The Best Guide On How To Use Instagram For Business
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There’s a lot of hype around Instagram, and how important it is for businesses of all sizes.
But, should you actually believe it?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” With 800 million active users per month, it’s impossible to ignore if you want to get your brand in front of your target audience.
The next question you probably have is, “How exactly do I use Instagram to build my business?”
There’s a lot to know, and your success will rely on a mix of smart strategy and creative execution.
Fortunately, you’re in the right place.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know to start growing your brand on this important social network. You’re about to learn:
- All the basics, from setting up a business account to setting ambitious yet achievable goals.
- How to shoot awesome photos and create great visual content that’s perfect for the platform.
- The best ways to analyze your content and measure your results to prove your work makes a difference.
Plus, you’ll know everything you need about different post formats, how to leverage Instagram Stories, and more.
Instagram + Strategy = Success: Did you know that Actionable Marketing Institute has a certification dedicated to Social Media Strategy. Enroll to get access to crucial tools and information in creating a data-driven social strategy. Check out the course curriculum here.
Building the Business Case for Using Instagram
Setting Up Your Business Profile
Optimizing Your Instagram Business Profile
Find Influencers In Your Niche to Follow
Set Instagram Marketing Goals
Plan a Basic Instagram Content Strategy
Building Your Visual Style And Brand Aesthetic On Instagram
Growing Your Audience and Engagement
Instagram Best Practices
Schedule Instagram Posts With CoSchedule
Make Creating Instagram Posts Easy …
… with these 100+ free stock images. Use these as the basis for your own creative content to help you get started fast. Then, follow the tips in this post to take your Instagram marketing to the next level.
Building the Business Case for Using Instagram
You might be here because you're curious if Instagram has any actual business value. To make that decision, it's helpful to have hard data. Check out these stats:
How to Get Started: Setting Up a Business Account
The very first thing to do in order to start marketing on Instagram is to set up a business account. This video from Alex Fleck will help show you the steps:
Take some time and use Instagram yourself before using it too heavily for your business (if you're not someone who uses it personally).
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Optimizing Your Instagram Business Profile
Next, make sure your profile is completely optimized. This means:
- Writing a compelling bio. You have 150 characters to summarize what your business is about.
- Use a recognizable profile image. Your logo is typically a sound choice.
- Choose a good profile link. On Instagram, links are only allowed on profiles (and not on posts). Two options are your brand's website homepage or a link to a new page or piece of content you're promoting.
Find Influencers In Your Niche to Follow
When you're first starting out, you'll need to choose accounts to follow. Here are some types of accounts to think about starting with:
- Your partner brands. Companies you work with are a great place to start.
- Influencers in your niche. These are people and brands that your audience follows. Start by searching a few keywords for accounts related to your brand or product.
- Brands you're inspired by. This will help you get ideas for your own posts and campaigns.
- Your competitors. Nothing wrong with keeping tabs on what they're up to.
While doing so, note what type of content works for them, and find out what your competitors are doing. Ask yourself these questions:
- 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?
Keep what you learn in mind for later.
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Set Your Instagram Marketing Business 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 simple, effective form.
For example, a great goal would be:
"We 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.
Aligning Instagram Metrics With Business Objectives
Growing an Instagram following and getting tons of engagement on your posts is great.
But, if your goals are connected to actual business outcomes, then they don't matter much.
So, when you're setting goals, know how you're aiming to improve your brand each time you post. To do this, select metrics to track that help drive certain business objectives. Follow this chart to help you select business goals and pair them up with the best Instagram metrics:
Know How You'll Measure Your Instagram Marketing Efforts
It can't be stressed 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.
Use Google Sheets or Excel to track 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.
Then, track your performance for each post over time.
Do This With CoSchedule: Want even more analytics? Try out Coschedule's social sharing and analytics functionality for Instagram (and all your other social networks). It's the easiest way to schedule and measure every post alongside all your marketing projects and campaigns, all in one marketing management platform.
Plan a Basic Instagram Content Strategy
Now, before you go posting just anything on Instagram, understand why you're creating that content in the first place. Everything you post should have a purpose, support your goals, and strengthen your brand. Outlining a simple content strategy can help achieve these aims.
Start With 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 cultivate 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.
Understand Which Post Types Work Best
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.
- Inspiration: 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.
- Company Culture: 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.
- Product Posts: While maybe the most obvious, product posts are one of the most essential Instagram types to use. After all, the ever-present goal is always to grow your business, right? Instagram is a great platform to show off how your products work, promote new stuff, and get people interested in what you have to offer.
- Event Photos: Attending a conference? Hosting an event? Snap some shots for Instagram.
- Interesting Stats: Everyone loves a fact or figure that sounds almost impossible to believe, but is totally accurate. Stats that help businesses make decisions are great, too.
- Designed Images: Event flyers, ads, and other such items would fall under this category.
See Some Instagram Post Examples
It'll be helpful to see some examples of what good Instagram posts look like. Here's a handful to check out:
Inspiration from Gary Vaynerchuk:
Culture from CoSchedule:
2017 might have been our best year yet. We opened a brand new office, hired a bunch of great people and added a boatload of new features to help marketers get even more organized. Thank you for a great year, CoSchedulers! • • • #coschedule #thankyou #marketingteams #getorganized #nye2017 #marketing #marketingprojects #contentmarketing #contenthacking #projectmanagement
Product from Nike:
Event Video Post from Red Bull:
Interesting Stat from ESPN:
Designed Image from Mod Cloth:
Building Your Visual Style And Brand Aesthetic 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 smartphone 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.
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 thing 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 default 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 Popular Instagram 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.
Write Perfect Post Captions
Instagram is all about striking visuals. But, having the perfect caption can help give your images better context and make them more engaging. Follow these guidelines every time you write post copy:
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 you 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-typinganything, 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 brands 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 an 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 for Instagram
Instagram is a mobile-focused app. And, since users are frequently on their phones, this means almost any time is a great time to share on the platform. But, are some times shown to be better than others? This graphic shows our findings:
Now, your best times may vary from what research shows.
Remember that data that you started collecting? This is where it comes into play. 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 business.
To do this, follow these three steps:
- 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.
- Next, 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!
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 your data is too. 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.
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.
Instagram Best Practices: Brand. Craft. Community.
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 that's 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 natural 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.
Now That You Have Instagram Down, Build Your Entire Social Strategy
Creating A Social Strategy can feel daunting, but with Actionable Marketing Institute it’s simple.
AMI’s Social Media Strategy Certification’ breaks it down into 11 lessons complete with video tutorials to help you create the best strategy possible.
Sounds interesting? Learn more about the certification now!
June 6, 2018