Issue #27

Instagram Guide: How to use Instagram to grow your online business

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The question of which social media platform to invest your time in is a big one for creators. After all, you only have so much energy to pour into social media!

Your choice will depend on your preferences, but we think Instagram should make the shortlist. Boasting over 25 million business profiles, Instagram is an attractive option for many businesses. Robust analytics, targeted advertising, and a thriving community make the platform an obvious choice for growing brands.

But even aside from the business-specific features, Instagram is designed for creators. It’s highly visual but also has a strong text component. It’s flexible. And it’s full of consumers ready to buy from small businesses!

In this guide, we’re covering everything you need to know to use Instagram to grow your online business.

Instagram guide (How to use Instagram to grow your online business)

Why Instagram is important for creators

With so many social platforms to choose from these days, you really need to hone in on where your audience is and what type of content you want to create so you can best engage with them. For most creators, that content needs to be not only visual but also full of authenticity. Here are a few more reasons creators choose Instagram as their social media of choice.

Flexible post types let creators share their work, their way

Instagram started as a purely image-sharing app. No longer. Today, Instagram supports multiple video formats, as well as more text-based options, making it ideal for any creator to share their work, no matter their medium.

Creators can share work in the following formats:

  • Long videos up to 60 minutes long on IGTV
  • Shorter, personal videos on Stories
  • Short, creatively edited videos on Reels
  • Images or graphics on the Grid
  • Slideshow images on the Grid

That’s a lot of options!

For inspiration check out how @rozeacademy, an ebook creator, is using IGTV to share long, behind-the-scenes content for her audience:

Ebook creator Bri uses IGTV to share BTS content of the creation process. Image via @rozeacademy.
Ebook creator Bri uses IGTV to share BTS content of the creation process. Image via @rozeacademy.

And follow writer @danikreeftwrites for beautiful text-based graphics and Grid posts of her writing snippets:

Dani Kreeft shares images overlaid with text. Image via @danikreeftwrites.
Dani Kreeft shares images overlaid with text. Image via @danikreeftwrites.

High levels of engagement compared to other platforms

No one wants to put a ton of work into social media only to feel like they’re shouting into a void. This is where Instagram really shines: Engagement.

With an average engagement level of 1.6%, Instagram’s engagement is much higher than other social media platforms. For example, Twitter’s engagement level average is hovering at only .48%. That’s over 30% less than Instagram’s.

Easy to make meaningful connections with your target audience

Instagram manages to make business profiles feel the opposite of spammy, even when they’re showing up alongside your real-life friends’ and family’s posts.

Unlike some one-way platforms (such as Facebook), Instagram facilitates conversations between creators and their audience. As a creator, you can easily engage with your target customers’ content on Instagram as much as they can engage with your content.

Additionally, customers are increasingly looking to Instagram to find products and develop relationships with businesses:

  • One of three most-viewed Stories are created by business profiles
  • 200+ million people specifically visit business profiles every day on Instagram

Those two-way conversations are what makes Instagram a unique and compelling choice for growing an engaged audience.

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Highly interactive and collaborative features

Instagram is a great place to find collaborators (or even to host collaborations) and interact with your audience. This is due to Instagram’s deliberate features designed to encourage this sort of behavior:

  • Stories Poll Stickers and Question Stickers are simple market research tools and Q & A tools
  • Shareable features, like the ability to share a post to Stories, allow other people to share your content easily (and vice versa)
  • Ability to tag other users in your posts and Stories means you can showcase collaborations easily

For inspiration, check out @theproductboss, a coaching business that recently used the Question Stickers feature to host an informal Q & A with their audience:

Coaching company The Product Boss uses Question Stickers in Stories to gather content for their live Q & A session with their audience. Image via @theproductboss.
Coaching company The Product Boss uses Question Stickers in Stories to gather content for their live Q & A session with their audience. Image via @theproductboss.

Q & A’s help creators understand their audience better while also providing valuable content for consumers.

Business-friendly features to extend your reach and impact

Over the years, Instagram has continually launched business-friendly features to make the platform more appealing for small business owners.

Some of the best business features include the following:

  • Business profile where you can share a brief bio and offer a call-to-action
  • Link-in-bio to direct profile visitors to a targeted landing page, like the quick and beautiful page you can build in ConvertKit in minutes
  • Shopping feature, which allows you sell products directly from Instagram
  • Business partnership tags to showcase collaborations in Stories and Posts
  • Swipe-Up feature in Stories to direct viewers straight to a webpage, email opt-in, blog post, and more
  • Insights feature to see audience demographics and how your audience behaves
  • Hashtags, which work like a search engine to allow your account to be found by more people
  • Easy-to-set-up advertising to expand your reach beyond your followers

Let’s take a look at a few examples to show how these business features can make Instagram a worthwhile time investment for creators.

Headband creator @twistederzi uses the Shopping feature to sell her handmade products directly from her profile:

Headband shop Twisted Erzi uses the Shopping feature to allow followers to buy her products directly from her Instagram grid. Image via @twistederzi.
Headband shop Twisted Erzi uses the Shopping feature to allow followers to buy her products directly from her Instagram grid. Image via @twistederzi.

Meanwhile, juice brand @drinkjuicemimi strategically uses the link-in-bio feature to direct viewers to a special product collection:

JuiceMi, a juice brand and bar, uses the link-in-bio feature to call followers to action to make a purchase online for a special collection. Image via @drinkjuicemimi.
JuiceMi, a juice brand and bar, uses the link-in-bio feature to call followers to action to make a purchase online for a special collection. Image via @drinkjuicemimi.

The algorithm promotes organic growth

Despite the backlash every time the Instagram algorithm is updated, it seems that the platform continues to promote organic growth versus paying for ads.

This is huge for small business owners because it means quality and strategic content from talented creators can help you succeed on Instagram even more than a huge advertising budget would.

How to use Instagram to grow your online business

Many creators have already been using Instagram as a consumer for years. But using Instagram for business growth is different than using it for fun—success requires being strategic with what you share and how you share it.

We’re breaking down the steps to put Instagram to use for your online business:

First, set up an Instagram business account

To use all of Instagram’s business features we mentioned earlier, you’ll have to have a business account, not just a regular account.

Creating a business account is simple. But there’s one trick: You have to create a business Facebook account first, and then link that account to your Instagram. Facebook has laid out the easy steps to creating a business account in this step-by-step guide.

Second, develop an Instagram strategy

There’s no point in “winging it” if you hope to get results on Instagram. You need to create an Instagram strategy that aligns with your business goals. This brings us to the first step of creating your strategy…

1. Define your goals for Instagram

Your goals for your Instagram account will depend on what type of creator you are. Most product-based businesses need to sell hundreds (if not thousands) of products a month to be successful, so they should aim to create a big, broad audience on Instagram.

Service-based creators, on the other hand, don’t need to sell as much per month to have a sustainable business. But the price of their service is likely high. So, they should aim to build a smaller, highly qualified audience.

2. Explore your competition

To get a headstart on your strategy, borrow from the best. What are other creators doing well on Instagram? Where could you outshine them? What hashtags are they using?

Make a list of things you see others doing that you could also do well, and then incorporate those things into your strategy.

3. Create your brand identity

Instagram is a visual-first platform, so your visual branding matters a lot. And your brand identity for Instagram goes beyond what you might have already on your website and business cards.

You’ll need to choose a style for your images. For example, you could opt to share casual images like @violingirlnyc:

Some creators, like this violinist, opt for a more personal, casual brand image on Instagram. Image via @violingirlnyc.
Some creators, like this violinist, opt for a more personal, casual brand image on Instagram. Image via @violingirlnyc.

Or, you could create a more professional, less personal brand identity with more graphics than photos, like marketer @rouseweb:

Some creators, like Rouse to Web, create a highly professional brand image on Instagram, using graphics and stock images. Image via @rouseweb.
Some creators, like Rouse to Web, create a highly professional brand image on Instagram, using graphics and stock images. Image via @rouseweb.

Next, create and share content consistently

Once you have a direction for your Instagram content, it’s time to do what you do best: Create!

The key to succeeding on Instagram is to post content regularly. People love to follow accounts where they can expect consistent content—both in terms of timing and topics.

Ask yourself:

  • What types of content will I share? Videos, photos, infographics, or something else?
  • What will my content topics be? Will they be around a singular topic, or will I have a few different content pillars?
  • How often will I post on Instagram? Make sure to choose a schedule that you can keep up with. (You can also take a cue from the universal best times to post on Instagram.)

And don’t forget to create a Link Page for your Instagram bio. With a free ConvertKit Link Page, you can easily create a customized landing page to connect your audience with more of your content and give them a chance to sign up to your email list! It’s the best way to turn casual followers into loyal fans.

Example of a Gallery on a ConvertKit landing page
Example of a Gallery on a ConvertKit landing page.

Finally, track your progress!

Tracking how you’re doing is a crucial part of any strategy. It allows you to see what’s working and what’s not so that you can adjust your strategy as needed and get the results you want faster.

Fortunately, you don’t have to use a third-party app to track your progress. Instagram’s Insights feature reveals key metrics like audience growth, engagement, link clicks, and more.

Instagram marketing best practices for 2020

If you’ve followed along to this point, you’ve already launched a business account on Instagram, created an Instagram strategy, and created and shared your content.

But you’re not done quite yet. There’s more you can do.

We created an in-depth guide including 16 best practices to grow your Instagram in 2020. But we’ll include a few of the best tips here:

Engage with other users

Actively seek out other Instagram accounts in your target market or industry and engage with their content, by commenting on their posts or replying to Stories. This guarantees that these accounts will see your profile (and may even follow you). It’s a fast-track to growing your account organically, without ads.

Use hashtags

Take advantage of the hashtag feature! Use hashtags you suspect your target audience is following so that your content shows up in the search results for that hashtag.

For example, website designer @olivewingdesigns uses hashtags that her target market of female entrepreneurs will likely use, like #womenontherise:

Website designer Olivewing Designs uses hashtags her target audience uses to get more reach on Instagram. Image via @olivewingdesigns.
Website designer Olivewing Designs uses hashtags her target audience uses to get more reach on Instagram. Image via @olivewingdesigns.

Make your captions engaging

Yes, Instagram is visual-first. But it’s your captions that drive action!

Make your captions engaging by telling stories, focusing on the first 140 characters, and always providing value.

Partner with brands and other creators

An easy way to get instant exposure to large audiences is to create content in partnership with brands or other creators.

A tag in a post by a large brand can skyrocket your growth in minutes. But collaboration with smaller accounts can be highly beneficial too, especially if their audience is your target market.

Consider doing a joint Instagram Live, a post swap, or even just tagging one another in your Stories for mutual exposure.

Pay attention to your image sizes

Images that don’t quite fit right in Instagram’s various sharing channels (Stories, IGTV, Posts, Reels) can make your content seem unprofessional.

When you’re creating, double-check that your images will be the right size for Instagram.

Understand the Instagram algorithm in 2020

Instagram is constantly updating its algorithm, which dictates how and when people see your content. This can be crucial for knowing how to engage with the platform for the best results.

For example, in the early days of Instagram, the platform displayed content chronologically. So, it was incredibly important when exactly you posted. Now, there’s a lot more that goes into how many people see your content.

Read our complete guide to understanding the Instagram algorithm in 2020.

Take your Instagram growth further with a free ConvertKit account

Instagram can be awesome for creators. But relying completely on Instagram for your business is not the smartest move. Social media platforms change daily and can even shadowban your account without warning. If this happened to you, you’d instantly lose your way of connecting with your audience!

That’s why strategic creators safeguard their Instagram growth by driving their Instagram audience to their email list. You own your email list outright—and no one can take it away!

Also, email is a great way to deepen your relationship with your Instagram followers. You can pop directly into their inbox, create funnels to sell more effectively, and make sure your content is always seen by your audience.

With a free Convertkit account, you can start connecting your followers by building custom landing pages, creating free downloads to grow your list, and even selling digital products!

Example of a ConvertKit Link Page
Example of a ConvertKit custom landing page you can build for your link-in-bio.

What are you waiting for? Get started today and start building your connecting with your followers.

Connect with your audience

Share what you love to connect with your followers and grow your business with a free ConvertKit account.

Create a free ConvertKit account