Instagram tipsIn the early days of Twitter, doubters complained that it was just a place where people shared what they ate for lunch. Instagram, too, has that kind of reputation. But businesses are looking more closely at this photo-/video-sharing app as a way to build brand awareness and increase website traffic.

You can see why. It’s not just a photo-sharing site, it’s a community and social network. Every day, Instagrammers post more than 70 million photos and videos there. And a big attraction is the high level of interaction; reportedly 4.8 likes or comments per 100 followers, compared to Facebook’s 0.72.

I resisted joining at first, mostly because — isn’t this cute? — I use the phone to text or call people rather than broadcast my life as it happens. I might take a picture of a tantalizing lunch in a fabulous spot, but I’ll wait until later to share it. And using Instagram for business doesn’t seem like a good fit for a writer. I still don’t have a business account, but instead share personal photos (dogs and nature are common ones) or ones boosting local businesses.

No matter. Time to look more closely at this app. Here are some basic tips I’ve found:

1.  Make your photos interesting and engaging.

Gini Dietrich cites Starbucks and Nike as good examples. Lots of appealing product and store shots appropriate to the seasons, not an “in your face” sell. Hootsuite uses photos of their staff, dogs and offices. PetSmart Charities has adorable pets and happy people.

2.  Use a hashtag.

Use # to show up in searches; Instagram only uses hashtags for searches, so searches for sunset photos will miss your glorious one unless you call it #sunset. Use it to invite others to share, as Lululemon does with #thesweatlife and Tiffany & Co. with #truelovepictures. Use it to promote your tagline, as Red Bull does with #givesyouwings. I’ve noticed that most personal accounts also use it to joke around with friends (#tutusforthewin).

How many hashtags? Yvette Pistoria on Spin Sucks says four to 11 (!) can increase interaction, but build them in naturally rather than stuffing them all at the end.

3.  When and how often to post?

Individuals might post a lot in one day, depending on what’s happening, although one source I found suggested two is enough. Brands might post one to three times a day (Bufferapp says 2.3). I’m always suspicious of declarations of “best time to post” on any type of social media, but analysis firm TrackMaven suggests that the best time is between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST.

As usual with social media, the best way to figure it out is jump in and play with it. Check out and follow other people you know, follow your fave businesses or restaurants, search for areas of interest.

What other tips do you have? And if you’re a writer or other solo business, how do you use Instagram? Please share in the comments.

Related reading:
How to create an Instagram strategy for your business
Hootsuite’s beginner’s guide to using Instagram for business
Mashable’s beginner’s guide to Instagram
Four brands that use Instagram well
7 privacy tips for Instagram newbies