The Best Way to Use Instagram for Business


If you're a business or brand on Instagram, you may be missing out on the easiest and most meaningful way to engage with your target audience with a branded hashtag.

A branded hashtag is typically a company name, slogan, or unique string of words. The reason behind creating a unique catch phrase as opposed to your brand name can be a few reasons.

This is single handedly, the best way to use Instagram for business in 2017. Here's why.

For example, let's take a look a Billabong.

If you search #billabong on Instagram, it'll reproduce over 700,000 photos. Although many photos in this feed are beach related, they're no longer necessarily tied to the Billabong brand due to the spamming and irrelevant use of the hashtag.

On top of that, Billabong is more than just one single brand, it offers women's wear, men's wear, gear, tech, and more. To engage with their varying audiences and build community, Billabong has created a number of branded hashtags including #aBikiniKindaLife, #surfallday, and #lifesbetterinboardshorts that it promotes to its audience in their profile.

Here's what that looks like in practice.


How to use a branded hashtag to inspire user generated content

@workhardanywhere is an Instagram account that highlights the stories and workspaces of digital nomads and creatives across the globe.

In their profile, they clearly display their branded hashtag #workhardanywhere to inspire other remote workers to show off their daily workspace, cafe, or desk.


They've built an entire brand, community, and even physical products surrounded by the immediate needs and desires learned through engaging with their audience on social.

The important word here is engaging.

Engaging with your audience is more than just liking a photo or commenting a generic line or two followed by the same overused emoji.

Engaging with your audience is starting a conversation and following up with what other people have to say.

When interacting with your audience and potential customers, you can stand out as a brand by sharing user generated content by followers who use your branded hashtag.

Featuring your followers on your own feed is a win-win. A user created content for you for free because they genuinely love your brand and buy from you. As a thank you, you share their content on your feed.

Sharing a customer's photo on Instagram means the world, here's why:

  • If you've created a branded hashtag and a user has been participating in that hashtag for months and finally gets a shout out, they notice. They tell their friends, they're proud.

  • Users who gain followers from your shares will be inspired to create more content with your product.

  • Your product is being shared in a genuine and organic way.

  • Your brand exposure increases.

Oh, and one note on this.

I once worked with someone who suggested we rig our Instagram giveaway. She figured, if we picked someone who has a lot of followers on Instagram, they'll post about us and send us followers.

I get it, but no. That's not how it works. And honestly, it's not that expensive to just work directly with an influencer instead of trying to work around paying them.

Pick the people you feature because you truly love their photos of your product. Your biggest fans will rave about you forever, a random influencer that isn't relevant to your brand won't unless you build an actual relationship like you've done with said customer.

Additionally, you never know who's who. That person sharing and liking your content every day with 400 followers may work for a huge media outlet or could be a PR professional.

Act right, people! The internet's watching.

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Pictured above are two wins I had using the #workhardanywhere hashtag on Instagram. As a true believer in this brand, it was incredible to be featured by them a number of times.

What's also cool is I totally remember where I was when I took both of these photos, and I'll always remember this brand when I see these pictures.

Triggering that kind of emotion is what I call a win.


Best practices for sharing user generated content on Instagram

Now, if you think sharing photos that you find on Instagram is a free for all, you're wrong.

If you think I'm wrong, go ahead and ignore best practices and cause a PR nightmare for yourself. ;)

@lornajaneactive does an incredible job working user generated content shared by their customers using a branded hashtag.

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The reason why Lorna Jane crushes it when it comes to Instagram community building is due to how incredible they are at diversifying their content, they post often, and they properly credit their audience when sharing their content.

On top of that, they feature a wide range of people, faces, and shapes on their account. It's interesting, I'm never bored, and I actually find new people to engage with on social.

Some brands will get into this trap where they'll repost the same influencers photos, collaborate with the same bloggers, or never post original content of their own. It's important to find a healthy mix of what makes sense for your brand, audience, and social media goals.

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Pictured above are two photos I had featured on the @lornajaneactive Instagram account. They have ~800K followers! I for sure appreciated the love. I was also inspired to take more photos of my Lorna Jane journal for social media.

When sharing user generated content online, consider the following:

  • Did this person use your brand hashtag?

  • Did this person tag your brand in the photo?

  • Is everyone in the photo 18+?

  • Is this person the original creator of this work?

If everything mentioned is true, you should be clear to repost the photo in question, so long as you give credit.

It's extremely important to read captions and make sure that the person who posted the photo in question in the original creator.

At the end of the day, it doesn't hurt to message someone and ask before posting someone else's content on your own channel. Not to mention, it's hella easy to do!

A few other notes:

  • If a person isn't 18+, you should not be reposting their content without clear consent. I once worked with a graphic designer who stole an image from Google of a girl and used it in a Facebook ad. The Facebook ad? Oh, it edited her acne out of her skin with an app we were promoting. It gets worse. The girl in the ad was about 15 in the photo. We discovered all of this when her Youtube fans recognized her and started commenting on the ad. I didn't even know this ad was running, and suddenly I was doing damage control. Fucking, yikes.

  • Always give credit to original creators by tagging them in photos you repost on Instagram and by shouting them out in the comments.

  • If a person has not tagged your brand in a photo and did not use your branded hashtags, do not repost their content without consent.

  • If you don't credit someone and get called out, own it, apologize and take the desired action of the creator. They'll ask you to remove it or credit them appropriately.

  • Just another reminder that it doesn't hurt to ask.


How to properly give credit to a content creator, influencer, or blogger on Instagram

  • Always remember to tag the original photographer in the photo.

  • Mention the original photographer in the caption of the photo. It can be misleading when this isn't included.

  • If the person didn't tag your brand or use your branded hashtag, ask before sharing their photos.


How to build community using branded hashtags in stories

If you're late to the game, Instagram recently rolled out a new feature that allows you to hashtag your stories.

Now, when you search a hashtag, you'll see the option of scrolling through photos using the hashtag or stories that were tagged with it. (See bottom right)

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This is an incredible way to also build and engage with your community.

And to be honest, no one is doing this better right now than @pursuitofportraits. Their hashtag #pursuitofportraits attracts the best of the best when it comes to creative portrait photography on Instagram.

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The best part about this community is how engaged the admins are. They are always hosting branded hashtag photo challenges and shouting out contest winners and dope work in their stories.

They even consider the layout and how they're visually going to represent each creative and have truly created their own style of Instagram stories.

Now that's Insta worthy.

How is your brand incorporating branded hashtags and user generated content into your content strategy?