Instagram has become one of the most important social media channels, and small businesses that are not using it are missing out. Instagram is now at 800 million monthly active users, with 500 million active users every day. 80% of users follow a business and 30% have purchased a product or service after discovering it on Instagram (Digital Stand 2018).
Instagram will continue to dominate in 2019 and beyond because it’s different from apps like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, mostly because of its simplicity and usability on the go. It’s a mobile-exclusive platform and appeals to the visual nature of human beings. It’s not limited to just one social function and is relevant to a wide variety of people with different interests. This maximizes Instagram’s user base, and naturally encourages people to interact.
Instagram is a great place to share content, connect with potential customers and visually show what your brand is all about. However, it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to begin when the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing, and new features are being released. Since Instagram doesn’t have clickable links and is a mobile-first app, I see a lot of small business owners sign up, get confused about how to use it and then give up.
Why Instagram is great for small business marketing
Instagram is centred on storytelling.
Storytelling is a proven method to create an emotional connection with your audience through any form of marketing. Sharing visual content is the best way to show your audience who you are and to build a relationship with potential future customers. Focus on creating an emotional response and you’ll see a positive impact on from visibility through to sales and returning customers.
The posts that perform best on Instagram (and Facebook and LinkedIn) are those that create a human connection with an audience. This is where small businesses have a big advantage on over larger corporate counterparts. You have a unique opportunity to connect on a personal and authentic level with your audience that big corporates can’t easily do, so take advantage of that.
Here is a selection of small businesses I found on Instagram. If these businesses can make the time to post, then so can you 😊
- Car Mechanic
- Digital Agency
- Personal Trainer
- Boutique Gift Shop
- Industrial Safety
The fundamentals of an effective Instagram strategy
Firstly, you need to switch to a business account in your settings. This will help you track your statistics, create ads and gain more insight into how things are going.
Make a great first impression
Gaining followers is all about making a great first impression. People will decide within seconds whether you are a brand they should be following based on:
- Your Username: Your username should reflect your business. Avoid using numbers (unless it’s part of your brand) and random capitalisation as it comes across as spammy. The more professional you look, the better.
- An Engaging Bio: Your bio is the first thing that a person will read. Share what makes your brand unique. This isn’t the place to be salesey, but rather for people to get to know you.
- Your Profile Photo: If you’re a one-person business then a professional headshot showing your smiling face is ideal and will connect with your audience. Otherwise, a clear logo is a good choice and enhances your brand awareness.
- Website Link: Instagram allows you to have just one clickable link, so make good use of it by linking to your website to drive traffic and convert it into enquiries or sales.
Visual content is king
One of the key ways to grow your Instagram following is to post beautiful and high-quality images that your followers will like and engage with. Your Instagram profile is essentially a grid of several images, based on visually appealing photography. Therefore, it’s important for your photos to be high-quality and to have a consistent style; otherwise, your profile will appear messy and unprofessional.
- Invest in a good camera (newer smartphones have great cameras) and learn basic photography skills.
- A high-quality photo looks sharp and inviting.
- Grainy, blurry or poorly-lit photos shouldn’t be posted.
- Pick one filter and stick to it – using the same filter on your photos is the easiest way to start a theme.
- Natural light is always best for photography because it creates higher quality and more detailed photos.
- Photos taken with natural light will also look better when you apply filters.
- Plan out of your content in advance and create a posting schedule (or use a free app like Preview that will help you plan your posts and then remind you to post them).
When your feed looks good overall, people are more likely to like your photos, follow you, and come back for more.
Know how to sell
Remember, Instagram is a social media platform and people use it to make genuine connections. Hard selling products, cold calling via direct messages and plain product photos do not work and will drive people away.
Express yourself or your business through captions with a consistent voice. Do you use emojis? Humour? Slang? Whatever your style is, it must be genuine and feel natural. Remember that only the first two sentences of your caption will appear, so capture attention right away to entice people to click “read more”. Tell stories about your brand and focus on being educational, inspirational, motivational, entertaining or emotional.
Tag your products
If you have an e-commerce store, you can tag your products in a post. This enables people to click directly through to your product page which is a huge advantage for sales and conversions.
Lifestyle product photos
It’s essential to create enticing product photos that are not just on a plain white background. Your product photos need to draw people in and make potential customers feel excited about buying, as the product advertising presented in magazines. The current trend is creating product flat lays, which is about styling your photo on a flat surface.
Show your face
Don’t be afraid to feature yourself and staff members in photos. People like to buy from people they know and trust and sharing professional people photos will help to build this trust.
Engage your audience
In the Instagram algorithm, engagement is one of the major considerations when determining how many people to show your post to. The more engagement (comments and likes) a post has the more people that will see it in their feed.
Best practice and good manners are to engage your followers by liking or replying to their comments to your posts. Since these people took the time and effort to interact with your post, you should reciprocate by continuing the conversation.
Take advantage of the features
Instagram is constantly expanding the ways in which you can engage with your audience and all of the new features are worth experimenting with.
Instagram stories are short 15-second clips of photos or videos that disappear after 24 hours. Stories can be animated or decorated with captions, stickers and emojis etc. Stories are very popular with businesses of all sizes as it’s a great place to share behind the scenes clips, flash sales and any other raw footage. So, although your account photos are required to be high-quality, edited and professional, this doesn’t apply to stories – the key is to be interesting.
The going live feature allows you to record video and air it to Instagram in real time, which is great for special announcements or time-sensitive news.
Instagram’s latest feature is set to rival YouTube. Post longer videos – up to one hour! A great place for any videos that you already have on YouTube such as tutorials, tours, how-to’s, guides etc.
When posting on Instagram, you can select multiple images for a carousel post that people can flip through; which is great for showing an image from different angles or showing several products.
Instagram ads are like Facebook ads where you can promote your post beyond your followers, which gives it greater reach. If you’re looking to turbocharge your followers, ads could help you grow quickly. Choose the targeting criteria carefully so that you don’t waste your budget on people that will never become customers.
Promote your Instagram account OFF Instagram
This tactic isn’t talked about enough but is very effective for growing your following. You can have the most amazing Instagram feed, but it’s going to be hard to gain follower traction just by liking and commenting on other people’s posts. Be sure to include a link to your Instagram account in all your marketing material, including your website and email marketing.
Geotag your photos
Geotagging your photos means you tag it with a location, which is essential for local business marketing. It’s especially effective if you service a small area, such as a few suburbs or one city as it’s another way to be found.
Use quality hashtags
Hashtags are important for all social media platforms, but they are the most important on Instagram. The right hashtags (and geotag) can present your post to a large and targeted audience. Hashtags are so popular that you can now specifically follow them on Instagram. Hashtags are a strategy for growing your following on Instagram. Use the Instagram search box to research new hashtags.
Use influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is one of the most effective ways to build up your Instagram following, particularly when you’re starting from a small following. Through influencer marketing, you can connect with established accounts with large followings and get exposed to their audience.
Begin by making a list of the top influencers in your industry. Search for them on Instagram to ensure they have an engaged audience. Remember, it’s not just about how many followers they have, it’s about how much engagement they get. View how many Likes and comments they get on their posts and how often they post.
Use the direct messenger to let them know you’re interested in working together. It’s best to have some ideas for what you’d like to do before approaching them. Two common options are contests and sponsored posts. Experienced influencers will have some ideas on how you can work together.
Use your analytics
How do you know what your followers respond to and like? That’s easy, Instagram Insights will provide you with everything you need to know.
- In the Instagram app, click on your profile photo
- Click on the Instagram Insights (bar chart) icon
- Scroll down to “Posts” section and click on “See more”
You’ll be able to see your top posts sorted by impressions. Go back through your posts and see which ones got the most likes and comments – and of course, the least. Do more of what has worked.
Engage with your competitor’s followers
Two of the most important characteristics of an engaged Instagram audience are:
- They’re interested in your industry/similar products
- They like the type of content you are already posting
Make a list of your top competitors who are using Instagram. For each competitor, follow about 50 of their followers, but don’t stop there. To attract these people following your competitors, you need to communicate with them. On Instagram, there are 3 basic ways to engage:
- Follow them
- Like their photos
- Comment on their photos
Growing a following on Instagram won’t happen overnight, but the good news is that Instagram users are generally very active and love to engage. So, once you get the ball rolling, you’ll notice that your account will start to build organically. Begin putting these techniques into action and you’ll see how powerful Instagram can be for your small business.