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Updated: March 27th, 2020
With 300 million daily users, Instagram has become a gold mine for business. The platform outperforms Facebook and Twitter in consumer engagement, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing its dizzying growth. For many small businesses—especially B2C companies with customers under the age of 35—Instagram is the secret sauce in a successful digital marketing plan. However, for time-starved entrepreneurs, Instagram can also devolve from a bright promise into a black hole. How can small businesses take advantage of the opportunity Instagram offers? We asked small businesses with outstanding accounts for their Instagram tips. This is what they said.
Because Instagram is a social platform, who you are to your customers and followers matters. A lot. By staying true to your brand’s personality, you will build trust and an emotional connection with your audience. Developing a strong identity includes using a consistent filter, voice and message.
“Over time we have developed a tone of voice for our captions and use a limited number of backgrounds and props which help give our Instagram continuity.” – Hollie Reid, owner of Lovecrumbs
“I think that the reason total strangers are engaged and support Camp is that we have built a brand with a strong identity. We stay true to that and are always authentic. We have a unique voice and I think that makes people feel like they know us and are sharing in the adventure.” – Leslie Gould, Co-Founder (+ Instagram Manager) of Camp Brand Goods
Over 40 billion images have been published on Instagram. Users expect a high level of professionalism and artfulness, especially from businesses. Keep your audience’s interest and respect with high-quality images. That’s what they came for!
“First and foremost, use compelling imagery, and don’t go heavy on text overlays. People come to Instagram to see beautiful images, so it’s important to consider and respect that context of the Instagram when creating content for the platform.” – Emma Matthieson, Director of Marketing at Dayglo Ventures (the parent company of Brooklyn Bowl, The Capitol Theatre, LOCKN’ Festival)
“Quality is king. Post when you have something quality, something interesting, something that adds value.” – Micah Heykoop, Director of Strategy + Culture at Matte Black (clients including Verve Coffee Roasters, Juice Served Here)
Top global brands, with an average of one million followers each, tend to set the standard when it comes to marketing and advertising. Like these brands, the small businesses we talked to post an average of 5 times per week. (In 2014-2015 the standard frequency was only half that!) Without giving up quality and a strong identity, aim to post about once per day. A missed day won’t wreak havoc on your numbers, but consistency will produce results in the long term.
“We like to keep our Instagram very simple—deliberate composition, one photo a day (to keep in our customers minds but not bombard them) and a clean camera lens!” – Hollie Reid (Lovecrumbs)
“Stay the course! Consistency yields results.” – Jill Ettinger, Senior Editor + Marketing Manager at Organic Authority
Millennials are famous for wanting to engage with brands online. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that 9 out of 10 users on Instagram—a platform that gets 10 times more engagement than Facebook, 54 times more than Pinterest, and 84 times more than Twitter—are under 35 years old.
Hashtags are key to finding posts to engage with, as well as driving engagement with your own posts. Consider the fact that posts with at least one hashtag get over 12% more engagement on average than posts without one. For more guidance, check out Hootsuite’s Complete Hashtag Guide for Business.
“It’s not just about posting—engagement is a huge tactic for growing your presence on Instagram. On a regular basis, businesses should be searching for photos to engage with: search geo-tags, hashtags, and @mentions to discover photos taken in and around you, and then like/comment to make contact with the people who are physically interacting with your business. Thank them for coming out, and compliment them on their shot! It will go a long way.” – Emma Matthieson (Dayglo Ventures)
Another trick? Consider using text-based images that encourage a response and/or asking questions in the captions of your posts.
It takes a village to raise a business. Customers, employees, partners, suppliers, fans—your business touches a lot of people, many of whom want to be part of the conversation. On Instagram it pays to see the people involved in your business as co-creators.
“It’s okay (no, it’s great!) to enlist help from your community. We love sharing and “re-gramming” photos that are shared from our community, both inside and outside of the venue. This is a win-win, as it means less content for your team to create, and more engagement with your community. Just remember to include photo credit! :)” – Emma Matthieson (Dayglo Ventures)
“We recognize that the cake pictures are our customers favorites so we include plenty of them, but we like to keep things interesting by featuring some of the amazing producers we work with and friends we collaborate with…We have very creative staff who are familiar with our particular language but also bring a bit of themselves to their individual posts which I think helps keep things fresh too—if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by talented people then trust & include them!” Hollie (Lovecrumbs)
How do small businesses maintain a strong brand identity while posting high-quality images with appropriate hashtags every day AND engaging nonstop with other Instagrammers? They have fun with it. Instagram is ultimately a social and creative outlet that doesn’t work well for the agonizing perfectionist. Just like any skill, Instagramming will become second nature as you master the basics over time.
“Sometimes brands feel the pressure to do something everyday on social…like they are letting fans down if they don’t post. Trust us when we say, you think about yourself more than anyone else thinks about you…Don’t be pressured into adding to the noise.” – Micah Heykoop (Matte Black)
“Have fun—a genuine social account for a business is a trustworthy one.” – Jill Ettinger (Organic Authority)
Have any other Instagram tips for small businesses? Let us know!
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.