Launching in 2010 and ending the decade with more than one billion users (most using their accounts at least once daily), Instagram is now well established among the world’s leading social networks. It places behind only Facebook and YouTube for Australian social media users.

As a visual platform, Instagram has its own set of rules for social media marketing that businesses need to learn, but it also offers some of the highest engagement of any site. Instagram says 90% of its users follow at least one brand and 60% say they’ve discovered new products through the platform, so you’ll be marketing to a receptive audience.

The key to success on Instagram is authenticity. If you engage with the platform and your audience on their terms, rather than being overly promotional, you can turn engaged followers into loyal customers and eventually brand ambassadors.

Getting started

Setting up an Instagram profile for your business is free and simple. You need to download the Instagram app for your phone, as the desktop version is limited.

You can enter your details or log in with your company’s Facebook account to complete this step automatically. Make sure you use your business email so your new Instagram profile isn’t accidentally linked to your personal Facebook.

The important point is to choose an Instagram Business Account. This lets you include details such as your opening hours and contact details on your profile and gives you access to tools such as paid ads and real-time analytics so you can measure the success of your campaigns.

Types of posts

Before you start posting, you should familiarise yourself with how Instagram works and know your audience so you can plan an effective content strategy. Most types of content can be engaging when they’re done well, and mixing things up will help to keep your followers interested.

Images

The bread and butter of Instagram, image posts may be photos or graphics and can take many forms. Make sure you have permission to use images that you post.

  • Products – photos of your products and services shouldn’t be the only content you publish, but you need to show what you’re about. Upcoming and new releases, demonstrations and promotions can all make popular posts, especially with Instagram Checkout rolling out in more territories to let shoppers buy through the app.
  • Contests – Instagram’s contest templates are easy to customise to your needs. Giving away freebies and other promotions can get more people talking about your brand.
  • Behind the scenes – showing the human face or faces behind your business can strengthen relationships with your followers.
  • Instructional posts – whether it’s a step-by-step tutorial, recipe or trustworthy advice, educational content is one of the best performers across all social media and Instagram is no exception.
  • Quotes – pairing a great quote from someone you admire with a suitable background image can make for inspiring and shareable posts, though you shouldn’t overdo it.

Video

You can also record, stream and upload videos on Instagram. As the maximum length for a standard video is only 60 seconds (and most users don’t watch beyond 15 seconds), video marketing on Instagram is a very different prospect from YouTube.

Like photos, videos can be edited in the app itself or using other software.

  • Boomerang – Boomerangs are very short videos (up to 3 seconds) that loop forwards and backwards. They’re created by taking a rapid sequence of images using the Instagram camera or dedicated Boomerang app.
  • Hyperlapse – if you want to record something that takes longer than 60 seconds, Hyperlapse gets around this by letting you speed up the playback between 1x and 12x so it’s the right length to upload.
  • Instagram Live – live streaming videos recorded on Instagram can be up to 60 minutes long. This creates opportunities for more substantial content such as product launches, demonstrations and interviews.
  • Instagram TV – longer videos can now be published to IGTV, a dedicated area on the Instagram app that also has a stand-alone app. These videos can be up to 10 minutes long for a standard account or 60 minutes for a verified account, but they only display on mobile devices (and in vertical video).

Instagram Stories

Stories are Instagram’s answer to Snapchat’s ephemeral content. Images and video (up to 15 seconds) can be uploaded in a dedicated feed that has more visibility until the content disappears after 24 hours (although with Highlights, it’s now possible to save your best Stories for posterity).

The time-sensitive nature of Stories makes them appealing to users and gives creators an excuse to be less polished in presentation. The format is ideal for temporary offers and more relaxed content that shows off your brand’s personality.

Brands have taken to Stories in a big way, with Instagram saying that one third of the most viewed Stories on the app are from business accounts.

User-generated content

Successful Instagram accounts don’t just know how to create, but also curate. If someone related to your business or industry or who’s following your account posts something interesting or entertaining, you can share this with your followers – using the proper attribution – to show that you’re in touch.

Influencer posts

Influencer marketing is a booming industry, forecast to be worth $5 billion to $6.5 billion in 2020 by HypeAuditor. Influencers are celebrities or other popular Instagram personalities who are paid to promote your brand to their established audience in various ways.

This type of social proof is often more effective than traditional marketing for Instagram’s young user base, but it can be expensive.

Instagram marketing tips

Not all businesses are as well suited to Instagram as others, but when you pay attention to what works on the platform, and how it can be adapted to your business, you can improve your chances of making meaningful connections with users.

Optimise your account

Users visit your profile when they want to know more about your company and what you do, so make sure you include all the important details. Your Instagram bio is limited to 150 characters, which includes the URL to your website, so every character counts.

When uploading your logo or other profile picture, keep in mind that Instagram crops this down to a circle, so make sure no important information is missing at the edges.

Business users can now add targeted hashtags and links to other Instagram profiles you want to promote. You can also feature Story Highlights at the top of your feed that show your brand in your best light.

Optimise your content

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to succeed on Instagram, but with so much competition, your images need to be attractive and worthwhile if you expect them to be shared.

  • Image size – use high-resolution images that are at least 1080 pixels at their longest length so they don’t get blown up and look blurry.
  • Composition – researching the basics of lighting, colour composition and the rule of thirds will teach you how to intuitively take better photos. Instagram presents square images as standard, so keep this in mind when compositing and editing.
  • Filters – Instagram has a range of filters that can enhance your photos, but you might also want to try other editing apps to give you more options and adjustments.
  • Captions – image descriptions can be up to 2,200 characters long, but only the first few lines are displayed before opening the post. This is where your most important marketing message or a tempting lead-in should go.
  • Call to action – at the end of captions, encourage readers to leave a comment, share your photo or visit your website.
  • Location – tagging your location drives more local users to your content and can lead to higher engagement.
  • Hashtags – include relevant and trending hashtags in your posts so they’ll show up in more feeds. Read our guides to everything you need to know about hashtags.

Engage with your audience

Businesses can’t afford to be self-serving on a platform as social as Instagram. Taking the time to respond to users’ comments and checking out their content will show your followers that you value them.

Interacting with influencers and other businesses in your field can also help with networking and growing your audience.

Post frequently

Instagram favours quality over quantity, but the average frequency of 6 posts per week can still be intimidating for many businesses used to scheduling a weekly blog post.

Creating a content calendar will help you avoid running out of ideas or repeating the same topics too often, as well as help you prepare in advance for special calendar dates. You should also consider where your audience is located when deciding the best time to publish and schedule posts.

Promote your content

One benefit of producing so much visual content for Instagram is that you’ll have plenty to share on your other social networks. Instagram and Facebook are closely linked, so it’s an easy matter to share your Instagram posts with an even larger audience.

While they might not be such a good fit for your business blog, you should still include links and social share buttons to your Instagram page on your website and in all of your company profiles.

Check your analytics

Instagram Business Accounts include analytics tools to let you see how many people are visiting your profile, which content is performing best and a detailed breakdown of your audience demographics. All of this can be valuable data for improving your ongoing campaigns.

Instagram advertising

Like other social platforms, Instagram also offers paid advertising for Business Accounts. The process will be familiar to businesses that already advertise on Facebook, as Instagram ads are managed through Facebook Ads.

You can choose to promote your existing content or create a new ad. These will be featured in feeds that match your targeted audience, although less prominently than Facebook Ads. Instagram has also introduced Stories ads that can offer higher engagement than standard ads.

Read more social media marketing tips in the Civic Web Media blog.