Instagram logoAnd yet, Instagram has been described as "the world's most powerful selling tool." A recent Forbes article noted that user-generated photos with branded products, as well as Instagram's sponsored posts, help to boost consumer reach, recall and awareness, and, ultimately, lead to sales conversion.

"Many companies don't take full advantage of this unique social media platform," said Mitchell Harper, co-founder and CEO of e-commerce platform Bigcommerce. "[You can] use your Instagram profile, hashtags and strategy to increase traffic to your e-commerce site and sell your products." [How Photo-Sharing Can Boost Social Marketing]

Harper outlined the five steps below to create an effective Instagram marketing strategy.

  • Build up your branded Instagram profile. It's important to optimize the brand value of your Instagram profile by making it instantly recognizable as your company's account. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should only post pictures of your product: On Starbucks' Instagram profile, for example, it isn't the coffee that takes center stage in the photos, it's the famous mermaid logo.

    You also have the opportunity to create a profile tagline and link to your company website — the only place on Instagram where you can feature a clickable link. Adding a call to action, such as instructing followers to include your username or a branded hashtag in their photos of your product, is a great way to increase engagement.

  • Write great photo descriptions. Instagram allows you to include a description of the photos you post. Write something engaging that both describes the image and reflects your brand's message. You can also include a URL in your description, but keep in mind that users will have to copy and paste it into their mobile browser to access the link.
  • Use hashtags. There are two ways to use Instagram hashtags that will increase your brand engagement and visibility. You can create a tag (#Starbucks for Starbucks, #F21xMe for Forever 21, etc.) to collect all Instagrams related to your brand. You can also contribute to trending and/or industry-specific hashtags so that users who follow those tags will see your photos.
  • Connect your Instagram with other social accounts. While your followers will see your Instagrams come up in their feed, most consumers discover branded Instagram posts when they're shared on the company's other social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. Connect your Instagram account to other accounts (this can be done in-app) and share your photos on those networks simultaneously to increase your reach and shift the photo to a platform more conducive to customer engagement.
  • Interact with your followers. Follow, repost, comment on, and interact with other people's Instagrams. That, in turn, will make them more likely to engage with you. As always, make sure to interact as a human being and not as a spam robot — randomly liking 1,000 Instagram photos is much less effective than interacting with 10 specific photos that are taken by people in your target market.

While it may take some time to build up a large brand following and presence on Instagram, the best place to start is simply using the platform.

"Take plenty of photos," Harper said. "The more Instagrams you take and share, the more opportunity you have to get your brand out there, grow your reach, develop new customer relationships, and increase sales."

Originally published on Business News Daily.

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