Instagram is brimming with opportunities for online creators—but it can often be tough to crack.
Get it right, and you'll attract a thriving community of followers eager to share your content (and open their wallets).
Get it wrong, however, and you'll end up sinking countless hours into creating content your audience may not ever see—let alone enjoy.
The good news? Building an engaged and loyal audience on Instagram and growing your online business is 100% achievable—you just need to be strategic with your efforts.
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You need to get clear on what you're planning to share, who you're hoping to attract, and how you plan to reach your business goals—all while still running your business.
In other words, you need an Instagram strategy.
Think of your Instagram strategy as your roadmap for using the social network to grow your audience and business. Starting with a clear roadmap helps you build trust with your audience, making coming up with content that drives conversions a breeze instead of a burden.
But building an Instagram marketing strategy from scratch can feel downright baffling, especially when you're balancing marketing with all the other aspects of your business.
Don't worry—I've got your back. Here's everything you need to know about creating an Instagram marketing strategy and building a presence you're proud of. In no time at all, you'll be attracting followers with the best of them.
Step #1: Define your Instagram goals
Success on Instagram means different things to different people. Before you start planning out your Instagram strategy, consider what you're hoping to get out of your time on the platform.
Whether you're a coach, a freelancer, or a blogger, you need to make sure your Instagram strategy supports your overall business strategy—even if Instagram only makes up a small part of your business strategy.
Say you're working toward launching your first ebook, like Sonia Ross of Full Circle Therapy Services, and you're trying to grow a broad audience of potential customers. You'll probably want to focus on increasing your follower count and increasing engagement on your posts.
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This journey has been an interesting one and I am so happy and grateful that I am being used as part of the healing process of my community. . . Master Your Depression: A Black Women's Guide to Emotional Wellness is now available for pre-sale for $16 v $19. Click the link in my bio to get your copy today. . . . ⠀⠀ #blacktherapistrock #blacktherapistsrock #blackmentalhealth #blackmentalhealthmatters #blackmentalhealthprofessional #minoritymentalhealth #blacktherapists #blackcounselors #ourtimetoheal #BlackMentalHealth #therapyforblackgirls #generationaltrauma #generationalcurses #generationalhealing #breakinggenerationalcurses #intergenerationaltrauma #ancestralhealing #selfhealingjourney #therapistofinstagram #cptsdsurvivor #complextrauma #selfcompassion #traumahealing #healingfromtrauma #blackgirlhealing #blacktherapist #blackmentalwellness #melaninandmentalhealth #blacktherapy #blackschoolpsychologist
Launching an ebook? Focus on maximizing engagement. Image via fullcircletherapyservices on Instagram
On the other hand, maybe you're a high-value coach who only needs to work with a smaller handful of clients to maintain your business. In that case, you should probably focus more on driving qualified traffic to your lead magnets and landing pages, just as Cici from The Six Figure Chick drives leads from her Instagram posts to her Business Bootcamp challenge:
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Is that you? There are 69 spots left for the 21 Day Business Challenge, click the link in my bio if you haven’t signed up yet! Over the last few months I’ve done more one on one consults as people are shifting their businesses online and I saw a lot of the same problems come up again and again. Although Black women are the fastest rising section of entrepreneurs we are far from the most profitable. Many of my consults didn’t know what analytics they should be looking for or what the metrics meant. Most didn’t have a solid marketing plan and thought posting to buy their products was enough. Instagram was overwhelming and they didn’t have a website or email list to be able to truly grow their business outside of social media. And the list goes on…well it’s time to make a change and see some shifts on your business. I’m hosting the 21 day business Bootcamp challenge and so far 431 businesses have said they are serious about investing in themselves, making the time to do the work, and actually see growth in their business. Will you be joining us? Click the link in my bio to get the full breakdown of the lessons that are included in the challenge. Ready to claim one of the last spots? Click the link in my bio to sign up! #Thesixfigurechick #sixfigurechick #socialmediaforbusiness #herbusiness #hustlewithease #womenceo #thebossbabesociete #businesscoachforwomen #onlinebusinesscoach #businessbuilder #contentmarketingtips #hustleandheart #socialmediastrategist #socialmediacoach #contentstrategy #leadgeneration #socialmediaexpert #businesscoaching #socialmediastrategy #instagrammarketing #growyourbusiness #savvybusinessowner #socialmediatips #businesstips #contentmarketing #womeninbusiness
Coaches and consultants can use Instagram for lead generation. Image via _thesixfigurechick_ on Instagram
After you decide on your Instagram goals, you'll also need to clarify how you'll track your progress. The best way to do this is to choose a single Key Performance Indicator (KPI)—a metric you'll follow over time to see how well your Instagram strategy works.
Setting concrete and measurable KPIs for Instagram will help you track how well you're reaching your goals.
A few examples of Instagram goals you might consider and how they map to measurable KPIs:
I'll cover how to measure and track your KPI a little later in this post. But first, let's look at the next step in our Instagram strategy—getting to know your audience.
- What are my overall business goals?
- How can Instagram help me achieve those goals?
- What KPIs can I track to measure my success?
Step #2: Get to know your Instagram audience
Instagram is a busy place. With over one billion users browsing the platform each month and more than three-quarters of US businesses posting to Instagram in 2020, it's more important than ever to make sure your marketing efforts aren't lost in the noise.
If you already have a well-defined persona for your business, you can use the same information to guide your Instagram efforts. You can also check out the people who already follow your business on Instagram, along with the people that follow your competitors and look for similarities among your audience.
If not, consider the typical customer or client for your business:
- How old are they?
- Where in the world are they located?
- Do they have a specific job title?
- What are they interested in?
- What's their biggest goal?
- What do they struggle with?
- Where do they hang out online?
That last question is a big one. If your audience isn't already spending time on Instagram, you might want to choose a different social media platform as the core of your social strategy.
By spending just a little time upfront defining your audience and assessing the best way to reach them, you'll save yourself a lot of time (and headaches) down the road.
- Who am I trying to reach for my business?
- Are those people already spending time on Instagram?
- What patterns can I see within my ideal audience?
- How can I locate more of those people?
Step #3: Scope out the competition
Now you've defined who you're trying to reach, it's time to get some inspiration from your peers and colleagues. You can learn a ton by looking at what your competitors are already sharing on Instagram, and those insights can help guide your Instagram strategy toward success.
Analyzing what other people in your niche are posting (and how strategic they're being) should take less than an hour. Look at your top competitor's Instagram accounts, or find others in your industry or niche by searching for keywords or hashtags. Here I searched for “copywriting” and came up with multiple relevant accounts and related hashtags I could check out:
Pick out three to five competitors, and take a close look at what they're posting. Create a quick summary of the number of posts in the last week, the types of posts they're adding, and any posts that see above-average likes, comments, or shares.
A few examples of things to look for:
- What types of content do they post?
- Do they use the same hashtags with each post?
- What do they include in their bio?
- What kinds of posts see the highest engagement?
Now compare their posts to your own KPIs you set earlier and consider your competitors' goals. Are their goals the same as yours or different? Note any obvious gaps or opportunities they appear to be missing—you can leverage these in your own Instagram strategy.
Always remember: there's a fine line between inspiration and imitation. Use what you learn from your competitors' strategies to guide your own strategy, but don't merely copy what they're doing. Most likely, your business goals will be different from theirs, so it's essential you create your own unique strategy.
- Who are three to five peers whose Instagram strategies you can analyze?
- Are their Instagram goals the same as yours, or different?
- What types of content are working well for them?
- Are there any gaps in their strategy I can fill with my content?
Step #4: Define your Instagram brand
Before you start sharing content, you need to get clear on how you want your brand to be perceived on Instagram. Creating a consistent identity and making your brand a core part of your Instagram strategy makes you instantly recognizable to your audience and helps you grow your audience more quickly.
Building your Instagram brand involves more than just adding your logo to your profile picture and keeping the same color scheme in your posts. Your brand includes every part of your Instagram profile—from your bio and profile picture to your feed, captions, hashtags, and even the accounts you follow.
As you develop your Instagram strategy, think about how you want your audience to perceive your brand on Instagram.
Is your brand casual and personal, like business coach Sarah Morgan?
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I was triggered this week as I was laying in bed, scrolling through Instagram. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The pup and I were snuggling as we always do to start the day and as I was watching story after story of other solopreneurs sharing their task list, offering tips, showing what they were working on. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And I started to feel like I was falling behind. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ At 8AM. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ While I was still in bed. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The thiiiings Instagram does to us! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So I stopped my scroll and tossed my phone aside because I didn’t need or want to be doing any of those things at 8am anyway! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ What I wanted to do was spend some time with my journal, meditate, and then look at my pre-planned task list in Asana and get to work. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Showing up on IG, working though my task list, creating content – those are all baked into my schedule already. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I don’t need to worry about whether I’m doing what others are doing or how early I’m showing up – most of those stories were from the day before anyway! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So if you’re finding yourself triggered by all the productivity happening I want to remind you that: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 1. Instagram stories last for 24 hours so you can post whenever you want and people will see you rocking at all hours. And if you see others rocking at all hours they might have posted it yesterday or are in a different time zone or recorded it in advance. (Or maybe they’re those nutty people waking up at 4am) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And 2. However you’re doing business and whatever stage of business you’re in is JUST RIGHT. You’re where you need to be, doing what you need to do, even if it’s laying in bed scrolling through Instagram at ANY time of the day that’s a-ok! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ You do YOU!
Leaning into your personal brand makes for a consistent Instagram strategy. Image via xosarahmorgan on Instagram
Or approachable yet still business-related, like the online women's healthcare service Maven?
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Many people are experiencing different types of loss during this challenging time—loss of a loved one, a family member, a pregnancy, or a job, to name a few. And for many, it feels like this pandemic has taken away their right to grieve. Join us this Thursday for a special live Q&A on coping with loss and grief, featuring our team of women's health experts.⠀ ⠀ We'll address questions we’re hearing from our members about managing the many emotions that come with loss, strategies for coping with individual and collective grief, checking in on your mental health, and navigating the path forward. Click the link in our bio to register.
You can still make your Instagram brand personal while driving business results. Image via mavenclinic on Instagram
Maybe you'd like to come across as informative and educational, like online course consultant Mariah Coz:
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It's still Mindset Month with Mariah! Now more than ever it is IMPERATIVE that you make your courses, digital products or online offers available “on-demand”, immediately when someone wants to buy it. That's when they need it most, and it's your job to make it easy for them to buy it without jumping through hoops. The way we do that is with an Evergreen funnel. But I know that all sort of mindset gremlins pop up when we start talking about going evergreen. After working with hundreds of clients on this, we see the limiting beliefs can show up at any time – at the beginning, when you're just about to launch, and even after your funnel is a raving success! It's weird but true. Before you create your funnel, your limiting beliefs will be around not feeling ready and fear it won't work for you (hint: you're ready and it will work). As you build your funnel, you might feel resistance that will slow you down if you don't have coaching to get through it. And when your funnel is bringing in the sales every day and exceeding your goals? You might feel like you don't deserve all the success. We can help you stop the self sabotage so you can experience the Evergreen dream for yourself. mariahcoz.com/evg for a free training to get you started today 💕💕💕 #mindsetreset #entrepreneur #girlboss #creativeentrepreneur #businesswoman #bossbabe #createeveryday
You can use your Instagram strategy to educate and inform your audience. Image via mariahpcoz on Instagram
Or inspiring and motivating, like graphic designer and educator Michelle Hickey?
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“Now is the riskiest time to play it safe,” @chasejarvis so wisely shared in his book, Creative Calling. Since I read those words, last December, things have rapidly changed, and that statement has never been truer. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If you’ve been sitting on an idea, this is your time. Don’t let it pass you by. ____ #creativeeducation #iamcreative #calledtobecreative #creativelifehappylife #pursuewhatislovely #CreativeBusinessOwner #thiscreativelife #creativepreneur #savvybusinessowner #makewaves #thatauthenticfeeling #inspiremyinstagram #theeverygirl #jaxcreatives #elegantexcellence #theinstagramlab #risingtidesociety #creativeblogger #creativethoughts #hersuccess #creativebusiness #creativeintroverts #createwithconfidence #mycreativebiz #startupwomen #goforgreatness #creativegoals #abundantlife
Use your Instagram strategy to inspire your audience. Image via michellehickeydesign on Instagram
Once you've narrowed down your brand personality, you can hone your imagery and language to match.
Try to stay consistent with your color palette and design style, so your audience can instantly recognize who's posting without even seeing your profile. If you already have brand guidelines around fonts, colors, and other branding elements (take some inspiration from our branding guidelines!), make sure you use those consistently in every post. You can also make sure your Stories stay on-brand by using the same stickers, fonts, graphics, and filters each time you post.
For example, interior design blogger Corey of Hey There Home uses the same fonts and color palette to keep her Instagram feed consistent and on-brand for her blog and business:
Pro tip: To save time, try collecting stock images that match your brand in a Google Drive folder and use those as a library of images each time you need to post.
Your branding doesn't just apply to your visuals, either. The words you share in your bio and post captions give you the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your brand and attract your target audience—but only if you keep things consistent.
Your Instagram bio and post captions should both reflect your brand and business values. To help keep your captions on-brand, try creating a branding cheat sheet that lists common words, phrases, your fave emojis, and writing styles you use across posts. Check out this inspiring post caption written by Tasha from Kaleidoscope Living:
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🙌🏻PROGRESS 🙌🏻 Remember that mystery wrapped rope project I shared a while back? (Swipe right if you have no idea what I'm talking about 👉🏻👉🏻👉🏻). Well, this is what I made! . I'm pretty friggin' obsessed with them hanging on the outside of our newly painted house (told y'all I was going to add plenty of color 😉). I can take ZERO credit for this idea. I was inspired by the beautiful pieces made by yerbamaladesigns (not sure why their IG page is down right now). I would have been happy to order some but I wanted varying lengths. And of course I wanted to choose my own colors 😬Full tutorial will be coming soon, along with more photos once I actually plant something in these beauties! . . . #beautifulhomebeautifullife #kaleidoscopeliving #crafttherainbow #fiberart #colorfuldecor #bhgIdidit #hgtvmagazine #crashbangcolor #macrameart #macrameplanthanger
Use your bio and post captions strategically to reflect your brand. Image via tasha.kaleidoscope on Instagram
Refer back to your cheat sheet whenever you're creating new Instagram content. As a bonus, you can easily hand this off to a VA or social media manager when you're ready to delegate some tasks.
- If my brand was a person, how would it come across to my audience?
- Can I describe using adjectives what my company is (and is not)?
- How can I reflect my brand in my visuals?
- How can I reflect my brand in my bio and captions?
Step #5: Review your existing Instagram content and profile
Now you have a solid plan for where you're heading, let's take a look at where you've been. Auditing your existing Instagram content against your new strategy ensures your entire profile—past and present—is working together to help you reach your goals.
First, take a look at your profile and bio.
Does the language you use accurately reflect your brand?
Does your bio clearly explain who your ideal audience is and what your business does?
Here's a great example from online business coach Toi Smith. Her bio includes everything her audience needs to know—who she is, who she serves, what she does, and how they can find out more about her work.
If your bio doesn't reflect your strategy, try writing a few variations on your bio, and see what you can come up with.
Next, check that you're guiding visitors in the right direction. Instagram only lets you post a single link in your bio, so you need to make the most of it. If your current link isn't up-to-date, or if your CTA doesn't align with your business goals, try swapping it out with a link to a new landing page or your latest content.
Lastly, take a look at what you've already posted on Instagram and consider whether those posts are still relevant to your business goals you defined above. Update any captions to match your branding guidelines, and make sure to include any branded hashtags or other relevant hashtags within the caption for each post. Don't be afraid to delete or update old content if it isn't serving your Instagram goals.
- Do my current bio and post captions reflect my new branding guidelines?
- Does my current CTA match my business goals?
- Are my existing posts relevant to my business?
- Are my existing posts interesting for my target audience?
Step #6: Plan the content you'll share
Now we're finally ready to get into the fun part of your Instagram strategy: your Instagram content strategy.
Creative, compelling content needs to be at the core of your Instagram strategy. Being deliberate with the content you share on Instagram helps you generate more followers and grow your audience more quickly than sharing random content.
Uncovering the right balance of content and growing an audience on Instagram means finding:
- Topics your audience is interested in
- Topics you're interested in
- Content formats you love creating
- Content formats your audience enjoys
Let's take a look at choosing the right content format first.
Instagram gives you plenty of options for content: videos, photos, slideshows, Stories, IGTV, and more. Within these, you've also got multiple types of content: educational content, personal updates, user-generated content, behind-the-scenes, and curated content from other accounts.
When you're planning your content formats, always play to your strengths.
Do you love being front and center with your business? Then video might be a good choice.
If not, maybe try sticking to photo posts, or outsource some of the work you don't enjoy (like writing captions) to others.
Once you find your natural strengths and make them a core part of your Instagram strategy, creating consistent content will become more manageable.
When it comes to topics, always remember you're posting content for your audience, not for yourself. Photos from your family camping trip might be cute, but they most likely aren't relevant for your business.
List topics relevant to your business (like writing), then break those down further unto sub-topics (like headlines, editing, or promotion). Your chosen topics should be of interest to your audience, and should also overlap with the products and services you sell.
Use these topics as a filter for what content you should (and shouldn't) share. Everything you post—from behind-the-scenes updates to curated content—should be related to your chosen topics.
- What are 2-3 topics I can create content around?
- Are these topics of interest to my audience?
- What are my natural strengths when it comes to creating content?
- How can I leverage those strengths in the content I share on Instagram?
Step #7: Set up a consistent posting schedule
Now you have a plan for what you're going to share on Instagram, you need to define when you're going to share posts and how often.
Uncovering the best times to post on Instagram takes a little work, but it's worth the effort. You always want to post when your audience is most likely to be online—that way, you'll have the best chance of potential customers and subscribers coming across your content.
Instagram's built-in Insights tool gives you plenty of data on when your followers are most active, and there are plenty of third-party tools you can use to narrow down your ideal posting time even further.
There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to how often you should post to Instagram. A schedule that works for a food blogger, for example, might not work at all for a business coach.
The best posting schedule is one you can maintain over the long haul. Generally, posting once or twice a day gets the best results when growing an audience on Instagram, but you'll have to experiment and see what works best for your audience.
If you can't come up with new content that frequently, though, don't fret. You can always plan ahead and schedule a bunch of Instagram posts at the same time. Try setting aside an hour at the start of each week to fill your social queue. Tools like Buffer can help you schedule all your content to post automatically throughout the week, saving you time and avoiding any last-minute panic.
- When is your ideal audience most likely to be online?
- How frequently can you come up with new and engaging content for your audience?
- How much time (or money) can you devote to meeting your Instagram goals?
Step #8: Track your progress against your goals
As you begin putting your strategy into action, you'll want to regularly check back in against the goals and KPIs you set earlier to make sure you're moving in the right direction.
Instagram Insights includes plenty of valuable data on which content is performing best (or worst). That way, you can make educated decisions around the best content to post—and grow your audience more quickly.
Make a habit of regularly checking your analytics to see how your content is performing. Are your KPIs meeting the goals you set earlier? If not, what can you tweak to improve your performance?
Keep an eye out for any posts with above-average engagement—perhaps you used a different hashtag, or shared a different type of content to the norm. Try to work out why that post performed so well, so you can duplicate it in your future content.
If you're new to Instagram, analytics can feel a little overwhelming—but you can learn everything you need to know about using Instagram metrics to improve your strategy right here.
- Am I reaching the goals I set for myself?
- Is there anything I tweak to reach my goals faster?
Be strategic with your Instagram growth
Coming up with a clear strategy for how you'll use Instagram is a great first step to growing your audience—and your business. Once you have a roadmap for where you're heading, you'll find it much easier to attract new followers, convert them into customers or clients, and reach your business goals.
- Define your goals
- Know your audience
- Understand the competition
- Illustrate your brand
- Review your existing content
- Plan what you'll share and when
- Track your progress
Create your plan, stick to it, and before you know it, you'll be well on your way to growing a sustainable online business.
Instagram is a great way to reach new audiences—but it isn't the only way. Make sure you're not putting all your eggs in one Insta-basket—sign up for your free ConvertKit account, and start using Instagram to drive visitors to your website and email newsletter today!