Instagram_body.jpgBy Heather Chaet.

Few would argue that to be successful in today’s business world, you have to have some sort of active social media presence. Whether you run a Facebook contest or a Twitter party, reaching new customers and maintaining current ones has come a long way from simply having a website where folks can find your phone number.


However, with the introduction of new platforms such as Tumblr and Pinterest, the landscape of social media is changing. What worked even a few months ago isn’t as successful today. Facebook is still the leader in terms of users and engagement, but savvy business owners should be looking to a new player: Instagram.


Increasing its number of users by 23 percent in the last half of 2013, Instagram has claimed the title of the fastest growing social media site, according to GlobalWeb Index’s January 2014 report. Due to this surge in users, the photo-based platform is also closing in on Facebook’s lead in engagement levels. Pew Study’s Social Media Update 2013 reported that 57 percent of Instagram users check their accounts daily and 35 percent check multiple times a day, as compared with 63 percent and 40 percent of Facebook users, respectively.


With 200 million active monthly users and 1.6 billion “likes” daily, Instagram offers robust opportunities to grow your business and your bottom line. Here are five reasons why Instagram should be the next tool in your company’s social media toolbox:



1. Instagram is easy

Every small business owner wants to do more, but often doesn’t have the time to learn and research a new platform. Using Instagram is as easy as taking a picture on your smartphone. “Instagram is definitely an asset in my social media campaigns,” says Aja Frierson, founder of Habit Cosmetics, a line of natural, strengthening nail polish. “It’s one of the easiest social media tools to learn, because it's picture-based.” Since the landscape of social media is evolving, adding a relatively simple-to-use social media platform to your existing marketing strategy re-invigorates your overall approach to reach and engage customers without much effort or added time.


2. It builds your brand personality instantly

Unlike large corporations, small businesses rarely have the financial resources to pay for product placement in movies or to have their products “spotted” with celebrities. Despite the lack of resources, a small business can build its brand personality for free using Instagram. You can craft the look and feel of your business by choosing images of your product that projects the exact way you want it to be seen by others. The key: consistency and specificity. Think about how you want your business to be seen. Sophisticated? Philanthropic or trendy (or both)? Play around with different photos and styles of images to achieve that personality within the images.


3. It has better hashtags than Twitter

When using a hashtag on Instagram, instead of trailing a 140-character tweet, the hashtag is paired with a photo. Naturally, the Instagram image creates a stronger emotional impact than the tweet, resulting in more “likes”, more followers, and more customers. Frierson concurs: “Among the most important things I've learned about using Instagram is how to utilize hashtags so that unrelated people can find your photos,” she says. “Figure out what hashtags are popular and relevant to your content, and use them whenever you post a photo.”


4. Instagram shows off all sides of your company

As an accountant or the owner of a cleaning services company, posting photos on Instagram may not be your first instinct in terms of marketing. However, the platform allows you to showcase other aspects of your company by providing customers a glimpse into what makes your business different from competitors. Perhaps you sponsor a Little League team, or have a potluck lunch every Friday with a different theme. Spreading the word via images about what makes your company unique and interesting helps to strengthen customer relationships and build new ones.


5. It can extend your reach

In the small business world, teaming up with other entrepreneurs is a proven strategy to increase awareness of your company and, as a result, increase  revenue. Chris Cooper and Adam DiBella, the owners of the fitness training center Active Movement & Performance in Massapequa Park, NY, use Instagram to motivate clients and spread the word about upcoming events. But their biggest Instagram success has come from connecting with other fitness professionals all over the world. “Making connections with other trainers and other gym owners has been a huge boost to our learning the ins and outs of running our gym,” says Cooper. “Recently we made a connection with a street workout and calisthenics team in Germany and we formed a partnership as the East Coast Training Center for their style of workouts. There is no way that would have been possible without Instagram.