Instagram tips for small businesses

Having first covered Facebook and Twitter, in this next post in our series on social media for small businesses, we’re looking at the photo-sharing and storytelling site Instagram. Owned by Facebook, Instagram has over 700 million users and its growth shows no signs of slowing down. It’s big business for many users and companies, and it’s only going to get bigger. What’s more, of the most popular social media sites, Instagram boasts the highest levels of follower engagement, so social marketers take it very seriously.

There’s no doubt that it’s an effective platform for businesses to speak to their consumers and fans. But how should you do it? There’s a right way and some definite wrong ways, and we talk about both below.

Research your competition

It’s tempting to go in all guns blazing and aim for the stars with Instagram as it's so easy to get started with in-built editing options and filters to make photos look better, but companies should have a plan in place before starting any social media drive. Look at the accounts for competitors in your niche or industry. What are they doing? Some key things to find out are:

  • What type of content they’re sharing, and if it’s working for them (engagement rates of 2-4% are good!).

  • How often your audience will expect you to post content.

  • How other businesses are engaging with your ideal audience in terms of comments and what kind of content they're sharing.

As well as the competition, you’ll want to get to know your target audience. For this, try Instagram’s ‘Suggested Users’ list (under ‘Find and invite friends’ in your Settings) as a starting point, or look up influencers in your field. Additionally, share a link to your Instagram page in your newsletter, on other social media and even in your store or office so customers and colleagues can easily find you.

Have a strategy about the photos you want to post

It pays to have some idea or strategy about what you're going to share on Instagram. It's certainly fair to say that some photos do better than others, and it's also true that accounts with photos that build an attractive looking profile feed (or grid) grow quicker and have more engagement. You don't need to be an expert photographer to have success, you just need to be consistent and research the kind of photos that do well. This list is a great place to start!

Use Instagram Stories

Posting pretty pictures isn’t enough to really grow and have an impact on Instagram. Companies and individuals who have stories to tell also have more success, and you can use Instagram's "Stories" function to do this, as well as in the photos you share on your grid. Instagram Stories are modelled on Snapchat, in that you can create and share photos, videos and quirky "Boomerang" or Rewind clips, that are deleted after 24 hours. This is really where you should share the "real-time" news and updates from your companies, and save things that can be more long-lasting for your grid.

Share your big story

In addition to the daily stories and updates you share, you should think about your company's over-arching "story", aka, your brand.

By your very nature, being a business gives you so many possibilities in this area - you have all your employees, the services or products you offer, plus the work processes and "behind the scenes" insights, and any or all of it can be your focus.

Seeing the inner workings of a workshop, a kitchen, a factory or a designer’s studio may be commonplace to you, but you can bet there are people who will love the chance to see behind the scenes, and if you can tie in your brand’s voice, keeping it positive and upbeat, you’ll fare even better.

Do you work in retail? Share special offers or what's flying off the shelves each week.

Do you have a hospitality or catering business? Share drool-worthy photos of food, and beautiful "flat lays" of meals or cakes.

Are you a wild, adventurous outdoors company? Share photos from a recent hike or stories of pranks from the office.

Got a rivalry with a neighbouring company that everyone in the office is talking about? Take it to Instagram and engage in some light-hearted competition with them.

Whatever you do, find your business’s identity and stick to it. Consistency is key.

Use relevant hashtags

Unlike other social media, hashtags are still a key way to grow your following on Instagram. They will help people find your photos and will also help Instagram understand the type of content you're sharing so they can suggest relevant new followers to you and also recommend your account to others. You can use the Search feature on Instagram itself to find hashtags that you could use, but there are also stand-alone websites and apps like Hashtagify and All-Hashtag to search a topic (related to your business) and see what hashtags are already in use. Most people share the hashtags in a comment below the photo's caption and be sure to use hashtags in use in your local area if your customer base is local people.

It may also be worth you creating your own hashtags so your followers can find similar content related to your special offers or staff members, and it is also a nice way for you to curate your own content and track your own journey on Instagram.

Share relatable, "human" photos.

One key step to interaction and engagement is to be as "human" as possible on Instagram. This means commenting on other people's photos and acting like a real person rather than a company in the content you create. One easy way to do this, of course, is to share photos of "your people" rather than constant sales pitches of your products or services. Whether that's your employees, your management, or even your customers (with everyone's permission), showing friendly faces and people who are happy at work is a great way to connect with others.

Followers want to relate to what they see, not feel alienated by some airbrushed image with a description full of generic tags. Get your staff involved, crack a smile and shoot.

Post as often as you (always) can

There’s a myth that ‘over-posting’ can put people off. Union Metrics, in a recent white paper, dispelled that, showing that brands posting every hour still received high engagement for each post - as long as the content was relevant! It's important to remember that Instagram is a business and wants you to spend as much time as possible on the app so they will "reward" you with more followers and engagement if you yourself spend more time and share more on Instagram.

Of course, posting relatable photos every hour is too time-consuming for most small businesses, hence the big caveat in this tip: you should only post at a rate you can sustain day in and day out. Suddenly drop off the radar and your followers and Instagram (!) will not be impressed. So, how often should you aim for? Research says posting at least once a day will do wonders for your follower growth and engagement, so we’d make that the target.

While it's currently not possible to schedule posts in advance on Instagram or using another app, social media scheduling tools like Buffer can still be used to create content in a batch, set up a posting schedule with regular times each day, and then you will receive notifications when it's time to publish on Instagram, with the post already created. This is a very easy way to make sure you publish regularly. 

Have fun!

Instagram is a fast-moving but ultimately fun and visual social network where you can really share and nurture the human side of your business. Don't be afraid to experiment with Instagram Stories and to get creative thinking how you can help and inspire your followers, as well as reach new ones, and as always, get your staff involved. Instagram is a young person's network with 59% of users being 29 or under, so if you have younger employees ask them about Instagram and if anyone there has a lot of experience, get them to support you or even take the lead in trying to grow your following and enagement.

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