By Emily Suess

As a small business owner you should be taking advantage of the low-cost marketing opportunities made available by social media websites. If your business has a habit of churning out great visual content, Instagram should definitely be part of your social media marketing plan.

Learn the Ropes First

Before you start posting to your new account, see how other brands are using Instagram and learn the basics. Instagram has a blog just for business owners that offers tips and case studies for your edification.

Balance Your Image Content

Change up your images to prevent followers from tuning out your stream. Post something humorous, then post a picture from your small business, then post a customer-submitted photo. Use filters for some images but not for others. Make content engaging; overt advertising will come off as spammy.

Gather More Followers

There are a few things you can do to generate greater interest in your Instagram account: cross-post select Instagram content on other social media sites, follow your followers back, offer promo codes with select posts, and communicate with your followers when they post new content.

Leaving comments on other Instagram photos is an absolute must for creating loyalty among your followers. You can also use @ in the comments on your own images and videos to mention other users, and they’ll be notified. When things get quiet, take the initiative and get new conversations started.

Use Instagram Content on Your Blog

Embedding Instagram content on your website and blog serves two major functions for marketing your small business. First, you get great visuals to use on web pages and blog posts without having to waste time searching for or creating new visuals. Second, when you link back to your Instagram account from those images, you help build a bigger following for your business’s profile on the site.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

As with any social media content, the quality of the content you post is always more important than the quantity. In fact, if you add content too frequently, you run the risk of flooding your followers’ streams and becoming an annoyance. That’s definitely not good for business.

Run Instagram Contests

Your small business can run photo contests on Instagram. Just use a hashtag to mark submissions for contest entries. A branded hashtag can appeal to your target audience on a very basic level while still working to promote your small business. For example, a company like Whole Foods could use the hashtag #WholeMeals to encourage customers to post recipes made with Whole Foods groceries.

Brand Your Instagram Profile

As with every other social network, you should use your profile as an opportunity to present a well-branded business to your customers and potential customers. Fill out a complete profile, including all the information a customer might need to interact with you and, ultimately, do business with you.

Do you already use Instagram to promote your small business? What things do you find most challenging and most rewarding for your small business?