It’s a common misconception that Instagram is only of value to businesses that have a visual product to sell. If you’re a restaurant or fashionable boutique then Instagram is your temple. Otherwise, stick to Facebook, Twitter and other traditional social media platform. But this is wrong. Wielded wisely and creatively. Instagram can be a powerful marketing tool for businesses in any industry and of any size. No matter what product or service you are selling, Instagram can be your key to developing valuable relationships with current and potential customers. With over 300 million active users, sharing more than 95 million photos and videos on the platform each day, Instagram is a powerhouse for marketers. While these numbers might sound impressive, what’s even more interesting is that Instagram users are shown to be 58 times more engaged with brands than on Facebook and 120 times more engaged than on Twitter! High engagement is what we all strive for. It means that your social media followers find value in the content that you share and that they are spreading the word about your business or product. They are also coming to you to talk about your brand, giving you the chance to earn their trust and loyalty. So if Instagram is not yet a key player in your digital marketing strategy it might be time to rethink your game plan. And I’m going to help you do that. This 11-step guide will teach you the in and outs of Instagram and how to create a strategy that will strengthen your relationship with your customers by demonstrating your company culture and values. So let’s get started! Step 1: Create your Instagram account The first step in creating an Instagram marketing strategy for your business is learning how the social media platform works by using it yourself. So get out your phone and download the app from iTunes, Google Play or the Windows Phone Store. While Instagram does allow you to access your account on your computer, your activities are limited to viewing, liking and commenting on photos. To upload, edit or repost pictures you have to use the app on your phone. Once you’ve downloaded the app you need to create your account. You can do this by entering your email address or logging in with Facebook. For businesses, I recommend using an email address so that you’re not connecting the account to your personal Facebook profile. The next couple of screens will ask you to fill in your email address, your name, a password and a username. Choose a username that’s the same as your business name so that your account will be easily recognizable. You will also be able to add a profile picture, which should preferably be of your logo or an image related to your brand. The next two screens will invite you to connect with your Facebook friends and contacts, which is something you’re going to want to do later, so hold off for now, and click on the link at the bottom that says “skip.” The final screen will suggest to you some Instagram accounts that you may want to follow. You can look through them and follow any that interest you. When finished click on the “Done” button on the top right-hand corner. And that’s it! Well, almost. You still need to complete your profile and fill in your bio, which is the most important part. Step 2. Fill out your Instagram profile Your profile is where all the information about your account is located, including your bio. Your bio is the first thing that users will see after they click on your username and is one of the key influencers in drawing people’s attention to you and your business. If your bio grabs their attention they may choose to take further action, like follow you or click on your link. So you want to make sure your bio is a good one. To get to the Edit Profile page click on the image on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. Then click on the Edit your Profile button. Add your link Once you get to the Edit Profile screen you should add a link to your website, blog, landing page or any other location on the Internet that you want users to connect with. This is the only place that Instagram allows you to include a clickable link – so use it wisely. You can change the link as many times as you want, which is helpful if you want to promote different blog posts or a particular event that’s coming up. In which case, you would change the link to lead users to your newest blog post or promotional webpage. Pro tip: Instagram is a mobile-first social network, make sure you’re linking to a mobile friendly website. Fill out your bio Here are a few tips for writing an attention-grabbing Instagram bio: Use emojis and formatting to show the fun side of your brand. Professional blogger Krystal Butherus does a good job of including cute emojis in the bloggersgetsocial Instagram bio to help break up the text and make it more interesting to look at. She also uses her bio to draw people to her Facebook page and podcast, which is example of the bio can serve several purposes. Include keywords that will help your target audience identify your account as being relevant to them. Debbie Ashley, founder of Thrivoo Social Media, helps entrepenurs create social media strategies for their businesses, and so she includes these keywords in her bio so it will be easy for people interested in her services to find her by searching Instagram. If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, list your particular skills and specialties. Caitlin Bacher’s Instagram bio clearly states that she teaches people how to use social media to sell, so you quickly know what kind of services she provides. She also squeezes in a mention of a free checklist that she offers for Facebook group hosts. Make your bio informative and interesting so that users who visit your bio will want to follow you.Amanda Palmer‘s bio is pretty straight forward, listing what she does as well as her recent album release. But refering to herself as a profesional party thrower adds a little bit of color, because who doesn’t like a good party thrower? Don’t be salesy. Your bio should make it clear that you are here to provide value to your Instagram followers, not to sell to them. Take a look at these articles for more tips on creating a great Instagram bio: How to Write Good Instagram Bios to Make an Impression How to Write Instagram Bios for Businesses 8 Cool Tweaks for a Killer Instagram Bio Once you finish filling out all of the information you will receive a verification email from Instagram. Click on the link and you’re good to go! Pro tips: After you finish setting up your account go into options and in the settings find the Push Notification. Click on that and turn on notifications from everyone. This will ensure that you receive notifications for all activities on your account, like when someone comments on your posts or you get a new follower so that you can respond. Get more reach for your account by ticking off the box asking if you want your profile to show up as a ‘suggested similar page’ to other users who looking for Instagram accounts to follow. Step 3. Start snapping Your account is now set up so go ahead and start using it so that you can become familiar with how the app works. This is what your screen will look like when you log into Instagram. (Image via Outbound Engine) Home: Displays the stream of photos shared by the users you follow. Search: Use the search field to look for other users, topics, places or particular hashtags. Camera: Take pictures or upload pictures from your camera roll. Notifications: This icon will light up with a heart when your images receive Likes or when someone new follows you. Tap on the icon to see all of your recent notifications. Profile: Update your user profile and account settings here. Click on the camera button, take a picture and then try out some of the different filters and editing tools. Don’t worry if the picture doesn’t look so great. You don’t have any followers yet who will see it and you can always delete the picture later. Step 4. Define your goals Now that you have an Instagram account and a little bit of experience using it you’re ready to start planning your Instagram marketing strategy. The first thing to do is determine your goals. What do you hope to accomplish with your Instagram account? If your goal is to increase traffic to your website or blog then you will want to create images that lead people to your website. If brand awareness is your goal then you will want to create images that share the message of your brand and company values. And if you want to focus on increasing sales you can share images with exclusive coupons and offers for your Instagram followers. Or you can mix it up and do some of each. So keep your goals in mind as you plan and create the content for your account. Step 5. Do some research Before you start posting pictures to your account you need to get an idea of what kind of pictures your customers would enjoy seeing you share. To start your research you’ll need a list of your main competitors and their Instagram accounts. Start by looking through their photos to see what they are posting: Which images are receiving the most engagement? What types of images are they posting? What hashtags are they using? And then do the same thing with your customers. This will give you a good sense as to the type of images you should be creating and sharing on Instagram. Step 6: Create a content strategy Building a detailed plan for your content and scheduling will help ensure the success of your marketing strategy. How often will you post? Most brands post to Instagram between 1- 3 images a day. You want to share enough photos throughout the day to get people interested but you don’t want to overload your followers’ Instagram stream or they will become irritated and unfollow you. You also need to decide how much time you want to dedicate to creating content for Instagram so that you can include those calculations in your strategy. If you only have a small amount of time to allocate to this task then you will have to post less frequently. Whatever decision you make, you’ll want to stick with it for a while so that you can determine how well it works. It’s also a good idea to establish a regular posting schedule so that your followers can know what to expect from you. What time of day will you post? According to Latergramme, a popular Instagram scheduling tool, the best times to post to Instagram are 2 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST and the worst times are 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can try posting at these times to see what kind of results you get, or experiment with different times. What kind of content will you post? Keep your goals in mind while deciding on the type of content that you will be creating. Here are some examples of images that are popular on Instagram: 1. Inspirational quotes – Motivational quotes are usually very popular on Instagram. Just make sure to pick quotes that are in-line with your brand’s message. 2. User generated photos: Encourage users to share photos with a particular theme or hashtag, and then share these photos on your account. WeWork frequently shares their customers’ pictures and stories on their Instagram page and they have done a great job popularizing their hashtags, which their customers use to share pictures of themselves. One example of this is their #dogsofrework hashtag, which encourages WeWork customers to take pictures of their dogs and share them to Instagram, tagging them with the branded hashtag. Does this scarf bring out my eyes? Photo cred: Oliver the Pug #puglife #dogsofwework A photo posted by WeWork (@wework) on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:49pm PDT 3. Your customers: Share photos of your customers with short captions telling something interesting about them or their business. You may think that a company selling accounting software wouldn’t have anything interesting to share on Instagram, but you would be wrong. On Patriot Software’s Instagram page you will find colorful photos of the business’s customers and staff, captioned with short stories and inspirational messages. “You’re always going to wonder, ‘What if?’ So just do it. And if you succeed, then, how great is that?” Some #MondayMotivation from Sarah Lawrence, owner of @black_sheepbtq ???????? A photo posted by Patriot Software (@patriot_software) on Jun 27, 2016 at 2:22pm PDT 4. Behind the scenes: Sharing behind-the-scene photos of your employees having fun in the office, or moments from your work life, is a great way to humanize your brand and engage users. MITTERA’s Instagram grid is full of pictures of their employees having fun together and you can’t help but get a good feeling about their company just from seeing how much they are enjoying being there. Holiday shenanigans ???? A photo posted by MITTERA (@mitteracreative) on Dec 23, 2015 at 12:33pm PST 5. Videos – Create a short 15-second video of your product, customers or employees. 6. Trending hashtags: participate in hashtags that are already trending, like the #ThrowbackThursday, in which you can share pictures from the early days of your business. 7. Your products in use: Take pictures of people using your products, or pose your products in fun and unique ways to showcase them creatively. Desigual’s Instagram photos creatively showcase their products through photos and videos. Some of the pictures are of models wearing or displaying an accessory or item of clothing. Other pictures highlight just the products, posed in various settings. My Sunday… ????????☕️ A photo posted by Desigual (@desigual) on Nov 1, 2015 at 8:35am PST The more creative you get the better. Try to think of ways to tell stories through your photo so that your followers can get a sense of your company’s culture and values. Once you have decided on the day and time that you will be posting to Instagram, as well as the type of content, go ahead and create a calendar for the upcoming month, writing down in each scheduled time slot the type of picture that will be going out then. You can use an Excel sheet or Google Calendar to create your content calendar, or schedule your images in advance on a tool like Latergram. Take a look at these articles for more ideas on content to share to Instagram: What Types of Photos Get the Most Likes on Instagram? [INFOGRAPHIC] 11 Super Simple Ideas for What to Post on Instagram Step 7. Build your Instagram brand Before you begin creating your images for Instagram you should decide on a visual style that’s inline with your brand. This will make your photos immediately recognizable and will give your grid a cohesive look. Here are two ways to brand your photos on Instagram: Instagram filters: Instagram offers a selection of filters that you can use with your photos As part of your branding you can decide to use one particular filter, or a group of filters, for all of your pics. Using filters can also get you more likes and comments. So do some research to see which filters are popular in your industry or region. According to Canva, Clarendon is the most popular filter in the world, with Juno coming in second.Read this to learn more about picking the perfect Instagram filters. Color combinations: Decide on a color combination that will be used for all of your images and which matches your brand’s voice and vibe. Step 8. Start posting photos An Instagram post is successful when it engages other users, encouraging them to Like and comment on it, and leads them to fulfill the goal you had in mind for the image. To achieve these results make sure to include: A great image An engaging caption Relevant hashtags I already discussed creating images so I’m going to skip to the two other points in the list. Writing a caption It’s possible that if your photo is really fantastic people will find it and Like it without any encouragement from you. But to really engage users it’s a good idea to include a caption. Here are some ideas for what you could write about in your photo’s caption: Talk a bit about the image and why you thought it was important to share. Ask a question related to your photo. Include a call to action inviting people to like your photo, to tag a friend or to click on the link in your bio. Offer a new perspective. Kissmetric calls this aiming for the “loop.” You share an image that looks like one thing but after reading the caption you suddenly see the image in a new way. Take a look at this article for more tips on writing a great caption: How to Write Good Instagram Captions: 8 Tips for Perfecting Your Copy Hashtags With 95 million photos and videos being shared to Instagram each day it can be hard to ensure that your pictures get seen by your target audience. That’s why you need to use hashtags. Hashtags make it possible for people who are interested in particular subjects to easily find photos about those topics. So each time you post a picture you will want to include as many relevant hashtags as you can to make it possible for people who are interested in your pictures to find them. Use hashtag tools like Hashtagify and Tagboard to research hashtags and find the ones that are most relevant to your brand. I find it helpful to create a spreadsheet with all of the hashtags we would use, to refer to when I go to post a photo. Pro tip: Instead of posting the hashtags in your caption, which can look a little spammy, post them in a comment instead. You can later delete that comment or add a new one with different hashtags. Photo Editor Apps If you want your photos to look their absolute best, we highly recommend using a photo editor app. If you browse through Google Play or the App Store for photo editor apps, you’ll see many different offerings all with the same basic functionality but also specific features to match your goals. One of our favorites is Instasize, a photo and video editing app that provides users the ability to quickly create beautiful, professional-looking, visually engaging content for all social media channels with an easy-to-use mobile interface. Instasize includes a variety of photo and video editing tools including filters, cropping/resizing options, image parameter adjustments, collage creation, and professionally designed text styles. It’s great for small business owners, creatives, and the average professional. Step 9. Attract followers and grow your community These are 8 of the most popular strategies for attracting new followers and connecting with other Instagram users.This is also your chance to interact with your own customers, who will appreciate your efforts to personally engage with them. 1.Connect to social media: The best way to gain some quick followers is by inviting people that already know you to follow you on Instagram. You can do this by connecting your Instagram account to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, which will let your contacts on those platforms know that they can now follow you on Facebook as well. 2. Add your Instagram account to your email signature: This will encourage your email recipients to look for you on Instagram. With WiseStamp you can even include your Instagram photos under your signature, so you show off your content with every email that you send. 3. Start following people: You can begin by following people that you already know, friends, customers and industry influencers. You can also use hashtags to search for people who are sharing images related to your business and follow them as well. 4. Comment on and Like other users’ photos: Again, search by hashtag for photos relevant to your brand or industry and like and comment on them. Quality comments are rather rare on Instagram so if you have something of value to say you’ll likely grab people’s attention. Austen Allread recommends a system of following a user and then liking three of their posts, a strategy that he says resulted in a 25% follow-back. So one out of every four people would follow him back. 5. Repost: Find great photos shared by other users and repost them to your account. Then tag the creator of the image in the comment to let them know that you shared their photo. This will help increase awareness of your presence on Instagram. For even better results send a message to the user expressing interest in sharing their content and asking their permission, which will engage the user even more than a simple tag (though you have to do that as well). You can repost images by taking a screenshot or using an app like Repost. 6. Use popular hashtags: I already talked a bit about the importance of using hashtags relevant to your business but if you want to make sure your photos get seen you can also try using popular but somewhat less-relevant hashtags. Here is a list of the current most popular Instagram hashtags: #followback #instagramers #doubletap #model #i #nike #dog #old #beauty 7. Geotagging: If you have a local business then you can help promote your Instagram account by tagging your photos by location. This will allow other Instagram users to find you if they are searching for businesses in the area. 8. Host a giveaway: Giveaways are a great way to increase awareness of your brand on Instagram and get an influx of new followers. Entry to the giveaway can require users to follow your account, like a post or tag a friend in a comment. Or you can make the contest a bit more challenging by requiring entrants to do something, such as answer a question or submit a photo with a particular theme. (Image via Wishpond) Step 10. Advertise If you have the budget available then you might want to consider Instagram’s options for paid advertising. Photo ads: Sponsored posts similar to those offered on Facebook which businesses can use to promote a product or service. They look like a regular Instagram post but are labeled at the top as being sponsored. (Image via AdEspresso) Carousel Ads: Display multiple photos in a single ad as well as a link to your website. Carousel ads give businesses the opportunity to get really creative by telling a story through a series of pictures. (Image via Instagram for Business) Video Ad: Instagram now offers the option to create video ads that are up to 60 seconds long, giving you the opportunity to explore some new ways to tell your brand’s story. Take a look at these articles for more information on Instagram ads: Advertising on Instagram How to Tell Stories With Facebook and Instagram Carousel Ads Step 11. Track your results After all the hard work that you’ve put into creating and growing your Instagram account you want to know what the results are. Have you met the goals that you outlined in the beginning of your plan? Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram doesn’t yet have a native analytics tool but there are several other third-party tools that can help you track and evaluate your Instagram activities. 1.Simply Measured : While their paid plan might be too pricey for a small business Simply Measured also offers a free analytic report in exchange for following them on Twitter. The report is pretty thorough and includes a wide-range of metrics such as keyword analysis, most engaging filter and a list of your top photos with the results of their engagement other social sites. 2. Squarelovin: This free analytic tool offers a nice selection of metrics to help monitor your Instagram account. You can see the history of your posts and engagement as well as the best times to post and at what time of day your users engage with you. 3. Crowdfire: This is an easy-to-use tool that helps you manage your Instagram relationships. It clearly lists all of your followers, recent unfollows, fans and inactive users so that you can decide on how to interact with your Instagram connections. After analyzing your activities on Instagram you will be able to determine what’s working and what’s not, and tweak your content creation and scheduling based on those results. And that’s it! You’ve now learned how to use Instagram and can create for yourself a strategic plan for connecting with your customers, amplifying your brand and growing your business. Instagram is a great platform for getting creative and having fun so I hope you enjoy this new social media adventure and feel free to connect with us on Instagram and let us know how your new game plan is going. About Latest Posts Written by Simcha Lazarus Simcha is WiseStamp’s Content and Community Coordinator. She’s a social media enthusiast who loves teaching people how to grow their business online. 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