So you run your own business.

You know that a strong digital presence is pretty essential these days (if you like having customers, that is). You probably have a nicely-designed website. You probably have a Facebook page that you post on at least semi-regularly. Yet you also probably feel like you could, or should, be doing more.

What else is there? How can you set yourself apart from thousands of competitors who are also doing those same basic things?

If you haven’t already, it’s time to graduate to the next level of social media savviness by joining the party on photo-sharing app Instagram.

Skeptical? I was too. A year ago, I viewed Instagram as unnecessary fluff primarily used by teenage girls to post selfies.

But when I joined Dex Media as a communications intern this summer, I was entrusted with our Superpages Instagram account and its mission of promoting local businesses around the country. My previous presumptions were left in the dust, and exploring Instagram’s wonderland of user-generated content became one of my favorite tasks each day. I was taken aback by all the creative ways small businesses across countries and industries are taking advantage of the platform.

Your business too, whether it’s a pest control service, roofing contractor or fro-yo shop, can forge invaluable relationships with current and future customers on the world’s fastest-growing social site if you follow these 10 tips for success that I have observed.

  1. Consistency. Your name, profile picture and tone should match what you use on other platforms so that your brand has a unified voice. Provide links in your bio to integrate other sites. The other side of the consistency coin is the frequency with which you post. Develop a routine and stick to it so that followers learn when to expect content from you. Accounts that go inactive get unfollowed.Capture
  2. Great Visuals. It’s a photo-sharing app, so this should be obvious. But it’s easier said than done. Don’t just snap the easiest shot and post it – try to spice things up with different angles, filters and collages. You can even post a video. It’s all about variety: feature people, products, customers, accomplishments or anything interesting that happens in the day – just really try to capture the essence of your business in as many ways as possible. Avoid posting similar items back-to-back. Many businesses that are less successful on Instagram seem to only post product pictures, which can get repetitive and doesn’t offer any insight into the brand behind them. Capture2 This remodeling company does a great job of making their post stand out with a collage and a ground-up angle that really pops.
  3. The Human Element. Instagram has a hip, youthful demographic, so feel free to let your personality shine through. It will go a long way towards cultivating positive impressions and get people thinking of your business as a friend. Humor (yes, even sarcasm), excitement and quirkiness can be great. This post from Dallas Pets Alive is full of personality and generated over 100 likes.Capture3
  4. Encourage Interaction. Make sure you aren’t just ‘gramming into the void and actively encourage people to comment. There are infinite ways to do this in your post captions. Ask questions (can be a casual “How’s your day going?” or a formal request for feedback), call people to action (for example, to visit your website or book an appointment), ask people to tag their friends in the comments or even use the #captionthis hashtag to encourage people to put a funny photo into words. You could even incentivize people to interact by offering a reward (“first five to comment get a free drink tonight”, etc.). This photo that asks a simple question received three positive responses. Capture4
  5. Interact With Others. As any marriage counselor can tell you, a relationship is a two-way street of communication. If you want to have a relationship with your customers, you need to listen to them as much as they listen to you. At least once per day, try to scroll through your feed and like and comment on other people’s content. It’s a great way to get your page out there more and gain new followers while simultaneously strengthening existing relationships.
  6. Hashtags. They’re not just for show. Unlike Facebook, where hashtags are an etiquette grey-area, or Twitter, where character-counts limit use, hashtags are the lifeblood of Instagram and the best way to help your page spread its wings. Individual hashtags are like communities. People browse the feeds of their favorite hashtags. So if you are a brewery, linking your posts to industry-specific #craftbeer, #brewstagram or #craftbeerlife is a great way to reach a targeted audience that you know will be receptive. Using broader hashtags like #awesome, #tbt or #instalove is more of a shot in the dark. It’s a larger audience, but much more crowded. You can even create your own hashtag to encourage interaction like we did at Superpages with #explorelocal. It’s perfectly acceptable to freestyle a hashtag every now and then. #ohmygoshthedexmediablogisamazing! Feel free to use as many hashtags as you want up to the limit of 30, but always include at least a few! In general, MORE HASHTAGS = MORE LIKES as long as you are purposeful in your selection.Capture6
  7.  Offer Discounts. Instagram-exclusive discounts can be a great way to keep people coming back to your page. Hashtags like #discounts, #coupons and #deals are quite popular. Some businesses have reported getting sizable percentages of their revenue straight from Instagram.Capture8
  8. Post at Peak Hours. Studies show that Instagram is the most active from 2-5 p.m. Central Time during the workday, with Mondays and/or Wednesdays being slightly higher than the other days of the week.  Posting once at 2-3 and again at 3-4 has generally produced great results for me over the last three months, whereas the Great River of Likes has typically been much drier in the mornings and evenings.
  9. Use Other Tools. Instagram has a lot of great features loaded onto it already. Auto-enhance will be your new best friend. And who doesn’t love playing around with all the filters? There are a lot of great tools out there, however, built specifically to augment your Instagram activities. Superpages uses RepostApp every day to quickly share what businesses are posting while automatically giving them photo-cred. IconoSquare (below) is a brilliant website that provides in-depth analytics on your page, your posts and any hashtags you might want to scout out. Layout is a simple collage-making tool that seamlessly hooks up with your Instagram. And that’s just scratching the surfaceCapture9
  10. Experiment! What works for Superpages or other businesses might not work for your business. There are no hard-and-fast laws, so feel free to play around with different approaches and see what drives the best results. If your business already runs on Instagram, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below about what your best practices are! Follow us @Superpages and, who knows, we might just repost one of your photos!