By Dori Easterson, YSN

Want to tap into a social media platform with over 1 billion users, 59 percent of whom are 18 to 29 years old? Then Instagram (IG) is for you.

This mobile app, for sharing and editing photos and videos, allows users to tag people, use hashtags and has a news feed to see posts from those you follow. By connecting with active IG users and sharing your story visually, you can reach both old and new customers, says Boot Camp Digital, a digital marketing consultant. It is a simple way to share photos of your products and services and have the customer share your brand as well.

To start, download the app and be sure to fill in your IG profile completely. Your name and username are the only parts included in IG search, so make them notable and relevant, advises Boot Camp Digital. The website link in your profile is the only place on IG that you can post a clickable link. This link may change often if you want to send visitors to a specific page. By using categories, you can free up space in your bio since you won’t need to repeat that information. And with only 150 characters allowed for a bio, that space is precious.

Allison Chaney, chief digital training officer for Boot Camp Digital, provided a next-step IG primer at last summer’s BrandSource Convention. At her seminar – “Instagram 201: Content Optimization Strategies for Maximum Engagement” – she noted that unlike other social platforms, you really have to make your IG posts interesting, inspirational and fun to build a relationship with the follower.

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For maximum effect, Chaney said you need to align your content to your objectives. Goals should include bringing awareness; building community; building bonds with influencers; creating engagement; announcing events; lead generation and sales conversions; and building traffic. The goals must be coupled with great content, because great content matters, she said, and quality is more important than quantity. If you don’t have great content, it doesn’t matter what time of the day or how often you post, she warned. It needs to be “thumb-stopping” and drive impact.

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If content is king, video is the king of content. On average, videos get more views than text, images or links, Chaney advised. You also get a higher-quality engagement or impression since viewers will stop to watch a video. Interactivity with videos keeps growing with live streaming, watch parties and interactive polls. If you are not doing video, you need to start now! The ideal length of an IG video is 30 seconds, she said.

Here are some other IG elements you need to know:

Stories: Stories is a highly visual, full-screen news feed that users tap to move to the next Story. As with content goals, a Story should be strategic, attract, reach, nurture, convert, retain, grow and advocate.

You can amplify your reach by using location, @mention and hashtags. Be sure your hashtags are popular and relevant.

An IG Story will only last 24 hours, although you can post a Story Highlight that will last indefinitely. If you decide to create a video Story, 15 seconds is all you need. 

By using IG Stories Ads, you can add links (by asking visitors to “swipe up”) without the need for 10,000 followers. This is a good way to get people to sign up for a promotion, opportunity or event, such as, “Swipe up and be the first to find out Monday’s Big Deal.”

“Stories are shifting the way we communicate and create content and they are too big to ignore,” Chaney said.

Influencer: Who is an influencer? Everyone is. But there are micro-influencers that are especially valuable to your IG account.  Local celebrities, builders and food bloggers can be micro-influencers since they have a niche with a dedicated following that can relate to your business. By utilizing influencers, you can amplify your message and earn credibility. It also builds trust, drives actions and humanizes your brand, which is particularly important, Chaney stressed. Building that relationship creates a bond.

Social Commerce: Create brand awareness by posting products, mentions, reviews, contests, giveaways and articles on those products. Vague content can be reused and save you time.

You can increase sales by creating discount codes and spend offers; by linking to the products; and by using product shots or presenting product endorsements. Also, be sure the products are priced; shoppable posts will get more engagement.

Improve Trust/Reputation: To achieve this, Chaney suggests recruiting brand ambassadors (think of “Flo,” the character from the Progressive Insurance TV spots); sending followers small customized gifts, free product or invitations to events; building partnerships; and sponsoring customers in a competition.

Again, make sure your content is short, bite-sized, well-organized and grabs attention early. Let your images do the talking; as mentioned, you are looking for that thumb-stopping power. User-generated content (USG) is a great way to fill posts and increase engagement as well. People love when you repost their content. You can even ask users to post to your account to get discounts with an @mention of you.

Viewers also love to see behind-the-scene images or videos. DIY/how-to’s, like where to place speakers for the best sound, how to organize a living room or what accents go with a bedroom set, create engagement. If your service team is answering the same questions over and over, post a video with that Q&A. It will leave an impression, and followers will contact you when service is needed in the future. 

“Amplify your message, maximize engagement and optimize your content to stop scroll,” Chaney urged. Indeed, with 50 percent of consumers following retailers on social, if you don’t make your presence known on IG, someone else will.