The Ultimate Guide On How To Use Instagram For Business
Have you heard the BIG news? CoSchedule will be launching Instagram scheduling in just a few weeks! Yes, you’ve heard that right. Hear even more about this feature, and other new ones coming soon, on our recent live demo with Garrett Moon.
CoSchedule will soon be able to schedule instagram posts! We're so excited to release this as the team is actively working on making it an amazing feature to add to our social integrations. If you'd like to hear about other new features coming your way (ahem… analytics, requeue….) check out the link in profile! #vscocam #vsco #bismarck #photography #instagram #socialmedia #coschedule #team #culture #blogging #social #schedule #calendar #feature #app #product #launch
In all of our excitement, we want to give you everything you need to know about marketing on Instagram so you can jump in right away.
Where should you start? Is it worth it? What are the best tools?
With more than 500 million active users, we can assure you developing a strategy for Instagram is worth every penny! Not only that, but 65% of the top-performing Instagram posts feature products, which means your audience is looking for you and your business on Instagram. When they look, what will they find?
By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly how to build your Instagram strategy, what types of posts can help you accomplish your goals, how to make them look amazing, what tools to use, and ultimately how to grow your audience with increased engagement.
Let’s dive in!
How To Start Marketing On Instagram
3 Types Of Instagram Posts
Building Your Style And Brand On Instagram
Growing Your Audience And Engagement
Instagram Best Practices
How To Start Marketing On Instagram
The very first thing to do in order to start marketing on Instagram is to do your research. Take some time and use Instagram yourself before using it too heavily for your business.
While doing so, research who the big industry influencers are, what type of content works for them, and find out what your competitors are doing. You’ll learn a lot!
Pay extra attention to what story they’re telling both with their product and behind the scenes, and ask yourself why it’s effective.
For some awesome examples of the best Instagram accounts out there, make sure to check out these five businesses. Write down what you notice, both the good and bad, and save this for later:
- What draws you to their Instagram posts?
- How often are they posting?
- What do you dislike about their posts?
- What type of information do they include in their profile?
- Is there a consistent theme?
Set Your Goals
Once you have some research and inspiration stored away, it’s time to think about your business! What are your goals as a company? Here are some Instagram goals you might want to focus on:
- Increasing your follower count
- Growing your brand awareness
- Greater engagement
Whatever your goal might be, make sure it’s clear and concise so that you can always refer to it throughout your Instagram process. When it comes to your goals, you’ll also want to make sure to use SMART goals. Is your goal specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time based? Use the SMART goals to purify your goal to its most simplest, effective form.
For example, a great goal would be, “I want to increase our following by 20% over the course of the next month.” This goal is specific in what metric to track, states the desired outcome, and has a clear deadline for that outcome.
Record Your Data
I cannot stress enough how important this one is.
Whether you’re starting out or revamping your current Instagram, it’s time to start recording your data! Remember that one aspect of SMART goals? Measurable. If you can’t track your efforts, you’ll never be able to see if your strategy is working. Take out a notebook, create a Google Doc, Evernote, or your favorite tool, CoSchedule, to see the analytics behind your posts. Make sure to record these 5 elements of every Instagram post from here on out:
- Total Followers
- Type of Post (i.e. Culture, Product, Inspiration, etc.)
- Engagement after x amount of time
Once you have this data from all of your posts, you’ll be able to make smart, strategic decisions every time you post. Find what works, take out what doesn’t, and watch it grow your Instagram account.
TIP: Want even more analytics? Try out Iconosquare for even more detailed results.
Tell Your Story
The final step in defining your strategy is to brainstorm how you can connect the story of your product to your audience. What was the original idea that made your business idea come to life? Take that and run with it.
For example, Lululemon was founded on the idea that working out together could also bring community. According to their website, “Our vision for our store was to create more than a place where people could get gear to sweat in, we wanted to create a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living, mindfulness and living a life of possibility.”
The idea was simple: Health and community to live a fuller life. That is their story.
On their Instagram account, that same narrative continues to tells the story among all of their posts:
It’s almost instantly evident what they’re about, and it’s consistent across their entire page.
In order to find your own narrative, ask yourself these three questions:
- What is the core idea behind your product?
- What do people love about your product?
- What would your audience miss about your business if you stopped tomorrow?
These three questions will help shape your story. Combine your narrative with your goal, and now you have a strategy.
Just Get Started
Of course, it’s always intimidating to jump into a new realm of content that you may have never tried, or have tried before and completely failed at, but there is never a better time than now to get started. Even if you’re unsure of your Instagram strategy, just get started and develop it as you go. Within just a few posts, you’ll start to notice what works and what doesn’t and that will help lead you to your goal and narrative.
So please, just get started! What are you waiting for?
3 Types Of Instagram Posts
Now that you have an awesome strategy in place, it’s time to decide what types of posts you want to share with your audience. Every audience is different, so trying out different types of posts to see what works will be very beneficial for both audience building and increased engagement.
Inspirational posts are really great for motivating your audience. Who doesn’t need a good morning pick-me-up? Inspirational posts often come in the form of quotes, so find some key people who believe in your narrative and/or goal, and use that as a starting point. For example, here’s a great quote from Gary Vee:
Inspiration can come from you, too. Take what you’ve learned from the business and encourage users to go the next level with you. CoSchedule often does this with wise words from our Co-Founders. Here’s one of our favorites from Garrett Moon:
Culture posts are ones that truly align with the heart and core values of your business.
It could be for fun and play, or something you personally support. Either or, culture posts are great for being transparent and honest with your audience. Show them who you really are! Let them share in your funny, office shenanigans behind the scenes.
Here’s an example from when the marketing hit their goal of reaching 100k email subscribers. Nathan planned a surprise for us all, and it results in an intensely hilarious game of laser tag:
TIP: Use Instagram Stories to show behind the scenes. This is a great, easy way to let people see your business from the inside out.
While maybe the most obvious, product posts are also some of the most essential Instagram types to use. After all, the every-present goal is always to grow your business. Remember to tell your audience the benefits of your product and how that will help them in every day life. Show them the value behind what you do, and don’t be scared to say it more than once. According to the National Sales Executive Association, 80% of sales are made on the 5th-12th point of contact!
Be proud, use your narrative, and show off your product.
Use these three primary types of posts to relate, engage, and grow your audience while also selling your product. Be transparent with culture posts, motivate your audience with some inspirational posts, and don’t forget to tell them the benefit of your product with product posts.
Building Your Style And Brand On Instagram
One of the unique qualities about Instagram among all the other social platforms is that it’s primarily visual with its ongoing feed of imagery. This allows business to visually show off their product, rather than just tell; however, this also presents a challenge.
How can you make your business narrative seen through a consistent, visually appealing brand? Here are five key factors that will ensure your Instagram feed looks great and tells your story well.
The Bare Essentials
While top-notch, expensive camera gear surely has its benefits, it’s definitely not required to have a great visual presence on Instagram. What you do need is a smart phone with a camera, and some good natural light. Whether you’re taking photos of people experiencing the benefits of your product outside, or you’re taking photos of physical products indoors, these two are essential to get going.
TIP: To watch how to post to Instagram on your iPhone check this video from Jana Williams.
Quality lighting for your photos can take them to the next level!
The best lighting source is found outside, but there are also ways to capture this gorgeous light indoors. If you want to take your photo outside, the best time of day for lighting is called golden hour. This is the hour after sunrise or before sunset when the skies turn golden and make everything seem magical. Depending on where you live, taking photos at those times of day may not be ideal, so if you need to take photos in the middle of the day here are a couple of tips:
1. Avoid direct, high-noon sun outside. In the middle of the day, the sun is directly above which can cast harsh shadows on your subject. Instead, we want evenly lit light to highlight your subject so to avoid the bright sun, find some shade. In the shade, your image will have even light, making for a wonderful photo.
2. Avoid dark, indoor spaces. While its common to have offices and buildings with tiled, white fluorescent lighting in the ceiling, this is not ideal for your images because it will make them appear yellow. Instead, try finding a nearby window that has some room for your photo. This way, you’ll capture the great natural lighting while still being inside.
3. Use a reflector. If you can’t go outside and you don’t have any windows nearby, you can purchase a $20 reflector to help you bounce the available light. I personally use this for my photography, and it always comes in handy. Simply choose to either add more light with the silver or gold sides or take away light with the white, diffuser side. Tilt the reflector side-to-side as well as up-and-down until you see the desired light, and you’re all set!
Rule of Thirds
When it comes to visuals, the layout of your subjects can also be optimized to create visual interest. Using the rule of thirds, you can ensure your image is balanced, natural, and professional. The rule of thirds creates a 9-part grid providing four lines where your subject can be placed.
Choosing Your Filter
One you’ve taken your image with great lighting, positioned with the rule of thirds, and have taken your image, its time to edit it! The first think you’ll want to do, is choose your filter. Filters are several different styles and editing presets that are ready to use. There are an extremely high number of filter options out there today from a variety of apps, including Instagram’s 21 filter options so be careful when you choose your filter. Ask yourself this:
- Does this filter reflect the mood of my business narrative?
- Does this filter draw attention to itself or does it enhance my subject in the photo?
- Is this filter consistent with my other imagery?
Once you’ve chosen a filter or two that works best for your business, make sure to stick with that filter. While it’s okay to experiment right away, too many different filters at once can disrupt the mood and emotion of your Instagram feed as a whole. When your audience goes to your account and sees nine images together, consistency needs to be evident in telling your story well. Find a couple of filters and stick to it.
Some of My Favorite Tools
From start to finish, there are apps and tools out there to help you get the best photo possible. Here’s a grand list of some of my favorite photo tools from creation to hitting publish:
- VSCO: Use their camera grid to apply the rule of thirds, and utilize their hand-crafted filters for great color.
- Snapseed: Once you’ve taken your image, open it in Snapseed for several advanced editing tools and filters.
- Filterstorm Neue: While only available for iPhone, the app has a diverse collection of customizable editing options.
- TouchRetouch: Need to edit out something? This app is perfect for detailed retouching!
- ProCamera: If you’d like more control of your iPhone camera, this app allows you the full functionality.
While there are several more tools out there, these are the ones that have worked best for me and CoSchedule. Explore the different options, and see what works best for you. Every workflow is unique, so choose an app that matches your photo process best.
Growing Your Audience And Engagement
First of all, congrats! You’ve thoroughly developed your Instagram strategy, created some awesome Instagram posts, recorded your data, and now its time to optimize everything for the next level of audience engagement!
At this point, you know what works well and you’re ready to fine-tune everything to achieve your goals faster and better. There are eight easy steps to optimizing your entire Instagram account from the descriptions and imagery, to tagging others and building a community.
Hashtags are really important to your Instagram posts because they allow others to find you that may not have heard of your product before. They let you reach a broader audience, and who doesn’t want that? An easy way to find what hashtags are currently trending is to use Top-Hashtags.com. They provide a nice, clear list with the highest rated hashtags and how many posts currently have that hashtag. It also lets you click on the hashtag to see examples of how others are using it!
How many hashtags should I use? That’s a great question. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags for each post, but its best practice to use 5-10 hashtags. While more hashtags often is better, is always important to remember to avoid being spammy. You can find the perfect amount of hashtags to use by doing two things:
- Look at what other hashtags the influencers in your industry are using and how many.
- Test your own Instagram posts with a variety of hashtag amounts, and see what works best.
Tag Industry Influencers
In order to grow your community, look to the big influencers and see how you can involve them in your Instagram strategy. Not only can you learn from them, but you can easily share their quotes, products, and other resources within your own posts that align with your business’ narrative. For example, we’re big fans of Seth Godin and his mantras so we’ve read a bunch of his content. He has so many great takeaways, and we want to share that with our own audience, too.
When you share content from others, make sure your posts are still original. Take your own images, design your own quote graphics, and still create something that matches your own business, but remember to give them credit. Tag them in your posts so that they see it, their audience might see it, and then watch your audience grow.
Adding A Location
Every Instagram post has the option to add a location to it.
This is yet another way Instagram users can search to find people to follow. If your business is known especially in a specific region, this is even more valuable! You can either search for your location and find it using maps, or you can create your own custom location. Custom locations can be especially helpful for business events as you can add a personal touch.
Using Instagram locations are a simple extra way to allow your potential audience to find you.
Optimize Your Link In Your Profile
Instagram has a very minimal profile space to personalize the information to your business and its goals, so businesses must take advantage of what they’re given.
One of the best ways to do so, is by updating and modifying your link for each Instagram post. While a best practice is to have your business or product website link there on a long-term basis, feel free to customize that link with posts that direct your audience to something more specific.
Do you have a feature launch coming up? Was your business just featured on a reputable news source? Use those opportunities to post about it on Instagram, and directly link to it in your profile.
This allows your audience to avoid mis-typing anything, and gives instant access to precisely what you want them to see. Just remember to add “link in profile” to your Instagram post description, and then they’ll know to hit the link in your profile.
For example, CoSchedule recently announced our new podcast series, Actionable Content Marketing, and used Instagram to direct our audience to that specific page for easy accessibility:
Create An Instagram Engagement Pod
InstaRevealed recently launched the new idea of comment or pods so that users could connect more with their industry niche, while also growing each other’s engagement. Once you sign up, you’re placed into a 5-10 person direct message where you can send the heart icon every time you post. The heart alerts the group to check it out, like and comment, and boost your engagement.
If you’d like to do this for your business, you can sign up on their website.
Maybe you’d like an engagement comment pod, but with people and businesses you know! Well, that’s possible too. Make a list of the 5-10 key people you’d like to include in your group. Contact them, tell them what it’s about, and let them accept your invitation. Then, simply create a direct message, and add your biggest fans, industry influencers, or anyone else on your list.
The next time you share a Instagram post, go to that direct message and choose the heart icon. Your engagement group will know exactly what to do, and suddenly you’ll have great engagement and interaction on all of your posts.
Of course, this engagement group is for their posts as well. Make sure to reciprocate the Instagram love by commenting and engaging with their content. By simply choosing to work as a supportive community, you’ll also interact with all of their audience’s. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Post At The Best Times
Remember that data that you started collecting? This is where it comes into play. We can analyze all of the times recorded in your note, as well as the engagement levels for that post to find the best time to post for your businesses’ engagement.
First, in order to simplify your times, categorize them by hour. (i.e. All posts published within 9am, 10am, etc.) Then, tally how many posts you had within each hour. Now let’s take a look at your engagement. Under the same hour categories, write down all of the engagement scores associated with that hour. Once that’s complete, add up the total engagement score for that hour. Then, divide it by amount of posts in that hour. You’ve now found your average engagement for posts published during that hour. You’ll want to repeat this process for each of your hours, and then it will be loud and clear what time(s) work best for you!
Of course, several other studies have also analyzed Instagram best times, including CoSchedule. Over the past 6 weeks we’ve recorded data from each of our Instagram posts with the data we noted earlier. At first we did a variety of times to just see what we’d receive in return.
After a couple of weeks, we found that both during the 9am hour and 11am hour, we received the best engagement. That’s a pretty great result, but we wanted to be even more specific. So, for a solid week straight we posted only during the 9am hour and reviewed our engagement. The following week we did the same with only 11am posts. What we found was amazing!
On average, we received twice the amount of engagement at 11am!
Taking the time to do that simple test was totally worth the double engagement. Recording your data is key, and there are tools out there to help. Our personal favorite is Iconosquare. Whether you use a tool, or test it out yourself like we did, it super important to measuring your results and improve your goals.
Everyone has a different ‘best time’ that works for them. For CoSchedule, it was 11am. For the Huffington post it was 2am and 5pm. For MarketingProfs it was 1-2pm. Pick a time you think your audience will be attentive, publish, record the data, test. That’s how you optimize your publishing times.
Know How Often To Post
Along with the best time, frequency is a major factor when publishing to Instagram. On one hand, you don’t want to post so often that it looks spammy and turns away your followers, but on the other you want enough posts that continually build up for your Instagram community. According to Buffer, the top brands post about 1.5 times per day. So what does that mean for you? Let’s test it.
For each week that you recorded, count how many Instagram posts you’ve published. Then, take your first day of the week’s follower count and your last day of the week’s follower count, and find the difference. Do this same process for every week that you’ve published content.
What do you notice? Are there some weeks that have a lot of posts, but lower follower growth? Or did posting a lot triple your follower count?
CoSchedule did this same process, and we found that posting 3 times a week compared to 5 times increased our follower count by 64%! For us, less is more. But what’s most important is that you use your own data to find your best frequency. Your business is unique, and so will your data. Take the time to analyze and reflect, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Advertise With Instagram
Instagram ads are 2.8x higher than other forms of online advertising. Once you know what type of Instagram post works, its time to make it an ad and let it work for you! Instagram ads are integrated with Facebook ads and can be in the form of image, video, or carousel style, where multiple images are in a scroll for your audience to tap through. Using what you already know, you can simply promote your posts to go just a bit further, making a big difference.
Instagram advertising is great for businesses because it’s yet another thing you can measure to reach your goals. Not only that, but it adds a direct call to action in your ads that you can lead your audience directly to your product. When over a third of Instagram users have used their mobile to purchase a product online, your Instagram is an easy way to reach into that moment of purchase.
Using Facebook’s Ads Manager to create an ad for Instagram, you can choose a custom audience, define the region you’d like to reach, age, gender, language, as well as demographic interests or behaviors.
Instagram ads are still relatively new, but so far they’ve shown to be quite the competitor among online advertising, and lends the perfect opportunity for your audience to connect with your product goals. Find a post that works, turn it into an ad for extra promotion, and see your business grow!
There you have it! Eight ways to optimize your Instagram account from head to toe. Start with one or two, and perfect them before going into the next. Slowly but surely, you’ll notice not only great engagement but an increased ROI on your product.
TIP: Watch this video on how to set up Instagram ads.
Instagram Best Practices
That might seem to be a lot to remember, so let’s go over the best practices. If you must take away one thing, or maybe three, these would be it.
Brand: Focus On What’s Unique About You
Every product has a story to tell thats unique and personal to the heart of the company. What idea initially inspired the business? What problem did it solve? Find that story, and tell it to the world with Instagram… over, and over again. Emphasize why it matters and how your business can help. Utilize your unique business narrative in the brand of your Instagram account from what you say to how you show it.
Craft: Be Thoughtful About What You Share
Quality beats quantity. While you do want to build up your posting schedule over time, it’s even more important that you spend time on each and every post making it thoughtful, even if that means one Instagram post a week.
Take out your phone, find some naturally light, use the rule of thirds and take a quality photo. Think about how your brand narrative connects with that image, and then craft your description. Your audience will immediately be able to distinguish your quality content over other’s average content.
Community: Engage, Interact, and Participate
Instagram was founded on the idea of community and bringing people together, so let’s use it so! If you want your brand and product to grow, make sure to interact with your followers, comment on other’s posts, create Instagram stories, and follow other major industry influencers. Whenever you can, be personable and share behind the scenes. This will not only grow your close community, but spread your internal culture to your audience.
These three best practices will guide you through your Instagram posting. Use your story, craft it well, and engage with your community and you’ll set up for success.
It’s Never Too Late To Start
In today’s world there’s so many social media marketing out there, that it can be hard to keep up with it all. But when Instagram engagement is 10x higher than Facebook and 54x higher than Pinterest, we must take notice. Thankfully, with a few simple tools like CoSchedule’s calendar and analytics, partnered with some photo apps like Snapseed or VSCO, you can be an Instagram rock start in your industry! Using Instagram’s highly visual presence, you’ll be able to distinguish your business above the rest with your unique brand narrative and goal set.
See you on Instagram, friends.