Introducing Instagram (in case you haven’t met)

You may know 90million people actively use it each month, uploading 40million photos each day, and that Facebook bought the website wholesale for a cool $1billion last year. But that’s not the same as understanding the potential business benefits we can reap from the network in question.

Needless to say, with 8,500 likes and 1,000 comments per second, Instagram could well be a goldmine for companies in search of a social media platform with high levels of engagement. As the ever-reliable digital digest Mashable has previously explained: “For brands, it offers another quick, easy way to generate and share visual content with existing fans.”

A common misconception is that this image sharing site is only really useful for companies producing visual products. The likes of Charity:Water and eBay proved this wrong. The former asked fans to capture #love or #hate in a photograph, therefore making the public consider what’s right and wrong with the world, in turn convincing would-be donors there’s a real need to give money. Meanwhile, the latter shared pictures of its staff giving up their free time for a good cause, depicting its in-house culture as caring.

As of 2013 nearly 40% of the Interbrand 100- a list of the most effectively marketed firms in the world- have cottoned on to Instagram’s potential. And the figure is expected to rise, despite recent criticism lauded at the platform after parent company Facebook tried to obtain the rights to sell any snapshot posted to the platform. It didn’t go down very well with everyday account holders, who have forced an about turn on this policy. Now the anger has subsided we’re predicting another big year for this rising social media star, so here are seven key questions, followed by seven simple answers, to help you take those first tentative steps.

What is it?
Instagram is a social media site centred on sharing images. Photos are taken via a mobile camera phone, filters and effects are applied to transform and improve the picture, which is then shared via the network.

Who uses it?
According to question and answer website Quora, as of May 2012 Instagram’s members were 68.2% female, 31.8% male. 18-25 year olds use it most (34.4.%), followed by 26-35 year olds (30.7%), and then under 18s (23.5%).

Can I use it with other platforms?
Yes. Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter are all integrated, so it’s possible to import friends from and post to those communities whilst in Instagram. Additionally, by adding a location to the picture it also allows you to use Foursquare check ins.

Is my brand suitable?
Instagram can be used to promote anything, so long as you’re creative. Initially, it’s vital to gain an understanding as to how your organisation is pictured by the public, then consider how images can be used to support or even alter this.

How easily can people find my pictures?
Like Twitter, Instagram lets users search for any subject with a hashtag. As such, by tagging photos properly anyone interested in a relevant topic can track them down, with well-received images also appearing on the ‘Popular’ feed.

Does the network offer support for companies?
There’s no official business side to Instagram at the moment, but corporate use is not prohibited. To get the most out of it we advise using Statigram, a third party website that provides statistical feedback, a little like Facebook Analytics.

What’s the best way to guarantee engagement?
Like any social network great content is key. Competitions can be useful, so long as they are well conceived and executed. Again, Statigram can help, with its own ‘photocontest toolkit’ making it easy to put together a great Instagram challenge.

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