Across the globe, there are over 1 billion Instagrammers — more than 500 million of whom use Instagram every single day, sharing an average of 95 million photos and videos per day.
Those are huge numbers. And no matter who your audience is — age, gender, occupation, anything — you’ll be sure to reach them through Instagram. So the question becomes …
How to promote your business on Instagram?
How can you stand out among the other 95 million photos posted each day? How can non-designers and amateur photographers create beautiful content for Instagram?
These are all questions we’d love to help you answer in this guide.
We recently launched one of our biggest product enhancements, Buffer for Instagram, to help you plan, track and amplify your Instagram marketing.
The Complete Guide to Instagram marketing
Everything you need to know to create a killer Instagram marketing strategy for your business.
Keys to a successful profile
How to create a content strategy
The 7 elements of high-performing Instagram content
How to increase growth and engagement
How to measure results
First things first: Why use Instagram for business?
Boasting over 500 million daily active users, Instagram has huge potential for marketers. But the potential in Instagram lies more in the user behavior than the numbers.
Instagrammers like to connect with brands.
Research shows that brands enjoy a number of distinct benefits and advantages on the network:
- Instagram, brands enjoy regular engagement with 4 percent of their total followers. On networks like Facebook and Twitter, engagement is less than 0.1 percent. (source: Forrester)
- 70% of Instagram users report having looked up a brand on the platform (source: Iconosquare)
- 62% of users follow a brand on Instagram (source: Iconosquare)
- Only 36 percent of marketers use Instagram, compared to 93% of marketers who use Facebook (source: Selfstartr)
Social media has been proven to influence purchase decisions. And if you can find the right mix of content, your audience will soak it up – and even buy from you – without the need for a hard push or sales pitch. It’s the marketers dream.
Still need convincing? Let’s take a look at what marketers have to say about the platform.
What marketers are saying about Instagram
The numbers and research above all sound great, but what are marketers – the people who use Instagram to drive business results – actually saying about the platform? Here’s what marketers from brand like Birchbox, and Ben & Jerry’s have to say about the platform:
Mike Hayes, Digital Marketing Manager of Ben & Jerry’s: “Since its launch, Instagram has provided us with an amazing platform to connect with our fans and tell our story visually.”
Jessica Lauria, Director of Brand Communications Chobani: “Instagram is a great platform for Chobani. It allows us to show how people actually use our product and inspires new ways to savor.”
Rachel Jo Silver, Director, Social Marketing & Content Strategy, Birchbox: “Instagram has been an incredibly effective engagement-driver among our current customers.”
The formula for Instagram success
Success for businesses on Instagram relies on more than simply publishing a few nice-looking images. You need to also have these elements:
- Clear vision and strategy
- Consistent frequency
- Familiarity with your audience
- Clear visual style
When you combine together these ingredients, Instagram can deliver huge results for your business.
Madewell is a great example of creative Instagram marketing. The fashion brand has amassed a hugely engaged audience on Instagram (over 700,000 followers and 7,000 to 10,000 likes per post). The platform has become a key marketing channel for them, enabling them to connect with thousands of potential customers on a daily basis.
So, how do Madewell and other successful brands stand out on Instagram? We put together this guide to help you craft your own Instagram marketing strategy that’s based on a clear vision and results that you can measure.
How to Create an Instagram Marketing Strategy
Why are you on Instagram? Choose 1-to-2 main goals
Whether you’re completely new to Instagram and preparing to share your first post or are already established and looking to boost your presence on the platform, it’s important to start with clear goals in mind.
Setting goals will help you to define your strategy on Instagram and create content that will help you to achieve your targets.
Here are some common ones that brands, teams, and individuals tend to choose:
- Showcase your products or services
- Build your community
- Increase awareness of your brand
- Showcase your company culture and values
- Advertise to potential customers
- Increase brand loyalty
- Share company news and updates
It’s best to choose one or two goals for your Instagram profile, either from the above list or a custom goal of your choosing. To help decide which goals make sense for you, it can be good to consider the following questions:
- Why are you using Instagram?
- How can Instagram assist you in achieving your overall marketing goals?
- How much time or budget can you commit to Instagram?
- How does Instagram offer you something different to other platforms?
Here at Buffer we have two main goals for our Instagram marketing strategy.
Our top goal is to build and nurture an engaged community of Buffer users and supporters.
To ensure we reach that goal we have a set target of reaching out to and featuring the work of four-to-six Buffer community members per week. If we do that 52 weeks per year that’s between 208-to-312 people that we’ve connected with one-on-one.
The second goal for our Instagram marketing strategy is to continually increase engagement on every one of our posts.
Currently, our engagement rate (avg. engagement per post/number of followers) is about 1.75% which is a bit higher than industry standard. We’re focusing on producing the highest quality Instagram content so that our engagement rate stays at or above this benchmark.
Which members of your audience are on Instagram? Search the demographics
And understanding the demographics of a platform is an important part of ensuring you’re hitting your target audience.
Pew Research released a breakdown of Instagram demographics and I’d love to share the key findings with you here.
Age and gender of internet users on Instagram
Roughly half of internet-using young adults ages 18-29 (53%) use Instagram. Here the full breakdown of age groups:
- 53% of 18–29 year olds use Instagram.
- 25% of 30–49 year olds use Instagram.
- 11% of 50–64 year olds use Instagram.
- 6% of people 65+ use Instagram.
Also, slightly more of Instagram’s users are female:
- 29% of online females use Instagram.
22% of online males use Instagram.
Location of Instagram users
- 28% of Instagram users live in urban areas.
- 26% of Instagram users live in suburban areas.
- 19% of Instagram users live in rural areas.
Instagram education demographics
- 31% of Instagram users have some college experience.
- 24% of Instagram users are college graduates.
- 23% of Instagram users are high school grads or less.
Instagram income demographics
- 28% of adults making less than $30,000
- 26% of adults making over $75,000
- 26% of adults making $50,000–$74,999
- 23% of adults making $30,000–$49,999
Now that you have your goals in mind and know which members of your audience are active on Instagram, you can get started on building out your presence on Instagram. First step: optimizing your profile.
How to optimize your Instagram profile
Keys to getting the most lift from your profile picture, bio, and link
Your Instagram profile is essentially your homepage on the platform. It provides you with space to share a little information about your business and also gives you the chance to drive some traffic back to your website. In this section, we’ll guide you through how to maximize your Instagram profile and drive as much value as possible from it.
Your description is very personal to your brand, what you choose to share here should be representative of your business and show your followers what you do as a company. Most businesses tend to include either (or both) of the below:
- Brand slogan or tagline (e.g. Nike’s “Just Do It”)
- An outline of who you are and what you do
Some large brands also choose to include a brand hashtag within their bio (for example, Nike Basketball below).
Here are a few examples:
Your profile picture is one of the most important parts of your Instagram profile and the best way to showcase your branding on Instagram. When someone views one of your posts or clicks on your profile, it’s great if your brand is instantly recognizable.
For many brands this tends to mean using one of three options:
- Logomark (the logo, minus any words)
At Buffer, we keep it simple and use our logomark over a plain white background on Instagram and all other networks:
Unlike many other social networks, Instagram doesn’t allow you to add links to every post. Instead, you only get one link, and that’s the one in your profile. Though accounts with more than 10,000 followers can also share links within Instagram Stories.
Most businesses tend to use this link to drive traffic back to their homepage, and this link can also be a key way to drive traffic from Instagram to campaign-specific landing pages or individual pieces of content.
Gary Vaynerchuk does this to great effect on his Instagram feed. Whenever he publishes a new piece of content online, he’ll share a relevant image or video to Instagram and update the link in his bio to reflect it.
Creating a content strategy for Instagram
How to build content pillars for the type of content you share to Instagram
Content is the heart of Instagram. The 95 million photos and videos shared daily to the platform are the reason more than 500 million people open the app every day. And content should be at the core of your strategy, too.
But what should you post about?
Before you get into thinking about your visual style, it’s good to have a clear vision for the type of content you’re putting out.
Some brands focus on their products. For example, Nike Running often make their trainers and running equipment the focal point of their content:
Whereas other brands, such as WeWork, put more focus on their community and culture:
At Buffer, our Instagram marketing strategy is to post consistently quality content that aims to build Buffer’s brand while also connecting on an individual basis with our community members. We believe strongly in the power of one-on-one interactions and connections.
In that spirit, we’ve created the hashtag #BufferStories which allows our community to tell a story about what they’re passionate about both personally and professionally. Instagram is a tremendous medium for short-form content, but there’s also the possibility for relevant, long-form content. Our audience has responded quite well to the passionate stories of others.
There’s no hard and fast rule for the best angle to take when it comes to your strategy — it’ll vary from business to business. What’s important is to focus on creating content that aligns with both your audience and your goals. This starts with defining your content pillars.
Build your content pillars
The foundations of any strategy are built on solid content pillars or themes.
Every business, no matter its size, industry or location has a wealth of potentially brilliant content to share on Instagram. Whether it’s stories from your employees, culture-focused content, or product-led demos, there’s a whole host of opportunities and worthy subjects for your videos and photos.
Some example content pillars include (but aren’t limited to):
- Behind the scenes content
- User generated content
- Product demos / showcase
- Educational (e.g. the best social media tips)
- Culture focused (showing the human side of your company)
- Fun / lighthearted
- Customer stories
- Get to know the team
- Team member takeovers
What I love to do when it comes to defining themes is to open up a notepad and throw around some ideas. Starting with some key company values, I then scribble down everything that comes to mind. From these notes, you can then start to formulate ideas for your key content pillars.
For example at Buffer, here are the themes we work with:
- User generated content
- Digital nomad lifestyle
- Productivity and motivation
3 successful brands on Instagram and their content pillars
1. Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live’s Instagram feed focus on two key pillars: Taking fans behind the scenes of the show and sharing exclusive clips. When fans check Instagram they can expect to see a fun-filled photo or video of their favorite SNL stars or get a sneak peek at what goes on behind the cameras to get the show out there.
FedEx’s feed consists of photos based around the theme of FedEx’s delivery drivers, vans and planes out in the wild. they often feature images shared with them by followers, too – a great way to keep their fans on the lookout for FedEx vehicles to photograph. Their feed also gives off a vibe of high-end, artistic photography.
Oreo put their product at the heart of their Instagram content and manage to do so in a way that’s fun and highly engaging. They often use entertaining copy within the images themselves and use solid, vibrant backgrounds to make their posts stand out within the Instagram feed.
How do Instagram Stories fit within your content strategy?
Instagram Stories is a feature that lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours.
More than 400m accounts use stories every day. Stories content is full-screen, and can be enhanced with playful creative tools such as stickers, emojis and GIFs.
Instagram research found that people turn to stories for two main reasons:
- When they want to see what friends are doing at the moment, which indicates that stories function as a way of bringing people closer together in real time.
- When they want to see unfiltered, authentic content – which could mean everyday moments or even “non-moments”.
For brands, this creates a ton of opportunity to connect with your audience in news ways. For example, you could use stories to share the day-to-day moments at your business like design agency, AJ&Smart:
Or you could use stories as a way to share more user-generated content with your audience like Kettlebell Kings:
Further reading: The Complete Guide to Instagram Stories
Want to know how stories work and how your business can make stories a part of its social media strategy? Check out our Instagram Stories guide here.
Creating a content plan
The 7 keys to cohesive content to drive exceptional results
Once you have your content themes in place (you can always test and adapt themes to see what works best), it’s time to bring it all together into a content plan. A content plan should help you define the style and aesthetic feel of your posts, alongside how frequently you’re going to post to Instagram.
Let’s begin with a look at how to create your Instagram style guide.
1. Style guide
One of the most important parts of any social media strategy is the style guide. Why are they so important? They ensure consistency across all marketing channels and throughout every piece of content you produce.
Style guides contain all the necessary information for a piece of content from beginning to end — from the design and layout of post to the copy and hashtags that accompany it. When it comes to Instagram you should consider the following items:
- Color palette
Composition refers to the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work. Not every marketer is an expert photographer, so it can be great to define a few quick composition rules.
These can include things like:
- Solid background color
- Main focus of the picture set to the Rule of Thirds
- Extra space at top/bottom for text
Amy Tangerine, a company that shares “a slice of the sweet life” through an array of scrapbooking products and lifestyle services, is a great example of a clear visual style and composition. Its posts often feature a solid background color or texture allowing the focal point of the composition to stand out clearly.
3. Color palette
Picking out a color palette will help keep your feed consistent and focused. Having a palette doesn’t mean that you can strictly only use these colors, but it will help your posts have a nice consistent, familiar feeling. It can feel great to keep your color palette in line with other areas of your brand, too.
Frooti, the largest-selling fruit drink brand in India, uses Instagram to showcase their distinct brand personality. A key part of this aesthetic is the vibrant color palette used by the brand:
In contrast, Everlane uses a much softer color palette across Instagram, staying true to their brand’s signature grey/black/white look:
If you’re going to post quotes or text overlays on your Instagram images, you should try to keep the fonts consistent with your brand by choosing the same fonts you use on your website or other marketing materials.
Headspace is a great example of keeping fonts consistent across posts. The mindfulness app regularly shares text-based posts, and by keeping the font in-line with the rest of their brand, followers can instantly recognize Headspace’s content within their feed.
Instagram filters can make amateur photographers feel like pros. And if you don’t have high-end photography equipment or editing software, they’re a great way to enhance photos with just a few taps. Filters can drastically change the look and feel of a photo or video, so it’s important to use only a few that you feel best represent your brand — and stick to the few you’ve chosen. Using a different filter for every post can quickly make an Instagram feed feel a little disjointed.
Instagram captions are limited to 2,200 characters, and after three lines of text they become truncated with an ellipsis.
Captions are a chance to enhance your content further and there are plenty of ways brands use them. Some choose to treat captions as a place for sharing stories and micro-blogging, others use them to add a short, snappy headline to a post and others use captions to ask questions and encourage replies. The possibilities are endless. What’s important is to ensure the copy is aligned with your brand.
Mailchimp is well known for its unique brand voice – they even had a website dedicated to it — and their fun-loving tone is carried through into their Instagram captions, too:
Everlane is again a great example of how to use Instagram captions. The brand uses captions to convey a funny, familiar voice that their buyers can relate to. For example, the below post (shared in winter time) is captioned: “About how cold we feel right now.”
Hashtags have become a uniform way to catagorize content on many social media platforms. Hashtags allow Instagrammers to discover content and accounts to follow. Research from Track Maven found that posts with over 11 hashtags tend to get more engagement.
Top Tip: If you would like to avoid adding too many hashtags to your caption, you can also add hashtags as comments. For example, you can see below how Amy Tangerine adds additional hashtags to the photo in the comments:
When it comes to choosing the right hashtags for your content, it’s best to do your research and see which hashtags people in your market are using and which are most active.
How to get noticed on Instagram: Master design with these great tips for non-designers
If you’re looking to take your Instagram images to the next level and become a better marketer, check out this design dictionary for a crash course on how to better understand design.
How to Create Engaging Images for Social Media: A Simple Guide For Non-Designers
Images have never been more important in social. They’re the key to driving greater online engagement, much like a great headline in advertising. This post shares 3 key design principles that will help you create engaging social images every time:
Click here to read now >
47 Amazingly Talented Artists and Designers to Follow on Instagram
To help provide you with some creative inspiration, we’ve curated a group of 47 super-talented artists specializing in a range of disciplines. Follow these insanely accomplished artists and designers to stay ahead of the curve and inspired day-after-day.
Click here to read now >
How to find your best frequency and timing on Instagram
Best practices and data tips for maximizing your chance for success
There’s a lot to be said for consistency on social media. Consistency and publishing frequency can help your audience learn when to expect new content from you, and keeping a consistent schedule makes sure you maximize engagement without hitting any lulls or stretches without updates.
A study by Union Metrics found that most brands post to Instagram daily. In fact the average was 1.5 posts per day. The study also found — and this was really interesting — that there was no correlation between increased frequency and lower engagement, meaning brands that posted more than twice per day didn’t see any ill effects.
Our best advice here is to aim to post at least once per day on Instagram and experiment with additional posts to find what works best for you.
What time should you post to Instagram?
With Instagram’s recent change to an algorithmic timeline, timing is now one of many elements considered by the algorithm when it decides what content to show you. So it’s important to post at the times when your content is likely to pick up the most engagement. Our hunch here is Instagram’s algorithm may then determine this post should appear near the top of your follower’s feeds.
CoSchedule collected research from 16 social media studies to come up with these best practices for Instagram:
- Mondays and Thursdays drive the most engagement
- The time of day with the most engagement is 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern
It could be best to treat these best practices as guidelines and times to test out since the best time to post can rely on a bunch of factors and vary from profile to profile. For example, we’ve found that our best time at Buffer is 11:00 a.m. Pacific.
How to ensure consistent posting on Instagram
Once you’ve determined your content themes and the frequency at which you’d like to post to Instagram, one of the best ways to ensure you stick to your strategy is to create a content calendar that tracks which posts will be shared and when.
The Instagram API doesn’t quite allow scheduling just yet, which means you cannot schedule posts directly on Instagram. To post consistently with Instagram, we schedule Instagram reminders in Buffer (our Instagram marketing software). Here’s how it works:
- Find, edit, and upload a beautiful picture to Buffer. Add a caption with hashtags, mentions, and emoji. Schedule for the ideal time.
- Receive a push notification on our phone at the scheduled time.
- Open the notification, select Open in Instagram, and preview the post.
- Make any final edits (filters, geolocation) and share from the Instagram app.
Buffer for Instagram works by adding a post through Buffer and having a reminder pop up on a user’s phone when it’s time to send it out.
Dive deeper: How to Find the Most Timely, Consistent Instagram Schedule with Buffer
Researching the best ways to get your brand seen on Instagram, we discovered a pair of common themes: Share your post at the right time to gain traction in the feed, and share to Instagram at a consistent rhythm. Here’s more on how we’ve maximized these two elements (plus 6 more).
3 tips to help increase your growth and engagement
1. Embrace user generated content
Instagram users provide a wealth of potential content for your business. Curating content from your followers can help you to build a vibrant and engaged community and user generated content can also incentivize your audience to share their own creative ways of interacting with your products, services or company.
Must read: Learn how we used user generated content to grow our Instagram audience by 60%
In under 3 months, we grew our Instagram account by 60% – 5,850 to 9,400 followers. A large percentage of this growth was down to user generated content and in this post, Brian shares our exact strategy.
2. Include some faces in your posts to boost engagement
A study from Georgia Tech looked at 1.1 million random Instagram pictures and discovered these two really interesting bits of information. Pictures with faces get:
- 38% more likes
- 32% more comments
This is something HubSpot does very well in its feed to showcase the people behind the company:
3. Try sharing your Instagram posts to Facebook
A Buzzsumo study of over 1 billion Facebook posts from 3 million brand pages found that images posted to Facebook via Instagram receive more engagement than natively published images:
Must read: How to Gain a Massive Following on Instagram: 10 Proven Tactics To Grow Followers and Engagement
Measuring your results
How to learn what’s working with your Instagram marketing
Tracking your performance and results is essential to any social media strategy. This enables you to decipher which types of content your audience finds most engaging and allows you to optimize your strategy as you move forward.
Paying close attention to your audience growth, and the number of likes and comments your posts receive will give you clues as to what’s working and what could maybe be improved. If you’d like to dive even more in-depth, you can work out an engagement rate for each of your posts.
How to calculate engagement rate on Instagram
The engagement rate is calculated by taking the number of likes + comments and dividing that number by the number of followers your account had at the time of posting.
Here’s an example:
The above post received 210 and 8 comments. At the time of posting, we had 12,343 followers. So the engagement rate would be worked out as follows:
- 210 (likes) + 8 (comments) = 218
- 218 / 12,343 (followers) = Engagement rate of 1.76%
Buffer for Instagram analytics
Buffer’s analytics enable you to check in on your key metrics for networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With Instagram analytics on Buffer paid plans, you can sort every post by the most popular, most likes, and most comments. You can also select any custom timeframe or from presets like 7, 30, or 90 days. This is a fantastic way to keep an eye on trends and what’s performing.
Buffer’s Instagram analytics can also help you to find the perfect sharing frequency. Using the ‘Posts Per Day plus Likes’ function you can see how the number of posts per day affect your engagement. Here’s a quick snapshot from our account:
In addition to these stats, you can also use Buffer for Instagram to:
- Track post performance
- Monitor Instagram trends
- Track comments and hashtag usage
- Measure audience engagement
- Report across multiple profiles
Analytics can help you judge the effect of your content, schedule, and frequency of posting on Instagram and measure how it affects important Instagram metrics such as likes and followers.
As you progress with your Instagram marketing strategy, you’ll begin to notice some trends and what types of content help you to reach your goals. It’s never easy to build a loyal, engaged following on any channel, but with the right approach and enough experimenting you’ll find a great fit for your brand.
Originally written Dec 3, 2016. Last updated Dec 13, 2018