Connect with Your Customers on Instagram

Posted by Erika Stevens on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 @ 10:39 AM

I have a confession to make.  Instagram is by far my favorite social network.  For those who don’t know, Instagram is a photo and (recently added) video sharing app and website.  Users upload photos, can apply filters if they would like and post for their followers.  Instagram has been around since 2010 and gained a lot of popularity when it was acquired by Facebook in April 2012. 


In December of 2012 there was a panic over a change in their terms of use that apparently allowed them to use any pictures without permission.  Many users quickly deleted their accounts and complained, which caused Instagram to apologize and change the terms.  Even with the panicked deletes, in February 2013 Instagram had over 100 million active users.   

Personally I started using Instagram to post photos of my food and daily life that I was worried would annoy people on Facebook.  For example I wanted to document last night’s State Fair trip but not everyone wants to see a bunch of pictures of fair food. 

Fair Food I know.  It's shocking that anyone wouldn't want
to see pictures of my parents eating specialty corndogs.

Once I started using Instagram I quickly realized that, much like Twitter, following people I don’t know personally is totally normal.  I now follow a small number of family and friends and a large number of people I find visually inspiring from random bloggers to Martha Stewart to XO Jane.

Until I came across this article my marketing brain hadn’t put together how effectively Instagram can be used by businesses to connect with their customers and build customer loyalty.  The article talks about how a three location restaurant in California called Bagels & Brew grew their followers and customer loyalty with an Instagram photo contest.  Much like other visual social media sites (Pinterest) customers talk about businesses and those businesses should think about how they can get involved.  It doesn’t have to be grueling marketing planning either, these sites are supposed to be fun and can allow businesses to connect with customers and build loyalty in unique ways.

          Instagram Tip # 1 - Use Hashtags 

Again like Twitter, users can add hashtags to the photos they upload on Instagram.  There are a variety of ways to use hashtags.  Some are hashtags being used by the whole community like #tbt (throwback Thursday), others a place like #paris and some are just made used to be funny #awesome. 

Because users can search for these hashtags or click on them to see other pictures with that same hashtag it can be a way that your customers are talking about you without you even knowing.  Some businesses or restaurants come up with a hashtag and encourage users to post photos with that tag.  For their contest Bagels & Brew asked users to post photos with #bagelsandbrew. 

          Instagram Tip # 2 - Use Location

Instagram enables users to tag their location in pictures by using Foursquare’s location services.  That means all of those food pictures people are taking of your restaurant could be tagged to your location.  Clicking on a location in Instagram shows all of the pictures taken there that users have added a location to.  When a customer loves your business and wants to show a visual of it they are marketing for you by posting a picture.  

         Instagram Tip #3 - Have a Business Account

Businesses can create an Instagram and start connecting with their customers by posting pictures of their own products and starting conversations.  Depending on your business you could be surprised at how many followers you attract.  Bagels & Brew has 1,000 followers which is great for a three location family run restaurant.  A huge company like Starbucks has 1.5 million.  Businesses can get involved with hashtags like #tbt to showcase their business history and connect with customers on a different level then just business.  You could also show behind the scenes views or photos that show personalty like pets.  

Regardless of business size Instagram can be a great place for businesses to connect with their customers.  At the very least search for hashtags about your business and see what customers are saying.  If your customers aren’t talking about you yet, encourage them to!  If you have names collect from your rewards program members or for email marketing you can send out a message announcing an Instagram contest or ask them to follow you.  Chances are your loyal customers will be excited to connect with you in a different way. 

A lot of the businesses I work with get overwhelmed by all of the options when it comes to social media.  I think one of the best things you can do is remember that it is supposed to be fun and just give it a try.  See if your business can foster customer loyalty by connecting and engaging beyond just marketing.   

Tags: Loyalty Marketing, Customer Experience, Business/Branding