A smartphone resting on a wooden desk with the Instagram app open

How to make the most of Instagram for business

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If you loved our recent article on the merits of LinkedIn and how you can harness it to your advantage, stick around because today’s social media feature is all about Instagram for business: what it is, what it does, and how to make it work for you.

Instagram is one of the world’s fastest growing social media platforms, with more than 1 billion people using it every month. For those businesses who lend themselves naturally to images – beautiful products, attractive spaces – it’s often a no brainer, but for the many that don’t quite fit the bill so easily it can be tricky to know where to start. Here are our top tips on using Instagram for business:

Be on brand

As a business, your brand is everything – it differentiates you from competitors, tells us more about what you’re really good at, and it’s what makes you memorable.

It’s hard to think about McDonalds without picturing golden arches, or to associate Starbucks with anything other than an earthy green mermaid.

starbucks signage outside against a blue sky

Instagram is nothing but visual, and so it’s vital that everything on your page is consistently on brand – proudly displaying company colours, fonts and imagery that people have come to associate with your good name. Start with your logo, and think about brand each time you post.

Not only does it make your page visually pleasing, but for those followers who furiously scroll through their timeline without taking much in, it means instant, easy recognition and a far greater chance that your post has registered in their consciousness.

Create a content strategy

This is important with any social media channel, but often more so with Instagram because your posts are visible in a grid system, permanently displaying on your page. For that reason, it requires extra planning to ensure that the images look good together as well as stand-alone.

When you’re thinking about content, there are a few questions that will help you get started:

1) Who am I trying to reach?

2) What message am I trying to get across?

3) How would my target audience want to consume their content? Do they prefer video, are they open to humour, would a poll work well?

An agency can help you develop a content strategy, or even just help you dig out the content within your business. But once you know what it is you want to get out of social media, whether it’s brand awareness, direct sales, stronger business relationships and more, your content should begin to take shape in your mind.

The Havaianas Instagram page displaying 9 brightly coloured branded photos

Credit: Havaianas

Quality over quantity

It’s very tempting with platforms like Instagram to take photos at every opportunity in order to populate your page, and all too often we see poor quality pictures that are shrouded in shadow, unfocused, or lacking any vibrancy and colour.

Even though today’s smartphones have fantastic cameras, they are still vulnerable to things like bad lighting and low resolution zoom and so we can’t really rely on them for picture-perfect shots that will rival a professional camera.

If a good quality camera is out of the question, there are some very affordable attachments for your phone that can make all the difference. A ring light, microphone attachment and zoom lens can all work wonders if you’re using Instagram for business.

A man in the city at night time using his smartphone to take a selfie with a ring light attached

Credit: Cult of Mac

Make yourself discoverable

Once your content strategy is in place and your posts are ready to go, there’s one great way to get your content in front of the right people – and that’s hashtags. Whereas platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter favour one or two hashtags to keep things succinct, Instagram has become the home of the #hashtag paragraph.

Hashtags make your content discoverable (via the aptly named ‘Discover’ page), but it’s important to do your research first. Use a hashtag that is completely saturated and you won’t have a chance of standing out; use one that nobody would think of and that’s exactly who will see it – nobody. A quick search of your chosen hashtags on Sprout Social will tell you how many people have used them before and which tags are currently trending in your industry.

You can use up to 30 hashtags on your Instagram posts, but many marketers believe that less is more - studies show that the sweet spot when it comes to the hashtag is between 3 to 5 per post.

Lush Cosmetics Instagram page showing a set of perfume bottles in store and a caption to the right

Credit: Lush Cosmetics UK

Use Stories (and other features)

The Instagram stories function allows you to watch short, flashbulb moments from the accounts you follow that will subsequently disappear after 24 hours. Considering their short lifespan, stories have become an increasingly popular way to post, with many brands using them to keep followers updated far more frequently than ever before.

But how do you know what’s best suited for a story vs. a post? Check out this cheat sheet comparing the two and how Instagram audiences use them differently – for instance, we tend to watch stories with the sound on, but 70% of us scroll through ‘posts’ on mute!

Instagram stories offer a range of features that you can use to your advantage, including the ability to check in to locations, take polls, run quizzes, use ever-changing filters and add songs to your stories.

There is also the recently added IGTV, which allows you to share long-form video content as opposed to the short, sharp posts we’ve come to expect from Instagram. IGTV is the perfect opportunity to recycle any video content you might have from ad campaigns or live streams, and you can even think about re-purposing your more popular blogs and listicles into video format exclusive for your followers.

An arm holding a smartphone up against the city skyline with the Instagram app open on the screen

Finally, some quick things to remember:

  • Instagram doesn’t allow you to post links in photo captions, you can only refer people back to the main URL on your profile page. If you are promoting a special offer or new product, change the main URL accordingly and tell people to hit the link in your bio.
  • Filters are a great tool for adding some drama to your pictures, but try to use the same filter consistently on posts or risk your page becoming a hot mess.
  • Instagram has very quickly become the home of influencer marketing – if you have a product, service or idea that a popular figure might like to tell their followers about, think about reaching out (more on influencer marketing coming soon!)

Keep an eye out for the latest in our social media series exploring how the power of a platform can bring you true business benefit.

And in the mean time, happy ‘gramming!

About the author

Bethan Rees specialises in digital marketing and social media at Front Door Communications. She has six years of experience in social media marketing, having previously managed campaigns for an independent publishing house and its authors. She currently cultivates Instagram campaigns for businesses across a range of industries including construction, communications and sport.

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