You're comfortable snapping, filtering, and sharing pictures of food, sunsets, and, well, more food. You follow a few friends and occasionally get a handful of likes on your photos (and maybe a "yum" comment). You occasionally stray into the (recently renamed) 'Explore' tab, but you’re not looking for pictures of teen heartthrobs or fingernail art , so you exit immediately. Sure, Instagram has magical filters that turn your phone's pictures into effortlessly share-able instant nostalgia, but there must be something more to it.
The best and most overlooked feature of Instagram is the hashtag. Unless you're a really savvy user (see: Dan Kim) or a teenager, you probably haven't paid much attention to how hashtags work on Instagram, but you should.
Have you ever tried doing a search on Instagram? Unlike Twitter, you can only see results with a corresponding hashtag. Untagged words are unsearchable, so any photo without a hashtag is virtually invisible to the 80 million users that aren't following you. To tag a photo, you don't have to put it in your initial post that goes to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, or Flickr. You can add hashtags to your photo's comments after the fact and you get the same effect. Step 1: Post your photo with a normal text description. Step 2: Leave a comment on your own photo with a few hashtags. Step 3: Watch the likes and comments start streaming in.
More reach, more likes, more followers
Are you already posting great images for your brand? Most likely, the only people that have seen them are your followers, but now you can add hashtags retroactively to reach a much larger audience and get additional views from users not already familiar with your brand. Don't be surprised if your like counts double and your follower count gets a nice little bump as well.
Discover influencers and potential customers
Besides sharing images that can help visualize your brand, using Instagram's search can allow you to identify and reach out to potential influencers and customers with more ease than any other social network. Search for something your brand relates to and you'll find relevant photos from the past hour (if not minutes) that you can quickly and easily engage with. Search for an event that's happening and you'll find pictures that you can interact with in real time. You don't even need a phone to search and engage, you can use web app like Statigram. By liking and commenting on photos in a Likeable, non-spammy way, you should be able to attract a nice following on Instagram.
While a Twitter search will return lots of unrelated noise, you'll find laser accuracy with an Instagram search. Additionally, your eyes can scan photos quicker than they can read words, so you can promptly find what you're looking for on Instagram because you don't have to read anything. A picture is worth 1000 words, after all.
Engage with your existing fans
Encourage your fans to use your own hashtag. It's fun, interactive, and gives you user-generated content you can share on your other visual networks. Pin photos to your brand's Pinterest with Pinstagram or create a Facebook tab displaying a feed of hashtagged photos using Wildfire. Featuring your fans' photos is a great way to reward them for their efforts. Red Mango tells their fans to tag their frozen yogurt Instagram pics with #RedMango. They then collect the photos and share the best ones on their website, Facebook, and Pinterest. Women's fashion brand, Free People is crowdsourcing hashtagged Instagram photos on some product pages, letting their fans become their models and letting customers see how the clothes fit and look on other real people.