The popularity of Instagram is incredible. The only trouble with a platform that boasted over 1 billion active users is making sure your posts are found by people who are interested in what you have to say (or sell) - needles and haystacks comes to mind!
The days of adding a few random hashtags to a post are well and truly over - it's becoming much more of a science. So you have to have a strategy.
Here are my top tips for getting the most out of Instagram for your business.
1. Clearly communicate what you do
Set up your profile properly. Use a great profile image, make sure your Instagram handle instantly conveys what you do, and write a good bio. Don't forget to include your website URL!
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2. Give your posts a distinctive look
Instagram is a very visual platform, so make it work to your advantage. Using the same signature filter and maintaining the same style of photography will give your posts a consistent style, which helps to make them instantly recognisable.
Whenever possible, try to echo your brand's visual identity - adopting the same colours, fonts and image style used on your website - so that the experience of your brand is consistent from one communication channel to another.
3. Get active!
Liking posts in a random way isn't likely to achieve a great deal. But if you do your research, you can make likes work really well for your business.
Take a good look at what your competitors are up to on Instagram - and more importantly, check out who is commenting on their posts. They are probably your target market. So, it makes sense to engage with and follow them.
This way, you'll start to build an audience that is actively interested in what your business has to offer.
4. Hashtags are Instagram's signposts
Hashtags help people navigate through millions of posts to find what's relevant or of interest to them. Research has shown that using 10+ hashtags is good, but don't go too mad beyond that – too many looks a bit spammy, and less is more definitely applies here!.
However many you decide to use, make sure they are relevant. You can check out popular hashtags using tools such as Hashtagify . Some will trend like crazy, others are just too generic to be of any use.
It's well worth analysing successful Instagram accounts, especially competitors that have a lot of traction. Learn from how they are using hashtags and emulate/adapt what they are doing for your own purposes.
You may not get it right straightaway, but if you can find hashtags that are both popular and pertinent to your business, you'll get instant access to an engaged audience. Some hashtags have seen virtual forums growing up around them - niche communities that will be interested in you.
5. Use special hashtags wisely
I'd recommend choosing a few special hashtags to encourage a bigger following. For instance, #L4L means ‘like for like' - ie if you like me, I'll reciprocate and like your posts. #follow and #followme are an obvious and transparent request.
6. Hashtags can look messy
Putting them at the end of your post keeps things tidy. Better still, keep your post clean and post them immediately into the first comment instead.
7. Make life easy for yourself!
Save common hashtags for your business on your smartphone using the standard notes app (most smartphones have one).
It makes it so much easier to prepare your hashtags and post them easily and consistently every time.
8. Brand your hashtags
Don't forget to add your brand name as one of the hashtags, and remember to use 4-5 core hashtags that describe your business - use them every time.
9. Caption your images and videos
And inject a bit of personality. By this, I don't mean posting a picture of what you ate for dinner last night! Every post should be relevant to your business, and you need to find ways of adding value to your posts. So think about what comment you can add that will encourage people to like and repost it. Growth can happen incredibly quickly if your followers feel they have something to gain from following your account.
10. Quality control is important
Make sure your pictures look amazing. Be ruthless - edit them, dismiss anything that looks poor or is blurred from camera shake. Keep things simple and shoot directly from your smartphone for ease of posting.
11. Use layout and angles
The Instagram Layout app (for iPhone or Android) is really good for creating interesting montages, especially if you want to post a sequence of images or show a step-by-step guide. Canva is a great free tool as well.
12. Use links and landing pages
Presumably, you are using your Instagram posts to encourage followers to do something , whether that is to read your latest blog post, discover your new ebook, enter a competition or sign up to your email newsletter.
Whatever you are doing, make sure you have an appropriate landing page on your website that will enable them to complete the action.
A quick note on the restriction of posting only one link in your bio - check out Linktree, a tool that will create one bio link that will then send your followers wherever you want them to go.
13. Share the love
Growth on Instagram depends to an extent on demonstrating that you are engaged with your particular Instagram community. It's well worth tagging business associates, relevant membership organisations, industry associations or accounts you want to nurture.
14. Ask for a response
Instagram is - or can be - a two-way dialogue, so ask your followers to respond to your posts. You, of course, then need to respond to any comments - it's all about active engagement, not just having a passive following.
15. Find the movers and shakers in your area
Try to identify who on Instagram is a key influence in your niche market, and explore how you might work with them to improve your own Instagram visibility.
16. Plan your posts
Just like a blog, it makes sense to plan your Instagram activity. Set up a rolling three-month content plan for all your social media, and allocate time to curate images, captions and hashtags.
17. Use scheduling tools
18. Track what's working
Google Analytics will show what traffic and conversion you're getting from Instagram. If you have an Instagram Business Account you have the added bonus of Instagram Insights, which shows how effective your posts are.
19. Instagram adverts increase visibility
Instagram advertising is working really well for businesses. No matter how tight your marketing budget may be, it's well worth dipping your toe and seeing what traction you can gain for your business.
There are four formats to choose from - from a simple single image to a 60-second video - and with a choice of banners for your call to action, it couldn't be easier to start advertising.
20. Have an Instagram image feed on your website
But always embed them, don't just link to them. Now you have a way of growing your Instagram following directly from your website, but don't be tempted to do it with all of your Instagram images - create a taster!
Written by Sarah Orchard.
Sarah Orchard has more than 15 years' top level marketing experience on leading UK and global service sector brands.