We all know the power of Instagram. Huge companies like Coca Cola, Starbucks and Nike dominate the space. Companies with established followings… like they all have… seem to have no problems getting engagement and results. But how can you use Instagram for smaller or more local businesses. One thing I’ve learned over the past few months is that the role of Instagram is very different for business use… versus people wanting to use it like a personal Facebook style of account.

Success for brands on Instagram takes more than publishing attractive images. You have to focus on having a thoughtful strategy… a well-defined brand identity grounded in visual creativity… and really effective community management.

So… here are a  few things that seem to be working for me on my learning journey on Instagram so far:

First… The GaryVee $1-80 per day Instagram strategy…This is really getting traction for me. And its free. See my separate blog (https://olddognewtricks.com/garyvee-1-80-instagram-strategy/) and podcast on this approach to building your Instagram presence. Its really simple… it really works… and I am seeing an acceleration in subscribers and comments as a result.

Second… if you are going to use Instagram for business… rather than to build a personal brand… then you need to stop thinking about likes as your main measure of success.

The grim reality is that… like everything else in life and business… the 99% rule still applies. That means that about 1% of the population will easily build Instagram followers – because they are famous already….through music… sport… and things like that…  Or… success and followers will easily come to big brands that have a massive base of existing customers. For example… Detol Arabia has amassed almost 500 followers… by just putting up 27 pretty crappy image posts. Or VW USA has nearly half a million followers – but has only ever done 1000 posts. Or Cher has nearly a million followers and has only done 160 posts… and most of those are pretty bland.

The existing fame of the brand make the results skew massively. For the rest of us… its really unlikely that we will ever amass huge numbers like that for our businesses.

So, whats important isn’t the size of the numbers you are going to get – its moreso what you do with the small community of followers that you’ll pull together.

The third thing that’s apparent after a few months of use is that the visual creativity of the images you put up makes a massive difference to the response you get.

One of the biggest responses that I’ve ever received on Insta was a stark picture of the Hong Kong skyline taken from a hotel windows at sunset. I don’t even know why I posted it – but the response was huge – eclipsing any of the more strategically planned and perfect posts that I’ve done. So, always try to post images that look a little different to everything else out there. That will pay dividends.

A fourth strategy that seems to be working is leveraging trending topics…

Over the past weekend we have had all of the football grand finals here in Australia – so I spent some time leveraging the official hashtags for both events and I got a lot of likes and followers as a result.  That said… its highly debatable that any of those new followers from this experiment will have any relevance to my business success down the track… as the are mainly football fans…. And my site isn’t about football. I think the only benefit for my site is that … for anyone visiting for the first time… I now have a lot more bulk follower numbers… so my Instagram profile just looks more popular than before.

And this is what I suspect is wrong with the way that a lot of businesses using Instagram as a business tool…. Because they equate likes with business success. But I worry that a lot of businesses who have built high numbers of followers on Instagram have really just built a lot of ghost followers who don’t really matter to the true success of the business.

So, I think that your real business success on Instagram still comes back to your core business strategy…

First thing’s first, what do you want to achieve on Instagram? What’s the purpose of your business using Instagram? Whether you’ve never published a single photo or you’re an Instagram seasoned pro, you should be considering these basics for your Instagram marketing strategy:

What will Instagram allow you to do that other platforms don’t?

Who is your target audience.. and which members of your audience are active on Instagram?

How will Instagram integrate with the other networks in your social media strategy?

The reality may be that… while building a nice army of Instagram followers might make you feel good…. Perhaps your efforts might make more business sense by focusing on the… less sexy… staples like email marketing, reselling to existing customers.. or building new customers via search engine optimization and Google ads.  Or doing advertising on Instagram… and using it as a paid media…  rather than spending all of your time and effort just posting on it.

For example… I was looking at the instagram page for Goodyear tyres.. A big global brand… with lots of awesome images posted of hot racing cars, celebrities, cool videos and the footage from the goodyear blimp. And.. no doubt a significant digital team driving their Instagram presence….

They have amassed just over 5000 followers so far… which sounds great… and no doubt put in a lot of work to do that. But impacting 5,000 people is just a tiny fraction of what they would get by just airing a single TV commercial. And lots of the images they post get lots of likes – but hardly any comments made… so you have to wonder what they are really getting out of it. And the goodyear story seems to be that same as thousands of big well funded brands out there.

I hope that helps… I’ll be updating my progress with instagram… and the other social media platforms…  again in a few weeks time…