How many times has the thought crossed your mind – how do I use my Instagram to grow my business? You create, you post, you engage, you even pay for ads. And yet, without smart Instagram marketing tips, it’s a dilemma not easily resolved.
One thing is certain though. For most business owners and entrepreneurs, there are no shortcuts to growing organic engagement and followers on Instagram.
Is your goal is brand promotion or engaging with your audience? For increasing follower count or your sales, using Instagram needs both strategy and a systematic plan. These success tips from small business owners & pros, who’ve used them effectively in growing their accounts, will help reinvigorate your Insta game.
A good mix of smart strategy, creative execution and setting realistic and measurable goals can go a long way.
Learn the secrets of the power users!
This article will give you 5 awesome takeaways!
- Best ways to make an impact from the get-go
- Tips to make your engagement more timely and impactful
- Ways to personalize your brand
- Strategies for the most impactful hashtags game plan
- Ideas for games that serve as organic advertisements
Instagram can be a valuable tool in growing both your business and your brand. But what can you do beyond sharing a strong bio, and creating a great feed?
Find out how to succeed at Instagram for business with these 10 power tips from the pros!
Identifying your target audience is a big step a lot of people often overlook. Once you refine who you’re targeting, try these 10 ways to grow your business Instagram account.
Start with a valuable first impression
A great impression begins with an optimized bio and a visually cohesive feed with a clear focus. Include keywords, emojis and branded hashtags in your bio. Importantly, to improve searchability, keep your name and username different. IndokaCreative, The Virtual Savvy and theWAHWife, all have optimized bios where the name and user name differ. Brands like Maroon Oak use keywords in the name to double the opportunity for searchable criteria in the app.
Brian Meiggs, founder of personal finance site My Millennial Guide has a good point. “One mistake small businesses tend to make on Instagram is not creating value. Your Instagram account is similar to a resume. A potential customer will spend seconds on your page and will at most, see your first few IG pics. Then they will decide if they want to scroll through your pictures and eventually follow you. If your initial photos aren’t providing value, then you just lost a potential follower. Every photo you post has to have a purpose, otherwise, why post it?”
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Focus on the user’s needs and preferences
Nick Knoerr of ISlideUSA adds, “You can use IG in a number of ways. Like many businesses, we use it to project our brand. So a majority of our posts revolve around the people who wear and enjoy our products, namely custom and licensed slide sandals. Having grown to almost 41,000 followers, this is a focus for us to maintain our engagement with our core demographic and loyalists to the brand.”
Additionally, UGC or User generated Content is a great way to grow organically. When people share your branded hashtag, it’s easy to source user generated content. It’s also relationship building.
Always ask and get permission (when you share someone’s content) which turns out great too because then they’re aware and will likely engage with the post.
Humanize your brand
Earth Love, a seasonal eco-friendly subscription box and gift company boasts an impressive engagement rating of 17.15% — far higher than the average 2-4%!
The founder Serina Patterson suggests growing organically through engagement. “Many companies want to see their numbers grow into the thousands quickly. But the best return on Instagram for your business is to be consistent and authentic in order to attract real and lasting customers. Create meaningful posts on a regular basis that speaks to your main audience. Don’t just sell. Ask questions, use stories almost everyday (even if it’s just to repost something). All in all, treat Instagram like a community you are building around your brand. Be human, go behind-the-scenes, talk to people. Your customers will love you for it!”
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“Small businesses often forget to humanize themselves as a brand,” says Vicky. “Remember – people connect with people, and NOT logos. As a consumer, I will subconsciously look to see a team dynamic because after all, I will be working with a team. So make your video content as personalized as possible. Make sure to humanize your brand with team pictures, team videos, bloopers, behind the scenes, and content that showcases faces and not logos.
Get ideas that work for your audience AND your brand!
Engage consistently, with a plan
From right before to right after, dedicate some quality time daily to specifically interact with your audience.
“Instagram can be overwhelming and it can also suck you into a hole of endless scrolling,” says Katelyn McCullough, co-Founder Elwynn + Cass.
“I have grown and continue to grow my business on Instagram with consistency. The strategy that I use every single day, which is utilizing the platform as it intended, as a social network. It’s a good idea to put in some time and effort daily, by dedicating 30-45 minutes of engagement in the morning and then the same after I post a photo to Instagram.
Get awesome engagement tricks and other hacks that power users don’t share
I set aside time after I post to Instagram as the first hour is the window of time that you will get the most engagement for a post and the more likes, comments, shares, etc. you get the higher it will rank for Instagram and your photo may end up in the top of the hashtags you use. This in turn allows you to have more exposure to a wider audience.”
Choose your plan and times
“We have largely built our customer pipeline through driving sign ups to content all generated from social media,” says Jay Perkins of KettleBell Kings. “Additionally, social media is cheaper than traditional forms of advertising like Adwords. We can get leads through social media for about 40% less than the Adwords cost for the same targets and they convert at about 10X from social media compared to 6X from traditional forms of online advertising like Adwords. One of the keys is implementing a strategy for how you interact with social media, so for example setting a quota you stick to every day for the number of posts you will interact with by liking and commenting, so people come back to your account.”
Cynthia Hoyt of Darling Digital Strategy adds, “To champion your post to the top, post during hours when the majority of your target audience will be active (typically between 7-9p M-F and early morning on Sunday for us) and comment and engage with other people’s posts for about 30 minutes before you plan to post. Then when your post goes live, continue to comment and engage with your instagram followers and the people who you want to follow.
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Interact in your niche
Katelyn adds, “during the 30-45 minutes that I focus on engagement, I am not mindlessly scrolling. I search the hashtags I used on my photos and then I leave genuine comments (likes are lazy) about my reactions or feelings of the photo. I do this to about 9 or so photos within each hashtag. You will see the time fly by and also be introduced to a variety of new people. Along with this, if the account has an Instagram story you can view, take the time to view it and comment if it resonates with you. Another good way to engage is to go through your own IG story and see who all have viewed it and then go back and check out their accounts and share some love.
It’s called a social network for a reason and just like friendships, it takes time and work to grow, but in the end it’s loyal and engaged followers.”
Increase engagements with your targeted audience
According to Michelle Chuang of Mimi Strawberry, “brands can easily engage with audiences via Instagram through activities of Likes, Comments and Saves, especially since Instagram’s engagement rate is generally 10x higher than Facebook. Plus, the more that a brand engages with Instagram users, the more exposure your feed will receive by the Instagram algorithm. The best practice on post frequency is around 1x a day, and multiple times on Instagram stories.”
Josephine Hardman of Pure Field Healing recommends another great strategy. “Make sure you respond to every single comment on your posts. To go even further, make sure you respond with a unique comment (not just a generic answer or an emoji) and a follow-up question. This ensures that whoever left the original comment will come back and post a second comment in answer to your question, doubling your amount of engagement. (And we all know that comments are often more valuable than likes in terms of engagement metrics.)”
Should you be responding to comments that are clearly from a bot?
Since it will still count towards your overall engagement metric, it’s a good idea to respond to comments from bots with an equally generic comment, unless it’s something inappropriate.
Diversify your content
Creative and purposeful content should be your north star. Every content you spend time and effort on creating, should not only have a purpose but also support your brand and overall goals.
Besides using still images, which is the most common form of content on Instagram, explore the other content options. Bustle has built its following on Instagram by focusing on Memes and collaborative content. Here are a few other extremely popular content forms.
Create IG Stories
Keli Hammond, Author and CEO of B Classic Marketing & Communications goes all out on Stories. “Instagram Stories continues to work wonders for building awareness for my business. By incorporating stories into my business Instagram marketing strategy, I bring in an ongoing influx of leads (many that turn into clients) weekly.
The one thing I’m mindful of, though, is that I don’t use it to sell myself — ever. I never push any of my services or expertise; instead, I show behind the scenes of me and team working and planning our projects. I show our clients, as well any feedback they give about working with my agency. When I really started letting people in to our exclusive day-to-day routines via Insta-stories, I immediately saw the interest in my business skyrocket, so I’ve continued. It’s working so well, I don’t post nearly as many actual photos as I used to. I really just make sure I stay consistent, literally posting to my stories everyday, and the leads continue to pour in.”
Nick also shares how they prioritize Stories. “To keep engagement levels high, we monitor our frequency with posting. We typically will not post more than 4x per week unless we have a new launch or collaboration we are helping promote. But we consistently post Stories, as this helps our rank in the algorithm so that more of our followers will see more of our organic posts throughout the weeks and months.”
Vicky Llerena, CEO of Social Vibes Media recommends harnessing Instagram Highlights. Derived from Stories, Instagram’s Highlights feature allows you to combine multiple stories into long term content.
“Create Highlight covers,” says Vicky. These are categorical highlighted content that remains pinned on your Instagram account. Your followers can view this, and it showcases your services, testimonials, behind the scenes, and other content in story highlights.
You can also create Highlight videos on your Instagram account. Highlight videos or images serve as reminders on who you are and what you do as a company. They showcase service, quality, and personality. Highlight videos can include client testimonials, client projects, behind the scenes, or awards/recognition.”
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Use Hashtags smartly and strategically
There is definitely science and smarts involved while choosing relevant hashtags.
“Use Hashtags wisely” suggests Serina. “Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags, but rather than just fill it up with random or overused hashtags, be strategic. I treat hashtags like a pyramid. Hashtags with under 60k posts get initial visibility. Then add in a few between 60k-500k, and then maybe 3-5 big ones (e.g. over 1 million posts). This way you can maximize visibility on the smaller tags, get more views on the larger ones, or even end up on the Explore page. Make sure your hashtags are relevant to your image and caption and people you want to target (e.g. #veganmama #tealovers). Strive for 20-25 hashtags. I’ve found that posting all 30 hashtags has poorer results.”
Niche down your hashtags
Michelle recommends Growing brand awareness with them. “Using the right hashtags for your business, Instagram can help you find and engage with your target audience. There are over 500 million users on Instagram. A lot of those users are constantly searching through hashtags and “look-alike” aka, people that Instagram suggests following. The sweet spot for hashtags is around 10- 15 and that should be placed in posts, as well as Instagram stories, to increase visibility. This will also enhance the relevancy of content and connecting a brand closer to its intended audiences. And because Instagram is visual-focused, (image, short video, etc.,) it broadens the scope of reach of audience through other in-app features such as Instagram stories, live TV, etc.”
“Make sure you use a mix of hashtags that are popular (like #ootd and #foodgram) and niche specific (like #feedfeedbaking or #styledbyme) so that you can target a variety of audience members, “ adds Cynthia.
Use Scheduling Tools
Scheduling definitely helps to keep your Instagram on focus, by allowing you to do the editing and figure out the ideal hashtags you would want to use.
Serina recommends using an app like Hootsuite, Sproutsocial, Planoly or Later to plan out your feed over the course of a week or month. “This cuts down on time and let’s you curate your feed with more intention. Reposts are another excellent way to curate a beautiful feed without the need to do 100% of your own content creation. I save posts to various collections for reposting later (e.g., Quotes, Home Inspo, Sustainability). “
Make it a game
According to research by Tailwind, accounts that hold Instagram contests grow their followers 70% faster over three months, on average, than accounts that don’t.
Serina shares, “we host a giveaway each month by collaborating with other eco-conscious small businesses. Rather than using spammy hashtags and unlimited tagging, we limit it to one share + answering an optional question. It may not be as viral as some other giveaways, but it does instill a better sense of community, as people can read through the answers. Oftentimes, the folks who win are not sweepers but potential customers. I’ve had a few people become members after receiving a giveaway prize from us. It’s a great way do grow your feed and advertise with a small marketing budget because you only have to pay for shipping!”
“In order to maintain and grow engagement,” adds Nick, “ we consistently stay up to date on new trends, social, and sports commentary. And also run contests (such as design contests, slide giveaways, and voting polls on IG Story).”
Josephine recommends monthly challenges as an excellent way to grow your audience and increase your level of engagement on Instagram. “For instance, I create and host monthly Tarot and self-development challenges. Participants respond to a prompt and post a relevant photo every other day for a month. This keeps them coming back to my profile, and it’s also an organic form of advertising, since every challenge participant tags me in each of their posts. This has helped me increase my number of followers exponentially in a short period of time. Challenges are also great for building an authentic sense of community, because challenge participants start to engage with each other and comment on each other’s posts.
Keep an eye on the competition
Are you in the know about your competitive landscape?
Michelle states, “Instagram is also an effective way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the market. By following key trade partners and competitors, companies can a gain good pulse on important announcements in the industry. You’ll also know what promotions are happening with their competitors, securing an edge in the business they operate in.”
Explore other channels
When was the last time you promoted your Instagram on another channel?
Taylor Peart CEO of Millennial Girls Media recommends encouraging your newsletter subscribers to follow you, adding it to your email signature or even promoting it on your other social media.
At Maroon Oak, there’s a simple way that we engage on Instagram, that works for us. Right after we post, we select 2-3 hashtags from the newest post. We then post meaningful comments on the 10-12 most recent posts under those hashtags. The whole exercise takes less than 5-10 minutes but always results in the relevant audience visiting, liking and even following us.
Instagram users expect a polished feed and unique content, which ultimately is a great brand booster. If your business Instagram does not have a clear focus, cohesive brand colors and a distinct voice, then that’s where you start.
We would love to know what works for you in growing your brand on Instagram.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer and Entrepreneur, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her newest baby, a Bichon named Miltie.