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Hashtag Your Products on Instagram


Instagram is a massive social network built around a beautifully designed — and addictive — mobile photography app. As of September 2012, Instagram reportedly had 11 million active users. It was famously bought by Facebook for $1 billion in April 2012.

Instagram is creating new and exciting ways of marketing your products and engaging customers online. It’s even putting an interesting spin on product photography.

To illustrate this revolution, I’ll show how one online store, Black Milk Clothing, is making masterful use of Instagram to enhance its product views.

Black Milk Clothing’s concept is straightforward: encourage customers to take pictures of themselves wearing a Black Milk product and post these images to Instagram with a caption that includes a special hashtag. Instagram posts that contain this special hashtag are then displayed on the product’s main listing page. For example, customers are prompted to “Tag your photos using #bmamethystlegs on Instagram” in the case of the purple nylon leggings shown below.

This approach has worked marvelously well for Black Milk. It has roughly 450,000 Facebook Likes and 25,000 Twitter followers — two indicators of a large and engaged community of shoppers. The Social Sell, a social media marketing research site, published an informative piece that gives more details about Black Milk’s sustained viral growth, with comments from its founder.

There are a few reasons this strategy has been so effective.

  1. Taking pictures with Instagram is fun. The app is beautifully designed and empowers anyone with an iPhone or Android device to create photographs that have a whimsical feel, thanks to a set of built-in image filters.
  2. People love attention. Offering a channel for self-promotion to your customers is a powerful incentive. In this case, the customer benefits from being seen on your website while you, the ecommerce merchant, benefits from the viral marketing that this type of sharing promotes.
  3. People love a (good) party. A feed showing people all over the world wearing — and, apparently, loving — your products creates a party atmosphere on your store. This builds confidence that you are well liked and that your products hold up to real use.

Adding Instagram to your Ecommerce Site

Here are pointers for adding an Instagram feed to your site.

  • Add the Instagram feed using JavaScript. The public Instagram API allows searching for recent posts that contain a specific hashtag. The most flexible — and most technically demanding — way of adding an Instagram feed is to write custom JavaScript code that performs queries using this API and displays the results. This seems to be what Black Milk has done. Your web developer should be able to take it from there.
  • Use a third-party tool to add the feed. If you’re not up for writing JavaScript code, there are a few, easier-to-use options, such as Instapress for WordPress and Stagigram, an intuitive Instagram front-end and rich toolset that includes a widget for adding feeds to your Facebook page.
  • Be careful. You are displaying a live feed of content drawn from the Internet. You will need to monitor and control this process to make sure your product is being displayed in an acceptable way. For example, set things up to approve posts before they are displayed. You may also want the ability to blacklist specific people from appearing in your feed.
  • Develop a strategy for “bootstrapping” your feed. A potential downside to adding a live Instagram feed to your web store is that it could backfire by giving people the impression of little interest in your offering if few images appear. Consider showing the feed only after you reach some minimum number of posts. You will also want to encourage your current customers to “#hashtag their recent purchases.” One idea is to hold a contest, such as “the best Instagram photo receives a $100 gift card redeemable on our store.” Another tip is to take the first few pictures yourself to show your customers how fun it can be.

If you have any questions or know of other examples of online stores making clever use of Instagram, please leave a comment below.

Jason Lawrence’s profile. >

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