Take a look: that blue glow you see on the faces around you is likely the reflection of an Instagram account beaming off a phone. These days, everyone’s doing it—from the family dog (#dogsofinsta) to your grandma (#grandma). Yet Instagram is so much more than a way check out everyone’s pasta dinners, tropical vacations or new relationships. The social platform has become the driving force behind many startups and established businesses—almost every company has its own account.

Instagram logo
Readily accessible to anyone with a phone or computer, an attractive Instagram account has been proven to help brands spread like wildfire among prospective customers.

Profound simplicity and impactful visual representation has pushed Instagram to the forefront of effective marketing tools. In the olden days (like three years ago), individuals and businesses relied primarily on descriptive advertisements to show off their services.

But why describe a service or product when you can show it? Enter Instagram.

It’s all about the insta-ration

The list of individuals and startups that have made their Instagram Insta-awesome is lengthy, but if you’re looking to get inspired, here are some of my top picks:

Quirky Campers offers campervan rentals across the UK for people looking to enjoy a striking view from their living room anywhere across the country. Their stunning use of powerful and creative photography has given them a following of more than 14k and definitely makes them stand out above their competitors.

quirkycampers Instagram
Powerful photography goes a long way in marketing yourself and your product. Via quirkycampers Instagram.

Amsterdam-based Urban Art Now specializes in the organization of festivals, exhibitions and social events at a local, European and national level.

Their Instagram features lots of uniquely creative images of street art. Looking through their page it’s easy to get lost in time, as image after image is a truly awesome display. At more than 3,500 followers and growing, I am clearly not the only one who marvels at their pictures.

 

urbanartnow Instagram
Walking the tightrope. Unique pictures can really reel in a crowd. Via urbanartnow Instagram.

 

Anderson .Paak Instagram
Unique Instagram layouts will help distinguish you from others. Via Anderson .Paak Instagram.

Anderson Paak or “Cheeky Andy” is an American singer with an Instagram page that sets him apart from other performers. Aside from his quirky and unique username, Andy distinguishes himself with the layout of his page and the creative way he places videos and images together. He stitches individual images together to form a larger image, which continues as you scroll through his page.

The character of his Instagram reflects who he is as an artist and the awesomeness of his page has catapulted him to 420k followers!

Start Insta-marketing today

The competition for a killer Instagram can be fierce, but with the right setup and delivery, you’re only a few steps away from creating your own Insta-awesome page!

Add some innovative thinking to the tips below and you will be well on your way to creating an unforgettable gram.

1. Start with a killer username

A catchy and defining Instagram handle will get you started on the right foot.

Try to find a username that defines who you are and what you do, and connects to your followers through its originality.

Try to avoid generic usernames like JohnSmithrealestate123 or Janeblogservices88—these usernames do not define a personal brand or business and will leave potential clients and visitors confused about who you are.

Mariam Ezzeddine Instagram
Mariam Ezzeddine’s Instagram handle is relative to her personality and brand, and easily establishes her apart from the competition. Via Mariam Ezzeddine Instagram.

When selecting your handle it is important to decide whether you want to represent yourself as a personality or a brand. For example, if your personality is what you want to highlight, consider a creative way to work your name in there. An awesome example of a great username is cooking expert Marriam Ezzeddine. Her Instagram handle “@cookinwithmima” contains her nickname and brand, setting her apart from other Instagram accounts in the same field.

If your selected username is taken, try some of these ideas to give it a unique makeover:

  • Use geography—try adding your location to your name like JSmithhouses_Dallas.
  • Add a niche—relate directly to your market with a specific focus, i.e. JSmith_luxuryrealty.
  • Include a domain (if you have one)—if you have a personal website  try including it in your handle like JSmith.dreamhomes.
  • Try a brand prefix—start your handle with your brand, i.e. DreambigwithSmith or WeareJohnSmithrealty.

Apps like namechk and KnowEm are also excellent tools for figuring out whether an Instagram username has already been taken.

2. Become a hashtag hustler

It’s essential to know your audience. For example, if you are working within residential real estate, you do not want to create posts relating to commercial real estate. Mixing up a niche creates confusion and will quickly have users turning elsewhere.

When you know your niche, you can narrow the focus of your posts to appeal to that specific audience.

Hashtagging your posts is a great way to highlight your niche and create a vacuum for potential followers that will funnel them towards your Instagram page.

For those of you who don’t know, hashtagging is a method of creating a “button” that takes Instagram users to relevant posts. If users tap on a hashtag, they will be taken to a page that displays photos and videos that people have uploaded and displayed with the same tag.

Including hashtags with your posts is a great way to increase your exposure across Instagram because it will make your posts visible to users outside of your current followers.

While you can create your own clever hashtags that reflect your personality or brand, the use of popular trending hashtags is a dependable tool for bringing potential followers to your page.

You can find tons of great popular hashtags online, but here are a few examples you can use to lure in potential followers.

  • #Instagood
  • #photooftheday
  • #Instadaily
  • #Instalike
  • #Instacool
  • #Bestoftheday
  • And don’t forget #dogsofinsta and #grannies

Including a good number of hashtags is a great way to create more exposure as more hashtags means more hits, and more hits means more followers! However, keep in mind that you don’t want to overwhelm the user, so keep your tags relevant and try not to drown people with redundant tags.

Finally, treat your followers like family! Stay current with your followers’ feeds, and be sure to comment on posts you find interesting. Not only does this increase your exposure, it also shows you care about your followers, which goes a long way in establishing a rapport with your admirers.

Dalloway Chocolate Instagram
Dalloway Chocolate uses relevant hashtags to increase its exposure across Instagram. Via Dalloway Chocolate Instagram.

3. Become a photography Jedi

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, where clever words go a long way, Instagram is all about image.

Instagram has become the effective marketing tool it is today due to its profound ability to showcase amazing images of just about anything you can imagine.

The competition for amazing pictures is real, but if you can include gorgeous photography and images in your posts, your page will have an impact.

Additional reading: how to select images to best represent your brand >>
Lindt chocolate Instagram
Lindt chocolate uses impressive focus and lighting to really make their photos hit home. Via Lindt chocolate Instagram.

Avoid boring and generic images that are already all over the internet. You want to stand out, not blend in, and the quickest way to do that is to ensure originality and innovation in your pictures.

Here are some simple ways to create notable images:

  • Invest some time in learning the art of photography. If you are serious about revving up your marketing game through Instagram, it is a great idea to learn what makes an excellent photo excellent. Take a look at the photography from other Instagram accounts with stellar imagery (we’re partial to the accounts below). The composition, lighting, and innovation behind the pictures speaks volumes to the representation of the brand. Study the Instagram feeds of people and brands you admire and aim to create a similarly impressive photo feed. It’s also important to note the strong level of consistency among images in a feed. You want to create a cohesive experience with your photos and should look to avoid dramatic changes in composition and color.
  • Ensure your photos are relevant to your business. If your niche is landscape photography, be sure to include photos of landscapes and not photos of something irrelevant such as selfies (unless there’s a breathtaking landscape in the background). You don’t want to confuse your followers and take them off in another direction.
Yeti Instagram
Yeti is impressive in its use of unique photography. Via Yeti Instagram.
  • Be inventive with your photography. Think of creative ways to show off your photos. As we have already seen, Quirky Campers uses stunning imagery to promote its campervans. And beyond beautiful landscapes, Lindt chocolate and outdoor brand Yeti do a great job with lighting and creative image ideas.
  • Shoot square photos. New cameras and even most smartphones have the option to take pictures in a square setting. Shooting in squares allows you to save time on cropping images and ensures essential elements of the photograph won’t be lost later.
  • Use applications to help bring the best out of your images. Apps like PicStitch and Snapseed help you bring your images to life and assist in creating the perfect image layout for your page.
Pic Stitch App
PicStitch allows you to break your images up to create one image. This can be a very helpful tool in displaying your content in a unique way. Via Pic Stitch App.
  • Don’t forget Instagram stories! Instagram now features Instagram stories, a fun video addition to your photo feed.

4. Get down with geotags

Did you take an awesome photo in an awesome location and now want to share your whereabouts with your followers?

This is where geotagging comes in. Geotagging allows you to tag your posts with your current location. All you need to do is change the permissions on your phone and Instagram will record your location and display it with each of your posts. If geotagging is activated, you will have the option to choose the location of your post. When you “Name this Location,” a list of local businesses, events, locations, and attractions will appear. You can then select the option that represents where you are and that location will appear in your post.

Awesome, right? This means that users who click on on your geotag location will see all the other posts that people are uploading to that geotag. This can be of great benefit to your brand because it will allow you to showcase your products or services to a wider audience.

Starbucks uses geotagging within its Instagram to create a buzz around specific locations across the US. If you are looking to market your personal business, you can do the same. Reach out to customers and engage them with geotagged pictures relevant to your business.

Geotagging also means you can stay connected with your followers across the globe. If you are traveling and want to engage followers in a certain location, you can use geotags on your posts to appeal to that specific audience. This will enable you to be relevant with a larger audience of people and more exposure means more business!

5. Create a contest

Competition on Instagram
Hosting a competition is a great way to gain new followers and increase your exposure. Via Instagram.

Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to win free stuff?! And who doesn’t enjoy some healthy competition? Competition is a great way to reel in more followers.

You don’t have to run Instagram competitions every day, but occasionally running a contest can be a great way to market a particular product or expand to a wider audience.

Try some of these easy-to-run contests and giveaways:

  • Like-to-win contests: the concept of this contest is very simple. Followers simply like a post and they will be entered into a draw to win something. This is a great way to gain new followers as they will need to follow you to be entered into the competition.
  • Hashtag content contests: these contests require you to create a relevant hashtag and have followers share a photo or video using that hashtag. This type of contest will greatly increase your exposure as participants who post will include entries in their feeds, which will then be seen by their followers.
  • Photo contests: these contests can be great if you are trying to market a particular product or item. Participants post an image of themselves with your product or something relevant to your brand. The best post is the winner.

Before you create a contest be sure to define your target market to ensure that you are marketing towards the right audience. Also, have a clear prize ready to give away as well as a reliabe method of determining the winner.

Stand out from the crowd

Following the tips above will help you capitalize on one of the most powerful marketing tools out there today.

Instagram is the ideal platform for innovation, creativity, inspiration and authenticity.

Go get that ‘gram!

Do you have more awesome ideas for getting ahead on Instagram? We would love to hear about them in the comments.

This article was written by Chris Paish.

Chris is an Assistant Head Tennis Professional at Woodbridge Tennis Club in Irvine, CA. In his spare time, he enjoys playing soccer and golf, and loves hiking and camping with his wife and two dogs.