If you scan technology news headlines, it takes seconds to see that Google+ is the social network currently getting the most buzz. How businesses will use this new service as part of their online marketing strategy is still yet to be seen. On the other hand, Instagram—a free app for taking and sharing photos—is quietly making waves and steadily growing its user base. As of May 2011, over four million individuals and businesses downloaded and installed Instagram on their Apple iOS devices.

Social image sharing and coffee lovers unite

Instagram isn’t just a photo taking and image manipulation app. Its genius is that while giving users those tools, Instagram’s small but hardworking team of four developers also created a community for the app’s users to share their pictures with each other as well as through other social networking websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, and Posterous. When describing it to friends, I tell them Instagram incorporates the followers/following model of Twitter and mixes it with the “art-up” your photos capabilities of Hipsamatic.

Most businesses use Instagram as a place share behind-the-scenes photos. Starbucks does this but they also encourage Instagram users to take photos of their Starbucks drinks and tag them with the #starbucks hashtag for others to see, creating a nearly 40,000 users strong branded group for coffee fans within the larger Instagram community. Staff from Starbucks’ flagship location in Seattle is the primary source for the account’s caffeinated imagery.

Does part of your business marketing plan include reaching out to your clients and giving them behind-the-scenes access to your day-to-day activities? Are you working to build a community around your brand and give your fans a way to share their love of your product? Used strategically, Instagram can support your existing efforts.

Some ideas for implementation:

  • If you have a restaurant, create a hashtag for users to add to their photo captions when they snap pictures of your food so other Instagram users know exactly where to go to get that delicious dish. Consider incentivizing participation by running a contest for best photos in exchange for a free appetizer or small discount.
  • If you have a product line, encourage users to show their purchase in use—whether it’s a new hat, rug, or bumper sticker. Thank customers directly on their photos for their purchases.
  • If you run a hair salon, ask clients if you can take before and after photos to create a virtual portfolio to advertise your services to a wider audience for free in an authentic way.
  • If you operate a music venue, encourage concert attendees to take pictures of flyers promoting upcoming shows around town to build buzz.

Not sure if social networking can help you meet your company or organization’s goals? If you need assistance coming up with ideas, making policies and procedures, and creating guidelines, TBH Creative can help. We keep up with best practices so that we can help you maximize your online marketing potential.