5 Instagram Marketing Strategies for Your Business

Stephen Altrogge
Stephen Altrogge / July 20, 2018

According to Pew Research, 35% of American adults use Instagram. And the platform is even more popular among the younger crowd: a whopping 92% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18-49. Even if your business isn't currently using the platform, your customers most certainly are.

While businesses have generally figured out how to use Facebook and Twitter to their advantage, there's still a disconnect when it comes to Instagram. As an image-heavy platform, it's tough to pinpoint how to leverage it for business—but that means you'll stand out from the crowd if you do it right.

Getting Started with Instagram

The first step toward using Instagram for your business is to create an Instagram account. The process is as simple as visiting Instagram's home page and selecting a username and password.

Next, sign up for an Instagram business profile. This allows you to

  • add business-specific information (like your contact info) to your profile.
  • get insights into how many people see each post.
  • determine which posts generate the most engagement (hearts, comments).
  • see which days of the week your posts get the most engagement and reach.
  • evaluate the overall demographics of your audience (gender, age, location, etc.).
  • create paid promotions for specific posts.
Instagram business profile

If you already have a Facebook page for your business, Instagram automatically populates your business information when you create a business Instagram account. If you don't, make sure to add business contact information, a profile picture, and business details so customers can recognize and contact you on the platform.

That's it! Now that you have your business profile set up on Instagram, start making the most of the platform with these five techniques.

1. Take Advantage of Hashtags to Attract New Followers

Hashtags—words or phrases preceded by the pound (#) symbol—are particularly important on Instagram because they help users find your content.

Typically, hashtags are posted after the caption or in the first comment.

Instagram users can search for and follow specific hashtags. Then, Instagram displays a selection of posts with followed hashtags in each user's feed.

How to find relevant hashtags

There are a number of tools designed to help businesses find popular and relevant hashtags to include on their Instagram posts:

  • Tag Blender: Tag Blender (free) displays popular hashtags in multiple categories, including art, fashion, food, and sports. It's a great starting point if you have no idea what hashtags people are using to find content in your industry.

  • HashTagsForLikes: Like Tag Blender, HashTagsForLikes (free) also displays popular hashtags in different categories. Though the two tools are similar, it's worth checking both because some categories appear on one tool and not the other, and either tool may have more specific lists of hashtags to include on your posts.

  • All Hashtag: Once you have a list of basic hashtags, use the search tool on All Hashtag (free) to find related hashtags.

  • Display Purposes: While All Hashtag only lets you search for one hashtag at a time, Display Purposes (free) lets you find hashtags related to multiple topics.

  • Instagram: Another way to find hashtags is to just click a hashtag you're interested in on Instagram. In the results, Instagram displays related hashtags.

Use Instagram's related hashtags to brainstorm additional hashtags for your post.

Tips for using hashtags

Adding hashtags to your Instagram posts is great, but just slapping dozens of popular hashtags onto each post won't do the trick. Your hashtags must be relevant.

For example, an entrepreneur might post a photo of his team and accompany it with the hashtag #EntrepreneurLife. But if a restauranteur used the hashtag #EntrepreneurLife on a picture of food just because it was a trending hashtag, that could actually be bad for business. Why?

  • It makes your content less trustworthy. It's clear to your users that you're just in it for marketing and not to provide interesting content.

  • Users are able to mark posts as not relevant to a hashtag. This indicates to Instagram that you're spamming hashtags, and they won't hesitate to dock you in their algorithm.

  • People are less likely to like it or comment on it. Because the Instagram algorithm prioritizes posts that get the most engagement, your photos will show up in fewer feeds.

It's also important to avoid adding too many hashtags to your posts. While Instagram allows you to add up to 30 hashtags, cramming in that many looks spammy. After analyzing more than 65,000 social media posts, TrackMaven found that posts with nine hashtags generate the highest engagement.

Finally, always search for the hashtag on Instagram before using it to make sure it's relevant. Some hashtags appear at a glance to mean one thing, but they're actually used in a very different way. Mistakenly tagging your post with an inappropriate hashtag could do serious damage to your business' reputation.

2. Communicate with Customers via Direct Messages (DMs)

Instagram allows you to send a direct message to any account you follow, giving you an easy way to interact one-on-one with potential customers.

Here are some examples of when you might DM a follower:

  • A user's comment on a post indicates they might be interested in your product/service.
  • A user sends you a DM in response to one of your stories.
  • A user asks a question via comment that's better answered in a private conversation.
  • A user expresses an issue or complaint about your business in a comment.
  • You want to offer a discount to a specific user.

The goal is to show the human side of your business.

"The more virtual our lives get, the more we hunger after something genuine. What people really want now is not just a product or a service, it's an experience. An experience that is more honest and transparent …more authentic." - James T. Noble, Kissmetrics

One-on-one interaction with users is the easiest way to create this "genuine" experience. Particularly on a platform where your main form of communication is visual, having a chance to exchange words with users more directly has a huge impact.

3. Boost Your Visibility with Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories is a feature that lets you share a series of short video clips or create an interactive photo slideshow. Stories disappear 24 hours after they're posted, so they tend to be used for in-the-moment content.

The biggest benefit of stories is that they display at the top of your followers' Instagram feeds, so they boost visibility and often generate more engagement than regular posts.

Instagram stories

Stories also offer a few unique features that you can't get with regular posts:

  • The ability to overlay hashtags on the photo
  • The ability to create polls that users can interact with
  • The ability to add pre-made stickers and emojis
  • The ability to draw on photos

These features allow you to get creative with your content in a way that's not possible if you just post standard photos.

Additionally, stories invite users to direct message you. Users can't comment on stories; the only way to respond is via direct message, so stories are more likely to help you develop personal relationships with your customers.

Ideas for how to use Instagram Stories

Businesses use Instagram Stories for a lot more than just capturing and sharing short video clips of what's happening in the moment. If you want to take full advantage of the feature, consider these examples for inspiration:

  • Promote your blog content and make tutorials. Etsy excels at repurposing its blog content by using images and videos collected for blog posts to create tutorial Instagram Stories. Users can watch the tutorial on Instagram, then swipe or follow a link to the blog post for more detailed instructions.
Etsy Instagram story example
  • Show off product features. Vitamix uses photos and video clips to show off new products and their features. Each story links to a product detail page on the Vitamix website where followers can learn more and purchase the product.
Vitamix Instagram post showing off new product
  • Gather customer feedback. Italian shoe retailer M.Gemi uses polls in Instagram Stories to gather customer feedback and measure interest in potential new styles before adding those styles to its product catalog.
M Gemi Instagram story asking a question to customers

Tips for creating Instagram Stories

If you're new to Instagram Stories, here are a few tips:

  • With standard photo posts, your hashtags go in either the caption or the comments. But on Stories, the hashtags go directly on the image. When creating a story, don't forget to add hashtags to boost your visibility.

  • Though stories only display to followers for 24 hours, they can be republished at any time for another 24-hour period. Just find the story in your archive and tap “Share” to republish the story for another 24 hours.

  • Don't have photos or videos to share? Use Type Mode to add short text-only stories to your Instagram feed.

4. Earn Immediate Attention with Instagram Live

Instagram Live provides a way for businesses to stream live content to their followers. When you start broadcasting live, your followers get a notification, so streaming is another way to increase visibility and engagement on the platform.

The other big advantage of Instagram Live is it gives you the ability to interact with your followers in real-time. Read users' real-time comments, respond, and see how people react as you're streaming.

To start a live video, simply tap "You" under the stories section and then slide the bottom menu from "Photo" to "Live." Once you tap "Start Live Video," your followers will be notified—and you can do your thing.

Ideas for how to use Instagram Live

There are a lot of ways for business of all sizes to engage and interact with followers via live stream:

  • Take them behind the scenes at your business. Restaurants, distilleries, and breweries can engage followers by showing them how their favorite dishes or drinks are made. For example, this behind the scenes live stream from Dunkin Donuts on Facebook garnered 48,000 views and more than 1,000 comments.

  • Unveil a new product. Every Monday, M.Gemi hosts an Instagram live unboxing of its new, limited-edition styles for the week. If you have a retail or arts and crafts business with a rotating inventory, introducing your new products on an Instagram live stream generates interest and sales.

  • Promote special offers and discounts. J.Crew, promotes certain offers that are only available to viewers of its live streams. To access the discount, users have to use a special link that's only available during the broadcast. Any type of business could use this approach to attract new followers on Instagram.

  • Do a tutorial. Teach followers how to do something related to your business. For example, Benefit Cosmetics hosts live streams showing followers different beauty tips and tricks. Use Instagram Live to show your followers creative uses of your product or how to create something with your product.

Whatever you use it for, live video gets users excited, and the novelty of it might just draw them into your Instagram account more broadly.

Tips for using Instagram Live

Instagram Live can be a bit overwhelming, so here are a few tips to be sure you don't miss a beat:

  • While followers will get a notification when you start live streaming, they may not be available to watch the stream if they didn't make plans ahead of time. Make sure to promote your live stream in advance so your followers schedule time to watch it.

  • By default, Instagram Live videos only display while you're streaming. If you want the content to be available to people who missed the stream, go into your story archive and repost it. Like other Instagram Stories, republished live streams display for 24 hours.

  • Turn on automatic comment filtering to block inappropriate comments from appearing on-screen during your live stream. To do this, open comment settings, check the box next to “Use Default Keywords,” add any additional problematic keywords, and click “Submit.”

Settings to turn on automatic comment filtering

5. Post Lifestyle Photos to Showcase Your Brand's Personality

Posting lifestyle content basically means going beyond posting images of your product. Instead, post images of people using or experiencing your product—or images of the people behind the product.

In 2015, influencer marketing tech company Mattr did an in-depth study of content shared by Nike and Adidas on social media. Here's what they found:

"Nike used more lifestyle content than Adidas. Sixty percent of Nike's posts featured lifestyle content, and its traditional call-to-action posts received an average of 993 shares a post. In contrast, only 32 percent of Adidas' posts featured lifestyle content, with its traditional posts receiving an average of 122 shares each."

Instagram post from Nike

Lifestyle content ideas for businesses on Instagram

Because Instagram is all about images, it's crucial to capitalize on the lifestyle trend. If you want people to follow you and engage with your content, you need to go beyond product photos. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Post user-generated content. To generate interest in its rental properties all around the world, Airbnb selects photos taken by users staying in its properties and tagged with #airbnb. Then, the company reposts those photos to its account with a credit to the original photographer.
Airbnb Instagram post of a trailer in Joshua Tree
  • Share something funny. You might expect the TSA Instagram account to post about travel regulations or safety. Instead, they post photos of items they've confiscated—along with witty captions about why you can't bring those items on a plane. The creativity has paid off: The account has nearly a million followers.
Instagram post by TSA
  • Highlight your company's culture. You can tell prospective employees that you're a fun company in your job descriptions, but it's much more effective to show some evidence. Just take one look at MailChimp's Instagram page and tell us it doesn't look like a fun place to work.
MailChimp Instagram post showing a marketing intern's work
  • Share your customers' stories. Small business accounting software provider Xero doesn't really promote its own business on Instagram. Instead, it shares its customer stories, showcasing small businesses with its hashtag #beautifulbusiness. With more than 16,000 followers, Xero's approach garners plenty of visibility for the brand.
Xero Instagram post showing customer story

Lifestyle content is more engaging, but it also avoids giving the impression that all you're trying to do on Instagram is sell. Even if that's true—and you're a business, so you're allowed to market—you need your customers to find value in your posts.

Ask before posting user-generated content

Reposting your customers' images may seem like a great way to populate your business' instagram page, but make sure you get explicit permission first. Just because a photo is posted on Instagram doesn't make it public domain, and many photographers charge businesses to repost their photos.

To learn more, check out this detailed post on how to legally repost user-generated content on Instagram, and check out the terms that Airbnb makes users agree to before sharing their photos.

Automating Your Instagram Account

Once you've come up with a social media content strategy for Instagram, you can automate the process with Zapier. Nicole Wilson is the Brand and Marketing Manager at Kinco, a family-owned company that makes work gloves, and she automates the company's Instagram account by connecting it to Asana and Slack. She says, "Using Zapier, I was able to create follow-up tasks for my team and notify our entire company about new social media posts, cutting down on time spent by 15%."

Want to automate your Instagram account in other ways? Click "Use this Zap" on your desired workflow below to get started.

  • Automatically repost Instagram posts to your other social media profiles:
  • Get a notification when someone uses a branded hashtag:
  • Back up your Instagram posts, videos, and photos:

If you don't see the workflow you're looking for, browse more Instagram Zaps here, or create your own custom workflow using thousands of apps.


Instagram is growing rapidly, and the platform represents a unique way to connect with existing customers and engage with new customers.

But you can't simply take your strategy for Twitter or Facebook and move it over to Instagram. Instead, shape your content specifically for the platform, and take full advantage of the features that are there for you to use.

Cover image by freestocks.org via Pexels.

Photo of Lawrence Watkins

“Zapier helps me build processes and automation into my business like a programmer without having to learn to code.”

Lawrence Watkins, co-founder of Great Black Speakers

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