13 ways to use Instagram for small business
By now, you’ve seen the power of Instagram. From customer complaints to a product going viral, the platform offers many features for small businesses, leveling the proverbial digital playing field between small and large businesses. But because it’s been around for a while, there’s loads of information available to you on how brands can use it. In this guide, we break down how to use Instagram for your small business from taking advantage of the platform’s features to specific ideas on how to increase your digital footprint.
Why should you use Instagram for your small business?
When your presence properly planned and managed, Instagram offers a wide set of advantages to small businesses. If you’re using the platform as a marketing outlet, then you need a documented Instagram marketing strategy. Yes, even if it’s only you running the account. According to Instagram’s own study, 81% of users said that Instagram helps them research products and services. You don’t want to miss out on a whole set of customers just because you’re not active on the network. Read on for tips to maximize small business accounts on Instagram.
1. Basics: Set up your profile
You might roll your eyes at this but it’s a necessary reminder. Once you’re set up as a business account, take a moment to comb through your Instagram profile. New features and settings are changed all the time, sometimes without notice. It doesn’t hurt to check if you’ve got some new features to try out. Other standard essential business profile items to consider include updating the business categories, hours, location(s), a contact method and linking any service or product catalogs. While you’re over here, check and make sure your profile elements, such as your bio and profile picture, are in line with your general social media branding.
2. Optimize your bio links
Social media managers have gotten creative on how to take full advantage of the five link fields that Instagram offers. It’s become common to refer to a “link in bio” in posts, and use these links to serve up a landing page with a mix of recent content and evergreen links to your most important product and service pages. If your business is one that shares links, has more than five links you want to provide to customers, has multiple offerings or all of the above, then the landing page approach is for you. There are several tools that let you create a link in bio landing page. Sprout Social’s SproutLink makes setting one up easy by offering a landing page that replicates your grid and provides clickable links for each post to highlight and drive traffic to your most important content. Plus, you can stay within Sprout’s Instagram publishing workflow to optimize and schedule the rest of your content. Just like you want to set up your profile with essential business information, small businesses should share the most important information with customers via link in bio.
3. Geotag your posts
When you post from your small business physical location, add the location name to the post. If you didn’t do this when posting before, you can scroll into past posts and edit them. What does geotagging do? Instagram compiles all of the posts tagged at that location, sorting them into top and recent. Your brand photos live among customer photos. The “View Information” towards the top links to information about the tagged business. All of this adds up to brand awareness and helps customers research your business. Don’t know what to order at a restaurant? Just browse the most recent photos and see what people recommend.
4. Use the save post feature
This strategy is not public-facing but could be useful for boosting your small business’s Instagram content strategy. Instagram offers the ability to “save” a post and sort them into a collection for you to view later. While it is not necessary to create collections, it’s advisable. There are many ways to use this feature for research and inspiration. Some collection ideas include:
- What your competitors are posting about
- Visual inspiration for photos
- Great captions you’ve come across
- Ideas for future posts
- Customer reviews
- Both happy and unhappy customer posts
- Potential influencers
As you can see, there are quite a few options for you. If you find yourself thinking, “Oh, this is a great post,” hit that save button.
5. Use Highlights to showcase what your business is all about
Instagram’s Stories Highlights feature offers you a chance to share even more about your company. Highlights prolong the life of your Stories by featuring them on your profile after they would normally disappear, and can help you collect those Stories into an easy source of evergreen content. Since they display above your grid, start with the basics, such as:
- About: Just a few posts on your values, hours and brand
- Locations or highlights per location: If you have multiple locations, talk about each one and share photos from them
- Customer reviews or posts: Repost from customer feed posts or create a graphic that highlights reviews from elsewhere
- FAQs: Share information that customers often request. This also saves you time when responding to customers because you can then redirect them to this Highlight
- Product/service features: Do an overall one or a Highlight per product or service. Some things you just can’t fit into one post. This is where you can go deep into the details.
And now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get even more creative. A good place to start from is what content topics you’re already creating in your feed. Are you doing a series on each staff member? Save this all to a Highlight. Maybe you’re an event planner. Go behind-the-scenes on your process to demonstrate what you do for the client. Have fun with your Highlights. This is where your brand voice can shine.
6. Create guides
Much like Instagram Highlights, Guides gives you a chance to compile your favorite posts into one piece of featured content. But there are some key differences. It’s more editorial in format, almost as if you were reading an article. You can include photos and posts from your own feed and from others’ feeds that you’ve saved.
Each embed allows a caption, where you could write even more about the product or location that you’re featuring. In addition to the ideas already mentioned in the Highlights section, Guides are great for compiling a list of location recommendations. They can be all of your locations or the local businesses you recommend. You can expand the topic to an introduction to your city, exploring the neighborhood you’re in or influencer recommendations. And if you’re hesitant about using this feature? No worries. Guides are able to be saved as drafts until you’re ready to publish them.
7. Pay attention to captions
Your first line in the caption is the one that grabs people’s attention and decides whether they expand to read more. In addition to paying attention to the first line, you should check the rest of your caption. With the recent addition of keyword search in Instagram, what you write in your Instagram caption is more important than ever. Before, you could be cutesy with your words or stylized, and while it’s not to say that you can’t still do this, you should make sure you’re including words that you want others to associate you with. Similar to conducting basic keyword research, this could include your brand and product names, or general terms related to your business category.
8. Use Instagram Live constantly
Going Live for brands skyrocketed in popularity in 2020 when marketing managers and business owners found themselves working from home but still needed to connect with customers on a personal level. There are numerous benefits to using Instagram Live. The biggest one is that followers receive a notification when an account they follow goes Live. This instant communication is vital especially when you’re trying to stand out on the network. A few ideas to start you off on Live:
- Go behind the scenes: Do a tour of your space or showcase a creative process. Anything that the customer does not have public access to is where you should start.
- Run a Q&A: Instagram has a Q&A feature where if you’re using the associated sticker, the story post also changes to reflect it. Live Q&As can be ask me anything (AMA) or centered around certain products.
- Conduct an interview: Share the live stream with another account. Having a guest on the Live allows you a chance to interview them on the spot or gives them the mic to feature what they’re passionate about.
- Showcase a product or service: Is it easier to show than tell for your product or service? Use Live to detail this. If comments are on, your viewers will also give you tips on what they want to see.
9. Offer “followers-only” promotions
Everyone loves a good sale. But an exclusive sale? That’s using the marketing tactic of FOMO and urgency. If you run a followers-only promotion for a limited time, it gives your followers another reason to stay engaged and stick around for the next one. Utilize the countdown Stories sticker if you want to build up hype or do a flash sale so the promotions become unpredictable.
10. Host a giveaway
One of the best ways to organically grow your Instagram account is by hosting a giveaway. Something that people love more than a good sale is free stuff. Depending on how you structure the giveaway, it could create additional post engagement for you. Beyond asking people to follow your account, add requirements like saving a post, commenting on a post or sending it to a friend. Instagram contests are low-hanging fruit for small businesses. You can also pair up with other small businesses that share a similar audience to further your brand awareness. Of course, you should not rely on this strategy as your sole social media strategy. Give your new followers more reasons to stick around beyond only hosting giveaways.
11. Host a takeover
Another way to increase brand exposure to your small business is to host a takeover or take over another business’ account. Typically, social media takeovers consist of a series of scheduled posts over a period of time. Some take all day while others post daily for a week. These posts can be feed-only, stories-only, Live or a combo of all of the posting features that Instagram offers. When hosting a takeover, think of it like structuring a story. You need to introduce the person, talk about what they’ll be covering, post the takeover contents and then end with a conclusive goodbye. Common takeover guests include fellow industry experts, representatives from other small businesses that you’re friendly with and staff members.
12. Increase your DM usage
Community building is a slow process and one of the aspects of it is creating that connection between you and your customer. What better way to do this than personal messaging?
In our Sprout Social Index™: Social Media Trends for 2022 & Beyond, private or direct messaging accounts for 38% of brands’ social media strategy. Add that to the nearly three-quarters of consumers who expect a response on social media within 24 hours. Increasing your DM usage doesn’t mean only responding. You should also actively engage with the customer on their own feed and stories. As your Instagram DM usage builds, you’ll find yourself needing a way to manage all the messages. This is where Sprout’s Smart Inbox feature comes into play. Manage your Instagram DMs using a workflow so you can spend more time responding to customers.
13. Track your analytics
It’s worth repeating this advice that’s found in other guides: track those Instagram analytics. Without data to back up your gut feeling of success, your strategies don’t hold up. If you’re just starting out, you can wade into your native insights through either the Instagram app or Facebook. You also want to be sure that you understand the differences between impressions, reach and other network-specific metrics. Sprout’s Instagram Business Profiles Report tracks engagement, hashtag performance and top post performance. You can compare your Instagram performance to your other networks with the Profile Performance Report in Sprout, too. Examine your Instagram data for more insights on what’s working or where you can improve your strategy.
Taking your Instagram for small business strategy further
This list is a great place to start with Instagram marketing tactics that small businesses can use to improve their presence on the network. Beefing up your Instagram strategy with tips like using Stories Highlights and using Instagram Live regularly will help you establish a connection with your customers. Are you starting your Instagram brand strategy completely from scratch? Create a personalized Instagram marketing strategy with our in-depth resources. Learn how to set goals, create a content plan and more.
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