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InstagramYesterday marked the second anniversary of the first Instagram photo ever taken. Since that date over 50 million people have shared more than 1 billion photos on Instagram. In April of 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram (and its 13 employees) for $1 billion. What’s my point: it’s a pretty popular app, to say the least!

Tequila HerraduraSo what is Instagram? Instagram is a free photo sharing program  that allows users to take a photo, apply a digital filter to it and then share it on a variety of social networking services [Twitter, Facebook Timelines (personal and business), Tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare] as well as Instagram’s own network. Photos are confined to a square shape – a throwback to Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid images  – and the filters allow users to be creative and add even more personality to their photos. I find it, frankly, addictive. Once you start taking photos with Instagram, you probably won’t stop!

Ciudad de PanamaSo why should you be using Instagram for your small business? Here’s why:

1. It’s FREE! The Instagram app is freely downloadable for the iPhone at the iTunes Apps Store and for Android camera phones at Google Play.

2. It’s mobile: It is estimated that almost a billion people will primarily use their cell phone or other mobile device to connect to the internet in 2012. By 2015 more people in the U.S. will access the internet via their mobile device than via their computer (Check this infographic out). You will want your small business brand to be in front of these people as often as possible. Start now! Build a community!

3. It dovetails beautifully with your social networks: Instagram images can instantly be tweeted to your Twitter followers and posted to your Facebook Timeline  – in real-time while on the fly – providing your followers with rich, relevant and eye-catching content from wherever you may be.

Lounging BeachfrontImagine you’re the owner of a deep-sea fishing charter business. Posting images to your Facebook page or Tumblr blog and tweeting them out to your Twitter followers when one of your clients lands a trophy fish – as it happens – is a very powerful tool for building your brand and differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack.

What if you’re the owner of a beachfront hotel and you want to catch that perfect sunset over the Pacific Ocean? Or the atmosphere of just relaxing at the beach? Send an Instagram and share that image with your existing and potential clients – NOW! And while you’re at it, throw a geotag location on it for bragging rights!

HotelDive shop owners, boutique hotels, restaurant owners, tour operators, souvenir shops, used car dealers, domestic airlines, real estate brokers – you name it: all of those small businesses can harness the power of “mobile social” to win new customers and keep current customers warm. The list is endless.

Are you a small business owner in Paradise, or anywhere else in the world? If you are, put yourself and your brand out there with Instagram and start reaping the benefits of the “mobile social” revolution!

+Mike Poynton

UPDATE, 19 July: I was remiss in not including in this post a program that puts Instagram on your desktop. It’s called Instagrille for Pokki. It offers some features — such as looking at photos posted from nearby — that aren’t even available in Instagram itself. Check it out!