Instagram. We’ve all heard of it by now, and if you haven’t . . . get out from under that rock, Patrick!

Created by two dudes, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in 2010, Facebook purchased the service for $1 billion in 2012. The image-heavy social media app has thrived for 7 years and has left quite the impact on our society in that short period of time. It has a whopping 600 million total daily active users and around 40 billion photos shared-to-date. The content on Instagram invokes 4.2 billion likes and 95 million photo uploads per day. Holy fuck ton of traffic in one place, Batman! Though Instagram started as a simple platform with some basic functions – posting photos (we’ve all taken full advantage of those filters,) following profiles (and stalking), liking and commenting on photos – the app has made quite a few changes and has greatly increased its functionality since launch.

Instagram has become a critically important social network, and is becoming one of the most effective brand-building tools available today, for every kind of business. Instagram is now a hub where regular people find (and judge) the visual identity of a business. Without a strong presence, companies risk being ignored or forgotten, especially among the next generation of consumers.

To help you reap the benefits of using Instagram for business growth, here are a few tips.

Be creative and show what you do

On Instagram, never underestimate the fact that your most important asset (and downfall) on this social media network is visual content. If your business is service-oriented, focus on showcasing the process behind providing the service. Show your company culture, share your mission with the world, or simply share some tips and how-to’s.

You can upload photos, short videos (similar to gifs) and videos up to one minute in length. The newest addition, Instagram Stories, is a video collage that consists of images and videos that can be edited with text, colour and the sort. Instagram Stories is good for business: you, as the uploader, can save the live video and post it later – it’s a good way to recycle great content. Also, mentioning users who tune in or comment on your story is a good way to boost engagement while also showing that you care.

Take pride in your Profile!

Since the only clickable link is in your Bio section (right under your name), make a habit of updating it often. A mistake that most brands make is by using it only to link to their website, but it could be used for so much more. Think of it as prime real estate for driving event registrations, app downloads – whatever information your business wants to share! Instagram has also launched their Instagram Business Profiles and paid advertising. The Business profile adds a phone number plus additional contact methods to your bio and gives you access to extensive analytics data about your profile and engagement rates.

Collaborate and Shout-Out!

Another technique involves using ‘shout-outs’. An unpaid shout-out is when you partner with another brand that has roughly the same number of followers as you, to promote each other to your audiences and benefit from increased exposure.

The paid shout-out is for those with a bigger budget. This involves paying a brand (or influencer) with a much larger following to promote your product or service. Instagram has become one of the strongest social media channels for highlighting collaborators and sharing customer success stories, so this can be a fantastic way to gain a large number of new followers quickly. There are also a number of bloggers and photographers who work in a more collaborative format, instead of requiring a contract or formal payment, they simply want to keep a free sample or full-sized version of your product in exchange for a mention on their page.

Build Anticipation

Keeping your customers interested is an essential part of any effective marketing campaign. Reward your loyal followers with exclusive content. Let them be the first to know about new products, services or events. Create teaser photos that satisfy curiosity, build anticipation for your new releases, office openings or stores. This kind of preview makes your Instagram followers feel special and keeps them coming back for more insider information.

Expand your reach with #hashtags

Use hashtags to expand your reach! These can be campaign specific, or general – but it is also important that they are relevant. Be sure to also set up your main company hashtag (#yourbrandname), and use it sparingly across Instagram (Twitter is good too). This makes it easier for people to find content related to you as well as your main account. In addition to visibility, this gives your brand a collection of tagged images that you and your audience can identify you by and continue to share your content.

The maximum amount of hashtags that you can add is 30 per Instagram post, the suggested number of tags to use varies greatly depending on your industry. That being said, you want every post to perform as well as possible, making the usage of 30 well-curated hashtags a desirable strategy. Once you’ve outlined the broad hashtags, create your own, campaign specific hashtags to increase the discoverability and maintenance of your content. For example, try adding hashtags like #instagood (used is 300 million posts), or #tbt (Throwback Thursday), and don’t forget about industry specific ones. If you are in IT, the hashtag #IT or #tech will do just fine. We also suggest applying your hashtags to the first comment as opposed to in the caption of your post. This way, your tags are hidden instead of disrupting the visual nature of your formal post.

Analyze Your Success And Build On It

Without taking a step back and analyzing what worked and didn’t, marketing becomes a guessing game. You can read all the articles in the world about the best practices and publishing times, but you will only find out what works for your business through testing and measuring results.

Social media management tools can definitely help, though. You can use them not only to schedule your campaigns in advance, but also use social media analytics to measure their success. Make sure to regularly measure your follower count, engagement and clicks, all to refine and improve your Instagram strategy. These tips will not only improve your channels performance, but also hopefully attract new customers.