Using Instagram for your Business
How to create captivating visuals, develop your brand and engage your audience like a Warrior
In 2010 Instagram launched, introducing us to flattering filters and the now iconic square photograph format. Seven years later, over 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram each and every day from over 700 million people around the world. Most of us will admit to scrolling through our feed at least once a day, to find inspiration or just get a glimpse into the lives of others. On Instagram, we can project an idealised image of our lives. Businesses quickly picked up on this potential for brand building, creating over 15 million business profiles. Instagram has a highly engaged user base and it soon recognised this power for persuasion and expanded its advertising capabilities accordingly. It worked, and today 2 out of 3 Instagram users discover new products and inspiration on Instagram.
The visual nature of Instagram transcends language barriers, allowing Instagram to be a truly global platform. Less competitive than Facebook or Twitter but no less popular, Instagram is perfect for growing brand awareness, showcasing products and inspiring consumers. Instagram allows you as a business to promote yourself with a personality and relate to your customers in a relatable, authentic way.
With Instagram, your business can connect with targeted, interested consumers without having to spend large amounts of money on advertising. With this guide I’m here to teach you how to use Instagram to increase brand awareness for your business and see real results.
How to get started
Want to get Insta-famous? First things first, (and most obviously of all) you’ll need to download the app. Instagram really was designed for use on mobile devices so it doesn’t have a desktop version with all of the functionality of the app. Instagram is free for both iOS and Android. Make sure you switch to a business account when setting up Instagram for your business (Settings > Switch to business account), this allows you to add information like business hours, contact details and location, as well as giving you access to real-time metrics and analytics on the performance of your posts and information about your followers and how they interact with your account. Since Facebook purchased Instagram (for $1 billion!), your business must have a Facebook business page in order for you to create an Instagram business profile. If you don’t already have one, this is a great chance to start expanding your social media marketing strategy!
Even in this initial step there are important decisions you need to make in regards to crafting your brand and the image you want to project.
Choosing your username, photo and bio
To make sure your customers can find you easily and for brand continuity, your Instagram username should match the usernames of your other social media channels (and hopefully the name of your business!) Your username is unique to your profile, so if your business name is taken, create a variation using your business name first. This ensures you can still be found in a standard search. For example, if your business name is ‘Ace Furniture’ and the username ‘acefurniture’ is already taken, you could use ‘acefurnituresocial’ or ‘acefurnitureshop’ as these variations will still appear when your customers search for ‘Ace Furniture’. You can change your username in the future, so don’t stress if you change your mind.
Speaking of search results, right next to your username customers will see your profile photo. As with your username, it’s best to keep your photo consistent with your other social media channels, generally your logo. Instagram will automatically crop your photo into a circle, so bear this in mind when uploading your image.
Now it’s time to write your bio. Instagram only allows 150 characters, so be concise. Explain who you are and what your business does. This is the first opportunity you have to introduce the personality you’re going to convey through your Instagram presence. Don’t worry about using keywords as your bio isn’t searchable. You can include a call-to-action (CTA) for your followers such as a branded hashtag. Be aware, your bio is the only place you can include a clickable URL, so use this as an opportunity to link to your website, latest blog post or offer. Use a link shortener to take maximum advantage of your character limit and avoid making your bio look cluttered.
Do some spying
Before you start adding content of your own, channel your inner spy and start following a lot of other Instagram users. Find influencers and major competitors in your industry along with regular users (who will hopefully end up becoming your customers!) You can do this by searching hashtags relevant to your industry. This practice has several advantages:
Know what you want
Now that you have a real feel for how Instagram works, it’s time to decide what you want to achieve for your business.
Instagram can help your business:
Once you know what you want, decide how you’re going to get it. This is called a marketing strategy.
To develop your marketing strategy, ask yourself these four questions:
1. How often (and at what time) will you posting?
The goal here is to work out your audience’s attention span. Find the balance between not posting so often that you bombard and annoy your followers, and not posting so infrequently that they forget about you. What time of day you post can also have a huge impact on the success and popularity of your posts. Your spying on other Instagram accounts will have given you an idea of how often and at what time your competitors are posting, which you can use as a useful guide here. Ultimately though, finding the perfect posting frequency and time will only come through trial and error. Test different times and frequencies and see which work best. The metrics Instagram provides with its business accounts will be handy for you to keep track of this.
2. What will be the theme of your content?
Funny cat memes or inspirational quotes over ocean sunsets? Product photos or your employees? Fun or serious? Philosophical or humorous? You can create almost any persona on Instagram, so choosing a theme for your content will help you decide what exactly you will be posting. Consider your wider marketing strategy; do you want to adhere to established branding or veer off in a totally new direction to really make your Instagram account pop in the eyes of your followers? What story do you want to tell? Ask yourself questions like, what is the core idea behind your product or business? What do your customers love most about it? Then turn this into a narrative. Think about how you’re going to connect your product or business with your audience.
3. How do you want your content to look?
This is different, though related, to your theme. Ask yourself what style you want to present your content in. Will you use emojis? What hashtags will you use? Is there a visual style you want each post to adhere to, like using a consistent filter? Knowing the theme of your content can help you decide your style. Think if this as your “look”. Keeping your style consistent throughout your profile helps to build and define your brand.
4. How are you going to engage with the rest of the Instagram community?
This basically means making friends. How often will you like, comment and follow other Instagrammers? How will your business handle incoming comments and follow requests? Bear in mind, Instagram is not an ideal platform for automated content. It’s a very engaged and interactive social media channel, so it’s best to have a real human handling your profile. If you’re worried about comments being offensive or inappropriate, like Facebook, Instagram can monitor and block comments. You can control this in your settings, simply choose certain words or phrases and Instagram will automatically recognise and block them.
Once you’ve answered these four questions and decided on your goals, you’ll have your Instagram marketing strategy ready. Now it’s time to have some fun and start developing content.
Types of content
With your profile all set up and your strategy in place, it’s time to get Insta-busy and start posting. Though mostly known for photos, you can also post videos and most recently, stories on Instagram. Remember to always consider your audience. Cater to their interests so they’ll want to follow your business. In this section, I will break down the different types of posts you can make on Instagram and give you some tips and hints as to how best to engage your audience.
Types Of Instagram Posts – Images
When we think of Instagram, we think of pretty pictures. This is the most common type of Instagram post, an image post. It’s important to keep your images varied, but don’t forget your style and theme. You want to build a cohesive and recognisable look for your business through visual consistency. For example, consider using the same filter for all your posts. This establishes a style which will become instantly recognisable to your followers. If your business sells a product, feature it. But don’t be boring. Instagram is about portraying a personality, not blatant advertising.
Here’s a list of six of the most common and successful types of image posts on Instagram to help you get started. It’s not exhaustive though so don’t be afraid to get creative. Instagram gives you the chance to craft your brand however you like.
1) The behind the scenes post
2) Reposts from your employees
Reposting photos from your employees is a great continuation of behind the scenes posts. They give your followers the chance to engage with a human behind your brand and portray a very authentic image. Just make sure you don’t forget to @tag or credit the individual who posted the photo first. Featuring your employees also has the added advantage of showing them how valued they are within your company.
3) Reposts from your followers
Reposting content from your followers is a great way to interact with your audience. Using your brand hashtag, search for quality images among your followers that capture your brand image and repost them on your profile. (You can use a reposting app to do this or just take a screenshot and crop the original post.) As with reposting from your employees, make sure you remember to credit the original poster of the image. Your audience will love knowing that you’re paying attention to them.
4) The post featuring an influencer or celebrity
Think of posts featuring influencers or celebrities as blatant name-dropping. You are piggybacking on the fame of a well-known public figure to draw attention to your own brand. These posts usually include the influencer or celebrity interacting with your product. If you’ve established a relationship with them, consider giving them control of your account for a day. Called a ‘takeover’ this is a fun way to expose your product to a much wider fan base and is especially helpful if your own following isn’t particularly large yet. Employing the services of celebrities or influencers can be expensive though, so if this seems out of your reach, consider ‘shout-outs’ instead. Partner with another brand, in roughly the same position as yours, and promote each other. This also seems fun and generous to your followers and both parties benefit from the exposure.
5) The motivational or inspirational post
You’re either going to love or hate these posts. They generally consist of a quote or message laid over the top of a simple picture – think sunsets, mountains, people doing yoga.. The type of quote you use will really depend on your product and whether you want to inspire or motivate your audience. You can use these posts to reinforce your brand values, particularly if you include a quote from your founder or CEO. In any case, it’s best to use this type of post sparingly to avoid looking trite.
6) The newsjacking post
Can’t think of anything original to post? Check out what’s trending and jump on board! It could be a national holiday or a social movement. Joining in on trends shows a fun or sensitive side to your brand and shows you are part of the social media community.
Don’t neglect your captions
Don’t forget about adding captions to your images. They give you the opportunity to expand on your photo, give it context, make it humorous, etc. Captions are where you use your Instagram ‘voice’, so be unique. The maximum length for an Instagram caption is 2,200 characters, allowing you plenty of space to tell a story or tie your images back to your business. Your followers will only see the first 3-4 lines of your caption though before having to click ‘more’, so if you do want to post a long caption make sure you put your most important or attention-grabbing information first. Use your captions to add calls-to-action (CTAs), encourage your followers to ‘like’ or comment on your post.
N.B. If you’re planning on including a CTA which requires your followers to visit a different site, remember that links don’t work in Instagram captions. The only place you can share a working link is in your bio. So to do this you have to redirect your followers in your caption and update your link in your bio.
Finally, consider geotagging your post. Geotags add the location of your post and Instagram will create a photo map for your profile, showing where all of your photos have been taken. This is great if your business involves travel. Followers can click on geotagged locations and see all of the posts from that area, so geotagging gives you another way to gain followers. Geotagged posts see a 79% higher engagement rate. If your place of business is open to visitors, tagging your location gives your followers an easy way to find you. You can toggle your location on or off before uploading a post.
Captions are also where you can use hashtags. Originally made famous on Twitter, hashtags now work across several social media platforms and are one of the best ways to expand the reach of your posts. Using the right hashtag, or combination of hashtags, exposes your post to a wider, more targeted audience. Hashtags organise and categorise posts, making them easier to find by users, so ensure you use hashtags relevant to your industry. While you can add a maximum of 30 hashtags per post, using just three to five is probably best to avoid overdoing it. Hashtags work the same no matter where they’re placed, so don’t feel pressured to work them seamlessly into the copy of your captions. They can be added at the end of your caption or you can even add the first comment to your post and put them there.
Find the right hashtags
Just throwing random hashtags at the end of your Instagram posts isn’t going to help much. Your hashtags need to be relevant to your business and interesting to your audience. Find out what hashtags your competitors are using and which ones generate the most engagement. Find similar hashtags by using variations of your keywords – the more targeted a hashtag is, the more engaged it’s users will be.
You can create your own branded hashtag for your business, like your company name or tagline. A branded hashtag is unique to your business and is designed to connect your audience, so they’re a great way to encourage user-generated content (UGC). You can create as many branded hashtags as you like. Keep them simple and catchy (and easy to spell!) so your followers will want to use them. Consider creating branded hashtags for new products or to promote an event.
Community hashtags are another great way to engage with your followers. Community hashtags connect like-minded users through a common subject, so they’re a perfect way to connect with a targeted audience.
Types Of Instagram Posts – Videos
Instagram also allows you to upload videos as posts, up to 60 seconds in length. This year alone has seen an 80% increase in the time Instagram users spend watching videos. You can still add filters to videos and you can choose whether or not your videos include sound. (Bear in mind, Instagram videos start playing automatically in your follower’s feeds without sound, so if your video requires sound to be understood, it’s a good idea to prompt users to turn on sound in the caption.) As with image posts, there are different types of video posts you can use.
Here are the most common:
Boomerangs and GIFs
Boomerangs and GIFs put a more interesting spin on straight video by adding a repetitive, looping motion. Boomerangs actually take a burst of photos in quick succession and convert them into looping short videos which play over and over. These posts are perfect for anything with repetitive motion like someone jumping, toasting glasses, or high-fiving.
If you have a video which is considerably longer than 60 seconds, consider condensing it into a timelapse, sometimes called a hyperlapse video. You can find several apps with built-in stabilisation which allow you to create timelapse videos directly from your phone. Choose a playback speed of 1x or 2x, depending on the length of your video. These posts are great for showing building projects, busy streets or transformations.
Similar to Facebook, Instagram users can also take and stream live videos. Your followers will receive a notification when you begin live streaming. You can use this type of post to answer questions or give your followers a look at something happening behind the scenes. Unlike Facebook live, your video will disappear once you’ve finished streaming.
Types Of Instagram Posts – Stories
Instagram also allows you to post stories, which are short videos or collections of videos or photos which disappear after 24 hours. Similar to Snapchat, you can ‘draw’ on your posts or add stickers, timestamps, geotags or the current temperature! With 250 million users posting stories every day, they are incredibly popular, and over one third of the most viewed stories are posted by businesses. Stories are posted outside of your feed, so businesses can use them to take risks. Post at a different frequency or use a different voice to your usual Instagram profile. Stories are generally a little more raw than other Instagram posts so they give you a chance to be more authentic with your audience. Stories are perfect for behind the scenes content or live events.
Don’t forget to embed your Instagram posts into other platforms
Sharing between Instagram and Facebook is easy as the two platforms are owned by the same company. Instagram has also released an embed feature which allows you to embed your Instagram posts into your website, blog or other platform. You will find embed codes on the desktop version of Instagram, simply select the photo or video you want, click the ellipses (…) button in the bottom-right corner and select ‘embed’. This will pull up a box with the embed code and give you the option of whether to show the caption. From there, just copy and paste the code where you want it to go on your website. This is a good practice as it extends the reach of your post and encourages your audience to follow you on Instagram.
Convert your followers into customers
1) Run promotions. Deals, discounts and promotional offers exclusive to your Instagram following are great ways to drive first-time sales. Include discount codes in your captions so that offers are only available to your Instagram audience. Post an image advertising a promotion or competition and in the caption ask your followers to repost it with a custom hashtag to enter. At the end of the promotion you can search that hashtag to pick a winner. Promotions like this actually get your followers to market your brand. Include an expiry date to promotional offers to drive a sense of urgency.
2) Run contests. Run a contest through your profile (Instagram is perfect for photo contests) and ask your followers to post their entries with a specific hashtag to enter. Send the winner or winners a free sample of your product.
3) Give teasers. If you’re launching a new product, Instagram is a great platform to give your audience a glimpse before it becomes available. This can generate excitement and anticipation.
4) Launch your product live. When it comes time to launch your product, consider showcasing it by using Instagram live. You can drive users to purchase by including a link in your bio.
Advertising on Instagram
As with other social media platforms, advertising on Instagram has proven to be very effective. Investing in paid advertising can help you build brand awareness, increase [B]user engagement and generate more business. Instagram ads appear in users’ feeds as they scroll through the app and are designed to increase your brand reach and encourage clicks through to your website through the incredible bonus of CTA buttons.
There are four different formats for Instagram ads:
Like photo ads, these look like regular video posts and can be up to 60 second long. They also feature a sponsored label above and a CTA button below.
Similar to photo ads, carousel ads feature multiple photos which users can swipe through, like albums. Consider them like a digital version of a catalogue, with the added advantage of a link taking users directly to your website.
Stories ads appear full screen as users scroll through their stories feed. They have the advantage of feeling as though they have been sent directly to your followers and because users already use stories to uncover new content, stories ads are a great opportunity for you to target your audience.
How to advertise on Instagram
Since Facebook owns Instagram, to advertise on Instagram you’ll need a Facebook page first. (Of course, these days any good marketing strategy should include Facebook anyway!) Make sure you’re signed up to Business Manager. If you’re familiar with advertising on Facebook, advertising on Instagram shouldn’t be too difficult. Add your Instagram account to Business Manager and you can begin to create your ads. Below are some simple steps to help you get started with advertising on Instagram:
1. Choose an objective
2. Choose your audience.
3. Set your budget.
4. Choose your type of media.
In the ‘Format’ section you can choose the type of media you’re going to use for your ads. To ensure your ads look and perform at their best, stick to these guidelines for your photos and videos:
Photo design recommendations:
Photo technical requirements
Video design recommendations
Video technical requirements
5.Fill in the details.
Choose a headline, text and CTA button (if required) for your ad. It’s recommended but not required to run your ads on Facebook and Instagram simultaneously. Once you’re ready, click on ‘Ad preview’ to see how your ads will look. Check carefully for typos or any incorrect information. Then click on ‘Place Order’ and you’re ready to go!
How to measure your success
Sadly Instagram doesn’t have an in-depth analytics platform like Facebook does yet. Using the ‘View Insights’ feature available to all business accounts below your images and videos, you will be able to measure follower growth, impressions, reach, and engagement. With Facebook’s Ad Manager you can track impressions, spend, and engagement on your ad campaigns. Though limited to individual posts and campaigns, these metrics are still helpful. They can help you to see which of your posts has been the most popular, so you can build on and replicate that success. Conversely, they can show you which of your posts aren’t working at all so you can figure out why and avoid such posts in the future. Unfortunately however, they only present you with part of your analytics at a time.
If you require more in-depth metrics, there are a range of third-party apps you can use to help you keep track of followers and engagement over time, optimal post time based on previous posts, and your performance compared to selected competitors. Most third-party apps are paid, however they usually offer a free trial to allow you to see whether what they offer is right for your business. Measuring engagement, (that is likes, comments and reposts) and your number of followers over time are most important for businesses. After all of your hard work creating and curating valuable content, you want to be able to make sure that your Instagram account is steadily growing.
With 700 million monthly active and engaged users, there’s no denying Instagram’s reach and influence. While it may have begun as a photo sharing app, Instagram is now a driving force in social trends where a global community comes together to explore and express their visual identities. Instagram gives businesses a fun and different way to craft and maintain their visual brand through high-quality content. With interesting and entertaining visuals, brands can be showcased in new and unique ways which encourage engagement from their audience.
As a business, it’s important to remember to engage, interact and participate with the Instagram community. Comment on posts, create stories, be personable and relatable and share insights into your brand. Your audience will appreciate it and reward you, remember Instagram’s user engagement is 10x higher than Facebook and 54x higher than Pinterest! Using Instagram’s highly visual presence, you can distinguish your business and tell your unique brand narrative.