Posted on September 28, 2015 by Webfor Instagram is growing like a Chia Pet in direct sunlight – you can practically see it happening! (Actually, you can watch Instagram grow with Internet In Real Time. It’s truly mesmerizing…) The photo-sharing social network recently passed the 400 million user mark, doubling their user numbers in just 18 months. With this ridiculous growth, Instagram has officially become more popular than Twitter, which has struggled to increase user numbers over the last year or so. Twitter counted 316 million active users as of June, up from 255 million in April of 2014. Aside from that, there are other things going on at Instagram that should excite users and marketers alike. Last month they introduced landscape and portrait formatting (hallelujah!). Now instead of agonizing about how to crop tall or wide photos and video, Instagram will post your media with its original dimensions. blog.instagram.com They’ve updated the platform’s search functionality, allowing users to explore what’s trending and find the latest photos in real-time based on hashtags, location, and people. blog.instagram.com On Wednesday, September 30th, Instagram’s ad platform will be available for all users. We’ve already seen the big brands running ad campaigns on ‘the gram,’ and because it operates on the same technology as Facebook ads, you can expect Instagram’s ads to be just as effective and easy to use. Take a look at the Carousel feature they’ve incorporated. So, if you’re marketing a small or medium-sized business, does all this mean you should start or increase use of Instagram? That depends on your business and your social media goals. Here are Instagram’s Biggest Pros and Cons Engagement is better Business Insider data puts Instagram’s “Engagement Index” at 13.5, which is greater than Twitter’s 7.4, but still well behind Facebook’s trouncing 50.7. According to SproutSocial, Instagram posts generate a per-follower engagement rate of 4.21 percent. That small of a percentage doesn’t sound that impressive, but it is when you realize it’s 58 times better than Facebook, and 120 times better than Twitter. Why is engagement better? Hashtags appear to be more effective on Instagram as users seem to be more willing to peruse photos under a certain tag than tweets or status updates. And now with improved search, hashtags are likely to work even better. The same goes for mentions and location tagging, which increase Instagram post engagement by 56 and 79 percent respectively. BUT… and that’s a big but. Instagram doesn’t allow users to include links in posts like other networks do. As a result, it’s much more difficult to run a campaign on Instagram with the goal of driving traffic to your website. Your only option is to put a URL in the caption and hope that users copy/paste it into their search browser. However, with the addition of a “Shop Now” button, “Learn More” button, and ads promising to direct users to specific product pages, you can turn the tables on this marketing shortcoming (as long as you have the budget). If you aren’t excited about buying ads or you’re not dead set on driving traffic, Instagram can still be a very powerful weapon in raising brand awareness and engagement. So, can you be successful on Instagram? Get the answer by asking yourself one critical question…Do you have (or can you create) a steady stream of compelling images to share? This social platform is 100% image-based, so if you’re already in the habit of creating and sharing images on social media, Instagram will be easy and well worth your time. If you’re just getting started with photo sharing for social media, check out my previous blog, Creating Custom Visuals: Why & How See you on the gram!