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So you’ve decided that Instagram is right for your store. You’ve got your smartphone out and you’re ready to start snapping pictures of your products. But before you recreate your entire catalogue and get stuck in a rut, take a look at these three easy ways you can leverage Instagram to build relationships that can help boost conversion.

Repost follower pics to share a lifestyle and build brand affinity

Consumer decision making isn’t always driven by price or quality. In fact, many consumers choose brands aligned with a lifestyle that resonates with them. For example, when you buy a Mercedes Benz, you’re not just buying a car, you’re buying into an image and a lifestyle of affluence.

While we could write a dissertation on branding and customer personas, all you need to know for Instagram is the networks visual nature makes it easy to share images that align with a lifestyle your brand represents. To do this, think of the type of personality your store appeals to and create photos that match. If that sounds like a lot of work, consider crowdsourcing content by reposting your customers’ images.

REI, a major retailer that sells camping gear, uses their Instagram feed to share customer photos of outdoor adventures. Not only does this help create a bond with the customer through shared interests, but it also showcases products in real life, the way people use them. Customers also feel good because their favorite brand shared their photo.

To do this, REI asks their customers to use the hashtag #REI1440project. They then save the photos using a desktop client like IconoSquare, and repost the images on their Instagram feed with full attribution in the caption. If you don’t mind having the attribution watermarked on the photo, you can also just use IconoSquare’s regram feature by clicking the icon at the bottom of the picture you want to share.

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Share sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes shots to energize fans

Super fans love to feel like insiders. So use Instagram to give them what they want. Show them what goes on behind the shopping cart and you’ll energize them to buy later.

One way is to build momentum for a new product launch or a big sale by sharing sneak peeks of what’s coming down the pike. Step up engagement and make it fun by challenging your customers to guess the products from only a closeup or small piece of the image.

Go a step further and take the customer behind the scenes to know the story of your product or brand. For example, if you sell handmade jewelry like Raven + Lily, use your Instagram feeds to show the artisans crafting the jewelry. This will help the customer emotionally connect with the product in a way that a text-based description just can’t. Bonus points, of course, if you use Instagram’s video functionality.

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Use direct messaging for promos and contests

Until a few months ago, the only way Instagram users could communicate with each other was through comments on photos. That all changed when Instagram opened up private messaging between users. When used creatively, it can be a great promotional tool for marketers.

For example, let’s say you run Bob’s Grill Store and just kicked off a campaign for the 4th of July. You ask your customers to post patriotic photos of themselves using their grills throughout the holiday weekend. Every photo tagged with #4thofJulyBobBQ and your Instagram handle @BobsGrillStore gets a coupon code direct messaged to them worth 5-45% off, limit one photo per Instagram user.

instagram ecommerce flyerThe catch is direct messages have to be a photo. If you want to go simple, just send a photo with the promo code in the caption underneath. Or if you want to take it up a notch, grab an image and and drop some text over it.

To make this flyer, we used Phonto, but depending on your style, there are several apps that will help you put a word on it. Just remember, the image has to fit into Instagram’s square format. Also, don’t forget to use your other communications channels, like email and Facebook, to get the word out about the campaign.

Any other ideas? How are you using Instagram to increase conversion? Share your success stories or learning experiences in the comments.

Photo by Thomas Leuthard used under Creative Commons.

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