From the boom in popularity of Instagram Stories, to the recent expansion of advertising opportunities—it’s a good time to be using Instagram for business.
How can your business get the most out of Instagram marketing? This post covers everything from getting started and creating a content strategy, to building your brand and boosting results.
Table of contents
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps an adventure photographer used to grow from 0 to 110,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear. Plus we’ll show you how you can use Hootsuite to grow your own following on Instagram and other platforms.
How to set up an Instagram account for your business
If you haven’t gotten started on Instagram yet, download it to your mobile device from the Apple Store or Google Play (it’s free). You’ll need to sign up, which means choosing a master email and a secure password. Once you’ve entered the app, you’ll be prompted to fill out your profile.
Here are some tips on optimizing your business’ Instagram profile.
Your username and bio
For discoverability, your username on Instagram should match the username of your other branded social media profiles.
The only other information that appears on your public profile is your website (a URL, which you can change to promote campaigns or new pieces of content) and a short bio.
Use your bio to explain what your business about and what people can expect from your Instagram profile. You may also want to include any branded hashtags you want followers to use. Check out our post Instagram Bio Ideas for Business for more on this.
Here are Instagram’s instructions on how to edit your Instagram bio.
Your profile photo
Your Instagram profile photo should probably be your company’s logo. Having it match your other profile photos will help with discoverability, since people who follow you on Twitter or Facebook will instantly recognize your brand.
Your Instagram profile picture will be cropped into a circle on the app, so make sure you choose an image that will look good in that shape. Though the profile picture will be 110 pixels in diameter on the mobile app, choose a larger image since it will appear larger on the web.
Learn how to change your Instagram profile photo.
For more information on how to optimize your Instagram business profile, check out this video from Hootsuite Academy’s free online Social Marketing course.
Lastly, to kick off your business’ Instagram presence, you’ll want to follow a bunch of users. Find influencers in your industry, customers, and other people relevant to your brand and follow them.
Instagram demographics vary widely, so make sure you know exactly who you’re trying to target. Search industry hashtags and make your presence known by commenting on photos and following people who participate in these discussions. You’d be surprised how quickly this can expand your following on Instagram.
Lastly, add your Instagram handle to your web properties and other social media profiles for cross-promotion. You can also send out a message or two asking your existing following on those networks to also follow you on Instagram.
After you’ve created your profile, add Instagram to your Hootsuite account. Create streams for hashtag searches, location searches, and your own posts. These streams will help you quickly and efficiently tackle anything Instagram throws at you, from day-to-day engagement to integrated social media marketing campaigns.
Setting goals for your business on Instagram
All of your Instagram efforts should be driven by strategic goals. What is your business hoping to achieve by using Instagram? Set goals that tie back to overarching business or departmental goals. For example:
- Increase product sales
- Drive traffic to your website
- Increase brand awareness
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Attract top talent
- Identifying and establishing relationships with influencers
Not matter what you’re trying to achieve, your Instagram goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (or S.M.A.R.T., if you’re into acronyms).
Creating an Instagram content strategy
Sporadically scrolling through Instagram, randomly liking a few photos, and posting a close up portrait of your dog’s face for the fourth time in a week works just fine for an individual using the platform.
But you need to have a more deliberate marketing plan for Instagram if you expect to build a strong community and see real results for your business. Your strategy should cover four key things.
1. How often and when to post
You’ll want to maintain a regular posting schedule, but don’t bombard your followers with too many posts. The smartest way to figure out what works best for your business is by testing posts at different intervals and times and then tracking the results. Once you’ve figured out the best cadence, a shared content calendar is the best way to keep track of what’s going to be posted and when.
2. Content themes
Rotating through different content themes will keep things interesting for your followers, and help you achieve different goals. For example, a post-secondary institution aiming to increase awareness and attract new students might use contests, alumni stories, and campus life as its main content themes.
3. Style guidelines
Do you use emoji in your captions? Are there grammatical guidelines your brand follows? What hashtags do you use? What types of photos do you post? Are there visual cues that every post should adhere to? Your style guidelines should cover all of the ways your brand makes itself distinct and consistent. We’ll go into detail about how you can define these things in the next section.
4. Engagement guidelines
These guidelines should cover how and when your business interacts with other accounts on Instagram, from liking and commenting on other people’s photos to handling the incoming comments on your own account. Pro tip: Don’t automate any of your engagement. We tried it, and it doesn’t work out so well.
Building an Instagram brand for your business
Instagram is all about the visuals, so aim to build a cohesive and recognizable brand identity. Here are a few ways to do that.
Create visual consistency
A visual social media report from WebDam found that 60 percent of the top brands on Instagram use the same filter for every post. By using the same filters over and over, you can establish a style that will become recognizable to your followers. Since your goal is to get Instagram users to stop scrolling once they see your image (in order to engage with it by liking or commenting), the more instantly recognizable your photos are, the better.
Take a look at 33 Acres Brewing Company, which uses white borders and a very white color pallet in the majority of their Instagram photos. Scrolling through their feed, the style quickly becomes familiar and you start to associate images that meet these characteristics with the brewery.
Mobile photo editing apps like VSCOcam or Enhance can provide additional filters or editing options to help you find your style. Photos that have been edited or filtered elsewhere can still be imported into Instagram.
Choose your subject matter
Visually, you’ll need to decide what content your posts will focus on. In some cases, the content will be obvious: a clothing line will showcase clothes, a restaurant will post photos of its food.
You don’t have to be a lifestyle brand to post lifestyle content. Hootsuite is a social media management solution, but on our official Instagram feed we post photos and videos of our staff members, our dogs, and our offices.
Need inspiration? Check out these three unlikely brands that are killing it on Instagram.
Create a branded hashtag
Finally, there may be non-visual elements to add to your Instagram brand, like common language or style for captions. A popular technique is the branded hashtag. This doesn’t mean simply using your company name as a hashtag, this is about creating a hashtag that embodies your brand and encourages followers to share photos that fit that image.
Hootsuite’s branded hashtag is #hootsuitelife. Lululemon Athletica has users tag their workout photos with #thesweatlife, which has generated tens of thousands of posts from their community.
Poler Stuff has not one, but four branded hashtags (#campvibes, #adventuremobile, #bagitandtagit, and #beneaththebrim). #Adventuremobile isn’t directly related to any of Poler’s products, but it does speak to their brand persona of active, outdoor living and has attracted hundreds of thousands of posts.
Stay true to your audience
Your business won’t succeed on Instagram by simply mimicking the strategy of other brands. What works for Starbucks or Red Bull won’t necessarily work for a financial institution or a non-profit organization. Hone in on your audience and make sure you’re catering to their interests and expectations. Look at what’s working for your business on other social networks, what content your audiences shares on Instagram, and how they interact with your competitors or similar brands.
Getting creative with your Instagram content
Take a picture, add a filter, and post away. Right? That might have worked when Instagram was in its infancy, but the platform has matured and now offers plenty of opportunity for businesses to share different types of interactive and attention-grabbing content. Here are some ways you can break out and get more creative with your Instagram content.
Don’t neglect captions
Instagram may be all about captivating visual content, but don’t neglect the captions that go along with each photo—they present a big opportunity for your business to tell a story. Instagram captions allow you to expand on the image, give it context, and even make your followers laugh (especially if you are proficient in emoji). It can also tie an image back to your business. Check out these 12 tips for writing the best captions for Instagram.
Use photo and video albums
You can add up to 10 photos and videos to a single Instagram post, giving users the opportunity to swipe through and see each individual piece of content. These albums offer businesses a way to combine photos and videos to tell stories and convey information in a highly engaging way. Here are five ways you can use Instagram albums to create interactive posts for your business.
Take risks with Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories have quickly amassed 250 million average daily users, and there’s no shortage of businesses using them. Disappearing content and live broadcasting features make Instagram Stories the perfect vehicle for businesses to take creative risks and create attention-grabbing photos and videos. Check out our post on how your business can use Instagram Stories for more detail.
Collaborate with influencers
Identify influential people on Instagram that are relevant to your brand or industry, and begin building a relationship. Give them control of your account for a day for a takeover, or inquire about supplying them with sponsored content for their own account. This could pay off big time as they expose your brand to their large Instagram community. While many influencers will charge a pretty penny for their services, even small and medium size businesses can use this tactic by partnering with local influencers. Learn more about this strategy in our guide to influencer marketing on social media.
Boosting business results with Instagram ads
Social media ads have proven to be an effective means for generating new business, and Instagram ads are no exception. Whether your goal is to build brand awareness, get more website visits, or increase downloads of your mobile app, Instagram ads can help you access a huge, engaged audience. Learn how to make the most of them in our guide to advertising on Instagram.
Save time managing your Instagram presence by using Hootsuite to share Instagram video, schedule posts, and monitor your efforts. Try it free today.
This is an updated version of a post that was originally written by Evan LePage in June 2015.