Every day 500 million users open Instagram and start scrolling, ready for a personalized experience tailored to their unique interests.
The numbers are rapidly increasing. Instagram now has 2 million advertisers and 1 billion overall users. Seeking captivating stories told through stimulating images, Instagrammers come to the platform for content from their friends, family, and – you guessed it – their favorite brands.
With the ever-growing power of social media channels, businesses have more opportunity than ever to tap into Instagram as a powerful marketing tool. If access to the user-base alone isn’t enough to convince you, consider the marketing goals Instagram can catapult your business towards:
- Reach new audiences
- Engage with customers
- Drive traffic to your website
- Promote products (and now offer direct sales)
- Brand awareness
- Free user-generated content
The biggest perk of all? Engaging with consumers who grant you permission to advertise to them. When an Instagrammer follows your account, they do so seeking and expecting information on your brand and products.
If your business isn’t on Instagram yet, it’s time to change things. But if you want to maximize your use of the platform and see the best ROI for your time, here’s how we recommend getting started:
SET UP YOUR PROFILE
Your profile is your brand’s image to the public. Start out on the right foot by filling out your profile with your address, contact info, profile picture (generally your logo), web address, and bio. Keep your bio short and concise, and don’t feel the need to fit in every detail about your company.
Under settings, you can select to set up as a business account, which will give you access to analytics about your followers and posts.
- Set goals. Are you using Instagram to increase brand awareness, boost sales, expand your market, or engage in the community? Determine your purpose and formulate your strategy with this goal in mind. You can’t measure success without knowing where you’re going.
- Understand your audience. Who is your target audience? What kind of content do they most want to see? Be prepared to adjust your posts as you identify your key followers (often a surprise!).
- Determine your brand voice. Instagram is a casual, social platform, so avoid being too salesy or serious. Consider the attitude you want your brand to convey, and stick with one for all communication. Examples: considerate, snarky, humorous, informative, intelligent, personable, whimsical, inspirational.
DEFINE YOUR AESTHETIC
Instagram started as a visual platform to share beautiful, engaging photos. While it has expanded from its original purpose to now include advertising, influencing, and real-time videos, at its heart it will always be a visual experience for users. Aesthetic is key. The quality of your images matters.
Even more, the quality of your images as a collection matters. Your feed acts somewhat like a portfolio, representing your brand’s vibe with an overall aesthetic and theme. A powerful Instagram profile will connect each post with its theme, develop a strategy and agenda, follow a specific color palette, and consider how the photos work together to convey your brand’s personality and image.
Check out some of the most successful profiles killing it with their insta-feed vibes.
Developing Your Vibe:
- Post about the same 1-5 topics all the time.
- Choose a color palette.
- Use one filter for all your photos for a consistent tone.
- Make your profile flow – think about which photos look best next to each other and test it out with an app like Preview.
- Stay consistent with size and border.
TAKE QUALITY PHOTOS
Let’s talk photography a second. Now that everyone has a smartphone with a camera in their pocket that rivals most DSLRs, everyone’s considered a photographer, right? If you’re going to take pictures and share them, here’s a few tips on how to not suck.
- Lighting. Aim for natural light to get smoother tones and more even lighting. Use flash sparingly (if ever) to avoid harsh lighting. It’s best for beginners to avoid backlighting as it can be tricky to get it right. (For more on photography and light basics, check out this beginner’s guide.)
- Rule of thirds. The natural inclination is to always put your subject at the center of the photo. Don’t. Divide your photo into thirds, horizontally and vertically, for a grid of 9 squares. Place your subject along one of the lines on the grid, or on the points where the lines intersect.
- Planes: Find lines of objects in your photo and align them with the edges of the photo. Keep horizontal and vertical lines straight by keeping the angle of your camera (or phone) parallel to the subject. Misaligned planes can create a sense of distortion and dissonance when observing a scene in a photo.
- Dimensions: Remember on Instagram the default dimensions are square (1080×1080 pixels), but IG now supports non-square images in the dimensions of 1080×1350 pixels, and 1080×608 pixels.
- White balance. White balance is made up of two factors primarily: temperature and tint. Temperature can be cool (blue) or warm (yellow). Tint can be magenta or green – something that will come up less when you’re shooting in natural lighting and more when you’re shooting in artificial or indoor lighting.
- Editing. Get the right apps. Some of our favorites are VSCO, Snapseed, and Instasize. Be careful not to over-edit. Beginners should aim for a natural, realistic feel.
- Focus. Never post a blurry picture. Wherever you focus is where people’s eyes will go. If shooting on your phone, tap the screen to focus in the right spot before taking the picture. Hold it down to lock the focus. When shooting people or animals, always focus on the eyes – not the forehead, nose, or hair.
- Subject. Pictures of junk end up junk. Simplify, clean up backgrounds, and eliminate extra items in your photos.
CRAFT THE PERFECT CAPTION
Your image is only part of the post. The accompanying caption completes the message by providing information that enhances the image rather than explaining it. Instagram displays only the first 3 lines of text in the caption, so include the most important information in the first couple lines with powerful, action-oriented words.
Instagram users scroll through their feeds quickly, so short, punchy captions work best, but don’t be afraid to add detail when necessary. Separate paragraphs by hitting “Return” and adding a period, star, or dash on separate lines as spacers. Shoot for a lighthearted, casual tone, and don’t be afraid to use emojis.
Note: External links cannot be added into a caption. Utilize the link in your bio to direct followers to specific web pages mentioned in your post (refer to it as “link in bio”).
To craft the perfect caption, here are all the tips you need for success.
GET HASHTAG HAPPY
Hashtags (the # sign followed by a word or phrase) are a tool to add metadata to your posts so your content can get discovered. It’s essentially a way to tag your photos with information that relates to the content in the photo. You can create your own hashtags or join ones used by millions of people around the globe.
According to this blog, hashtags help you do the following four things:
- Join a conversation. Marking your post with a certain hashtag inserts your content into the conversation about that topic.
- Get found. Hashtagging your posts pushes your material out to public feeds with groups of photos under the related hashtags. That way people can see your photos even if they don’t visit your profile or follow you.
- Categorize your posts. Stay organized. Find photos under certain topics more easily.
- Increase engagement. If more people are seeing your post, there’s a good chance more people are going to like it or comment on it.
Be proactive. Hashtags are also a way for you to discover content and profiles that you want to engage with. Don’t just wait for others to find you. Follow certain hashtags related to your business or industry and get more people to notice you by engaging on posts.
Tip: The more posts you like and comment on, the more followers you’ll get.
WHEN TO POST
In earlier years, Instagram posts had a lifespan of just a couple of hours. Now, with new algorithms, posts can show up on people’s feeds for over 24 hours. This increased visibility means greater chances for your post to be seen but also more competition with subsequent posts on your account.
To determine how often you need to post, experiment. Post at different intervals, and observe which posts get the most engagement. Results will vary widely for each business. You may find that posting once a day is sufficient or that you can post multiple times a day and still have high engagement. Whatever you decide, always focus on quality over quantity. In the unique world of Instagram, the goal is consistency rather than frequency. If you set an expectation and then don’t deliver, you’ll lose followers.
Set your posting frequency based on one thing: the amount you can keep up with consistently.
WHAT TO POST
Vary your content. Your aim with social media content should be to educate, inform, and entertain. Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of content should be shareable information that offers value to your customers. Only 20% should promote your business – but make sure it’s persuasive (a special offer or discount) and includes a clear call-to-action.
Don’t oversell – it turns customers off. The goal is to attract people to your profile and draw people to your brand rather than spam them with promotions and ads. Once you gain their trust, sharing any ads and promotions will be much more warmly received.
Post your own photos mixed with user-generated content. If you have a product people are using, encourage them to post their own photos with the product and use a hashtag you set. You’ll easily be able to locate content and can then request permission to repost and share a variety of beautiful photos that you didn’t have to take yourself.
Note on reposting: Always request permission to repost, either through DM or a comment. Generally, users will be excited to have their photos featured on a business’s profile, but be sure to tag them in the photo and give photo credit in the caption.
To repost, use an app like Regramm (adds watermark to the photo), save the photo from Instagram on your desktop, or screenshot it.
POST INSTAGRAM STORIES
In recent years, Instagram adopted Snapchat’s wildly successful idea of ephemeral content – posts that pop up in real-time and disappear after 24 hours. It might just be the best thing that could have ever happened for your business.
While an Instagram post gives you one chance to engage with your followers when it comes across their feed, Instagram stories give your business the opportunity to continually get content in front of your followers. These in-the-moment stories keep followers regularly connected and keep your brand fresh on their minds throughout the day.
Rather than being curated and doctored like Instagram posts, Instagram stories are raw, unfiltered, real-life moments. They let your customers see your brand’s personality – and the real people behind your products and services. Take your followers on the journey of how you deliver your products to them. Get feedback from your customers through polls, live stories, and questions. Tag followers and give them shout outs – it’s a powerful way to personally connect with customers and make them feel special.
Live stories are all the rage at the moment. Eighty percent of users would rather watch a live video than read a blog. For tips on how to do live video like a pro, click here.
REACH OUT TO INFLUENCERS
Don’t have enough followers to get the results you want? Partner with someone influential to promote your product to their audience and get more business sent your way.
Influencer marketing is a way to increase your reach and advertise your products through an outside, trusted source. Since organic reach on Instagram can be limited, businesses often reach out to influencers with substantial followings to promote on their behalf.
When looking for an influencer partner, here are some tips to consider:
- The influencer’s focus. Choose someone whose values and brand align with yours.
- The number of followers. Make sure the followers are real (not bots) and demonstrate high engagement with the influencer’s posts.
- The type of followers. For the best chances of success, choose an influencer in your industry with a similar set of followers.
- Cost. Influencers posting on your behalf is work. Expect to compensate them fairly for it.
Always properly disclose partner relationships and promoted posts. Strive for clear communication, be understanding, and be a brand that’s enjoyable to work with!
Some of the most effective tactics for growing your following, giveaway contests provide maximum results at a minimal cost.
For your first giveaway, determine the goal, the scope of the contest, and the product you’re giving away (something related to your brand). Giveaway prizes don’t have to be extravagant or expensive – people love free stuff no matter what it is. Just make sure it’s something valuable that people want and appreciate.
Write out the contest rules, which usually include following your profile, liking the photo, tagging 1-3 friends, and/or posting or reposting a photo. Announce the winner within the designated time frame, get the mailing address through DM, and send the free product. You just got yourself new followers for the cost of a small sale.
You’ll never know what’s working and what’s not if you don’t track it. Fortunately, Instagram provides valuable insights within the app. Plus there are plenty of third-party apps and programs to track analytics (Hootsuite, ScoutSocial, Followers+, etc.).
In your reporting, pay attention to the following categories:
- Profile visits
- Website clicks
Record your analytics weekly or monthly, and adjust your strategy and tactics as needed!
ADJUST AND EVOLVE
Instagram has a lot of details, but start with these steps and your business will be Insta-savvy in no time. Our best advice is to dive in and learn everything you can to create a successful business profile. Just remember – social media is constantly evolving, and staying relevant means being willing to adjust!