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Instagram has half a billion users, but what does this mean for businesses?

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There are now 2.3bn active social media users across the world, with 176m joining in the last year, and one million users joining each day.

Social media platforms are looking to optimise these opportunities for brands. As a result, platforms are increasing their focus on rich new features aimed at realising commercial benefit.

Instagram, the photo sharing app, recently announced it had reached a staggering half a billion active users with 300 million logging in at least once a day. It is now the fastest growing social media app of all time, meaning those businesses yet to sign up could be missing out.

When Instagram started, for many users it was a safe haven away from the advertising found on other platforms. However, after Facebook’s takeover, Instagram rolled out its ad functionality worldwide. In May, Instagram announced the launch of both dynamic ads and video to its carousel offering.

Getting the best from Instagram

There are three main ways businesses can use Instagram to reach their audiences. The first is advertising that will appear amongst the photos of their homepage. Also, brands can have own accounts, where images relevant to their customers or their business is posted. The third way is sponsored content, and this option uses celebrities or social media influencers, to post pictures of themselves using or wearing their products and services.

Instagram is a great way to reach a younger audience and should be part of any strategy to reach people on their smartphones. As Instagram is a place where users post pictures and videos about themselves and what they see, brands should use this to their advantage by encouraging consumers to engage them through entertaining content and competitions.

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Retail brands and Instagram

Not surprisingly, given Instagram is image-based, retail brands have thrived on the platform. Topman and Harrods are two British brands that have worked hard on their Instagram activity.

Topman, like most retailers on Instagram, posts pictures of products on models and celebrities and in-store displays. However, unlike others, Topman is particularly good at using its account to drive traffic either to stores or online through announcing flash sales and promotions, which converts the following into direct sales. As a result, Topman has created a loyal following glued to its feeds waiting for the next announcement.

Harrods on the other hand, aims to give its 350,000 followers a backstage pass to the world of high fashion. So instead of just posting products, it is posting sneak peaks into things such as the latest shipment arrivals or catwalk events. This builds the brand as more than just a shop, it develops a sense what the Harrods brand is and does as a retailer.

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Growing acceptance of businesses on social media

Social media can be a tough nut to crack for certain industries, especially the less glamorous brands. Social media has been compared to a drinks party with friends, where people want to talk between themselves about topics that interest them.

The last thing many people want on social media is a brand coming to the edge of the party and shouting about what it does. This party guest would swiftly be asked to leave, or in social media terms – unfollowed. Brands need to avoid this at all costs. Having said this, there is a gradual change in mindset being seen, with consumers becoming increasingly more open to brands that engage with them via social media.

Businesses need to remember that they are reaching out to consumers on a social media platform. Brands should aim to not only focus on finding their audiences and engaging with them, but on doing so authentically. Getting it wrong on social media can often have huge consequences, as the social media generation are only too happy to highlight and share any mistakes with their friends and wider following.

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What does the future look like for businesses and social media?

Instagram is not a dominant platform – yet. Facebook is still very much in the mix for any brands that wants to builds a presence on social media. Facebook has just introduced the ChatBot capability, which will allow businesses to deliver automated customer support to followers. This means Facebook will soon be the most complete marketing platform for brands to use in the social environment.

However, with the rising popularity of sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, it seems likely that imagery and video content will become increasingly important in digital strategies. Meaning, businesses will need to become more visual to help build their brand. Research by PwC suggests that digital video advertising on social networks is set to grow by nearly 25 per cent every year for next five years.

It seems unlikely that customers old or young will stop sharing information via social media anytime soon; businesses need consider if and how they wish to get involved in this movement. As video continues to dominate social media on platforms, brands will need to consider their online strategy carefully and regularly to make sure they don’t get left behind.

Emmanuel Arendarczyk, MD of UK and France at NetBooster, an independent European agency in digital performance marketing

When Instagram reached its fifth birthday, we looked at how the app is the epitome of line-of-sight marketing for the digital age.

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