You know how people will ask you a really good question that you have to stop and think about? That happened to me last week, when one of our clients asked “How do businesses make money on Instagram?” In that moment, I realized I didn’t have a good answer-maybe because I’ve been using Instagram for over a year now and reached the point where I assumed that everyone understands why a business would want to be on Instagram (just like any other social media site).

The short answer that I have: you don’t make any money- at least, not directly.* The purpose of having Instagram for any business is to engage customers or potential customers, to get attention, to remind people that your business exists (or ensure that they don’t forget in the first place).

*Okay, some people I know have sold things straight from posting pictures on Instagram (usually artists). There are always exceptions 🙂

Use hashtags. We’ve talked about hashtags quite a bit in the past, mainly pertaining to Twitter, but the same ideas can be applied to Instagram. Using the right kinds of hashtags when you post a picture can increase your visibility with an audience that would actually be beneficial (instead of the “I will get you 1,000 followers” spammy accounts). Stumped on where to start with hashtags? Don’t worry- you’re definitely not alone. Start with the obvious: the picture itself. From there you can branch out- I’d recommend checking out industry related hashtags, or what similar businesses are using in their posts. Don’t be a straight-up copy-cat, but definitely use the inspiration to get your clever hashtag gears turning.

Links to website. In your little Instagram bio, you can add a link to your website (which, as a business, is usually recommended). The ultimate goal with Instagram marketing is to direct people to your website, so you might as well make it easy to get to. Some places will even link directly to their desired call to action page (i.e. subscribe to our newsletter, online store, blog, etc), so you’re not limited to your homepage. This link can be changed in the future, and many companies will change it during a sale or online contest to make it easy for followers to find.

Inspire people. Some businesses have a product or service that, on it’s own, doesn’t make for compelling imagery. For instance, Bob’s Red Mill  (a business that makes whole grain and gluten free flours, grains and baking mixes) could, to a point, take pictures of their different flours and leave it at that. However, they frequently post pictures of meals and recipes that use their products. Seeing some gooey chocolate muffins sets off that little reward ticker in my brain, and I’m much more likely to go out and buy some coconut flour (plus I have a “begin with the end in mind” approach to all things food).bobsredmill

You can also do quick video clips of your product or service in action. I’ve seen a few fitness brands share workout clips, snippets from a class in action, or promoting gear or other brands that they enjoy.

Be funny. A little sense of humor goes a long way. For instance, awhile ago I saw a company that used #MCM along with a goofy picture of an employee (I’m assuming it was with his permission). A lot of people I follow use industry or business-related memes. No, these aren’t going to make you direct money and aren’t self-promoting, but they help “show your human side” according to Social Media Examiner. I definitely enjoy seeing businesses that enjoy being a bit silly on social media-it makes them seem more approachable, and

Interact. Last but not least, interact with other users on the ‘Gram. This includes following people back, responding to comments if you choose, and encouraging users to tag you in posts related to your business. For example, Bob’s Red Mill invites users to use the hashtag #bobsredmill when sharing their product. It’s kind of genius when you think about it- getting people to share your product via hashtag is basically getting promoted for free. No, you don’t directly make any money, but you’re showing that you’re friendly by engaging with customers, and your business is gaining some attention.

Does it “make sense” for every business to have an Instagram account? Not necessarily. It may be a fun opportunity to try it out, even if you have to get a bit creative thinking of things to post!

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