We know and love Instagram as an image-sharing social media platform—we post pictures from vacation, from breakfast, from our visits to the museum or even the dentist’s office. We tag people, places, and things in order to be found by others who share our interests, or to inspire visitors of our page to explore further. We use the platform to keep in touch with friends, family, or users on the other side of the globe. Instagram can be beautiful, provocative, informative, or purely entertaining, sometimes all in a single post.
How can we harness this tool for business? Since Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012, Facebook’s business tools have expanded and amended for Instagram, which often proves to be an easier platform to navigate for many business owners. You can create a new post in as little as four steps (excluding the photo-editing options), and post a live slideshow or video “story” in the same. Instagram even has e-commerce options, so users can shop directly in the app. Though Instagram does have a dedicated website, the app was designed to be used exclusively on mobile devices; our phones are on our person nearly constantly, and Instagram acts as a window onto our lives (or at least, our curated version of them).
Since 90% of the information we consume is received visually, the popularity of Instagram as a social media tool makes sense. It’s a natural next step to take your business there as well. Never used Instagram, let alone seen what the app looks like? Never fear! Here are some simple steps to get you started on the world’s fifth most popular social media platform.
Create a clear, unique profile
Your business name, business type, a profile picture of your logo or a product, and a brief description of who you are, what you do, and a link to your website. Keep it simple, clear, and concise. Tell first-time visitors to your page what sets you apart from others in your field. And use this account only for business-related posts! If you want to have a personal account, keep it separate from the one where you promote your business.
Research unique, specific hashtags
Hashtags are keywords or phrases included in post captions that are preceded by the “#” symbol, and link to other posts also using those keywords, so users can find similar content. Your business is unique, and you want to convey that to current and potential clients. Look at other businesses in your field and observe their hashtags. If you’re a stylist, what do other stylists use to make their posts stand out and engage a specific demographic? #pinkhairdontcare, #fiercestyle, #balayagebabe, #behindthechair—these are some highly specific and cheeky hashtags that active Insta-stylists are using to caption their posts and increase their audience with people who are interested in this kind of service. Definitely do your research, but get creative—anyone can create a hashtag, and it just takes repeated use for it to become a “thing.” Make it your own!
Engage with your “tribe”, utilize UGC
We’ve talked before about user generated content and engaging with your clients to let them know you see and care about them. This definitely goes for Instagram! Invite your clients to send you pictures of themselves using your products or services, and repost those photos (always crediting the creator) to show your followers evidence of your business “in the wild.” User generated content lends authenticity to any business profile, and also builds trust and confidence in you. Consumers are encouraged by real-world, authentic endorsements of your services. And engage with your audience! Respond to comments and direct messages, answer questions, and write inviting captions that encourage your followers to interact with your posts.
Be consistent, active, and stick to a schedule
First, you must be honest with yourself about how much you want to commit to your social media presence. Are you a twice-a-week person? Every other day? Multiple times a day? (Hot tip: don’t be this person). There’s a not-so-fine line between being too active and just active enough. You want to post often enough that your users don’t forget about you, and instead are pleasantly reminded of your business several times a week, but not so infrequently that when you finally do pop up in your followers’ feeds, they forget they ever pressed “Follow” on your account. Decide what kind of a posting schedule you can commit to and make it a habit. For a cheat sheet of high-engagement time slots on the app, see this chart.
Engage with influencers
Are there posters out there in your field of business with thousands of followers and a dedicated posting schedule? These are the Instagram influencers, well-known users of the app who can do a business a lot of good if they mention specific products or services in their posts. Higher-powered influencers will often endorse a product on a compensation basis, but many will mention a product for free, or in exchange for a free trial product. An easy way to find out if an influencer would be interested in you is to mention them (“@” them) in a post to get their attention, and see if they respond (another way is to direct message them, but this can sometimes feel intrusive, especially if you don’t know them personally). It’s easy to search for the kinds of influencers you want to endorse your products: search for hashtags that are relevant to your business (#interiordesign, #stylist, #eatclean) and see who’s using them. If the person has upwards of 10k followers, there’s a good chance they’re an influencer.
Paid advertising and e-commerce
If you want to go all in as a business on Instagram, there are options to pay to have your ads placed in front of your target audience. The Instagram algorithm tracks what kinds of content users enjoy, and will tailor non-optional advertising that at least aligns with their interests. If you have the funds in your advertising budget, this is a great way to appear organically in the feed of someone who doesn’t even follow you yet. With or without pay-to-play advertising, there is also an option for you to sell products directly in your posts. If you tag your posts with a price and a link to your website, consumers can purchase your products with a few easy taps. See Instagram’s guide to setting up shop here.
Tell a story
We’ve written before about storytelling in your marketing efforts, and especially including your current and potential clients in that story. Whether you craft a narrative for a single post or a story arc for week’s worth of posts, make your content something your followers will want to, well, follow. In other words, don’t post just to post—post with a purpose. Some prompts: how did your business come to be? What helped you get to where you are now? What’s an example of a time your product or service helped someone? What’s a challenge that can be overcome with the help of your business? A story doesn’t have to be complicated either; if you’re a coffee shop, for instance, post a picture of someone in workout gear enjoying a caffeinated beverage and caption it “Refuel after your workout with our Triple-Shot Filthy Chai. Try it with almond milk!” Your followers can get a full picture of who visits your cafe, what they’re visiting for, and how your drinks can be tailored to fit their preferences. Now who’s thirsty?
With these tips as a springboard, you are ready to embark on your Insta-business adventure. As always, we can help you build and navigate your presence on the platform, to get the most out of your posts, stories, hashtags, and @’s. Instagram is a wonderful and versatile tool, and a great way to show off your business in its best light—#nofilterneeded.