Instagram_body.jpgby Jennifer Shaheen.

Instagram is the photo-sharing social media site with 150 million active users, 70 percent of whom check their Instagram accounts daily. More than a third check several times a day. Those kinds of numbers can be exciting for small business owners who want to promote their businesses.

Instagram is the easiest way to attract your ideal followers and gain new clients,” says Sue B. Zimmerman, owner of SueB.Do, a seasonal apparel store on Cape Cod. Using Instagram, Zimmerman increased sales at her shop over 40 percent in a single year.

Take a look at these six ways to leverage Instagram for your small business:

1. Educate yourself

If you’re not already familiar with Instagram and its functionality, you’ll want to learn how to use this powerful tool specifically for business. Bola Olonisakin, creative director and online strategist at GTech Designs, a marketing agency specializing in web design, custom content, and social media, recommends going directly to the source. “To assist the numerous entrepreneurs who are discovering its benefits, Instagram set up the Instagram For Business blog containing tips, brand spotlights, and news from Instagram headquarters,” she says.

2. Use the right images

“Every business owner needs a visual strategy,” Zimmerman says. However, knowing what type of images you want to share is only the first step. “Strategically using hashtags on your Instagram posts can extend your reach and helps with SEO,” she says. A critical part of a visual strategy is knowing how you’re going to share your Instagram images on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Used properly, Instagram can allow a business owner to be effective and efficient.

3. Create a posting schedule

While Instagram originally developed for people to share their images in real time, you don’t need to use the tool that way. Many business owners create pictures or videos that can then be posted at a later date. “It isn’t necessary to post every day, but it is advisable to determine a schedule and decide what to post and when to post it,” Olonisakin says.

Instagram_PQ.jpg4. Go behind the scenes

“One of the great things about Instagram is that you can really use it to humanize your brand,” Zimmerman says. She recommends using video to show behind the scenes action in your business, such as product creation, setting up displays, and more. “Share pictures of your team members,” she says. “People are more likely to support your business when they feel like they know you.”

5. Provide content of value

How-to videos, incentive offers, and genuinely entertaining images give people a reason to follow your Instagram account. Once you have followers, make sure to encourage engagement, Olonisakin says. “When you post an image or a quote, encourage people to react to it,” she says. “If it’s a quote, ask people if they think that it is true or not. If it’s food, ask people to post whether they would try it. The more posts you get on an image, the more other people are likely to see it.” Don’t forget that social media is a two-way street. “Engage with your followers from other social media platforms by following them,” she adds. “‘Like’ their photos. Leave comments.”

6. Keep it local

For many small businesses, emphasizing local connections is a key part of their marketing strategy. “You can create very niched Instagram accounts by giving each one a distinct name or handle,” Zimmerman says. For instance, you can create Instagram accounts for specific aspects of your business, such as a bridal retailer who also sells prom dresses and special occasion wear in addition to wedding gowns. For businesses in destination locations, consider including that location in your handle. “This can be extremely valuable, as it helps people discover your business when they’re visiting,” she adds.

When used correctly, Instagram can be an effective tool for promoting your brand. The app is available free through iTunes, Google Play, and the Windows Phone store. You may soon find that it becomes one of your most effective social media marketing tools.