you can use services such as Fiverr and Peopleperhour.com to find someone who'll do basic photo editing for you.
Another top tip is to use Canva.com. Canva is a nifty online tool that provides social media templates so you can post images to your feed that are cropped to the optimum dimensions for platforms such as Instagram. Here you'll also find tools that let you add text to images - these kinds of posts are often popular on Instagram, so have a play around and see what works for your brand.
It may sound really obvious but do remember things need to look really good on Instagram - your posts will appear alongside top quality images and they'll stand out particularly badly if they aren't done well. Instagram makes it very easy to compare your brand's visual identity against other brands, including your competitors, so it can be damaging if you get the visuals wrong.
No More Free Rides
Instagram sadly doesn't offer the same free ride it has done up to now. Having previously been the best channel for free organic reach and engagement, it's likely that organic reach is now being throttled. Engagement has declined since Forrester measured it at the end of 2014 - it's now closer to 2% than 4%. Since Facebook invested in the business, the threat of an algorithm is looming and you will no longer be able to assume that all your followers are reached by all your posts. Like Facebook we confidently predict Instagram will soon be a pay-to-play platform. But don't despair! Instagram still offers terrific opportunities for your business.
One of the biggest frustrations with Instagram has historically been that it hasn't been possible to put a link into a post. Instead, brands have found work around where they direct their followers to the main link in their profile bio. While users have got accustomed to this, the advent of Instagram advertising will help overcome this frustration by enabling the channel to direct traffic to your site.
Advertising On Instagram
If you're currently advertising on Facebook then it's good news for you - Instagram uses the same ad tools, so you won't have a new system to learn. In fact, you can even advertise on Instagram if you don't have a profile in that channel, via the Facebook ad platform.
Since September, it's been possible to advertise on Instagram, and you've probably already seen ads creeping into your stream. Incidentally - if you aren't currently using Instagram yourself, then you need to spend some time using the platform from an end user's perspective, before you start to use it for promoting your business. Although you do need to pay for it, you can now include a link in your Instagram posts, meaning this channel can be used to direct traffic to your site.
The ads include a call to action button such as 'shop now' or 'sign up'. The ad options also allow you to encourage users to install your app or play your video. Remember to add UTM tracking so you can assess the performance of your campaign using Google Analytics, and see how Instagram traffic behaves on your site.
Because of the limitations of the platform, Instagram has historically been seen as a way to build your brand rather than as a direct sales channel or traffic driving tool, but that's changing now. It's well worth keeping an eye on Instagram to see what new features the platform adds in the near future. Remember engagement is still strong for this channel, so now's the time to hop on Instagram and see what you can achieve using ads on the platform.
Have you been using Instagram to promote your business? How will the changes affect you and what advice would you offer to businesses new to the platform? Share your advice in the comment section below.