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. 📹 Masterclass video: How to create a successful small business marketing strategy
  5. 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 via a dedicated Instagram marketing strategy will help you stand out from the crowd.

But engagement is more than simply growing your follower count; it’s about overall business growth. 

Creating quality Instagram content through a creative marketing strategy can turn your followers into paying customers. And responding to their comments in real-time shows your audience that you care, which is the not-so-secret ingredient needed to turn one-time customers into loyal customers—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 Instagram for business account, start strategically publishing content, and engage with your audience.

Top Tip: Instagram is just one of the many social media platforms that you can use to boost your reach and engage with your audience online. But finding success on social media takes more than simply posting and hoping for the best. You need a dedicated content strategy tailored specifically to the social platform that you’re posting on. To learn more about how to take your brand to the next level, read our detailed guide to how to create a social media marketing strategy for your small business📱.

1. Set up an Instagram business account

Start by creating an Instagram business account.

An Instagram business profile lets you access exclusive business features, such as detailed Instagram 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 Instagram 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 content 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.

Top Tip: Defining your target audience is a key part of conducting market research. Market research is also necessary in order to figure who your competitors are and what part of the market share is up for grabs. To learn more, read our guide to how to conduct market research for your business idea 🔬.

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.

Top 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 creating a 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 new 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).

Top Tip: Exactly when you post content on Instagram matters because user engagement levels vary drastically throughout the day. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all best time to post—though there are rough guidelines that you can (and should) follow. The best time for you to post depends entirely on when your unique audience is online so that you can boost your chances of showing up in your followers’ feeds. To learn more, read our guide to the best time to post on Instagram in the UK ⌚️.

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:

A screenshot of the Tide instagram page

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 and helps you generate new followers.

Instagram lets you share content in so many different ways. Leverage new formats and Instagram tools like Stories, Instagram Live, reels 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 and embody a shoppable appeal.

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.

Screenshot showing the Tide Instagram page, highlighting the story highlights section

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 Instagram hashtag in photos of them wearing ASOS products. The best ones were then reposted and 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. 

Another option is to take advantage of Instagram reels or Instagram TV (IGTV) to upload high-quality, long form videos. These videos can range anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes long (or up to 60 minutes long for large companies). Use this medium to share compelling content that allows your audience to spend more time with your brand without needing to leave the Instagram platform. You can even promote these videos in your feed or on your story, making it easier than ever for your followers to find your content.

Once you do create an IGTV video, the preview of your video will stay on your Instagram page. Your followers will be able to distinguish it by the IGTV icon in the top right corner of your post.

Screenshot showing the Tide Instagram page, pointing to the IGTV icon on a post

If you plan to create several IGTV videos, it’s worth downloading the IGTV app (iOS & Android) to take full advantage of Instagram’s long-form video platform. 

Top 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 Instagram followers 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 campaign 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 presented as an overview page comprising several key high-level details. From there, you can click on each individual metric to view more detailed analytics. Here’s how the overview tab is laid out:

  • Recent highlights
  • Overview
    • Accounts Reached
    • Content Interactions
    • Total Followers
  • Content You Shared

Let’s explore each section in more detail.

Recent highlights

The recent highlights overview shows metrics that measure the reach and interactions of your Instagram content over the last 7 or 30 days.

Screenshot showing the recent highlights tab on Instagram Insights
Image source: HubSpot

Overview

The overview tab shows you the total number of accounts that you’ve reached, your content interactions and number of followers over the last 7 or 30 days. You can tap into each one to learn more.

Accounts Reached

Reach is a metric that 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. 

You’ll also see a summary of profile visits, website clicks, action button clicks such as email and call clicks, get direction clicks and text button taps. In this tab you can also view your top performing posts, stories, and IGTV videos sorted by their reach. 

Screenshot showing the accounts reached section of Instagram Insights
Image source: HubSpot

Content Interactions 

This tab provides you with an overview of how your content is doing. This includes a breakdown of your posts, stories, IGTV video content and any promotions that you’re running. You can see insights such as comments, shares, likes, replies and any other action that was taken on your posts. 

You’ll also get to see your top posts, stories, and IGTV videos sorted by their interactions.  

Screentshot showing content interactions area within Instagram Insights
Image source: HubSpot

Total Followers 

Once you have over 100 followers, you can tap to learn more about the metrics related to your Instagram audience. These include how many followers you’ve gained or lost, their age range, the top locations of your followers broken down by city and country and the times they’re most active on Instagram. 

This information is incredibly useful for running targeted ads or sharing organic content based on your audience’s unique online behaviour.

Screenshot showing Instagram Insights breakdown of followers
Image source: HubSpot

Content You Shared

This section goes deeper into the content you’ve posted or shared on your stories, feed, or IGTV over the last 7 or 30 days. You can view and filter your content by interactions, reach, media type and time frame to glean more unique insights into performance. 

You can also view more specific insights per post, IGTV video, or story by tapping “View Insights” under each individual piece of content. This includes more details about what specific actions people take when they engage with your content, how many people see your content and where/how they find it and more detailed information about the content you’ve promoted. 

Ready to be your own boss? You can register a limited company and open a business account with Tide, all in one go, for FREE. We’ll pay the £12 incorporation fee on your behalf and will give you a free business account to manage your finances more effectively. Start doing what you love and begin your company registration process today – it’s quick, easy and FREE!

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 or video 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
  • Make sure your photos are accessible—to do this, add alt text that displays a short description of your photo that’s then read aloud by a screen reading program (limit to 100 characters)

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

Top 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 via Instagram advertising 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 Instagram 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 Instagram influencers in your niche.

Influencer marketing is a great way to partner with relevant accounts to 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 drive up your number of followers and engagement is to host contests and giveaways with exciting prizes.

You can run selfie contests, Instagram 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. Specific hashtags 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 Instagram 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. Cloud-based platform Later is just one of several tools available to help you plan, manage, and schedule your posts and campaigns on Instagram.

Top Tip: The above step-by-step guide is a great starting point. But once you’ve taken off the training wheels and have generated a following on Instagram, it’s time to level-up and become an Instagram master. To learn how to expand your reach even further, read our 10-step-guide to getting more likes and engagement on Instagram 🙌.

📹 Masterclass video: How to create a successful small business marketing strategy

A key skill for small business owners is understanding what you need to do to successfully market your business. We put together this webinar to help you create or improve your own marketing strategy.

During this session our panel of experts will share their knowledge and insight on how to plan, implement and evolve a solid marketing strategy.

You’ll hear our speakers discuss:

📱 How to use social media for marketing

📩 CRM – how to create good leads and build your leads list

✅ How to create an authentic brand

🌎 How to make sure your campaigns are diverse and inclusive

Wrapping up

If your small business is not present on the world’s largest social networks, you’re seriously missing out on engaging with your existing and potential customers 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

Senior SEO Manager and SME marketing expert

Tide Team

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