Many businesses have been turning to social media in a bid to get the word out about their business and products. The photo and video app Instagram can be invaluable to you if you know how to get the best out of it.

As part of our Boost My Business initiative Fiona Alston asked social media consultant and curator Paul Dunphy Esquire for all the best advice on how to make the most of Instagram, and to clear up the confusion over your follower ratio.

Use Instagram stories - Especially if you're a small business owner. It's a brilliant way to get your message out because when you use stories, your little round button appears at the top of everyone's screen saying that you have posted a story. You are seen there straight away.

It does only last 24 hours so you need to keep adding to it to make it work, you can't just go in and do one story – do stories least two to three times a week to make it work for you. There's no shortcuts on Instagram, you have to put the work in - but there are key ways of using your time effectively and stories is one of them.

Use video - It's just imperative for success on Instagram. in particular. Cisco has recently estimated that by 2022 over 80% of all social media content will be video based in some format or another.

Keep them short, a minute or minute and a half, and interesting.

Show yourself and your team – People want to see who's behind the brand, they don't want to see logos anymore. They want to see the personality of the brand.

Interact with your customers - And it's been proven time and time again that customers who’ve had interaction with businesses, on social media channels like Instagram, will purchase from that business rather than a brand that didn't.

It's key, you have to interact with your with people who follow you and if you haven't got time, at the very least like people's comments, if they've replied to you. It builds trust, they start to come to you for content and it all snowballs from there.

Always be positive and use smiling upbeat images - it's amazing how many people don't do that. People  are automatically attracted to people's timelines that look like they're smiling, or they look positive and happy. Keep away from negativity - you don't want to be associated with that yourself - always keep it positive.

Post daily – if you really want to get value out if it you need to be posting daily, or at least five days out of the seven.

Follow people back - if it is someone you know or it’s someone you're interested in. There are people who just give you a follow to try and get followers but they actually don't mean anything and you'll never hear back from them – just make sure that if you follow them back they are relevant to your community.

Don’t get too hung up with who’s following and unfollowing you because that's just part and parcel of it, it’s always going to happen.

Focus on your own products, your business and getting your message out and follow people that you want to follow, be it your competition, the people or businesses you admire.

Use hashtags – hashtags help people navigate through the millions of posts that are going up every day on all social channels. It helps people to find what is relevant to them and their own interests.

Put at least ten hashtags, but always keep them at the end of your Instagram post, it just looks nice and tidy - no more than ten or it can start to look a bit spammy.  

One of those hashtags should always be a hashtag relevant to you or your company. (for example, Paul’s hashtag is #hirethesquire)

If you are put up an Instagram post and you're not using hashtags, you're just wasting your own time, the only people to see it are your own followers and that won’t invite new followers.

Don’t be afraid to request followers - if you feel your followers are low and you want more, don't be afraid to say so, when you post something just say 'I'd love some new followers, could you please share this post’.

Tag people or friends in your posts or stories – just don’t overdo it or people will tire of the constant tagging.

You can un-tag yourself from posts but just bear in mind, if you do, the original poster can see this.

Have your Instagram feed on your website - but do not do that unless you know you're going to keep your Instagram up to date. There is nothing worse than scrolling through a stale, unkept account.

Make sure your social media handles/call to action buttons are viable on your website too, don’t leave them down at the end of a page like they are an afterthought – your account is the face of your business, advertise that.

Go Live – it’s fantastic as you’re speaking directly on video to your audience. The audience can interact, they can ask you questions or give you feedback in real time. You can invite guests, who are an expert in a certain field, to join your conversation and ask your followers to send you questions for the event.

Try to do a ‘live’ once a week on the same day, at the same time so people expect it but just make sure that you are not clashing with an event, like a sports match, which could take your audience away.

It's also a fantastic way of organically building your followers. Make sure the guests that you invite have an active following and perhaps a bigger following than you – that’s all the better because they’ll share it on their Instagram. Be clever, there's no point inviting a guest on who has very few followers and the last time they posted was back in 2010.

Check and update your bio regularly – it’s something people tend to forget about. It's definitely worth checking every few months because we all change and grow as a business, or independently, online. What you might have put in our bio twelve months ago may be very different to what you want to focus on now.

Fill everything in - fill in the website details, email, tell us about yourself and use a really positive picture of yourself or your company and change your profile imagery every few months as well, it just makes it look fresh.

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