Get out your pink paint. Or your coral, or yellow, or teal. By the time you finish reading this column, you’re going to be painting one wall of your small business a color that will “pop” on Instagram. Why? Because Instagram is today’s powerhouse social media site for consumer businesses. If you can give customers an inviting way to post to Instagram, you’ll be getting them doing your advertising for free.

A few years ago, if you wanted to reach retail consumers, the social media site of choice was Facebook. While it may still be good for reaching certain demographics, many consumers—especially Millennial female consumers—love Instagram. If the stuff they’re looking at is eye-popping—either pretty or visually interesting—they’re going to be more likely to engage with you on Instagram and eventually buy from you. (Instagram is owned and operated by Facebook.)

Some businesses are actually being formed JUST for Instagram. The “Museum of Ice Cream” is not actually a museum, but an extended Instagram backdrop. This installation, with a permanent location in San Francisco and a travelling exhibit that appeared in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, has lines around the block, with folks waiting to pay $38 to get in to take their pics in ice-cream-themed settings.

There’s also a Color FactoryMuseum of Pizza, and Rose Mansion—all basically giant Instagram photo booths, with settings (and lighting) that makes Instagram photos irresistible. In fact, the picture I currently use on my Instagram account was taken at the Museum of Ice Cream. Check it out:

What’s an inviting way to get customers to use your location as the backdrop for their Instagram posts? How about love? For example, Liz Lambert, founder of Jo’s Coffee in Austin, Texas painted an outside wall at her small cafe with the company’s slogan “I love you so much.” Couples, friends, parents, dog owners all eagerly post their photos together on Instagram tagging @joscoffee.

View this post on Instagram

Happy 2019! 🎉🎊 We love you so much, come and see us and bring your favorite fuzzy pal, we can’t wait to see you! 📷: @zilkerbark #joscoffee #joshotcoffeegoodfood

A post shared by Jo's Coffee (@joscoffee) on

Make it easy for customers to take great pictures to post, such as PaintBox Nails in New York City. They installed an Instagram camera space in their Soho nail art salon. PaintBox did a couple of other things right that helped them get a whopping 172 thousand Instagram followers. They included their company name in the background where customers take their pics, and they created a hashtag they use consistently to help people find and follow them.

How can you get your small business to gather followers and engagement on Instagram and, ideally, increase sales?
For businesses with physical locations:
  1. Paint a wall or portion of a wall a bright, clean color that ‘pops’ on Instagram. This becomes the backdrop for customers to use when taking pics of themselves at your establishment.
  2. Create a unique eye-popping design on a wall, like Jo’s Coffee did.
  3. Create an Instagram “booth” with a cool background and good lighting for close-up photos.
  4. Make sure your @CompanyName is painted or printed on everything you create as an Instagram background.
  5. Put a “stand here” indication, such as put footprints on the floor, to make sure people don’t cover your name.
  6. Invent an “Instagram pic of the day” with a suggestion of something visual and invite customers to take a photo and tag your business.
  7. Design your napkins, furniture, plates to be Instagrammable.
Making your company Instagram-worthy is harder for small businesses that don’t have physical locations. So you have to figure out a way to make customers want to engage with your products or your company. Here are a few methods to try:
  1. Create a template for your posts—using the same colors and fonts so you become quickly recognizable.
  2. Use inspiring quotes and messages—people like to feel good!
  3. Create (good clean) fun posts that give followers a lift.
  4. Make your photos as beautiful as possible.
  5. Make your posts pretty using a tool like Canva or Over or Adobe Photoshop Express.
  6. Use Instagram Stories to show followers a “behind-the-scenes” look at your business.
  7. Post multiple pics to make viewers swipe which increases engagement.

Remember, hashtags are important! Use them to help your posts go viral.

Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019

This article originally ran in USA Today on January 17, 2019