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Why Instagram is the Online Retailer’s Social Network of Choice

Written by Tom Ewer on July 8, 2014 Blog, Sell Online.

When entering into the world of e-commerce – retail, specifically – it might come as a surprise just how important social media really is.

I mean, you probably understand that you need to have a presence on the major sites like Facebook and Twitter, but did you know that recent research shows that Instagram is a serious engagement booster for online brands? I’m talking a 25% boost here, and that’s definitely not something to sneeze at.

Pinterest is important, too, don’t get me wrong. Especially when dealing in tangible, visually-oriented products. But Instagram is a social tidal wave and it would behoove you to set sail, like, yesterday.

What follows are some helpful tips for getting started with Instagram and how to make sure every single post is as engaging as it can possibly be.

Take Great Photos

No, this doesn’t mean you need to have a super expensive camera. But what it does mean is that you need to have some basic understanding of photo composition. Sure, everyone is an amateur photographer these days with the number of camera phones out there. And yes, everyone will occasionally snap a high-quality pic – unintentionally, even. But if you’re going to use Instagram as a part of your social strategy, then you can’t leave such an important component up to chance.

Here are a few great resources to learn the basics to taking clear, in-focus, and artistic photos using your camera phone:

Online Retail InstagramTake the Right Photos

You know that saying, “Variety is the spice of life?” Yeah, that definitely applies to the kinds of images you share on social media, too. And while you might be able to get away with some repetitive imagery on Facebook on occasion, it’s going to be way too obvious on a site like Instagram where it’s all images, all the time.

So what makes for the “right” photo? Photos of your products are a good place to start. If you sell motorcycle parts, you’ll definitely want to share images of the same. Then photos of people using your products. Behind-the-scenes style images of staff hard at work – or not. People like to get a glimpse at the real people behind a brand so don’t be afraid to let your proverbial hair down once in a while and share photos of your crew being silly or relaxed.

A few other ideas to consider as photo subjects:

  • Company pets
  • Your morning cup of coffee
  • Previews of a site redesign
  • Teaser pics of upcoming products
  • Your products spotted “in the wild” – that is, someplace other than online

Set the Right Filters

Yes, there is apparently a science to filter selection on Instagram. Would’ve thunk it? That is, not every filter nets the same response. According to a list compiled by Populagram, the top five filters in use currently on Instagram include Normal, Valencia, X-Proll, Earlybird, and Amaro.

That’s all fine and well, but what does this have to do with engagement? I’m so glad you asked! According to a study conducted by TrackMaven and cited by Shopify, three particular filters drove more user interaction – likes and comments – than any other. These filters were Mayfair, Normal, and Inkwell. Your mileage may vary, of course, Shopify recommends using Iconosquare to track how your own Instagram account is fairing so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

Always Use Hashtags

Yes, Instagram employs the hashtag much the same way as Twitter does. And it’s quite possibly even more important that you use hashtags on Instagram. Why? It’s very difficult to gain new followers otherwise. Hashtags on Instagram are how people find photos of specific subjects they’re interested in. They’re also how people find new and interesting people to follow. And hopefully, that’s you!

What constitutes a good hashtag? There’s many different answers to that question but what I’ve found to be most helpful is to opt for relevancy above all else. Don’t be one of those people who adds twenty hashtags to every photo they post. It makes the post unattractive, for starters, and breeds an air of inauthenticity. Because your photo really is about twenty different things, right? Yeah, not so much.

That being said, the best hashtags are simultaneously relevant and popular. They ensure your posts are viewable by as many people as possible and still reflect your brand in the truest sense. See if you can’t find a currently popular hashtag on the top 100 hashtags listed by Websta.

Then come up with your own hashtags that directly reflect your brand. Sephora does an excellent job of this:

Sephora on Instagram

Over time, these will become your tags that are identifiable with your products only. Think in industry terms, too. What terms are most relevant to your industry? What are people most likely to search for? Answering these questions can help you to hone in on what works.

Now, it might take some time to get to that point, but it will be well worth the effort when you’re drowning in new followers!

Vary (and Leverage) Your Strategy

It all comes to that variety thing we talked about earlier. Only this time, I’m referring to the variety in your social media strategy, not just in the individual photos you share on Instagram. But how can you accomplish this?

Sometimes, to make the most out of Instagram, you need to think outside of the photo-sharing app itself. You have the option to connect your other social accounts to Instagram and I highly recommend that you share your photos automatically across your other networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. This will save you time from having to do it manually and it presents two unique advantages:

  • Your photos are seen by a wider audience
  • You stand the chance of gaining Instagram followers from your other social networks.

Another thing you need to think about is how you can combine your approach to Instagram with how you tackle Pinterest. If you’re in online retail, it’s highly recommended that you have a presence on both sites, so how can you leverage those Instagram photos to your advantage?

Well, you could create a special board on Pinterest for sharing your Instagram photos. Or, you could offer the same photos without the Instagram filters as standard product photography. You can even find inspiring quotes or imagery on Pinterest and share them on your Instagram account – with attribution, of course.

This sort of cross-platform strategy is a fact of life for social media, across the board. But when dealing with the image-specific sites, you need to be focused. Each image you share reflects your brand directly. Make sure they’re suitable.


Instagram is gaining new users every single day and is an excellent place to share photos if you’re in the online retail biz. Not only does it give your brand an excellent platform on which to stand, it gives your customers a chance to see you and your company in a new light – if you let them, that is. And I really think you should let customers in at least a little to see what you’re all about.

After all, authenticity is what can make or break a social media campaign. And when photography is the medium through which you’re conveying that authenticity, you have to pay extra attention to how you present yourself. Doing well here could feasibly rocket your brand to new heights.

Are you making the most out of Instagram? If so, I’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Image sources: VinothChandar, DieselDemon


2 Responses

  1. Caleb
    July 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    It is all about the photos and visual promotion of your product. How you visually market your product can directly effect the success that product will have. Consumers are very fast paced, and if something does not catch their eye they will continue without skipping a beat.

  2. Abel Verhaeghe
    August 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    What you have to say here was indeed interesting. It has certainly given me some interesting information to consider. I’m also interested in reading what others have to say on the subject matter and will return to look soon.