All posts in Social

How to Use Instagram for Retail, Restaurant and even B2B Marketing

Check out artist Idafrosk's food art and book on Amazon for inspiring Instagram photo ideas!Today I want to talk to business owners and marketers about how to better use Instagram for visual and effective “free” marketing without it being obnoxious to Instagram users. If you aren’t sure what Instagram is, or haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, head over to their site to view the FAQ.

Many businesses, when yet another social media platform is introduced, don’t want to be bothered with learning about it or adding another task to their day. But marketing is about psychology, and if you know about how people learn (some with words, some with pictures, and some with demonstrations) you will understand that the users of Instagram primarily like to view and understand things visually. Making use of this medium gives you another place to provide gentle reminders you exist, and have something to offer that people of like minds may want.

_cyclingshoes_Instagram_photos___Websta__Webstagram_The reason I say “people of like minds” is that unless you are a widely known and beloved brand (like Harley Davidson) potential buyers may not find you by a deliberate search of your name and following your account. On Instagram the primary method of finding things you enjoy is via hashtags, and if you think using a ton of hashtags feels too obnoxious, you need to view them a little differently on Instagram. As long as they are appropriate, these tags are very helpful to users hunting for, say, #cyclingshoes. Click on that tag to see photos people have labeled with it. Now think about how user recommendations or information work. If someone has the shoes in the photo or loves/hates them, they might get into a conversation or add info for others similar to an Amazon review of a product. All of which benefits you as the seller. Excuse me a moment, I have to go check out these gorgeous Adidas shoes. :-)

Your photos do not have to be shot professionally to be interesting. There are tons of tutorials for taking images using just your smartphone and using third-party apps you can combine photos into collages, turn photos into watercolor works of art, adjust photo settings so they appear more dynamic and brighter before uploading and even combine video with photos! (Awesome for sizzling restaurant shots or outdoor sports.) Doing this takes an additional few minutes after taking your photo. For images taken by users that you find online that feature your brand or product, you can use the Repost app to conveniently repost their images while giving full credit for the photo to the one who posted it.

Retail, Brands & Products

Taking a picture of a product on a white background and sticking it on Instagram is probably not going to be as effective as you would like it to be. Think of an Instagram photo as answering the question of “what are you doing?” For Macy’s around Thanksgiving, that means attending the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so they shared fun photos of the floats and scenes in NYC. On another day that might mean lusting over pretty new shoes, or going on a fall picnic in an adorable outfit, or even erasing wrinkles using some cool new cosmetics product.

Here are some accounts doing a particularly great job of mixing brand reminders, lifestyle images, helpful posts, and quirky fun stuff done by users that the brand shares with their followers, which helps build a community of fans, diminishing the feeling of being blasted with promotions.

Macy's on Instagram

Macy’s is using something that several large brands are trying right now that is a workaround to Instagram’s limitation of not allowing url links in your photo captions. It is called Like to Buy and you can read more about it on Econsultancy or check out the service here.

Martha Stewart on Instagram

Martha Stewart loves dogs, and that is evident on the brand’s Instagram account, which seems to feature a dog photo about every 5-20 uploads, sometimes via a user’s photo like this one of Manny the Frenchie wearying a Martha Stewart brand coat from Petsmart.


Coke has some really fun brand-focused photos and emphasizes the quirky over serious. They are sugar water after all… brands that are in a position to be expendable may benefit most by being memorable and amusing.

Corona on Instagram

Corona especially does a great job of creating longing for beach, friends and beer. I can almost smell the beer from here! Corona, quite simply, touches the inner call we all have for our own personal nirvana. For me, it’s the water, surf and sand so they could add even more hashtags that speak to finding bliss and reach more people seeking that.

Oreo on Instagram

Oreo is focused on the fun to be had with their products. From holiday campaigns to delightful finds within their customer base, they always seem to have something going on with this simple cookie that tickles their fans.


While a restaurant seems like an obvious user of Instagram, it’s amazing how few use it well or use it consistently, unable to see beyond showing a single plate of food. Any business with a lot of foot traffic has a built-in source of potential new content, from kitchen scenes to catering to photos of tables filled with happy customers that agree you can photograph them for Instagram. Mix in tantalizing food and drink shots as the icing on the cake.

Do not forget to add any appropriate hashtag you can think of (including ingredients like #egg or #scrambledeggs) and also to define the “location” so that anyone who finds you locally or while traveling can stop by to try what they saw online for themselves. Also, put your city and state hashtag on some posts… people may discover you who will be in your area this way. Everyday objects can also be made interesting when clustered together and unique compositions or surprising placement, such as this partial view of waiter on the street, can make your spot a must-visit for those who connect to what you offer once they find you.


Buvette, with locations in Paris and NYC, tops my bucket list of restaurants. Because, #brunch and #yolkporn! Their photos are exemplary and you can recreate their style by taking photos from an “aerial” view by arranging things on the table or counter and then standing on a chair or something a little higher to capture the arrangements, top-down. Such an effective way to include many items in the small square format you have to work with. Now pass me those eggs!


Cadillac Bar, one of my old haunts in Kemah, Texas is included here because they are such a sad example of having a great eye for what Instagram users would want to see, but not the vision to build community or even just blast out photos of delicious tex-mex so users could find them. Come back, Cadillac Bar… people need to find you and discover how amazing your veggie enchiladas are, among other tasty items. (BTW, I will see you in April when I’m in Kemah!)


Stumptown Coffee is full of pure personality and the kind of hipster product photos you’d expect from any self-respecting indie coffeeshop. If I’m ever near one I will make a beeline to check them out just based on their Instagram pics.


It’s a real shame Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles has stopped posting, because their photos exude a sense of playful whimsy along with, well, chicken and waffles, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re in LA, hit a location and tell them they need to keep showing off their wares on Instagram! Esquire Magazine would agree.

Forequarter on Instagram

Forequarter does one thing very well: it makes you want to go there. The people shots mixed with action shots mixed with enticing plates and libations provide a glimpse into the good time you could have here with friends.

B2B & Other Unlikely Instagram Suspects

When it comes to B2B or industry-specific organizations the keyword to think of is “niche.” The masses may not flock to your account, but people who are into or need what you offer will if you enable your content to be found. While creating visual content may seem difficult, there are probably examples that will nudge your creativity if you search for them. From user experience, kitchen design and travel agents to book publishing, all sorts of services and specialties can be found on Instagram.


GE focuses on technology, engineering and manufacturing on Instagram and the results are spectacular.


HarperCollins Canada demonstrates an excellent use of simple props and interesting photo arrangements of something that isn’t always easy to make interesting in a photo: a book.


Square’s feed may actually inspire you to go and open a local business, so view it with caution! By focusing on the “why” they exist, they have a never-ending source of unique and interesting stories to tell, right from within their own customer base. Web hosts, web apps, tailors, personal shoppers, accountants and service-based businesses of all types can draw lessons from this approach.


FreshBooks focuses mostly on events and employees, but could benefit from telling customer stories for even more content to use.

Final Food for Thought…

The most effective psychological tool used via these Instagram photos is emotion. What do you provide people emotionally? Focus on that and not what you want them to buy from you. What do they see in themselves via your photos… A great time? Looking sharp in a cool outfit? Some awesome high-tech sports gear? Being a better athlete? Bass-thumping music, so they feel like they are at a Tiesto concert? The most adorable doggy outfit in the world? Beautiful skin or hair? Meeting a need or satisfying a fancy and helping people find you via hashtags is one way to lure them into your world visually. Plus, it can be a fun and satisfying way to tell your company or brand story over time.

Customer Service via Social Media… How’s That Working for You?

There is a real disconnect between genuine customer service and social media accounts online for the purpose of providing customer service, and it is almost never the fault of the staff running the social accounts.

Brian Solis and the folks over at Pivot have compiled an infographic and data on the stark reality of customer service satisfaction in this age of social media. In Brian’s words, “The challenge for change agents and internal champions is about moving businesses from #lipservice to #customerservice.”

Continue Reading →

Beyond Marketing: How Social Media Can Help Companies Save Money, Keep Customers Satisfied and Gain Access to Fast Information

This post was written by Lisa Qualls a while back and not published. Some great points here about looking beyond the SM ROI of marketing efforts and realizing how social media can yield many other benefits inside your companies and organizations.

Leads, sales, and new revenue get most of the headlines when discussing ROI or why you should take advantage of social media platforms. However, cost reductions need to be considered as well when figuring/estimating time spent, as well as customer retention. Social media introduces new possibilities to traditional business practices such as customer care/service, research and development (R&D) and internal communications. These may not be as “sexy” as marketing and sales but anyone of them can be the Achilles heel to even the strongest of companies.

Continue Reading →

Social Media & Creativity


ENTREPRENEUR has an interesting article that asserts “social media is nothing without creativity” and simply from reading the headline, I got the point and have to agree, from a marketing perspective.

Not every brand using social media for some purpose needs to create interesting, unique content… there are many brands that use platforms like Twitter or Facebook primarily to provide customer service, such as your local cable company or telecom provider. Those accounts need to focus more on being effective than spinning out a constant stream of content. But many of us (and our clients, if you’re an agency type) are using social media in an attempt to achieve a greater reach and awareness from marketing messages, and creativity is going to win the attention in this game.

Continue Reading →

To Answer or Not to Answer… That is Apparently the Question for Some Businesses Online


So this morning I had kind of an interesting, annoying, local small business fail. I’m in the country for the weekend – many of you know I live in KC and Garnett, which is a rural Kansas town of about 3500 people and about 20,000 cows. My mother is here for Mother’s Day and there is a surprisingly attractive spot here that serves brunch on weekends. (A miracle in a town this size.) So on Facebook, which is where they are, I asked them if they’re open on Mother’s Day for brunch… pretty much a very basic, yes or no type of question that can be easily answered.

They Liked it.

Continue Reading →

5 Lessons for Optimizing Your Facebook Timeline Page


The change to a forced Timeline display for all Facebook pages at the end of this week (March 30th!) has many of us scrambling to make sure our Pages look good in this new view. Here are some things I’m learning that might help you make your Page as appealing as possible given the constraints and limitations of forcing your content into a “timeline”.

Continue Reading →

Fresh Alert: Facebook Business Pages Switch to Timeline 3/30/12

Quick note for clients and friends on Facebook Pages. Not only will FBML tabs be going away entirely June 1st or so, which means all your tabs need to be switched the iFrame app method, but now the Business Pages are changing to Timeline view on March 30th, 2012 and you need to be prepared with different graphics and a modified design approach so your Page won’t look strange or abandoned.

Continue Reading →

The Superbowl & Social Media 2012


It’s finally here… the day we get to eat chili, hot dogs, snack on stadiums made of sandwiches, drink beer, and chat all day with our friends about the NFL Superbowl! Some neat things that are going on in the social media world:

The NFL has a GIANT command center set up, and massive bandwidth has been pumped through the stadium so people can share about the game live with their friends who aren’t fortunate enough to be there. Check this out! and look at this gallery of images from the SMCC. They aren’t just watching to see what is said – over 20 people will monitor to reach out proactively to help people with things like parking info, getting lost in the stadium, getting an answer to a question, etc. even though they have not been directly asked via Twitter or Facebook. This isn’t push marketing – this is amazing customer service! Very, very cool!

Continue Reading →

Should You Try Using Different Words to Tell Your Story?


This simple, but poignant video might help you think of new things to try and do for your business if you’ll sit back and think about where you could say things another way, or give your customers the unexpected.

Continue Reading →

Brands of Any Kind: Do You REALLY Know Why People Follow Your Social Media Accounts?


I read a very interesting article called CMOs Need to Change How They Communicate to Their Fans in 2012, that is worth a look. In a survey of consumers and marketers, the expectations were not aligned regarding the reason someone “Likes” a brand on Facebook. The most glaring gap is in the questions shown below:

Continue Reading →

The Future of Twitter is Here Now!


I had a bittersweet moment tonight, though ultimately it’s a victory and I’m excited to see someone do it. Two years ago, I penned a long diatribe calling for automation on Twitter of an informational (not marketing) nature, and gave several examples of what I’d like to see happen in the future. That article is here if you have an hour (joking, sort of):

Continue Reading →

Reasons Not to Beg for Facebook Fans


I’ve noticed a number of disturbing posts from brands I follow on Facebook lately, and that is to request “I need X number of followers by Monday – please help us and ask your friends to like us!” Said once, it’s kind of… icky. Said repeatedly, downright annoying and embarrassing. This isn’t just coming from small businesses or amateurs. Everyone from major brands who already have a fair amount of followers there, to city governments, to event organizers are making these unseemly requests for no real reason except they WANT more fans.

Some people feel compelled to raise their fans and follower numbers, and often forget about nurturing and interacting with those they already have. One of our clients, Spa Insights, has the following stat they share with clients: “The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%.” Even if those numbers are specific to their industry, that likely is similar for others. Think about that, and then think about what it says to your existing fan base when you spend your time (and theirs) begging for new fans.

Continue Reading →

7 Habits of Highly Effective Twitterers

Originally posted February 2009 on the Mr. Tweet blog, this post has been modified slightly to reflect current information.

I lived in Texas all my life until moving to Kansas 4 years ago to get married. As a designer and business owner who depends on rich relationships for personal and business prospects, I originally felt like a fish out of water in this strange new land. Twitter has been a critical component that changed everything for me, both in terms of finding and being found by relevant folks.

As opposed to gaming the system to gain followers, I believe in constant engagement and adding value to build up a meaningful network. It works!

Continue Reading →

Preparing a Social Strategy

I have been out on the speakers circuit quite a bit lately speaking about business social strategy. One of the areas I place quite a bit of emphasis on is what a company needs to consider BEFORE they begin strategy development. Often times, a business creates a social asset in an effort to play catch up with the marketplace and then fails to see positive and sustainable results because they either didn’t have a strategy or their strategy was built on bad assumptions and/or a lack of addressing fundamental concerns. It is imperative to research, acknowledge and address these concerns within your strategy for any chance of buy-in and ultimately, success. The most common concerns we hear from our clients are:

  • Resources (time and money)
  • Security (spam, viruses, access)
  • Rapid Change (is facebook the next myspace?)
  • Control (what if they say something bad? what if my employee plays farmville all day?)
These are all valid and real concerns and as you think about how to address them, you will often find you are starting to develop your strategic and tactical measures. For example here are just a few we have recommended in the past:
  • Identify early adopters in the organization as initial resources to expedite the learning curve
  • Work with your IT team and system experts to understand how to minimize security risk
  • Establish measurement and trend reporting to adjust as needed
  • Implement monitoring tools and update customer care processes to address customer concerns quickly and turn negative sentiment in to positive
  • Understand all of your account settings and have them set according to your standards (Did you know Facebook allows you to block out anywords you define from being posted on your wall?)

Continue Reading →