Companies use Instagram as part of their digital marketing strategies in order to increase brand awareness, trust, and engagement on the Instagram platform.
Businesses leverage Instagram’s business profiles, advertising capabilities, analytics, third-party integrations, and organic posts to create a communication channel with customers and prospects. Instagram is best for visual brands and product-based companies.
How Instagram for Business Works
Businesses that want to use Instagram as part of their marketing strategy can do so by signing up for an Instagram Business account. From there, you can brand your profile, include keywords and information that helps you show up in Instagram search results, and use both organic and paid posts to drive brand awareness, consumer engagement, and customer communication.
An Instagram Business account offers many unique features that personal accounts don’t. This includes access to Instagram Insights (the platform’s proprietary analytics tool), third-party analytics integrations, Instagram Ads access, desktop posting capabilities, space for a more complete business profile, and access to Instagram’s branded content feature.
After opening a personal account on Instagram, you can easily convert that account to a business account. Then, conduct competitor analysis and keyword research to determine how best to capture followers on Instagram. This will guide you in your own content creation and scheduling.
Start posting relevant content to grow and engage with your following, thus creating a communication channel you can use to offer discounts and deals that drive followers off-platform to your website, a landing page, or something similar.
Analytics tools, including Instagram’s own Insights, will help you track your content’s performance over time and give you the information needed to change your posting schedule, content type, calls to action, and more to successfully engage with your followers and achieve your digital marketing goals. If you continue to tweak your strategy and invest in ongoing Instagram marketing, you can see consistent increases in both following and engagement, resulting in new business opportunities and better-performing business campaigns.
Who Should Use Instagram for Their Business
Instagram business accounts are best for visual brands and product-based companies that want to communicate with customers and prospects using compelling copy, images, video, and animated GIFs. However, because of Instagram’s popularity across a multitude of demographics and consumer-types, most businesses should consider the platform as part of their digital marketing strategy.
Here are a few specific types of businesses that would most benefit from using Instagram for business:
Companies That Sell Products – Instagram for business helps companies showcase their products in ways that humanize the brand and build loyalty. For example, Instagram stories help brands showcase the behind-the-scenes efforts put into creating high quality, customer-centric products like pastries, art, and even tech devices.
Companies That Sell Services – Service brands like financial firms, health facilities, and more are all about customer service. Showcasing your customer care on Instagram with content (like video-based, customer case studies, behind-the-scenes event images, and brand experience content shared by customers) is a great way to showcase your customer services and, therefore, your competitive advantage.
Companies That Sell Experiences – Experience industries can showcase not just what experiences they offer, but also the positive sentiments felt by their customers via visual content like photos and images. A travel agency, for example, can showcase special moments shared on family vacations. A ski resort can showcase cozy moments by the fire and amazing skiers’ talent.
Companies That Support Causes – Sharing what a nonprofit does helps build brand awareness, but it’s only when emotions are triggered that large donations flood in. Instagram IGTV, photos, stories, and videos can showcase how lives are impacted by everyday donations, allowing donors to not just absorb information, but experience lives and circumstances changed forever through their contributions.
How to Use Instagram for Your Business in Steps
An Instagram business account allows you to showcase your brand on Instagram and meet customer and prospects via features like contact buttons, branded content, advertising, analytics, and more. To use Instagram for business, tap into these business account features by filling out a searchable business profile, then using it to consistently engage consumers and meet conversion goals via continual optimization.
Open a Business Profile
To begin using Instagram’s business features, including advertising, Instagram Insights, and more, you need to open an Instagram Business account. You can either do this by opening a new account and then switching to a business account or simply switching an existing personal account to a business account.
If you don’t have an Instagram Business account, here are the steps to open one:
Download the Instagram app. You can download the app from the App Store (for iOS phones), Google Play (for Android phones), or Windows Phone Store (for Windows phones).
Launch the app once the download is complete. You can do this on your phone or tablet.
Tap “Sign up.” You can enter your email address or sign up using your Facebook account.
Choose your username. You can change this later, but try to stick to your business name as closely as you can. Follow the directions to switch to a business account. We go over this in detail below.
Instagram Business Account Username
If you already have a personal Instagram account, you can only take advantage of Instagram’s Business features by switching your personal account to a business one. The good news is you don’t have to lose your audience in doing so. It’s just a matter of a few clicks and then filling out more information for your business account.
Here are the steps to switch a personal account to a business account:
- Log into your personal Instagram account.
- Select “Settings.”
- Click “Switch to Business Profile.”
- Connect your Facebook account. Simply follow the prompts to do so.
- Choose a business category.
- Fill out your business contact information completely. This includes your email address, phone number, and address.
- Switch to an Instagram business account
Dig into Keyword Research
Whether on search engines like Google or on social media, people find businesses via search. Your job is to make sure that your Instagram Business Account will show up in their search results. You can do this via keyword analysis. Start by using Google to find keywords that match your business, then analyze the results to find the best fit. The good news is that many online tools offer free keyword analysis and even pair this information with competitors who are showing up as a result of these keyword searches.
Google to Find Starting Keywords
Before you use a keyword analysis tool, you have to have keywords to input. Finding these keywords can be as simple as looking at results from Google multiple-word searches—known as long-tail keywords. For example, say you own an online shoe shop. You assume people are using “buy shoes online” as a keyword to search for businesses like yours. Start by inputting that keyword into Google’s search engine.
Google keyword suggestions
Of course, don’t assume all resulting keywords are relevant. If you aren’t a business operating out of India, for example, you wouldn’t assume “buy shoes online India” is relevant to you. But some of the others fit an online shoe store located in the United States. For example, you might jot down “buy shoes online cheap,” “buy shoes online with checking account,” “buy shoes online free returns,” “buy shoes online with PayPal,” and “buy shoes online men.”
Next, press enter to bring up the first Google search results page. Scroll down to the bottom of that first page and locate the related search terms. Pull relevant keywords from these terms as well and add them to your list.
Use Keywords to Learn Who Your Competitors Are
If you aren’t an online-only business, search for local competitors as well by including your city in your search terms. For example, if your search term is “discount shoes,” you might add “discount shoes, Portland” to see who your local competitors are and what keywords they’re ranking for. It might be good to do so even if you are an online-only business, as even online customers tend to purchase from local businesses, just in case a problem arises.
Complete a Competitor Analysis
Conducting an Instagram competitor analysis shows you how your competitors compete for Instagram market share and how you can optimize your account to do the same. Begin with a free competitor analysis, then determine what information you still need. If necessary, use third-party analytics tools to dig deeper into publicly available competitor data.
Conduct a Free Competitor Analysis
Now that you have the names of your top competitors, search for them on Instagram. Then, gather information about how they run their accounts and what works best for them. Just be sure that what you’re analyzing is relevant to your brand. For example, if you don’t sell men’s shoes and they do, don’t analyze content that solely showcases men’s shoes. Also, be sure you set aside enough time to analyze competitor data; at minimum, analyze a full month to understand a full sales cycle.
Here are a few key metrics to analyze when conducting a free competitor analysis:
- Examine Follower Counts & Growth
How many followers do your competitors have?
- Analyze their following over time.
- Can you pinpoint what causes followers to increase?
- Maybe a certain type of campaign or weekly Q&A sessions, perhaps?
Analyze Follower Demographics
Take your time looking through as many as follower profiles as possible to detect trends. Are a good portion of them within certain age groups? Do a lot of them reside in certain countries, regions, or states? Are followers more likely to be men or women or children? Can you tell what general income brackets followers belong to?
Review Post Publishing by Type
What types of posts do competitors publish? Do they publish more videos or images? How about GIFs? Do they reshare a lot of content or is most shared content brand content? Do they post program-length videos via IGTV or 15-second videos? Do they post a lot of Instagram stories? What types of content is shared via stories? Do they publish more videos or images during certain times of the year?
Analyze Post Engagement by Type
What types of posts get the highest engagement? Do videos get more likes, comments, and mentions? Are they long or short videos? What is in the videos? Are they customer stories or product overviews? Look at other types of posts. What types of photos get more engagement? Are they snapshots or memes? Does curated content or brand content earn more engagement?
Examine Post Engagement by Demographic
Look at engagement behaviors by content type. Do videos get more attention from men? Do images get more engagement from women? Do people in certain regions like longer customer-story videos more? What kinds of people most engage with product overviews or curated content from your followers? What age brackets do people who engage with GIFs fall into?
Look at Hashtag Use and Performance
As you look at your different competitors, do you notice any hashtags more than one of them are using? Do high-engagement posts include 30 hashtags or five? Are hashtags broad terms or niche terms? For example, if you’re a gardening supply shop, do competitors use hashtags like #gardening or #smallspacegardening? Do broader hashtags garner more engagement or niche ones? Do your competitors have brand hashtags around campaigns? How do people use them?
Track Publishing Frequency and Schedule
How often do your competitors publish? Do they publish more during the beginning of the week or on weekends? How many posts do they publish on a weekly basis? How about on weekdays versus weekends? Do they publish only during the day or more at certain times of the day? Do they publish more or less during certain times of the year or when running campaigns?
Review Highest Engagement Times and Days
When do they receive the most engagement? Do followers like more content on Friday evenings or Mondays? What times of the day do they engage most? This may require a closer real-time analysis of follower behavior.
Analyze Types of Engagement
Do followers like, mention, or comment on posts more? Do they comment, like, or share videos more? How do your competitors respond? Do they initiate one-on-one conversations via comments or just let customer questions sit unanswered? Do customers offer more positive feedback on certain post types? When feedback is negative, do your competitors respond and how?
Create a Social Media Style Guide
A style guide helps you to create the consistency that forms a branded image of your business online. While your brand may have a logo and a letterhead, that’s not enough to make it memorable and recognizable across platforms. It should also have a cohesive feel that can only come from a cohesive image. Some elements to include in your style guide are fonts, design structures, filters, colors, tone, voice, themes, negative sentiment policies, and logo policies.
Here are seven sections to include in your social media style guide:
Fonts – Different fonts send different messages.
Design Structures – Now that you have your font chosen, how can you structure your content to continue with the sentiment it portrays?
Filters – When you upload your posts to Instagram, you are given the option of applying a filter to them. These help you touch up your photos in different ways. You should choose one to two filters that best represent your products.
Colors – Your colors elicit a message and an emotion that represent your brand.
Voice – Your voice is your brand’s communications style and depicts a personality. To dig down into your voice, it helps to compare your business to a few other businesses.
Tones – Tones are the ways we communicate in different circumstances.
Themes – One way to develop your Instagram Business theme is to think of your photos or videos as a collection. These collections form a theme.
Fill Out & Optimize Your Profile
An Instagram Business Account profile offers space for more business information than a personal Instagram profile, like brand descriptions, contact information, and more. The extra information should be filled out completely and optimized for greater visibility when people search for your business or products. Lean on your keyword research and style guide to choose a handle, business name, and profile image, and fill out your bio and contact button information.
Here are six components of an Instagram Business profile and best practices to follow:
Your username starts with the @ sign and is the primary way people identify and interact with you on Instagram. It is also part of your Instagram profile URL. It is also used to tag your content or reach out to you publicly via tagging. Your username should be less than 30 characters and can contain letters, numbers, periods, or underscores.
Your top priority when choosing a username is searchability. It’s best to stick to your exact business name as it appears across all your marketing platforms. However, if this name is taken, try to keep your business name but just adding a keyword to it for greater searchability. It could be a top-performing keyword from your Moz list or, if you are a local company serving primarily local customers, you might add your city for greater local searchability.
Your business name appears when people search for you and when they visit your profile, but doesn’t show up in association with your branded content or when people tag your profile. Its key benefit is helping you become more searchable on Instagram. As such, it should be a straightforward listing of your business name as it appears on your online or brick-and-mortar shop. By listing your business by its legal name, customers who search for you can easily find you.
Your profile picture is perhaps the most important factor in making your brand profile recognizable among followers and potential followers. It’s best to use your logo or, if you are a solopreneur, a professional headshot you use across all your online marketing platforms. Remember that the image you include here will be cropped into a 110-pixel diameter circle. So, the image you upload must make sense when cropped for a clean, professional showing.
Your bio should be 150 characters maximum and a search-friendly description of your company written in your brand’s voice. Use keywords people use to search for businesses like yours. Don’t waste space here with a link to your website. A Business Profile offers designated space for this. Do consider including a hashtag that’s most relevant to your business, whether it’s a trending hashtag that will help people find you or a branded hashtag used across campaigns.
The Instagram Business Account contact button gives you space to include an address, email address, or a phone number. If you are a pizza shop that delivers, it makes sense to include a phone number here. If you are a retail brick-and-mortar shop, an address may be important to include here. If you are an online shop, be sure to include an email address. I recommend including all contact information you can here, so customers can go with their preference.
One of the major perks of an Instagram Business Account is they offer a designated space for your website link. This means you don’t have to waste any of your 150 bio characters on this. Add your website link in the website space. Be sure it points followers to a page where they can get the pertinent information a new customer would want to know. In addition, many brands update this regularly with a link pointing followers toward a running campaign.
Create an Editorial Calendar to Meet Business Goals
Set up your calendar using a free spreadsheet or a time-saving scheduling and analytics tool like Buffer or Co-schedule. Next, use your calendar to consistently share content that both engages and encourages conversions. Create a Calendar for Consistency.
A content calendar can be as simple as filling out a spreadsheet or as a paid solution that offers easy team collaboration across marketing channels. Whether you’re a solopreneur or a growing small business with several marketing platforms, there is a tool within your budget to keep you organized and keep publishing gaps filled.
Share Content to Grow Engagement Among Target Markets
Fill your social media editorial calendar with content to promote your brand and engage your target followers. Just remember that followers don’t like to be sold to exclusively. While they will tolerate some selling, your Instagram account should be more about building relationships and providing value. A good rule of thumb to remember is to spend only 20 percent of your shared content on promotions.
Here are a few content types you should at least try to build follower relationships:
Customers love to share their own experiences on Instagram. They may visit a local restaurant, for example, and share images of meals or good times with friends. Re-share this content to celebrate existing customers and attract new ones.
Instagram users expect extra authenticity in brand stories. Stories disappear in 24 hours, providing an urgency to view them and therefore more potential for real-time engagement. Engage in account takeovers for Q&As with influencers your audiences will love, or publish a fun questionnaire template for an audience-wide Q&A. Get creative and use Instagram Stories to be real and build one-on-one relationships.
Live videos disappear the moment they’re done airing. Instagram users are notified you’re going live, then must watch in the moment. This provides extra incentive for real-time engagement. Users can comment to ask questions and provide feedback. Then, your brand can respond for real-time relationship building opportunities. In turn, users are more inclined to be authentic, because their comments won’t remain forever for the world to see.
Humanize your brand with behind-the-scenes images of employees, company events, and customer love. Create image collections around customer experiences. For example, I once visited a steak restaurant with a no-formality-allowed policy of cutting ties off of patrons who wore them. Patrons love to wear ties to be cut and pinned to the wall. An Instagram image collection of tie-cutting moments celebrates the customer and the casual company culture.
Though business accounts with less than 10,000 followers can’t include links in shared content, CTAs still offer opportunities for engagement that brands simply can’t afford to miss. Be creative—come up with CTAs that help you build relationships and meet business goals. For example, say your Millennial fans want more fashion tips. Share a video with fashion tips, then ask followers to share their tips via a brand hashtag or a comment.
Manage Your Brand’s Reputation
A give-and-take view on marketing allows brands to not just promote their products and services but ensure the all-powerful word-of-mouth advertising does its job well. Instagram offers hashtags and @ mentions to help you listen in on what followers and influencers say about your brand and its products, and then respond to build a more positive brand image and ideal customer experiences.
Keep Track of Tags
Many brands create hashtags to represent their brands and running campaigns. Monitoring them helps you to engage current and potential influencers, then reach out to build relationships and loyalty. In addition, when a hashtag receives engagement from an influencer, you can ensure your brand is represented well before large audiences.
To search for a brand hashtag, simply input it into Instagram’s search bar. From there, you can explore who is talking about it and who’s generating content around it. If it’s your brand hashtag in particular, make sure you’re monitoring these daily to catch great user-generated content you can share with your audiences and to address any concerns users pose publicly.
Listen to Brand Comments and Respond
Many brands share content and then move on to the next post, never looking back. Don’t be that brand. When followers comment, they are often seeking clarification and response to their brand sentiments. This is your chance to turn negative sentiments into positive experiences and provide greater value to boost loyalty and trust.
Instagram’s Business accounts offer more opportunities to turn even negative brand sentiments into positive customer experiences, thereby managing your brand’s reputation. Pay close attention to content response and @ mentions. Thank followers for positive brand sentiment. For those who don’t have great things to say, express your desire to resolve the issue and invite them to use your Instagram Business account contact buttons to email or call you.
Promote Your Account
Instagram Business accounts offer unique features like advertising and compliant-branded content and insights to help you promote your account and, thereby, grow your following. In addition, simple tweaks across your marketing channel can help your Instagram account better serve its purpose of keeping your brand top-of-mind for customers, including strategically placing Instagram buttons across your marketing channels.
Promote Across Your Marketing Channels
Instagram keeps brands top-of-mind for followers. So, use all marketing channels to drive potential and existing customers to your Instagram account. Include Instagram buttons on your website’s home page and make them readily available on Instagram-shareable content like website videos and memes, in email newsletters, and in ads. In your brick-and-mortar store, invite customers to your Instagram account on menus and in-door signage.
Advertise to Relevant Instagram Audiences to Grow Followers
Instagram Business Accounts come with the ability to create and run targeted ads within the Facebook Ads Manager. Share carousel, Instagram story, collection, slideshow, single-image, and single-video ads to align with your campaign offerings and target audience by customer journey phase.
Partner to Promote & Grow Followers.
Partnering with other brands to produce relevant content for both audiences is a great way to mutually expose each brand to relevant audiences and grow followers together. But, when you pay a partner to participate in producing branded content, the FTC requires disclosure. Instagram Business Accounts make the process easy with a disclosure snippet on paid branded content, helping you to avoid fines.
But, the perks get better. Instagram Insights allows you to track paid branded content and learn about its earned engagement, impressions, and more via Instagram Insights. In turn, you can apply what works to future campaigns for better results. Additionally, you can decide if your partnership is helping you meet your goals or if you need to seek a different one.
Optimize for Long-Term Success
While running Instagram Business account campaigns, you gain access to performance insights telling you how to optimize future campaigns to better meet target audience needs. These include analytics tools that personal accounts do not have, including Instagram Insights, that reveal basic analytics surrounding campaign performance. In addition, you can integrate third-party analytics and analysis tools to gain still deeper insights. By pairing business account analytics with third-party competitor analysis capabilities, you can better learn to compete in the industry.
Learn from Instagram Insights
Instagram insights is Instagram Business’ own analytics platform. It offers many metrics to help you know what content people respond to, who it reaches, followers’ and target audiences’ behaviors around shared content, and more.
Here are some of the metrics provided by Instagram Insights:
- Follower demographics, including age, location, and gender
- When followers are most active on Instagram by day and time
- People who discovered your content via a hashtag search
- Posts you were tagged and/or mentioned in
- Amount of money spent in response to ads
- Content engagement, including likes, clicks, comments, reach, and saves
- Best and worst performing content types
- Call-to-action and contact-button clicks
- Followers gained
- Profile views
All metrics are provided for the last seven days. With these metrics, you learn what marketing strategies are working and which need to be replaced or nixed completely to maximize ROI.
How to Use Instagram for Business – 4 Pro Tips
We reached out to gather small business Instagram tips. These tips provide a roadmap for maintaining the success you’ve built, continually building on it, and avoiding pitfalls that can derail the campaigns you’ve worked so hard to run successfully.
“The way the Instagram algorithm works is it will favor pages that post good content and post good engaging content regularly. If you are a business owner managing your business pages, I’d advise you to either hire someone low budget to manage your posting or take the time to set up a consistent posting schedule.
Using a social media management tool like Buffer or Hootsuite will allow you to set up an automatic, consistent posting schedule, among other things. However, if you choose to do it, be consistent whether it be every day or every week. Just be consistent.”
– Tim Absalikov, Co-founder and CEO, Lasting Trend
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
“A common Instagram mistake made by small businesses is the focus on vanity metrics rather than actionable metrics. Some small business owners have the mindset that more followers equals better results or more customers, which is not the case. Instead, small businesses should focus on the quality of their followers instead of quantity.”
– Bob Clary, Director of Marketing, DeveloperAcademy
Engage with Location Tagging
“Instagram posts that take advantage of location tagging have an additional chance to increase engagement. Give your audience more opportunity to engage and to connect with your content. Especially if you are a local business, it makes your audience more likely to be familiar with your brand when they know where you’re located.”
– McCall Robison, Content Marketing Strategist, Best Company
Be Authentic, Not Salesy
“The top mistake businesses make is forgetting that audiences go on Instagram for photos and videos of real life. It’s important to be able to blend in but also stand out amongst other content in our target audience’s feeds. Things like graphics with huge font, stock images, etc., look salesly and often don’t convert. Users just scroll past it because 1) it’s not interesting and 2) it’s not a real photo.
By thinking outside the box from stock photos and not using text in images, they can take a photo of the actual product or even a photo of the person offering the service pretending to work on said service. For messaging, if they have in-store displays with a physical sign that is communicating what they’re trying to get across, they can actually take a photo of the sign with the product in the background.”
– Beverley Theresa, Social Media Strategist, Social Media with Beverley Theresa
Instagram for business offers powerful features to serve small businesses, including advertising opportunities, audience analytics, more visible online presences, more effective branded content, and third-party integrations that offer deeper audience understanding. This means that by using Instagram for business, brands can better compete in their industries, optimize their marketing to meet audience needs, and manage their brand reputations.