With over 100 million users and four billion images, Instagram is an image-based social media platform that allows people to instantly communicate through images. It’s also another way for businesses to reach a wider audience in a creative way that’s both fast and effective.

Creative Ways Brands Use Instagram to Engage Customers

Here are a few examples of ways brands are using Instagram to engage customers and how you can incorporate it as part of your social media marketing strategy.

Show the human side of your brand

When you share authentic images of what you do, how you do it and the people who make it happen, you are creating a sense of transparency between you and your intended audience. You’re essentially telling a story about your brand through images that build genuine connections with your followers.

There’s an opportunity to promote anything from products and services to conferences and office events, as long as it’s done in a way that’s engaging and meaningful. Introducing your employees through spotlights or featuring different departments also helps put a human face to the brand. Don’t be afraid to be artistic too. Enhancing photos with different effects can provide variety and flair.

Give followers a behind-the-scenes look

Instagram should not just be an online catalog for your products. Followers want to feel a connection to your business. Showing behind-the-scenes images, like building a Southwest Airlines plane, are a great way to help followers feel more engaged because it isn’t something they would see on traditional media. Even American Express, a financial company, uses Instagram to give its 27,000+ followers an exclusive look at AmEx-sponsored events like concerts or fashion shows.

Southwest Instagram

Use hashtags to create conversation and engagement

A way to engage with Instagram users is through hashtags—keywords meant to not only make searching for popular topics quick and easy, but also reach a wider audience. You can use them to join conversations around a certain subject or start your own trend.

According to a recent study by RadiumOne, 75 percent of people on social media use hashtags. Of that percentage, 34 percent use hashtags to follow or search brands of personal interest.  Use promotion- or event-specific hashtags so users can follow specific campaigns. You can also create your own company hashtag. By doing this, if your followers share your photo on Facebook or Twitter, it can create a viral event if their friends share the photo and your company name is still attached.

Encourage user-generated content

Instagram users are vital in sharing your brand story through their social media influence. Consumers trust word-of-mouth content from their peers more than any other informational medium. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.

Many brands, like Starbucks, let’s its followers primarily control the content. By having a #starbucks hashtag, fans can submit images with the hashtag and feel like they are a part of the brand, increasing engagement. Some clothing companies, like Free People, turn their customers into models by asking them to post images of themselves in the company’s clothing with a specific hashtag.

Reward your loyal followers

It’s important to reward followers for any interaction or influence. For some brands, this can be done through promotional codes, and for others, it may be through photo contests themed around your specific product or service. Dunkin Donuts did a holiday contest where followers could share a picture of themselves in festive holiday attire for a chance to win $100 gift card. You can also reward loyal followers by letting them be the first to know about new products or events. Regardless, the key is to always keep people engaged enough to generate more content around your brand.

Dunkin Donuts Instagram

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Instagram delivers a unique, personal experience with a brand in real time. And it might be a worthy addition to your social media mix if your brand or organization can be translated into visually-stimulating content with an audience willing to interact.