On its surface, Instagram is a fun photo-based social network. Like Facebook and Twitter, when it was first introduced, Instagram was largely unpopulated by businesses.

Designed for individual users – aka real people – it thrives off high quality, engaging content. While ads exist in the form of sponsored posts, they have yet to overrun the platform. (Sponsoring posts is an invite-only privilege.)

Thus, Instagram is an incredible and relatively free marketing opportunity for businesses that embrace what it has to offer. Whether you’re just starting to use Instagram or are immersed in the platform already, these five tips will help you maximize your presence.

Use Your Link Wisely

Your profile is currently the only place you can put a clickable hyperlink on Instagram. The link lives beneath your bio description. While as marketers the idea of one link makes us cringe a bit, we can’t help but celebrate this setup’s clean and unobtrusive nature. It demands that you put users first if you want to succeed.

The important thing is to make that one link count. Use it strategically. It doesn’t have to stay the same all the time. In fact, it’s best if it changes in relationship to what you’re promoting at the moment. Are you hosting a contest? Direct folks there. Are you encouraging your fans to sign up for your monthly newsletter? Use the link to send them to a custom-landing page. Announcing a sale? Connect your audience directly to the sale page of your website.

Inside Scoop: Google Analytics doesn’t recognize mobile traffic that comes from Instagram. The easiest workaround is to use a trackable link in your Instagram profile. Sites like Buffer and Bitly create trackable links. This helps you monitor how much traffic you’re actually sending to your website or desired landing page.

Give Your Audience Context

What does your business do? What makes your product or service unique? Why, as a user, should I care?

These are the questions the photos and video you’re sharing should answer. Give your audience some context. If you run a flower shop, it’s great to post pictures of lovely arrangements. What’s even better is showing those lovely arrangements in a home, at a wedding or getting delivered to a loved one.

If you operate a cleaning service, you could certainly share images of cleaning products. But imagine the impact of showcasing a before and after.

Remember, the goal is always to get your audience to imagine how your product or service will benefit them.

Keep Captions Short

With each image and video you can share a caption of up to 2,200 characters. That’s a long caption. We don’t recommend you share anything that long.

Ideally, you want your image caption to be 200 characters or less. Like all of social media, your audience’s attention span is limited. You want to engage them quickly.

Inside Scoop: Rules are meant to be broken. Your audience is unique. If you test a long status and they respond to it, then keep doing what works.

Utilize Hashtags

Hashtags can be incorporated in post captions and comments. By utilizing relevant hashtags in your posts, you can increase your reach and maximize user engagement.

How many hashtags can you use? As many as you can fit within your 2,200 character limit. How many should you use? The best captions typically have between one and three hashtags.

Inside Scoop: If you are creating a unique hashtag for a campaign, be sure to research it first. Has it been used? If so, by how many people and in what context? The last thing you want is to attach your business to something that’s been shown in a negative light.

Harness the Text Overlay

Adding a text overlay to your image is a great way to ensure your message isn’t missed. Unfortunately, the Instagram app doesn’t let you add text to photos. The text needs to be overlaid before you upload it.

You can use high-end design and development programs like Photoshop and InDesign to add a text overlay. Or you can go a little easier and more affordable route with an online tool like PicMonkey.

Are you currently using Instagram? What tips and tricks do you recommend? Shoot us an email and let us know.