A long time ago (in 2010 to be precise), on a social media platform far, far away from the spotlight, users gathered together to share photos and videos organized by tags and locations on an app called Instagram. The simplicity of the experience and its visually-driven nature was an “insta” hit and after just two years, Facebook swooped in, purchased Instagram, and grew it into the powerhouse social media platform and digital marketing playground that it is today.
Settle in, padawans young and old, for in order to harness the power of the Insta Force, one must train body and mind, know the components of the app inside and out, and blend their preexisting marketing knowledge. The path to becoming an Instagram success is not as difficult as you may think, and with this guide, you’ll find yourself with a seat on the council in no time at all.
Instagram’s visually-oriented content appeals to everyone in some way. It’s customizable, where you can follow different accounts by topic/interest, or even just aesthetic.
Tack on the commenting and liking functions, and the combination of images, videos, and captions, and it’s become a much more compelling, less archaic version of what Facebook was just a few years ago.
What this means is that Instagram users are always looking for something to catch their eye.
In fact, if you’re in a fashion, style, or beauty-related industry, up to 72% of users have reported purchasing something after seeing it on Instagram.
Even if you don’t sell waterproof mascara or distressed jeans, your business can benefit from making a presence on this unique platform. Instagram/Facebook knows this and has built-in tools to make your products or services just a single finger tap away. Consider this a win-win-win situation: you connect with your audience, your audience connects with your business, and Facebook becomes a stronger platform in which to connect you two.
But making the most of Instagram goes beyond just snapping a candid photo every now and then. The proper mindset, as well as proper planning and knowledge, will play a huge role in elevating business’s Insta account into an integral tool in your digital marketing toolbox.
In order to make an Instagram marketing campaign from scratch, you must first create the universe. Or, at the very least, familiarize yourself with the nuts and bolts of the app so you know the right type of content for the job.
Before you get posting though, there are a few things you’ll want to take care of. Call it priming the pump or a bit of digital housekeeping. Running through these things will enhance your marketing capabilities and make sure your Insta account has that spick-and-span polish that makes it appealing.
Build Your Audience Profile
Also known as an audience persona, an audience profile is the first step to formulating the kinds of posts you’ll want to put on Instagram. A customer profile is essentially a list of important information about your ideal target audience. You should consider everything from their age, gender, and location to interests, communities they’re a part of, and time of day they tend to engage on a given platform.
The more detailed and laser-focused your audience persona is, the easier time you’ll have curating content to appeal to them (not to mention you’ll be spending less money on ads since you can target who you want to see your boosted posts).
So ask yourself these questions:
Who is my ideal Instagram user that I want to reach?
What are their interests?
What kind of content do they look at?
What hashtags do they use?
What communities are they a part of?
If you’re having trouble getting a clear picture of the kind of Instagram follower you want to attract, you can take a look at your competitors and see what they’re doing.
Which of their posts has the most engagement? The least? Can you figure out why?
Take a look at their followers’ profiles to get a solid bead on the type of people you want to attract, which communities they participate in, what hashtags they use, and what other accounts they follow.
Managing An Instagram and a Facebook Account
While Facebook owning Instagram does create a lot of value and opportunity (the ad center, for example, works seamlessly between the two platforms), it does create a minor oddity in that in order to have a business account on Instagram, you need to connect your Instagram account to a Facebook page.
Luckily, this won’t be too much of an issue as you’ve already got your business’s Facebook page set up with a super awesome chatbot, right?
Your business account status is crucial. You’ll have access to a variety of analytics, the ability to boost your posts and reach a wider audience, and a few other features that are super useful for businesses.
Crafting A Profile
You’ll want to prepare your Instagram account and make sure everything is in place before you begin any of your campaigns. Remember: Instagram is a primarily visually-oriented platform, so how you look is arguably as important as the content itself.
Your bio is one of the first things a visitor sees when viewing your profile. There are some restrictions to what you can put in your profile, but as a general rule, you want to catch their attention and highlight the most important information first. In marketing terms, you want the value you provide front and center in your bio.
What problem is your business solving? How can you convey that solution as an identity in as few characters as possible?
Keep your description short, sweet, and punchy, and don’t be afraid to use short, single-line lists, emojis, or other forms of punctuation to make your bio easier to read and to keep visitors from glossing over it.
Your bio also functions as a bit of a primer for how a visitor will potentially interact with your page so can have some sort of a call to action somewhere on it. Whether you want to redirect them to your website, invite them to like their favorite posts, or prompt them with a question of your own, it’s important to create a bio that directs the visitor on what to do next.
Your Branded Hashtag
While hashtags in your bio don’t make your profile searchable under those hashtags, they’re still a great way to clue any visitors into whatever brand-specific hashtags you use. Consider creating a hashtag based on your campaign or business as an easy way to organize all your content (and the content you might get from followers). For bio hashtags, visitors are just one click away to a curated list of your own personally branded hashtag.
Your One Useful Link
Instagram allows for a single link in your bio, and it’s something you should absolutely take advantage of. Whether you’re linking to your homepage, a landing page, announcements, product pages, or surveys, a link (and a call to action to use it) can be a great way to drive engagement.
Your First Nine Posts
If you look at an Instagram profile, you’ll notice that the latest nine posts are the ones that visitors see first. Before you begin posting, you’ll want to be sure that all of your posts are cohesive so that these nine latest posts function as a good representation of your brand.
They should all be eye-catching in one way or another, but it’s also important to maintain some kind of thematic consistency in color, tone, and composition. This will often be an extension of your business’s pre-existing branding strategies, but you can also decide that your business’s Insta account may have a slightly different flavor than the branding someone might see on LinkedIn or the business Facebook page.
Everything Post Related
And now we get to posts, the ever present force that drives engagement. The whole point of the platform. Learning the different kinds of content you can post separates the amateurs from the professionals and is the key to being successful on Instagram.
For most posts, you’ll be creating a caption that goes with it, but unlike captions you may find in a Facebook photo album that simply describes what the photo is as if it were an actual, physical photo album, an Instagram caption is an incredibly powerful tool that not just connects users to your posts but also can drive them to engage with your content.
You can tag other Instagram users in captions, add hashtags, use emojis, and otherwise do whatever you want to make those who stopped to view your content more likely to engage with it.
One thing though: captions should not have links in them. A feature of Instagram is that it does not allow hyperlinks in captions. If you want your post to link an Instagram user to an external site, the only way to do this is through the “See More” function of Instagram Stories (more on that later).
Types of Posts
There are three basic types of posts you can make on Instagram, as well as two more advanced methods:
Photos are the main point of Instagram, be they portrait, landscape, or square. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your Instagram account will be popular and highly engaging.
The primary goal of photo posts should be to establish and maintain branding. The mindset of a photo post should be along similar lines to magazine or TV ads: the goal is to present your business, its values, and what problem it solves. While you can absolutely showcase new products or services using photos, you may get better mileage using a different type of post . . . though there’s nothing that says you can’t use multiple post types in your campaign.
While videos may not be as popular of a post format, what they lack in popularity they more than make up for in engagement and the ability to communicate complex ideas. A good video, while a bit resource-intensive to produce, can get the kind of engagement that a photo post might not be able to.
Like photos, videos need to grab the user’s attention with a good hook. This is a bit easier with videos due to the whole moving pictures aspect, but that’s you still need to deliver quality. Bright colors, engaging text, and interesting images can all be used to get the users to stick around and watch (Instagram counts time watches as a metric for engagement).
One of the big things to keep in mind with videos, however, is that you should, for the most part, treat your video posts as silent films. Videos are set to auto-mute by default, so you’ll need to rely on striking visuals and text to convey your message. Do not rely on audio alone for anything.
Like a real-life carousel, a carousel post goes round and round so long as users swipe to see the additional content. In a carousel post, you’re free to mix and match up to ten photos and videos into a single post.
Carousel posts are incredibly good at generating engagement since users have to swipe to see all the content in a carousel post, though this comes with the downside of some content being “hidden behind the swipe” so to speak.
This is why a striking and engaging first photo or video is essential to getting a user to engage with the rest o the content in a post. In addition, all of the content should share a common thread in the post, whether you’re sharing event highlights, product lines, before-and-afters, or how-to’s.
One thing to note is that for carousel photos in particular, they all get locked into either portrait, landscape, or square based on the settings of the first photo. Keep this in mind when putting together your images and posts.
Stories are an important and robust marketing tool in the growing trend of ephemeral content. It takes advantage of the community aspects of social media, and makes everything much more relatable, albeit less polished. It’s essentially where everyone goes to let their hair down after posting their very best content.
This means they’re perfect for posting tutorials, behind-the-scene tours, listicles, influencer takeovers, polls, shoutouts to followers, day-in-the-life type posts and more.
In addition, Stories are more easily found by users who aren’t part of your followers. By utilizing location and hashtag stickers in your Stories, your posts will appear in those location and hashtag lists, potentially drawing in new followers to you passively.
But now things are really getting out of hand: another added benefit to Stories is the ability to link to external content. Users can swipe up on Stories to be redirected to external content as if it were a hyperlink. This is an incredibly useful feature and should be paired with a reminder or call to action for the user to swipe up if they’re interested.
One of the key traits of Stories is that they only last 24 hours unless you decide to add them to the Stories Highlights of your account profile. Stories Highlights is an excellent addition to a stellar looking profile, as it sandwiches exciting content right in between your bio and most recent posts.
How often you post Stories will depend on the type of business, but as a general rule, try to mix up your content in Stories to keep things fresh. While Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t penalize frequent Stories posting, be sure not to wear out your followers with boring content.
Ever wondered what it would be like to turn over your social media accounts to a popular influencer in your industry? Stories is a great way to run a small influencer takeover campaign.
Everything we’ve covered so far about Instagram has been content that you have total and precise control over. You can edit your photos as much as you want, reshoot your videos as many times as it takes, and take your time looking for location and hashtag stickers to use with Stories.
But Instagram Live my be the greatest test, because it’s live.
There are no redos, and you won’t know exactly how things will go, but there are some serious benefits to broadcasting live that can help your business, and features like being able to add guests allow for some interesting cross-promotion or co-hosting opportunities, especially if things are part of a larger event.
Instagram Live is great for:
Product teasers, launches, or unboxing.
Q&As, workshops, and how-to’s.
Streaming an industry event you’re attending.
Giveaways, promotions, and limited time offers.
And any other content you think would benefit from an authentic, live production.
With the loss of chronologically-based news feeds, social media marketing lives or dies by whatever algorithm reigns over its platform. In Instagram’s case, the algorithm prioritizes engagement as well as the rate of engagement.
To put it simply, you want lots of engagement really quickly in order to rank higher in Instagram’s algorithm, which puts you in front of more users sooner closer to the top.
The way to get more engagement is to make posts that get users to spend more time and effort interacting with your post. The algorithm is always looking for the next popular post, so one of the best ways to be that next hot post is to draw in users with striking visuals and then find some way to foster discussion.
And this is a two-way street: the algorithm also takes into consideration how much you interact with the users engaging with your post, so take the time to respond or comment to other users’ comments.
With the right tools, proper knowhow, and a pinch of lunch, you can snowball a hyper-targeted post into one that reaches a wider audience.
Hashtags are one of those things where less ends up being more. When searching for hashtags, you may be tempted to use popular ones with large numbers of posts, but don’t be deceived.
Use specific hashtags when possible to connect your post to the right audience. Sure, those common hashtags with a million+ posts seem alluring, but your own post will get buried by all the content very quickly. On top of that, common hashtags see far less engagement.
For example, as of this writing, #yoga has 60 million posts. Good luck getting noticed there. On the other hand, #yogaaday has a more reasonable 340,000 posts with good engagement numbers on the top posts. Take some time to research niche hashtags that would apply to your posts. These can be things from objects or locations to movements, phrases, or habits. A good way to find these hashtags is to look at the posts of your target audience and see what hashtags they’re using.
Remember that quick engagement is favored by the Instagram algorithm, so connecting your post to a high-engagement niche community can give a nice algorithm bump to your post.
When it comes to Instagram, night time is the right time for user engagement activity. Users tend to use and engage most on Instagram after work, before bed, and around when they’re getting back from the bars. You can check out the detailed statistics in this article, but as a general rule, try to schedule your posts for the evening.
Instagram will try to pair your content with the content a user typically engages with. Whether it’s fashion tips, sports highlights, or inspiring quotes, be sure to create what your target audience wants to engage with.
One way to get around the news feed algorithm, albeit slightly, is to post Instagram Stories. All Stories appear at the top of a user’s homepage, above the feed. While you’ll still have to compete for the order your post is placed, the nature of Stories allows for users to go through them at a relatively fast pace.
What guide would be complete without some tips and tricks to fine tune your connection to the marketing force? Here are some tips to up your Instagram game and secure the high ground.
Use Your Budget Wisely
If you have the budget, you can pay influencers to make sponsored posts about your products or services.
Prices will vary depending on the popularity of the influencer, and while you probably won’t have to do any podracing to get an influencer to sponsor a post, expect to spend a fair amount of your marketing budget if you go this route.
However, these sponsored posts by influencers can be highly effective, as they’re able to tap into a completely separate warm/hot audience who will potentially be very receptive to your product or service.
Be sure to do your research. The right influencer makes all the difference and the most expensive one isn’t always the best choice. Look at the posts they make and the kinds of followers they have to determine if they would be a good fit for you to sponsor.
Remember: size matters not. You don’t need to hunt for accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. Often, it’s the quality of engagement in the follower base that matters most, and this tends to be present in more niche communities.
An influencer with just a few thousand followers could potentially be more valuable and cheaper than one with hundreds of thousands if those few thousand followers have high engagement and trust the influencer a lot.
Doing some research into the types of niche communities that may be interested in your business can save your budget in the future if you’re able to locate these small, niche influencers.
Trading Is Always Welcome
A quick mini tip: consider trading your business’s product for a sponsored post. Many Instagram influencers will be receptive to this and it’s a good way to get your foot in the door if you’re trying to garner the attention of more niche influencers who tend to be more of the every-day person types.
Boost Your Posts
Anyone who’s played the N64 Episode I Pod Racer game knows that boosting is an incredibly important tool to winning a race. Instagram is no different (though the graphics are much better).
All you have to to is make a post—whether it be photo, video, carousel, or Story—then choose the option to boost it. Sit back and let Instagram do the work of connecting your post to potential new followers or input your own custom demographic filters.
While letting Instagram handle the demographics for more general posts is fine, the more laser-focused you make your marketing efforts, the more likely they are to pay off big. So sure, if you have some extra wiggle room in the budget to promote one of your more standard posts, feel free to do so, but you’ll get far more mileage with boosting a specifically targeted post with specifically targeted demographics.
For example, if you’re at an event, you’ll want to focus your ad filters around the city the event is at, set the age ranges to the types of people that will be at this event, and a relevant interest.
Be a Fast Follower
New feature rolling out? Embrace the trend as soon as possible. While you won’t need to be an alpha trailblazer with a new feature, you can reap a lot of benefit and save some headache by being a fast follower: see what the trailblazers are doing and learn from them so you don’t make the same mistakes they do.
Use Your Data
While it’s certainly good to get a feel for the kind of content your Instagram followers like to engage with, your feelings betray you.
Well, not always, but a case of the warm fuzzies should always be backed up by a cold hard dose of analytics.
Lucky for us, Instagram business accounts have all the analytics we could ever want built right in. Gender, age, location, time, impressions, engagements, etc.
See the who, what, where, and when of your post engagement. As for the why, well you’re going to have to figure that out yourself. Look to your posts that did well and try to replicate what made them engage-worthy.
Schedule What You Can
You won’t be posting loads of content, but why busy yourself at all when you could instead just schedule it and kick back and relax?
Using your analytics, you can see when most of the engagement happens with your posts. If you’re running several social media accounts for your business, chances are you’ve already got a third party post scheduler to make things easy for you.
Instagram is no different here in that you can also benefit from scheduling many of your Instagram posts. Just be sure to drop the post when your followers are most active: quick engagement makes the Insta algorithm happy.
Keeping up with the top posters on Instagram isn’t as hard as you thought it’d be, right? While we’ve covered what you need to know to start posting, like all things digital marketing, it’s a refinement process. Depending on your business, you’ll need to cultivate different skills, focus on certain types of posts, and pivot your marketing campaign plans as time passes.
There are as many different strategies to Instagram marketing. Find the one that works for you.
What are some of your sure-fire tricks for getting Instagram engagement? How do you use it to improve your business?
Let me know in the comments!