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Standing out as a small business isn’t the easiest feat in the world. Incumbents in your field have an outsized presence with consumers, and may even be household names depending on your industry. Plus, other small or medium-sized businesses may be working with big marketing budgets that make it even more difficult to help your business have a meaningful presence online. Therein lies the rub: Learning how to use Instagram for business purposes can be a great endeavor, but truly mastering the platform isn’t as easy as logging in and posting a prize-winning photo.
If you want to better understand how to use Instagram for business, there are a few steps along the way to factor in. First is understanding the specifics of setting up an account, making sure you’ve enabled the right features for business accounts, picking the right kinds of content, finding your voice online, and mastering Instagram marketing strategies that can give you a competitive edge.
We’ll dive into how to use Instagram for business with a comprehensive glimpse into the platform: what it is, how it works, why it’s useful for businesses, how to set up a business Instagram account, and the best Instagram marketing strategies to help you find success with your Instagram presence—whether you’ve been on the ‘gram for years, or are only just opening your first account.
No one would blame you if you weren’t hip to Instagram before someone told you that it could be a valuable way to market your business. After all, social media marketing for small businesses is a perplexing (and sometimes vexing) landscape to navigate. There are too many social media platforms to count, and not all of them deliver the same bang for your buck depending on your industry and clientele.
That all being said, Instagram is one of the more useful social media networks out there right now. The premise behind Instagram is simple: Users can post photos or videos with an optional caption underneath. Other users can like these comments (demonstrated as a little red heart at the bottom-left corner of the app or website) or write a comment (displayed underneath the caption of your post).
Nowadays, Instagram is one of the preferred social platforms for individuals and businesses alike. Its straightforward design, singular focus on multimedia (versus article or links to websites), and overall simplicity stand out versus more multipurpose and complex social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
Although Instagram began as a platform for users to take and share pretty photos edited with built-in editing tools, businesses began to flock to the social network once it became a breakout success with a big user base. This created a new dimension for the social network—one that gave businesses a new way of interacting with their current and prospective clients or customers.
One major problem, however, was the platform’s lack of analytics and business-centric tools. This meant that most Instagram accounts for business were able to post and participate in broader conversations, but had no comprehensive way of measuring their success. On the other hand, Facebook and LinkedIn provided their own analytics suites for companies with social media accounts. Although Instagram was set to take off in terms of engagement, it lagged behind when it came to making the platform an easier place for entrepreneurs to use effectively.
By 2016, however, Instagram finally built in a set of tools to help businesses measure how many people interacted with their posts, their overall follower growth, and other analytics that helped demonstrate the true value of their efforts to post photos and interact with the community. Now there are entire brands built around the Instagram platform. This phenomenon is particularly prominent with clothing brands, consumer packaged goods companies, and other consumables that easily lend themselves to attractive photography, flashy design, or other assets that manifest themselves well visually.
There are plenty of good reasons why you might want to learn how to use Instagram for business. The primary driver here is digital marketing and social media marketing. Instagram provides a great way to connect directly with your customers. The network allows brands to have a two-way conversation with individuals in a friendly way. This can be through public comments on posts or via direct messages (also known as DMs) that make conversations private. Instagram also allows businesses to promote their products through striking imagery or to show off their company culture with photos of employees working and having fun.
Last but not least, Instagram also provides businesses with a chance to get their name out there in front of more potential customers. Instagram advertising is simple, straightforward, and easy to begin using for even the most moderately proficient internet users. Using Instagram’s advertising capabilities is a great tool to have in the toolkit, even if you’re not looking to (or can’t) spend money on advertising quite yet. More on that later.
Figuring out how to use Instagram for business isn’t necessarily hard, but it does require a couple of steps to help you get started on the right foot (and with the most optimization possible to help generate new leads and customers). By following these steps, you can get your business Instagram account raring to go in no time.
As we mentioned earlier, there is a pretty significant difference between a personal and a professional Instagram account, even if they look the same from an outsider’s perspective. Personal accounts offer less analytics information such as impressions, reach, interactions, discovery, and contacts. These tools are rolled into a singular platform known as Instagram Insights. Insights gives you the nitty-gritty on how Instagram users find your brand, what they look at, where they comment, and how often they reach out to you for more information.
To get your Instagram for business account rolling, you first need to set up a regular account by following the normal steps an individual would take to set up his or her own account. Once you’ve found the perfect username (or handle, depending on your preference), you’ll want to go into Instagram’s settings options and convert your account to a business account. This feature is easy to set up and absolutely free. The only main differences are that you’ll get better insights into your account, opportunities to promote your posts with paid advertising, and a few additional fields to help give users a better sense of how they can reach out for more info.
Once your Instagram for business account is set up, you’ll want to think about posting images, following interesting accounts, and interacting with your followers. Fight that natural inclination to dive headfirst into these things, however—going slow and developing a strategy for your Instagram presence is a must-do before you really get going on the network.
The best business Instagram accounts do several things on a regular basis. First, they post well-lit, high resolution, artistically pleasing photos or graphics that are eye-catching and within their brand’s overall aesthetic (if you don’t have a brand aesthetic, now’s a good time to go out and develop one!).
Next, they follow accounts that are relevant to their industry, or are industry-adjacent. Don’t begin to follow other accounts willy-nilly or follow any other accounts that might be provocative, political, or that focus on controversial subject (unless that’s something your company is already known for doing. In that case, follow your bliss). Next, be judicious about when you comment on other people’s posts—being overly self-promotional comes off as spam at best, and desperate at worst.
Last but not least, be smart about when you post. Don’t post several times a day unless you already have a strong following and something interesting to say (and show!) in every post you put up. If you overwhelm your audience with content, particularly during the nascent days of your account when you have few followers, you risk alienating the early adopters who will help you build a bigger presence over time.
One of Instagram’s best features is the “Discover” tool. Discover is a stream of posts that users can browse through, and the sources of posts that appear in a Discover feed is typically a mix of accounts followed by the people they follow, posts that the Instagram algorithm thinks a user will like, and other popular posts from across the social network. If your posts have mass appeal within your industry or niche, the more likely they are to show up users’ Discover feed. This helps you gain exposure organically (versus running a paid campaign to get people to follow your page).
Hashtags are also massively effective on Instagram for business and brands. Hashtags serve as an index of sorts: When you use a hashtag in the description of your post, you’ll show up alongside other posts whenever someone clicks on a specific hashtag. This is unlike Facebook, which tends to have user more private profiles than Instagram, thus reducing the number of results when looking for posts associated with a certain hashtag. Here’s where it helps to do your homework—determine which hashtags your competitors and customers are using, as this will tip off the ones you will want to consider using as well (when relevant to your post, of course!).
Also think about using broader, thematic hashtags when it makes sense to do so. #Throwbackthursday and #fridayfeeling are two popular hashtags that people use to post old photos and pre-weekend excitement respectively. If you have old and interesting photos of your business, #throwbackthursday could be a great hashtag to use to gain visibility for your account. And, on the other hand, a photo that exudes excitement for the weekend is a great fit for #fridayfeeling. There are plenty of other hashtags out there like the examples above.
Advertising your business on Instagram can be a great way to build your audience on the platform, as well as increase your sales potential. Instagram offers two main ways to promote your business through paid posts: boosted posts and paid promotional ads. Boosted posts take the posts that appear on your Instagram account and help you show them off to more people for a few bucks at a time. Paid promotional ads take a different approach: These ads are completely separate from your regular Instagram timeline and are shown exclusively to people you’re advertising to. This option provides you with more opportunities to customize your messaging, post new images and assets, and deliver customized posts without having to clog your account with a ton of posts at once. This option tends to be more expensive but delivers more value and customizability.
We’ve gone into the ins-and-outs of how to use Instagram for your business but haven’t touched upon the biggest feature that the platforms offers to company-centric accounts. Instagram Insights gives you unrivaled information about how the platform’s users are interacting with your company’s account. These tools let you look into how many people view your profile, follow your posts, comment on your updates, and reach out to your brand. This data avails business owners to a ton of data that can help drive insights with regard to social performance, new client acquisition, new product feedback, and overall business trends as they pertain to audience development and business opportunities.
The features and metrics within Instagram Insights could make up an article unto itself, so we’ll skip going into the details for now. Plus, the first best thing you can do is get started on the basics before learning the ins and outs of social media analytics. So long as you remember to take a look at your Instagram Insights—even if it’s just to see if the trendlines are moving up and to the right—you’re ahead of the game.
Beginning your company’s social media journey can be an intimidating proposition. Doing social well is a big task, and failure is all too easy. If you understand how to use Instagram for business promotion, marketing, and outreach, you’ll improve your odds of doing well—even if you’ve already set up social accounts and haven’t quite seen them take off in the past. Going in with a robust strategy, a sense of your account’s purpose, and an understanding of the platform’s best practices, you can create an Instagram presence that boosts your brand and attract new clients.