Instagram continues to be a game changer in the online marketing world. With so much variety in how to showcase your brand, it’s only natural to find it intimidating. By integrating Instagram best practices, your brand will easily rise above the rest.

Creating a consistent style, planning content, and knowing when to post is key. But there’s more to it. In this post, we cover the basic things you should be doing for every type of Instagram post in 2021.

Bonus: 14 Time-Saving Hacks for Instagram Power Users. Get the list of secret shortcuts Hootsuite’s own social media team uses to create thumb-stopping content.

Instagram best practices for 2021

1. Know your audience

Instagram boasts over 1 billion users and that makes it an ideal platform for getting your brand the recognition it deserves. Check out Statista’s worldwide Instagram user growth chart:

number of Instagram users worldwide 2016-2023

Source: Statista

With so many people online, how do you determine who your audience will be?

Let’s look at some key ways to narrow this down:

Who is your ideal customer?

Think about breaking down your audience into age, location, gender, and interests. Get rid of who you don’t think will fit and go from there.

What are they interested in?

Once you’ve found who your target audience is, ask yourself what else they may be interested in. If a fashion brand is marketing towards young women, you’ll want your content to match that. After all, we love to see ourselves in brands that market towards us.

Want to get more in-depth? Check out this template on how to find your target audience.

2. Set SMART goals

To gain traffic, a dedicated audience, and brand recognition on Instagram, it’s important to set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely).

Of course, we all want millions of followers, but let’s start with your first thousand and grow from there. The key to gaining a new audience lies in keeping consistent content that is attractive, starts a conversation, and makes your followers want to share it with others.

Think about what you want to gain in your first month, your first 6 months and so on.

Keeping dedicated followers is equally as important as gaining new ones. By keeping content fresh, but on-brand the audience stays engaged.

Start with some beginner goals, such as:

  • A consistent publishing schedule.
  • Your first 1,000 followers.
  • Creating a brand hashtag.
  • Lots of comments and likes on new posts.

Pro tip: Slow and steady wins the race! When content is attractive and tailors itself to the audience like-minded people are ready to hop on board and join in the conversation.

3. Measure performance

Taking a look at how your content is doing can be shown in a few different ways. Of course, we all want our followers to skyrocket, but how much your audience interacts with your content is just as important.

Using Instagram’s insights, you can see how your audience engages with your content. The better you understand how and when your audience engages, the easier it is to know what to post.

On any post, click on ‘View insights’ on the bottom left. From here, you can see how many likes, comments, shares, and more. Insights offer an in-depth look with reach and impressions.

Instagram post insights

Source: Instagram

Compare these insights on each of your posts to see what kind of content your audience is looking for. Take note of the time posted as well, since this can give you a good idea of when your audience is most active.

Check out our in-depth guide to Instagram analytics.

Instagram content best practices

4. Create a style guide

Instagram is a visual app, so the look and feel of your page are a top priority. Find a style and stick to it. This could be through a color scheme or a consistent way of editing your photos. Having a set style keeps your brand uniform and recognizable when it pops up on someone’s feed.

You don’t need the most expensive, or fancy equipment to create great, engaging content. Grab your smartphone, find some good lighting, and experiment with different photo editing apps.

Pro tip: High-quality content that encourages your audience to like, comment, or share, wins every time.

5. Use a content calendar

Plan, plan, and plan some more. Consistency is key, but remembering to post often isn’t always easy. The ability to pre-plan and schedule your posts ahead of time ensures that you can keep up. Think about some important things when planning content:

  • How often you want new content on your page. You don’t have to post every day to be successful but post often enough that people don’t forget about you. On the opposite end, make sure you’re not posting so often that people’s timelines are flooded. Unfortunately, this could lead to an unfollow, or a mute.
  • Style consistency. Whether you’re using the same photo filter on everything or a curated color scheme, make your content recognizable.
  • Organizing your content in one place. Having your content and captions ready ahead of time saves you the trouble of scrambling for a new post. The better you plan your content, the easier it is to remember to post for holidays or special promotions.

Pro tip: Set aside time that’s dedicated to content creation. This can set you up for a whole month of consistent, on-brand, and engaging posts.

6. Find the best time to post

A great tool for businesses is the Insights space on your business profile. Tap the Insights button to gain access to data about your followers, such as who your audience is when they are most active online, and how to create content.


Source: Instagram

Once you’re on the insights page, tap the ‘your audience’ section to gain insight into your followers and audience.

Insights Overview

gender overview

Source: Instagram Source: Instagram

This covers location, age, gender, and most active times. Under most active times, you can see when the best time to post on Instagram is. From what day of the week, to what hour works best. These screenshots below highlight some examples of what audience insights look like.

audience insights most active times

Source: Instagram

As you can see from the above images, the amount our audience appears online seems to be similar day by day. When you begin to break it down by the hour we get a much better idea of when our audience will likely be online and most engaging.

Pro tip: Timing posts to when the audience is most likely to be online, allows for more sets of eyes to view the content. Find out the best time to post on Instagram.

Instagram stories best practices

Instagram stories allow for great engagement with your audience. The 24 hour story means it’s a space for your brand to be a bit more creative.

7. Use interactive features

Think about using the vote button, quiz button, and question/answer buttons. These interactive elements not only allow you to get to know your audience, but this gives great insight into what your followers like. Lay these elements over brand photos or videos.

Great engagement can come from fun, interactive content, like a beauty brand having their followers rate celebrity event style.

8. Try the create feature

Having trouble coming up with content? The create feature on Instagram stories is a great way to share new content without having to take photos or video. Use fun GIPHY’s, create lists and other fun content that engages with your audience.

create feature

Source: Instagram

Pro tip: Think about what your audience may have in common with you and start a conversation!

Instagram Reels best practices

Reels are quick, fun videos that allow a bit more personality over a traditional post or story.

9. Make your Reels unique

Here are some great tips from @instagramforbusiness:

how to add text in Instagram Reels

Source: Instagram

10. Add Text

The Instagram Reels subtitle feature gives a great opportunity to allow for accessibility. Plus, more information that can’t always fit in your video can pop up in the form of text bubbles.

Bonus: 14 Time-Saving Hacks for Instagram Power Users. Get the list of secret shortcuts Hootsuite’s own social media team uses to create thumb-stopping content.

Download now

Learn how to add text.

11. Tag Products

Showcasing a product in your Reel? Tag it, so that once your audience can see how great it is and they can buy it immediately!

12. Make it Entertaining

Like Instagram stories, Reels are a great opportunity to showcase your brand’s personality! Whether it’s through fun videos of your products, behind the scenes with employees, or other creative trends.

13. Use Fun Effects

Green screen effects are a great way to change your background to keep all eyes on the product. Be careful, as too many fun effects can take away from what you’re advertising.

14. Engage and Inform

The great thing about reels is that they become a permanent part of your feed. Once you have created fun, informative reels, continue to share them to show off what your brand has to offer.

Pro tip: There’s no right or wrong way to create a reel for your business. Think DIY tips, how-tos, and what makes your brand rise above the rest.

Instagram highlights best practices

Instagram highlights is a great tool on your profile that showcases important information in a convenient spot. When we first find a new Instagram page, we usually head to their profile to see what they have to offer.

15. Enhance your profile

Make the most of your Instagram highlights with something you know the audience will look for. Maybe it’s a current sale or special highlight. Check out what the restaurant MeeT is doing:

Instagram highlights

Source: @meetonmain

By adding important information such as weekly specials, featured art, cocktail menus, and job postings, users can easily interact with the page and become quickly informed.

Instagram bio best practices

Your Instagram bio is a great sneak peek at what to expect from your brand. With 150 characters or less and a profile photo, this leaves little space for large-scale information.

16. Keep it simple

Keeping your bio basic seems to be the current trend among big brands. Don’t be afraid to change it up by announcing sales, news, or other features when timely, though.

Also, add your website or a featured link to get users exploring more about you.

17. Have fun

Think of a quick, witty, and fun message to get your brand voice across. This is the place to let everyone know who you are, what you do, and what makes you stand out.

18. Get verified

To get more credibility to your name, think about getting that blue check and applying for Instagram verification. Instagram verification goes a long way in helping your business account look more professional. Find out how you can get verified.

Instagram ads best practices

The best way to let more people know about your brand is to run a paid advertisement. Instagram ads are a user-friendly way to showcase your brand to a new audience.

19. Put your best content forward

It’s no secret that beautiful content engages audiences. Who doesn’t love a cute puppy or breathtaking scenery? Think about investing more time in your advertising content, as this becomes the gateway and often the first impression for your audience.

Spotify limited time offer

Source: @spotify

This advertisement by Spotify showcases something unique and different. By attaching the easy sign-up link, it gives users a quick way to start using their product.

Short videos and well-curated images often do the trick, remember: high quality is key.

20. Try an influencer partnership

With online media, comes new forms of advertising. Influencer partnerships can help build credibility and reach a new audience. Think of influencer partnerships in the same way that you would try something a friend recommended. Influencers can bridge the gap between brands and consumers.

Allow an influencer to do an Instagram takeover, have them host a giveaway, or interview them.

21. Create a giveaway or contest

Giveaways and contests are a great, often low-cost advertising method used by brands to grow their audience.

Think of a follow and tag your friends contest as if you were getting a recommendation from a friend. The goal with this type of advertising method is that your community of followers is doing the work to find more people who might like your product. If the prize is desirable enough, more people will want to enter.

A great way to celebrate your audience growth is to schedule contests and giveaways when you hit new milestones. Think: “1,000 followers giveaway!” this is a great way to show how excited you are about people supporting your brand.

Pro tip: Advertising doesn’t have to blow your budget. Keep it high quality, engaging and fun!

Save time managing your Instagram presence using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts directly to Instagram (and other social networks), engage the audience and measure your performance. Try it free today.

Get Started

Easily create, analyze, and schedule Instagram posts, Stories, and Reels with Hootsuite. Save time and get results.

Free 30-Day Trial