Instagram can be a bit of a mystery for business owners. As a commenter on one of my recent articles wrote, “If you’re not a celebrity, it’s very hard to be famous on Instagram”. While this may be true, I’m betting you’re not looking to get famous; rather, you want to build a solid presence on the platform in order to engage and connect with your target market. This article will walk you through my top 10 tips for using Instagram to do just that. Don’t forget to leave your best tips in the comment section below!
1. Hashtags need to be part of your strategy
Apart from your image, your hashtags are the most important element of your post. While captions help you tell the story behind your image, hashtags allow you to get your image (and caption) seen by those outside your current sphere of followers.
When users search for relevant industry-related hashtags, you want your posts to show up. If not, there’s a good chance your competitors’ posts will…increasing their influence and helping them grow their followers.
There are three main strategies you can use for choosing hashtags:
- Use popular hashtags that have the best chance of getting searched for (e.g., #love, #tbt, etc.)
- Use less popular hashtags yet highly-relevant hashtags. These may drive fewer users to your posts, but the ones who do find you will be more targeted.
- Use hashtags commonly thought to attract new followers. Some of the most commonly used are #followme, #follow4follow and #follow.
Whichever strategy you use, try to use at least one hashtag on each post. Don’t worry about using too many hashtags; some research even suggests that engagement is highest on posts that have 11+ hashtags!
2. Be part of the Instagram community
As with all social networking, Instagram works best when you use it to form relationships with other users. Using the platform isn’t about posting pictures in your own little vacuum; it’s about participating in and/or forming community around photos.
There are many ways to build and/or be part of a community on Instagram. Using hashtags (see #1 above) allows you to connect with users you may never otherwise have met. Liking and commenting on other people’s photos gets you engaged with the greater community (and often helps you grow your own followers as people reciprocate). Participating in Instagram campaigns intended to further a worthy cause can help you contribute to a greater good (#movember is a great example of a cause perfectly suited for a visual-centric platform like Instagram). Sharing images and videos from events can help your followers feel like they’re in on the action, and are a real part of your community.
3. Know the optimal posting frequency
You will read a lot of conflicting advice regarding how often to post to Instagram. Ultimately, only you can decide what works best with your audience. That said, there is some great research from Union Metrics that gives us a springboard on which to test our efforts.
According to their research, based on monitoring 55 brands on Instagram, they found that most brands post an average of 1.5 times per day. Perhaps most notably, however, they found that posting more often didn’t result in decreased engagement (as might be expected once a certain threshold is crossed). They write, “Our initial assumption about those high-frequency posters was that the more often a brand posts, the lower their engagement rates would be on the subsequent posts. But that does not seem to be true. So far, we haven’t seen any relationship between the amount of content a brand posts each day and the engagement rates those posts receive, and definitely not a negative one.”
In other words, don’t be afraid to push the envelope when it comes to your posting frequency. Start with once a day, and gradually try increasing the frequency. When you hit a point where engagement starts dropping, scale back a bit until you reach your optimal level.
4. Keep your images in line with your brand’s vibe
Some of the most successful brands on Instagram pay careful attention to how their images contribute to their brand’s identity. They seem to have an overarching theme to their images – and this theme is also closely related to their overall company image.
Take Starbucks, for instance, whose company mission statement is as follows: “[T]o inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Their Instagram posts support this statement nicely, offering up inspirational and heart-warming images. Rather than simply posting promotions and random shots of coffee, they use their images to further their mission and story.
5. Optimize your entire profile
It doesn’t take long to properly optimize your Instagram profile, and it can have a significant impact on how many people click-through to your site (not to mention how they view your brand). Some best practices for optimizing your profile are:
- Make sure your images and description gel with your brand’s vibe (see #4)
- Always include a link back to your website. You may want to create a landing page specifically for Instagram visitors, or change up the link destination to promote your current campaign or content.
- Use your company logo somewhere in your profile so users know it’s the official profile for your company.
- Consider adding one brand-specific hashtag to your profile so users know it ‘belongs’ to you.
- Include your physical location if you have a local business.
- Make sure your images and other content are consistent with your other social media properties.
Keep in mind that keywords and hashtags in your Instagram bio are not indexed and do not show up in search. So instead of using your bio to attract search traffic, use it to clearly articulate what your brand is about, and to entice users to click-through to your site.
6. Use the right tools to streamline your efforts
You can be successful on Instagram using only your Instagram app. However, there are many great tools that can save you time and give you better insight into how well your posts are doing on the platform.
One of my favorite multipurpose tools is Iconosquare (formerly Statigr.am). It allows you to access your account via your web browser, find out which of your photos and videos are getting the most engagement, and track who is following and unfollowing you.
Other tools worth mentioning are Schedugram (for scheduling your posts), INK361 (a full-service tool for viewing, scheduling and managing your posts) and Piqora (for helping you find engaging posts to share with your audience).
7. Use Instagram ads to extend the reach of your posts
Instagram now allows all businesses to advertise on the platform. Up until a few months ago, only big brands could access this feature. Keep in mind that you currently need a Facebook account to create an Instagram ad; ads can only be created in Facebook ad creation or Power Editor.
Test out ads for your own business to extend the reach of your organic posts. According to this case study on the Instagram site, McDonald’s received a 47 point lift in ad recall, “one of the highest Nielsen Brand Effect results seen to date globally”. It may be worth trying for your business!
8. Growing your followers is an art and a science – Here’s how to do it
Without a solid base of followers, your efforts on Instagram are likely to be fruitless. Fortunately, the #1 secret to increasing your followers is relatively simple: lasting engagement naturally leads to followers. In other words, as you continue to post engaging, relevant images, your follower count will grow organically.
That said, there are strategies that are likely to speed up this process:
- Remember that quality beats quantity. Edit your account to leave only the best images. No one wants to follow someone with thousands of pointless images of food or other random shots.
- Always include a relevant caption. Asking a question within your caption is a great way to increase engagement.
- Be consistent. Know who you’re posting for and why you’re posting.
- Use a tool like Piqora to see which images are leading to the highest engagement (then post more of them).
- Engage on your own photos and on other people’s. As people see that you’re regularly interacting, they’ll be more likely to follow you.
- Promote your Instagram account everywhere: to your email subscribers, on your physical marketing materials and to your other social media fans and followers.
For many more tips, see my post 50 Free Ways to Increase Your Instagram Followers.
9. Be a follower
Unless you’re a large, well-known brand, you probably can’t get away with not following people back. And not only should you follow your followers back, you should be actively finding new users to follow.
There are a number of strategies you can use for finding people worth following.
- Find people you already know: While logged in, go to your profile page and click in the top right hand corner of the screen. Tap on ‘Find Friends’ to follow people on your Facebook friends list, contact list and suggested users list.
- Search for people or companies you know using Instagram’s search bar.
- Find people you might like to follow via Instagram’s Search and Explore feature. Click on the magnifying glass icon, and then scroll down to ‘Explore Posts’ or ‘Explore People’.
- Follow influencers in your industry. A tool like Keyhole will allow you to search users and posts by hashtag, and sort the results based on the number of likes they have received.
- Follow users who are following influencers in your industry.
- Search for industry-related hashtags. This is perhaps the most effective strategy for finding targeted users to follow in your niche.
- Do a Google search for influential users in your industry (e.g., “social media” + Instagram).
- Use a tool like gramfeed to easily search Instagram for people, places and photos.
10. Post a variety of engaging photos and videos
It’s easy to get hung up on posting the same types of content again and again (this is the case on all social media platforms, not just Instagram). Posting product shots and selfies and can certainly be part of your repertoire, but make sure you’re changing up your strategy and monitoring which formats get the most engagement. Some popular post ideas include:
- User-submitted photos
- Behind-the-scenes photos of your workspace or employees
- Sneak peeks of new products
- Simple image quotes created using a tool like Canva
- Short product demos or tutorials
- ‘Day in the life’ shots to show your personal side
- Holiday-themed images and videos
As you decide what to post, it’s also important to consider which strategies are most likely to get your photos liked and commented on. According to this infographic, there are a number of strategies that can help you get the highest levels of engagement:
- Human faces (preferably close up)
- Real customers using your products
- Light colors are preferable to dark colors in terms of getting likes
- Photos tend to outperform videos (but that doesn’t mean you should never use videos)
- Images with high background space get more engagement than those with low background space
I hope the 10 strategies above have given you the motivation to start using Instagram as part of your marketing strategy, or to increase your current investment in the platform. With over a third of all marketers now using it, it’s clear that Instagram holds true value for businesses, regardless of size or industry.
For more insights on Instagram and social media marketing, grab my eBook, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing.