With over 2 billion monthly active users as of Q4 2021 (up 200% from 2018) Instagram is both the O.G. and trendsetter of social media marketing. Instagram has shaped the landscape of social commerce, the creator economy, and how brands use social media for over a decade.

So how can you use Instagram marketing to grow your business in 2023?

Do you need Instagram ads (or worse: dancing Reels) to be successful? How can you best use Instagram’s shopping tools?

Find out how to use Instagram to grow your business online, no matter your industry or goals.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

What is Instagram marketing?

Instagram marketing is the practice of using Instagram to grow your brand awareness, audience, leads, and sales. As the favorite social media platform of people ages 16-34, Instagram is a highly effective marketing platform for brands, entrepreneurs, and creators.

Instagram marketing strategies include:

  • Organic content: Photo, video, or carousel posts, Reels, Stories
  • Paid content: Instagram ads, including Stories ads, Shopping ads, and more
  • Influencer marketing
  • Shopping tools: Shop tab, Product tags and catalog, Live shopping, Instagram Checkout, Shopping ads

How to set up Instagram for marketing

If you’re just starting out, here’s what you need to do to set your company’s Instagram account up for success.

Set up an Instagram Business profile

To use most of the marketing tips featured here, you need an Instagram Business account. It’s free, and you can create a new one or convert your existing Personal account.

If you have an existing Personal account, skip to Step 3.

Step 1: Download Instagram

You can only create an account using a mobile device.

Step 2: Create a Personal account

Tap Create new account. Follow the prompts to enter your email and phone number and choose a username and password. You don’t need to fill out the rest of your profile right now (more on how to optimize it later).

Step 3: Switch your new account to a Business one

Go to your profile and open the menu. Go to Settings and choose Switch to professional account near the bottom. Select Business as the account type and follow the prompts to convert your account.

Switch to professional account on Instagram

Get verified

Most companies aren’t verified. Research shows 73.4% of creators or brands with over a million followers are verified, but only 0.87% of those with 1,000-5,000 followers are.

You don’t need that little blue checkmark to be successful on Instagram, but having it can help you earn trust and stand out.

To apply for Instagram verification:

1. In the app, open the menu. Click Settings, then Account, then Request Verification.

settings account and request verification

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2. Fill out the form.

After submitting the form, you’ll receive the answer as a notification within Instagram in about a week. Instagram will never email you, ask for payment, or contact you any other way.

If your verification request is unsuccessful, you can try again in 30 days. If it’s approved, hooray and welcome to the super-elite Insta club.

The tricky part of getting verified is having enough third-party content to prove you’re well-known enough to warrant needing verification. We cover tips for getting that supporting content in our complete guide to getting verified on Instagram.

Try Instagram ads

Expanding your marketing strategy with ads can have a big impact. Even simple ads can earn results, like coffee retailer Country Bean’s 3 week campaign which resulted in a 16% sales increase.

There are two ways to get started with Instagram ads:

The easy way: Boost a post

You can turn any existing Instagram post into an ad by clicking the Boost Post button. You need to have either a Business or Creator account, though.

As you probably guessed, this is exactly like Facebook’s “boost” feature. Now that Meta owns both companies, you’ll also need to connect your Instagram account to Meta Business Suite.

Michelle Martin Copy boosted post option on Instagram

After clicking Boost Post, follow the quick prompts to set your budget, narrow your target audience, set a duration, and boom—you now have an Instagram ad.

You can customize the targeting options or have Instagram automatically target your ads. Boosted posts are a good way to dip your toe in the advertising pool, so if this is all new to you, stick to auto mode.

Go big: Launch a full Instagram ad campaign

Step 1: Log in to Meta Business Suite

Click on Ads in the left menu, then Create ad at the top right.

create ad in Meta Business Suite

Step 2: Choose a goal

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? It’s like that, but for marketing.

create ad and boost existing content

For a first campaign, Automated Ads are a good option. Instagram will try to get you the most results with the least budget possible, and they auto-adjust your targeting and bidding strategy as they learn more from your audience’s reactions. It’s like having a 24/7 robot assistant.

If you want to experiment with ad targeting yourself, or have a specific goal, try out one of the other options, like focusing on leads or traffic.

Step 3: Create your ads

The prompts to complete your ad vary depending on which goal you pick, but generally the next step is to create the ad creative. For example, this is what the next step is for the “Build your business” goal.

build your business ad creative and preview

For a well-rounded campaign, you should have at least 2-3 ad groups, each containing 3 or more ads.

Most ad formats have an option to allow Instagram to switch out your creative assets automatically to optimize ad performance. It’s like having a real-time, built-in A/B testing process. Add multiple creative assets for each ad to take advantage of this.

Try to include a mix of photo, video, Stories ads, Reels ads, and Catalog and Shopping ads if you sell products online. Test out different ad copy and calls to action.

And, ensure you have ads for each stage of your buyer’s journey, from consideration all the way to conversion.

Step 4: Define your audience

Take a shot every time you read “define your audience” in a marketing blog.

Targeting is critical to your ad’s success. Meta Business Suite gives you five options:

build your business option audience and creative account

You can target:

  • An Advantage Audience (Recommended for newbies!): This is Meta’s AI-optimized audience based on your existing account audience, and updates itself automatically as your audience grows or changes. It analyzes what interests and demographics your followers share.
  • People you choose: Create your own audience from scratch, including location, demographics, interests, and more.
  • People who’ve previously engaged with posts or ads: Create a retargeting campaign to remind people who already know you about your offer.
  • Page Likes: Targets your existing Facebook Page and Instagram followers.
  • Page Likes and similar: In addition to your existing audience, this will also expand to target people the algorithm thinks are similar to them to bring in new leads.

If you’re new to ads, use the Advantage audience option. Want to learn more about perfecting your ad targeting? The info in our Facebook ad targeting guide works for your Instagram ads, too.

Step 5: Set your budget

Whichever targeting option you pick, you’ll need to set a budget and duration. You’ll see the predicted results of your choices on the right side in estimated reach and clicks.

start date and estimated daily results

Step 6: Launch

Lastly, choose if you want your ad to appear only on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger, or across all three platforms. We recommend running it across all.

Click Promote Now to save and launch your Instagram ad campaign. Woo!

Running a successful ad campaign is a huge undertaking. Check our in-depth Instagram ads guide for tips on creating great ads in 2023.

Add an Instagram Shop to your account

Instagram Shopping tools are a must-have for ecommerce businesses. 44% of Instagram users shop weekly on the platform, and 1 in 2 use Instagram to find new brands.

Tips on using Instagram Shopping are in the next section, but you need to add the Shop tab to your Instagram profile first.

This allows you to create a fully shoppable product catalog directly on Instagram, as well as tag and link to products in your posts and Stories, and more.

our place Always pan

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Step 1: Ensure you meet Instagram Shopping requirements

Brands using Shopping features must adhere to Meta’s merchant policies. You’re probably doing all these things correctly anyway, but it’s a good idea to review Meta’s commerce policies first before applying.

Step 2: Sign up for Commerce Manager

To create your Instagram Shop, you need to have a Meta Commerce Manager account. You need a Business or Creator Instagram account first, then you can sign up one of two ways:

Through your ecommerce platform

If your website runs on Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, or other major platforms, you may only have to click a button to set up your Instagram Shop.

The process is different for each, so check out Meta’s list of supported platforms to find instructions for yours.

Manually through Commerce Manager

Don’t use one of those? It’s easy to sign up from scratch.

Log in to Meta Business Suite and click on Commerce in the left navigation.

Meta Business Suite Commerce

Click Add Account. Click Next on the following page to start the manual set up process.

First, choose a checkout method:

  1. Checkout on your website.
  2. Checkout directly inside Facebook and/or Instagram. (Recommended, but currently only available for U.S.-based companies.)
  3. Checkout via direct message on WhatsApp or Messenger.

create your shop choose checkout method

Select the Facebook and Instagram profiles you want to create your Shop on, then click Next. Create a new product catalog, and click Next again.

add products to catalog

It will prompt you to enter your website URL and the countries you ship to. The final page is a summary of all your information. Ensure it’s accurate, then click Finish Setup.

Step 3: Wait for approval

Instagram reviews new Commerce Manager applications manually, though you should hear back within a few business days.

Eager to learn while you wait? Learn how to tag products in your scheduled Hootsuite posts, and the next steps to optimize your Instagram Shop.

18 tips for a winning Instagram marketing strategy

1. Set S.M.A.R.T. social media goals

You know, the specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound yada yada yada type goals. What do you want your Instagram account to do for your business?

A few common examples are:

  • Lead generation
  • Brand awareness
  • Recruitment

But, your goals are as unique as your company. The important point? Have some.

Learn how to set effective social media goals that directly connect to your marketing strategy.

2. Optimize your profile

There’s a lot to cover here, so check out our full step-by-step recommendations to optimize your Instagram profile.

At minimum, ensure yours has:

The great thing about digital marketing is nothing is set in stone. Don’t sweat about making the perfect Instagram profile. You can always tweak it later.

Remember: it’s what’s inside that counts (most). As in, your actual Instagram post content.

3. Up your graphics game

Instagram is a visual platform. While no one’s expecting a small business to have the same resources as a megacorp, you still need to create eye-catching posts that attract your audience.

Besides hiring a professional photographer to take your product shots—which you really should—try:

  • Sourcing inclusive stock photography, like Vice’s Gender Spectrum Collection and others who showcase the full range of the human experience. (Here are more stock photo sites.)
  • Popular Instagram Reels ideas. Not sure where to start? Try a Reels template.
  • Use graphic templates to up your style without spending a lot. Hire a designer to make them, or use an app like Adobe Express.

4. Champion user-generated content

The best way to boost your Instagram for free? User-generated content.

Encourage your followers to share photos or video of your products. Not every shot will be an Ansel Adams-worthy one, but you can’t beat the authenticity of real customer photos and stories.

Instagram makes this easy with the Tagged tab, which shows all the posts other users tag you in. There’s a hack to make it so only the crème de la crème are visible: Enabling manual approval for tagged photos.

So instead of a jumbled mess, you can curate user-generated content that fits your aesthetic.

H&M Home user-curated content on Instagram

Source

5. Develop a brand aesthetic

Speaking of style… have one. While your audience isn’t going to hand over their wallets solely due to good looks, make an effort to create a cohesive-looking profile.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

Get the free guide right now!

Why? Because people will see one of your posts in their Instagram feed and instantly know it’s from you before even seeing the account name. They’ll recognize your style. That’s branding at work.

6. …But don’t be too concerned with aesthetic

Yes, having a recognizable look helps you attract the audience you want, but style without substance isn’t a strategy. 58% of Instagram users say they like it more when brands share candid, unpolished content.

Don’t let the fear of your content not looking “pretty” enough stop you. Post it anyway.

7. Have a distinctive brand voice

One thing that always needs to be on point, raw or not, is your brand voice.

Your voice comes through everything you communicate, such as:

  • Post captions
  • How you come across on video
  • Key terms you use
  • How people speak on camera when representing your company
  • Your bio copy
  • Text in videos or Reels

Besides what you say, it’s how you say it. Are you casual and fun, or serious and scientific? Keep things light with jokes, or stick to the facts? There isn’t a wrong way, but you need to stay consistent.

Your brand voice and tone is a key part of your social media brand guidelines.

8. Use Reels

It seems like all you see when you open Instagram now are Reels, and there’s a reason for it: They get engagement. We conducted an experiment that found a significant correlation between posting a Reel and an immediate boost in overall engagement rate.

Some may not get many views and that’s okay, because when one of yours does go a lil’ bit viral? It’s all worth it.

Anyone can be successful with Reels, it just takes practice. We’ve got tons of resources to makes yours reel-y (ugh) good:

9. Use Stories

Reels may be newer, but Instagram Stories aren’t going anywhere. Popular for more informal content, Stories allow you to develop relationships with your audience in a unique way.

It doesn’t take a ton more work to see a big effect, either. A year-long study found that when companies shared one Story per day, it resulted in a 100% retention rate.

Not only that, but 500 million people use Stories every day. I’m not great at math but having 100% of your audience remember your content, with a potential reach of 500 million people? That’s a no brainer.

If you need tips on what to share in your Stories, check out our Instagram Stories guide for businesses and how to create effective Instagram Stories ads.

10. Create useful Stories highlights

Stories only last 24 hours, but your Stories highlights can live on forever.

Highlights are great for communicating lots of information quickly in the format most people prefer these days: Short video. 61% of Gen Zers and Millennials prefer videos under 1 minute long.

Plus, adding Stories highlights is a way to repurpose your Story content and keep it working for you.

Try adding a temporary highlight for a new product launch or event. Leave up always-relevant ones like FAQ or ordering information.

For effective Stories highlights, ensure you have:

  • Short, clear titles
  • Cover designs that fit your brand
  • Only your best content featured in them

The Body Shop branded content

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11. Use Stories tools

Instagram makes it easy to link to your products or services (whether you have Commerce Manager set up or not) and engage with your audience.

Access the ever-expanding Stories toolbox by tapping the smiley sticker-thing:

dog with Stories tools

Be sure to try out:

  • Product tags: If you have an Instagram Shop, you can easily tag your products in Stories. Users can tap the product name and checkout in-app.
  • Links: Useful for directing people to any URL, but especially so if you don’t have an Instagram Shop. You can still link out to your products on external sites.
  • Questions: Get quick and valuable feedback.
  • Gift cards and more: Depending on your account type, users can purchase gift cards or order food delivery directly from a Story.

Hootsuite makes it easy to schedule Instagram Stories in advance, including all the special tools and features you need.

12. Stay up to date on hashtags

To hashtag or not to hashtag? Is it nobler to suffer the highs and lows of the algorithm, or take arms against a sea of content?

You can add up to 30 hashtags per Instagram post. But a 2021 experiment we did showed that using more doesn’t get more views. Last year, Instagram’s official @creators account recommended no more than 3-5 per post.

What about in 2023?

A casual experiment I ran on my account this week showed an opposite effect. I loaded up on hashtags, using between 15-20 per post, and most of my (albeit small) reach came from those hashtags.

post insights reach and impressions

So what does this tell us?

TL;DR: Science is hard, no one knows how many Instagram hashtags are “the perfect amount,” and you should regularly experiment with this.

Check out our Instagram hashtag guide for tips on what’s working right now.

13. Reply to comments and DMs

Engage with your audience! Reply to their comments, messages, carrier pigeons, etc.

Because a higher engagement rate looks good on your analytics reports, right? No! Reply to your followers because it’s the right thing to do.

Yes, it also boosts your engagement rate. But more importantly, it encourages your potential customers to start conversations with you. Over time, those conversations become the foundation of their perception of your brand and greatly influence purchase decisions.

Hootsuite Inbox allows you to stay on top of all comments and DMs across all your platforms in one place. Assign conversations to team members, track responses, and ensure no one falls through the cracks. See how efficient it is to foster genuine engagement with Inbox:

14. Try Instagram Live video

Live video doesn’t need to be scary. It’s a powerful tool for Instagram growth and deepening your relationship with your audience.

Try:

  • Hosting a workshop or class.
  • A Q&A session.
  • Product demos.

Halle Bailey Instagram Live video

Source

Our complete guide to going live on Instagram covers how to do it and ideas you can try today.

15. Partner with influencers

Influencer marketing is still going strong in 2023 and projected to grow more every year. In 2021 alone, influencer marketing accounted for $13.8 billion USD in value.

Don’t forget your most valuable influencers: your employees. Starting an employee advocacy program can boost your profits 23% and internal team morale. Win-win.

Learn how to maximize your ROI with our free Influencer Marketing 101 guide for businesses of all sizes.

16. Run contests and giveaways

What do people like? Free stuff!

When do they want it? All the time!

Sometimes the best strategies for Instagram are the oldest. Contests can boost your organic reach and give you tons of user-generated content.

Contests don’t need to be expensive. Give away free products in a simple raffle by having users like and comment on your post, or partner with someone else in your industry to split the cost of a larger prize package.

Get inspired with creative Instagram contest ideas, and a step-by-step process for running giveaways.

17. Measure your ROI

You see the positive comments customers leave, the sales coming in, and your follower count going up. But how do you put a number on it? What are the real results of your efforts?

Measuring your ROI, or return on investment, is important for reporting to your boss, but it can also help you justify establishing or increasing your paid advertising budget.

It’s also the only way to know if your marketing strategy needs a tweak, or if you should double down on what you’re doing.

Rather than sifting through each platform’s analytics dashboard and attempting to assemble the full picture yourself, lean on Hootsuite Impact instead. Impact pulls together data for all your organic and paid content across every platform in one place, giving you powerful insights whenever you need them.

18. Experiment!

Last but not least, don’t wildly follow every Instagram marketing tip you read on marketing blogs. 🙃

Seriously: You need to experiment. Every audience is different. Maybe your peeps hate live video. Maybe they’re only online at 3pm on Wednesdays. Maybe they will give you their first-born child for a free sweatshirt.

Evaluate your performance often and set aside time to run experiments to see which tactics work best for you. Don’t worry, we have a free social media audit template to help out.

Why use Instagram for marketing?

Need a bit more convincing? Here’s how Instagram marketing can help you grow your business.

Instagram Shopping tools can boost sales by 300%

44% of Instagrammers shop weekly on the platform. Since launching basic shopping tools in 2018, like linking to products from Stories, Instagram is now a complete social commerce solution.

Brands can achieve up to 300% more sales with a combination of Shopping tools and ads.

People spend 30 minutes per day on Instagram

Instagrammers spend 30 minutes per day on the app, which is fairly average among major social platforms, but it’s the session length that really stands out.

People spend about 18 minutes per session, which beats out the average Amazon shopping trip (13 minutes), Twitter scroll (14 minutes), and YouTube session (7 minutes). Surprisingly, also the average session on Pornhub (14 minutes).

Now that’s real engagement.

most viewed websites Semrush ranking

Source: Hootsuite Digital Trends 2022 Report

Instagram ads reach almost 1/3rd of all internet users

Instagram ads can reach up to 1.48 billion people. That’s 29.9% of all internet users and 23.9% of everyone over age 13 worldwide.

Instagram ads also significantly impact brand sentiment: 50% of people say they find businesses more interesting after seeing their ads on the platform.

Instagram advertising audience overview January 2022

Source: Hootsuite Digital Trends 2022 Report

3 Instagram marketing tools

1. Hootsuite

Lil’ biased here, but Hootsuite really is a great choice to manage all your social media marketing. We have all the basic tools you need, like scheduling, planning, and analytics, as well as advanced capabilities to take you even further.

With Hootsuite, you can schedule posts for Instagram (Posts, Stories, and Reels), Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest. from one intuitive dashboard. Think of all the time you can save not switching between 7 apps to post content!

Hootsuite also offers detailed analytics comprehensive reporting, as well as a calendar view and content creation tools that allow you to publish the best content possible.

That’s not it. Every Hootsuite user gets access to custom, fully personalized recommendations for the best times to post content for maximum reach, impressions, or engagement.

Hootsuite's Best Time to Publish feature, displaying a heatmap of the best times to post as dictated by follower activity on the platform (unique for each account)

Try Hootsuite for free

Check out everything Hootsuite can do for you:

2. Notion

Notion is like if a notebook and a spreadsheet had a baby. A Gen Z baby ‘cause it’s digital-first.

You can add anything to a Notion page that you add to a document, like text, images, etc. But its real power is databases, allowing you to filter and sort your info in multiple ways, including on a calendar, in tables, or with Kanban boards, to name a few.

It’s what I use to plan my social media content (before I put it into Hootsuite, of course) and I love how easy it is to edit on mobile. Plus, if I had friends a team, everyone could collaborate in the same Notion workspace, too.

Check out Notion’s template gallery, or make your own content board from scratch.

Martin Copy Co Notion template gallery

3. Adobe Express

Adobe Express is a free online tool to create great-looking social graphics and more. You get additional features if you already have an Adobe subscription, including Adobe Stock access and more.

With Hootsuite’s Creative Cloud integration, you can view all your Adobe libraries directly inside Hootsuite, and edit photos in Hootsuite Composer. It’s a perfect pair, especially if you already use other Adobe apps like Photoshop or Illustrator.

Manage all your Instagram marketing alongside your other social platforms with Hootsuite’s time-saving tools. From a single dashboard, you can schedule posts, Stories, and Reels, engage with your audience, and measure your social ROI. Try it free today.

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