If your business isn't on Instagram these days, you'd better have a good reason. If you sell any kind of physical product, if you have stores - or if you want people to recognize your brand - it's time to get an account.
The social network is now too popular to ignore, it's in the hands of your buyers - via their phones - wherever they go.
Instagram is part of our lives now. And for many businesses, it's vital.
Yours might be one of them. Which means you need to start marketing on Instagram, and you need to do it well.
To get you started, we've put together these 8 tips to get more from Instagram. Whether you're brand new or have been using the 'Gram for years, you'll find a lot of valuable information.
1. Understand your audience
This is critical, no matter what marketing you produce. You might create the most beautiful Instagram content in the world, but if it doesn't appeal to your target buyer, what's the point?
Take the time to find out who your existing audience is, and think about who you'd like them to be. Since you're using Instagram for marketing, you need to consider whether they are potential buyers, or can help you build your brand in some way.
So how can you learn more about your audience?
Try Instagram Insights
Instagram's business profile insights offer some interesting insights (hence the name) into the people following and interacting with your account. These include:
- Impressions - How many times your content was viewed
- Reach - Total number of unique accounts that viewed a piece of content
- Website clicks - How many clicks the link in your business profile has received
- Follower activity - How often your followers are on Instagram daily
- Video views - How often your video content has been viewed
- Saves - How many people have saved your posts
Insights also includes demographic information, so you can see where your followers come from, their age, and their gender.
With this, you'll have plenty of information about your existing Instagram audience. But what if you want to attract new followers?
Use a listening tool
Social listening shows you conversations happening on social media. That includes Instagram. A good listening tool will tell you what people say about your brand or your industry on Instagram.
If you're trying to appeal to new Instagram users, you need to know what makes them tick. Monitor instagram for keywords that matter to you. That might mean hashtags you (or your competitors) have created, or other terms that relate specifically to your industry.
Look for images and content styles that have proved popular, and consider producing similar content.
What's important is that you know what Instagram users respond well to, so that you can produce winning content yourself.
2. Talk with them, not at them
Social media marketing is not an excuse to spam your followers with nothing but sales material - it's vital to try to engage with followers as much as possible.
For one, it makes your company feel more human, and less corporate (it is called 'social' media after all). Also, the more that users share and comment on your content, the easier it is for new users to find it. Instagram's algorithm prioritizes content with higher engagement - and you want to appear in as many feeds as possible.
Here are a few great ways to encourage interaction.
Share their images
You work hard to build your following, and you want to keep them around. That means showing appreciation when they post great content themselves. And when you prove that you listen to your audience and want their feedback, you build a better image for your brand.
A great example is Swiss watch maker SEVENFRIDAY. They ask fans to share photos of them wearing their SEVENFRIDAY watches on holiday or in their cars, to show the product in action. The result is a huge collection of free marketing images from their biggest fans.
SEVENFRIDAY even puts these images in their online store to give inspiration to potential buyers.
User-generated content like this is a powerful endorsement for future buyers. When they see other people loving your products, they're more likely to buy themselves.
Note: Don't be afraid to repost your followers' images, with credit. "Regramming" shows that you're listening, and helps to promote some of your audience to others. They'll appreciate the help, and may continue to share your product with their followers in the future.
The best way to get interaction from your audience is to ask for it, and one of the simplest ways to do this is with contests. People love the chance to respond, and a little healthy competition goes a long way.
Easy Instagram contests include:
- "Caption this image"
- "Share a time when..."
- "Tell us how this image makes you feel"
Ask your audience for their creativity and make sure you share the best responses.
To track responses easily, make sure you use a unique hashtag for each competition. And speaking of hashtags...
3. Use relevant hashtags
Hashtags help you "organize and categorize images and video content" to find content more easily. They're a simple way to tag your content to make it easier to find for others.
They range from the generic - #love is the most used hashtag as of 2017 - to the very, very specific, and they are so popular on Instagram that they've essentially become mandatory. If you want people to find your content, you need to use hashtags.
Here are a few hashtag best practices:
- Don't overdo it - five targeted hashtags are better than 25 random ones.
- Avoid overused tags - adding #love or #instagood is as good as useless.
- Don't spam - keep them relevant to the image.
From there, you have two main options when choosing hashtags for your posts:
These are hashtags that anyone might use, depending on the content of an image. "#Sunset" springs to mind, as do "#food" and "#wine." But frankly, these examples are so broad that it may be hard to get noticed using them.
Instead, try to find niche hashtags within your industry. This increases your chances of attracting the ideal audience to your content.
A quick Google search will bring you lists of niche hashtags by industry. Postplanner has a nice list, for example, as does Soldsie.
If you want to get more creative, see what hashtags your existing followers use. This is a smarter way to find the right people to appeal to.
If you're launching an Instagram campaign, a branded hashtag is a must. This applies to contests, influencer shoutouts (keep reading), or new product launches.
Branded hashtags are specific tags that only apply to your brand. They could be your brand name, the name of a product or person, or something special you've created for your campaign.
For instance, SEVENFRIDAY used "#SEVENFRIDAYTOUR" to track conversations and shared images as they traveled around the United Kingdom in a 1969 Airstream trailer.
Branded hashtags are much easier to track, because they're almost always used to talk about your own brand. Track the reach of your hashtags throughout a campaign to help judge whether the campaign was a success.
This also enables you to compare several campaigns against one another, to see which strategy was more effective. If one hashtag received twice as many mentions as the other, that campaign was the winner.
4. Know when to post
A recent poll found that the best time to post on Instagram is between 7-9pm. So that's simple - just post all your photos then.
If that seems too simple, it's because it is. You can't just rely on a few polls - your audience isn't necessarily engaged when those others are. Instead, try to find the best times to post for your target audience, when you know they're paying attention.
To do this, you'll want a social listening tool that monitors Instagram engagement. These track your Instagram posts, then tell you which ones perform the best, based on the date and time.
If you're not ready for that, here are some tips from the team at Later:
- Aim for non-work hours (lunch and evenings)
- Weekends if you're a B2C company; probably not for B2B
- Wednesdays and Thursdays seem to be best for engagement
- 3-4pm is generally the worst for engagement
In the end, it'll take a little research to figure out what works best for you. Monitor your posts - and your competitors' - and check your Instagram insights to arrive at an optimum posting schedule for your account.
5. Create beautiful visuals
Posting great content is always vital for social media marketing - it's what prompts people to engage with your brand, and what keeps them coming back for more.
On other social networks, this can mean sharing links, posting interesting articles, and starting conversations. On Instagram, it begins and ends with images. The whole network was created to let people share their photos.
This is especially true if you're selling products online. According to one study, 93% of decisions in the buying process are based on visual appearance. So good images are vital.
Aside from taking excellent photos, how can you make your Instagram content more appealing?
Choose a theme
The best Instagram accounts tend have an underlying theme or tone. You need something that inspires or intrigues followers, beyond simply your products.
For example, Under Armour uses the hashtag "#IWILL," and its posts almost always relate to physically overcoming obstacles.
Respect the process. @natashahastings #MondayMotivation #IWILL
A post shared by Under Armour (@underarmour) on May 15, 2017 at 10:46am PDT
Under Armour followers come for the inspirational messages, and receive a little branded advertising from time to time.
Whatever your particular niche, try to find an overall theme for your Instagram account.
Change the style and subject
As we've discussed, you can't just share photos of your products and hope that people will buy. Your followers will quickly tune out, and you're unlikely to attract new ones.
Instead, you want to vary the kinds of content you share, to keep your followers happy and interested.
To give you some ideas, here are 6 content types that work well, courtesy of AdEspresso:
- User-generated content (UGC)
- Behind the scenes sneak peeks
- DIY projects and creative solutions to problems (using your products)
- Influencer content (more on this soon)
- Motivational images
- Contests and giveaways
Quote images are always popular as well, and they don't even require an original photo. Put an interesting quote on a nice background, and users will be happy to share.
Use tools to help
Not all of us are design geniuses. And the good news is that you don't need to be. Foundr Magazine CEO Nathan Chan recommends leaning on the multitude of apps out there that help you post better images.
Foundr uses Wordswag, Phonto, and Typorama to beautify their posts. Other popular options include Canva and Piktochart.
Here's a nice list of 13 tools that'll help you create better image content.
6. Add Calls-to-action
Calls-to-action (CTAs) tell the user what you want them to do. Here's an example:
Whether you want users to download content, visit your website, or buy, you need to be clear. A good CTA tells them what to do next.
On Instagram, this can be slightly tricky. The network only allows one link - the one in your bio - so you can't insert links into image captions, comments, or the image itself. And without a link, how can you create a CTA?
Smart marketers have developed a few strategies:
"Link in bio"
We're all probably a little sick of seeing this, but if you only have one link to spare, you have to get users to click on it. The simplest method is to tell them where they can find more info - the link in your bio:
Since you can't put a link in the image, give users all the other information they need. What can they buy, where can they buy it, and why should they (what's the benefit)?
Promo codes are perfect because you can easily track them. Whenever someone buys with your Instagram code, you know the source of the sale. So while you can't track the link as easily, you'll still know where the buyer came from.
Like vs comment
This strategy also works well on Facebook and Twitter. Conduct a quick poll with your followers, and let them vote by using either "like" or "comment." It's a simple way to increase engagements with your profile, and doesn't take much effort.
Alternatively, you can ask users to choose "A" or "B" in the comments section. If you sell shoes, have your followers choose their favorite color. If you're a University, let them select their favorite uniform for the basketball team.
Make it fun, and generate some interest. But most of all, help your followers do what you need them to do. If you need them to share your content, show them how. If you want them to buy, make it clear and easy.
7. Tell Stories
If you're an Instagram user, you already know about the Stories feature. It sits at the top of your feed, and lets you see several posts in a row from the same user.
For marketers, this is wonderful gift. You don't need to try to convey your entire message in a single image, you can string several together to tell a narrative.
What are Stories?
Stories are different from your usual Instagram posts in a few key ways:
- These images flow from one to the next in a slideshow
- Each image is erased after 24 hours
- Because the images are full-screen, there are no captions
- Other users cannot see comments
And you don't need to worry about trying to appear higher in your followers' feeds - all Stories sit at the top of the app, and users can scroll through them to find the ones they like.
A few best practices
Stories can help brands show some personality, or apply a narrative to their products. Followers see your images in the order you want them to. That's what makes them... well, stories.
Here are a few tips for first class Stories:
- Offer something different - Don't just string together your usual Instagram content. Show sneak peeks or "day in the life" glimpses to make this content feel special.
- Focus on the narrative - Try to give Stories a beginning, middle, and end. Introduce a person, place, or product, pique the user's attention, then knock them out with a killer CTA.
- Be informal - Stories also tend to be more intimate, and less polished, than other Instagram content. That doesn't mean that they can look rough - far from it - but you can show your brand's human side here.
- Try a takeover - Let a talented staff member take over the account for the day and build their own story. Or, if you have good connection, a well-known influencer is even better.
If you're lucky enough to have a verified account, you can even add links to Stories. This makes for great CTAs, where the user simply has to swipe up to go to your site.
Take advantage of this opportunity to craft a different style of content. Balance your carefully composed timeline images with more off-the-cuff Story content. This variety keeps your users paying attention for longer, and hopefully sharing you with their friends.
8. Work with influencers
Influencers are industry VIPs, and their word goes a long way with buyers. Whether you're trying to build your Instagram presence or make sales, their endorsement is just what you need.
To do this, first you need to identify the right people.
Good influencers should:
- Have a suitable audience (that might actually buy)
- Be vocal and visible in your industry
- Have a history of influencing their followers' decisions
In other words, they actually need to be influential. Just having a huge following isn't enough.
Mention's Influencers Dashboard is a great tool to find them yourself. If you monitor your brand or your industry, it shows you the most important people posting about them on Instagram, and lets you reach out directly:
Once you've found the right ones, it's time to reach out. So how can you get influencers to work with you?
You may need to pay
Over time, Instagram has become a fine-tuned influencer marketing machine. Models, lifestyle bloggers, and artists make serious money sharing products. Foundr Magazine's Nathan Chan shared this table with us in our Instagram Masterclass:
While it can cost you serious money to market your brand this way, it might just be the jumpstart you need.
Give them swag
Some influencers can be persuaded by the offer of a little free stuff. If you sell interesting, exciting products, many well-known users will gladly wear them in an Instagram photo - provided you let them keep the goods.
This approach is nothing new, it's the reason why millionaire movie stars are given goody bags at the Oscars - brands hope desperately that George Clooney will be seen wearing their watch.
Offer your target influencers your next season's stock in exchange for a little publicity. Make sure their followers match your buyers, and your business is sure to grow.
"Share for share"
We don't all have money to throw at influencers. Sometimes, it's better to find other people and brands with a similar profile to yours - they can help you reach new audiences in exchange for shares, comments, or links.
If you want to work with these people - and you should - you need to figure out what you can offer them. This doesn't have to be limited to Instagram, either.
Maybe your Instagram account is new, but you have a thriving Facebook community. Would they give you a shout out on Instagram if you link to them on Facebook? Or maybe they'd prefer five tweets?
The key here is compromise. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
Time to dive into Instagram marketing
Hopefully this post provided you with some new ideas for your Instagram strategy, and how to make Instagram work better for your brand. Now it's just time to put them to use.
Thumbnail image via Tumisu/Pixabay.