The statistics are pretty impressive for any solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, small businesses or larger brands considering getting started on Instagram: an estimated 600 million users, with almost 100 million photos and video posts shared each day. And all this on an image-centric platform that is increasingly gearing up to become ecommerce-business friendly.
With almost a third of American women and a quarter of American men using the app, and worldwide use also soaring, the ecommerce marketing possibilities are immense. Emarketer reported that an estimated 70.7% of all brands in the U.S. with 100 employees or more will actively use Instagram in 2017.
Enough of the stats. You’re probably thinking “Great – but how exactly do I start building my Instagram empire?”
This post is a nuts-and-bolts, from-the-ground-up guide to getting started with Instagram for business. From setting up your account to navigating the Instagram app, optimizing your account and getting started with growing it, you will no longer be an Instagram ‘nobody’ if you follow the strategy outlined here.
More specifically, you’ll find out:
- What Instagram is and how it’s used for business
- How to create your business account
- How to find your way around the Instagram app
- How to optimize your account
- How to create an Instagram strategy
- How to start creating content to make the most out of Instagram
What is Instagram?
Instagram started out as a photo-sharing app in San Francisco in 2010, just after the boom in the use of smartphones started to grip the world.
Phones that took great pictures led to the development of an app that allowed people to edit and post those pictures to share with people. As smartphones have become more sophisticated and usage has grown, Instagram has also grown; as mobile devices improved their video-recording quality, so Instagram has added the ability to upload and share video.
That’s why Facebook was convinced to buy the company in 2012 – for $1 billion!
Instagram can be accessed from desktop, but images and videos are uploaded from iOS and Android-based devices; and you can connect it to the other social media networks you use, sharing content across multiple channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on.
The profile of users has changed considerably from the early days, when it had a reputation for being an app for teenagers to show off their latest pair of Nikes, birthday pictures, or cuddly pets. Businesses have increasingly flocked to Instagram for its marketing possibilities.
While Instagram still restricts external links to one per profile, many workarounds have been provided by app developers. A series of useful Instagram tools make it possible for ecommerce businesses to essentially use their Instagram feeds as extensions of their ecommerce stores. This has sent interest in Instagram’s marketing possibilities through the roof in recent times.
Now you know a little of the history, how do you start using Instagram for your business?
How to set up Instagram for business
First things first: you need an Instagram business account. Every entity on Instagram needs to set up an account in order to create a profile, access a content ‘feed’, and to be able to interact with other users by following them, being followed by them, commenting, liking, tagging, and private messaging.
You’re probably familiar with how social networks work – in this respect, Instagram is no different to others.
Download the app and sign up
Being a mobile-first app, you’ll first need to download it to your smartphone. It’s available for free in the App store and Google Play:
You have two choices for signing up to Instagram:
- Connect your Instagram account to Facebook (your information will be pre-filled, with name and profile picture)
- Enter your email address
Either way, you’ll need to create a username and password. When you sign up from Facebook, you may be asked if you want to connect with friends already on Instagram. If you don’t do it immediately, you can return to it later.
Learn to navigate the app
Once you’ve downloaded the app and signed up, you’ll need to get acquainted with navigating your way around it. The following covers the main areas you’ll be using on Instagram:
The home screen
The home screen is where you’ll start when signing into the app. The first thing you’ll notice once you’re all set up and connected with your community is a stream of posts from Instagrammers who you follow.
The home screen contains a number of tabs that help you to set up your own profile, search out and view content, interact with the Instagram community, and develop your own feed.
- Timeline tab
The Timeline tab is similar to what you see on Facebook. It includes:
- Your timeline – displays all of your posts in chronological order
- Your Stories – displays your images/video that you have made into ‘stories’, which disappear from your account after 24 hours (more about this below)
- Add to your story –allows you to add new photos or video (Boomerang or hands-free) to your existing stories
- Search tab
The Search tab is accessed from the magnifying glass icon. It allows you to search for other content and users on Instagram. You can search by hashtag, user, or content type and it’s a useful way to identify brands that align with yours and to find new followers.
If you don’t tap a category (People, Places, or Tags) search results default to the most popular ones for that term. You can also search for trending hashtags, which helps you identify and create your own content according to what’s popular.
Other ways to search are by:
- Stories – see what people have created in the past 24 hours
- Recommended content –a personalized search facility that, based on your usage history and other information, will recommend content for you to check out: a good shortcut to finding what you’re looking for.
- Interactions tab
This is the place where you can find out all the info on who you’ve been interacting with. Instagram marketing is all about building communities, so it’s important to monitor how you’re interacting with followers and other Instagrammers you follow, and to improve your strategy for growing your account.
There are two tabs on this page:
- You – where you see who has followed you, liked your posts, commented on posts, mentioned you, or tagged you
- Following – where you can see the activity of the people and brands you’re following on Instagram: comments, likes, and new users they’re following
- Profile tab
From your profile tab on the bottom right of the home screen, you have access to the all-important settings on your account, your bio, an overview of your activity, and tools to make contact with other Instagrammers easier. Here you can:
- See all your posts
- View your followers
- View those you are following
- View the posts you’ve been tagged in
- Check your content timeline
- Check your saved content
- Edit your profile – more about creating and adjusting your bio/image below
- Adjust your settings for standard posts and for Stories
- Check performance analytics and get insights into the number of impressions (views) your posts have attracted, your reach (the number of unique accounts that have seen your posts), the number of profile views you have received, and your top posts: all very useful for tweaking your strategy.
There is also a CONTACT button on your profile that allows other Instagrammers to contact you directly from your profile.
Direct message screen
Another major part of making the most out of Instagram is to use it to send direct messages to other Instagrammers. These could be followers, people you’re following, or potential new followers.
It’s a great way to quickly share posts in a more personal way with people, via a threaded message with one or more users.
You are able to send the following in a direct message:
- Photos or videos you take or upload from your library
- Posts you see in Feed
- Disappearing photos and videos
By tapping in the top-right corner of Feed, you are able to manage the messages you’ve sent and received through Instagram Direct. There’s more about how to send a message in the section below on interacting with content.
Create content screen
This is where you’ll be spending a lot of your time once you’re up and running. Content is the currency of Instagram marketing, like all social networks, and it can help make you very popular.
The types of content that you can post are:
- Standard posts – images and video that you can upload to your account and create captions for
- Boomerang –allows you to record and post one-second long videos that play forwards and backwards on an endless loop
- Hands-free –record content without holding down the video button; just tap once to start and again to finish. This includes flash and rotate options for adding variety to your posts.
Optimizing your Instagram account for business
Once you know the basics of the app, it’s time to start setting your account up so that it reflects your business and your brand.
With Instagram being a visual-content platform, it’s important that you look good; but it’s also about optimizing it to make the most of the marketing opportunities for your ecommerce business.
Choose a business account
There are both personal and business accounts on Instagram. Select the business version and you are able to leverage some useful extra tools – like insight and analytics and the Contact button that allows other Instagrammers to contact you directly from your profile.
Optimize your profile copy
Your profile copy allows 150 characters. Use the space to show the benefits that you bring to your customers – speak to your target audience, use your main keyword(s), and include a call to action.
Optimize your profile link
Instagram allows only one link. Posts cannot contain active links, so it’s important to optimize the one link that you are allowed in your profile.
Make sure that you use the Google Short URL tool to create a branded link and then link it to a stoppable Instagram page – where your followers are connected instantly to your products and are able to purchase them. This will help increase traffic to, and conversions in, your ecommerce store.
Optimize your profile image
Also ensure that you use a suitable profile image. For an ecommerce store, this may be your brand logo; it should be 110 pixels x 110 pixels and it should be as eye-catching as possible.
Link your social accounts
Make sure that all your social accounts are linked to Instagram: Facebook will be linked automatically, but also link Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr etc. By doing this, you ensure that your content gets maximum reach.
Optimize comment settings
On the profile page, in Options, you can adjust your comment settings. It is important to hide inappropriate comments from users that may damage your brand. The vast majority of Instagram users are respectful, but there is always the odd ‘troll’ or ‘hater’ around – and they can become ‘loud’, unless you silence them.
How to convert an existing personal account into a business account
Some of you reading this may already have a personal account set up on Instagram and want to convert it to a business account.
To do this, go to Settings and select Switch to Business Profile option. From there, you will need to connect your account with your business’s Facebook page by following the prompts, as follows:
- On the Connect Your Facebook Page screen, you’ll see all of the Facebook Pages you’re currently an admin on. Select the page you’d like to associate with your business profile on Instagram.
- On the Set Up Your Business Profile page, review your business’s contact information, amend if necessary and then tap Done.
And that’s it. You have an Instagram business account ready for action.
How to use Instagram to grow your business
This is where it becomes a little bewildering for some business owners. They set everything up with the best of intentions but hit a wall when it comes to the strategy part.
Fortunately, there are many tools to help with Instagram marketing strategy. Not least my Instagram marketing strategy post that takes you through from setting your goals on Instagram, to optimizing your profile, growing your following, and ultimately to boosting conversions and sales in your ecommerce store; and then measuring your results.
This part takes work, admittedly, but the results are more than worth it. Let’s briefly summarize what a comprehensive Instagram marketing strategy looks like, in seven main steps:
- Establish clear business objectives – brand awareness? Increases traffic? Showcase and sell products?
- Get specific on your target audience – define clearly who you will be marketing to
- Set up and optimize your Instagram account – profile copy, profile link, picture, social account linking and comment settings
- Develop a content marketing strategy – using all the types of content and all the marketing tools available to you
- Develop a content calendar that provides a great mix of content for your followers, develop templates that speeds up content creation, and use tools to automate many of the processes
- Grow your account – using bull follow/unfollow, liking and commenting, and email outreach
- Measure and analyze progress – using the tools at your disposal, adjusting strategy according to the insights gained
There’s much more detail on each element of the strategy in the above-linked post. Now let’s focus on the center of your marketing activity on Instagram: creating content that engages your followers.
Creating top content: the hub of any Instagram strategy
In this section, you will learn your options for the main Instagram content types, how to optimize content to gain followers, and how you can interact with other content on the platform to grow your account.
Instagram is a mobile-first app and is designed for content to be uploaded primarily from your phone. This allows everything from snapping and posting behind-the scenes content when something funny happens in the office to when you spot someone using one of your products in a creative way at a special event. To upload a photo from the library on your phone, tap Library at the bottom of the screen and select the photo you want to share; alternatively, tapping Photo allows you to shoot a brand new photo.
Most Instagram posts you see will be photos – though video is becoming more popular. These posts can be square or rectangular in shape, covering an array of themes associated with the particular brand.
Video has been supplementing images on Instagram for some time now. It makes sense – Instagram was traditionally an app embraced by a young audience, who are also hungry consumers of video. Using video can help you tell your story with huge impact and live video can even be posted now (see below).
Tools to help you create and share eye-catching content
Apart from a vast amount of third-party tools and apps, Instagram itself provides features that help you bring personalization, character, and originality to your content, making posts more eye-catching and shareable:
Stickers can be selected to add pictorial guidelines about the current weather, time or location. These provide context about an image or video post. To access these, tap the smiley face icon (top- right corner of the camera screen) and select the appropriate sticker. You can customize them by enlarging or shrinking them, and place them anywhere on your image. Different collections of stickers are available according to the season/time of year.
You can add text to both video and images directly on Instagram. A slider allows you to adjust the size and add more lines of text, adding depth and meaning to images and video.
Draw over images
Another way to make posts more interesting is to draw over them using the marker icon next to the text box option. You can use either a pen, a highlighter, or a special ‘neon pen’ that adds a white line bordered by a neon color.
Instagram provides 2,200 characters for your post caption – that’s a lot of space to add information, engaging questions, bold statements, calls to action, emojis, hashtags, or @mentions to get your post really talking to your target audience. Only the first three lines of captions are visible without clicking to see more.
Hashtags are as important on Instagram as they are on Twitter, where they were first used. Why? Because if you get your hashtags right, you show up better in searches and therefore reach more potential customers. Including popular or trending hashtags can widen your audience and send traffic to your profile or ecommerce store. More about hashtags below.
Sharing your photos and videos across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and the other social networks extend their reach; this is why you should link your social accounts. Go to Profile and tap the settings icon. Then tap Linked Accounts, select the appropriate social network, and share your content. Done!
The Stories feature of Instagram is a relatively new introduction to the platform. It is basically a secondary feed to your main image/video feed, but it appears right at the top.
Content here is in the form of images and video that display like slideshows and disappear after 24 hours; they are useful for capturing sequences of events over 24-hour periods and add variety to your feed.
When people you follow have added a story, a colorful circle appears around their user photo at the top of your main feed. Just click on it to view the story. If you want to publish a story yourself, tap your own circle from the main feed or swipe right on any tab. This will open the stories camera tab. Once complete, your followers can view it by tapping on the photo circle of you at the top of their feeds.
Stories has several interesting features to add a dash of originality to your content:
- Live video
You can film live video and feature it on your Instagram story. Just select the Live option from your Stories camera and followers will see a ‘live’ tag on your ‘bubble’.
These are one-second long videos that are played forward and backward on an endless loop. Any Boomerang video you’ve filmed in the past 24 hours can be included in your Story. If you want to make a new one, open the Stories camera, select the Boomerang mode under the Record button, and start recording.
Hands-free is useful for recording video with a single tap when you’re busy; it’s much easier to record video this way than having to press and hold.
Some of Instagram’s biggest and best brands use the power of user-generated content (UGC) to separate themselves from the rest.
GoPro is a great example. Its ‘Photo of the Day’ contest publishes a new user-generated photo every day. This is an ongoing and engaging contest that at the same time shows off what’s possible with the product it sells. GoPro therefore kills several birds with one stone with UGC and it’s worked superbly, helping grow their following to over 11 million.
Nothing sells your product quite like the people who use it, love it, and are prepared to tell their friends about it. So UGC needs to be part of your content creation strategy.
Other leading types of content
Rather than creating an endless feed of uninspiring, studio-based product shots that do little to excite your followers, consider using the following types of content to start growing your account:
- Behind the scenes
- Creative product showcase
- Company culture
- Fun shots
- Customer stories
- Get to know the team
- Guest takeover
- Lifestyle shots
- Seasonal posts
- Creative video
Interact with Instagram content
If you are able to develop high-quality content – great! But remember that content is a means to an end – not an end in itself. Success on Instagram comes from building an active community and no brand achieves that just by producing top content. You also need to actively interact with other Instagrammers.
There are many ways to do this effectively…
This is the simplest and quickest way to connect with another Instagrammer. To Like a post, double-tap it or tap the heart icon underneath it. You can keep track of which posts you’ve liked on your Profile – simply select Posts You’ve Liked from the settings menu of your Profile.
This is the next level up from simply Liking. Just like on Facebook, taking the time to make a positive comment on another post will generally be appreciated by the recipient. Engaging in this way frequently will help to create positive sentiment and should attract more comments on your own posts. Simply tap the Comment button next to the Like button and enter your comment in the text box. Then hit Send.
Using the @ sign before a username will essentially tag that user in your Instagram comments or post captions. The user will then receive a notification of the mention. To make life easier, after you type the first letter of a name after the @ symbol, you are able to choose from a list of names starting with that letter.
When you use other people’s content on Instagram (see UGC above) it is accepted practice to tag them, ensuring that it shows up in their profile. It’s also useful when you send ‘thank you’ messages for reviews or want to announce a contest winner. To tag someone, tap Tag People from the Share screen and then tap on someone in the photo and enter their name, search for a user, or select a name from the dropdown menu. Viewers of the post can tap on the photo to see the people who are tagged in it.
As already mentioned, you can also contact other users by direct messaging them through Instagram Direct. From the home page, after you tap the button in the top-right corner, you are able to send new private instant messages, photos and videos: just tap the “+” button in the top-right corner and select Send Photo or Video, or Send Message. Before viewing your message, users who are not already following you will first be asked whether they want to allow you to send messages.
The importance of hashtags was outlined above but they deserve their own mention here.
Using hashtags is standard practice amongst Instagram brands as it helps content get found. Instagram users can search by hashtag and click on them, so adding commonly searched hashtags (that are relevant to your brand) in your captions can get content seen by a wider audience.
Use only letters and numbers – no symbols. Up to 30 hashtags can be used per post but don’t overdo it. Check out competing brands or other popular names in your niche and see how they use hashtags.
Geotagging allows you to add your geographical location to posts and Stories.
With normal posts, the location is displayed above the photo or video. Instagram users can then click on that location to see all the posts tagged with that location, so you may be able to extend your reach if locality is important to your brand. If you have a physical, bricks and mortar store, it is also useful for letting local customers know that you exist and are open for business.
For geotagging in Stories, simply tap the happy face icon in the top right of your Stories screen. There you will find a menu of stickers – and you can add a location.
Embedding Instagram content on your website
While Instagram is a mobile-first app, with limited functionality in its web version (you can’t edit photos or search, for instance) there are advantages to embedding your Instagram content on your website and sharing it that way.
Visitors to your ecommerce store may not even be aware that you are on Instagram, so it gets the message out there and may help you increase your following; it also helps your website SEO to have regular new content.
It’s easy to arrange this using the SnapWidget tool, which integrates seamlessly with Shopify. Customizable FREE, LITE and PRO plans are available.
Instagram for business tips
The deeper you go into Instagram, the more there is to discover about the best ways of using it. You already have the basics of setting up your account and developing content from this post, but if your main purpose is to turn your Instagram account into the hub of your ecommerce marketing, you will need to do a LOT more.
It will help to follow the tips passed on by businesses that have been successful with Instagram marketing over the years. A full list of Instagram marketing tips for business is available here, but following are five of the best:
Develop a content calendar with Schedugram
Your posting of content needs planning and automation to run effectively. You can use Schedugram – a content-scheduling calendar designed specifically for business Instagram users.
Curate user-generated content with Yotpo
Nobody conveys the excitement, passion, and pleasure that your products generate quite like your fans. With online marketing, social proof counts for so much and authenticity is such a valuable currency. Yotpo is an excellent mobile-first tool that makes it easy to increase the amount of reviews and other user-generated content.
Run competitions with Wyng
Competitions are a great way to get your followers involved and excited. Wyng helps you to increase participation in your brand by running unique campaigns and competitions that drive engagement and promote user-generated content.
Shout for shoutouts
Instagram shoutouts are a reach-out to other brands with a similar audience to yours, helping to grow your following and traffic to your store. Request shoutouts with brands that have a slightly larger following of the SAME target audience as you, but with a different or complementary product.
Make your feed Shoppable with Foursixty and Curalate
Foursixty helps turn both your own and customer-generated content into shoppable galleries for your online store, making it easier for followers to directly access your products. Curalate is a multi-channel marketing platform with a Like2Buy app that creates shoppable content.
What engagement levels should you expect?
We often get asked about how to assess engagement levels on Instagram. For this, it’s helpful to use a few benchmarks to see how you’re tracking. You might not instantly achieve the type of engagement levels that the big brands receive – but it’s useful to see what to aim for.
Track Maven reported last year on Fortune 500 companies on Instagram. They found that, for every 1000 followers, big brands receive an average of 37 total likes and comments.
If, for example, you have 500 followers, you should be aiming for 19 likes and comments per post; if you have 1500 followers then you should aim for 56/57 likes and comments.
Likes are always more popular than comments – they take less time and effort. Some estimates put the average distribution of engagement at 100 likes for every comment.
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