The helpful guide to Instagram for business

21 June 2017

The story of Instagram is the dream of any Silicon Valley start-up. From their launch in 2010 to date the photo sharing app has reached 700 million users.

The most successful start-ups often hope for this type of rapid growth in the first few years, but Instagram didn’t succumb to premature scaling and are now experiencing exponential growth levels.

After its initial 25,000 sign-up on launch day it took 28 months, from 2010 to 2013, to get from 100 million to 200 million users.

It took just four months for the same growth between December 2016 and April 2017 which took its user base from 6 million to 7 million.

While it hasn’t quite reached Facebook’s billion user mark, there is nothing to suggest it won’t reach those numbers very soon.


Their progression can mostly be attributed to linking human’s partiality for pictorial admiration, and providing consistently interesting updates like Instagram Stories, Stories to DM targeting, desktop posting and integrating low-end Android phone users.

Like Facebook, Instagram has gone from a friends-only social (photo) sharing app to a serious social media marketing tool for businesses.

  • According to this infographic from Social Media Today, 33% of internet users use Instagram for approximately 25 minutes per day.
  • 53% follow their favourite brands on Instagram.
  • Engagement on Instagram is 10x higher than Facebook and a staggering 83x higher than Twitter.

Simply put, social networks like these are no longer an addition to traditional marketing methods.

They have become the new tradition.

Let’s face it, humans are visual and are able to process images tens of thousands of times faster than we process text.

That is why we are drawn to online aesthetics like Instagram and appealing web design.

On the surface, Instagram appears to just be a series of exquisitely shot and filtered images with relevant captions.

But the smart Instagram users are strategically creating visual feasts to get the highest CTR.

You need a clear-cut content strategy for your Instagram account

Or you will be lost among 700 million others.

Do you think National Geographic and Nike (the top two most influential brands on Instagram) won upwards of 70 million followers by just posting cool stuff?

No, that’s not how it works.

It’s not just about what you will post, but why you are posting it. Different companies have different reasons for using Instagram.

Some want to build a community or brand awareness; others use it for research or to drive sales or leads.


When a company is doing this right, followers won’t be aware of what the brand’s objective is.

Because they won’t feel like they’re being coerced to responding one way or another. They’ll buy the product because they have grown to like what the brand represents, not because it’s being ostensibly sold to them.

“Maybe don’t call it social media. Just be human and tell your story”, said online marketing pundit Gary Vaynerchuck.

Sure, those brands might have deeper pockets that you, but they also know and understand exactly who their target market is. Big budget or not, they know what their ideal followers like to do, where they hang out and what they’re having for dinner.

They understand them as people.

And as creatures of habit.

Ask them anything about their target market and their marketing team could probably take a fairly accurate educated guess based on the depth of information they gather in order to be absolutely sure of their ROI.

Not a minute or a penny is wasted.

But a strong, loyal following didn’t happen overnight for them. Growing an organic Instagram following is a slow but important process.

A paid following is as useless as no following

It might give you fleeting cred with a potential new follower to have 100 000 fans but these followers never give you the type of engagement you need to grow the brand.

And engagement is everything. The more people engage with your posts, the more often they will be seen by a wider audience.

Unlike Facebook, where users interact with a select group of Pages, Instagram is a place of discovery.

Users are constantly searching for exciting, interesting new content from influential people and brands – and a lot of follows with no engagement is generally the result of a paid following.

The key to creating a loyal following is to use relevant content that shows that you care about what your followers care about and consistently provide content that they expect from you as a brand.

And don’t be in any hurry. Good quality takes time.

Setting up a good profile is the foundation on which you will build your empire of great content

What you share in your bio is a bite-sized representation of your brand. It tells potential followers what your company does and should offer a glimpse as to what to expect from the visuals.

It can include a hashtag that represents your brand in promotions and one that you hope your followers will adopt to promote the brand on their own.

Choose an instantly recognisable image as your profile pic.

Keep in mind that Instagram is designed for mobile. You want people to recognise your profile pic even in tiny mobile format, wherever they see it.

Instagram also only allows one external link in a bio.

This means you can’t link to every blog post like you would on other platforms. Most businesses will link to their websites landing page, to drive traffic there.


However, the link can be changed as required.

Because you can’t link to an updated blog post, as you would on other platforms, its common practice to say “link in bio” when posting about an updated news item from a website and changing the link to direct to the blog post.

Visual appeal speaks louder than words

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to make the most of a visual platform.

Very few of the top Instagrammers have any photographic training.

What they do have is an eye for what’s appealing.

Towards the end of 2015 Facebook released the results of study they had conducted on the habits of Instagram users.

1 in 4 said the app changed the way they view the world.

30% of users planned their posts before taking a picture.

“Instagram may be inspiring people to see and seize opportunities that make their lives richer and more fulfilled. Across France, Germany and the UK, on average, 58% of Instagrammers in our study say that Instagram can make them laugh, dream or think.”

Participants went so far as to say that Instagram “empowered them to do and see more”.

This means that people are actively searching for inspiration. Food content changes eating habits. Travel content changes travel habits.


It’s the holy grail of advertising and it’s working only because it doesn’t feel like advertising.

Brands are revered for appealing to their audience on an emotional level. People yearn to be understood as individuals. Not as a stock fulfilment. Not to be advertised to but to be heard.

Clever Instagrammers post a variety of different types of content using a recognisable theme like a regular colour palette. This gives focus and consistency to a feed and also gives great insights into your brands personality.

Research your colours carefully, stick with a colours that will blend with your website design. Be aware of the psychological responses that consumers have to your colour choices, before deciding on your theme.

Now is it time to get posting?

Uh, not so fast.

What are you posting?

Why are you posting it?

The answers to these and other questions lie in the company’s social media goals and company values.

Make sure you are clear about what these are.

The platform is great for generating sales but remember: “Making a ton of sweet cash in a few short months” is not a dream, it’s a misapprehension that might prove a little difficult to use as the basis for your content strategy.

Create a content pillar that offers a variety of visual angles into the brand and then ask yourself what each post is going to do to help attain those goals.

What response you hope to elicit from current and potential followers?

Here are some examples of good content:

  • Lifestyle / culture focus
  • User / influencer product images
  • Relevant funny / inspirational quotes
  • Behind the scenes images
  • Client images and relevant quotes
  • Informative tips
  • Instagram takeovers by industry leaders or influential clients
  • Promotions, competitions, photo of the day campaigns

Your caption is the perfect accompaniment to your image

The first rule of a good caption is to take your time over it.

Rushing out something outrageously witty in the moment is fine. But there is always the risk that it is going to sound outrageously offensive to someone ten minutes after you’ve published the post.

It happens. It took a co-worker to point it out. You didn’t even think of it like that.

Write down a few captions for each post. Come back and read them later. Ask someone else to read them.

In spite of the 2,200 character limit, don’t write an essay. That said, if there is a really fascinating story behind your image, then you should tell it.

The perfect caption enhances the image, is entertaining and calls for a response.

Put important words at the beginning of your caption because you only have a split second to get attention with it.

Know our audience. Speak in their language. Keep it simple.

Make sure your audience will get your obscure reference to recent event in pop culture. If in doubt, avoid it. The same goes for the use of emoji.

But if you are absolutely sure it enhances communication with your audience, go for it.

Hashtags are very important

But they must be used wisely to be effective. Posts that use relevant hashtags get 12.6% more engagement than those that don’t.


A fair amount of time needs to go into researching relevant hashtags in order for your posts to be seen by the right people. Or seen at all.

It may be tempting to use a hashtag with the highest usage but if so many people are using it there is a risk that your post will be buried deep underneath that pile of posts, never to see the light.

Have a look and see what your competition is using. Try and vary your hashtags to ones with both high and low usage.

400,000 is a good number to aim for. Some may be higher or lower.

Don’t clutter your post with hashtags. Particularly with ones that are irrelevant to your business. It’s annoying.

Just because the person in your post is fully clothed, do not be tempted to #shirt #shoes #jeans #socks #jacket #glasses #hair #instahuman ad inifinitum your post.

It has a slightly desperate air to it that makes users shudder and quickly move on.

Up to 30 of the most applicable hashtags (maximum) are acceptable, but 12 or less is better.

List them under your caption or even in a separate comment. This keeps your post clean neat and easy to read.

Make use of Instagram’s best features

We know that the Instagram Stories was a feature snatched straight from Snapchat, who first arrived on the scene with image stories that last for 24 hours before disappearing.

The lack of permanence appealed to folks’ fear of missing out and it was an instant hit.

Unlike a static image, Stories offers a more complete message to engage with followers. The problem with Stories is that they can get messy and not align well with a carefully considered profile.

Despite their impermanence, Stories should be just as well thought out to ensure that they align with the rest of your brand.

Special offers promoted in Stories usually get the best engagement. Use it to announce a 24 hour window in which to redeem a voucher, for example.

Brands that understand the value of a feature like Stories use it to its full advantage. It works best with engaging colour and storytelling techniques that use attention-grabbing, striking visuals that can’t be ignored.

The time critical factor plays well into the immediacy required for people to act now which drives engagement.


Stories ads were introduced at the beginning of 2017

Stories ads appear in-between user’s stories and are marked as sponsored and (thankfully) are skippable.

The ads take the form of either a single (vertical) image or a 15 second long video and have a Direct Response option which offers 12 CTA possibilities. The ads are available through Facebook’s Ad Manager and Power Editor.

The key to running a Stories ad campaign (and avoid being skipped) is to appear less like an ad and more like an authentic story that seamlessly blends in with the rest.

Direct Messaging is changing social media marketing

Currently, Instagram Direct lets you DM any user with no restrictions and brands are using it to encourage deeper communication with followers.

And it’s become a serious networking tool for businesses.

“Instagram is one of the most under-utilized resources where you can connect with anyone from a social media influencer to a nearby business to a Fortune 100 CEO, all the way up to a famous celebrity if you are persistent enough”, says Vaynerchuck.

The value in utilising Instagram Direct is in the ability to do so without being spammy.

Your value proposition needs to be high enough for people to be grateful for the contact.

According to Business Insider “You can use Instagram Direct to send photos and videos to up to 15 friends at a time. Unlike standard Instagrams, which can be viewed by the general public or by all of your followers (depending on your privacy settings), Instagram Direct is totally private”.

The important bit here is being able to create groups of up to 15 people at a time. This offers the perfect opportunity to target with audience specific content.

For example, a group of loyal followers can get private, promotional offers based on their consistent engagement with your brand.

While Direct Messaging is a brilliant way to develop a community of loyal followers, it must be used with great care and consideration. The line between engagement and spam is paper-thin.

When should you be posting all this stuff?

No one can tell you that for sure. Like everything else you do on social media, this need research.

Again, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the posting habits of your competitors. But keep in mind their target market may not be the same as yours.

Get a clear understanding of the habits of your own target to get a clearer idea of when they are most likely to be online.

Know your target market’s time zones. It seems obvious, but many people forget this important difference.

However, there are certain times that are widely accepted to be low activity times. These are generally mid-afternoon and weekends.

Peak times are usually during the morning and evening work commutes and at lunchtime.

Knowing even slight differences could mean difference between catching the lunch crowd or your content disappearing under a truckload of posts other posts between lunch and the commute home.

Don’t ignore your analytics

Tracking your Instagram analytics is essential in order to grow your following and understand your ROI.

As soon as you start using your analytics you can track your posts performance, monitor hashtag trends and good posting times, review comments and recognise what posts people are more likely to engage with.

If you want to delve even deeper, you can calculate the engagement rate of the posts by taking the number of likes and comments then dividing that by the number of followers the account had at the time if posting.

This should be done daily if you really want to keep up, as follows and unfollows can change at a rapid rate.

Analytics helps you judge the efficacy of your social media strategy and makes it much easier for you to track what is working and only change what isn’t.


Freshly delivered Instagram news

This week Instagram began testing a new feature that makes identifying sponsors paying influencers for posts, a little easier, according to a report by TechCrunch.

Up to now, the fact that the post was sponsored has been buried in vague ambiguity that outlines a brands “kindness” at “lending” an Instaceleb a car for the day. Or something similar.

Soon it may be clearly stated that deals are being made and money is changing hands for that particular image. All thanks to the online watchdog, FCC.

That’s Instagram in a nutshell

As you move forward with your Instagram marketing strategy, don’t be afraid to test things out. Ditch what doesn’t work, try different angles of what does work. A strong social media presence is meant to enhance your website design and create a smooth flow representative of your brand across the web.

If all this feels a little daunting then just get in touch with an expert, they’re pretty good at kick-starting a social media campaign that gets you closer to meeting your business goals.

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