A beginner’s guide to Instagram marketing for small businesses

instagram marketing header image by Claudio Schwartz on unsplash

Apart from being one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, with over a billion active users, Instagram also boasts sky-high engagement rates.

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has evolved into so much more than the photo-sharing app it started out as. Today, it can help you grow your small business by providing you with a space to engage with your target audience and build lasting relationships with customers. 

But the proof is in the numbers. There are more than 25 million active businesses on Instagram; that’s a pretty compelling reason to invest your time in learning how to use the platform to your advantage. 

This article will help you understand the benefits of Instagram marketing and explain how to attract users to your own business’s page through a detailed step-by-step guide.

Table of Contents

  1. Why you need Instagram for your small business
  2. 6 steps to getting started with Instagram marketing
  3. 6 Instagram marketing tips for small businesses
  4. Wrapping up

Why you need Instagram for your small business

The recipe behind Instagram’s success is that they’ve managed to create an environment for consumers to actively engage with and cultivate meaningful relationships with businesses online.

This is proven by the fact that 80% of Instagram users follow at least one brand, which means that for most people, the Instagram experience is as much about business as it is about pleasure.

Instagram offers tons of features for creating engaging, creative content. Tools like Stories, IGTV and Instagram Live can help you connect with your customers on a more personal level.

And as a small business, it’s incredibly important to engage with your customers and your target audience in order to expand brand awareness. The competition is fierce, and developing your unique brand voice will help you stand out from the crowd. 

But engagement is more than simply growing your number of followers; it’s about overall business growth. 

Creating quality Instagram content through a creative marketing strategy can turn your followers into paying customers. And forming long-lasting relationships with them by responding to their comments and showing you care turns them into loyal customers, which are the most meaningful (and profitable) kind.

As 68% of people on Instagram engage with brands regularly and 73.4% of users follow brands because they’re interested in their products and services, the revenue-opportunities are high.  

As you scale, you’ll need to make sure you can adapt to your target audience’s needs by maintaining relevance. The best way to maintain interest and influence is by fostering those personal relationships and delivering content that continues to resonate with your audience. 

So as a small business, if you want to keep up with the competition and expand your reach, you need to be where your customers are spending most of their time—on Instagram.

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6 steps to getting started with Instagram marketing

Starting out as a new business on Instagram can be overwhelming, as there are tons of marketing, sales and analytics tools to become acquainted with. 

We’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you unlock the platform’s true potential.

In this section, you’ll learn how to set up your account, start publishing content, and engage with your audience. 

1. Set up an Instagram business account

Start by creating an Instagram business account.

An Instagram business account lets you access exclusive business features, such as detailed analytics, the ability to add contact details, and more.

Screenshot of the "Instagram for business" benefits
Source: ConstantContact

Follow the steps below to set up your account:

  1. Download the app on your phone.
  2. Sign up by entering your email address (if you already have a Facebook business page, it’s a good idea to link the two profiles—in that case, you should tap on “Log in with Facebook”).
  3. Choose a username and password.
  4. Tap on “Settings” in the app, and scroll down to Switch to business account to set up a free business profile.
  5. Enter details related to your business, like business hours, email address, physical address (if relevant) or a phone number.

If you already have a personal account, where you’ve previously shared content relevant to your business, you can simply convert it to an Instagram business account by following step 4.

2. Create a strategy

Now, you’re all set up and ready to publish. But before you can start posting content, you need to have a proper strategy in place.

It’s important to do your homework to make sure you’re creating the right content for the right people and posting it at the right time.

Define your target audience

Creating effective content is only possible if you know who you’re creating it for.

In order to figure out exactly who your target audience is, start by answering questions like:

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What is their age group?
  • Where do they live?
  • What are their interests?

Once you know these basics, do some research and find out what kind of brands your target audience follows and what kind of content they actively engage with.

Set goals

Ask yourself: why are you doing this?

For every business, it’s crucial to set goals prior to a campaign. This gives you a sense of direction so you can create objective content that actually serves a purpose.

Make sure your goals are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Infographic outlining SMART goals

Another benefit of setting goals and objectives is that it lets you keep track of your progress and analyse if your Instagram marketing efforts are paying off.

Quick-tip: A well-researched, clearly-defined marketing strategy is a fundamental first step to gaining new customers. From identifying your target audience to building customer personas, studying the competition, and more, it’s important that you devote plenty of time to creating a clear digital marketing plan before you begin posting. To learn more about how to successfully create a marketing plan and aim it at well-defined targets, read our beginners guide to digital marketing strategy

Set up a content calendar

Planning out your posts in advance will help you stay consistent and publish quality content.

Set up a content calendar and decide what to post and when to post it.

Generally, the best time to post on Instagram is on Wednesday at 11 am. and Friday at 10–11 am. Here’s a complete engagement breakdown on a day-to-day basis:

Graph showing the best time to post on Instagram
Source: SproutSocial

Make sure you maintain a balance between different types of content and mix things up so your feed doesn’t look too monotonous.

For example, if you’re publishing a product photo, you might want to publish something else next, like behind-the-scenes footage or a funny meme (if it aligns with your brand, of course).

3. Optimise your Instagram profile

Now that you have a strategy in place, it’s time to optimise your Instagram profile so it looks good and performs even better.

Profile photo

For businesses, uploading your logo is the perfect way to put a “face” to the profile.

Make sure your profile picture has a minimum size of 110 x 110 pixels. We recommend a size that looks good on both desktop and mobile, which is 320 x 320.

Bio

Ideally speaking, your bio should be the essence of your brand. It should convey who you are, and what your brand is trying to achieve.

Instagram has a 150-character limit on your bio, so make sure you’re succinct.

A good idea is to use emojis in your bio. It adds a bit of colour to your profile and saves character space. Don’t forget to use spacing and line breaks to make your bio easy to read.

Here’s how we keep our bio short and sweet at Tide:

Screenshot of Tide's Instagram profile

Website & CTAs

The perk of having an Instagram business account is that you can add your website and various call-to-action (CTA) buttons on your profile.

You can add action buttons that allow users to call, get directions, book an appointment, make reservations, buy tickets, and more.

4. Share content

Finally! It’s time to share amazing content that gets you noticed.

Instagram lets you share content in so many different ways. Leverage new formats like Stories, Instagram Live, and IGTV to create content that is relatable and engaging.

The type of content you post naturally depends on your industry, type of business, and audience interests, but here are some ideas to get you started:

Product photography

If you’re in the retail business, Instagram is the perfect place to showcase your beautiful products. Techniques like flat lay photography, which is the term for photographing objects from above, can help your products stand out.

Example of a product Instagram post from Sephora
Source: Sephora

Behind-the-scenes content

Show users your brand’s “human” side by posting behind-the-scenes content every now and then. For example, you can post behind-the-scenes footage of a photoshoot you recently conducted. Or share a short video of your employees goofing around at work.

Instagram Stories are ideal for sharing this kind of content. They last for only 24 hours, but you can always save them as “Story Highlights” on your profile for users to view later.

Tide's Instagram Story highlights

User-generated content

Get your audience to create content for you by featuring them on your account.

For example, ASOS ran the #AsSeenOnMe campaign that asked their audience to use the hashtag in photos of them wearing ASOS products. The best ones were then featured on the brand’s Instagram page.

Encouraging and posting user-generated content makes your customers feel special and appreciated by your brand. It also means free content for you—win-win!

Company news and holidays

What’s a better way to share company news, sale announcements, and holiday wishes with your followers than with a beautiful visual?

You can easily create these visuals using an online design tool like Visme. It offers tons of Instagram post templates that you can edit and download for your own use.

Repurposed content

Do you have a blog or YouTube account where you regularly post content? Repurpose it and make it Instagram-friendly to squeeze out even more results.

For example, you can create bite-sized infographics out of a blog post. Or chop a longer infographic into shareable Instagram visuals. You can also share snippets of a video you’ve previously created and share it on Instagram.

Quick-tip: Video marketing is outperforming all other types of marketing in the digital world. Brands using video ultimately attract 300% more traffic to their site. And one of the easiest ways to utilise video on a budget is through Instagram’s platform. Learn more about how to use video on Instagram, as well as other digital platforms, by reading our guide on how to grow your business with video (on a budget).

5. Engage with your audience

The work isn’t over after you share your content. Once live, you then need to constantly engage with your audience on the platform.

Not only does this help you build relationships, it tells the Instagram algorithm, which dictates the order that posts are displayed in, that your post is worthy enough for the “Explore” page.

Engaging with your audience on Instagram includes responding to their comments and DMs (Direct Messages), no matter how harsh or rewarding they may be.

Show that you care by replying with simple thank you messages, update your audience on apparel sizes or stock availability, apologise for faulty products, and so on.

You can also use Instagram Stories to post engaging content, like polls, quizzes, Q&As, and more. This is a great way to keep your customers informed, entertained, and curious.  

We’ll discuss many other ways to engage your audience on Instagram in our marketing tips section below.

6. Track your performance

Make sure you’re regularly keeping track of your performance to improve your future campaigns.

Instagram offers detailed analytics, known as Insights, for business accounts. You can access Insights by tapping on the top-right hamburger menu on your profile page.

The Insights dashboard is divided into three tabs:

  • Activity
  • Audience
  • Content 

Activity

The activity tab shows metrics that measure the reach and interactions of your Instagram profile and posts.

It has a “Discovery” section that measures how many people see your content and where they find it, through its two sub-sections “Reach” and “Impressions”.

Reach shows the number of unique accounts that have seen any of your posts. So if an individual account viewed your post multiple times, it’ll be counted as one.

Impressions show the number of times your post was seen. Unlike Reach, it includes multiple views by the same users.

Instagram analytics showing reach and impressions

The Activity tab also shows a summary of profile visits, website clicks, email and call clicks, and get direction clicks. 

Audience

In this tab, you can track metrics related to your Instagram audience. There’s a lot of useful information here, like who your audience is and when they are most active.

Under “Growth”, you can view the overall growth of your audience—how many followed and unfollowed your account.

In the “Top Locations” section, you can see the cities and countries where most of your followers are from.

Instagram analytics showing follower locaitons
Source: Hopper

You can also see the “Age Range” and “Gender” of your audience in this tab in graphical form.

Instagram analytics showing demographic data
Source: NapoleonCat

The Audience tab also has a “Followers” section that shows you the average time and day your followers are most active on Instagram.

Instagram analytics showing most active hours
Source: NapoleonCat

Content

This tab provides you with an overview of how your content is doing.

This includes your posts, stories, and any promotions that you’re running.

Under “Posts”, you can view your most viewed posts, and then click on each individual one to view its specific metrics.

Instagram post insights

The same goes for “Stories” and “Promotions”.

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6 Instagram marketing tips for small businesses

Now that you’re ready to get started with Instagram marketing, here are some additional tips to help you maximise the results of your campaigns:

1. Edit your photos

There’s a lot of competition on Instagram—your audiences’ feeds are full of one great photo after the next.

To make your visuals stand out, edit them to enhance colours, crop or straighten, and improve lighting.

Example showing improvements of an image after enhancing

Instagram already has a bunch of advanced editing options, like filters and adjustments. But you can also use professional apps like VSCO and Lightroom to up your editing game.

Here are a few design tips on how to make your photos pop on Instagram:

  • Create a simple layout and avoid clutter in your shot
  • Add frames and text to your photos to make them stand out (this works best with the Stories feature)
  • Make sure you only upload high-quality photos as pixelated or blurry images can make your brand look cheap and low-quality
  • Make sure everything in your image is in alignment
  • Choose colour wisely
  • Make sure your fonts are readable

The key is to produce content that grabs attention and triggers your audience to “like” your posts. 

Pro-tip: Make sure you are using original content and check your intellectual property rights to ensure your content does not violate the IP of any other company or brand on Instagram. 

2. Use paid promotions

Instagram is a highly competitive platform. Sometimes, it can get difficult to stand out solely by organic means.

This is why Instagram allows businesses to promote their posts and stories to reach out to more customers.

Unifying paid promotion with your organic strategy can help you increase your visibility on the platform and get more followers.

You can run paid ads in the Instagram feed or post Story ads instead.

Here’s how Dunkin’ is using Story ads to grab attention. Notice how they’ve made their ad interactive with a fun poll.

Instagram Story ad from Dunkin'
Source: Dunkin’

3. Collaborate with influencers

A great way to boost your Instagram marketing is to collaborate with popular influencers in your niche.

Partnering up with influential accounts can help you create unique, creative content, and extend your reach to a much bigger audience.

Better yet, influencers who are trusted by their followers can help improve brand reputation and increase your credibility.

There are tons of ways to collaborate with influencers. You can co-create products and videos, send out PR packages in exchange for reviews, or invite them to become brand ambassadors.

A good example is beauty brand Morphe collaborating with beauty influencer James Charles to co-create an eyeshadow palette.

4. Host contests and giveaways

A tried-and-true strategy to ramp up followers and engagement is to host contests and giveaways with exciting prizes.

You can run selfie contests, caption contests, and even quizzes to encourage interaction and engagement.

Or you can sponsor a giveaway, where multiple brands or influencers come together to pitch in for a big prize.

Instagram giveaway from Fabletics
Source: Fabletics

Each account asks their followers to follow the participating accounts and tag their friends, and then the winner gets chosen randomly.

5. Use relevant hashtags

#Hashtags are a big deal on Instagram. They can help you reach out to a bigger, more relevant audience.

Do your research and find out the most popular hashtags in your niche. Add relevant hashtags to your posts, stories, and even in your bio.

Currently, Instagram allows only 30 hashtags per post.

We recommend using the 10/10/10 strategy, which involves adding:

  • 10 Large Hashtags (200,000 – 2,000,000 total posts)
  • 10 Mid-size Hashtags (50,000 to 200,000 total posts)
  • 10 Smaller Hashtags (10,000 to 50,000 total posts)

With this strategy, you’re effectively branching out on the type of followers searching for a relevant hashtag.

6. Schedule your posts

Regularly posting content manually can get difficult.

This is exactly why Instagram automation exists.

You can now use Facebook Creator Studio to schedule Instagram posts and IGTV videos up to six months in advance.

To access the feature, you need to:

  • Have a Facebook Page
  • Have an Instagram business or creator account
  • Link your Instagram account to your Facebook page

Here’s a step-by-step guide to posting and scheduling Instagram posts using Facebook Creator Studio.

You can also use third-party tools to schedule your posts. Later, a cloud-based platform, can help you plan, manage, and schedule your posts and campaigns on Instagram.

Wrapping up

If your small business is not present on the world’s largest social media platform, you’re seriously missing out on engaging with your customers and target audience and generating business.

By following the best practices outlined in this article, such as optimising your profile, strategically posting at designated times, creating captivating content, exploring collaborations, generating paid ads and learning from insights, you’ll be well on your way to boosting outreach and revenue.  

Instagram offers tons of opportunities for both B2B and B2C businesses. If you’re looking for a smart way to grow your small business on social, Instagram is a great place to start. 

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Photo by Claudio Schwartz, published on Unsplash

Kerstin Reichert

SEO Manager and small business marketing expert

Tide Team

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