Instagram is one of the fastest-growing – if not the fastest-growing – social media platforms out there. Since its launch, its user base skyrocketed to 1 billion. Also, Instagram has won the battle for engagement – the platform generates 4x more interactions compared to Facebook. These statistics indicate why so many businesses are keen to jump on the Instagram marketing bandwagon.
But let’s get one thing straight: getting Instagram marketing right is no simple task. You must learn the ins and outs of the platform to run campaigns that bring in conversions. The good news? This guide will take you through the moving parts of Instagram marketing in an actionable, clear-cut way.
Let’s start from the basics.
What Is Instagram Marketing?
Instagram Marketing Definition
Instagram marketing is a type of social media marketing in which marketers use the Instagram platform to promote their business. If “promote their business” sounds broad, that’s because it is: Instagram marketing can involve a number of different strategies and tactics, used to accomplish all kinds of goals a business might have.
When looking at various ways to use Instagram for marketing, you can split the activity into two main categories:
- Paid tactics like advertising and influencer marketing
- Unpaid tactics like creating organic content, such as posts, Instagram Stories, and comments, as well as engaging with other users’ content
Typical business goals might include selling your products or services, getting more followers and engagement, building relationships with potential customers and other brands, and generally boosting a brand’s reputation.
A little later, we’ll get into the specifics of how to set goals, and how to use certain tactics to accomplish them.
Marketing on Instagram: The Importance of the Algorithm
You may have heard the term “algorithm,” which is a widely misunderstood term. You don’t need to be a master of the Instagram algorithm, but a basic understanding of it can help achieve your goals faster and with fewer headaches.
While some marketers feel that the Instagram algorithm is their arch enemy, it’s actually a friend. That’s because its ultimate goal – like every other online algorithm – is to deliver relevant, entertaining, and engaging content to each user.
Algorithms do this by carefully studying their users’ activities and behaviors, then using this data to make informed guesses on what those users will want to see in the future. If your content happens to pass the “test,” you’re teed up for success.
We could go on for hours about the Instagram algorithm, but the main takeaway is that you should always, always focus on creating quality content that really provides a benefit for your audience.
No spammy posts or comments, and no content just for the sake of creating something. Be thoughtful and strategic, while constantly asking what your audience wants and how you can serve them through your efforts.
What You Need to Start Marketing on Instagram
Before you dive into Instagram marketing, make sure you have a proper business profile – not just a regular personal profile. This way, you can reap the benefits of Instagram business marketing features and Instagram Insights, which we’ll discuss later in this post. Plus, it’s more credible in the eyes of your audience.
Let’s take a look at how to create a business profile and some best practices that can turn a good profile into an awesome one.
How to Create an Instagram Business Profile
To create an Instagram business profile, you’ll need two things:
- An Instagram account, which can be your existing personal profile or a new one you’ve created just for this purpose. We recommend creating a new handle with your company’s name for brand recognition.
- A Facebook business page for your company. Instagram requires this for verification purposes, so go ahead and make one first. Here’s a step-by-step guide to create your Facebook business page.
Without further ado, here’s an overview of how to make an Instagram business profile:
- On your smartphone, log in to Instagram with your company handle.
- Tap the circular icon in the bottom right corner. The screen will expand to show another menu. Tap “Settings” in the bottom right corner.
- On the Settings page, scroll down until you find “Switch to Business Profile.”
- Instagram will then ask you to connect the account to your Facebook business page and edit your business’s public contact info: email address, phone number, and location. This will be public on your profile, so avoid adding private info.
And voilà. You’re ready to use Instagram for marketing your business.
How to Market on Instagram: Creating Your Strategy
Just like any other type of strategy, your Instagram marketing strategy will work best if you have a clear goal, choose individual tactics that will gradually build toward that goal, and keep track of your progress along the way so you can tweak where needed.
And that’s exactly what we’ll discuss now.
Identify Goals and Objectives
Your goals and objectives are the pillars of your marketing plan. We like to follow the SMART acronym for goal setting:
- Specific: Give exact numbers and milestones instead of a vague goal.
- Measurable: Choose goals that are trackable and measurable with analytics and insights.
- Attainable: Be realistic. A million followers in a week is prooooobably not going to happen. (Unless you’re an egg.)
- Relevant: Stay aligned with your industry, business, and outlook.
- Time-bound: Give yourself a timeframe to accomplish the goal.
So instead of saying, “I want more followers,” try something like, “My goal is to gain 500 authentic followers in three months.”
Instead of, “I want more sales,” try, “My goal is to earn $1,000 in revenue from Instagram Ads sales this month.”
And instead of, “I want a more engaged following,” try, “My goal is to grow my engagement rate by 1 percent in six months.” (Check out this article to learn how to calculate and grow your engagement rate.)
Once you set a goal, it’s time to flesh out your Instagram content strategy.
Build Your Instagram Content Strategy
As we discussed earlier, you have several posting options for building your Instagram content strategy. Choosing the right ones depends largely on knowing your audience.
Ask yourself: What are the key demographics of my audience? What do they like to do, see, and experience? What entices and entertains them? How do brands generate trust and motivate them to make a purchase?
You probably won’t know all these answers right away, which is perfectly normal. It’s a learning process that you’ll get the hang of as you go. But you’ll find that as you get a laser-focused understanding of your audience and what makes them tick, your Instagram marketing strategy will perform better and better.
Here are some pointers for building a strong Instagram content strategy:
- Make sure every post is aligned with your branding and aesthetic.
Keep a consistent “vibe.” For example, if your brand is high-fashion, ensure that all of your images are high-quality, conjuring feelings of elegance and sophistication. If your brand is quirky or funny, Instagram is a great place to let your true colors shine.
Shoe company Allbirds knows that their audience loves animals and memes, so they incorporate these regularly into their content strategy.
Like this post, which shows a photo of some lambs wearing sweaters, with a caption that reads: “When the whole squad has their fall fashion looks down.” Cute.
- Get valuable intel from your friends and enemies.
If you’re just starting out, it can be a huge help to peep at what other companies are up to. Check out top-performing posts from similar brands, your biggest competitors, leaders in specific niches, and the most broadly popular accounts on the platform.
Doing this competitive research will tip you off when it comes to important trends, best practices, and little-known tricks and Instagram hacks to take you to the next level.
- Create a social media content calendar to stay on track.
Create a social media content calendar so that you can always stay on top of your Instagram content strategy, ensuring that it’s cohesive and consistent.
To start, write out all of your posts for the next month, scheduling at least three posts per week. If you’re looking for inspiration or having trouble filling in all the spots, take advantage of free Instagram templates that follow common post styles and popular posts from other brands.
If you have a few bucks to spare, you can buy full packs that feature several templates with consistent visual themes, like this 48-template Instagram Commerce Pack from Tugcu Design Co.
If you really want to stay on top of things, you can use a tool like Later or Buffer to schedule automatic publishing for your posts. We’ll cover some of these apps a bit later, but in the meantime, here’s a handy guide for scheduling Instagram posts.
- Use Instagram Insights to track your performance.
Instagram Insights is a free tool that’s available for everyone with a business profile. It gives you a valuable look at key performance metrics of your account, like how much attention your posts are getting and how engaged users are.
You can also see demographic info on your followers, giving you better intel on finding your target audience on Instagram. While this built-in analytics tool isn’t mind-blowingly comprehensive, it’s a fantastic tool for starters.
The Most Powerful Instagram Features for Businesses
Instagram has plenty of cool features that help connect users and enrich relationships. Even if you’re not a religious Instagram user, you’re probably familiar with the most popular ones.
Let’s look at a few features that can help boost your Instagram marketing strategy.
It seems that hashtags are virtually everywhere on the internet these days. When applied to your marketing strategy, Instagram hashtags are a clear signal to users that your posts are relevant to what they’re looking for.
In fact, many users look for content based on hashtags alone. So if your posts are related to a trending topic, be sure to include the associated hashtag. This can help you get in front of the eyes of people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say.
You can search directly in the Instagram search bar to find trending hashtags and scope out content that others are posting.
Other cool tools like Keyword Tool will generate hashtags for you based on your keywords. Many of these tools offer some free results, but require a paid upgrade for more extensive lists.
It’s also a smart idea to create a branded hashtag and use it frequently. This hashtag might include your company’s name or the name of a particular campaign, event, or promotion.
As of January 2019, more than 500 million people use Instagram Stories. The psychology makes sense: they’re a more exciting and ephemeral way to share with your followers, since they can only be 15 seconds long, they disappear after 24 hours, and they aren’t listed on your main profile or feed.
Stories are a worthy addition to your Instagram marketing strategy, as they give you an opportunity to touch on things that are more timely or in-depth, or don’t quite warrant a standard post.
Here are a few ideas for how you can use Instagram Stories:
- Answer popular questions within your company’s niche or about your company specifically
- Show “behind-the-scenes” content to give your audience a peek at how you do your thing
- Promote your content, like a new blog, ebook, or infographic
- Have a “takeover” where one of your employees (or an influencer) posts their own content for a day
- Poll your audience on a popular topic or ask them for feedback about your company
- Host a contest or giveaway in which you ask users to create a post a story that tags your account or includes a branded hashtag
Men’s clothing brand Chubbies has a creative “Welcome Back from the Weekender” series every Monday, which features a compilation of stories that act as a fun news-style show.
Be sure you mind your Instagram Story dimensions so your images and videos don’t look wonky to your viewers.
Just as the name suggests, Instagram Live is a feature that allows you to engage your audience in a real time “live broadcast” format. This is an especially helpful feature for if you’re attending an event or discussing anything timely or urgent.
The cool thing about Instagram Live is that your story will show up first in your followers’ Story feed, and they’ll also get a notification that it’s happening when they open the app. But with great power comes great responsibility: don’t use this feature unless you have some truly good content to share, or you might push users away for wasting their time.
While each Story can only be 15 seconds long, IGTV was made especially for long-form videos. These can be 10 minutes, or up to an hour for accounts with more followers. You can think of it as Instagram’s take on YouTube.
IGTV allows users to search for videos that pique their interest, and also makes recommendations based on their past behavior and activity. This helps make sure that audiences are connected with content they’ll like.
If you’re just starting out, IGTV may not necessarily suit your needs or goals. But if you’re a media company, or otherwise produce long videos, it can be a useful tool for getting your message across and engaging your audience.
How to Market with Instagram: 5 Strategies to Adopt
There are several marketing strategies for Instagram that work even if you’re starting from scratch. Here are some of the proven methods you can implement right now to grow your Instagram presence.
1. Host a Giveaway with Another Business
Partnering with another business to host a contest or giveaway can work wonders for your brand.
Low-sugar chocolate brand Truth Bar, for example, partnered with sugar-free Belgian chocolate brand SkinnyMe Chocolate to host a giveaway that generated solid engagement.
The idea here is that if both of you have similar customer profiles, you’ll both gain high-quality followers. Request that everybody who enters the competition ‘likes’ the post and does some secondary action, like a tag or a follow.
2. Repost Other Companies’ Content
If you’re looking to gain a huge following on Instagram, consider sharing other brands’ content on your account.
This is both a smart and a natural way to get more exposure for your business. When you tag another business in your post and promote their content, they’re likely to reciprocate.
In some cases, they’ll follow you back and promote your business as well. And just as crucial, their followers are likely to take notice of your profile.
You can do this manually or use an app like Repost for Instagram for the purpose.
We suggest you go for the app because it lets you quickly select the accounts you’d like to repost. Plus, it automatically tags the original profile, giving it the credit for the content.
3. Give and Receive Instagram Shoutouts
Another version of the reposting strategy involves shoutouts.
This is where you ask another business in your industry if they would like to post your content, and in return you post theirs. The cool part of it is that you can give and receive shoutouts in various ways.
Digital cameras brand Canon, for instance, allows photographers who own a Canon camera to give it a shoutout using the hashtag #MyCanonStory in the description of their post.
Canon regularly returns the favor by sharing some of the most enticing work from those photographers. Here is an example:
This is a brilliant Instagram marketing strategy that benefits both the brand and its partners, who experience a significant uptick in their following and credibility.
You can learn more about shoutouts in our ultimate guide to Instagram shoutouts. All it takes is finding the right partners who’re open to offering a mutual value exchange.
4. Let an Influencer Takeover
Next on our list of Instagram marketing tips is influencer takeovers. This is where you connect your business with an influential person who’s prominent within your industry.
For example, if you’re in the business of selling athleisure, you might collaborate with an athlete or fitness model.
This will expose your company to the influencer’s followers as they announce the Instagram takeover in the days leading up to it.
You can find relevant businesses and individuals to partner with by signing up to influencer marketing platforms. These are online tools that automate the discovery, vetting, and reporting processes, enabling you to focus more on developing influencer relationships and planning memorable takeovers.
5. Write Captions That Move Your Audience
Many people scroll through their Instagram feed when they’re bored or trudging through a mundane daily routine. You can attract and get this audience to follow you by creating intriguing Instagram captions.
The goal is to convey the story or feeling behind your video or image.
If the video or image is about a product, the caption is your canvas to fill in a quick description of your item. Explain why people should care, and don’t forget to include a few emojis.
In general, posts with strong captions can help shape your company’s personality and story. The key is to craft a copy that encourages engagement and makes people realize they need what you’re offering.
These four Instagram marketing ideas offer a simple and effective way to strengthen your brand image. That said, it can take some time for results to come in if you’re starting from scratch. That’s because no one knows who you are yet, which makes it hard to get initial traction.
But don’t let that deter you. To hit the ground running, check out our recommended strategies on how to gain followers on Instagram. Who knows, you might get 10,000 followers in as little as six months.
The Best Instagram Marketing Apps for 2021
Instagram itself offers tons of useful tools and filters, but sometimes you need a little extra push to set yourself apart from other businesses in a crowded feed.
Fortunately, there are plenty of Instagram apps available to help you do just that.
The best Instagram marketing apps will make your posts memorable, distinguishable, and share-worthy. While you might not be able to entice all 1 billion users, you should be able to attract the attention of those that matter most to your business.
Whether you’re looking to create better images, schedule posts in advance, or delete inactive followers, we’ve rounded up the essential apps that every business should add to their Instagram marketing toolbox.
Note: Most of the Instagram apps in the list below are available for both iOS and Android devices.
Photo Editing Apps
There are dozens of flavors of photo editor apps to help you perfect your images. Some of our favorites include:
Snapseed’s brush tool enables you to adjust for saturation, color temperature, and exposure, which is ideal for situations where you don’t want to auto-enhance every detail in your image.
VSCO is popular for its movie-like filters and editing features that often beat Instagram’s in-app offerings in terms of creativity. You can use it to adjust contrast, enhance skin color, darken edges, and more.
Afterlight 2 (iOS)
With this app, you can add text and special typography to your photos. This is an opportunity for you to do something like create hype for a product or promote a sale.
You can also download Instagram video editor apps to edit your clips. Thanks to features like clip trimming and noise reduction, you can create good-looking videos without hiring a pro.
Once you figure out the best time to post on Instagram, you can use scheduling apps to create and push more content to your audience. Here are our picks:
Later is extremely simple to use. You just have to upload a media item from your phone’s library into Later’s dashboard, and the scheduler will pop up. You can also write a caption, tag the location where the image or video was captured, and tag profiles of other users to increase your content’s discoverability.
Hootsuite’s “Compose” window lets you decide whether you want to post content now, save it as a draft, schedule it manually, or queue it for later. Other Hootsuite features allow you to measure content performance, follower growth, and more.
If you want to get more followers on Instagram, you have to publish content that stands out. That’s where content apps come in. Our favorites include:
This is one of the best Instagram Story apps out there. You can use it to apply a variety of stylish filters, colors, textures, and templates to your Stories. Most of these are trendy and creative, often inspired by cinematic photography.
Layout is a super-smooth, feature-rich image mixer that instantly lays out up to nine images in several combinations to create a collage. You can select photos from your camera roll or capture them with the built-in image booth as you go.
GoPro’s Splice comes with simple-yet-powerful editing features. You can use it to combine your favorite images and videos into one cohesive media clip, and then use the integrated music library and transition effects to create a masterpiece.
It’s worth experimenting with these apps and using Instagram Insights to monitor how they’re impacting your marketing strategy. Use the ones that have made a positive impact in conjunction with other mobile marketing apps to grow your business. With all the incredible apps available in the market, you’re sure to land some good combinations.
Making Money with Instagram Marketing
If you love being active on Instagram and have a decent number of engaged followers, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make money on Instagram.
While top influencers make millions per post, even those with a following between 1,000 and 10,000 have the potential to turn Instagram into a healthy source of income.
To help get you started, check out these three ideas to start making money with Instagram marketing.
1. Sell Your Own Products
You can start making money by selling any digital or physical product that you manufacture yourself or buy from suppliers.
Physical products require keeping some inventory, meaning you’d need to spend some money to rent a place where you can keep the items. However, not everyone has the startup capital or funds to rent storage space.
The good news is that you can always sell dropshipped products. This technique lets you sell on Instagram without ever holding any inventory.
Once you’ve made a sale the supplier will ship the ordered goods from their facility, straight to the customer’s home. You’ll never need to worry about shipping, storing, or packaging your products.
2. Sign Up For an Affiliate Program
Alternatively, you can sell other people’s products as an affiliate and receive a cut. There are many people and companies that make money from Instagram like this. Make sure to use relevant hashtags on all affiliate posts to reach more audiences who might be interested in taking up your offer.
Affiliates earn their bounty via a promo code or a trackable link (most Instagrammers put it in their bio) to ensure any clicks are converted to sales. You can use these eye-catching post ideas to ensure your content draws people in to check out your affiliate product or service.
Find an affiliate program that pays the commission you want, and is related to the niche of your business in some way. For example, if you’re a veterinarian by profession, you may sign up for an affiliate program promoting a certain pet food brand or supplement.
The best way to do this is to search for your niche or profession on Google, along with the keyword “affiliate programs.” A veterinarian can search for “pet affiliate programs” or “dog food affiliate programs,” for instance.
3. Become an Influencer
With an influencer status, you can start pitching brands to promote their products and services in your posts.
Companies tend to partner with influencers to create sponsored content that helps spread the word about their offerings. Common types of content include an Instagram story or Instagram post that will include an explanation of the business or its products.
So, once you have increased your follower count above a thousand and have a good engagement rate, start your influencer outreach. The easiest way to do this is to send direct messages to brands you think are relevant to your business. If you’ve seen them collaborate with other influencers of your level, they’re likely to be open to hearing what you have to offer.
Top influencers make hundreds to thousands of dollars per sponsored story or post. If you create one piece of sponsored content per day, you can potentially make thousands of dollars per month.
With all of the new features and opportunities available on Instagram (and more to come), the platform is becoming one of the more popular channels for people and companies to make some cash.
Don’t let a small follower count discourage you from selling what you have to offer.
As long as you’re selling high-quality products, signing up for the right affiliate programs, and collaborating with relevant businesses, you’re on the right path to earning money via Instagram marketing.
Or, if you’re looking for tips that will help you create additional streams of potential revenue, check out our detailed guide on how to make money on Instagram.
Instagram Campaign Examples for Inspiration
To get your creative juices flowing, let’s look at a few common examples of Instagram marketing.
1. Fitbit’s bonus Spotify playlists
FitBit does a great job of promoting their product while giving their followers a “bonus” in the form of a Spotify playlist to listen to during their workout. The post features a fun visual of a FitBit displaying Spotify playlists..
2. Audible Canada’s influencer shoutout
When you can find the right influencers to match your brand, it can give you a serious boost in followers, sales, and overall brand recognition. The key here is that it’s imperative to find the right influencers.
In this example, Audible’s Canada division partnered with tech influencer @thetrendytechie. In her typical post style, she explains what she’s listening to and why she likes using Audible.
She sealed the deal with a relevant hashtag, #yougottahearthis, which makes the post searchable to Instagram users looking for a convenient way to keep and hear audiobooks.
3. DeLallo Foods and Room & Board’s Cross-Promotion
Another best Instagram marketing tactic is partnering with other brands to cross-promote contests and giveaways.
In this example, recipe curator @thefeedfeed partnered with DeLallo Foods and furniture company Room & Board to host a contest with prizes from each of the three brands.
As an added bonus, the image used to promote the contest is an actual entry – a gorgeous and mouth-watering appetizer spread from one of TheFeedFeed’s existing followers.
Harness the Power of Instagram Marketing
Instagram is an absolute powerhouse in the social media world. For brands, there’s a virtually infinite amount of untapped potential to get attention, stimulate engagement, build strong relationships, and cruise past those annual financial goals.
While it can seem like a vast and intimidating world of its own, new companies have nothing to worry about – as long as they’re constantly watching, listening, and learning as they go. If you start your Instagram marketing strategy with a growth mindset, you’ll find that it gets easier and more lucrative as you go. It also gets pretty fun, if you play your cards right.