The photo-sharing app Instagram, which evolved out of the kitsch cult following left behind when Polaroid camera went off the market, continues to establish itself firmly in the social media world. Like Twitter, this app is a social micro-blogging platform that prides itself on brevity and trendiness. Unlike, Twitter, Instagram is based solely on images. Now two years old, Instagram has 27 million registered users, doubling up since December of 2011. Instagram is fun, social, creative and more—but how is it useful on a business level? It turns out Instagram can be leveraged for the purpose of brand development, which includes marketing, reputation management, and crowdsourcing:

Connecting with consumers through visual storytelling—At its core, Instagram is about taking pictures, adding filters and sharing the images across the Internet. But there is more going on than meets the eye. Instagram is also creating an active community of visual storytelling. Small businesses who get involved in this community not only tap into the hearts and souls of their consumers, they can tell their own stories. What is your brand all about? Instagram offers companies the opportunity to make their legacy just as hip and relevant as anything else in pop culture. Ask your customers to tell their stories visually, and tell yours too.

Create bonds with user-generated content—Instagram is a wonderful way to solicit user-generated content, which is an excellent way to brand your company as one that cares about and encourages the creative pursuits of its customers. A great example of this is Starbucks, which is a prolific user of user-generated images on Instagram. User generated social media communities create strong bonds between brands and consumers. Launching a UGC campaign through Instagram could propel your business forward.

Create an interactive two-way communication. Perhaps the most powerful way to develop a brand is to create a dialogue between your company and its customers. Many companies have accomplished this thanks to social media tools. Starbucks, as we have already discussed, uses Instagram to solicit user generated art, which creates a powerful form of communication. This is also an example of crowdsourcing, which is a popular social media practice that involves companies directly appealing to the consumer for ideas.

All three of the above brand development tactics involve varying degrees of marketing, reputation management, and crowdsourcing. A good strategic social media campaign will tie together these tools in a way that bonds companies with consumers via social media and, specifically, Instagram.