Instagram marketing has truly caught fire recently, with more and more brands from global behemoths to tiny mom-and-pop shops, from online stores to brick-and-mortar outfits hopping on the train. So how do you jump into this already crowded mix and actually be successful?
With endless opportunities to build your brand, develop relationships with consumers, gain exposure, and make sales it’s understandable that you may be feeling overwhelmed with how to start your Instagram marketing strategy.
Not to worry friend! You’re in the right place.
In this blog, we’ll cover...
What is Instagram Marketing?
Creating an Instagram Marketing Strategy
Optimizing Your Profile Page on Instagram
Growing a Follower Base
Increasing Engagement on Instagram
Instagram Marketing Tools
Instagram Marketing Tips to Beat the Algorithm
What is Instagram Marketing?
Put simply, Instagram marketing is how a brand posts, behaves, and interacts on Instagram for the purposes of brand awareness, gaining followers, and influencing sales.
There are several strategies and tools available to marketers interested in using Instagram for promoting their products and services, and we’ll cover all of them today.
Creating an Instagram Marketing Strategy
Every brand's Instagram strategy will be different depending on your style, the type of business you are in, and your goals. That said, successful Instagram brand accounts will all have this in common: a tight focus, clear visual coherence, and consistency with captions and hashtags.
1. Make sure you have a business account set up!
Here’s our guide to Instagram for business that goes through creating an Instagram business profile. With a business account, there are some key features you’ll unlock and the best part is it's free and easy to set up!
It's important to note that a business account on Instagram still does not grant you all the features available to accounts with 10,000 followers. But you will be able to track insights and analytics, and include CTAs like “contact” “call” or “Reserve” on your profile.
2. What are your business goals for Instagram?
Before you start the fun of creating Stories and posting photos, Instagram marketers need to have a clear set of goals, guidelines, and KPIs.
An understanding of what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts on Instagram will help you hone in on the kinds of photos, captions, and stories you post, in addition to informing your share ratio and engagement style. Here’s some ideas of goals that Instagram can help marketers achieve:
Make sure you utilize the Shopping feature and share product releases, sales, and contests to your Stories. You could also promote your posts to get in front of more eyes.
Grow popularity through word-of-mouth
Look at ways to build word-of-mouth and UGC, such as sharing to your Stories when you’re mentioned, making sure you prominently feature a branded hashtag in your bio so people know how to get featured, and it would also be a good idea to partner with nano and micro-influencers.
Keep up with competitors
Are your competitors killing it on Instagram with massive engagement and follower numbers? Clearly, they are getting something out of the platform and have invested time to make that happen.
Look closely at the hashtags they use, the type of content they post, and which Instagram marketing tools they seem to utilize the most (are their Stories an afterthought or the main event? Perhaps they do more long-form IGTV posts). You can then either invest in the same features or expand into the spaces they're not paying attention to. Check your analytics on a regular basis to see how you measure up with competitors.
3. Who is your audience?
After you have your goals laid out, it’s time to determine your target audience, which will further inform the kind of content you post.
A good place to start is following hashtags related to your industry and see what kinds of content your consumers and competitors are posting.
How Effective is Instagram Marketing?
Well, like any marketing strategy, you'll get out of Instagram what you put into it. If you allow yourself time to build a following, engage with that following, work with the right influencers, utilize Instagram shopping if you're an e-commerce site, use ads if it's in your budget, and create solid, visually cohesive content, then Instagram will yield benefits for your brand. We'll go into these strategies and more below.
Optimizing Your Profile Page on Instagram
Don’t skimp on optimizing your Instagram profile. It might not seem worth it given how small a space it is. People just go straight to the pictures right?
Well, maybe, but your bio, profile photo, CTAs, website link, and Instagram Stories highlights tell a lot about you. In today’s world of distracted consumers, you don’t want to give them any excuse to move on from your profile without following.
It’s a small space, but it’s super important. This is where you tell people who you are and what you do in very few words. Social media copywriters, this is your time to shine.
1. Instagram bio
The character count for an Instagram bio is 150. You need to cover who you are, what you do, and any other descriptors you wish to attach to your brand. Often brands use this space to highlight current campaigns or their support of a current social justice issue such as BLM. If you have a branded hashtag, the bio is a great place to put it.
Tip: Emojis are a great way to breathe life into your bio. And for you more wordy types, it’s a great way to increase the character count you have to work with! Instead of “Listen” you can use the ear emoji, instead of “we specialize in video production” you can use the slate or camera emoji.
Remember you only have one link, so if there are other things you do that you’d like to call attention to, your bio text is the place to do that.
For example, Rebel Girls is an educational girls empowerment site and they have a number of different types of media they specialize in, from books to podcasts. So they use their bio to call attention to that.
Your Highlights row (circular icons that, when clicked, bring the user to a saved Instagram story or group of Stories) gives visitors to your Instagram profile a quick glance of the kinds of Stories you post. They can select ones they find interesting to get a better idea of how your brand uses Instagram Stories.
Tip: Instagram Stories Highlights are typically categorized or themed. You have very little space to title each Highlight, so stick to one or two words if possible.
There are no hard and fast rules for the best Stories Highlights format, however, most brands favor an icon consistency approach.
For example, Rabbies Tours uses the light blue from their logo and a clear symbol for each Highlight:
And Bombas chooses brightly colored abstract patterns for their highlights:
By contrast, Royal Opera House has a less cohesive look, utilizing a combination of text covers and pictures of people. They also have two stories with the same exact image and date, which can cause confusion.
3. Bio Link
Instagram is infamous for being stingy with link opportunities. (Another reason some marketers may be incredulous about its usefulness). For this reason, the link in your bio is extremely important. While a website homepage is the most common link to include here, you could also use the space to promote a product release, campaign, contest, or special announcement.
Most people by now are used to seeing “link in bio” in Instagram captions, and brands have become accustomed to regularly updating this link to correspond with the most recent post.
Tip: Because of how Instagram’s algorithm works you do need to be careful about associating your bio link with anything time sensitive. If you publish a post about a limited-time offer, directing users to your bio link, by the time some users see that post, the promotion may already be over. For time-sensitive promotions, a “swipe up” link from Instagram Stories would be more appropriate.
Instagram has slowly rolled out more and more opportunities for linking through their other features, such as IGTV and shopping posts.
4. Profile Photo
The profile photo on Instagram is round and 320 x 320 pixels. It should represent your company or brand clearly. Most businesses on Instagram use a circular version of their logo. Whether you use a photo of a person or object or a graphic, the basic rules to follow are: not too busy, not too close up, good quality, and in focus.
Remember when we said a business account is the first step for an effective Instagram marketing strategy? This is one of the many reasons why! A business profile allows you to post CTAs to your profile, giving your followers easy ways to get in touch.
The basic CTAs available are: Call, Email, Order Food, Book Now, Reserve
Growing a Follower Base
The question on everyone’s mind is always, “How do I get more Instagram followers?” Particularly that coveted 10,000 mark that unlocks even more benefits.
Welcome to the chicken and egg of successful Instagram marketing. You can’t have engagement if you don’t already have a following. But it’s difficult to grow a following without engagement. So how do you start?
1. Offer real value for your audience
Like any other social media platform, Instagram requires a content strategy. Putting out content daily with no idea what your audience wants or needs is a futile attempt at social media marketing.
This is why establishing who your audience is an important first step for your Instagram marketing strategy. Once you understand this, you can then craft posts catering to what they’ll respond to. As always, track your analytics carefully as soon as you start posting. The sooner you get an idea of what people are responding to, the sooner you can hone your Instagram content.
2. Partner with influencers and brand ambassadors
Another tactic to rapidly increase your followers is to partner with someone who has a similar audience as you, but with more engagement. Gone are the days where a celebrity endorsement would be the only choice. Today, micro-influencers can be just as or more impactful, and they’re a fraction of the cost.
Approach someone who is operating in the same space as you and decide on how a partnership can be mutually beneficial to both parties. Often offering micro-influencers products, discounts, or coupon codes for a feature is well-appreciated and can save you marketing costs.
The key here is value – both brand and influencer have to be providing value to each others’ audiences for a successful influencer strategy to work.
3. Use Reels
You could be forgiven for confusing all of Instagram’s video features since there are a lot! Reels were introduced worldwide in 2020 and have grown exponentially in popularity for their huge audience-building potential. Reels are accessed by the middle button of your bottom navigation bar on Instagram, so they are already prominently featured.
The important note for brands is that Reels showcase your content not to people already following you, but to adjacent audiences, based on their interests and the kinds of posts they already engage with. Reels are designed to be similar to TikTok videos and are shared frequently between the two platforms.
In contrast to Instagram Stories, Reels offer more editing and effects options. They can be shared to the Explore page, your Stories, and as a post. One of the many unique features (depending on how you look at it) is if you use your own audio, it can be repurposed by others for their Reels.
Tip: Check out our full guide to repurposing content for more insights.
For example, one of the most popular audio tracks is the “Happy Dog” song, originally created by TikTok user “deejaymoo41” and has been reused thousands of times by Instagram and TikTok users:
4. Promote outside of Instagram
Promoting your Instagram handle and page on other platforms is one of the most effective but under-utilized tactics. You might already have a large email list and you almost certainly have a website. Use these channels and more to tell your audiences about your Instagram account.
On your website, your header and/or footer should have your social buttons, and your handle should be in your email signature. For the brick-and-mortar sector, a “follow us” sign with your handle up in a window is an effective method.
Increasing Engagement on Instagram
Now that you have a following, the next step is to encourage engagement — the critical component of your social media marketing success. A big following is meaningless if it is low-quality.
Here are some top tips for driving engagement:
1. Post content that sparks conversation.
Engagement might be difficult to achieve by the cold hard numbers, but the concept is simple: post content that people not only enjoy but also talk about. This means they leave comments, share to their Stories, and tag their friends (a simple “@mybestfriend thought you’d like this!” is HUGE when it comes to increasing both your follower count and your engagement analytics).
When considering the conversational aspect remember these key points:
Today’s social media users, particularly younger audiences, love brands that are authentic and values-oriented. Instagram is the perfect platform for breaking the fourth wall and showing behind the curtain a bit. Consider behind-the-scenes videos and candid shots. Let your followers get to know the people behind the brand. Note: As we mentioned before, visual cohesion is a key to Instagram success, so for showing a more unpolished side, consider posting BTS content to your Stories and Reels.
Just like a conversation in the real world, engagement online is not a one-way street. Be friendly, answer questions, and reply back to comments as your brand to establish a baseline of actually listening as opposed to simply sitting back and waiting for the comments to roll in (they won’t).
Check out great Instagram marketing examples from 20 different brands
Hashtags are incredibly effective when used correctly. Use them in your post captions, Stories, and comments for maximum exposure, as long as they fit authenticity. Branded hashtags are the perfect Instagram tactic for encouraging UGC (user-generated content). It makes it easy for you to share posts when users tag you, thereby encouraging more engagement! Not sure how and where to use hashtags? Check out our ultimate hashtag guide for the top tips.
Instagram users can also follow hashtags, which is a very popular way of discovering new profiles. So choose the tags you use wisely, and post using them consistently (but not robotically) so that followers of those tags see your posts regularly on their feeds and associate those topics with you.
Tip: Avoid looking spammy with this Stories hack: make the hashtag text color the same color as your background, minimize, and put them on top of each other or behind a sticker. They’ll be invisible and your Story will still show up when someone searches for one of those tags. But beware — spamming is spamming even if (or perhaps especially if) you hide them. So only use hashtags that are relevant to your brand, industry, and specific to the Story.
How many hashtags are allowed on an Instagram post?
30 is the maximum number of hashtags you can add to an Instagram post or comment. However, most studies show that the sweet spot is somewhere between 3-5. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules.
For some brands, more hashtags may be more appropriate, such as Blick Art Materials. They tag their posts closer to the max. limit of 30, but they keep it specific to art terms and art communities.
As a general rule, niche rather than broad is the way to go — you’ll reach people who are actually interested in your Instagram content. So it's recommended to avoid going the one-word #blessed #love #inspiration route. But again, it's up to you and it somewhat depends on your brand — consider Travel and Leisure who use #travel and #cheese on this post:
3. Use Instagram Stories
One of the most-loved and most-used features of the platform, Instagram Stories can help you drastically improve your engagement. First off, they are engaging in nature — pictures and videos taken and shared in the moment; ephemeral content that disappears after 24 hours creating a sense of urgency.
With Stories, you can show your audience that true sense of authenticity with off-the-cuff posts, behind-the-scenes footage, and sharing teasers for upcoming products. You can get feedback by creating polls, and build relationships by sharing your partners' and users' posts. You can also treat Stories as another sales funnel, leading customers to your website.
Tip: Once you get 10,000 followers you can add a “swipe up” feature to your Stories, giving you another link opportunity from Instagram's platform.
Instagram Marketing Tools
So we’ve gone through how to effectively market on Instagram from creating a strategy to building a following and encouraging engagement. In order to make sure you take full advantage of everything at your disposal on Instagram, here’s a breakdown of the key features available on Instagram to take your marketing to the next level:
1. Instagram Posts
The “OG IG”. Photo posts are where Instagram started and while it’s perhaps arguable that they are now the least valued aspect when it comes to conversions like purchases and clicks, they still showcase a cohesive story about your brand — one that’s more set in stone than Stories, IGTV, and Reels.
Posts can be pictures (single or multiple), videos, GIFs, or Boomerangs but should always be aesthetically pleasing, and are usually somewhat visually similar in color scheme, filter type, size, and style. Your captions should be attention-grabbing, interesting, and informative.
2. IGTV (Instagram TV)
Launching in 2018, Instagram TV is still a bit mystifying for many — users and marketers alike. A separate app, Instagram Live can be used by itself or concurrently within Instagram. It’s a way to create longer videos for your followers, anywhere from 5 minutes to 60 minutes. Ideal for supplementary how-tos, product launch videos, or more creative content. You can think of IGTV as a mini YouTube channel.
Due to their more “hidden” nature (accessible from a brand's profile or the Explore page, but not through a nav button like Reels or Shop), IGTV videos can also be used to showcase a sub-brand or niche campaign that doesn’t exactly fit within your primary offering.
For example, Stitch Fix uses its IGTV channel for spotlighting the influencers and brand ambassadors they work with. Recent posts promote healthy living through recipes and exercise, even though Stitch Fix at its core is a fashion brand.
3. Instagram Reels
As mentioned above, Reels make it easy to find new followers on Instagram since they’re easy to find and are shown to a wide audience based on common interests. To reiterate, Reels are prominently discoverable from the bottom nav, can use repurposed audio, and are designed so users can mimic TikTok’s distinctive style of editing.
For more information read our Instagram Reels Guide.
4. Instagram Stories
Though they seem ubiquitous now, Stories didn’t launch on Instagram until 2016 — six years after the Instagram app hit the shelves. Despite being a bit older than the newer flashier Instagram features, Stories are an excellent standby if you don’t want to dive into these other features just yet.
Their ephemeral nature makes the sense of urgency fun and addictive — if your Stories are entertaining, your followers will continuously tune in (and the more they do, the more likely your Stories will show in their timeline).
Instagram Stories are a great and easy way to share user-generated content as well. When someone tags your handle or uses your branded hashtag, you can easily find it and share it.
5. Instagram Live
Instagram Live videos are created through the Instagram Stories feature, so they similarly disappear forever once they’re done (though like Stories you can share Instagram Live broadcasts to your Highlights).
Live broadcasts are a great way to build engagement because they literally allow people to comment and chat live, and these comments show up in a steady stream on the screen. Instagram Lives are often utilized by celebrities, providing an opportunity for followers to ask questions, get the inside scoop on an upcoming project, and feel like a “friend.”
Because Lives are filmed through your phone and are often handheld, it creates a casual intimacy great for building a personable connection with your audience.
The person hosting the broadcast can also invite special guests, type questions to viewers, and of course, play with Instagram's array of fun filters.
6. Instagram Ads
Instagram ads are an excellent way to both increase your reach and influence sales without creating an intrusive or jarring experience for the user. Ads on Instagram appear as normal posts, distinguished only by a subtle CTA*, which can say anything from a soft sell (“Learn More”) or a hard sell (“Install Now”).
The full list of available CTAs for Instagram ads are: Apply Now, Book Now, Contact Us, Download, Learn More, Request Time, See Menu, Play Game, Use App, Shop Now, Sign Up, Watch More
*Note: depending on your business type, you may or may not have access to all these CTA options
Importantly, if the user clicks on your CTA, they can complete the action without leaving the Instagram app. While some marketers may balk at this, remember this is the Instagram game. And as we’ve said, finding ways to link from the app is famously difficult, so maximizing your conversion copy and in-app purchase experience within Instagram’s landscape is crucial.
How much does it cost to advertise on Instagram?
When running ads on Instagram you can expect to pay anywhere from $0.20 - $6.70 depending on the bidding model you use.
If you’re using Instagram to supplement your e-commerce goals, then the Shopping feature is going to be your bread and butter. Like Reels, the Instagram Shop is prominently accessible from the bottom navigation menu on Instagram. Think of it as a virtual mall.
To get your products showcased there, you first need to set up a Shop through your profile. Then you can start adding product tags to posts and curate collections for people to easily search within your Shop.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, with a business profile on Instagram, you have access to insights and analytics that will help you understand your engagement rate and follower growth.
Instagram Marketing Tips to Beat the Algorithm
It might seem like all of the above is futile when the space is so crowded and the algorithm is so mysterious. It's true, there are hundreds of different factors that impact your position on Instagram's feed. But that also means there are tons of tactics you can use to increase your chances of getting in front of eyeballs.
Here are seven tactics that are among the most impactful:
- Engagement: The algorithm considers likes, comments, shares, video views, stories, and saved posts as engagement and ranks your content accordingly. Not all engagement is created equal though: the more words in a comment the better, and obviously, a comment trumps a like and a like trumps a view.
- Direct shares: Users can now share directly from Instagram, which Instagram counts as high-quality engagement.
- Relationships: Instagram calls this the “best friends feature” — it wants to show you your “best friend’s” content first; so users that you are most likely to know in real life, engage with each other’s content, and direct message on the platform.
- Relevance: How relevant a post is to a user can be determined by the content type that they usually engage with, hashtags they use, or location.
- Timeliness: The time of day you post isn’t as important now as Instagram’s feed isn’t chronological anymore. But recency is still important. You need to be posting consistently throughout the week.
- Searches: The algorithm recognizes people who are regularly searching for your business page or branded hashtag.
- Time spent on post: In addition to engagement, Instagram is also measuring how long a user is spending absorbing the content of your post. Achieve this by using the multiple posts feature (more than one photo or video per post), and long, descriptive captions.
There we have it! Instagram marketing is all about consistency and perseverance. Once you've untapped what your audience responds to, you've won more than half the battle. So get grammin'!
Meltwater’s online media monitoring software monitors over 350 million social sources, including Instagram. Harnessing media intelligence can help determine which posts or Stories generated the most active audience engagement and whether it was positive or negative feedback – giving marketers the insights necessary to inform and refine their social media strategy. Fill out the form below to learn more.