Instagram has rapidly become one of the most widely used social networks since its launch in 2010. In a nutshell, Instagram is a mobile application that works on smartphones and tablets. Instagram lets users take, edit and share photos or short videos with the Instagram community and on other social media networks including Facebook and Twitter. With an estimated 1 billion users each month, many businesses are now using Instagram to build brand awareness and engage with customers.
Instagram Stats published in June 2019 by SocialMediaToday revealed that engagement with brands on Instagram is at least 10 times higher than any other social media platform. Consider the following numbers:
- 71% of U.S. businesses use Instagram
- There are over 25 million business accounts on Instagram
- More than 200 million Instagram users visit at least one business profile each day
- 80% of users are follow a business account on Instagram
- 83% of users discover new products and services on Instagram
- Over 30% of users have purchased something from Instagram using a mobile device
- Instagram helps 80% of users decide whether to buy a product or service
You might think that only teenagers are using Instagram but www.statista.com reports that as of May 2019, about 34% of users were between 25-34 years old and roughly 30% were in the 35-54 age range. Over 57% of Instagram users in the United States during May 2019 were female. Instagram users want to be inspired and discover new things including content from brands and businesses. There are currently over 25 million business profiles on Instagram and 60% of users say they discover new products on Instagram. 200 million users visit at least one Business Profile daily. With that many active users, almost any business can benefit from including Instagram in their online marketing strategy.
How Does Instagram Compare with Facebook and Twitter?
As of the first quarter of 2019, Facebook had 2.38 billion monthly active users. About 68% of Americans use Facebook online or on their smartphones. According to Statista, the highest concentration of users are between the ages of 18-44.
Twitter is projected to reach 275 million monthly active users worldwide in 2019. According to Twitter, about 24% of its users are in the United States. Twitter users tend to live in urban areas, have high levels of education and higher than average incomes. In the United States, about 40% of Twitter users are in the 18 to 29 year old age group. Usage drops as age increases, with 27% in the 30-49 age group and 19% in the 50-64 age group.
Using Instagram along with Facebook and Twitter is an effective way to reach a large audience. Its easy to post the same content on all three platforms so there really isn’t any reason not to use all three platforms to communicate your brand’s message.
How are Businesses Using Instagram?
- To build brand awareness: brand awareness is critical if you want to grow your business. The more that people know about your brand, the more of your products or services you’ll sell. With a growing number of active users, Instagram can be a powerful way to reach customers and build awareness for your business.
- To build community: by engaging with posts (liking and commenting) as well as reposting content, a business can help to create, grow and foster community. By community, it could be location specific or it could be interest specific.
- To share information about products and services: many brands use Instagram to promote their products and services and Instagram users now expect to see ads in their feed. As with any advertising, it’s important to match your ads to your target audience and their needs. If an ad addresses a user’s need, its viewed in a positive way. For example, restaurants can easily post photos of daily specials to entice customers to come in for lunch or dinner. Instagram advertising is booming and options for advertising change quickly. Instagram’s advertising options can be viewed at https://business.instagram.com/advertising.
- To generate leads: the bio link on your Instagram profile is the best way to collect leads. You can use the link in your bio to take visitors to a landing page where you give them the opportunity to view a webinar, download a free report, join your newsletter list, etc. Businesses can generate numerous leads with a relevant and engaging Call-to-Action (CTA). Including CTAs with each post increases the odds of engaging with users. The direct message (DM) feature on Instagram is also an effective tool for generating leads. DM response rates on Instagram rival those of email marketing making it the strongest performing social media channel. Responding to each follower with an offer is an effective way to interact with users and build relationships.
Getting Started on Instagram
Getting started on Instagram is pretty easy. You download the app, create an account with a username (which is how people will find you), a profile picture and other pertinent information your business. A business profile allows users to include a Call-to-Action so people can call you, email you, text you or get directions. All of this information should be included in a business profile. A business account is treated the same as an individual account.
Users will have to verify an email address and phone number. This can occur multiple times for some accounts.
With an Instagram business profile, you have access to an array of features including contact information, Instagram Insights (the built-in analytics tool), and Instagram Ads. If you want to grow your business using Instagram, you need a business account. If you already have a personal profile, you can switch to a business profile by going to your settings and switching to a professional account. You’ll have two choices: Creator or Business Accounts. Creator accounts are best for public figures, artists and influencers. Business accounts are best for retailers, local businesses, brands and service providers.
Building an Audience on Instagram
Finding the right people on Instagram that are likely to be interested in your photos, videos, stories, products and services is important. Sharing photos with optimized captions and hashtags is the first step to developing a presence on Instagram. Building an engaged audience who follows your business requires a strategy. As with any marketing effort, part of an effective strategy is defining who your target audience is. If your goal is to generate customer leads, think about your ideal customer: who are they, what are their interests, how are they likely to search for your products and services? Connecting with the right Instagram users takes some planning but is worth the effort.
After you identify and begin to connect with your target audience, interaction is critical. People are more likely to follow you, like your photos and comment on your photos when you’re following them and liking and commenting on their photos. This may seem like a lot of work but it is the only way to demonstrate that you and your business are worth interacting with — again, this is about social networking. The more you and your followers interact, the more likely they are to become actual customers.
So you need to:
- Follow other users (your target audience)
- Like their posts
- Comment on their posts
- Share photos
- Tag people
Creating Content for Instagram
According to Seth Godin, “Marketing is telling a story about your value that resonates with enough people that they will want to give you money.” Instagram is a visual platform. Photos and videos are the content you use to share your brand’s story with Instagram users.
Images generate far more views, likes, and comments than text-based posts. There are three ways to publish content on Instagram: the Feed, Stories, and IGTV.
- The Feed is where users post photos and videos. It is the oldest, best known and most used functionality on Instagram.
- Stories is the ephemeral content (it disappears in 24 hours) on Instagram. Users do have the option of creating a Story Highlight so that it remains permanently available. Instagram Stories show up at the top of a page when users open the app making them a valuable way to share content.
- Instagram launched Instagram TV (IGTV) in June 2018. This option focuses on sharing and watching vertical video. IGTV videos are designed to be longer than Stories. Brands have been relatively slow to adopt IGTV but recent changes have made it easier and less expensive to use.
Post Relevant and Engaging Content
Simply put, you will not attract followers if you post boring content. That doesn’t mean you need to be a professional photographer or hire one, but you do need to post engaging photos and video. With today’s smartphones, just about anyone can take good photos with a little practice. Instagram also gives users filters and photo-editing options that can be used as appropriate. Photos and videos taken on Instagram can also be used as a Facebook post or Twitter status update which increases your online visibility without investing additional time.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and post the same types of content again and again. People will zone out and start to ignore your posts if you do this. Posting product shots and selfies can certainly be part of your content plan, but make sure you’re changing up your strategy and monitoring which formats get the most engagement. Some popular post ideas include:
- User-submitted photos
- Behind-the-scenes photos/videos of your workspace or employees
- Sneak peeks of new products
- Short product demos or tutorials
As you decide what to post, it’s also important to consider which strategies are most likely to get your photos liked and commented on. The following are a few recommendations:
- Human faces (preferably close ups)
- Actual customers using your products
- Photos tend to outperform videos (but that doesn’t mean you should never use videos)
Using Hashtags on Instagram
A hashtag is a word or phrase (without spaces between words), preceded by the pound (#) symbol, that describes or labels a post. Using hashtags is a powerful way to increase the exposure and reach of the photos and videos you post. You can include up to 30 hashtags on a regular post and up to 10 hashtags on a Story. Using relevant keywords will maximize the chance that your target audience will find you. People on Instagram often search for specific hashtags especially when they are searching for products or services. That means your content can end up in a users’ feed even if they don’t follow you. If you’re sharing engaging content and tagging it with relevant hashtags, many of them will start following you.
There’s some debate about whether to place hashtags within the original post or in comments. We recommend putting hashtags in the first comments not the original post. If you choose to put hashtags within your posts, it can drive some people away because of the cluttered appearance. Putting hashtags in the first comment keeps the image caption clear and still leverages your “findability” factor.
The best hashtags are ones that are specific to your brand, industry and the content you are posting. You should generate a list of keywords that Instagram followers would likely search to find your business. Hashtags fall into three broad categories: location, niche, and popularity.
- Location hashtags feature a city, state, or the name of brand or store in a specific location such as #denvercolorado or #denverjewelry.
- Niche hashtags are designed to attract the specific audience or industry that you want to reach. Teton Sports regular uses #getoutdoors, #enjoylife, #sharetheadventure, #camping, #hiking, #adventure, #outdoors, #explore, and #wanderlust because these keywords reflect their brand.
- Popular hashtags are those that are currently trending or have gone viral, like #mondaymotivation or #tbt (Throwback Thursday).
Small business owners should use hashtags that include relevant keywords directly related to their products and services. For example, #plumbing, #remodeling, or #roofing clearly identify an industry or field. Adding hashtags that highlight special features or qualities such as #Handmade or #ShopLocal is also a good idea.
Generating a list of relevant hashtags shouldn’t take too much time. Think about the keywords someone would use to find your products and services online. You should also check out what hashtags your direct competitors are using. You will likely discover new hashtags you should be using. If there are people in your particular industry that are already well established (sometimes referred to as influencers), see what hashtags they are using. You can also use Instagram’s search function to generate a list of hashtags for a keyword you enter. There are also numerous free online tools that will generate hundreds of hashtag suggestions.
Hashtags are also a great way to connect with your local community. You can use them to shout out in support of a special event like the Stanley Cup Playoffs (#LGB) or a local charity (#madcodance). They can also be used to acknowledge the work of another business (#opostartups). These types of posts and hashtags communicate that you care about the community not just your bottom line. Instagram users appreciate this type of community involvement.
The bottom line is this — using hashtags boosts your visibility. Posting without using hashtags is ineffective. Remember to include them and your post automatically reaches a larger audience and makes you findable.
Instagram Stories give you the opportunity to reach and engage with a mass audience. Stories allow users to share photos and videos to their “Story” which is visible to followers of the user’s account. Instagram Stories appear at the top of the screen when users open their Instagram mobile app. Because they are often the first pieces of content users see when they open Instagram, Stories can generate a lot of engagement and help brands advertise their regular photo gallery to more users. With Stories disappearing after 24 hours, they have become a chance for businesses to experiment with different creative content. Stories can help brands show some personality, or apply a narrative to their products.
Just like your Instagram photo posts, remember the following:
- Use hashtags
Hashtags and geotags tags can help you become discoverable to your target audience. Adding these to appropriate stories on your account can help increase your number of followers while focusing on attracting your target customers.
- Create engaging content.
Instagram Stories are viewed vertically and use your entire screen. There are many features specific to Stories that are not available for photo posts. Learning the various features available and experimenting with them across your content can help differentiate your brand from your competition.
Not sure what type of content to share in a Story? A business could:
- Demonstrate a product
- Promote a company event
- Highlight seasonal events or holidays
- Share reviews and testimonials
- Give a shoutout to followers
Important Points to Remember about Stories
The best Instagram Stories are stories so using the slideshow format to put together an experience with a beginning, middle and end will help people engage with your message.
Stories should provide the user some value. Social media audiences want the brands they follow to be informative and/or entertaining. If your Stories tell your followers how to do something, you are providing value. If you can do that in a fun and engaging way, your followers are more likely to comment on your stories.
As with all social media marketing posts, Stories should always include a Call-to-Action (CTA) because it tells your followers what to do next. At a minimum, you want people to engage with your content — to like it, share it or comment on it. If you are posting content about your products or services, you want people to contact you for more information or make a purchase. Make this easy for them to do by including a CTA which is easy to understand.
IGTV (Instagram TV)
Instagram’s newest option is IGTV. Launched in 2018, this option focuses on sharing and watching vertical video. IGTV is available in a stand-alone app, as well as in the traditional Instagram app. With people watching less TV and more digital video, IGTV is an easy way to connect with your followers and attract new ones.
To access IGTV on the Instagram app, tap the little TV icon on your homepage. When you tap on that, you’ll be taken to your IGTV homepage which is where you’ll find a broad range of video content you may be interested in. Everyone you follow who has an IGTV channel will appear here. It’s easy to scroll though to see the content you care about, or to discover new channels and topics.
If you are already using Instagram Stories, IGTV offers an easy way to up your presence. IGTV gives you the option to provide your followers with engaging videos anywhere from 15 seconds to 60 minutes long. If you’ve already been posting videos on Facebook and YouTube, you can now post that content on Instagram.
Start Your Own IGTV channel
Your channel is where people can watch videos you’ve uploaded to IGTV. Before you can post videos to IGTV, you need to create your own channel. Creating a channel is pretty easy. From the Instagram app or the separate IGTV app, you just tap the TV icon and follow the directions. Once you’ve created a channel, you can begin uploading videos.
IGTV is built for how you actually use your phone — vertical and full screen. The ability to post longer vertical video on Instagram makes it easy to connect with your audience and to be discovered by new people. As with any content, posting high quality, engaging videos is the key to attracting followers.
Brands are using IGTV to share behind-the-scenes videos, how-to tutorials, customer testimonials and to introduce new products. You don’t need a professional videographer to get started. Many users actually seem to prefer videos that aren’t too slick and polished. That being said, you do need to make sure your videos are easy to view — good quality video and sound are important. Although verified users can post a video up to 60 minutes long, there is some evidence to suggest that shorter videos have better engagement.
IGTV is a promising platform. The amount of content being posted on IGTV is increasing daily and there’s no reason not to experiment. You can easily begin by repurposing videos you’re already created.
The Importance of Influencers
Influencers are Instagram users who have built a large and engaged following. Each influencer combines their respective brand awareness with a personal touch and consistent, usually daily posting to draw users to them. Influencers have the ability to persuade other users by virtue of their reputation. Influencer marketing works because it allows brands to reach their target audience in a way that feels more authentic than traditional advertising. Rather than selling directly to consumers, brands are now building relationships with influencers who promote their products and services for them. Instagram influencers have a strong relationship with their followers because they share many aspects of their personal life with them. This leads their followers to feel like they actually know them, so when they recommend a product or service, their users are more likely to make a purchase.
Although many of the top influencers are celebrities in the sports or entertainment industries, influencer marketing does more than just attach a celebrity to a product. Effective Instagram influencers must be trusted and maintain a loyal following usually on multiple social media platforms. In addition, they are usually perceived as possessing some knowledge or expertise about the products they advertise. Because the trust of their followers is so important, the most effective influencers promote products and services their followers trust they would actually use. That’s why you rarely see the top Instagram influencers promoting products outside of their established niche. For example, models and actresses tend to promote beauty and lifestyle products. Celebrity chefs promote cookware and other products related to the food industry.
There are different tiers or levels within the influencer community, from nano influencers with up to a 1,000 followers to the celebrity influencer who has more than 1 million followers. Micro influencers have a relatively small following (1,000-10,000) but have a very high engagement rate on their posts. Micro influencers can have a great deal of influence over a specific audience making them an affordable and effective option for small business owners.
It’s no longer usually enough to send free products to influencers in hopes that they will promote a product on Instagram. The range of pay for influencer work now ranges from zero to millions. Depending on the industry, influencers can be paid anywhere from a $1,000 per 100,000 followers on up. Kim Kardashian reportedly charges over $250,000 to post a single photo on her Instagram account. Luckily Instagram influencers aren’t limited to celebrities with huge followings like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ariana Grande, or Selena Gomez whose fees are out of reach for smaller business owners.
The pool of Instagram influencers is large and diverse, which means almost any business has the potential to use influencer marketing for their industry and target audience. Just because an influencer has a million followers doesn’t mean they are the right one for you. Having a lot of followers isn’t enough for influencer marketing to generate actual sales. When it comes to using influencer marketing effectively, there is a lot of consider. Hiring a professional online marketer who specializes in Instagram marketing would be money well spent for small business owners interested in influencer marketing.
At a time when visual content is critical for a successful online marketing campaign, Instagram is the perfect platform to showcase your brand and personality. Managing your own account helps you come off as authentic with your followers which is highly valued by Instagram users. Posting is easy on Instagram but simply posting random photos is not enough to engage an active following. It’s important to develop a strategy that meets your goals. A professional who specializes in online marketing can help you choose the right options, find your target audience and craft a plan that will meet your goals.