With Instagram being the most frequently accessed social network among U.S users, brands can’t afford to not be on Instagram. But it’s not enough to simply create an Instagram profile for your brand and leave it at that. Your presence on the platform should serve a purpose and deliver some kind of business value.

To make Instagram work for your business, following some best practices can help you get ahead of the game. This involves steps to grow your brand visibility on the platform, gain new followers and drive audience engagement.

In this post, we take a look at some of the top Instagram best practices that can help you with your Instagram marketing. Let’s find out.

1. Maintain a consistent feed of high-quality visuals

When it comes to Instagram, visuals are everything. A badly photographed image or a poorly-designed graphic isn’t going to cut it. You need high-quality images and videos that stand out and instantly attract your audience.

Make smart use of colors and filters so your images not only look great but also give a consistent look and feel to your entire Instagram page. Ideally, you should stick to color combinations and visual styles that fit your brand persona.

On Whataburger’s Instagram page, the brand’s signature white and orange colors are a prominent element in every post.

Instagram feed of Whataburger showing orange and white themes in images

2. Stay on top of Instagram changes and updates

Instagram is constantly evolving, which means brands have to always stay on top of the latest Instagram trends and features. This will give you the foresight to leverage these changes and updates ahead of your competitors.

The platform has added on to popular content options like Stories and IGTV to introduce features like Reels and Instagram Shopping, which brands can use to engage their audience or drive store conversions. Moreover, it has even enhanced existing features to introduce trends such as augmented reality filters to Instagram Stories. Brands can even create custom AR filters to promote audience engagement and gain better visibility.

AR filter on Instagram from the Grove Collaborative profile

Staying on top of all these updates will allow you to capitalize on them as soon as possible and find new ways to engage your audience.

3. Pay attention to what your audience wants

Even if they don’t explicitly express their thoughts, your audience’s behaviors and actions can tell you a lot about what they want to see. Use insights from your social media analytics to find out what kind of content they like to interact with.

In the Sprout Social Index, Edition XVII: Accelerate, our research found some disconnects between what consumers and marketers think makes a brand best in class on social. Consumers’ top priority is customer service (47%) followed by engaging content (46%) and transparency (44%). Don’t just guess about what type of voice or content your customers might find interesting, ensure you’re getting outside your own biases and using data to understand what your customers actually care about.

Social insights can help you answer questions like: Which content formats see the most engagement? What kind of approach works best in getting them to comment? Does it help to include questions in your captions?

Answering these questions and others that help you connect with your audience will help you come up with some interesting post ideas to use in your content calendar.Adapt your Instagram content strategy to provide your audience and potential customers with exactly what they want to see.

4. Perfect your timing

Although the Instagram algorithm changes constantly, one thing that has remained consistent is the priority on engagement. Posting at the right times when your audience is active can translate to a boost in visibility and engagement.

The goal is to post your content at the right time when users are most active and most likely to engage with it. When we conducted a study on social media usage, our latest data showed that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were usually the best days to post, with peak hours being 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Based on data from Sprout Social, a data heat map show shows the best times to post on Instagram globally in 2024.

However, the specific optimal times may vary depending on factors like where you’re located, which industry you’re in and how your audience behaves. Read our study for more detail per industry, and dig into your account analytics to find the optimal timing for your business in particular. You can then schedule your posts to go out on those times.

Sprout Social’s publishing tools uses features like ViralPost offer an automated alternative to all this research by determining for you when your audience is the most active. ViralPost will then automatically push out your content at optimal send times. This greatly helps you streamline your publishing efforts, enabling you to catch your audience when they’re the most engaged.

Sprout ViralPost selects optimal post times for you

5. Tell visual stories

For your brand to leave a lasting impact, it has to be memorable. And that’s where storytelling comes in. Instagram is the perfect platform to create intriguing and captivating visual stories about your brand. Start creating visuals to tell engaging stories about your brand history, your customer stories, your employee experiences or your brand impact.

Equinox uses this approach to tell a story about fitness as a lifestyle. The brand leverages Instagram to share captivating visual stories that tie into their brand slogan of “It’s Not Fitness. It’s Life.”

On their grid, this image fits in with ongoing brand visual themes that feature bold, sophisticated color palettes, striking photography and integrate fitness into inspirational lifestyle images.

6. Use hashtags to boost content discovery

Hashtags are your best friends on Instagram. They help your content show up in the search results of said hashtags and in the Explore pages of people who’ve viewed or interacted with similar content. So hashtags on Instagram are a great way to boost content discovery and overall brand visibility.

Make the most of niche hashtags and industry-related hashtags that can help you hone in on the right audience. Picking the most used hashtags globally or regionally may mean you just get lost in the noise–targeting meaningful hashtags relevant to your product or service is more likely to get your content in front of potential customers. And don’t forget to share branded hashtags to encourage user-generated content (UGC).

Nature’s Path uses a mix of branded and niche hashtags in its Instagram posts like this one. Instead of crowding up the caption, it includes the hashtags in the comments.

You can easily optimize your Instagram hashtag use with Sprout. In addition to hashtag reporting that will help you find the best options for your content, our Instagram publishing features first-comment publishing that saves you extra steps if it’s your brand style to keep your hashtags in the first comment.

7. Make the most of games, contests & challenges

One of the top Instagram best practices to generate tons of engagement is using games, contests and challenges. These tend to be highly engaging as they involve directly encouraging audience participation. If you throw in a reward with your contests and games, your audience is more likely to get involved since they have an opportunity to get prizes from brands they follow or that relate to their interest.

You could create fun quizzes and trivia games to get your audience to comment. Or you could run giveaway contests that involve people liking, commenting, sharing or tagging their friends in the comments.

Many contests also involve getting people to create UGC, which will further put your brand in front of their followers and give you a stock of content to build up your publishing calendar with. Similarly, you could create challenges that involve your followers taking a certain action. This can be anything from putting together a makeup look around a certain theme or dancing in a particular choreography. Encourage them to share content that shows them performing the challenge, which drives more brand visibility as they use your relevant branded hashtags and tag your account.

8. Use Instagram paid ads to expand your reach

Organic brand reach on social media can be more challenging than ever with how active the platform is. While Instagram fares better than other major platforms, an Ignite Social Media analysis found that out of 150,000 followers, only 14,100 will see an organic post in their feed.

You can bolster your visibility and better promote your Instagram using paid ads. Paid targeting can help your content gain reach beyond current audiences who see it in their organic, algorithmically served content and find new potential customers.

Use paid ads to target highly relevant users who are likely to be interested in your product and content. Instagram advertising allows you to get your brand in front of the right people using a number of highly granular targeting options. This means you can attract new followers and new customers alike.

Even if you don’t want to invest in paid ads on a regular basis, make sure it’s part of your strategy when ramping up a new campaign or trying to grow your account’s reach.

9. Partner with influencers to reach new audiences

With the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people through their posts, influencers can add fuel to your Instagram promotion efforts. Influencer marketing is another way to get your brand in front of new audiences, and the trust that audiences have in influencers’ recommendations can be a huge boost to your customer base.

When partnering with influencers, it’s crucial that you work with people whose audience base overlaps with yours. In other words, make sure you only partner with influencers who can reach your target audience. This typically means people who’ve built an influence in your industry or a related niche. For example, vegan food influencers for brands that produce eco-friendly and organic products.

10. Make data-driven decisions

Last but not least–don’t underestimate the power of data. If you want to make Instagram work for your business, best practices such as tracking your post performance and measuring audience engagement are vital. As long as you know what to look for, data can inform your content strategy and your marketing decisions.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Track comments and post performance to see how your audience is responding to a particular style of post. Then use those insights to modify your Instagram content strategy.
  • Make data-driven decisions on what influencers you should partner with based on the people that your target audience follows and looks up to.
  • Monitor Instagram trends to gain foresight on how to craft timely posts, adapt your campaign or create a new one.
  • Measure audience engagement to see how your campaign is performing. Then look for opportunities to improve, modify or replicate your campaign for best results.

Instagram data analysis gives you precise insight on what’s working and what strategies aren’t taking off, allowing you to continually refine your approach.

Using data effectively means that you’re not only producing content and campaigns for Instagram, but creating an invaluable source of learnings about what works for your brand and customer base along the way.

Make Instagram work for your brand

These Instagram best practices are the perfect starting point for brands of any size to build a new audience or take your account presence to the next level.

For more in-depth tips on how to use Instagram for your business, download our free and comprehensive guide on Instagram for Brands.