Neil Patel

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The 5 Biggest Misconceptions About Using Instagram for Business

After growing at an exponential rate for 2 years straight, Instagram has become one of the rising stars of social media. Its focus on photos and the sense of closeness it provides have produced new ways to use visual marketing. Instagram offers an opportunity for brands to diversify their content as a means to broaden their online reach.

Yet, many still see limitations in the service and refuse to use it for their brand, missing out on a one hundred million strong user base they could potentially engage. But the 5 most commonly cited reasons to not consider Instagram as a social media marketing platform just aren’t true.

So it’s about time I debunk these 5 biggest misconceptions about using Instagram for business.

1. It Only Works if You Sell Visual Products

This might be the belief I hear the most, which doesn’t make it any more real. Selling unsexy products or being a service provider isn’t a reason to not share photos. Rather, it should be seen as an incentive to get even more creative. The goal for these companies is to find valuable, compelling, or entertaining images to share with their audience.

Since these companies cannot show products, what can they show on Instagram?

Their Culture

Photos of employees and their customized desks always rank well on Instagram. There are two main advantages of doing this: it makes the company more attractive for job applicants and it instills trust in potential customers.

Showing off on Instagram

Server providers MediaTemple showing off their “Best Place to Work” award

Their Employee’s Goodwill

Ebay shared this photo of its staff giving back at Second Harvest Food Bank. Companies that show their employees care about the community are appreciated among Instagrammers.

ebay on Instagram

Photo by @ebay

Their Celebrations

Every company has its traditions or celebrates popular events and holidays. These are opportunities to share photos of the team getting together in a non-work related context.

Double Fine

These are the presents that indie game developers Double Fine exchanged over Christmas

Their Merchandise

This is a photo of Hipmunk’s new t-shirt released in early January. Brands should use Instagram to promote their merchandise and even offer some. Hipmunk did that, too, when they accompanied the photo with a quick sweepstakes for a few lucky followers to win one.


2. It’s Only for Big Brands

Some believe that only brands with significant marketing budgets can leverage Instagram.

This is not true. I’ll refer you to Mission Bicycle, Shwood, Almond Surfboards, Folk Fibers. All of these are reasonably small shops doing a great job with Instagram… On a budget! As a plus, they all got featured on Instagram’s blog and surely benefited from the coverage.

A few self employed artists and vendors even say that Instagram helps them create sales leads.

almond surfboards

Almond Surfboards’s artist at work

Folk Fibers

Folk Fibers’s photos look like they come from a Wes Anderson movie

Even tech startups are on Instagram: MailChimp, SendGrid, Hipmunk… As well as less techy ones like Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, and of course, Warby Parker, which is often cited as one of the textbook inspirations to follow on using Instagram for Business.

mailchimp on

Photos by MailChimp

Warby Parker

…and Warby Parker

3. It’s Only for Posting Photos

Even top brands still hold this one as true. Some of them have been using Instagram only to push content so far. But that’s missing a key ingredient in Instagram’s advantage compared to other networks: it makes sharing a two way street and enables brands to leverage User Generated Content (UGC) by way of photo contests and special campaigns.

To do this, the first precaution to take is to create a brand-specific hashtag for the contest.

Misson Bicycle

This example from Mission Bicycle encourages its followers to use #20mission12 and #missionbicycle to join the contest

And any contest on social media has to come with the right legal structure. Ben and Jerry’s and Hollister Co.’s terms are two thorough examples to draw from.

Then brands have to actively promote the hashtag and their campaign. They can do so on Instagram, other networks, and even offline in some cases. The Instagram team itself promotes their Weekend Hashtag Projects on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Finally, they should show the content generated by the contest outside of Instagram by creating Photo Galleries on their Facebook page or their website.

Instagram photo contests are worth the time and effort because they give an incentive for users to share better content and allow brands to reuse it. Fans of Ben and Jerry’s entered its latest contest called Capture Euphoria in hopes of being featured in local ads, like @nuutmeg here:

Ben and Jerrys

photo from Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram

Campaigns at large also bring in good publicity. The NYC based Comodo restaurant brought in more business with #ComodoMenu: an operation for visitors to snap photos of their plates and share them on Instagram so others could get a glimpse of what they could order. The YouTube video announcement accumulated 100,000 views in just about a month, and many publications reported on the restaurant’s creative initiative.

Instagram is also popular among individual artisans who use it to drive more sales, as well as strengthen their relationship with their buyers. Etsy vendor Ashley McIntosh includes a handwritten note in all her shipments, telling buyers to snap a photo of themselves wearing her jewelry and caption it with her hashtag.

4. Results Can’t be Measured

Monitoring and tracking social media activity became standard. Because there is no built-in insights tool for Instagram, some assume that they have to perform this task manually.

This belief is antiquated as analytics platforms now exist. Here is an overview of the available ways to monitor Instagram’s activity:

Web-Based Apps

sum all logo

SumAll provides information for the Instagram account user to sign up, among other social networks and services.


Statigram is focused on Instagram and provides data on the Instagram account used to sign up.

simply measured logo

SimplyMeasured allows users to get analytics on other accounts, which can come in handy for companies.

nitrogram logo

Nitrogram provides insights on hashtags and accounts, showing engagement rates, number of photos shared, and their potential impressions.

iOS Apps

instrack ios app

InsTrack is used for Instagram analytics and community management.

Reports+ is used to see who unfollows you, blocks you, and for tracking your account growth.

command for instagram

Command is a tool designed for brands and influencers that provides a report card for how your account is performing.

To assess the success of a brand’s presence on Instagram, one should track its own account’s metrics and those of its community.

5. Instagram can Sell Your Photos

This has been the social media drama surrounding the end of 2012: Instagram updated their Terms of Use and many believed that, in doing so, they were acquiring the rights to sell anyone’s photos to third parties.

Instagram then reworked the new Terms in response to the whirlwind of negative feedback and fixed the poor wording users complained about (those saying otherwise are at least partially mistaken).

The new terms came into effect on January 19 with no noticeable reaction from the community.

Users are the owners of their own photos, and these new Terms clearly state that advertising on Instagram will be similar to Facebook’s sponsored stories. Instagram is not looking to sell any content outside of their app, as some feared. So I’d advise everyone to:

Keep Calm and Instagram On

I hope these tips will give you the last inch of motivation you need to start doing amazing things with Instagram.

Have you found other limitations using Instagram for business? Do you agree with the solutions suggested above?

About the Author: Thibaut Davoult is building the community and content around Nitrogram: the professional platform for social engagement and marketing on Instagram.

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