Imagine if you had access to 1 billion people who could follow your business, see your updates and easily find information on your products and services.In June, Instagram reached 1 billion users on the platform, showing that it has rapidly become one of the most popular social networking platforms on the web. But why? Instagram is a social networking app that has been created for sharing photos and videos from your smart phone and sharing with people that either follow you or have similar interests. Unlike Facebook, the advertising is more discreet and much more interest based, and you will only see posts from businesses and people that you follow. No more seeing what your neighbours grandmother had for dinner last week. There is less politics, less drama, just great images, with low amounts of text and things that interest you. It is a great marketing and networking tool for businesses, both service and product based and gives your potential buyers a sneak peak into your business before buying. Your profile can be set to private or public to determine the number of people, and the level of control you have over who can see the content that you share.If you are using the platform as a way of building sales, increasing followers and interacting with people, then using hashtags are a crucial part of this. Hashtags are a very popular and important part of Instagram and increasing your exposure.Adding a hashtag to your post, in essence, adds an extra search term to your post. So by using hashtags that relate to the image or video you have posted help people to find your posts, which then in turn can increase your following and boost sales. Instagram has a limit of 30 hashtags that can be used in any single post. You do not have to use all 30, but the more you use, the more search terms there are for your post. A relatively new feature Instagram released is the ability to follow “hashtags” rather than individual profiles, which is a great tool for customers to see their interests all in one place. If there are certain hashtags that you regularly use for your business, you can now follow them and see what types of posts are trending and popular that are similar to you. Most people would think that sharing a few photos isn’t a very good marketing technique. However when you couple this with links to your website in your posts and profile, popular searchable hashtags and appealing graphics you have a relatively cheap and affective marketing plan. There is the option to pay for advertisements on Instagram , just like on Facebook, however if you are utilising your hashtags correctly, then paid advertising is often not required. Like all paid advertising, we always recommend having a clear plan, target your market with thought and produce quality content to advertise – you want a return on investment, not just likes. Before you start using hashtags it is a good idea to research, research, research. Is your competition using hashtags? Are they posting regularly? These are things you need to be doing with your account to ensure that you are seen by your followers and increasing in exposure. A word of caution; be careful with your hashtags. There are ‘trending’ hashtags which are ones that are being used right now and viewed by many people, which is great if your business is relevant to that hashtag, but if you get caught up in using “on trend” hashtags that aren’t relevant, your posts will quickly get lost amongst those that are. There is no point using a hashtag of #healthyeating when you are an accounting business posting a photo of doing your taxes. Instagram is growing at an increasingly rapid rate and if you have a business and are not yet on the platform it is definitely an area to think about utilising. If you have an account already and are not using hashtags – research and start to utilise them! Think of it the way as you would as SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) for your website but on a smaller, simpler scale. Lastly, don’t forget to have fun with your account! Show a bit of your personal side and interact with your followers regularly.#instagram#socialmedia#advertising