Move over Facebook and Twitter, there’s a new player in social media land. Instagram , which was purchased by Facebook in April 2012, is an online photo sharing service that allows its self-reported 100 million users to transform images using filters and share them with friends.
Users can download the app for free on iPhone and Android platforms, create an account to upload their own photos, and similarly to Twitter, mark them with keywords by hashtagging and then “follow” other users to see photos that interest them. Photos can be shared to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, too.
This photo-editing social network can be a powerful tool for showrooms and manufacturers, according to social media expert and owner of Crystal Media  Crystal Vilkaitis. Besides the fact that the app can make product snapshots look like professional photography, businesses can use the platform to connect with customers and shoppers.
“With the social networking capabilities built into the platform, a showroom can encourage their customers to ‘follow’ them on Instagram,” Vilkaitis says. “The business can also network with other Instagram users by liking or commenting on photos, which could strengthen their relationships with customers, partners, community, etc.”
The company uses the app to jazz up photos posted to Facebook and Twitter and has also tested out a couple of campaigns and contests. It even produced a webinar about the increasingly popular social platform in its “Social Media Bootcamp” series for professional customers. Capitol Lighting Marketing Manager Yulia Konovnitsyna says that although interest was slow to start, the company is now starting to see more involvement.
“It’s a little early to tell what the impact of Instagram has been on our engagement but it’s a nice tie-in to Facebook and Twitter,” Konovnitsyna says. “It shows a company’s personality in a different way than other social media and it’s not just sales-y stuff.”
Instagram is definitely different than other social media platforms: it’s more personal. And businesses should take advantage of the unique product that it offers, according to Vilkaitis. A good way to do this, she says, is by sharing behind-the-scenes photos; Starbucks posts shots at its headquarters, for example. Or, businesses can host photo contests to connect with other Instagrammers. Capitol Lighting’s recent competition asked users to upload a photo of a lamp or fixture and tag it to be entered to win a $250 credit from Crystorama . Both of these tactics will help promote products or showrooms and provide another touch point with shoppers.
There was some controversy in December 2012 when Instagram changed its terms of service, stating that it could share users’ images without permission, credit or payment. Although founder Systrom later assured users that selling their photos was not the intention, this update made some users wary. Konovnitsyna, for instance, says that the Capitol Lighting team is now going to wait and see if it will stick with the platform long term after this change and its potential fallout.
Even with this announcement, however, Instagram is still a viable and popular tool for branding and promotion. The easiest way to get started on the photo-sharing app? Just use it to spice up some photos, says Vilkaitis, and post them to the other social networks you use, like Facebook or Twitter, or use them in any e-mail marketing campaigns you send.
Sounds easy enough, right?
For more information visit instagram.com , or download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play.