The Ultimate Starter Guide to Marketing Your Business on Instagram

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Before the first iPhone dropped almost seven years ago, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that today, people would use smartphones for photography more than they use cameras.

And if someone told you back then that people would use this advanced technology to take pictures that look like they’re old and faded – well, you probably would have thought they were crazy.

But you’ve gotta hand it to Instagram! Earlier this year, everyone’s favorite photo app hit the landmark of more than 200 million active monthly users – for perspective, Myspace peaked at about 76 million – and they’re not all using it for photographing desserts and snapping selfies, either. (Even I can’t resist showing off my inner shutterbug!)

Instagram is becoming a serious player in the social media marketing world, but for the uninitiated, the whole thing can seem a little…well, a little silly. That’s why today, I’m focusing on how you can use Instagram to market your business – and whether or not you even SHOULD.

How Instagram Works

Even if you’ve never used it, most people have at least HEARD of Instagram. The thing about apps like this, though, is they don’t exactly come with instruction manuals – so even if you’ve played with it long enough to slap a filter on your favorite picture of your cat, you might not see its full potential.

First things first – if you’re NOT one of those 200 million monthly users, Instagram is an app that allows you to take and/or edit photos on your phone (most notably by applying filters that automatically give them a vintage-y glow).

More importantly, though, it’s ALSO a social network, and one that gives you opportunities that other networks don’t. Think of it like Twitter, but with pictures – you follow people, and the images they take show up in a feed you can access on either your phone or a web browser. You can write captions for your own images, and you can comment and like other people’s posts, but you can’t share another person’s image like you would a tweet.

LKR Instagram example

Get it? Got it? Good! Because now I wanna talk about what this means for your social media marketing game plan.

Should you use Instagram to market your business?

People ask me all the time about which social networks they should be on, and I always tell them the same thing.

Whether you should market your business on Instagram, then, is tooootally up to you – but believe me when I say that if you want to, you CAN, no matter what your business does!

“But I don’t have a very visually-oriented business! What am I supposed to take pictures of – spreadsheets?”

I can actually relate to this one a lot – I sell online marketing courses, for pete’s sake! It would be a lot easier to market myself on Instagram if I rented out seaside cottages or represented male supermodels, but hey, not everyone has a SUPER photogenic business.

All that means, though, is that you have to be a little creative. You can post a photo of an award you received, or of you on the job. You could post a behind-the-scenes picture of you and your team, like I did when we all met in Portland last month. One of MY big focuses is on teaching business owners how to give themselves more free time by improving their social media management – I actually have a new, free course focused on that specifically – so I upload pictures from my own travels, like that selfie up above.

But there’s a LOT more to killin’ it on Instagram than posting simple snapshots! What can you do to really set yourself apart on this social network?

Tips for Marketing Your Business on Instagram

Keep It Personal

A lot of business owners hesitate to use Instagram for marketing because it seems too personal – but that’s exactly what makes it so special! Instagram is the perfect place to form a personal and emotional connection with your audience.

While networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are ideal for more “official” business promotions and communiqué, Instagram is THE place for creating a close relationship between your biz and your fans.

Check out this list of the 50 most popular people on Instagram, and you’ll see they all have a few things in common:

  • They share photos you won’t always find on other social networks
  • They share personal pics that they took themselves (“OMG! They’re just like me!”)
  • Their photos go behind the scenes and capture everyday life – NOT just business-y stuff
  • You get to know their personality – especially the fun-loving side

You can see that I do the same thing on my own account – it’s the place where I can show a side of me that isn’t always the right fit for other social networks. Should you upload 26 pictures of your prize teacup pig in a row? Well, that might be overkill. But you shouldn’t be afraid of getting too chummy with your Instagram followers – that’s exactly the type of interaction this network was MADE for.

Forget About Photos

You read that right – forget about uploading photos to your Instagram account. (At least, every now and then.) Because uploading photos is one thing, but uploading images is another thing entirely!

Here – check out this example from my friend (and very successful Instagrammer) Leonie Dawson:

Leonie Dawson on Instagram

Look through her feed, and you’ll see that she balances out her personal pics with DIY images like this one. Turning an inspirational quote into its own graphic and uploading it to Instagram is the perfect way to add some variety to your feed and engage your followers – bonus points to Leonie for including her URL, giving people who dig the image direction on where they can find more nuggets of wisdom like this one! (Just remember to play by the rules when you’re making your own graphics, or the next thing you Instagram might be a subpoena!)

Linkify Your Bio

Like any other social network, Instagram can drive traffic to your website – but you have to play by the app’s rules. Right now, you can’t add URLs to the captions of your images. I mean, you CAN, but you can’t click on them – your audience has to copy/paste them into a browser. You can, however, add a clickable URL to your user bio – so make sure you do! This is also a great way for users already familiar with your business to make sure that they have the right you on Instagram – the URL confirms they’re in the right place AND provides easy access to your site.

Edit Your Images OUTSIDE of Instagram

Instagram is known for its iconic, faux-retro filters – but they aren’t the only tools you should be using to edit your images before uploading.

Pic Stitch, for example, is a free app that allows you to make those cute little collages you always see people posting. You can also experiment with adding text overlays to your images, like so:

This newspaper I used to read back in Chicago added text to the image BEFORE uploading it to Instagram, giving that pooch a little extra boost in the you-better-not-miss-this department. Adding text is perfect for making a company announcement or advertising a contest – and in this case, they made it a real one-two punch by adding a hashtag. Speaking of hashtags…

Don’t Be Afraid of Hashtags!

I’ll admit it – I don’t much care for casual hashtag use on Twitter of Facebook. They break up the flow of what you’re saying, and both of those networks have search algorithms sophisticated enough that they’ll locate keywords even if they don’t have little pound signs in front of them.

On Instagram, though, hashtags are the key to getting found – and you shouldn’t skip them.

You can and should use the caption area under an Instagram pic to write whatever you want. But after you do, feel free to throw in some relevant hashtags. Remember – if you upload a photo of a bicycle from your shop, Instagram doesn’t KNOW that it’s a bicycle, and users searching for bike pictures will never find it. You can use hashtags as a way of categorizing the subject of the photo, though, so that a user searching for those keywords will find it. Try including a short list of hashtagged keywords in your caption area, so you turn up in more searches.

Like in the picture of the dog embedded above, you can also encourage your followers to use specific hashtags as part of a contest or promotion – especially because you can leverage those hashtags on other networks. Which actually brings me to my next tip! (WOW, that’s convenient!)

Share Yo’ Pictures All Over the Place

The best way to get Instagram followers is to bring them in from other social networks – but there are a few things to consider when you do.

Earlier this week, I told you about how Instagram and Twitter don’t play super nice. In case you missed it, Twitter doesn’t actually display Instagram photos – just links to your photos. So while you should always share an Instagram pic on Twitter, you should also share lots of OTHER kinds of images on Twitter – but you can learn more about that here.

Instagram shares

Fortunately, though, Facebook and Instagram are total BFFs (that’ll happen when one BFF literally OWNS the other one). Instagram photos show up right on your Facebook wall, so there’s really no excuse for not sharing and building valuable bridges between networks! You don’t have to share EVERY picture you take on Facebook, but make sure you do it at least part of the time.

Go All “Lights, Camera, Action” Up in Here

Instagram allows you to shoot video – 15 seconds of it, to be precise – and you can make those 15 seconds work hard for your marketing!

The trick? Don’t treat that time like it’s a commercial. (C’mon. Commercials suck.) Instead, try to focus on one of these angles:

  • Informative – Got a life hack you can share in 15 seconds? Share a quick tip that your followers can really use.
  • Demo – Show your product in action, so followers can see themselves using it.
  • Fun and funny – Cut loose a little and show us some behind-the-scenes action – Instagram is a pretty casual place, homie.
  • Montage – Use quick edits to show us how you make or do something – this one’s especially great for people like dietitians, fitness pros, and artists.
  • Quiet – Instagram autoplays videos, and your followers may not have the volume up – make sure that your vids are as entertaining without sound as they are with it.

And of course, if you’re going to shoot Instagram video, make sure that your phone is stable! Shake that camera around “Blair Witch” style and the only thing your followers are gonna want is a Dramamine shot, ya dig?

Track Your Analytics

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that I’m always stressing the importance of following your analytics. Facebook, Twitter, whatever – they MATTER. And you can get them for Instagram, too.

Apps like Iconosquare give you access to all kinds of data about your photos, your followers, and alllllll those juicy details that make it easier for you to do what works and ditch what doesn’t. Seriously, don’t waste time with the guesswork thing – track your stats, and pronto.

Network and Tag People

Tagging other users on social is the perfect way to network – thankfully, Instagram got the memo. @-mentions on this network function the same way they do on Twitter, and you can also tag people when they show up in your photos. They may not be able to share your pictures like they would a tweet, but they’ll be more likely to return the favor when it comes to tagging. (It’s just the right thing to do, ya know?)

Instagram tagging

Instagram Inception: Taking a picture of someone taking a picture of someone taking a picture of food.

Schedule Your Snapshots

When you’re using Instagram for something like a contest promotion, it’s a LOT easier to create your images all at once and schedule posting times for them. A program like ScheduGram allows you to upload, edit, and schedule your images ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about doing it live over and over again. Instagram doesn’t move as quickly as networks like Twitter, so you need to be a LOT more wary about things like over-posting, but a scheduler like this can still come in reeeeaally handy for making sure you never miss an update.

Now Get on That ‘Gram!

Alright, so there’s a LOT more that I could talk about regarding the whole Instagram marketing thing – but I can practically hear your brain getting ready to burst from here. So we’ll give it a rest for now, but keep an eye out, because I’m gonna be talking about Instagram some more in the near future. Until then, get yourself signed up, practice your photog skills, and start making connections!

Already perfected the art of square photography? Share your Instagram in the comments so we can see what ya got! (Hint: It’s just www.instagram.com/yourusername)

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.

Comments

  1. Hello! I’m training to become a holistic health coach and am starting to use my personal Instagram to show my 600 or so followers what’s going on in my life. I’m not sure if I’ll eventually create a separate Instagram account just for my business or not though. Thoughts on this anyone?
    http://Www.instagram.com/alipurrpinckney

    • Hi Ali!

      That is a great question. It all depends on the brand of your business. I noticed that your website includes your name. If that’s the case, I think it would be a great idea to stick with your current Instagram account. It appears that you are already doing a great job with 612 followers. Great job!! You don’t want to spend your time and energy managing multiple accounts. I currently manage three Instagram accounts. I wouldn’t advise doing this unless you have help managing multiple accounts. Using your personal Instagram account can bring a level of transparency to your business. You can share your journey of becoming a holistic health coach. Ultimately, people will feel like they have VIP seat to the journey of your life.

      Since you are aspiring to be a holistic health coach maybe you could show people how to make one of your favorite healthy meals. Maybe you could show people how to create their own window garden. Think of ways to provide value to your followers.

      Last year, I wrote an article on ways people could use Instagram for business. I would love to get your feedback on it! You can check it out here: http://www.graphicblueprint.com/10-creative-ways-to-use-instagram-for-your-business/

      http://www.instagram.com/graphicblueprint

      • Hi Brandon,

        Thank you for your response! I went to your article which was really helpful. I bookmarked it so I can refer back to it later. I have yet to post many videos on instagram or elsewhere so that’s something I’ll definitely be experimenting with in the future!

        I do want to do more recipes both on my blog and instagram/facebook accounts. I actually did do a blog post about creating a window garden. If you’re interested in checking it out, here it is: http://alipinckney.com/indoorgarden/

        Thank you again for your response! I really appreciate it!

        Thanks,
        Ali

      • Glad I could help! I will certainly check it out! My wife and I live in an apartment and this would be a great idea. Thank you!

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      Go you! You’re perfectly suited for maintaining just the one account. First of all, you already have a strong following, and one that looks like it’s growing! Second, you post all kinds of things that are totally on-message for your biz, from inspirational graphics and delicious-looking healthy foods to pics that show off your personality.
      That last part is especially great for someone like you, because as a coach, you really ARE your business! Your name and your biz are inextricably linked, so it just plain makes sense for *your* Instagram to be your *business’s* Instagram. You’ve got a good thing going – keep it up, and don’t over-complicate it!

      • Hi Tom,

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! This is really helpful. I had been thinking about this since I posted that comment and I agree that it’d be smart to stick with my personal instagram account and to stick with my name as my business name.

        Thanks again!
        Ali

  2. Thank you for these helpful tips! I didn’t know there was a scheduler for instagram, that’s SUPER helpful!! You rock :)

    My instagram is http://www.instagram.com/SimplySereneLife <3

  3. Thanks for the great article! I am shifting from a pre-launch, business building stage where I was successfully using Instagram to recruit new Referral Managers to full launch this week. So, I will be changing up my posts and targeting online shoppers more now. It will be fun to test it all out!
    http://www.instragram.com/doyouzuzu

  4. Brilliant post Laura, and the timing was just right. I went hunting for the Instagram and business marketing low down this morning, and here it was right here, as reliable and in-depth as ever. Always appreciate being able to borrow your experience and experimentation to speed up the learning curve. Thank you.

    Here is a link to my Instagram profile… personal stuff so far.

    http://instagram.com/daniellegreason

    Boy those vintage filters are addictive aren’t they!

  5. Aradia from Aradia’s Hand & Naware from Butterfly Phoenix Coaching here! http://www.instagram.com/aradia_naware

    Love this post, just like all your others! Succinct and chockful of great & easy to use right now tips! I hadn’t really been tracking with Iconosquare so I’m going to get that added to my repertoire right away. Especially since being a product based business I can really get Insta-crazy sometimes! And ScheduGram sounds interesting and useful! I’ve only had the chance to check out one other post on Instagram so glad you chimed in here!

  6. http://www.instagram.com/tenekasteed

    Thanks for sharing the juicy content on Indtagram.

  7. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for your super juicy and fun to read tips about Instagram. I can’t wait to dive into pic stitch and iconosquare. You rock! XO
    Amanda

  8. Ashley Hasna says:

    I have to say I’ve really enjoyed using Instagram for myself and my clients. I’ve found with the right content that it’s a lot easier to get activity on that platform, even if you don’t have a lot of followers, because there isn’t an algorithm. Hint: The 15-second videos are really well received in the fitness industry. I’ve been filming one at-home move per video.

    Another tool that I’ve found really helpful when using Instagram is an app called Diptic. You pay for it, but it creates the best photo collages from your phone. It also has so many interesting designs to choose from instead of just simple shapes, and you can add text to the photo from your phone. This has helped on many occasions.

    Another app I’ve found useful for content curation on Instagram is the Repost app. This allows you to repost the photo of someone else onto your feed, but it places their username and tags them in the photo. I’ve used this to grow my followers for clients as well.

    Thanks for sharing the scheduler tip. I can’t wait to see more get developed.

  9. Pretty much addicted to Instagram. These were good tips as scheduling photos is my next step.
    I follow back. :)
    http://instagram.com/alexiaanastasio

  10. Fun! I’m over at:

    http://instagram.com/nathlussier

    Loved this straightforward guide, and I know I’m checking out the scheduling tool for sure!

  11. Greetings. I am just (finally) looking into Instagram, so am reading up starting with this great article – I have not created an account yet, since I want to do it right from the start…

    A few questions if anyone cares to give any input. I am a photographer with two VERY different websites (wedding photography and commercial+art photography) There is little overlap between the two and in fact I have seen some negativity that some people have towards wedding photographers. Sooo, this is why I am thinking of two separate accounts. However, across the board, people suggest not doing this on Instagram. They suggest having just one account and using hashtags and URLS etc.

    I am concerned because the (photographer / artist) Instagram accounts I have seen that are the strongest / have the most followers have just ONE style of work, not a variety. And I have several VERY different bodies of work. Since I have zero interest in using Instagram for personal reasons, and only want to use it for business (without alienating people by being too business-y) does anyone have thoughts on any of the above?

    It really does make sense to have something super simple, but that would mean having multiple accounts each with it’s own set of photography…

    Sorry for the long missive here but want to set it up right…

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      Beth,

      I’m actually really glad that you asked this question, because yours is such a unique case! When it comes to Instagram, you really are one of the few who could seriously benefit from two separate accounts – here’s why.

      First, you’re right about your two styles being VERY different – wedding photography and commercial/art photography have almost nothing in common. Different styles, different types of subjects, and most importantly, different audiences. As you pointed out, there’s virtually no overlap between your audiences – so why have just one account that is irrelevant to half your followers half the time? It would be like someone who has one business grooming dogs and another managing stock portfolios – they’re very different fields. If your two styles of photography were, say, babies and high school senior portraits, it might be a different story. As it stands now, though, you’re working in two very unique areas.

      Second, you already know how to compartmentalize your two businesses. Your websites are the perfect evidence of that – not only do you keep everything separated (here’s the wedding photography website, for anyone else playing along), but you manage your branding really well. While it might be confusing to have two Beth Herzhafts on Instagram, one Beth Herzhaft and one Real Good Weddings makes a lot more sense. (It also helps that you aren’t planning on using Instagram for a personal account – because that might change things.)

      The one thing you DON’T want to do, though, is stretch yourself too thin. A cursory glance shows that you’re already balancing a Facebook, two Tumblrs, a Pinterest, and a blog – and when it comes to signing up for more social networks, it’s easy to get that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” sort of thing going. What I’d recommend, especially because you’re just getting your feet wet on Instagram, is to choose just one angle and go with that for now. Start an account for your wedding photography, for example, and get comfortable with it. Start building your following. See what kind of a time commitment you’re looking at. Make sure it’s something you actually *want* to keep up with. Once you get all that figured out, decide if you want to take on more.

      *phew* Sorry, that was an earful, I know! Hopefully it helps a little – and if anyone else has some advice for Beth, let’s hear it! (PS – Your photography is amazing!)

      • Hello Laura,

        Thank you for such a thoughtful and detailed reply! That was awesome – and glad you like my work too.

        My two “hats” – commercial and wedding – are different in that wedding people think album covers are cool, but music people don’t think that shooting weddings is cool. But that being said, music people would also be my perfect clients!

        In any case, can you let me know if you ever do any type of affordable small biz mentoring? That could be very helpful.

        Many thanks again!

  12. I love Instagram for my handmade business. I wrote this guest blog post on an Instagram hack for etsy sellers http://handmadesuccess.com/2014/05/instagram-instantaneously-for-etsy-sellers/. My Instagram is http://www.instagram.com/byelsieb @byelsieb

  13. Rhiannon Halley says:

    Thanks for sharing all of your juicy tips!
    I love Iconsquare and Schedugram, and you’re definitely giving me great ideas on how to post more effectively for business!
    If you’d like visuals from my design life and some sweet snapshots of life currently on the beaches of the Philippines I’m over on http://instagram.com/gypsyyogini

  14. http://instagram.com/nadiacastonguay
    I find that pics of my daughter get the most “likes”..so I try to get her while working out, eating healthy and doing other things that promote my business-to-be..and network marketing business!

  15. So until now I never knew instagram had a schedule post app and a analytics app. Thanks for the tips!

  16. I’ve only ever thrown a few product pics up on instagram and not really paid it much attention but I believe I’m starting to come around : )

    I’m trying to market a handmade jewellery boutiqe and it’s so easy to post snaps of our current products, sneak peeks of new products, fans, events and blog posts – the list goes on…

    Best of All? Autoposting to other social networks!

    Metrics seem a little light currently, in terms of views/reach/demographics, but no doubt they’ll mature over time…

    Cheers for the post Laura – you got me re-looking at Instagram’s value : )

  17. Thank you for the tips – I had no clue about the additional apps for scheduling photos – very informative :)

    I have a question – is it possible to connect an instagram account with a Facebook page? If yes, please suggest.

    You’ve got your self a follower!
    I’m on instagram.com/goyaladiti

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      Under your profile in the Instagram app, go to options (tap the little gear icon) and then “Share settings.” You can connect your Facebook, Twitter, what-have-you!

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