To start, some number crunching:

Globally, Instagram hit 700 million monthly users on average in 2017. This was a 200 million increase on 2016 (Flint).

2018 looks set to be an even brighter year for the photo-based social platform. This year has seen the successful introduction of newer features – shoppable content, for example – alongside the widespread adoption of older features, such as stories.

Using the platform is a no-brainer for brands. Here’s five tips to keep in mind to make the most of it:

Business means business

First step in any Instagram marketing project is making sure your account is a business one. This seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many small brands haven’t optimised their channels in this way. It’s simple to fix:

Open Instagram -> head to settings -> click ‘Switch to Business Profile’ -> done.

Business accounts have several benefits, including super simple contact buttons and the ability to post Instagram ads directly, without the need for Facebook’s advertising interface.

Knowledge is power

Instagram’s Business accounts also include the incredibly useful Insights.

All the key metrics can be found there: Impressions, engagement numbers, follower demographics.

The beauty of Instagram’s Insights is the ability to deep dive into individual posts and time periods. Killed it last week? Start crunching the numbers on those winning posts to work out what’s working and why.

#hashtags

Every brand Instagram account is looking to boost their engagement. Put your best foot forward by working out your hashtag strategy from the off.

Start by building up lists of well established, non-brand hashtags that you can harness to get more eyes on your Instagram posts. For example: A fitness start-up that sells innovative gym wear should be cashing in on heavy-hitting hashtags such as #fitfam and #gymlife. It’s a win-win.

Once your account is up and running, consider creating an interactive brand hashtag. If you’re lucky enough to have a winning brand slogan/tagline, work with what you’ve got. Got a marketing campaign running on a different platform? Work up a new variation specific to Instagram.

Stories

Stories are now very much cemented in Instagram. Put simply, Stories are temporary posts that only stay up for 24 hours. The influence of Snapchat on Instagram’s Stories is clear. It’s fast, it’s temporary, it’s informal.

The informality of Instagram’s Stories feature is key for brands looking to make the grade on the platform. Don’t be too concerned with quality or brand guidelines when it comes to these posts.

One type of post that’s proved incredibly successful, especially with brands, is the ‘behind the scenes’ style content showcased by accounts from Red Bull to Jeremy Corbyn.

Filming an interview for your site? Give your followers a sneak peek. Office drinks on a Friday? Throw up a cheeky Boomerang of some clinking prosecco glasses. Dog in the office? You get the idea…

Outreach

The power of influencers on social media shouldn’t come as news to anyone. If you’re a product-based brand, consider sending out some freebies to influential accounts in your field. Health snack brand? Fire out some samples to everyone from bodybuilders to yoga instructors. Kids clothing brand? Draw up a list of the best parenting Instagrammers and get emailing.

Outreach isn’t just for product-based brands. If you’re more service-orientated, why not offer your service to some choice influencers in exchange for some coverage on their channel. This can be a great method for all manner of businesses, from teeth whitening to graphic design.

Instagram is one of the heavyweights of social media. Make sure it’s fighting for you, not against you with these tips. Get snapping!