Learn how your small business can use Instagram to share photos and videos, reach new customers and grow sales with a social media marketing strategy.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Instagram might be worth 1,000 new customers for your small business. The social media platform lets you easily share photos and videos with your followers and interact with their photos of your business. With an Instagram for Business account, you can also advertise and promote posts on the platform and get detailed metrics on how you’re engaging with customers.
With 500 million monthly active users—and growing—there are a lot of potential customers on Instagram. Yet most small business owners are missing out. According to a Manta poll, only 24% of small business owners include Instagram in their social media marketing, and of those who do use the platform, only 20% pay to promote posts or place ads. Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle is that 39% of business owners say they simply don’t know how to use Instagram.
Don’t be intimidated. Instagram is easy to use, and paid promotions are simple too. With so few other business owners using Instagram, this is a great time to jump ahead of your competitors and start connecting with customers now.
How can Instagram help your business get more customers?
As with any social media effort, a smart marketing plan is essential. You should decide what your goals are and how much you want to spend (in time and money), then make sure your Instagram strategy supports those goals. With advice from social media and marketing experts, the 27 tips below will help you use Instagram for Business to connect with customers and grow sales for your small business.
1. What Can Instagram Do for Your Business?
Instagram allows you to connect with followers, share updates about your business, and potentially turn followers into customers. If that sounds like a lot of other social media platforms, the big difference with Instagram is the focus on photos and videos rather than text.
“Small businesses should be embracing Instagram Stories along with photos that can be distributed and shared on Instagram,” said digital strategist and entrepreneur Ross Simmonds. “If you’re selling a product that is visually appealing, it’s likely that your customers are using Instagram to see photos of your product before buying. One of the easiest and most effective ways to stand out on Instagram is to be consistent with uploading high quality content.”
Instagram is primarily a mobile platform. As smartphone users increasingly rely on images to get and share info, you should harness the impact of photos and videos to promote your small business.
“Instagram allows you to directly engage and communicate with your customers in a visual way,” explained Colin Cheng, senior marketing manager for digital agency MintTwist. “Images and videos are immediately more engrossing than text. Small businesses can use it to engage with their existing customers, as well as trying to identify new ones.”
2. What’s the Difference Between Instagram for Business vs. Personal?
Instagram for Business gives small business owners access to features and capabilities that personal users don’t have. With an Instagram for Business account you can add directions to your business to your profile, let followers contact you with one click, access Instagram’s analytics tools and promote your posts with ad campaigns.
When it comes to content, you probably want to keep the personal photos you share with family and friends separate from the business posts you share with customers. While social media can feel friendly and informal, don’t forget that your Instagram for Business account represents your business and its professional reputation: Don’t share anything you wouldn’t post in your workplace or say to customers’ faces.
Small business owners who want to get started with Instagram can find inspiration by following the accounts of others in their field, said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of online business document service MyCorporation.com.
“Check out what influencers in your industry are doing,” she advised. “Do they post every day? What kinds of hashtags do they use? How do they engage with fans? Observe their accounts from the start to see how they have grown and use their tactics as a jumping off point to getting your own account up and running.”
3. Why You Need a Facebook Page to Use Instagram for Business
Instagram is owned by Facebook, and the business accounts and advertising capabilities on the two platforms are integrated. That good news is, if you already have a Facebook page for your business or if you use Facebook Ads, you’re well on your way to setting up an Instagram account and advertising on the photo-sharing platform. If you don’t yet have a Facebook business profile, make sure you set one up before getting started with Instagram.
“The merger of Facebook Business Pages with Instagram profiles has made it a great visibility tool for businesses, especially since Instagram now has 500 million monthly users,” said Aristotle Eliopoulos, social media specialist with digital marketing agency 9thCO. “Most importantly, Instagram’s addition of a ‘Contact’ button for business profiles means a contact email, map or phone number can be added, making it much easier for users to contact businesses. The ability to call or email is as easy as one tap.”
4. How to Set Up Instagram for Business
The first time you launch it, the app will walk you through the steps to create a basic account. Choose a profile name that will help customers identify your business; it could be the same as your other social media handles or, if you have a common-sounding business name, it could incorporate your city.
Once your basic Instagram account is set up, you need to upgrade to an Instagram for Business account:
- Tap the gear icon at the top right of your profile page.
- From the list of options, tap the button “Switch to Business Profile.”
- After tapping “Continue,” you’ll be prompted to connect your Instagram account to your Facebook account.
- The business info on your Facebook page will be imported into your Instagram account; make sure this info is complete and correct.
- Tap “Done” to save your Instagram for Business profile.
5. How to Use the Instagram App
When you launch the Instagram app you will see your main feed; these are the photos and videos posted by people you’re following. In this feed, tap the heart icon (or double-tap on the photo) to like a photo; tap the word-bubble icon to comment on a post; or tap the forward arrow to share the post with another follower.
To follow another user, simply tap the “Follow” button next to their user name. If their account is set as private, you’ll see a clock icon to show that your request to follow is pending their approval.
At the bottom of the screen you will see five navigation icons:
- Tap the home icon to return to your main feed.
- Tap the magnifying glass icon to get to the search page, where you can find other users or hashtags to follow.
- Tap the camera icon to create a new Instagram post.
- Tap the heart icon to see which users started following you or liked your posts.
- Tap the person icon to see and edit your profile info and all the posts you’ve created.
6. How to Use Multiple Instagram Accounts
You can add up to five Instagram accounts and manage them from the same app. This is useful if you want to maintain separate business and personal accounts, or if your small business has accounts for multiple locations or distinct product lines.
Lindsay Klix, owner of Off Your Rocker Pottery, publishes a blog of healthy recipes in addition to crafting handmade pottery. “I saw that my Instagram followers that were interested in my pots were not as interested in my recipes, but others were,” she said. “So I launched a separate account showcasing just my healthy recipes that is attracting new and different followers, increasing my overall following.
“Don’t just focus on the number of followers, (focus on) the quality and overall exposure,” Klix added. “If you have several accounts with different loyal followers, it doubles your company’s following.”
To add multiple accounts, go to your Instagram profile and tap the gear icon in the top right corner. Tap “Add Account” to enter the username and password of the account you’d like to add. To switch between accounts, go to your profile page and tap your username at the top of the screen, then tap the account you’d like to switch to.
7. What to Post on Instagram for Business
Instagram is a visual platform, so you want to think of ways to market your business using photos and videos. Beyond that, there are few rules. However, all of your posts should be consistent with your social marketing strategy. Consider your goal, and make sure everything you post on Instagram supports that goal.
Is your social marketing strategy to demonstrate how your small business supports your local community? Post videos on Instagram from community events, or post photos previewing the big local festival or high school football game.
Is your social marketing goal to show off your strong customer service and put a friendly face on your team? Post behind-the-scenes photos of your employees hard at work, or post videos of your team members talking about why they love working with your customers.
Some common subjects of Instagram posts include:
- Your products
- Behind-the-scenes of your products being made
- You or your employees at work
- Your storefront, office or work van
- Before-and-after of projects or contracting jobs
- How-to photos or videos of home repairs
- Decorating or remodeling ideas
- Happy customers with your products or completed services
- Local attractions or community events
- Coupons, contests or promotions exclusive to social followers
8. How to Post a Photo on Instagram
Sharing a photo on Instagram is almost as easy as taking one. When you tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen, you will be given the option of selecting an existing photo from your “Library,” or taking a new photo or video in the app. If you select a photo from your library you will have the chance crop the photo before proceeding. Taking a new photo is even easier; the only options here are whether to use flash or the front-facing selfie camera.
Once you have a photo or video you like, follow these steps to share it on Instagram:
- Take a new photo or select a photo from your library, and tap “Next” in the upper right corner.
- Select a preset filter from the horizontal list at bottom, to tap “Edit” to manually adjust the color and exposure settings. Tap “Next.”
- Add your location (optional but recommended if this is your business location).
- Tag other people by using their Instagram user names (optional); they will be notified that you included them.
- Choose if you want to post your Instagram photo directly to Facebook or Twitter at the same time you share it on Instagram (optional; make sure it supports your social marketing strategy on those other platforms).
- Write a caption for your photo; include a brief description of the post, and include a few hashtags.
- Tap “Share” at the top right to publish your post to Instagram.
9. What Are Instagram Filters?
Instagram Filters allow you to easily apply visual effects to your photos. When you take a photo with the Instagram app or post a picture from your photo library, you can select from preset filters (Claredon, Willow, Lo-Fi) and, with one click, turn a snapshot into a work of art. You can also tap “Edit” to manually adjust the color, contrast and warmth and create your own look.
Filters let you look like a pro, adding interest to your plain snapshots—from high-contrast black-and-white pictures to the desaturated colors of vintage Polaroids.
“People often scroll through their feeds fast, so you only have a second to grab their attention. Use Instagram’s editing tool to stand out. There are lots of different options, filters and add-ons that can turn a dull photo into a piece of art,” said Nathan Barber, digital analyst with Digital Advertising Works.
“If you can grab users’ attention, they are likely to engage with your posts more,” added Barber. “This sends signals in the algorithm that you should be promoted more in the feeds.”
10. How to Add Your Business Location to Instagram Photos
When you are drafting an Instagram post within the app, you have the option to “Add Location.” You should do so. This associates the name of your business with the photo, allows followers to see other photos taken at that location (which could include posts by you and your customers), and see the location of your business on a map.
Underneath the “Add Location” prompt on the post you will see a list of five nearby locations (you can scroll through this list horizontally). If you don’t see the name of your business, you can click on the “Search” button or “Add Location” button for a longer list of suggestions.
If you still can’t find your business, you may need to add the location to Instagram—but you need to use the Facebook app for iPhone, iPad or Android. (It’s another of the integrations between the two platforms.) This is how you can add your location:
- From your Facebook News Feed on a mobile device, tap the “Check In” button.
- If you don’t see your location here, click “Add [New Location]” and provide your business’ location info.
- Tap “Done” or “Create” and you should now find your business location in both Facebook and Instagram.
11. What’s an Instagram Photo Map?
If you click on the location name of any Instagram post (in small type under the user’s name, above the photo) you will see that location pinpointed on a map along with all other photos or videos taken at that location. It’s a great way to see photos that customers have posted at your business location.
In the past, users could get a similar view of all their posts with a Photo Map of their personal account, but Instagram no longer offers that feature.
12. How to Post a Video on Instagram
Recording a video with Instagram is much like taking a photo. From the video screen, press and hold the record button to take a video (don’t tap separately to start and stop). You can pause and add nonconsecutive segments to the video as you record it; for instance, you could create a time-lapse effect by recording several brief snippets over a period of time. Adding filters, a caption and location info is similar to the process for photo posts.
Selecting an existing video from your library is also easy. You do have the option to trim your library video clips, which is helpful to meet the Instagram video time limit of 3 to 60 seconds.
13. How to Use Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories are slideshows that combine photos and videos. They are meant to be temporary—Story posts disappear after 24 hours—so they are useful if you are promoting a timely event or sale. By combining multiple images, videos and adding text, Stories also allow you to tell a more complete story than you can with a single image.
For instance, contractors could create Stories of before, during and after photos to show off the progress and results of a successful remodeling project. A service business could create behind-the-scenes Stories that introduce your staff members with photos and videos showing your team at work.
This quick video demonstrates how you can create Instagram Stories:
14. How to Create an Instagram Photo Collage
You may have seen photo collages shared on Instagram: two or three (or more) photos combined in a single post. Collages can capture the energy of event (say, a layout of multiple photos from your grand opening) or provide an interesting way to photograph a product or service (like side-by-side before-and-after photos of a remodeling job).
To create a collage, you need a separate app that works with Instagram. Instagram has its own collage app called Layout, which you can get to by tapping the windowpane icon on the post screen. Similar third-party apps include Photo Grid and PhotoFrame. Each of these apps will walk you through the process of creating a collage; it’s just like posting a single photo from your photo library, except you get to choose multiple pictures.
15. How to Increase Instagram Likes
You can like an Instagram post by double-tapping on the photo or tapping the heart icon just underneath the post. The number of likes you get on your posts is a measure of engagement. It shows that followers are enjoying and responding to your photos and videos on Instagram.
How do you get more likes on your Instagram posts? The best way is to simply post engaging content that your followers like.
“My advice to small businesses using Instagram would be to focus on authentic images showcasing your business, what you do and how it fulfills the mission of your organization,” said Asaf Darash, CEO and founder of software company Regpack. “Just be real and honest. These posts tend to resonate best with people, especially those who aren’t your followers and who are ‘shopping around.’”
16. How to Use Hashtags on Instagram
Hashtags are the words or phrases you see following the “#” symbol. It’s a way to categorize your posts on Instagram and make them easy for others to find. When a user taps on a hashtag in a post, they see a list of all other photos with that hashtag. When you tag your photo #KitchenRemodel, anyone who searches for #KitchenRemodel or taps on #KitchenRemodel from another user’s post will find your photo.
You can make up any hashtag you want, but it will only be effective if others use it as well. By tapping on the search icon at the bottom of the screen in the Instagram app, you can look for common hashtags related to your industry or city; by using a hashtag that’s already popular, your posts are more likely to get found by others.
You can create your own hashtag with your business’ name, slogan, or to promote a specific contest or promotion. Encourage your customers to use this hashtag by sharing it on your website, email newsletter, invoices or in-store displays. You can also search for common hashtags related to your industry or city. When you use a hashtag that’s already popular, your posts are more likely to be found by others.
You should also think about what makes your business or products unique, said Andy Tracewell, marketing director at furniture maker Caretta Workspace. “We utilize hashtags and make sure that we post pictures that are ‘on theme’ with our company,” he said. “All of our products are made in America, so the #AmericanMade and #MadeinAmerica hashtags are very popular and increase engagement.”
17. How to Regram Others’ Posts on Instagram
“Regramming” is the equivalent of sharing a friend’s post on Facebook or retweeting a post on Twitter. For instance, you might want to regram photos that customers have taken at your business, or share entries you received to a photo contest. Unlike those other social platforms, however, Instagram does not make it easy to share others’ posts.
There is a manual workaround: Simply use your phone to take a screenshot of the photo you want to regram, then post it to Instagram from your phone’s photo library. Whenever you regram someone else’s post, make sure you give them credit in the caption by including their Instagram user name with the “@” symbol (e.g. @caretta_workspace).
There are also apps available to streamline this process, such as Repost for Instagram, which you can download from your app store.
18. How to Engage Followers with Comments on Instagram
As with any social media platform, Instagram isn’t a megaphone. It’s a conversation. You should listen to your followers, respond to their comments and comment on their photos. Look for notices that your account was tagged in a post, and regularly search for uses of your hashtag, so you can like and comment on customer photos taken of your business.
“It seems simple, but you need to do more than just post pictures and expect people to engage with you,” said Stefanie Parks, founder of DermWarehouse. “You have to start conversations, make comments, reply to questions and compliments and like what other people are posting. Not only will staying engaged with your Instagram following help to build it, you will see that your followers become very loyal to you as well.”
Make sure your comments are sincere and relevant to your business, advised Megan Monroe, growth team expert at marketing platform OntraPort. “Don’t mindlessly like and comment on irrelevant posts,” she said. “Like and comment on posts and accounts that relate to your content. You own a small surf shop? Find similar accounts and posts while searching through #surf hashtags.”
You can also start conversations on Instagram by asking your followers to respond to your posts. “Interesting or provocative questions tend to create a lot of interactions, and we try to mix that with showcasing our work and services,” said Larissa Pickens, owner and creative director of design studio Float.Design. “It’s a very supportive and highly interactive platform. Even when we first started and had no followers, I was pleasantly surprised how many people would like and comment just based on hashtags.”
19. What are Instagram Ads?
Advertising gives small business owners the opportunity to expand their reach on Instagram and add measurable calls-to-action to their posts. Instagram ads can be photos, videos or carousels of multiple images. Instagram Ads can support multiple objectives:
- Clicks to Website, to generate traffic to your site
- Website Conversions, to prompt a specific action on your site
- Mobile App Installs, to generate downloads of your app
- Mobile App Engagement, to get activity on your mobile app
- Video Views, to tell a story using video
- Page Post Engagement, to get users to engage with your ad
- Local Awareness, to reach potential customers near your business
By promoting posts on Instagram, small business owners can expand their reach and drive more results. Thanks to the powerful targeting tools, you can connect with specific audiences based on age, gender, location and interests.
“Instagram is a perfect place to run ads to highly targeted users because Instagram is owned by Facebook and it shares powerful targeting options inside of Facebook’s Ad Manager,” said Scott Sundblom, marketing manager with digital marketing agency Big Leap. “Whether a small business’s social media objectives are to enhance brand awareness or drive sales and revenue, Instagram ads can be effective at any budget.”
20. How Much Do Instagram Ads Cost?
You can advertise on Instagram for as little as $1, and for as much as you want to spend. When you set up your Instagram ad campaign using the Power Editor tool, you can set a daily budget, a budget for the campaign, or a budget for some other time period.
The real question might be: How much should you pay to advertise on Instagram? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are small businesses advertising on Instagram.
The key is to make sure you’re getting a return on your investment, and to calculate your ROI you need to have a clear understanding of what your goals are and how much that’s worth. Is your goal to get visitors to fill out a lead form on your website? If that lead is worth $100 to you, then you know exactly how much you should spend to get it.
“You can set a number of goals for promoted posts and ads, such as driving traffic to your website, call or visit your business, increase followers, increase reach and generate leads,” explained Bethany Griffiths, content and social media marketer at digital marketing agency Bowler Hat. “You should set a goal for each promoted post and use Insights to track the goal and assess whether your post helped reach your goal. You can then use this to refine your strategy for your next ad.”
Paid advertising on Instagram isn’t necessary for every small business. Many experts recommend instead spending your time focusing on organic engagement—the likes and comments you get naturally by posting compelling content—which could boost your placement in followers’ feeds without a cash investment.
“The smart small businesses avoid paying for sponsored Instagram posts—which inherently are trusted less than an organic post—and instead focus on content that is interesting, emotional or useful enough to have viral lift on its own,” said Brad Hines, founder of NerdPlaythings.com. “Posts like this are free, shared more than sponsored posts, and have more credibility.”
21. How to Create Instagram Ads for Your Business
It’s easy to create promoted posts from within the Instagram app. Tap on a post that you’ve already shared on Instagram and tap “Promote” underneath the photo. You can select an advertising objective—such as getting website visits, or getting calls to your business—which will help you pick a call-to-action button to accompany your ad.
Next you need to select the targeted audience for your ad. Instagram can suggest targeting for you, or you can manually pick an audience based on age, gender and location.
Then you enter a budget for your promotion and decide how long you want it to run. Tap “Promote” to confirm your ad. After your ad is approved, you’ll see “Insights” on your notifications page; from here you can follow the status of your promotion and see how it is performing.
You can create more advanced ad campaigns in Facebook Ads Manager or Power Editor. From the Manage Ads tab, you can create new campaigns, choose an advertising objective and manage your budget in more detail.
22. How to Track Instagram Analytics
Instagram for Business includes access to Insights, a free analytical tool that can help you understand who your followers are and what they’re interested in.
From your profile page, tap the bar chart icon in the top right. From the Insights page you can see:
- How many times your posts were viewed
- How many people your posts reached (swipe left on number of impressions)
- Your most popular posts (tap “See More”)
- Video views
- Engagement (number of likes and comments)
- Followers’ age, gender and location
When you pay to run advertising campaigns on Instagram, you’ll get detailed analytics on the performance of your ads in the Facebook Ads Manager or in the Power Editor tool. The metrics will vary depending on the type of ad campaign, but you can look for:
- Total reach
- Total amount spent
- Cost per result (e.g. cost per video view or cost per website visit, depending on your campaign goals)
23. What’s the Best Time to Post to Instagram?
The short answer to this question is: Post when your customers are using their smartphones. As you might imagine, that’s pretty much all the time. You can get specific info about your followers using the Instagram Insights tool from your profile page; it will tell you at what times your followers are most likely to be active on Instagram.
24. How Many Instagram Posts Per Day are Best for Business?
The trick on all social media platforms is this: You want to post often enough so that your business stays visible in your followers’ feeds, but you don’t want to post so often that people get annoyed and stop following your account.
“I suggest posting a least once a day to stay top of mind,” said Sue B. Zimmerman, the Instagram Expert and author of “The Official 2016 Instagram Strategy Guide.”
“Only post if the photo is a ‘North Star’ photo, shining bright to pull you in. Otherwise don’t post just for the sake of checking it off your to do list,” Zimmerman advised. “If you want to have success on Instagram you have to have an Instagram mindset, which means thinking about your feed like a magazine and posting content that aligns with the vibe and theme of your business.”
25. How to Get Instagram Followers for Your Business
Your engagement efforts will be pointless if you don’t have Instagram followers to engage with. To get more followers, start by linking to your Instagram account from your website and promoting it on your other social platforms and enewsletter. You can share your Instagram posts on Twitter and Facebook directly from the app, letting your followers on those platforms know that you also have an Instagram account.
You can promote your Instagram account in the real world as well, by adding your user name to business cards, print ads, invoices or other handouts.
“I created two-sided business cards that use one side to promote logo, hashtag and brand awareness and the other side to share social media links,” said Jennifer Boaro, COO of The Cat Ball. “When we ship our products, this card is placed in a very visible location. Customers have often taken and shared photos of the product as they un-package it and you can see our card right there.”
You can also get new followers by following them on Instagram. “The most important way to gain new followers and engaged fans is to follow, like and comment on other people’s posts,” said Harrison Vigersky, founder of the pet blog Bone & Yarn.
He suggests looking at the list of followers on your competitors’ Instagram accounts and following their followers, then liking some of their photos and commenting on some. (Instagram sets limits on how much following you can do at once, so set aside 10 minutes every few hours to do this.) “If you are dedicated, hundreds of people will follow you every week that will be engaged with your brand,” Vigersky said.
26. Should You Buy Instagram Followers?
No. You simply can’t fake social engagement on any platform. Buying followers is a waste of money at best, and at worst it could harm your reputation on social media.
Since the fake followers you buy aren’t really your customers, it does absolutely no good for them to fake-see your photos or even fake-like your posts. Paying to advertise your business to fake followers is even worse. Plus, it’s not hard for your real followers to see through all the fake accounts following your business, which could make you look less-than-reputable in their eyes. If you’re not engaging with actual customers on Instagram, you’re just wasting your time.
27. Why Instagram is Important for Your Business
With an audience of more than 500 million active users—and growing—Instagram is one of the most popular and powerful social media platforms.
“It’s important to stay relevant, in-the-know and active on as many social channels as your business can handle, and this is definitely one of them,” said Kristi Gramlich, social media marketer at digital marketing agency Scorpion. “It’s a great way for a business to add a humanizing touch…without being intrusive to their audience.”
Instagram’s location-based tools and mobile-friendly design make it especially important for small, local businesses. According to Blanca Valbuena, co-founder of Socialdraft, a social media scheduling and engagement tool, Instagram functions as a search engine as much as a social network.
“Just imagine a tourist coming to New York City. They want to see things to discover so they begin to browse content tagged #NewYork or #GreenwichVillage,” she said. “Smart businesses who geotag their content are basically creating links to make it easier for customers to discover them.
“This is the same for ecommerce,” Valbuena added. “People who are shopping will use Instagram to search for inspiration. If your posts are structured right—with beautiful images, an impactful write up, and a clear call to action—you’ll be able to convert those eyes into paying customers.”
Fivenson Studios is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, our graphic design team specializes in logo and web page design, as well as marketing campaigns for social and print media. From flyers and brochures to targeted landing pages, we aim to bring your company into the spotlight and reach a greater range of potential customers.