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The 5 Biggest Misconceptions About Using Instagram for Business

After growing at an exponential rate for 2 years straight, Instagram has become one of the rising stars of social media. Its focus on photos and the sense of closeness it provides have produced new ways to use visual marketing. Instagram offers an opportunity for brands to diversify their content as a means to broaden their online reach.

Yet, many still see limitations in the service and refuse to use it for their brand, missing out on a one hundred million strong user base they could potentially engage. But the 5 most commonly cited reasons to not consider Instagram as a social media marketing platform just aren’t true.

So it’s about time I debunk these 5 biggest misconceptions about using Instagram for business.

1. It Only Works if You Sell Visual Products

This might be the belief I hear the most, which doesn’t make it any more real. Selling unsexy products or being a service provider isn’t a reason to not share photos. Rather, it should be seen as an incentive to get even more creative. The goal for these companies is to find valuable, compelling, or entertaining images to share with their audience.

Since these companies cannot show products, what can they show on Instagram?

Their Culture

Photos of employees and their customized desks always rank well on Instagram. There are two main advantages of doing this: it makes the company more attractive for job applicants and it instills trust in potential customers.

Showing off on Instagram

Server providers MediaTemple showing off their “Best Place to Work” award

Their Employee’s Goodwill

Ebay shared this photo of its staff giving back at Second Harvest Food Bank. Companies that show their employees care about the community are appreciated among Instagrammers.

ebay on Instagram

Photo by @ebay

Their Celebrations

Every company has its traditions or celebrates popular events and holidays. These are opportunities to share photos of the team getting together in a non-work related context.

Double Fine

These are the presents that indie game developers Double Fine exchanged over Christmas

Their Merchandise

This is a photo of Hipmunk’s new t-shirt released in early January. Brands should use Instagram to promote their merchandise and even offer some. Hipmunk did that, too, when they accompanied the photo with a quick sweepstakes for a few lucky followers to win one.


2. It’s Only for Big Brands

Some believe that only brands with significant marketing budgets can leverage Instagram.

This is not true. I’ll refer you to Mission Bicycle, Shwood, Almond Surfboards, Folk Fibers. All of these are reasonably small shops doing a great job with Instagram… On a budget! As a plus, they all got featured on Instagram’s blog and surely benefited from the coverage.

A few self employed artists and vendors even say that Instagram helps them create sales leads.

almond surfboards

Almond Surfboards’s artist at work

Folk Fibers

Folk Fibers’s photos look like they come from a Wes Anderson movie

Even tech startups are on Instagram: MailChimp, SendGrid, Hipmunk… As well as less techy ones like Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, and of course, Warby Parker, which is often cited as one of the textbook inspirations to follow on using Instagram for Business.

mailchimp on

Photos by MailChimp

Warby Parker

…and Warby Parker

3. It’s Only for Posting Photos

Even top brands still hold this one as true. Some of them have been using Instagram only to push content so far. But that’s missing a key ingredient in Instagram’s advantage compared to other networks: it makes sharing a two way street and enables brands to leverage User Generated Content (UGC) by way of photo contests and special campaigns.

To do this, the first precaution to take is to create a brand-specific hashtag for the contest.

Misson Bicycle

This example from Mission Bicycle encourages its followers to use #20mission12 and #missionbicycle to join the contest

And any contest on social media has to come with the right legal structure. Ben and Jerry’s and Hollister Co.’s terms are two thorough examples to draw from.

Then brands have to actively promote the hashtag and their campaign. They can do so on Instagram, other networks, and even offline in some cases. The Instagram team itself promotes their Weekend Hashtag Projects on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Finally, they should show the content generated by the contest outside of Instagram by creating Photo Galleries on their Facebook page or their website.

Instagram photo contests are worth the time and effort because they give an incentive for users to share better content and allow brands to reuse it. Fans of Ben and Jerry’s entered its latest contest called Capture Euphoria in hopes of being featured in local ads, like @nuutmeg here:

Ben and Jerrys

photo from Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram

Campaigns at large also bring in good publicity. The NYC based Comodo restaurant brought in more business with #ComodoMenu: an operation for visitors to snap photos of their plates and share them on Instagram so others could get a glimpse of what they could order. The YouTube video announcement accumulated 100,000 views in just about a month, and many publications reported on the restaurant’s creative initiative.

Instagram is also popular among individual artisans who use it to drive more sales, as well as strengthen their relationship with their buyers. Etsy vendor Ashley McIntosh includes a handwritten note in all her shipments, telling buyers to snap a photo of themselves wearing her jewelry and caption it with her hashtag.

4. Results Can’t be Measured

Monitoring and tracking social media activity became standard. Because there is no built-in insights tool for Instagram, some assume that they have to perform this task manually.

This belief is antiquated as analytics platforms now exist. Here is an overview of the available ways to monitor Instagram’s activity:

Web-Based Apps

sum all logo

SumAll provides information for the Instagram account user to sign up, among other social networks and services.


Statigram is focused on Instagram and provides data on the Instagram account used to sign up.

simply measured logo

SimplyMeasured allows users to get analytics on other accounts, which can come in handy for companies.

nitrogram logo

Nitrogram provides insights on hashtags and accounts, showing engagement rates, number of photos shared, and their potential impressions.

iOS Apps

instrack ios app

InsTrack is used for Instagram analytics and community management.

Reports+ is used to see who unfollows you, blocks you, and for tracking your account growth.

command for instagram

Command is a tool designed for brands and influencers that provides a report card for how your account is performing.

To assess the success of a brand’s presence on Instagram, one should track its own account’s metrics and those of its community.

5. Instagram can Sell Your Photos

This has been the social media drama surrounding the end of 2012: Instagram updated their Terms of Use and many believed that, in doing so, they were acquiring the rights to sell anyone’s photos to third parties.

Instagram then reworked the new Terms in response to the whirlwind of negative feedback and fixed the poor wording users complained about (those saying otherwise are at least partially mistaken).

The new terms came into effect on January 19 with no noticeable reaction from the community.

Users are the owners of their own photos, and these new Terms clearly state that advertising on Instagram will be similar to Facebook’s sponsored stories. Instagram is not looking to sell any content outside of their app, as some feared. So I’d advise everyone to:

Keep Calm and Instagram On

I hope these tips will give you the last inch of motivation you need to start doing amazing things with Instagram.

Have you found other limitations using Instagram for business? Do you agree with the solutions suggested above?

About the Author: Thibaut Davoult is building the community and content around Nitrogram: the professional platform for social engagement and marketing on Instagram.

  1. For brands that are interested in an ROI beyond likes/comments, how can they measure success on Instagram when it comes to more concrete results that matter most to executives (financial results, store traffic, web traffic, etc.)?

    • Hi Pete,
      For now, Instagram only allows to add a link on account’s bio. Adding this will drive traffic, which you can track as you would any referral link.
      There’s a tool called Chirpify that lets you set up a way for Instagrammers to easily buy items shown on your Instagram photos, only by adding a specific comment to the photo featuring the item. That could be interesting in some cases.
      As for store traffic and financial results, it doesn’t differ from other social networks. If you own a store and run a week-long Instagram campaign, track the overall visits to the store and sales made during the campaign week, and compare them with the results of an average week.

  2. Ashley McIntosh Jan 23, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for mentioning my Etsy Shop :) Super cool! -Ashley McIntosh

    • Well deserved, your use of Instagram is a great example that I think a lot of people can relate to.

    • The problem with InstaSCAM is the population of uneducated hoods posing as professionals who are looking to hurt women. Just like model mayhem. Even with my makeup artistry, wreath making, gift wrapping, I have gotten ZERO clients and NO BUSINESS AT ALL. InstaSCAM is full of garbage. Maybe a handful of people they pick, such as you, but I don’t see anyone really making money. All people do is like crap, and move on! They aren’t buying

  3. FANTASTIC information!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Shelly-Ann roper Jan 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

    This article clears all the obstacles away from being successful on Instagram. Still wish we could create user accounts online although not being able to sorts of add to the novelty of it…

    • Hi Shelly-Ann, I’m happy to see that you find value in this article.
      Instagram still has plenty of room to grow when it comes to their website and desktop experience. I don’t doubt that it’s one of their priorities to improve the experience there. They only released web-profiles a couple of months ago after all…

  5. Shelly-Ann roper Jan 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Thank you Thibaut :)

  6. You can also advertise your own products if you have some business or shops. You can take a photo of your products and post it on instagram and it can help you gain more customers.
    I dont think so it has any disadvantage :)
    Thank You

    • Yes, of course you can, and I’d even say you should! If your product is visual, if you have a shop, you can use Instagram to convey its atmosphere online and draw more people in.

  7. It’s just another fantastic tool for marketers to improve their old fashioned public relations. I like to search twitter and instagram for your brand name to see if people are complaining or promoting my brand. Great advice here, thanks.

    • Indeed it is! I find it very rewarding and useful to scout for comments about my brand on social media, obviously.
      I have recently found that when customers are prompted to use a hashtag, they will take to Twitter of course, but Instagram as well to share with it.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and cared to comment on it.

    • Susan Soltrelly Mar 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      I agree, its just another social media tool but a very helpful one indeed..We own a small business and Instagram has worked great with our products. Great post by the way!

  8. Maura Ambrose Jan 29, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Great article! Thanks for mentioning Folk Fibers as a brand that uses IG well. I enjoy sharing my process and the app is a helpful and effective way of doing that. Cheers!

  9. Who doesn’t love Instagram? Despite the recent hullabaloo about its recent update with its terms and conditions — we just can’t stop using it! It is also a great place to look for inspiration in our web design projects that involves photography and logo creations. Good resource and very user-friendly!

  10. well, I do not think that instagram is all about images. If you have good followers and huge traffic then you can earn a lot from it. :)

  11. Thanks for sharing this. We’ve been kicking the tires on using Instagram to help market our business for a while now and this article serves as a nice summary of what to expect from Instagram.

  12. How do successful brands handle the sharing of Instagram content on their own websites. We’ve been reposting photos from Instagram that we’re tagged in on our own account since January, following the general rules of social media etiquette and always providing attribution to the original poster, but we’re looking now at pulling the Instagram feed onto our website home page, and it makes me nervous. When I look at and see how they’re pulling in and featuring content from Instagram and Twitter, I wonder how they’re doing that without concern about breaking terms of service. Any thoughts?

    • Frankly Sarah, I don’t know how Pepsi deal with this, but here’s the process that most brands follow in order not to infringe copyright:

      – They invent a hashtag that is specific enough not to be mistaken with others (for example #pepsi won’t work because many people use it to talk about the brand, not knowing that using this hashtag might get their photo to Pepsi’s website. But they might use #pepsinstagram or #pepsifrontpage)
      – They publish terms of service that explain very clearly that they get the right to re-post photos bearing this specific hashtag
      – Then they’re legally allowed to repost these photos on their website without risk.

      Hope this helps, You can check Hollister’s terms of service here:

  13. Stephen Wright Mar 26, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Instagram has many power users with very few tools.

    InstaPower User has more than one tool.

    Follow/Unfollow tool: see how many followers have liked or commented as well as if you follow them back or not.

    Comment response tool: manage your posts, see how many comments and how many replies you have made (included @username in comment)

    Ghost Identification: find the followers who do not comment or like your posts. You can then decide to unfollow or remove one by one or all ghost users.

    Problems Solved.
    Like twitter bots, no need for webstagram, instafrmanger, instafollower

    Why You need it?
    One tool does it all – for real instagram users

    Why fund it?
    I need your help to make it better and to make it succeed.

    How funding will help?
    I am asking for your help to beta test, improve my application, improve the user interface, eliminate bugs and help me create the perfect icon. Any extra funds will help speed up the development time of the iPad and iPhone version. I am really looking to get as many people involved in this project as possible. The success of these apps are solely dependent upon the support of the users.

  14. Really it only works – like anything else digital – with some sort of strategy. Randomness will really only get you so far.

    • A strategy, or simple guidelines to keep the content on track. That’s what I did with our account and it’s been a success. All my teammates can take over the account for a week and post following the few guidelines that I added in order to keep the content relevant/entertaining for our followers.

      We’ve been doing that for 2 weeks now and it’s been a blast!

  15. After growing at an exponential rate for 2 years straight, Instagram has become one of the rising stars of social media. Its focus on photos and the sense of closeness it provides have produced new ways to use

  16. Are advertisers allowed to pay instagram users to share content in order to promote their product/service?

  17. Great article. Currently I am building out a guide for using Instagram for businesses. The guide focuses more on strategy and schedule but also includes tips and tricks.

    This would be a great piece to add value for your clients.

    Thanks again for this great article.

  18. Lukeither Willingham Aug 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    My marketing professor at Strayer University shared this link with us. I have not started using Instagram yet so this will get me started. Thanks!!!!

    Lukeither, Founder

  19. Adam J. Collins Sep 24, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Starting a business using Instagram is a good strategy, and reading this article provided me the Do’s and Dont’s of this social media for business. Great article!

  20. Adam J. Collins Sep 29, 2014 at 3:59 am

    This kind of article really provides a good insight on how to use Instagram as one of the tool for business marketing. I am so glad that I found this site, I learned a lot reading different articles and definitely I will continue to follow this site and wait for new and useful articles. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Michael Zittel Jan 02, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Thanks for the Instagram tips. We are in the process of setting up a cross platform contest and this article has inspired us. Thanks!

  22. The main problem for Business in Instagram is where to get first 5-10k followers.
    I used to promote my client’s law business and know how hard is it :)

    So, i recommend to use some services which offers followers. But be careful: use ONLY real followers. Otherwise, you will be banned.

    I used this service and recommend it : buzzinstagram

  23. InstaSCAM Has done nothing for my business, and trust me, I NETWORK AND I AM TALENTED. It is ridiculously filled with fraud and scam artists.

    • Persis Shanker Mar 29, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Indeed. We experienced unbelievably slow growth on the site and now with IG’s chronological feed where brands are encouraged to pay to boost their photos, it doesn’t seem worth it at all. I would rather pay PR Newswire to promote our stories on Yahoo or a bigger platform. Social media is a waste of time unless you are a big brand with a massively huge marketing budget.

  24. Persis Shanker Mar 29, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    This article holds no water. IG like most social media is still an overhyped site. As a niche blog site, we are losing followers despite posting selfies or posts about our lifestyle since we are a personality driven site. We still believe that only products, big brands and fashion/travel people can leverage off the site. You still need to find a way to get on traditional media platforms as much as possible and grow your brand that way before you go digital. Let’s be realistic here because social media is a helluva lot of work and you want ROI for it but it’s not going to make you big. Use traditional media or bigger digital platforms to grow.

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