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How to Build an Instagram Sales Funnel in 8 Steps

Yes, you can create an entirely self-sufficient sales funnel on Instagram. Here’s why you should, and the content you need to make it work.

Michelle Martin May 17, 2022
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Do you like TOFU? I’m not talking about that jiggly bean curd stuff, I mean “Top of Funnel” content. Sure, you do, because it’s the first step of every successful Instagram sales funnel… Plus, you’re reading this right now.

Instagram can be your all-in-one sales funnel, as long as you set it up for success with a solid Instagram marketing strategy. This article will walk you through how to create an Instagram sales funnel from scratch, including content tips to skyrocket your growth.

Bonus: Get the Instagram advertising cheat sheet for 2022. The free resource includes key audience insights, recommended ad types, and tips for success.

What is a sales funnel?

A sales funnel is a series of steps that potential customers take before they complete a purchase. Traditionally, sales funnels consist of four steps:

  • Awareness (e.g. seeing your ad on social media or noticing your brand at a local store)
  • Interest (e.g. following your brand on Instagram, browsing your website)
  • Evaluation (e.g. reading your reviews, starting a free trial)
  • Action (e.g. making a purchase)

The funnel (or inverted triangle) visualization of the customer journey illustrates how fewer customers make it to each step of the process — for example, more people are aware of your product than will end up buying it.

Here’s what a simple sales funnel looks like in the context of social media marketing:

4 stage sales funnel: Brand awareness, interest, evaluation, purchase

However, traditional sales funnels miss two important elements of modern marketing: loyalty and retention.

Instead of being a funnel that ends after a purchase, today’s sales funnels have more of an hourglass shape. After a purchase or conversion, the modern funnel opens back up and runs customers through:

  • Loyalty rewards
  • Referrals
  • Brand advocacy

hourglass sales funnel with post-purchase steps: Loyalty, Referrals, Advocacy

Adding the second half to your funnel is what builds a loyal and engaged customer base, who are more likely to buy again and refer your products or services to friends. Your Instagram then becomes a fully-formed sales funnel and relationship development tool for your business. Cool.

The 8 stages of an Instagram sales funnel

A well-oiled Instagram sales funnel should be made up of 8 stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action
  5. Engagement
  6. Loyalty
  7. Referrals
  8. Advocacy

Here’s where the TOFU comes in. We can break those 8 stages down into 4 types of content: TOFU, MOFU, BOFU, and… ATFU. Each type of content has specific goals and formats that work best.

TOFU: Top of Funnel

Includes: Awareness, Interest

At this stage, your content needs to:

  • Capture attention
  • Grow your follower count
  • Make people aware of your products
  • Provide value and education (not ask for a sale)

MOFU: Middle of Funnel

Includes: Desire

At this stage, your content needs to:

  • Show people how your product is the answer to their problem
  • Show how you’re different from the competition
  • Make people consider buying from you
  • Focus on education, without being pushy for sales

BOFU: Bottom of Funnel

Includes: Action

At this stage, your content needs to:

  • Ask for the sale! (But don’t overdo it.)

ATFU: After the Funnel

Includes: Engagement, Loyalty, Referrals, Advocacy

Okay, I made up this new acronym (marketers love acronyms, right?), but it fits. This section is all about content focused on retaining and rewarding customers after they convert. And, turning them into brand advocates who can’t wait to tell everyone they know how awesome you are.

At this stage, your content needs to:

  • Continue building relationships
  • Encourage referrals and repeat business
  • Reward your customers’ loyalty
  • Make your customers feel good about buying from you
  • Offer meaningful engagement with regular interactions
  • Show, not tell, how your company lives its values

Of course, once you make all this content, you need an efficient way to schedule it, right? Hootsuite goes beyond basic scheduling by figuring out personalized best times to post on Instagram, automatically posting for you (yep, even Carousels!), and using advanced social listening.

Plus: Using Hootsuite, you can respond to comments and DMs across all your platforms, gain insights with detailed analytics, and manage your paid and organic content together with one tool.

Whew. Here’s how to keep all your Instagram funnel content organized with Hootsuite:

How to create an Instagram sales funnel

This is the content you need to create your complete sales funnel.

1. Grow brand awareness with Reels and Instagram ads

It’s no secret that Reels are the hottest thing on the app right now, and the easiest way to organically grow your Instagram account. Nine out of ten Instagram users watch Reels every week. Reels are also the best way for you to get on the Explore page: A surefire strategy to boost your follower count.

However, there’s nothing faster than well-targeted Instagram ads to get your brand out there. Instagram ads can potentially reach 20% of Earth’s population over 13: 1.2 billion people.

While what works for one company won’t automatically work for another, a recent informal poll of ours found video ads were currently the most effective.

Hootsuite's poll on which social format generates the best results for businesses (screenshot from LinkedIn)

Funnel stage: Awareness

Instagram tactic of choice: Experiment with ads

TransferWise did a great job demonstrating their product’s benefits in a short, catchy, visually appealing ad. They gained 9,000 new user registrations from the ad, with 40% of all their registrations coming from Instagram Stories.

how to use TransferWise


2. Engage your audience in Stories

Instagram Stories are the perfect place to engage your growing audience with interactive and informative content. But what should you post?

The key to Instagram Stories is to keep it informal. Professional? Yes. Polished? Optional.

People want to see why your business does what it does, who your employees are, how you make what you make, and so on. You could have your social media manager speaking to your audience daily, or keep your Stories anonymous by featuring premade content, or sharing videos from your customers (with permission, of course).

Here are a few ideas to get you started with Stories:

  • Create Highlights to answer FAQs, list your shipping regions or policies, feature a Getting Started guide, or any other key information you want new followers to know immediately.
  • Show off your product in real life: Create short videos showing it from different angles or in use, or share customer-submitted content.
  • Add link stickers to direct people to more information on your website. (Although, a recent experiment of ours found that adding links reduces Stories engagement.)

Funnel stage: Interest

Instagram tactic of choice: Feature your product in real life with casual Stories videos.

Nena & Co. shows off the detail and craftsmanship of this handbag with a super simple quick video. Creating impactful video content doesn’t need to be time-consuming.

Nena & Co. handbag with detail and colors


3. Position your product as a solution with how-to content

Show your audience how your product is the solution to their problem. The method you do that will vary a lot, depending on your industry. A quick video usually works best: Think TikTok style, short and focusing on only one point.

No time or budget for creating this kind of content? Run an influencer marketing campaign and use what your partners create on your own profile.

Yes, Reels are all the rage these days, but photo or carousel posts work great for showcasing products, too.

Funnel stage: Desire

Instagram tactic of choice: Post a Reel every day if you can to rapidly grow your audience and get people primed to buy.

Try featuring complementary products from businesses you’re affiliated with to make your Instagram post seem less sales-y, and as a bonus, the tagged brands are likely to share it, too.

4. Close sales with Instagram Shopping tools

Instagram has invested heavily in social commerce tools over the last few years and it makes the action stage of your funnel seamless.

The main Instagram Shopping tools to experiment with are:

  • The Shop tab on your profile
  • Live Shopping events
  • Product Collections (like categories on your profile)
  • Shoppable posts in your grid
  • Product stickers in Stories
  • Adding a link to your online store or a campaign landing page in your Instagram bio
  • Instagram Checkout for 100% in-app sales (currently available to businesses in the United States only, but set to expand soon)

Funnel stage: Action

Instagram tactic of choice: Optimize your Shop tab and Collections first, then use all Shopping tools available to ask for the sale.

EcoRight does a good job creating a mix of both feature-based and seasonal Collections, like their zippered bag and Summer Sass categories shown here.

EcoRight zipper tote bags


5. Gather feedback with Live video and polls

There are countless ways to engage your customers on Instagram since that’s the whole point of the platform. In the engagement stage, you want to make customers feel valued, but also seek their feedback to find out how you can do even better next time.

Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • Run a poll in Stories to find out what your customers think of a new product idea, or what they want more of.
  • Ask open-ended questions with the text box Questions sticker in Stories to gather testimonials or ways to improve.
  • Organize a live video to share product improvements your team is working on, and ask customers to weigh in. Make them feel heard by acknowledging and thanking them for their comments directly in your video.
  • Regularly feature testimonials and reviews in your grid and in Stories.
  • Run a contest to gather user-generated content to use in future campaigns.

Funnel stage: Engagement

Instagram tactic of choice: Use built-in Instagram features like Polls and Questions to gather feedback from your customers.

Swimwear company Mimi Hammer knows that how a swimsuit fits is the most important factor influencing their customers’ buying decisions. They do a good job of asking yes/no questions with visual examples that are easy for followers to answer quickly, increasing the likelihood that people will.

Mimi Hammer swimwear fit on model


6. Create exclusive discounts for your Instagram followers

Reward your customers with exclusive, Instagram-only discount codes or special bundles to make them feel like VIPs. Sharing these codes only on your Instagram will cement it as your main social media platform for customers to follow.

A few loyalty rewarding strategies to use on Instagram are:

  • Exclusive discount codes
  • Early access to new product launches
  • Share behind the scenes content
  • Run contests and giveaways to thank your customers (and gain you new ones!)
  • Of course, feature your existing loyalty card program regularly to make sure your customers know about it and how to earn rewards

Funnel stage: Loyalty

Instagram tactic of choice: Exclusive discounts.

Besides sharing a discount code with your existing followers, you can also easily turn it into a retargeting ad to generate even more sales.

Spotify limited time offer 3 free months of Premium ad

7. Run a “tag a friend” contest to gain new followers

This is one of the most popular Instagram contests around because it’s easy for people to enter and effective for drawing in new followers and referrals.

Before running any contest on Instagram, familiarize yourself with the legal rules. As a quick note, you can’t ask users to tag other people in photo posts, but you can ask people to tag a friend in the comments section.

Most tagging contests ask people to:

  • Follow the account, if they’re not already
  • Like the post
  • Tag 5 friends in the comments
  • Share the post to their Stories for extra entries

It’s a tried and true formula to bring in new business on Instagram. You could also launch an affiliate program on your website and direct people to that, but running a contest is a lot faster.

Funnel stage: Referral

Instagram tactic of choice: Try a “tag a friend” contest.

Rakuten, a cash-back app, knows what their customers want: Money! A high-value prize to your target audience isn’t always high in monetary value. It just needs to be something that motivates people to enter.

8. Build a genuine community to develop brand advocacy

This stage seems nebulous. “Be genuine!” Okay, but how? Well, if you have to ask, you’re not being genuine.

Customers can tell if a brand is posting “engaging” Instagram content for the sake of likes, comments, and shares. It’s a vibe. When companies are genuine, they respond consistently to customer comments and inquiries (not only positive ones), even when there’s no “PR benefit” to them doing so.

Community-focused brands view customer interactions as opportunities to serve them, instead of customers serving the bottom line. The result is a loyal following who respect you and want to help you succeed.

Like I said, it’s a vibe.

A few ways to demonstrate you’re really genuine include:

  • Respond to both positive and negative comments and DMs with a solutions-focused approach.
  • Stay consistent with your brand voice. For example, Wendy’s is known for their spicy tone while Lululemon keeps interactions casual and light, but professional. There’s no wrong answer, just be consistent.
  • Feature user-generated content with personalized comments thanking your customer for sharing it — it acts as social proof.
  • Listen to product feedback… and act on it.

Funnel stage: Advocacy

Instagram tactic of choice: Show up to serve your customers in every interaction. Be a good listener.

Glossier takes the cake when it comes to giving their customers what they ask for. They routinely feature real customer photos using their products, instead of models, and ask people what they want, then go ahead and create that product.

It sounds simple, because it is, but listening to your people is truly the key to so much of your success in business (and on social media).

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By Michelle Martin

As an ex-agency strategist turned freelance WFH fashion icon, Michelle is passionate about putting the sass in SaaS content. She's known for quickly understanding and distilling complicated technical topics into conversational copy that gets results. She has written for Fortune 500 companies and startups, and her clients have earned features in Forbes, Strategy Magazine and Entrepreneur.

Read more by Michelle Martin

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