In 2021, Instagram is still the King of visual marketing tools. In this guide, you will find 25 must-know Instagram marketing tips to tell your brand’s story, engage your customers, gain leads, and drive sales.
1. Start using a business account
You can’t unlock Instagram’s full potential without a business account. Why? Because some of the social platform’s most powerful features are reserved for business users only, including:
- View Instagram’s analytics, called Insights
- Set up an on-platform shop
- Create ads without using Facebook’s advertising tools
- Publish your contact information
- Include a call-to-action button in your profile’s bio
How to set up an Instagram business account
Here’s how to set up an Instagram business account (if you already have one or are committed to your personal account, skip ahead to Tip #2):
- Download the Instagram app – for iOS or for Android.
- Create a new account or sign up with your email address or phone number. Choose a username that’s as close to your brand name as possible and ideally the same as your username on other social platforms. Select a password.
- Complete your profile. Jump to Tip #4 for more information.
- Now, it’s time to switch to a business account. Navigate to your profile and click the hamburger menu on the top-right of your screen. Tap Settings > Account > Switch to professional account. Select Business and follow the instructions.
2. Identify your goals
Using Instagram to market your business without clearly defined goals is like driving in unfamiliar territory without a map. Do not kick-start your Instagram marketing efforts without an objective, a North Star to guide your strategy and direct your activities.
Here are some example goals to get you thinking:
- Increase brand awareness
- Sell more products
- Establish your brand online
- Reach new audiences
- Generate new leads
- Build your reputation as an industry leader
There is no right or wrong answer, but it’s critical to write down a goal and reverse-engineer your marketing success.
3. Understand your audience
Instagram may have more than one billion active users, but it’s not for everyone. Over half of users are aged 18 to 29, which means over 65 per cent of people in that age bracket use the platform.
That does not mean you shouldn’t target prospects in their 30s and 40s – it’s about understanding who your audience is, what their pain points are, and how they use Instagram.
Not only will your target audience’s demographic define your content strategy, but it will also play a central role in your sponsored advertising approach — more on creating and optimising ads in Tip #20.
4. Know your competitors
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right? You understand your audience; now, get to know your competitors. A detailed competitive analysis can shed light on how other successful marketers in your niche use Instagram to their advantage.
If you have already defined your top competitors, head to their Instagram pages. Find out the following:
- How many followers do they have?
- How often do they post?
- What do they post?
- Which types of posts generate the most engagement?
- What hashtags do they use?
- Are they utilising IGTV, Reels, and Stories?
If you haven’t defined your top competitors, search key terms related to your business or industry in the app. This should help you find similar accounts.
The aim of a competitive analysis is not to replicate what other marketers are doing – it’s about uncovering what resonates with your target audience and recognising untapped opportunities.
5. Enhance your profile
In a word, Instagram profiles are brief. Your profile must pack a serious punch if it’s to catch the eye of a scrolling user.
Here is a breakdown of the Instagram profile for businesses:
- Name: max. 30 characters
- Username (also called your handle): max. 30 characters
- Website (referred to in posts as the ‘link in bio’): a clickable URL that can be changed as often as you want
- Bio: max. 150 characters
- Category: a feature that tells users what your business does
- Contact: your address, phone number, and email
- Call-to-action button: a customisable button that allows users to interact with your brand
Effective profiles compel users to tap the follow button by communicating a brand’s promise, personality, and unique selling points. You might also like to include a call-to-action to prompt users to follow or tag your business or use a specific hashtag.
6. Select an eye-catching profile photo
One of the top Instagram marketing tips for small business: your branding matters.
Consistent branding is vital to building credibility and earning the trust and loyalty of prospects and customers. For most businesses, the profile photo should be its logo.
Instagram crops profile photos into a circle and displays them at 110 x 110 pixels. However, these images are stored at 320 x 320 pixels, so upload your logo at this size.
If your logo is square or rectangular, you will need to zoom out to ensure it is displayed in its entirety.
7. Follow an aesthetic theme
Your Instagram posts can be viewed in several ways, one of which is on your profile. Here, a user can see up to 12 of your most recent posts in one view. Establishing and following an aesthetic theme creates coherency and communicates a sense of professionalism. Plus, it helps users quickly and confidently recognise your brand’s posts in their feed.
How do you create an aesthetic theme? Try these tips:
- Use a limited colour palette.
- If you use text in your posts, keep fonts consistent.
- Edit your images using the same techniques, filters, or presets.
Your aesthetic theme doesn’t have to be bold. A subtle visual thread that connects your posts is enough to boost all-important brand awareness and recognition in today’s flooded social media feeds.
8. Put visuals first
The best Instagram marketing tips are simple. At its heart, Instagram is a visual social platform. In short, that means your posts must look excellent. They must use visual elements to attract, engage, and inform your target audience.
The good news: you don’t need expensive photography equipment to inspire your followers. Professionalism is essential for brands leveraging Instagram’s power to market products and services, but a little authenticity goes a long way. People connect with people, and Instagram users want to see a slice of real life, albeit refined and curated.
Photos must be well-composed (following the rule of thirds is a great place to start), in focus, and eye-catching. Graphics must be crisp (no pixelation) and easy to read. Videos must be well-lit and, if the sound is included, audible. You might like to add closed captions to your videos, too.
9. Write compelling captions
Instagram may be a visual medium, but your captions still matter. Like the imagery you use, your captions should reflect your brand’s personality and maintain consistency across posts.
Captions can be quite lengthy – up to 2,200 characters – giving you enough room for both a witty one-liner or emotive storytelling. Typically, the optimal caption length is around 150 characters for organic posts and 125 for ads.
However, do keep in mind that only the first two lines of text appear in the feed. Users must click “more” to read the rest.
10. Use the right hashtags
Hashtags boost your visibility and are crucial to unlocking the platform’s full potential. Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags per post. Between five and nine seems to be the sweet spot, as it ensures discoverability without making your content look spammy.
There is a bit of an art to selecting the right hashtags. Here are several factors to keep in mind:
- Relevancy: Use hashtags that relate to your post.
- Volume: Avoid hashtags that are overly niche and have low post volumes.
- Legitimate: Do not use hashtags that prompt users to like or follow, such as #like4like #followback.
Finally, creating your own brand- or campaign-specific hashtag can be an effective way to increase engagement, reach new audiences, and boost your follower count.
For example, in their bio, clothing brand Dangerfield prompts users to add #dangerfield to their posts.
11. Engage with followers
You get out what you put in. If you want people to engage with your content, engage with theirs, too. It is social media, after all.
It’s a good time to engage with other users when…
- someone comments on your post asking a question or sharing feedback
- you’re tagged in a post
- when your brand- or campaign-specific hashtag is used
How you engage with other users contributes to your brand’s voice. Be consistent and be appropriate. If things escalate, continue the discussion privately in your direct messages or via email.
12. Share user-generated content
Creating and publishing high-impact Instagram posts day in and day out is no easy task. But there is a strategy you can use that gives you access to excellent, authentic content without the time and effort.
Sharing user-generated content is a great way to involve your customers and build a sense of community on Instagram. The premise is simple: your customers publish a high-quality image relevant to your brand, and you use an app like Repost to re-share their image to your business’s profile.
You must clearly credit the original poster by tagging their username in your caption. You might also like to inform the original poster that you’ve shared their post.
Adore Beauty does a great job of this, using the camera emoji to give credit.
13. Experiment with Instagram Stories
Every day, 500 million Instagram users view Stories. Every month, four million businesses leverage Stories in their ad campaigns, and 50 per cent of surveyed users say they have visited a website to purchase a product or service after seeing it in their Stories.
The numbers paint a compelling picture: Instagram Stories are powerful, and you should be using them to connect with your following and promote your business.
Stories disappear after 24 hours (unless you add them to your highlights – see Tip #14 for more), so followers expect timely updates that are less polished than your brand’s feed.
There is no shortage of ways to use Instagram Stories – here are a couple of Instagram Stories marketing tips to get you started:
- Lift the curtain and share an exclusive peek behind-the-scenes.
- Remind your followers that a new product has launched (bonus points if you set up a countdown timer in your Stories to build hype and anticipation).
- Share user-generated content that doesn’t quite fit into your curated Instagram feed.
- Encourage your follower to read your latest blog post with a swipe-up link and strong call-to-action.
- Provide value by videoing a tutorial or how-to.
14. Highlight Stories
We broke down the components of an Instagram profile in Tip #5. But we left something out: Stories highlights. Stories disappear after 24 hours – unless you add them to your highlights. Then, they’ll stick around indefinitely.
Your highlights appear directly below your bio, so it’s important the covers are appealing and on-brand.
Use highlights to answer frequently asked questions, showcase a product range, or detail an important update to your services.
Here’s how The North Face displays its highlighted Stories.
15. Have fun with Instagram Reels
Want Instagram video marketing tips? Have fun with Reels.
Instagram Reels are a relatively new feature, giving users access to a suite of tools that enable the creation of short videos enhanced by music, text, stickers, and other special effects. In short, Reels are Instagram’s version of TikTok.
Although dance challenges abound, brands are using Reels to stand out from their competitors. Before and afters, how-tos, sneak-peeks, and day-in-the-life style content help businesses establish relatable brand identities.
16. Publish longer videos on IGTV
If Reels are Instagram’s answer to TikTok, IGTV echoes YouTube. IGTV allows you to publish videos up to one hour long. All 60 minutes won’t be viewable from your followers’ Instagram feeds, but the first minute will.
Why use IGTV? Here are three perks that might just convince you longer-form video is worth your business’s while:
- More engagement: Different users have different user preferences. Where some enjoy quick and snappy Reels, others prefer more in-depth content. Do both and appeal to a broader subset of users, boosting your engagement.
- More storytelling: There is only so much you can say in one minute or less. IGTV is your brand’s place to tell stories, provide advice, answer customer concerns, or demonstrate products.
- More communication. Today’s consumers crave authenticity. IGTV provides yet another platform for your brand to express its multi-dimensional personality.
Luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton has created several ongoing series using IGTV.
17. Convert followers into loyal customers
Lots of followers and high engagement levels are one thing, but when push comes to shove, you need to see a cash return on your marketing investment. Once you have established a following, it’s time to get strategic about converting users into loyal customers.
Here are several ideas to get you started:
- Run a contest: Contests are an excellent way to reach a broader audience and achieve sky-high engagement. Plus, you are sure to convert a few of those who didn’t win – they’ve already imagined themselves with your product, and now they can’t live without it.
- Promote deals and discounts: We all love a bargain, and your followers are no different. Sometimes, all it takes is a 10 per cent off coupon code to push fence-sitters over the edge. Make sure to set a deadline – a little urgency never hurt.
- Tease new products: Research confirms that anticipation is a powerful force, so use it to your advantage. Countdown timers and sneak-peeks can help build momentum before a product launch. Come go-live, you’ve already got a line of eager customers.
- Be charitable: Millennials and Gen Z want to shop with brands that align with their values. According to one study, 73 per cent of Millennials prefer socially responsible brands, and 81 per cent expect brands to commit to worthwhile causes publicly.
18. Get strategic with Insights
Your business might be killing it on Instagram, but there is always room for improvement. And the best way to level-up your results is to learn from the past.
Instagram Insights gives you access to key performance metrics like engagement, post reach, follower demographics, impressions, and the number of views your Stories get. Use this information to refine your strategy. The more you know about your followers and what resonates with them, the more you can fine-tune your content to meet their needs and expectations.
For example, let’s say you experimented with a few new hashtags over the past week. Check your Insights to see whether recent posts reached more users in their Explore feeds.
19. Explore free Instagram tools
Third-party companies have created tools that enhance Instagram for business users.
Here are a few to explore:
- Social Blade (pictured above) gives you access to growth data for any Instagram profile – it’s a great way to track and compare competitor growth and activity.
- Canva enables you to quickly and easily create high-quality, high-impact images.
- Caption Writer for Instagram helps you format your captions for maximum impact.
You’ll also find many free photo editing apps you can use to achieve a consistent aesthetic across your posts, Stories, Reels, and IGTVs.
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20. Pay for ads
Instagram ads are effective and suitable for businesses large and small, whatever their budget. Plus, they’re extremely versatile, appearing in both users’ feeds and Stories. You can showcase just one ad, create several using the carousel feature, or use a video.
You can target your audience using the following information:
- Demographics, including age and gender
- Interests, including the apps they use and other accounts they follow
- Behaviours on Instagram and off
Sponsored ads should be highly engaging, appeal to your target audience, and contain a call-to-action. You can either create a new ad or use an existing post (similar to ‘Boosting’ a Facebook post).
To help you get started with sponsored ads, here are three best practices:
- If your budget allows, run several ads simultaneously to increase engagement and optimise your messaging.
- If you use video, include closed captions. Sixty-nine per cent of people watch videos with the sound off when in public spaces.
- Remember that the visual is key. Yes, your caption must compel your audience to take action, but it’s the image or graphic that’ll make them stop scrolling.
21. Open an Instagram shop
You can set up an online shop containing your products directly on Instagram – but only if you’ve switched to a business profile. You can also tag products in your posts, so users can instantly purchase those pastel pink sunglasses or engineered hiking boots that caught their eye.
Users can access your shop via your profile, their feed, or Stories. Once there, they can browse and purchase products seamlessly through the in-app checkout.
Instagram shopping is not a feature you want to pass up – 130 million users tap on shopping posts monthly.
Here’s Sephora Australia’s Instagram shop.
22. Publish content at the right time
Although Instagram does not show users’ posts in chronological order, timing still matters. After examining more than 250,000 posts across several industries, the research found that the following times are the best for driving engagement:
- Education: Post Thursday between 4 and 5 pm
- Hospitality: Post Friday at 12 pm midday (users are clearly planning their weekend on their lunch break)
- Entertainment: Post Tuesday between 12 and 3 pm
- Professional services: Post Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday between 9 and 10 am – avoid weekends
- Retail: Post Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 12 pm
- Technology: Post Monday and Tuesday at 2 pm
- Travel: Post Friday between 9 am and 1 pm
23. Go live
Instagram Live enables you to connect with your followers in real-time. You can also save your live broadcast to your Stories highlights.
Here are a few Live strategies you can trial:
- Host a question-and-answer session
- Host a workshop or tutorial
- Invite an expert or influencer to join you or your brand’s representative using the “Add a Guest” option
- Chat with a customer or client about their experience
- Interview a key team member, such as a designer or engineer
24. Partner with an influencer
How’s this for a statistic: one in two daily Instagram users have purchased because an influencer recommended the product or service. That’s half of Instagram’s 500 million daily users, or 250 million people spending their money because of what an influencer has said.
Influencer marketing is dynamic, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. First, you’ll need to decide who you want to target. What kind of influencers does your audience trust? Micro-influencers, who tend to have around 2,000 followers? Or bigger-ticket influencers, who might have 100,000 followers or more?
Of course, the more followers an influencer has, the more your marketing campaign will cost. Kim Kardashian, with 211 million followers, charges between US$ 300,000 and US$ 500,000 per sponsored post.
In 2017, Influence.co researched the cost of influencer marketing. You likely won’t need to spend more than $ 1,000 per post. Here are the results, keeping in mind several years have passed:
- US$ 271 was the average price of a sponsored post
- US$ 83 was the average price of a sponsored post with an influencer with 1,000 or fewer followers
- US$ 763 was the average price of a sponsored post with an influencer with 100,000 or more followers
Do your research, and you might just unlock a fool-proof marketing strategy with epic returns on your investment.
25. Be consistent
Of all the Instagram marketing tips for business, this one is the most vital to sustainable success.
Consistency is by far the most important ingredient for effective Instagram marketing – and for effective digital marketing in general, for that matter. Post regularly (using a content calendar can help), engage with your followers, run ads, and continue building your following.
Growth takes time, but with persistence come rewards.
Make your mark on Instagram
You’ve got your must-know social media marketing tips. Instagram awaits.
Instagram has skyrocketed in popularity and is now a crucial facet of many businesses’ social media marketing ecosystems. With a strategic approach, you, too, can reap the rewards this versatile platform offers. Enhance your profile, build your audience, refine your advertisements, and crucially, be consistent.
It’s your turn to transform engaged followers into loyal customers. Happy Instagramming!