What Business Owners Should Be Doing on Instagram by Debby Carreau @FortuneMagazine July 21, 2016, 7:38 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Linkedin Share icons Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform, boasting half a billion users who are also potential customers, employers and business partners. If you aren’t on Instagram in a meaningful way, you could be missing out on a significant opportunity. Posts with visual content are 40 times more likely to be shared on social media and having a personal brand is more important than ever. However, technology has made controlling the message behind that brand much more difficult as there is very little separation between the personal and public spheres. The following seven tips cover different aspects of using Instagram and will help you start to build a following. 1. Recognize “advertising” and “Instagramming” are two different things All it takes is a quick look at the Victoria’s Secret Instagram account (@victoriassecret) to know that product marketing is not the direct focus. The idea here is to lure consumers back by presenting pleasing content with the advertising aspect kept well in the background. Lesson: The primary objective must be to build a loyal brand following. Purchases and engagements will follow organically. 2. Be authentic to build a connection No person or brand is perfect; followers need to know you are real. Provide a mix of professional images and some fun candid shots. Singer/songwriter/actress Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) shares details of her life in photos to almost 39.5 million fans. These cover everything from professional images to some very personal ones with family members. Lesson: Your Instagram should resemble a patchwork quilt of your brand. Some posts will be 100% on brand, while others offer a glimpse into your everyday life. Plan, but be genuine, not rehearsed. Related: When This Startup’s ‘Shark Tank’ Deal Fell Through, Tinder’s CEO Pounced 3. Tell a story Your pictures shouldn’t feel staged. They must paint a real picture of what the day-to-day life of a successful executive is like. Everyone likes a story and Instagram is a great place to engage followers by posting a sequence of photos. For example, if you are a speaker about to present a keynote, post your three potential outfits. Follow this up with a photo of what you chose, and, later, a third photo of you at the event. This also works well for packaged goods. Ask your followers for their thoughts on two options of new packaging. Continue with a post of what you chose and, finally, a photo of the restyled product on a store shelf. Lesson: Keep your followers engaged by interconnecting posts through stories. 4. Brand rub Focus on aligning yourself with other brands. Even if they aren’t in your space, such associations broaden your follower base. Whether it is Nike at the Boston Marathon or work colleagues at Soul Cycle, bringing two brands together into one photo and hashtagging them increases the likelihood of new followers. Lesson: Business alliances don’t have to be formal to work. Rub shoulders with other organizations as both sides will benefit. 5. Choose quality over quantity Famous worldwide for decades, National Geographic (@natgeo) has done more to capture and popularize the wonders of nature and the animal kingdom than any other organization. It enjoys a stellar reputation created through establishing and adhering to a benchmark of quality. You may not be able to offer stunning shots of dolphins at play in the Atlantic or penguins wobbling across the frozen wastes of Antarctica, but you can still make your account the best it can be. Embrace new ways to engage. For example, Instamuseum turns your Instagram photos into a virtual reality tour for your users. Lesson: Carefully consider the quality of your content. People prefer lovely and engaging images. 6. Use captions to engage followers Interactive posts are the most likely to encourage return visits. Create a reason for people to stop by every day and share your account with friends. For example: a memorable caption makes a photo extra shareable. Take one of your most appealing images and ask your followers to create a caption. An app like Over (@over) can make captioning visually appealing and is really easy to use. People also respond well to pictures that stir a sense of pride or advocate the need for change. What images can you post that would encourage such responses? Lesson: Lovely images catch the eye, but extra stimulation helps encourage loyalty. 7. Just start The most important piece of advice I can offer is to be certain your message is consistent and authentic. If it isn’t, you will never build the personal brand you strive to achieve. That said, do not plan too long before you take the plunge. Your followers will discover your strengths and appeal, while you will simultaneously learn more about what aspects of yourself or your business are the most enticing by looking at the engagement level on each post. Lesson: Be professional and interesting in equal measures, but be interesting first.