The beginner’s guide to getting started using Instagram for business
If there is one universal truth to making money online it’s that you have to have some sort of influence. Sure, we can tell you over and over again what we find works for most people, but everyone is going to have different visions for their online businesses and different places where they want to focus.
I’ve touted the perks of an email list to you a million times, but if you’re interested in focusing your energy somewhere else, that’s great, too.
I’ve seen people build entire empires on a single social media site, and host massive launches without sending a single email.
While it’s unconventional, it can be done. And if you fall in the boat of people who like to do things a bit differently, consider growing your audience on Instagram.
As far as I’m concerned, Instagram is the most interesting social media site at the moment. With the options to post to your feed or story, and even go live there are a lot of different ways you can reach your audience.
Why Instagram is such a big deal
When people are trying to grow their influence online, more often than not you find that they’ve got a huge focus on Instagram. Let’s take a look at why that is:
Six in ten adults have an Instagram account
Over 80% of accounts on Instagram follow at least one business
100 million people use Instagram stories every day
What does that all mean, though?
Well, people are on Instagram and they’re active. More importantly, they’re actively following and engaging with their favorite brands on Instagram. On some social media sites *ahem, Facebook* people get more annoyed with promotional materials and will scroll past ignoring your marketing efforts. But if a business can do Instagram right, their audience is likely to follow and engage.
And with thousands of new accounts joining Instagram every single day, chances are if your audience isn’t on Instagram already, they will be.
What is Instagram?
OK, the millennial in me might be showing as I automatically assume that everyone knows all about Instagram.
At its core, Instagram is a social media site that champions sharing images. People see your content if they follow you or if you add a hashtag or geotag to your image. (But more on that later…)
During Instagram’s early days, you could only post pictures or videos and captions. With that said, a lot of people choose to only share images ignoring the option to add a caption entirely.
Now, though, there is also the Instagram Story option. Instagram stories are more “in the moment” and live for only 24 hours. Think Snapchat, because that’s exactly where Instagram got the concept.
Through Instagram stories, you can give your followers a less curated look into your life and business, and share pictures, videos, or text updates with what you’re up to.
The three primary goals that people have on Instagram are: get followers, get likes, and get comments.
The three of those combined equals influence and with influence you can begin to sell your products or make money in other ways.
Setting up your Instagram account
Instagram is easiest to use on your phone, in fact, it’s impossible to even post from your computer. To get started, download the Instagram app and create your account.
When you’re choosing your account name, make sure it’s memorable and related to you or your business.
If you don’t want to use your full name, you can use the name of your business and vice versa. Try to limit the amount of numbers and extra characters in your username, though, so you can easily relay to your audience where they can find you.
When you first make your account, you’re main focus should be getting content live and getting followers in your target audience.
Begin by following some of your favorite influencers in your niche and sharing a link to your Instagram account on your website or any social media sites that you already have.
Creating content for Instagram
The most difficult part about Instagram is the need to constantly have new content to share. Top Instagram influencers often will share new posts several times a day, but that cadence can be overkill when you’re just starting out.
If you can post even just three times a week while you’re getting into your Instagram groove, that’s a win.
Creating images for Instagram
While you can post videos or boomerangs on Instagram, the most popular types of posts are images.
It’s up to you whether you want to post custom imagery, images of yourself, stock images, graphics, or a combination.
If you’ve got a product based business, consider taking custom imagery. For example, one of my favorite Instagram accounts is loomshakalaka, and they share their custom woven art pieces.
It wouldn’t make sense for them to use stock imagery or even graphics to promote their business, because it’d be hard to build trust if you’re not sharing images of the products you’re creating.
Images of yourself
A lot of people use Instagram to build a brand around themselves. As unnatural as it might feel to get in front of the camera and put yourself out there, there’s a universal truth: people are nosy.
They want to know the face behind their favorite businesses, and they want someone they can relate to. Sharing pieces of who you and and pictures of yourself is a great way to help your audience connect to you.
Even with nearly 100 employees, we always try to show you the different smiling faces that make Teachable great!
You can DIY your self portraits, or hire a photographer. Whatever you’re comfortable with and your photography skills allow.
Stock images are great for conceptional businesses. For example, if you’re an online coach teaching people how to have a positive money mindset, there really aren’t any clear images that you have to be responsible for taking.
While you might want to consider posting images of yourself, you can also add stock images to your feed. I create Teachable’s Instagram feed, and I often pull images from Unsplash when we don’t have time to take pictures in the office. (We like to keep busy improving our product, afterall.)
I’m going to be honest, I love accounts that share cool graphics. Whether they’re quotes or doodles made in Photoshop or inDesign, I’m a sucker for a good design. If you’ve got a digital art business or are just handy with a tablet, consider creating creative graphics for your feed.
One account that does a great job with this is Shop Bando if you’re in need of some inspiration.
Realistically, I feel like a combination of a few of the options above are your best bet. Giving your audience a variety of content and keeping things fresh is a great way to keep people interested.
Creating captions for Instagram
Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of trendy Instagram accounts leave their captions blank altogether. Me? I tend to be long winded and will take every opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions and therefore fill out my captions religiously.
And if you’re looking to grow your business and brand I recommend you do the same. If you’re given a platform, you may as well use it.
Depending on your niche and your goals, you can do a lot of different things with your caption.
I’ve seen a lot of online influencers and business owners ditch their blogs and opt to “microblog” through Instagram, instead.
The idea of microblogging is that you’re able to accomplish what a blog post would in less words and in this case, on Instagram.
You can devote entire captions to teaching your audience how to do something to help establish authority, or use your captions to promote a product or build hype around an upcoming launch.
Microblogs tend to be 10+ sentences and have a strong focus.
Lauryn of The Skinny Confidential always has great microblogs within her Instagram captions.
Engaging your audience
On the Teachable Instagram, I’m always super nosy. I like to ask our followers questions like what their go to coffee order is when they’re working from a coffeehouse. In exchange for their comment (and appeasing my nosy tendencies) I’ll follow them on Instagram.
Getting people used to engaging with your and commenting on your images does two things:
Builds community – the more people comment and you respond (important!) the more connected they’ll feel to you
Hacks Instagram’s algorithm – if people comment on one of your images, they’ll be more likely to see future images that you post
Sometimes I ask really targeted course related questions, and other times they’re more fun and random. The main goal is to get people to engage.
Building hype around your launch
This is my favorite thing to see on Instagram: A beautifully done image with a caption that just makes you want to buy whatever it is the poster is selling.
Great copywriting is hard to do on Instagram because you really have to focus on hooking people in right away. Afterall, people tend to scroll through Instagram quickly and don’t have a ton of focus.
If you can make people want to continue reading in your first sentence and get them excited about your product in the next two or three, you’re in a good place.
Sharing a bit behind the scenes
Remember when I said that people on Instagram are super nosy? Well they love getting a look into people’s lives that they might not otherwise get.
If you’re a super busy entrepreneur, consider sharing an image of you at your messy desk and sharing some “real talk” in the caption.
Letting people know that sometimes you’re having a case of the Monday’s actually helps people relate to you more.
Making your content discoverable
Instagram just recently rolled out a new feature where you can see pictures in your feed from people who you don’t follow. This is supposed help expose people to more accounts that they might be interested in. But it’s been ill received and rolled out very slowly, so in the meantime, here are more strategies to make your content discoverable.
Hashtags on Instagram are so important. Unlike other platforms like Twitter and Facebook, people on Instagram actually utilize hashtags to find content they might be interested in.
You can use up to 30 hashtags, and you should use a combination of hashtags that are specific and relevant to your image, and broader ones. For example, if you’re targeting women in tech, even if you’re posting a picture of your latte, your target audience is still women in tech so you could use the hashtags: #womenintech #latteart #coffeemorning #jobsintech. People feel like they have to post only hashtags relevant to their images, but I think it’s more beneficial to use hashtags to define your audience.
Geotags are great if you want to be found locally. You have the option to turn on your location and tag the shop, business, or even just city or state that you’re posting from.
Geotagging helps people who are around you find you. I use geotags to find other creatives in my area, and have cold reached out to people to buy them coffee and talk about their businesses.
It might feel weird to put your exact location when you’re somewhere, but you can also #latergram, or take a picture and not post it until after you’ve left the cafe you’re going to geotag.
You can also choose to not geotag at all if you’re worried about your location being public or your business isn’t necessarily relevant to your local audience.
Using Instagram stories
Instagram stories are a relatively new feature on Instagram and they’re super fun. I’ve talked to a lot of other bloggers who’ve confessed that they rarely even scroll through their Instagram feed anymore, they usually just look at stories.
Stories are interesting because after 24 hours they disappear completely, so there’s that drive to stay updated with your favorite accounts and check back so you don’t miss anything.
With Instagram stories you can share images, video, or text.
I like to think of Instagram stories as a form of storytelling. Ask yourself what you want to convey through your Instagram stories and create a series of pictures and videos that takes you through the story. Act like you’re producing your own mini reality show starring you and your business.
For example, one “story” or “episode” could be all about how you got started. Post a screenshot of your logo or a picture of yourself and add text saying, “For those of you asking how I started my online business…”
The next additions to your story could be a series of videos explaining how you got started and how you grew. Try to limit this to no more than five videos, I’ve found that otherwise people get bored and swipe.
The final addition can be inviting people to DM you and ask you questions.
Using Instagram live
Instagram live is probably the most intimidating part of Instagram. By no means do you ever have to go live, but if you feel comfortable with it, it’s a great way to help your audience get to know you and really connect.
Instagram live is a feature where you can stream a live video.
People use this feature to do Q&A’s, share live updates about their business, and invite their followers to join a part of their day in real time.
I’ve even seen people host casual webinars on Instagram live, and while they weren’t able to get email subscribers through this strategy, they did get Instagram followers and if that’s your goal in the first place there’s no great loss of not adding to your email list.
Selling with Instagram
Once you’ve built authority on Instagram and people are beginning to follow and engage with you, Instagram can be a great platform for selling your online products.
Instagram doesn’t allow links in your caption, so instead you will add your most relevant link to your Instagram bio. The best workaround to this is to sign up for Link Tree so you can add multiple links.
If you’re utilizing Link Tree, order your links in the importance of clicks. You’ll want to have your paid products above your website’s homepage.
Instead of trying to drive traffic through putting links in your picture captions (they aren’t clickable,) using the phrase “link in bio” is a common way to signal to your followers that they should go to your profile and click through.
It adds an extra step to getting your audience where you want them to go, but it’s less tedious for them than it would be to type out the URL.
Through trial and error, I’ve realized that beautiful images with a convincing caption convert infinitely better than a big “FLASH SALE” graphic and a call to action to click through to your bio.
Don’t compromise the quality of your images just to be flashy. People go to Instagram to consume beautiful content, and are likely to scroll right past big text graphics.
You can also drive traffic with your Instagram stories. If you have less than 10,000 followers, you’ll still have to use the phrase “link in bio,” but if you’ve passed the 10k threshold, you’re allowed to add links directly to your story with the “swipe up” feature.
The power of the swipe up feature is that it’s as easy and instant as having a link within your story, and your audience doesn’t have to take any additional steps to get to your link.