Founded in 2010, Instagram is an online photo- and video-sharing website that allows users to apply digital filters to pictures and share them via mobile devices. With approximately 200 million users and counting, Instagram holds significant potential for marketers looking to reach younger demographics who’ve flocked to the social network as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter.

One of the biggest appeals of Instagram is the ability for users to modify their photos with visually appealing filters and show off their photography to a wide audience of followers. Given that the most engaging posts on social media are those with images (Socialbakers revealed that 93% of the most engaging Facebook posts feature photos), small businesses and entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to engage customers and increase their brand’s reach by using Instagram.

1. Optimize Your Profile Page and Photos

The first thing you need to do is select a username that best represents your brand. If your actual brand name is available as a username, great, snatch that up. If not, add a short extension to it. For example, if you run a pizzeria named “Jim’s Pizza,” and that name isn’t available, try to add your location (i.e. “JimsPizzaDenver” or “JimsPizzaOnMain”) or try to incorporate your slogan or other brand iconography (i.e. “TheTastiestPizzaInDenver” or “HomeOfTheMonsterSlice”). Ideally, your username will be the same as your other social media accounts, allowing you to better integrate your campaign across all social verticals. If you need help generating an Instagram name, you can also try an Instagram name editor like this one.

To help people find you, fill out your Instagram bio section with brand-specific information. This should include a profile pic (e.g. your company logo), your company or Facebook URL, and a profile description explaining your company’s purpose for being on Instagram. The description should be concise and engaging (like anything on social media), and it may be a good idea to implement a hashtag (a hashtag is a key word preceded by the “#” symbol, for instance, #onlinesafety, #community) inside the description to encourage users to share your brand. In addition, remove all privacy barriers so you receive notifications whenever followers like and comment on your content.

When posting photos and videos, add fun and relevant captions that ask followers questions or bring up interesting facts. Take advantage of branding opportunities by integrating your corporate logo into your photos and videos. Unlike a Facebook page, users typically experience Instagram through their own personal feed based on whom they follow; ensuring that your brand presence is integrated throughout your Instagram content will help followers remember your company and increase the chances of engagement on the platform.

2. Make Your Product/Service the Star

Being on Instagram presents the perfect opportunity to put your products and services front and center for your audience. Fashion moguls and aspiring designers share panoramas of entire collections and zoomed-in views of detailed accessories. Independent restaurants and caterers have similar opportunities to display innovative recipes and colorful dishes that appeal to their followers’ tastes. Digital payments provider PayPal uses its Instagram feed to display everything from the products customers can sell on PayPal to the company’s credit card terminal.

If you’re a service-oriented organization like PayPal, you can use Instagram to showcase the equipment and tools you use to service customers. For instance, giving followers a virtual tour of your offices through a photo series provides a behind-the-scenes look at where your business ideas are conceived. Using collage apps such as Pic Stitch and Photo Grid can help you create and capture your story within a single picture frame.

3. Introduce Employees and Customers to Followers

Humanizing your brand creates trust and helps followers relate to the messaging around your products and services. One way to accomplish this on Instagram is to post photos of not just merchandise and equipment, but also your employees.

Highlight pictures of new recruits being welcomed by your team. Upload photos showing longtime staff assisting customers or receiving recognition for a job well done. These small glimpses inside the workplace provide people with an intimate look at the individuals behind your business. It’s also a chance to build familiarity within a medium that is often impersonal and to share content that isn’t directly self-promotional.

Facebook’s Instagram feed, which showcases employees’ experiences as they travel and work around the world, is another example of how to help followers build personal relationships with your team through social media. Likewise, your customers can become impromptu models and brand advocates by posting photos of themselves using your product or service. Bonobos, for example, encourages customers to tag their photos featuring Bonobos clothing with the promoted hashtag “#BonobosNation.”

4. Embed Filtered Videos on Your Website

Unlike Vine’s 6.5-second video functionality, Video on Instagram provides you with up to 15 seconds of filter-enabled, editable video. With Video on Instagram, you have additional features, including image stabilization and the ability to share the clip via email, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr and Twitter.

Once you’ve applied a filter to your video, you can embed your Instagram photo or video by clicking the share button to the right of the image and copying the provided text from your desktop web browser. Alternatively, plugins such as allow you to enter the Instagram video URL and generate the code to copy and embed into your website or blog. When users click on the Instagram logo of the video, it will take them directly to your company’s Instagram page where they can view more of your content.

5. Cross-Promote on Facebook and Twitter

When Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, it increased opportunities for marketers to seamlessly share content between the two platforms. Post Instagram photos on Facebook and Twitter so followers and fans on those social networks can share, comment and retweet it to other users. If you’re running a marketing campaign, create a simple hashtag that aligns with the campaign and your corporate brand.

If you make the hashtag simple but easily memorable, it will help people find your Instagram page and create additional opportunities for engagement. Similarly, don’t be afraid to add industry-related hashtags to photos, especially from events or conferences. This will make it easier for other brands and industry professionals on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to easily find them on the platforms.

6. Follow Your Customers and Your Competition

Don’t be afraid to follow your following. If a customer showcases your brand or service in a way consistent with your business’ messaging strategy, it’s an opportunity to reward your followers with recognition. This not only gives your follower’s work a higher profile, it also encourages other followers to do the same. It’s a great way of letting your following do your marketing for you.

You can also keep tabs on your competition by following their followers. This allows you to track your competitor’s promotions and developments instantaneously, allowing you to react as needed. This also creates opportunities to see how and where competitors promote themselves, making it easier to discover new audiences and markets for your business.

7. Post Consistently and Keep Improving

Perhaps the most important element of a successful Instagram campaign is determining how you should be posting as well as how often. Depending on your business, you may need to post daily or weekly. If you’re just starting out, experiment to find out what works well for you, or follow partners or competitors to see how often they post. Whatever the frequency, make sure to also pay attention to how your photos or videos perform. Use third-party analytics tools like Iconosquare to find the best times to post and to pinpoint which filters give you the most likes.

8. Utilize Apps for Tracking and Managing Posts

You want to make sure that your Instagram posts are reaching the widest audience possible, and you can achieve this by using one of the many social media analytics apps available. Tools like Nitrogram, Iconosquare and Simply Measured allow you to measure the effectiveness of your posts by showing graphs of their view counts, engagement levels and more. Using these apps in conjunction with A/B testing will help determine the most effective times and days for your Instagram posts, and by utilizing these optimal times, you can surely increase your brand reach as well as your following.

It may also be a good idea to invest in social media management tools that allow you to sync both manual and automated posts across all social media verticals. One of the most popular is HootSuite, which allows you to post content on over 35 social networks. It also helps you track the effectiveness of your entire social media campaign, making it a must-have for any social media marketer.

Once you determine your best practices, don’t stop there. Instagram is an evolving ecosystem with ever-changing trends and a steady flow of new users coming in. It is important to stay flexible and form a system of continuous experimentation and improvement. With these 8 tips in mind, you’ll have a leg-up on making Instagram a visual tool that’ll boost your brand’s online presence.