Instagram is a fantastic marketing platform for businesses. Larger brands like Starbucks, Nike and Macy's have long made extensive use of the social media site. Though shoppers are not able to make online payments from the app, Instagram is a great tool to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

How e-commerce businesses can make the best of Instagram
Instagram can be used less as an image gallery for your corporate logo and more to show scenes that artfully depict branding. This is the chance to make consumers see how your product would fit into their lives. For instance, a line of athletic wear should avoid text-heavy images and instead show Olympic-sized swimming pools, flexible yogis and runners in action. Such images are inspirational and aspirational, and observers will buy the brand in order to acquire the portrayed lifestyle.

Practical Ecommerce suggested creating independent campaigns that take advantage of Instagram's setup. The square image dimension restrictions are unique to the site, and photographers and marketers can use this layout in creative ways. Go beyond copying and pasting images from Facebook and Twitter; create something unique and give users a reason to follow your brand on Instagram in addition to your other profiles. Also, Instagram is all about pictures, so avoid lengthy image descriptions. A brief sentence or a few hashtags will suffice. This does not mean be brief in the comments section, however. Engage users by responding to their comments where appropriate and thoroughly answering their questions. If you plan to post videos, avoid making it look too much like a commercial. Instagram videos can be no more than 15 seconds, so make the best use of the time allotted.

Linking Instagram users to your online store
Unfortunately, Instagram does not convert URLs within posts into hyperlinks – it only does so for URLs in profiles. This makes it more cumbersome for a young shopper, debit card at the ready, to complete a transaction. There are, however, a few tricks to get around this setback.

Practical Ecommerce pointed to how the online clothing retailer NastyGal uses shortened links for users to copy and paste into their browsers. It's not the most efficient method, especially for mobile users, but it does put the image and product page together.

Other storesuse a service called Like2Buy, Econsultancy said. E-commerce companies sign up for the service and link their corresponding pages in their Instagram profiles. Users click on the link and are taken to a website showcasing all of the brand's Instagram photos. Clicking on a photo then takes users to a page where they can purchase the featured item.

Of course, businesses can simply put their own website in the profile instead. This adds an extra step or two for shopping consumers, but it puts your online store within their reach.

Increase engagement with hashtag campaigns and follower pictures
Create a hashtag that relates to your brand or a current promotion, and encourage followers to use it. Hashtags are one of the most efficient methods of viral marketing, and encouraging user participation increases excitement and spreads awareness among their followers. Encourage shoppers to tag themselves enjoying your product or write a brief description of why they want to buy it.

Kissmetrics suggested that instead of leaving the images on Instagram and forcing users to search for them, companies collect the pictures and display them in a Facebook album or other singular location for everyone to view. Businesses can take the idea a step further by identifying items in the fan pictures and linking the product page from the image within the collection. They can also request permission to put the image itself directly on the product page, allowing future shoppers to see how the item looks in a real-world environment.

While the original methods of using models and stand-alone images are good at showing the product, customer images are relatable and provide more variety. People will more easily identify with the product, imagining it on themselves or in their homes. Using customer photos, according to Kissmetrics, increased conversions for some brands up to 30 percent.

If you plan to use consumer-provided images on your site, make sure your audience is properly informed. This way, they know there is a possibility their photo will be seen outside of Instagram and are not caught unaware. This also ensures the only photos associated with the hashtag are ones participants are comfortable having broadcast in other online locations.

Kissmetrics also stressed the importance of acting in accordance with Instagram's terms of service. In order to protect its users, the site prohibits saving photos and uploading them to a separate site. Any images must be linked directly from Instagram.

Instagram is a powerful tool e-commerce companies should make the best of. Although the site is not set up for electronic payments, using it effectively for marketing purposes increases brand awareness and excites consumers. By using social media and providing a variety of payment solutions, businesses ensure they reach the widest variety of shoppers

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