At 10 (going on 11) years old, Instagram is without a doubt an established mainstream social media platform. But for some businesses that started their foray into social media on Facebook or LinkedIn, the Instagram platform is often seen as “optional.” In other words, not as important.
Today, 71% of US businesses use Instagram. For the 29 percent who don’t, we often hear them say they should be on Instagram, but are unsure of how to put it to use for their business. How do you make the platform work for you to help your business grow and succeed?
Whether you’re just getting started or have been on Instagram for years and are ready to take your business’s Instagram presence to the next level, here’s how to leverage the platform to the fullest for your brand.
The Impact of Instagram
Let’s start with the basics. Why does your business need to be on Instagram in the first place?
We can give you a few reasons—1 billion reasons, to be exact. While it’s often thought of as a “secondary” platform to Facebook, Instagram has 1 billion active monthly users. It has the 4th most users of any app, and it’s the 5th most visited website on the Internet (even though it was never intended to be a website in the first place!). Long story short, Instagram is no longer “second fiddle” to Facebook—it’s a powerful platform in its own right, ripe with opportunity.
So Instagram has a ton of users, but what does that mean for businesses? Compared to other platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users are especially likely to engage with business accounts. Ninety percent of Instagram users follow a business account, and 200 million users visit at least one business profile a day. Instagram’s users are also more engaged in general, with a 0.98% median engagement rate (Facebook’s is 0.08% for comparison!). In a nutshell, the users are there, and they’re ready and willing to interact with your business.
How to Create a Strong Instagram Account
Though Instagram users are receptive to businesses, it is not an “if you build it, they will come” type of situation, to quote the iconic Field of Dreams movie. Simply creating an Instagram account for your business is not enough to attract the following you’re probably looking for or to create the kind of interactions (or sales) that you want.
Here are a few key components of a strong Instagram account so you can lay a sturdy foundation for your Instagram presence.
A Strong Bio
Instagram’s bio has a 150 character limit, meaning you only get 150 characters to sum up who you are, what you have to offer people, and why they should care enough to follow you.
While you need to be concise, you also should work in your brand’s personality. A large part of this has to do with the tone you use, but a few tasteful emojis can also help.
Bios should also include a call to action (ex: shop now, visit our website, learn more), or at the very least, a link to your website. To keep it looking clean and professional, often a shortened link—like a bit.ly—is the way to go.
Another best practice is to incorporate Instagram Story highlights. These should help your audience get a good feel for your brand at a glance. Keep your profile looking sharp by creating highlight covers that are on brand and follow a consistent design theme. Also remember to keep your highlight cover names short, or they will be cut off by the platform.
If you’re not sure what type of content to put in your highlights, a good question to ask yourself is, “What do I tell people about my business when they ask who we are and what we do?” These highlights should answer those key questions, like who, what, where, and why. Keep in mind that highlights are permanent (unlike Stories, which only last 24 hours), so the story they tell is important.
Let’s look at a real-life example. On our client’s account below, the “Listings,” “Staging,” and “Team” highlights answer the “what” – they are a real estate team. The “Team” highlight also works with the “Just for Fun” highlight to answer the “who” and works to show the team members’ personality. The “Community” answers the “where”, but also helps to answer the “why,” along with the testimonial highlight—in other words, this is a team that works hard for both their clients and their community.
Last but not least, including a branded hashtag in your bio is always a good idea. This tells customers how they can engage with you on the platform and creates a brain peg so that your followers associate that hashtag with your brand.
Often, this branded hashtag is related to a campaign. In the example below, #howdoyouoasis is attached to a larger campaign (aptly named How Do You Oasis), which encourages Oasis Street Food hummus fans to share all the ways they eat their Oasis hummus. It’s also a place for the Oasis Street Food brand to share ideas and recipes that include Oasis hummus with their followers. In other words, the hashtag is a place for brand and customer to interact and find each other.
Keep Your Feed On-Brand
Increasingly, more and more people are treating Instagram as a search engine. Not sure where to eat? Search on Instagram. Looking for a new pair of heels, a scenic travel destination, or for an eco-friendly, cruelty-free makeup brand? Search on Instagram.
Because of this, your Instagram page can almost be thought of as the “new home page.” While Instagram can’t fully replace the value of a website, this rise in searchability means that oftentimes, Instagram is now a user’s first impression of your brand rather than your website’s landing page. This makes being on-brand in all your posts all the more important.
Want to take it even one step further? Instagram is all about aesthetic, and there’s no shortage of ways to get creative with your page look. If you want to go above and beyond, you can help give your Instagram page a cohesive feel by using a consistent color scheme, by applying a pre-set filter to all photos, or by following a rotation of post types to fill your feed with a cool pattern.
Get Verified (If You Can)
It’s not only celebrities who can get that blue checkmark next to their name! Anyone is eligible to get verified and can request it through the settings in the app.
And there are a few key advantages. Being verified lends legitimacy and trust to your account and brand. Also, when you post a comment from a verified account, that comment gets pushed to the top, giving your account even more visibility. Last but not least, being verified allows you to have access to the swipe-up feature on Instagram stories, something that’s only available to non-verified accounts if you have more than 10,000 followers.
A word of warning, though: Instagram doesn’t make it easy to get verified. While verification is technically open to anyone, Instagram is notorious for being extremely choosy with who they give that blue checkmark out to (and being slow to do so). Notably, celebrities, public figures, and massive international brands have the easiest time getting verified. Instagram themselves say, “Currently, only Instagram accounts that have a high likelihood of being impersonated have verified badges.”
In short, getting verified isn’t a walk in the park, but it comes with its fair share of perks. It’s up to you and your brand if the benefits are worth the up-front work.
Create an Instagram Posting Strategy
We could write a whole series of blogs (nay, entire novels) on the topic of social media content strategies, but we’ll keep it brief and hit the highlights.
Make Your Posts Scroll-Stopping
Of all the social media platforms, Instagram is the most image-centric. When scrolling through the Instagram feed, the photo comes first (unlike Facebook, where the caption comes first). If the image doesn’t grab people’s attention, chances are that person won’t bother to stop and read the caption. In other words, no matter how amazing or packed with life-changing information your caption is, it doesn’t matter if your photo doesn’t grab their eye.
This is often why stock images get drowned out on Instagram. As useful as they might be in some cases, most stock images just don’t have that scroll-stopping power.
Ideally, the image should be able to tell the story on its own. While the caption is there to support the image, in a perfect world, the image should be able to stand alone. (While this is a goal to shoot for, in reality, we know the caption is often necessary for context or to convey your message!)
Consistency > Frequency
Have you ever looked at a brand’s Instagram account, only to see they hadn’t posted in two years?
You probably assumed that business was now closed, right?On the flip side, have you ever followed a page that posts every single day for a few weeks and then disappears? A pretty wild ride as a follower, right?
When it comes to Instagram, it’s really not how much you post, but rather how consistently you post. Especially when it comes to small businesses (when the social media manager is also the owner who’s also the head chef), sometimes finding the time to post is hard. It’s better to commit to fewer posts on a regular basis than it is to commit to a posting frequency you can’t maintain. Posting once a week is a good start.
Why is consistency key? Posting regularly builds trust in your brand. Your followers know exactly what to expect from your brand on social media, and that predictability leads to a sense of stability in your followers’ minds—whether they consciously realize it or not. Brands that go radio silent after being active on social media tend to give followers a feeling of uncertainty and unease.
The Instagram Algorithm – Ranking Signals
Posting consistently also builds favor with the Instagram algorithm. A few years back, Instagram changed their feed from chronological order to a relevancy-based model. In other words, Instagram is serving you the content from your followers that it thinks you most want to see first, and the stuff it thinks you’re not as interested in gets pushed down.
While there’s many things the algorithm considers, there’s a few key ranking signals: relationship, interest, and post type.
The relationship factor boils down to the interaction history between your account and the posting account. If you have interacted with an account in the past, you’re more likely to see their posts and vice versa. This is why engaging back with your followers and business partners (by liking and commenting on relevant posts) is so important!
“Interest” has a lot to do with post type. Essentially, people who engage with posts similar to yours are more likely to see your posts. For example, if you tend to engage with video posts, Instagram will serve you more video posts. This is why mixing up the format of your posts is important—single-image posts, videos, carousel posts, and so on.
Last but not least, timeliness plays a role. While the Instagram feed is no longer strictly chronological, more recent posts are still favored by the algorithm, making it important to post when your audience is online. Experiment with posting at different times of the day to see when your audience is most active. You can also look at your account insights (visible within the Instagram app) to determine the best time to post.
The Best Types of Posts to Publish
What you post is just as important as when you post. Instagram offers three main types of feed post options: photos, videos, and carousels.
You’ve probably seen articles upon articles of experts pushing the importance of video. The success of Instagram’s Tik-Tok competitor, Reels, proves that the demand for video on Instagram is high.
But if you don’t have the time (or resources) to pump out video after video for your Instagram feed, fear not. While video is great to incorporate into your posting strategy, carousels actually garner more engagement on Instagram than videos. This is because the Instagram algorithm “re-serves” carousel posts to individual users. For example, if you scrolled past a carousel post and didn’t interact with it (didn’t like, comment, or swipe through to the next photo), Instagram will show you that same carousel again—only this time, they’ll pick a different photo in the carousel to show you from the post, making it appear almost like an entirely new post in your feed. In other words, Instagram’s algorithm gives carousel posts a “second chance” to be seen—all without any ad dollars spent!
The takeaway? If you’re going to post a static image, you might as well add on another (relevant) image or two and make it a carousel!
It’s All About the Give and Take
A good content strategy is all about rhythm. Part of that rhythm is finding a balance between “give” and “take” posts. A post can be defined as a “take” if it asks the user to do something (reach out, make a purchase, click on a link) that benefits your business. On the other hand, a “give” post offers your followers something helpful—information, a resource, or even just some good ol’ entertainment.
You don’t want to overwhelm your followers by making every post a “take.” Constantly asking your followers to do something—click, buy, etc.—feels inauthentic and will likely be largely ignored by your followers. Instead, we recommend a give-give-give-take rhythm. That way, your followers are more likely to pay attention when you have an “ask” to make of them.
Don’t Forget About Instagram Stories
Between Instagram Reels, IGTV, and the Shop tab, Instagram has so many features for your business to take advantage of. While we won’t get into all those great tools here, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Instagram Stories.
Are Instagram Stories Worth It?
Short answer: yes. Instagram itself may have 1 billion active monthly users, but Instagram Stories has 500 million active daily users. Situated right at the top of the feed, Stories are in a prime location to give your business even more exposure on Instagram. Case in point: 62% of Instagram users say they become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories.
Story Best Practices
One of the easiest ways to leverage Instagram Stories is to share your feed posts to your Story. Why? If the algorithm buries your post, your followers can still find and see your content in Stories instead. They can also then “tap” the Story to be taken to the post itself. In other words, it makes your content more accessible for your followers. We recommend doing this for every single post you create. Add a fun sticker or two while you’re at it!
If your Story is a video, be sure the video has sound. Contrary to feed posts, which are usually watched with the sound off by default, 70% of Instagram Stories are watched with the sound on.
Last but not least, don’t forget to hashtag and tag your Stories just like you would your feed posts for that extra visibility. Tagging relevant partners or people in your Stories also allows those accounts that were tagged to easily reshare the Story to their Story, granting your account even more exposure. Hashtags are another great way for your Stories to reach people. Pro tip: if you don’t want your hashtags to clutter up your Story, you can hide them behind pictures and stickers. The Story will still be searchable by that hashtag, but the hashtags won’t be visible within the Story itself!
To Wrap Up
Though this blog was far from short, we’ve still only scratched the surface of what businesses can do on Instagram. If you’re looking for some more Instagram-related deep dives, check out our other blogs, like How to Use Hashtags, How to Use Facebook and Instagram Live to Promote your Brand, and How to Use Facebook and Instagram Stories for Marketing.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the Instagram “to-dos”? Let us help you lighten the load. Reach out today to see how our team of social and digital experts can help build your business’s Instagram presence—and take a little bit of weight off your shoulders at the same time!