The potential for an Instagram social media marketing strategy to increase profits is already being exploited by some of the biggest brands around; but many smart, smaller brands have also used Instagram to grow their business.
With 100 million photos shared per day (and growing), it may be true that it’s rapidly becoming more difficult to stand out on Instagram. But what the successful smaller brands will tell you is that by following proven strategies to establish and grow your following, you CAN become one of the elite Instagram accounts in your niche.
They will tell you that it’s not just about snapping pictures of your products; that it’s not difficult but few of their competitors are doing what they do.
So how can you start tapping into the unique power of this image and video-based marketing channel?
This post outlines the Instagram marketing strategy that can take your business from an Instagram non-entity to one of the leaders in your niche. It starts at the very beginning – before you even have an account – and takes you through to building a large following.
In the process, you’ll discover:
- The importance of establishing clear business objectives
- How to create and optimize your account
- A winning content strategy to increase your following
- Strategies for growing your account
- Analytical tools to improve performance
Let’s get started…
Establish clear business objectives for your Instagram digital marketing strategy
Before we start on any marketing strategy, it’s important to establish clear business objectives that set out what you hope to achieve on Instagram.
Like all good marketing, we need to be able to determine what ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’ looks like.
Instagram for ecommerce stores is no different in this respect to other social media marketing; there is usually a mixture of short and long-term goals. These can be generally summarized as the following:
- Brand awareness
You will be aiming to increase the amount of followers of your brand – that is, people who choose to follow your posts. This will potentially expand the reach of your products and services.
- Increase traffic
Increasing the amount of followers should increase the amount of traffic to your ecommerce store, which allows you to capture more email addresses and build a larger database of prospects to market to; which brings us to the end goal…
- Showcase & sell products
The ultimate objective is to increase sales by using Instagram as an extension of your ecommerce store
These are the most common over-arching objectives of an Instagram marketing strategy. Other objectives (some of which are connected to the three outlined above) include:
- Demonstrating company culture and values
- Sharing company or industry news
- Making the business more attractive for recruiting talent
- Improving customer engagement and loyalty
- Increasing customer lifetime value
- Increasing the amount of reviews you receive
- Connecting with industry influencers
Get clear on your target audience
All the best brands on Instagram have one thing in common: they post content that delights, inspires, entertains, amuses, or in some other way engages their target audience.
For you to be able to emulate this, you need to be clear on who these people are. Create a detailed profile of your ideal customer – covering everything you know about them. Write it down and include:
- Educational backgrounds
- What inspires them?
- What do they find funny?
- What TV shows and movies do they watch?
- What do they search for on Google?
- How do they use your products/services?
- Who in your target audience is active on Instagram?
The list goes on. Building a complete profile will help you identify content that ‘speaks’ directly to them further down the line. Unless you are a brand new start-up, you may have done this part already, as it’s the foundation of all good marketing strategy.
Setup and optimize your Instagram account
OK…now let’s get into the ‘nuts and bolts’ of building a presence on Instagram.
First you need to set up a business account under its name (not exceeding 30 characters). Then make use of a CONTACT button, which is very easy to add to your account. This allows anyone on Instagram to be able to immediately connect with you.
There are three simple steps to set this up:
- If you don’t already have a business account, go to SETTINGS and select “Switch to business account.”
- Connect the account to your Facebook page. If you don’t have one, set that up first, as it’s required (Instagram is owned by Facebook).
- Add your phone number, email, and address if you have a physical store or office address. Note that this is publicly displayed, so only add what you want everyone to see.
That’s it…you’re ready to start optimizing your account.
Optimize your profile copy
Failing to optimize your profile copy makes it harder for you to get found by search and wastes a golden opportunity to tell your target audience why they should be following you.
Your profile allows 150 characters. Use the space to speak to your target followers, ensuring that you use your main keywords (the same ones you have used to optimize your ecommerce website).
Optimize your profile link
You’re not finished with your profile yet. You need to optimize the one LINK that you are allowed to use on Instagram.
But don’t just cut and paste your homepage URL; use a branded Google short URL and make sure you link to a shoppable Instagram page:
Optimize your profile picture
You also need to ensure that your profile image is colorful and eye-catching. This may be an image of your brand logo or you may choose a mascot or a face associated with your brand; make sure that it’s a professional quality image.
Link all your social accounts
Ensure that you link all of your social media accounts to Instagram, as this will help you share content easier, cross-populate followers, and develop a more integrated social media marketing strategy.
Instagram may become the cornerstone of this strategy; but there’s no sense in isolating it from all of the other channels.
Optimize comment settings
On your profile page, under the settings menu, you can adjust comment settings. This allows you to hide inappropriate comments from your post feeds. There may be the odd ‘troll’ on your account, so Instagram has recently allowed business accounts to hide messages with offensive words or phrases that can damage your reputation.
Develop a content marketing strategy for Instagram
What separates the Instagram champion brands from the rest? Simply put, it’s great content.
The biggest brands have the resources to plough into developing great content using celebrity status, the best marketers, professional photography, brand ambassadors, industry influencers and so on. While you may not have access to such resources, you can emulate many of the same winning strategies and it needn’t cost any more than a little of your time.
This long section looks at what types of content you should focus on, when you should post it, and how you can automate the process.
Types of content
Start by thinking about showcasing your brand, not just your products. That will get you into the mindset of successful ecommerce businesses on Instagram.
A constant stream of purely promotional product shots (treating your feed like an advertising medium) will end up shrinking your following rather than growing it. Instagram allows a wide variety of content –explore the many ways to use it to connect your business to your target audience.
Types of Instagram posts
With Instagram designed as a mobile-first app, it’s easy to post content from your phone directly to your Instagram account; this can be particularly useful for posting immediate, time-sensitive content from a special event, or if you have created multiple images from a collection shoot and transferred them to your phone.
To upload a photo from your library, simply tap Library at the bottom of the screen and select the photo you’d like to share; or you can take a new photo by tapping Photo at the bottom of the screen.
These are the standard Instagram posts that you probably already know about: square or rectangular images that could cover any one of many different themes (more about these below).
Increasingly, video is supplementing images on Instagram. The engaging nature of video and its ability to tell stories with more impact makes it the medium of choice for many of the larger brands on Instagram, who generate large amounts of high-quality footage to reach out to their younger audiences. Remember that 53% of 18–29 year olds use Instagram, and this age-group is very video-hungry.
Marketing tools for use in standard posts
For each of the above post formats, a number of tools exist to help you add character to the image or video, to edit it and make it more engaging, and to make it more shareable (and therefore to reach an extended audience). Some of these have been added recently by Instagram to make it easier to create more engaging, relevant content.
These are designed to provide context (such as the current weather, time or location) about when and where the image or video was taken. Simply tap the smiley face icon in the top right corner of the camera screen in the Instagram app and select a sticker that includes the information you want followers to see. You can make them bigger or smaller, move them around, and choose different styles according to your mood. There are different collections according to holidays or the season, bringing life and color to photos or videos.
Instagram has made it easier to add text to both video and images. With the latest changes, you can easily add and align multiple text fields with more control. Now you can use an easy slider to adjust the size and provide the option of adding more lines of text, as needed: a great tool for adding meaning and character (or calls to action!) to your images and video – like the example below:
Feeling creative? You can now draw over Instagram images, simply by tapping the marker icon next to the text box option. There is the choice of a pen, a highlighter, or a ‘neon pen’ which adds a white line bordered by a neon color. These add considerable creative functionality to your images – great to spice them up and add a new angle to impress your target audience.
Instagram is a largely visual platform; but that doesn’t mean your captions aren’t important. In fact, they are critical and work together with your image or video to talk to your target audience. Good captions supplement the image – this might be with a story, a question to get your followers thinking and adding comments, a bold statement to grab attention, or something else. There is no golden rule here. Also in your caption section, you should add relevant hashtags (as explained above) and ‘mentions’ and you may add product details or a call to action. An emoji or two doesn’t go amiss, either. Note that there is a 2,200 character limit for captions and only the first three lines are visible without clicking.
Much like with Twitter, hashtags have become a key ‘currency’ on Instagram. Next to your actual image or video, hashtags are considered by many as the most important element of a post. They help you reach more prospects and customers; few posts from the leading brands do not include at least one hashtag –and sometimes there are several. Why do they work? Because they help you show up in search. By including popular or trending hashtags in your captions, you become findable to anyone searching for those hashtags. This can dramatically widen your audience, driving traffic to your profile, and on to your ecommerce store. Up to 30 hashtags per post are allowed, but keep them relevant.
- Tag people
Tagging people in your post makes sure that it shows up on their profile (under the Photos of User section). Tagging is especially appreciated by contest winners and followers whose content you have published, as well as business partners and affiliates. You can also use this tool to ensure that answers to questions and ‘thank you’ messages for testimonials are seen. Only use tagging when relevant and when it will not be considered an imposition. Tap People from the Share screen and then tap on someone in the photo; when you start entering their name, a dropdown menu of contacts will let you select someone or you can Search for a person.
- Social sharing
Your photos or videos can be shared across the other networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Slack etc. for extra reach; to share to accounts you have linked to, go to Profile and tap on iPhone in the top-right corner or on Android. After tapping Linked Accounts you can select the appropriate social network, before logging in and sharing.
The ‘Stories’ feature on Instagram allows you to create temporary posts in video or image form that appear like slideshows. They capture a particular sequence or ‘story’ during a 24-hour period, after which time it disappears.
For ecommerce businesses, this can be a great way to add personality to your profile by getting creative and spontaneous.
Once you create a story, a colorful circle appears around your profile photo to let followers know that your story is viewable; your profile picture will also appear at the top of your followers’ feeds and they can tap on your face to view it.
There are some very cool features for formatting video stories. The following add variety, originality, and spontaneity:
- Live video
As with Facebook, you can film live video on your Instagram story. Swipe right on your feed to open the Stories camera and select the Live option. Your followers will receive notification via a ‘live’ tag on your Stories ‘bubble’.
Boomerangs are short-burst videos that play both forward and backward. You can use any Boomerang that you’ve made in the last 24 hours in your Story – add it like you would a photo from your phone. If you want to add one from within Stories, just open the Stories camera and, under the Record button you will see an option for Boomerang mode. Select that, tap Record, and you’re away!
Hands-free is a new option that allows you to start recording video with a single tap; ideal for when you’re doing a product demo and have your hands tied, and much easier than having to press and hold.
With this option, it’s also very easy to add text to the video or photo – by simply tapping the Text button and aligning it how you please. With hands-free, it’s also easy to add stickers and to draw over images for extra impact in your Stories.
Posting user-generated content (UGC) is common practice for most of the best brands on Instagram. It helps to separate them from the rest.
These brands know that nobody sells your product like passionate users; recommendations from ‘brand ambassadors’ to the target audience are like gold. So featuring images and video of your followers and customers using your products is one of the most effective Instagram marketing strategies available.
Take GoPro for instance. The video camera brand is one of the most successful on Instagram; every day it runs a ‘Photo of the Day’ contest, which it publishes. What a challenge for its millions of followers to get their photo published!
Develop a content calendar
Your content strategy is not simply about posting great product shots. Of course they help, but they are only a small part of it. You need to plan your Instagram content.
This section is about developing content templates based around different approaches – each aimed at delivering variety, engagement, and originality for your target audience and creating positive brand sentiment; then building a clear picture of what needs to go out and when.
The idea is that you automate the content-posting process as much as possible, so that you are not re-inventing the wheel each time you need to post an image or video; social media can waste a lot of time unless you are using the automation tools available.
Building your content templates
Setting up your content templates now saves time down the track. To do this, there are three main aspects to consider: consistent branding and style, content themes, and post timing and ratios.
- Consistent branding and style guidelines
The best ecommerce brands on Instagram maintain consistency in their posts. With Instagram being such a visual platform, it’s important to look great to stand out and be immediately identifiable.
Whether it’s the use of consistent colors like Frooti, the regular use of video like Nike Lab, or the creative and humorous use of text like Old Spice, each post seems to ‘fit’ with the brand.
You should be aiming for a consistent voice like the brands shown above. You can see that this involves more than just selecting the right filters. Consider all of the following when developing guidelines for your posting style:
- Composition of the post – the arrangement of the main visual elements, including use of backgrounds and ‘white space’ in photos.
- Orientation and size – portrait or landscape, or a mix?
- Color palette used – will you use your brand’s main colors consistently? Or do you have another idea?
- Fonts used – are they easy to read, attractive, and consistent with your website? Remember that Instagram posts are more often read on mobile than desktop.
- Filters applied – What effect are you trying to achieve? Will your posts always have the same level of brightness, contrast, warmth, and shadow?
- Rules for use of captions – Length? Style? Mentions? Questions? What rules will you follow for talking to your followers consistently and how will you engage them?
- Use of hashtags – how many per post? Will you always try to target trending hashtags?
- Content themes
Now you’ve decided what your posts are going to look like, you need to consider what type of content they will contain.
As mentioned, if you just post endless stream of studio shots of your products, you will end up driving followers away; so how do you keep it informative, entertaining, and engaging?
Some brands do this by getting creative with their product displays:
Others focus more on their community, what’s happening behind the scenes at their company, or how they’re changing the world:
There are many approaches to creating engaging content, depending on the expectations and demands of your audience. The following are the ones that currently work best on Instagram:
- Behind the scenes
Show what happens away from the photography studio; what goes on behind the scenes at your business or in your customers’ businesses?
- User generated content
As mentioned above, nobody sells your product like passionate users; use your community’s content to showcase products, other aspects of your business, or the things you value the most.
- Product showcase
While your products should not be EVERYTHING on Instagram, showcasing them in the best possible light should, of course, be an important part of your marketing strategy.
Keep followers informed and use your posts to answer some of their main questions about your industry or your business.
- Company culture
What does your company stand for and what do you value? Instagram is great for showcasing the culture of your company and connecting with like-minded followers.
Fun should be a strong element of your time on Instagram. People have enough serious news – they come to Instagram to lighten up a little.
- Customer stories
Highlighting positive customer stories are as good as reviews. They demonstrate the power of your products without you saying it – very valuable marketing.
- Get to know the team
Instagram is visual – a great way to introduce your team to followers who will probably never meet them in person.
- Guest takeover
Do you have brand ambassadors, industry influencers or other high-profile followers? Why not allow them to take over your account for a few days and post content? This can add a great new dimension to your feed.
- Lifestyle shots
Your products are probably not used in photo studios. So make sure your posts show how and where they are meant to be used and how they improve people’s lives.
Keep your followers coming back for more by running contests with prizes on Instagram – a great way to promote good brand sentiment and high engagement levels.
- Seasonal posts
The best brands on Instagram make use of the seasons to contextualize their posts and to keep them relevant to the target audience.
- Creative video
Are you a budding film-maker? If you prefer to use video, follow the example of Casey Neistat, who created addictive stories using recurring scenes in his vlog that kept his audience coming back.
- Content schedule and ratio
Now you’ve worked out what your content will look like and what it will include, you need to decide how often each type of content will go out – and when.
Consistency is important, as already noted. Your followers should know what’s coming and it’s also important to show that you are active and to be able to automate the scheduling well ahead.
The average posting frequency according to a study by Union Metrics is 1.5 posts per day, but more than that did not damage engagement levels. So daily posts are a good guideline to use. The time of day for posting will depend on your audience and should be tested, but CoSchedule reports the following:
- Mondays and Thursdays drive the most engagement
- The time of day with the most engagement is 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern
The ratio of content types that you post needs to be balanced between the expectations and needs of your followers and your own capabilities. Younger audiences generally demand more video, for instance, but do you have the resources to shoot high quality, engaging video? If not, you’ll need to find other ways to engage followers.
Your content calendar should effectively cycle through the main content themes you decide on releasing; it should also integrate key dates (seasonal reminders etc.) and campaigns.
Once you have decided on ratios, it’s important to prepare content beforehand using the templates you have created; then schedule and automate posting as much as possible to save time – but be flexible. Instagram doesn’t allow you to schedule, so use an app like Schedugram, but also be flexible enough to add spontaneous content as required.
Grow your account
Once your content strategy is in place and you are releasing consistent high-quality posts daily, it’s time for more potential customers to see it.
How do you go about growing your Instagram account?
Posting great content with the right hashtags will generate more interest organically; but this only goes so far. There are a number of strategies you can use to help the process along.
Follow and unfollow competitors’ followers
On Instagram, your competitors are valuable resources – not to be cast off to one side. ALL of their followers are your target audience and it’s easy to start connecting with them.
You should have a fairly clear idea already of who your main competitors are. Create a ’hit list’ to target. Then start bulk following your competitors’ followers.
It’s a numbers game – the more you follow, the more will follow you back: usually around 10 percent. This simple action will increase your fan base, but consistent action and ‘doing the numbers’ is key: try to get around 300 new followers per month at first.
Use software to help you unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow you back. This helps you maintain a good follow/follow back ratio on your account.
Like/comment on competitors’ followers’ posts
Another simple way to attract more people to your account is to start engaging with them on your competitors’ followers posts.
This includes liking and commenting on their posts. Commenting can take a little time, but is worth the extra effort as you can personalize your message. The strategy needs to be planned: use a spreadsheet of all the competitors to target and when you will target them; divide your time and pay adequate attention to each of your main competitors. Make sure that your comments are always relevant and positive; and mention something specific about the image or video they have posted so they know you have seen it. You can expect 1-2 replies out of every 10 comments you leave – do that enough and you quickly expand your following.
Liking should be mainly targeted at those followers who frequently like your competitors’ posts. Just make sure that the accounts you target are real accounts – there are plenty of fakes.
Email outreach for account cross-promotion
Another way to grow your following quickly is to cross-promote with complementary brands on Instagram. This requires a little initial research: think about the brands on Instagram that have a similar size following to you and which have the same target audience – but not direct competitors.
The idea is that you can cross-populate each others’ followers in a win-win for both brands: you get access to their followers and they gain access to yours.
To do this, you first need to find these brands; if you are a make-up retailer targeting 16-25 year old females, you need to think about which other ecommerce businesses share this target audience. It’s not worthwhile going after a large retailer like Forever 21, as they already have a huge following – what’s in it for them? But there are certainly brands of a similar size to yours – maybe small clothing, accessories or jewelry retailers that also target 16-25 year old females.
You need to approach them with a personalized email (create some templates to save time – examples can be found here); in this email, explain the concept and how you both win. I usually call it ‘Shoutout for shoutout’.
If the other business agrees to this, it will then create a post about your brand that all of its followers see – and you will reciprocate. You then link to each other’s profiles and tap into each other’s followers list by bulk following.
Aim to contact at least 10 businesses per month: growing your account is partly a numbers game, remember.
Analyse, measure & adjust
Do you know how well your posts are doing? How many new followers came on board this week? Could you be doing more to engage visitors and grow your following?
All good marketing is measurable. If you’ve set the right objectives (and KPIs) when you started out, then this part should be simply about analyzing and measuring progress towards these goals, and then adjusting to improve results and streamline your methods.
For that, you will need the help of some third-party analytical tools, as Instagram is limited in this respect. One of the best is Iconosquare. This is a multi-purpose app that provides great insight into your performance on Instagram, helping you to save time and improve results.
You access all the info you need from your web browser, such as results of which photos and videos have the highest engagement amongst followers, and who is following and unfollowing you.
Sprout Social’s Instagram analytics is another tool that can help you track audience engagement, identify top posts, and discover engaged influencers, as well as help you identify branded hashtag mentions and location tags.
Final thoughts on your Instagram marketing plan template
Successful brands on Instagram rely on more than simply churning out the same old product images to the same tired audience. They aim higher, know exactly where they’re going, and follow a clear Instagram marketing strategy to get there.
They start with a clear and comprehensive understanding of their objectives and overall vision; then they make sure that they optimize their account profile and start developing a content marketing strategy with a balance of great content that talks to the target audience; they actively release high-quality content consistently and develop a style that builds familiarity and a bond with their audience; they take time to grow this audience with proven methods of cross promotion, using their competitors as a resource; finally, they analyze and measure how everything’s working, making necessary tweaks as they go along.
When all this comes together, it results in an enviable Instagram marketing strategy that really is as bulletproof as they come.
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