You already know this, but it bears repetition: Your brand should be on Instagram. And it's not too late to get started -- as long as you know what you're doing. It's embarrassing to watch brands make rookie mistakes on Instagram. Like any social network, Instagram comes with a learning process. So as you and your brand learn the ropes, here's a guide to help you along your way. And if you're already committing any of these gaffes, please cut it out immediately and help make Instagram a better place. Here are seven of the most important no-nos of Instagram.
Advertising in other people's comments
Self-promotion is tricky. After all, promoting your brand is the entire reason you're on Instagram in the first place. Right? Well, I'm afraid to report that like most social networks, Instagram is just a bit more complicated than that. You need to invest the time and effort to cultivate an audience, which is accomplished by building goodwill in the community. One of the fastest way to piss off a bunch of Instagram users (and lose followers) is to leave a totally irrelevant and annoying comment like "Want to earn BIG $$$ with no work? RIGHT now??" on somebody else's post.
Posting inconsistent content
The most popular Instagram posts, for the most part, are the ones with clear messages. "Behind the scenes with your favorite celebrity" is probably the most popular. But many accounts have found great success by honing their message down to one that's immediately understandable and recognizable. An account that posts only photos of weird-looking pumpkins is a lot easier to understand and share with your friends than one that posts random snapshots throughout the day. Clear messaging on a channel by channel basis is something that your brand should be practicing anyway.
Begging for likes or follows
Begging actually works for certain objectives under certain conditions. Let's say you are an agency charged with building an Instagram account and your only metric for success is total followers. This method will probably work to achieve that goal. But keep in mind that you're going to seriously annoy a lot of people along the way. So if it's worth doing overall damage to how your brand is perceived on Instagram, go for it. But the quality of your eventual audience will be degraded because it will be populated by users who don't seem to mind shameless begging for likes or follows. So be aware that most people on Instagram really don't like it when users post "Yo, dude! Follow me for awesome pics!!" in the comments section. It's annoying because it's irrelevant clutter and adds nothing to the conversation.
Instagram is a social network, so if you're not being social you're kind of missing the point. When people post comments on one of your posts, that means they're speaking to you. So respond like the polite and interesting person that you are. And since you're speaking on behalf of your brand, you can judiciously bring the brand into the conversation when relevant and interesting.
Not using hashtags
Hashtags form the backbone of Instagram. They are the method by which content is organized and discovered. But hashtags can definitely be awkward to use at first. It might feel silly to tag every fifth word in your caption. But if every one of those tags nestle your post neatly into a content category, then it was the right thing to do. So if you're not tagging your posts, it's time to start. A good place to begin familiarizing yourself with the practice of hashtagging is to Google the most popular current tags. Then spend some time on Instagram itself clicking through different tags. Take notice of how popular accounts use them and try to follow suit where appropriate.
Posting other people's images without credit
This one is pretty obvious, but it still happens all the time. However, I guess if you're already posting uncredited work, you probably don't care much about the advice found in this article. Instagram doesn't have any built-in mechanism for re-sharing content. So users will often turn to third-party apps that watermark and otherwise denote content as reposted. Responsible users will also tag the original creator in the post's caption. Reposting is allowed and usually encouraged by users since it helps their content find a wider audience. But simply reusing other people's photos without credit is creepy and uncool. You'll be exposed as an image thief eventually, and the fallout will come in the form of mass unfollows.
New followers can be purchased pretty cheap. There are some circumstances when buying followers might actually make sense. Perhaps you're launching a new Instagram account that needs to looks legitimate in very short order. But the quality of those purchased followers will be terrible. They won't care about your content. They won't like or comment on your posts in any meaningful way. As a long-term play, buying followers doesn't make any sense. Because the whole point of bringing your brand to Instagram is to build a rapport with a new audience. Purchasing followers will not help establish anything except a larger number on your profile page.
"Crow sitting on a gravestone in moonlight" image via Shutterstock.