Instagram for Small Businesses: The Basics
I'm a big fan of Instagram, and I use it for a couple of my businesses, but it can be confusing when you're starting out.
I personally love using Instagram; it's a fun way to connect with my following and share beautiful imagery (and I LOVE beautiful imagery). But I know for some small business owners it can feel like a hassle and just another thing they 'ought' to be doing to market their work. Below I've answered a few frequently asked questions and given my top tips for getting started a small biz owner on Insta:
Is Instagram right for me? Why Should I Use it?
For 'local' businesses, such as cafes/bars/restaurants, salons, bakeries, shops, and for creative businesses whose work is really visual (think artists, interior designers, photographers etc), I think Instagram is actually NECESSARY! Nowadays, instead of using Facebook or Google, I often search for business like those I've just mentioned on Instagram before anything else. If I want to see a 'portfolio' or examples of someone's work, or even what to expect from a restaurant, I (and most other people below the age of 30!) will head straight to Instagram to have a look.
With Facebook getting harder and harder to reach your followers without paying for advertising, Instagram is a great (free*) option for getting your brand 'out there'. Also if your audience happens to be below 25, it's likely they actually spend more time on Instagram than Facebook anyway!
*Instagram is moving more towards advertising, and I'm sure some day it'll work more like Facebook, but for NOW it's still a much better choice.
Do I need a Business or personal account?
Obviously it makes sense to get a Business account when you are a business, but I know there have been rumours about Instagram limiting reach to business accounts to encourage people to pay for advertising, so some people have opted to keep a personal one just in case.
I don't know for sure if this is true or not, but having a business account for my businesses on Instagram haven't affected them at all. It's worth it for the extra features you get, such as a 'call to action' button and the ability to see account analytics.
How much time do I need to dedicate to Instagram?
With Instagram, you really do get what you put in. If you are able to dedicate an hour or two a day to Instagram, I'm sure you will see great rewards and be able to build your following fairly quickly. But you don't NEED to spend anything like that on the platform to gain a proactive following of engaged potential customers! Just 10 to 20 minutes a day is ideal for posting and engaging, but many brands spend a little more time due to Instagram Stories as well (I'll talk about this in a moment).
What kind of content should I be posting?
It depends on your business and also how personal you want to get with your brand! You can publish more personal, 'behind the scenes' content if you like, or you can keep it to product imagery and photoshoot images too. 'User Generated Content' is also brilliant to utilise as it gives social proof! You can encourage people to post images at your business or using a product by creating your own hashtag, and repost this onto your page.
1. Create the perfect bio
Go have a look at some popular accounts, or accounts that you follow and love; you'll notice their bio is carefully crafted with key information and eye-catching slogans to intrigue people who have landed on their profile. You have 5 lines and are limited to 150 characters, but you can use emojis and all sorts of clever ways to grab peoples' attention!
The important thing is to draft your bio in your phone's Notes app first, because Instagram doesn't record line breaks, which means if you write the bio within the Instagram app, it will just put all your text next to each other and they won't be on separate lines. Get creative with it and get inspiration!
Always remember to add your website address to your profile (and email & phone number if you want people to contact you that way), as well as your logo or a good quality photo for your profile image.
2. Decide on a theme & editing style
The best and most popular accounts always seem to have a really cohesive visual theme, which just means that all their imagery works well together and looks great when viewed 'as a whole' on their profile. People generally like seeing this if they're deciding to follow you, because it means they can know what to expect from you, and it gives them a better idea of your brand too.
You can create a theme by using similar type of photos, creating template graphics, or by sticking to a colour palette. A really important thing to consider with photography is editing style as well. Instagram have their own filters, but there are other apps such as VSCO that offer more options too, and if you stick to the same filters every time you edit, it's much easier to create a cohesive look.
3. Post regularly & write engaging captions
You don't have to post every day, but at least 3 times a week is a good suggestion! Because of Instagram's algorithm now, it technically doesn't really matter what time you post, because Instagram shows posts based on relevancy rather than by most recent. However I still think it's good practice to aim to post when your followers are online (Instagram's analytics can tell you this, or you can use a free app called Prime which calculates it for you).
When you post, your goal should be to get as many engagements as possible on your post. Likes aren't enough anymore; the more comments, the more Instagram will like you and show you to more people! So craft your captions with that in mind; you could try asking questions or starting discussions for this.
4. Spend time researching hashtags (& use all 30!)
You can add up to 30 hashtags to a post, so use them all! It's great that Instagram now also shows you how popular a hashtag is and shows you suggested hashtags while you're typing.
Hashtag research is a topic in and of itself, but my tips would include to check what your successful competitors are doing, and to try and use hashtags that are popular enough to have people following them, but not so popular that your content would get drowned out (think between 10,000 and 100,000 posts on a hashtag).
5. Add a location & tag relevant accounts
When you come to post, always include a location (it's another way people use Instagram search!), even if it's just the county or state you're in, and maybe even tag some relevant accounts. Only do this if you're asking a question or having a discussion, or if your post is genuinely something they'd be interested in for themselves or to share on their accounts (there are some 'curation' accounts who only repost other peoples' posts, who may end up reposting yours!). Don't be spammy and annoying with tagging people who won't know why you've tagged them - it can just put them off!
6. Follow related accounts & engage with people
Head to your competitors accounts and see who is following them, because chances are they might be interested in what you are sharing as well! Go and follow those people and engage with their content by leaving thoughtful comments. This can take time but it is worth it for growing a following of people who are serious about keeping up to date with your brand.
7. Try Instagram stories!
This again is a whole topic in itself, but I just thought I'd mention it here! Instagram stories are a series of 15-minute video clips and images that only last on your account for 24 hours. Many people use them as a way to 'vlog' their behind-the-scenes content and provide unique snippets that may not fit with the theme of their more styled, curated profiles.