Chief Marketing Officer
Between the platform’s recent revenue boom and one billion monthly active users, Instagram’s status as the fastest-growing consumer network is well-documented.
Couple this with a constant flurry of new business features and it’s no secret why so many small businesses are getting on board.
That said, Instagram for small business can be daunting for anyone who doesn’t quite “get” the platform. Balancing day-to-day productivity and social media is likewise a challenge for businesses with limited time or resources.
At a glance, Instagram might seem like little more than a place to post selfies and snapshots, but it’s much more than that.
In fact, Instagram is one of the best places for businesses to engage and build relationships with customers through social selling.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking for a quick refresher, this guide will help walk you through the basics of Instagram and how to make the most of the platform. We'll look at how to:
“Does my business really need to be on Instagram?”
Hey, fair question.
Businesses only have so much time and energy to dedicate to social media.
That’s why it’s important to weigh whether or not it makes sense for your business to be on Instagram in the first place.
Although Instagram might seem reserved for a select few industries (think: food, travel, beauty), the fact remains that businesses of all shapes and sizes are thriving on Instagram today.
From software companies to real estate and beyond, there is no “right” type of company for Instagram. Heck, Instagram even notes that 80% of their users follow company accounts.
And as highlighted in our guide to social selling on Instagram, the platform is especially valuable for getting in touch with customers. As more and more people stay glued to Instagram instead of the likes of Facebook or Twitter, there’s a growing expectation for businesses to be there.
To help figure out whether or not investing in Instagram makes sense for you, here are some quick questions to ask yourself.
Is your target audience there?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but bear in mind that Instagram’s audience skews younger (30 and under) according to recent social media demographics.
For starters, we recommend cross-checking your own customers to see how many of them are on Instagram.
For example, upon creating an Instagram account you can see which of your existing email contacts already have an Instagram presence.
Or better yet, use a CRM. For example, Copper automatically searches the web to find public social media profiles for your customers, prospects, and most important contacts—including not only Instagram but also LinkedIn and Twitter:
If you find that existing contacts and customers are already using Instagram and engaging with other businesses, chances are you should be there, too.
Are your competitors on Instagram?
On a related note, it makes sense to see whether or not your direct competitors and other small businesses in your industry are investing in Instagram.
If you spot some active competitors running ads or promoting themselves, consider how you could tap into that same target audience.
Also note that your competitors’ inactivity could also be a potential window of opportunity for your business.
Getting started on Instagram might not be as time-consuming or difficult as you think, and adding it to your list of active social accounts could make perfect sense.
Do you have a visual product?
Instagram content is entirely comprised of photos and videos.
Translation? If you can take a photo of your product or service, you can show it off on Instagram.
This is why the platform is so popular for consumer goods and brands selling physical products that they can highlight in eye-popping, real-world settings. This post from Print & Press highlights how businesses can put their products on display while scoring style points with customers:
However, physical products aren’t the be-all, end-all of what you can post on Instagram.
For example, a software company might post screenshots from their latest feature or launch. Realtors on Instagram can post snapshots from their latest open house and include tips for followers to see:
Again, if you can take a picture of anything related to your business, you can create content for Instagram (but more on that later).
Are you already active on Facebook?
If you’re already marketing your business on Facebook, getting on board with Instagram is a natural next step.
Pro-tip: Both Facebook and Instagram allow automatic cross-posting between the two platforms. In other words, you can easily publish your Facebook content to Instagram and vice-versa.
Anything you can do to save time on social media is a plus. If you already have familiarity with Facebook, translating those social skills to Instagram is a cinch once you understand the platform’s best practices.
Are you a local business?
Much like consumers today use Facebook to discover and tag themselves at local businesses via Facebook, the same rules apply on Instagram.
Businesses with a physical shop can not only encourage local customers to get in touch or contact them via phone or email, but also share their experiences via geo-tagging:
With the answers to these questions, you can determine whether or not Instagram deserves your business’ attention.
How to create a small business Instagram business profile
Let’s say you’re ready to get started on Instagram or just want to see what the platform looks like for businesses.
Below is a quick list of pointers for putting together a professional profile for the first time.
Choose your username
Like any other social network, filling out your basic account details is your first step.
Ideally, your Instagram account name should match your existing social accounts to make it easier for customers to bounce between them.
But with over a billion users, there’s a chance that your business’ account name might be already taken on the ‘gram.
If so, consider tacking on “inc” or something geo-specific (think: a Chicago-based business might add “Chi” to their username, a San Francisco-based business might add “SF,” etc) to signify your unique business:
Pick a profile picture
At only 180x180 pixels, your Instagram profile photo should be kept as simple as possible.
For most businesses, this means a sleek logo that isn’t totally crowded with text.
Chicago’s Studio Three boasts a minimalist yet colorful profile photo, for example:
Meanwhile, Nella showcases how a text-based profile picture can work with legible text and a clean color palette:
When in doubt, just make sure that your profile picture isn’t too “busy” and can be easily read on a smartphone screen.
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Optimize your Instagram bio
Your bio is arguably the most important piece of real estate on your Instagram account.
After all, it’s home to your sole external link and represents your business’ first impression with followers.
With only 150 characters to work with, you have to be economical with your words. Most Instagram bios include some combination of:
- A mission statement or brand statement
- A branded hashtag
- A call-to-action
- Contact information
For example, local restaurant Hawkers includes a brief summary of their business, some branded hashtags to encourage customers to share photos, and a link to their latest podcast:
Meanwhile, Salon Mario Russo’s profile is a great example of a list-style bio, which is popular among business accounts:
In short, breaking up your bio information using lines and emojis makes your information easy to scan at a glance. Not sticking to traditional sentences also allows you to squeeze more out of Instagram’s character limit.
It’s crucial that businesses on Instagram pay special attention to their bio links. Again, this single link is the only way to funnel Instagram traffic to your promotions as you can’t publish links within individual posts.
That’s why we see many businesses use URL trackers like Bitly. These shortened, stylized links are perfect for Instagram and make it easy to track direct clicks to better understand how your Instagram traffic behaves once they leave the platform.
Additionally, tools like Linktree use similar link-tracking capabilities while allowing businesses to include multiple links within their bio.
For example, Yoga Garden SF promotes a Linktree link in their bio:
Upon clicking through, visitors encounter a landing page that includes multiple links and promotions to choose from:
These tools are smart alternatives to simply posting a generic homepage link. Although you can still monitor social clicks via Google Analytics, these tools also provide the added bonus of a stylized URL in addition to click-tracking capabilities.
Convert to a business profile
Switching to a business account only takes a few seconds put provides access to crucial features when it comes to Instagram for small business.
For starters, business profiles allow you to take advantage of Instagram Insights which clues you in on basic analytics such as impressions, follow demographics, and so on.
However, one of the biggest benefits of a business profile is the ability to include additional contact information and buttons on your profile.
For example, business profiles allow you to showcase your business type, location, phone number, and email address via mobile without taking away from your bio character count. Here’s an example of Luxury Living Chicago’s business’ account:
Create an Instagram content strategy
Once you’ve set up your Instagram for small business, it’s time to iron out your content strategy.
Given that Instagram is entirely visual in terms of content, photos and videos are going to be your bread and butter.
Businesses on Instagram should have a diverse content calendar to keep followers entertained. In other words, you can’t expect to simply post the same pieces of content over and over and expect to get a ton of followers and Likes.
If you’re strapped for ideas in terms of what to post, don’t panic. You have plenty of options regardless of what you’re selling.
Here are some examples of engaging Instagram content that are fair game for all types of businesses.
Product photos are perhaps the most obvious piece of content you should post.
However, Instagram and its audience thrive on creativity. Lifeless, boring product photos aren’t going to cut it.
Whether through colorful filters or great art direction, businesses are encouraged to find creative ways to put their products on display.
Many businesses drive engagement by posting polished photos of their products “in the wild,” much like Gideons does when showing off their mouth-watering confections:
Creating video might sound technical or time-consuming, but Instagram makes it easy.
Sure, bigger companies might put together professional videos or commercials for their brands on Instagram.
That said, you only need a smartphone to take advantage of Instagram's built-in video features (like Boomerang or Hyperlapse) and grab the attention of your followers. Simple, loop-style videos are all the rage right now and are a prime example of how simple video can encourage followers to engage with your posts:
Publishing photos from your satisfied customers is one of the best customer marketing strategies for small businesses.
By doing this, businesses can encourage customers to share photos of their experiences or products on Instagram and re-publish those photos with a follower credit.
This creates a sort of snowball effect where more and more followers will want to show off their photos while your business creates a constant stream of user-generated content to choose from.
For example, Sabrina’s Cafe encourages fans to tag their photos with their #SabrinasCafe tag. Customers can also tag the business account or location:
In turn, businesses can spot customer photos by looking at their mentions and tags. Here’s an example of Sabrina’s Cafe highlighting satisfied customers within their own feed:
See how it works?
Instagram for small business isn’t all about social selling.
The platform provides plenty of opportunities to show off your business’ human side, especially through employee photos.
Whether it’s employee showcases or team photos from your latest events, don’t be afraid to show your team some love on Instagram. Doing so does double-duty of filling your social calendar while also making your team feel appreciated (hint: which helps them avoid burnout):
Like most social algorithms, Instagram awards engagement to posts which reel in “likes” and comments.
Encouraging followers to tag their friends is a simple way to do just that. This can be done by coupling your photos with question-based captions which encourage followers to bring their friends into the fold:
As a side note, try to use these types of posts sparingly as your followers may otherwise get bored of them. Similarly, they might be viewed as “engagement bait” if you rely on them too often.
Macros and memes
Chances are your customers could use a break from seeing products or promotional posts in their Instagram feeds.
That’s part of why so many brands use memes or image macros (think: business or inspirational posts) which typically score more engagement than sales-related posts:
Think about how you can sprinkle these types of photos throughout your feed to diversify your content strategy while also engaging followers.
Given that most people consider themselves to be visual learners, it makes perfect sense to use Instagram as a tool to educate your target audience.
For example, a catering company might share recipe slideshows or a yoga studio could show off poses for followers to try out.
These types of posts help cement your industry expertise while teaching your followers a thing or two in the process:
An alternative to traditional company content, behind-the-scenes photos allow your business to cut loose and let your personality shine.
These types of photos are popular for businesses who might sell a technical product. Rather than post stuffy, salesy photos, candid office shots allow you to make more personal connections with followers:
Writing Instagram captions
Every photo you publish on Instagram is coupled with a caption.
Although businesses obviously want to make sure that the photos they publish grab the attention of followers, captions are critical for driving engagement or traffic to your Instagram promotions.
Note that captions are limited to 2,200 characters and do not allow for additional links. Most Instagram posts don’t come close to approaching this limit, which is good news if you don’t consider yourself much of a wordsmith.
There is no single template for what makes a compelling Instagram caption. However, consider the following tactics that businesses use to drive interactions among their followers:
- Ask questions and encourages comments
- Use a human voice (think: use conversational language, humor, emojis, etc)
- Includes a call-to-action (tag, comment, check out bio, etc)
For example, The Paper + Craft Pantry regularly couples their product photos with playful captions to encourage “likes” and replies:
The point here is to provide some sort of context to your photos that makes someone want to stop and take action versus scrolling by without a second thought.
What about hashtags?
Think of hashtags as a way to expand your reach on Instagram.
In short, they make your content and business both discoverable and taggable. Here are the three most common types of hashtags you’ll see on Instagram.
- Branded hashtags which are specific tags for your business (#oldnavystyle)
- Event hashtags which highlight events or happenings (#nationaldonutday)
- Industry hashtags which are general but related to your business (#productivity)
Most small businesses on Instagram tack at least a couple of hashtags onto any given post for the sake of reach. As highlighted earlier, having your own branded hashtag is necessary for encouraging customers to tag their photos.
There’s plenty of debate over what’s considered “optimal” when it comes to hashtags. Although Instagram allows for 30(!) per post, most brands take a “less is more” approach with four or five being the sweet spot.
You can think of using excessive hashtags almost as a form of keyword stuffing. Will you gain more reach by including more hashtags in your posts? Maybe, but you sacrifice the readability of your captions in the process.
You’ll notice that businesses often include hashtags in the second comment of their posts to avoid cramming their captions with tags. This is a smart stylistic move that still allows your content to reach more people:
I'd recommend experimenting with hashtags and volumes to see what works for your specific business. Beyond brainstorming hashtags yourself, you can use third-party tools such as RiteTag to uncover relevant tags.
How to use Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories receive their own spotlight because they’re easily the most popular type of content on Instagram.
Unlike traditional posts, Stories are time-sensitive content that only appears on your profile for a 24-hour span.
Stories are traditionally behind-the-scenes and off-the-cuff, stylized with simple text and captions. Additional features such as tagging, polls, and stickers encourage further engagement from followers:
The time-sensitive nature of Stories are a big part of what make them so compelling. Since Stories go away, they tap into our sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and are tempting for followers to check out. Additionally, the playful types of content usually shared via Stories feels more personal than a sales-related post.
Also, Instagram Stories effectively allow your profile to “skip the line” on your followers’ Story feed each time you publish a new one. In a sense, consistently posting Stories makes your business more familiar to your followers.
Some popular ways that brands use Stories include:
- Event coverage
- Flash sales and coupon codes
- Employee showcases and account takeovers
- Exclusive content (think: sales, product previews)
- Holiday celebrations
Bear in mind that although Stories do disappear after 24 hours, Instagram does allow you to archive and republish them on your profile through Story highlights. This enables you to show off your most popular Stories or document a specific event or Stories series that you want future followers to see:
How to grow and optimize your Instagram profile
Now what we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into some key tips for growing your presence over the long haul.
Fine-tune your posting frequency
Conventional wisdom tells us that most businesses on Instagram post on a daily or near-daily basis.
This recent data from Sprout Social highlights late weekday mornings and early afternoons as optimal in terms of engagement:
Regular posting helps keep your business fresh in the mind of followers, meanwhile also creating opportunities via hashtags to uncover new ones. This again speaks to the importance of having a diverse content calendar and plenty of post ideas handy.
Get more out of Instagram with third-party apps
Instagram has plenty of awesome native features, but they only scratch the surface of what the platform is capable of.
For example, social listening tools such as Awario make it easier to keep track of your mentions and spot conversations related to relevant hashtags or keywords on Instagram to build customer relationships:
As noted earlier, creativity counts on Instagram. Ensuring that your photos pop and stand out from the crowd means looking into new filters and creative touches to score you style points. Apps like VSCO are the gold standard for doing exactly that:
Oh, and having another hashtag generator like All-Hashtag on deck can help you brainstorm even more possible tags to tack onto your photos:
Figure out your creative trademark
With so much competition on Instagram, businesses should strive to come up with some sort of creative trademark to establish a unique but professional “look” on the platform.
For example, Little Lucy’s account immediately stands out at a glance with a distinct color scheme, playful bio, and customer-centric photos:
The more you post to Instagram, the easier it is to carve out your niche in terms of content and style to win over followers.
Dig into your Instagram analytics
On a related note, it’s important to keep an eye on your Instagram analytics to ensure that your profile is growing:
Beyond Instagram's own analytics, consider tools such as Iconosquare’s free Instagram audit to spot your top-performing posts and opportunities to further optimize your profile for engagement.
Optimize your landing page
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: as a small businesses on Instagram, you can’t afford to ignore your bio link.
In addition to the link itself, also consider where you’re sending your Instagram traffic. Given that there’s a good chance that visitors will be arriving from a mobile device, mobile-optimization is an absolute must-do (hint: Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool can help with that).
Additionally, make sure that your landing page aligns with the tone, style, and promotions related to your Instagram feed.
For example, Rifle Paper Company drives traffic to their shoppable Instagram feed which maintains the same branding and creative as their profile:
Promote your Instagram everywhere
Finally, don’t be shy about promoting your Instagram account to grow your following among new and existing customers alike.
For example, make sure that your email list knows about your Instagram presence. Check out how Bellroy promotes both their Instagram and branded hashtag directly to their customers via their email signature:
Additionally, consider how you can promote your Instagram on-site via social sharing buttons, icons, or an even featuring your Instagram feed on-site (here’s how).
How are you growing your small business' Instagram account?
Although Instagram might have been on your business’ to-do list in the past, there’s no better time than now to get on board.
And with Instagram consistently releasing new post types and features to help with engagement, don’t expect the platform’s momentum to slow down any time soon.
The tips above represent the foundation of a solid small business strategy for anyone who’s totally new to Instagram. Coupled with tools like Copper, you can uncover new opportunities to connect with customers and build those ever-so-important business relationships.