08/23/2013 05:22 EDT | Updated 10/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Social Media for Retailers: Instagram

If you follow me on Twitter, you're well aware that I am passionate about social media; it's part of what I do and an integral part of's success. One platform I highly recommend and believe holds a lot of potential for e-commerce is Instagram. Here are my top reasons to get in Instagram.

If you follow me on Twitter, you're well aware that I am passionate about social media; it's part of what I do and an integral part of's success. There are now countless platforms available for leveraging a brand, and if you're reading this you're likely familiar and savvy with most of them. With so many opportunities for exposure, it's important to utilize these outlets strategically. You don't want to spread yourself too thin across too many platforms. One platform I highly recommend and believe holds a lot of potential for e-commerce is Instagram.

Our consumers are becoming increasingly responsive to visual content; our fast-paced lifestyles have changed the way we take in information. Therefore it should come as no surprise that people respond well to Instagram content. Brands are taking notice, with 67% of top brands posting photos on Instagram, a number that is continually growing. Here are my top reasons to get in Instagram:

It functions as free press

The beauty of many of these social media platforms is that they are free; brands can now showcase their product to a huge audience at zero cost. The Instagram layout presents products with an editorial quality, allowing followers to browse through content in an organized, well-presented way. It used to be that if you wanted brand exposure, you had to pay for it; nowadays, marketing a product is no longer limited to buying airtime on TV or a one page spread in a magazine.

It increases exposure and reach

A lot of brands are now leveraging this by introducing Instagram ad campaigns (via photos and videos). For example, both The Gap and lululemon have uploaded their latest video campaigns onto Instagram. Rather than limiting exposure to a few outlets (television or print for example), the mobile nature of Instagram allows consumers to experience a brand in the palm of their hand, integrating a brand's content into people's day-to-day lives. This can extend beyond your followers with the aid of hashtags. Strategic use of hashtags connects your brand to what is trending in broader communities of potential customers.

It helps build a brand personality

Instagram opens up opportunities to showcase a brand's personality in a few ways; it can act as a live stream of events (a product launch, store anniversary for example), as well as giving a 'sneak peek' at the behind the scenes of developing a collection. This engages consumers in new ways, creating a more personal relationship with followers. Instagram also offers brands the opportunity to showcase what the brand stands for, the people behind it, the culture...there are a few brands that do this well. Many clothing brands have created hashtags that allow users to model their clothes; customers love getting involved and promoted by a brand. American Express uses Instagram to give followers real-time backstage access to sponsored events, something they couldn't do with traditional media outlets. Sharpie fills its Instagram feed with user-submitted Sharpie art, while Redbull showcases athletes in action to play off their 'energy-boosting' product. Burberry Instagrams filtered photos of London, highlighting the history and essence of the brand. All of these companies take different approaches with one thing in common: they are building and conveying a brand personality.

Think about how you can utilize this with your own brand.

Instagram is best used to show how products can improve users' lives. Rather than posting a generic image of a product, for example, take a lifestyle-branding approach and tell a story with your photo; consumers will respond well to this. If the product has a function you can sell (appliances, for example), leverage it through the video component. It's important to extend your brand beyond what you're selling as well. It's all about being creative; if you sell cook wear, post a recipe and incorporate food into your Instagram photos. If you're selling apparel, showcase photos on how to wear and style the pieces. It's all about engaging in users' dialogue and showcasing a product in a unique, organic way that creates intrigue through subtle advertising.

These platforms offer amazing potential for brands; it comes down to putting in time, effort and creative thinking. Even the newest startups have the ability to market themselves, engage with consumers and reach out to audiences that would never have been possible on a small budget. And it will only get better; Instagram still has a lot of room to grow. Updates like re-posting (think of retweeting for Twitter), or instagramming directly from online content will likely one day become a reality. Look at how much change has occurred within the past few months; I'm really looking forward to seeing what direction this platform takes.

The future is visual. Are you ready?