Forget your preconceptions, Instagram is a platform for business.

Since its inception, many have thought of Instagram as the trendy, selfie-sharing Facebook for millennials. As much as this may have been true in early stages, Instagram has grown and blossomed into much more. With 800 million monthly users and engagement levels that literally dwarf all other social platforms, Instagram is becoming less like a platform for business and much more the platform for growing your business or your brand.

We are going to explore some of the primary reasons why you need to be on instagram, and then some tricks for how you can conquer the platform. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Why Instagram for Business Can't Be a Nice-To-Have (5 Reasons)

Instagram has entered the territory of "must-have" rather than "nice-to-have" when it comes to social marketing for businesses. There are a few key reasons why every business should have an Instagram account, and why you’re going to be an awful lot like Mackey if you don’t get with it.

1. Skyrocket Your Engagement

The data shows that Instagram is the #1 platform for getting post engagement.

That means that if you want to establish a relationship with your client base (which you do), then you're going to need that post engagement that only Instagram can provide.

But let's back it up for sec...

It's an interesting time to be involved in social media marketing… Facebook is facing major allegations, and as a result—people are doing crazy things like starting movements to delete their Facebook accounts (for my sake, and the sake of your distant relatives, please do not delete your Facebook). As much as internet trolls might have you think that it’s the social media Armageddon, I assure you that life will go on.

It might be looking a little overcast in the internet landscape, but before we pack our bags—there’s still some hope. Facebook’s more charismatic and adopted little brother (Instagram) still has users entranced with its purity, and boasts a pristine opportunity for brands who are ready to stir up the marketing pot.

Now, Instagram is the #1 platform for post engagement because its focus on visual content creates a very unique space for brands to interact with others—and if you’re a skeptic, the numbers don’t lie. According to a study conducted by Forrester, Facebook and Twitter organic post engagement levels are currently less than 0.1%. In comparison, the millennial-centric Instagram boasts regular engagement at 4% for brands. (That’s 40x better btw).

2. Grow Your Following with Ease

Eighty percent of Instagram accounts already follow a business on Instagram, and 65% of top-performing posts feature products (sproutsocial). The translation here is obvious, Instagrammers want to see branded content, and they want to connect with brands.

Add the engagement levels for brands (4%) that we just saw and we have the optimal landscape for growing your branded following on this platform.

Now if only I could get my personal account engagement to hit 4%...

Keep reading and we will get into the 6 steps that you need to take advantage of this opportunity and start growing your following today.

3. Generate Leads

Instagram is a tool for lead generation.

We know that social media strongly influences purchase decisions, even if that is at the subconscious level of the consumer decision making process. But, we wanted to know how large of a role Instagram actually played in lead generation, so we asked Megan and Scott:

60% of users have first heard of a product or service through the platform, and over 120 million Instagram users visited a website, got directions, or called/emailed/direct messaged a business as a result of their engagement with the platform (sproutsocial). That means that 120 million Instagrammers have been lead to a business through the platform.

It’s 2018, and our favorite historical lead generation tool (Facebook) is making algorithm changes that are making it harder for brands to get heard. With engagement rates already resting around the 0.1% mark, it is the ideal time to expand your reach to include some Instagram marketing.

Related Reading: Dennis Yu and Logan Young on Facebook’s News Feed Bombshell

4. Stay On Top of “Instagram Reviews”

A little known fact is that when an Instagram user posts something on Insta and uses a location tag, this tag isn’t owned or regulated by the business that owns the physical location. All location tags on Instagram, or "Instagram Geotags"," are tied to a seperate public account that Instagram will store posts under.

Instagram Geotags

For businesses, this is a blessing and a curse.

Best Case Scenario:

Say you own a local restaurant and you have numerous dedicated and consistent customers who love to post at your restaurant and have nothing but glowing words to accompany beautiful pictures of your space. When others look at your location on Instagram, this is what they see, and they are that much more likely to convert and become loyal customers as well.

Worst Case Scenario:

You own the same local restaurant, but one dissatisfied customer took it upon themselves to post a picture of your front door exclaiming their disgust with the service that they received. This post has lingered on the web and likely dissuaded other customers from posting to the location, and has resulted in the loss of unknown amounts of revenue through prospects who steered away from your business as a result.

Although you have no control over the things that users might be saying about your brand (much like standard reviews), you can still help mitigate some possible damages by having a branded instagram account and monitoring the posts on your location. Much like negative reviews left on other review platforms, by responding to negative instagram posts, you are much more likely to prevent harm to your reputation.

Download this free framework to ensure that you always bring your A-game to Instagram: Review Response Templates

5. Don’t Get Left Behind

As of 2017, nearly 71% of businesses in the United States were already using instagram. The release of Instagram business profiles and the ability to to run ads/analytics with ease have been large factors in driving the Instagram growth movement.

Instagram and Twitter Business Usage in the US

Source: eMarketer

You may notice that this looks like an exponential growth graph, and that’s probably because it is. Fortunately for you, just because 71% of these businesses are using instagram doesn’t mean that these businesses are using it to its full potential.

We can make a pretty good estimate as to where this usage rate is going to reside by the end of 2018, so don’t get left behind.

Next, we will address some of the challenges with Instagram that might have you stressing, and then we will walk you through the 6 steps that your business/brand needs to conquer this platform.

The Challenges with Instagram

Let’s press pause for a second. Much like my complexion, Instagram isn’t perfect. There are some challenges that marketers, businesses, and influencers alike still face.

For organic posting, Instagram does not allow accounts to insert links directly into posts. This can present a challenge for marketers, particularly those that are accustomed to Facebook and LinkedIn organic marketing. As much as this makes it difficult to redirect prospects to your site, it is also one of the reasons that Instagram remains a platform with minimal spam.

The solution: Like most things, users have a found a work-around. This typically is accomplished by inserting a link into your bio, and then simply referring to this link from your posts. This extra step can also act as a bit of a prospect qualifier (since we’re optimists today). This process is not ideal, but it’s also part of the beauty of the platform.

💡 Don't be afraid to change your bio link! If you've released a new product/feature/item and want to drive new traffic to it, you can update the link in your bio to the specific feature page. Then hype the new release with stories and Insta posts that invite users to visit the link in the bio to check it out.

Instagram Link Integration

Your bio link can be constantly changing to different pages on your website depending on what product you want to feature, new contests and promotions, and more. Don’t be afraid to test and experiment to determine what works and drives the most clicks!

2. Text Negligence

People don’t go on Instagram to read up on their distant relatives questionable political views. There’s another place to go for that… People do go on Instagram to see high quality visual content. That means that imagery is key for Instagram, and the copy that goes along often plays second-fiddle.  

This might mean that you have to rethink and re envision the content strategies that you have applied on other platforms, but it doesn’t mean that you will be less effective.

The solution: Focus on creating visual content that captivates users and conveys the words without even saying them. Yes, that means you might have to steer away from some stock images, and focus on lots of real content from your brand. Some of this real content might look like:

  • Photos in the office
  • Photos involving staff
  • Pictures of products or services in action
  • And always think about what the image has to say

Instagram Text Negligence

Now, are you up for the challenge?

How to Conquer Instagram for Business (6 Steps)

So, we’ve addressed the challenges that this millennial-driven platform presents for brands, but before you return to your Facebook-deleting thoughts, we thought we’d throw together the absolute best ways to navigate these concerns and make your Instagram effort one that I might even see come across my discover channel.

1. Post, Post, and Post Some More

Post frequency is directly tied to the engagement that you are able to generate, and Instagram's algorithm favors people and businesses that post at higher frequencies. I like to think of it like making friends, and if you don’t make friendly with the platform first, you’re going to have a pretty hard time using it to make friends with others.

Tailwind conducted a massive study across 100,000 instagram posts over a 3 month period to determine the impact that posting frequency had on the growth of likes, following, and engagement rates. The findings showed that the greater your posting frequency, the greater your engagement and growth in following and likes.

In other words, if you want to grow, you need to post once a day.

How Often to Post on Instagram

Source: Tailwind

For agencies: This need for post frequency and freshness presents an opportunities for agencies to step in and help businesses strategize and gather Insta-worthy content for their feeds. By providing a platform that allows the business to schedule posts days or weeks in advance, business clients can be sure that new posts are going out frequently enough to keep up engagement, and agencies can even supplement these posts with additional content expertly-crafted for their feeds.

2. Collaborate with Others

In comparison to other social networks, Instagram users display a much higher level of openness and willingness to interact with each other. The Instagram algorithm also encourages interaction and favors brands and personalities that interact the most, forming a highly engaged and opportune environment for marketers.

In fact, 80% of influencers prefer Instagram for brand collaboration—making it the #1 platform for brands to get in touch with influencers or each other (eMarketer).

Favorite Influencer Platforms

Source: eMarketer

The two most common ways to collaborate are to:

  • Partner with other brands or personalities. By building partnerships with other brands, you have the opportunity to do takeovers where you might use each others instagram accounts for a day to share posts and stories with a new audience. This can be a very masterful technique because it is entirely mutually beneficial. If you are the CEO of a company and you take over the Insta stories for another company, you are successfully driving your following towards this other brand, but you are also building your network by exposing yourself to a new audience.
  • Sponsor other brands or personalities. To most, this is known as influencer marketing. This process essentially works by using some of your ad spend to sponsor people or brands that already have large instagram followings. In turn, these people/brands will then promote you, or your products/services over instagram, and redirect their followers to your Instagram account. If done properly, this can be an effective way to amass a great deal of loyal and engaged followers.

Instagram Influencer Sponsorship

We will explore these scrappy tactics further, and how to successfully implement them in step 6 below.

3. Use Analytics

Business accounts on Instagram have access to a powerful analytics page that can provide insights into the demographics of your audience, the reach and responses to the content that you are producing, as well as details on visits, clicks, and impressions.

This information can help you better understand how your audience is engaging with your content to identify gaps and even uncover new posting strategies to grow that engagement further.

To access your analytics, simply go to your profile home, and select the graphic on the top toolbar that resembles a bar graph.

Instagram Activity Analytics

 

Instagram Audience Analytics

Once in analytics, there are two primary benefits for your brand:

  1. At face value, you can easily determine when the best times to post are so that you can maximize the interactions between your audience and your brand.
  2. To take it one step further, you can apply filters to your posts to see which ones are your top performers. This can help you select posts that you might want to promote with ad spend, or simply analyze trends among your posts to better understand what content your followers engage with the most.

4. Master Your Hashtags

This powerful tool is literally the key to unlocking Instagram’s potential. Hashtags are essentially the SEO for the platform. And now, with the recent introduction of hashtag following capability for users, now is the best time to optimize your hashtag strategy. The shocking part? Though most brands do use hashtags, most of them only use 1 or 2 tags per post. By not using the right tags or enough tags, these brands are missing out on a great deal of possible engagement.

Average Brand Hashtags per Post

Source: sproutsocial

So lets make sure that you aren’t one of these brands. Here are the steps to a killer hashtag strategy:

  1. Research hashtags for your industry to find the golden nuggets.
    1. Hashtags are becoming more of an art than a science on Insta. The trick if you want to truly be successful with your hashtag strategy is to try and find lower volume hashtags that are still ultra relevant to your brand. The problem with high volume hashtags like “#love” is that there are already 1.3B+ posts to this tag—so you are only going to get a couple seconds in the limelight when Insta catalogues your post.
    2. Pro-tip: Try adding roots to over-saturated tags. So instead of “#love”, try something like “#instalove”.
  2. Use a combination of popular tags and branded tags.
    1. A popular hashtag would be something like “#love”, “#throwbackthursday”, or anything else that is likely overused on the platform. Though the market for these tags can be saturated, the purpose is to increase the reach of your message
    2. A branded hashtag would be something that is unique to a business, and is quite often a company name, tagline, or name of a product line/campaign. Or if you’re feeling bold, they can have almost nothing to do with any of those areas, and everything to do with your identity instead. An example of one of Vendasta’s is our #ConquerLocal tag that is a huge component of our brand identity. The purpose then of branded tags is to connect themes for both you and your audience, so if you don’t have any yet, start thinking about what you might be able to use!
  3. Use 9 hashtags on each post.
    1. Oddly specific, right? Unlike other platforms, instagram users don’t seem to get hashtag fatigue, and a study conducted by TrackMaven found that 9 hashtags is the sweet-spot. But—I’m sure I could forgive you if you felt the need to use 10...

Number of Hashtags to Optimize Engagement

Source: SocialMediaToday

Now that we’re a bunch of hashtagging wizards, we can’t forget the most important part of any instagram post—the graphic. Even if you’ve synthesized hashtagging for your brand, your post will never get any traction if the content isn't killer too.

5. Keep Content Real, and Keep it Engaging

One great fear that many Instagram users have is that if they amp up their posting and start hashtagging like crazy, that their engagement through likes and comments will decrease. Contrary to popular belief (and maybe even sense), that has been to shown to be the exact opposite of the reality.

How to Increase Instagram Engagement Rates

Source: Tailwind

So, you know that you need to post everyday, and you know that your engagement isn’t going to suffer as a result. The next component is keeping this content real. Instagrammers do not want to feel deceived by the content that they are seeing. This is a platform for telling a story, and telling it visually. Here’s how to you can always keep your content true and engaging:

  1. Clarify your vision and strategy.
    1. What are your goals, brand voice, and execution plan for your Instagram account and the vision you're trying to create? Document it, create guidelines, and keep track of your results as you move forward!
  2. Know your audience.
    1. Who are you trying to reach with your brand and Instagram presence? How do they operate on the platform, and how can you use that to create content that fits into their feed? Your analytics can help with this by isolating the age demographics that you are reaching and when the optimal times to post are. However, this piece of the puzzle stretches much deeper. You need to know if your viewers like milk or sugar in their coffee, so that you can always serve them the content that they're after. How tacky was that metaphor?
  3. Maintain a consistent style.
    1. No one can tell you what your brand of style can or should be. This is for you to explore and for you to decide. Pro tip: Find what it is about your offering that is different than what anyone else can offer viewers, and build your style around that.
  4. Post every day.

Pro-tip: Make sure that you post some faces on your account. Pictures with faces get 38% more likes than those without. So take advantage of team and event photo opportunities; these photos keep your brand human.

6. Get Scrappy with Insta Features & Tactics

This is where Instagram truly gets fun.

Data shows that some of the best ways to get high engagement and interaction with your posts involve getting creative and exploring some of the many possibilities that Instagram makes available to you. Some of our personal favorites at Vendasta are:

Videos

When done well, video content is one of the best methods for stimulating engagement, generating leads, increasing click-throughs, and eventually making sales. And this value is not lost on Instagram. In fact, according to NewsWhip, the average engagement for videos on the platform is growing faster than that of images. :smoke:

The foundational to doing Instagram videos well is pretty simple. Post. Content. Worth. Watching. We know that instagram is a platform for telling stories, so continue to tell compelling stories in your videos. You have 60 seconds to tell the world anything you want to convey about your brand. Some great ways to stand out in the crowd and drive value for your brand include:

  1. Creating how-to videos.
    1. Is there something that you can teach viewers in under a minute?
  2. Promoting a product/service/event.
    1. A quick video can be a great way to remind your followers about an upcoming event or product release. A promotional video can also act as a good external marketing tool if you hashtag it well and reach the right audience!
  3. Curating cultural content.
    1. If you want to build loyalty for your brand and enhance your reputation, don’t be afraid to have some fun and share some cultural content from your organization! You might be surprised by the amount of engagement that this type of content can earn.
  4. Show some behind the scenes business activity.
    1. This tactic is valuable for a couple reasons. For one, it acts a humanizing element for your brand, and makes viewers feel like they are truly in the loop. And in addition to this, it demonstrates authority and authenticity (2 of our favorite parts of social media marketing).
    2. Pro-tip: One of the best ways to create this authority is to take video of the video—show some cameras.

Social guru, Dennis Yu loves giving his followers a peak at behind the scenes activity:

...taking video of the video, that’s inception. That's the dream inside the dream, because when you have pictures of cameras, people think you must be really important...This creates authority, and this humanizes you.

Dennis Yu

Chief Technology Officer, BlitzMetrics

Stories

This is a relatively new feature that basically takes foundational Instagram and mashes it with the other millennial platform, Snapchat. Here is one of our most recent stories promoting a local business branding workshop that we are putting on: Vendasta Instagram Story 300 million people use stories every day, and 33% of the most viewed stories come from businesses. In addition to this, 1 in 5 organically posted stories receive a direct message (BufferSocial). These numbers make stories a highly appetizing and worthwhile venture for businesses to pursue. Use your stories to:

  1. Promote content/events.
    1. As seen above, Instagram can be a great tool for reminding viewers about key events, sales, or new product/service/content releases.
  2. Show cultural happenings at your organization.
    1. Since these often fun stories only have a lifespan of 24 hours, they make the ideal environment for showcasing some guilt-free cultural happenings at your organization. This can help build some brand loyalty and allows you the opportunity to better define your brand, without having to stress so much about this content aligning with existing brand styles and strategies.
  3. Conduct polls.
    1. A growing trend with instagram stories has been the integration of polls. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a hard time not giving your feedback when you see one of these overly eye catchy polls pop up on someone’s story. For brands, not only can these be a lot of fun, but they can also provide fast and valuable insights into your products and services without costing you a dime. In marketing, it doesn’t get much better than that.
  4. Show more behind the scenes business activity.

Live Streams

This is basically just a continuation of the past 2 points, so the logic here is pretty simple. But, when you go “live” on Instagram, you jump right to the front of the stories feed. If you are looking to expand your reach and catch some new attention, this might be the ticket. Instagram Live Streams All you have to do now is start streaming something that drives value for your brand. Pro-tip: Just keep it interesting and engaging to watch.

Contests

This idea of hosting contests is nothing new to marketers. This style of post usually involves asking users to “tag 2 friends for a chance to win ____”, or nearly any other possible combination of tagging, posting, etc. This scrappy trick usually doesn’t cost your organization much (other than maybe some discounts or swag) and is a great way to acquire new followers and greater reach for your brand.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, some brands that have killed this tactic include Heineken, Ben & Jerry’s, Sony, and many more.

Instagram Contests

Here are your instructions:

  1. Determine your call to action.
    1. Do you want users to tag their friends? Post content and tag you? Making this decision will be the first step. Keep in mind that participation levels will falter depending on the amount of action that you are requesting from participants.
  2. Give away some ____.
    1. Naturally, you must have some form of reward for participants, so make sure that it’s appetizing enough that Insta users want to take part!
  3. Watch your engagement soar.
  4. Repeat.

Takeovers

A takeover is quite literally just as it sounds. It is taking over another person’s, or another brand’s Instagram temporarily and sharing content on it as if it were your own.

This is a really creative way to collaborate with other brands and cross-promote brands/content. Back in the stone ages (2012) this strategy had its roots as a fun way for new Instagrammers to collaborate, but it has shaped into much more of a strategic play.

Don’t forget that this is a 2 way street. Others can host take-overs on your brand to drive their following towards you, but you can also takeover other brands. This is truly a mutually beneficial tactic because it drives engagement with new audiences for both sides that are involved in the takeover.

Instagram Takeovers

If you want to run a successful account takeover, there are some key checkpoints that can help you stay on track:

  1. Make a plan.
    1. Are you taking over someone else's account? Is someone taking over yours? Are you swapping? Are you just going to be posting Insta stories, or are you going to be running the news feed too?
    2. Make sure to map out limitations and boundaries before hand as well—because it would defeat the purpose of doing a takeover if it damages a relationship in the process.
  2. Map out success metrics.
    1. Engagement. This largely comes in the form of interactions, so set goals for the number of people that you are aiming to have view your posts, like your posts, comment on your posts, etc. And if you are just taking over the stories, similar metrics can still be used!
    2. Awareness. Are you trying to create awareness for an event? Just for your brand? Use metrics like follower growth, clicks, traffic to your site, etc.
  3. Promote it.
    1. Make sure and announce the takeover on Instagram leading up to it, either through posts or stories.
    2. Don’t stop on Instagram, share it on other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
    3. Get other contributors involved! If they are willing to take part ina takeover, they are likely going to be more than interested in promoting it too!
  4. Do it.
    1. Execute the plan, then reflect on your objectives to determine success.

Use Influencers

The success of this marketing avenue is founded in the basis that people still trust people and word-of-mouth more than anything else. This theory holds more true on Instagram than any other comparable platform. I’m going to be honest, if Dwayne Johnson posted today and told me to buy something, there’s a 105% chance that I’m going to be the new owner of that product or service.

Everyday people build organic personal brands on instagram unlike ever seen before. Couple that with the 4% average engagement levels from Instagram posts, and you have the recipe for a great opportunity.

Back to my guy DJ. If you were able to talk him into giving your brand a shout out in an instagram post—at 103M+ followers x a 4% engagement rate—that equates just over 4 million people liking and interacting with your brand, not to mention how many more are going to see it (and have that seed of awareness planted in their minds).

Instagram Influencers

This scenario might be reaching a little, but by leveraging influencers that share the core values of your brand, you stand to produce a great deal of awareness among a loyal following.

Check out Simple Social Share in our marketplace if you’re interested, and see how they can pair you up with high quality influencers for your brand.

User-Generated Content

This hack is a great way to drum up new forms of engagement. Most avid Instagrammers are already shooting and capturing great content, and curating this makes users feel that they truly matter to your business or your brand. This can also act as an excellent incentive for getting your audience more involved through content contests—and maybe even inspire you with new ways to showcase your product or service. Outside of these benefits, user-generated also has a 4.5% higher conversion rate—and 9.6% if prospects interact with the post (sproutsocial). So if the ease of curating content isn’t enough for you, at least give it a shot for the sake of the numbers. Need a some inspiration? Check out brands like  that are already killing it like Airbnb, Queensland, or Moment. User Generated Content on Instagram These ideas aren’t all inclusive either. Get scrappy, get creative and explore because what works best for another brand might not work the best for you and yours. Instagram is not only a great place to showcase your brand, it is also a great place to better discover and refine your brand.

💡 Another idea for you or your brand would be the implementation of social media software that would allow you to schedule posts ahead of time, so that you can always stay on top of your Instagram feed.

As a person or an influencer, this asset could bring a bit more order to your Instagram fueled lifestyle. As a small business, this software would allow you to spend less time on Instagram and get back to running your organization. And as an agency, you might want to consider reselling a scheduling solution, so that you can better serve your clients.

If reselling marketing solutions is your game, check out Vendasta's recent addition of direct scheduling to Instagram via our robust Social Marketing platform!

Conclusion

Instagram isn’t the Holy Grail, but it might be the Holy Sh*t factor that will drum up prospects that you didn’t know you could reach before.

Just remember:

  1. Post, Post, and Post Some More
  2. Collaborate with Others
  3. Use Analytics
  4. Take Advantage of Your Hashtags
  5. Keep Content Real, and Keep it Engaging
  6. Get Scrappy with Insta Features & Tactics

At Vendasta, we recognize the value that Instagram brings to the marketing table, and that's why we have integrated Instagram publishing into our already powerful Social Marketing platform. If you are a marketing agency, take these tips to your clients and offer them a one-stop-shop for all of their social posting and scheduling needs.

For more, check out our Dennis Yu inspired guide on How to Win on Social Media for Business, or click here to learn more about our powerful Social Marketing platform!