Instagram is the place to be for small businesses, new businesses, and startups of all persuasions. In other words, you should probably be on Instagram.
Of course, there's a ton of information on the interwebs about how to "win" at Instagram. We'll try to cut through the noise for you here.
What follows is a discussion of the steps you need to take—with some specific, practical tips—to establish yourself and successfully build a following on Instagram.
We've also included a short compilation of things to be sure not to do on your road to Instagram success. But first, the "dos".
Instagram Marketing Dos
1. Establish your Instagram business account.
All the pieces of your Instagram presence need to fit together to establish what your brand is. Stay recognizable.
The only clickable link on your Instagram account is in the Bio section right under your name. Make a habit of updating the link often. Think about more than just linking to your website. You can do that, but you can also drive event registrations, app downloads, or even encourage purchases. Vary the landing page to pique followers' interest.
Remember you can change your bio to promote any launch, campaign, sale, etc. The bio writing formula is to say, briefly, who you are and what you do...and in doing so, to show off a bit of your personality.
Okay. So, you have your bio, you have your account name, all indelibly linked to your brand. On to the content.
Instagram is about visuals. You need to have a recognizable visual identity. What will you showcase? Obvious choices are what your company makes, or your store sells, or your restaurant kitchen delivers to the customers' tables.
Customer stories and behind the scenes looks at your office and staff are also effective, especially when your product is a service rather than a thing. You don't want to come off as pushing product, so get creative. How do you do that?
- Share pictures that are unique, full of personality, and attention grabbing. Lifestyle photos strengthen the feelings associated with your brand, giving you some brand equity in the process.
- Consider coming up with episodic content: break your content down into bite-sized pieces (images) and share it one by one. Not only does this extend the life of any particular piece of content, but it is also a built in way to keep people interested and coming back for more: they want to hear (or, in this case, see) the whole story.
2. You also need to design a consistent visual look.
Through your Instagram account, you're creating an overall aesthetic that your fans grab as they scroll through their feeds.
Basic rules for top-quality, attention-getting visuals include remembering that:
- Lighter images receive 24% more likes than darker ones.
- Busy visuals get 29% fewer likes, so be sure to have lots of background space.
- Having one color dominate gets you 17% more likes than pictures that have a busier color palette.
3. Promoting events is a great way to engage followers.
Use geo-tags to share the location and invite followers who may be nearby. If you can build up an active following by actually meeting your followers in person (and showing off how great you are!), you're well on your way to creating organic brand ambassadors.
If you're not physically at the location or event, ask your audience to use a specific hashtag or to tag your account in their posts to so that you can know their thoughts on the experience (more on hashtags below!).
Go a step further and share their posts on your account. Everyone loves to be recognized! And this way, your audience knows that you see them and that you're engaged (again, more on this below).
4. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind.
It definitely applies here. What do we mean? Limit posts that aim directly at selling your product to 20% of all posts. The other 80% is for content that engages followers and does not focus on your product or service. The focus, again, is lifestyle content.
5. Remember your target buyer persona.
Flesh out their story and you'll have lots of ideas for posts. Who are they? What are their hobbies? What are their interests? Where do they like to shop, to play, to eat and drink? What are their favorite books, music, movies, TV? Where do they want to travel, and what do they want to do once they're there?
6. Use hashtags liberally.
We promised we'd talk more about hashtags. Here we go!
Your content can get buried quickly by the fast-moving Instagram feed. The only way to increase the shelf-life of your posts is by using hashtags. The hashtags group your posts into communities linked by the keywords, and they remain discoverable.
If you create a branded hashtag that boosts and represents your brand, not only can people find your posts more easily by searching the hashtag, but as we mentioned above, it can become a great way to stay engaged (and to encourage participation) with your audience.
Make your hashtag brief but unique. Evoke an emotion. Be sure this hashtag fits the voice and personality of your brand and fits with every other bit of branding you've done, especially on Instagram.
Hashtags are of particular importance since, unlike captions, they can be searched.
Some ideas on hashtags:
- Make it topical by honing in on a news story or trend that represents your brand in the context surrounding the story.
- Have hashtags for events: ones you sponsor as well as community events where your brand is relevant, or seen among the spectators.
- For hashtags to catch on and spread fast make them funny, cleverly constructed, or both. But be sure that your catchy, clever hashtag fits the rest of your brand's sensibilities and voice.
- Proofread the hashtag. Then proofread it again. Then make it all lowercase and read it with a different eye. You know what you want to say, it just may be that the way you said it is open to heretofore unseen interpretations. We cannot stress this point enough!
As of now, the conventional wisdom is that four, five, or more hashtags put in a comment on an Instagram post can substantially increase interactions.
7. Work to boost engagement.
Keep your followers interested by rewarding them with exclusive content. Have them be the first to know about new products, services, or events. Use teaser photos to satisfy curiosity about new releases. This kind of preview makes your followers feel special and keeps them coming back.
You are already curating content that subtly promotes your products while building a lifestyle story for your brand. Instagram is a good place to share sales, discounts, and any promotions you're running.
You can take this a step further and reward those who share your content or use your hashtag with particular offers or giveaways.
8. Don't neglect your captions.
Just because Instagram is a visual channel, doesn’t mean you can’t make great use of written content as well. Captions are the story that gives meaning to the photo. Craft captions that make your followers feel a connection. Make them think and laugh.
Write active, inviting captions. Don't repeat what's in the image, accentuate it. Your followers see the picture and move on to read the caption. If they discover a new angle there, they'll go back and take closer look at the photo.
A caption can also be a great way to drum up interest in any sort of episodic content (as we mentioned above) that you're creating. Explain something from the image that followers may have missed on first glance, and get them to be on the lookout for more by making what you say compelling and teasing what's to come.
9. Engage with your followers.
We've indirectly (or directly, depending how you look at it!) mentioned this point several times already. But it deserves its own paragraph, too.
Respond to comments, thank followers for their tags, re-share them, and follow and like other users' content. These acts will get you more engagement. When you want someone particular to see your message be sure you include @IGname.
10. Track and measure key metrics.
To keep attracting new customers and optimize your Instagram posts you have to analyze your successes, rework the unsuccessful, research your audience, and repeat what's worked well so far.
Measure your follower count, engagement, and clicks, and use this data to refine your strategy. You developed goals way back when you first decided to be on Instagram (and if you haven't done this yet, make sure you identify SMART goals for your Instagram efforts!). Focus your research on all the things you can track to see to what degree you're meeting those goals.
Instagram Marketing Don'ts
Now that you have an overview of what to do to be successful on Instagram, what follows here should be fairly intuitive. These are things you should NOT DO in your marketing efforts on Instagram and on social media in general:
- Fail to create a social media marketing strategy. You have to know what you want to accomplish with your marketing efforts. If you don't, you'll never know when you've succeeded, or failed, or when you need to revamp. This is where goal-setting comes into play.
- Fail to identify your target audience. Hopefully this came across above. You aren't going to influence everybody, so use demographics to identify the persona you are building your marketing campaign to attract.
- Fail to address negative feedback. Don't ignore negative comments. They can be an opening for improvement. Start a conversation with whoever dropped the negative feedback or complaint.
- Promote yourself too blatantly and too much. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule.
- Spam your audience. Social media is not an advertising channel. Instead, engage in conversation.
- Fail to engage. This is not just a banner space, it's about actively engaging with your community.
- Fail to be sure your followers are real. This includes buying followers, just don’t.
- Have a set it and forget it mentality. You have to post regularly and interact actively.
- Post content just to post content. Posts are to build community while showing your brand as a viable part of that community. Posts provide information useful to the community while also showcasing who you are and what you do.
- Fail to use tracking analytics. There's virtually no point in using social media unless you seek actionable insights.
Wrapping it up
The bottom line here is to remember that Instagram's social nature works to increase the more intangible aspects of marketing. You want buyer loyalty, greater brand equity, and lifetime user value. Instagram is a tool to promote brand identity.
Just as important as your products themselves are the associations people make with your brand, and the community of followers that’s been created. Don't ignore the social aspect and get to work making Instagram work for you.
Have a question about social media marketing? Drop us a line!