With over 300 million active monthly users and the highest engagement of any social media, Instagram is a platform we love. It’s beautiful, clean, interesting, and engaging, which is why it can be a great platform for business. We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about how to launch and grow a business on Instagram. We’ll even share ways to leverage the platform for your online course.
Is Instagram right for you?
Before we even start talking about how to launch on Instagram, take a step back and really think about whether or not it’s is right for you and your brand. We did a little research on “why Instagram is a bad idea” and was shocked to only find Jeff Bullas’ facetious posts that basically says start an Instagram. The bottom line is that growing your email is a much higher leverage activity.
Your email list has three times the conversion rates of social media, gives you direct access to your customers, and has been proven time and time again to change businesses consistently in a way the social media hasn’t.
So, when you’re sitting down to start a course or build a business, first think about the ROI (return on investment) on your time—your most precious asset. Likely, building your list or building your course is more important than building an Instagram account. But there’s still a ton of value to Instagram as a course creator.
Consider investing deep time in Instagram if you:
Already have an email list & course
Are looking to expand your brand and have the bandwidth
Have content that’s visual and your audience hangs out on Instagram
Feel there are opportunities you’re missing out on due to Instagram
Are targeting certain age ranges
There’s no doubt Instagram is popular, just check out the graphic below from Fast Company.
If you’ve got your bases covered and are running into the issues above now is the time. Get pumped because Instagram is fun.
Instagram strategy: Understanding the basics
Let’s get into it with our four-part strategy.
First, what’s your goal? Get specific. Do you want to increase top-funnel efforts and spread the word about your product? Drive people to a certain landing page? Grow your brand by a certain number? Set it. Write it down. This will help you make decisions when it comes to design and copy.
The key to your design is to remember it’s an extension of your existing brand. Look at the palate you’re already using and start to incorporate them into your Instagram.
Pick two to three colors that you want repeating in all posts. This will add a cohesive look to your feed. It will also give you guidelines to work with as you create posts in the future.
For example, here’s Teachable’s page:
You can also choose a few select filters you plan to use. Make sure to choose one to two to repeatedly use, or use none at all.
Check out how Stella Maria Baer uses the Fade Filter:
Also, when thinking of images, you want to get an idea of the three to four types of images you want to post. We’ll get into specifics later, think of your goal and what kinds of images would help achieve it.
Check out how Nicole of Treasure Tromp does it:
For example: Here at Teachable, we wanted our Instagram to show off our beautiful technology, connect our course creators, and show the benefits of creating a course while providing a link to join us during ongoing promotions.
Your tone of voice should also come across as an extension of your brand when you’re trying to grow a business on Instagram. Whatever voice you’re using in your newsletters and blog posts is the same tone you should use when writing your captions. Instagram has an emphasis on brevity. Try to keep things short, sweet, and to the point.
The other thing you should start picking when it comes to copy are hashtags. For each of the type of images you choose from above, what’s a coordinating hashtag? For us, we want all Teachable schools to use #myteachablecourse. But we’ll also be introducing hashtags for each promotion and other big activities.
One of our favorite Instagram handles is Food52, who often asks users to submit their own food pics using various hashtags like #F52grams.
One big reason to start Instagram is to reach potential students and grow your audience. In fact, this is one big reason we started ours here at Teachable—there were too many amazing people wanting to talk about launching their Instagram and how they built their business doing it.
Be smart about how you connect online. If you’re intent on working with influencers, create a list of 10 to 15 in your space. Pick 10 you want to prioritize and start working with. Follow their feed, leave comments, check out what hashtags they’re using, and integrate them into your own.
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of how to grow a business on Instagram. As you set up your business account, there’s a checklist of things you need to have ready to go.
Make your profile public: We understand having a private personal account. Yet when it comes to your business exposure, it’s a must. This seems obvious, but it’s a common mistake to set a business profile as private, especially when you’re just getting started with your business and your personal and public lives seem to constantly overlap.
Even if your brand is just your name, consider creating dual accounts: one personal and one business focused. This allows you to share as many photos of your cats as you want without hurting the quality and consistency of your brand.
Get your bio right: Your Instagram bio is just 150 characters long. It’s basically the “elevator pitch” for your business. Don’t make this hard on yourself. If your Insta is only supporting your course—name your handle your course name and your bio the subtitle. If you’re building a brand, your brand name is your handle name and your tag line your subtitle.
Your one link: One of the biggest benefits of Instagram is that you can drive traffic from your handle to the one link in your bio. Yes, just one. You can’t put a different link in each post unfortunately, but instead you’ve got one link in your bio at the top. Make it work for you.
Think about what property will most effectively get people to share their email address. As we said earlier, your email is the backbone of your business. Does your course sales page have a welcome mat? Send traffic there. Do you have a webinar coming up? Perfect. New content upgrade on the blog that looks great? Include it on your Instagram.
We love how Caitlin Bacher does this.
Strategy around your launch: If you don’t want to have a launch strategy, that’s totally fine. It probably won’t hurt you. But, you do have the opportunity to knock this out of the park.
If your launch is important to you, reach out to 10 people who would be willing to mention your new Instagram handle on the day it goes live. Write other social posts around your new platform. Tweet, Facebook, and blog about starting your Instagram and show people where they can add you. Here’s a great article on how Glossier launched.
So for instance, if you want to be constantly inspired to create a course (or take yours to the next level), get first access to promotions and share what you’ve created with other online instructors.
Posting and growing
It’s easy to be addicted to the thrill of the launch and then grumble about the work that goes into maintaining a new extension of your brand. Here’s how to continue that momentum after you launch.
How often to post
You’ll want to post about one to two times per day. Space this out. Track when posts are getting the most views when you launch and coordinate your posting around the natural times people visit your handle. Get consistent about it.
Don’t post three pictures in a row. And don’t treat Instagram like Twitter and post seven times per day. You’ll spam your audience, create more work for yourself, and unless your engagement is high on all of those posts, Instagram will penalize you.
Instagram is picture forward, so beautiful images are crucial. We believe this to be the most important tip in this article: post images your audience wants to see. Instagram is in our pockets and most engaged with because we like it. Bottom line. What’s more, Instagram is prioritizing creators who utilize their features like Stories or Reels. We recommend using easy-to-use design programs like Canva or WordSwag to create your posts.
Melyssa Griffin does this beautifully:
Ask for engagement. Directly ask people to share using hashtags, to add you, or to check you out in different spaces. Then follow up by engaging with your followers. If somebody takes the time to comment, take the time to comment back! We love using Iconosquare.com for this if there are a ton of comments to track and respond to.
Pro-tip: Hide your hashtags. You can essentially make sure no one sees your hashtags on mobile (where most of Instagram usage happens) by creating lines of periods and your hashtags at the bottoms. Or you can comment on your own post so that it doesn’t show in the description.
It looks like this:
Other helpful tips to grow a business on Instagram
Share your location: Tag the location of your photo to provide your account extra exposure. But be safe—don’t tag your home or office.
Go behind-the-scenes: Tons of companies have made their Instagram valuable by showing what’s happening behind the scenes. Take fashion week for instance—while the models walk the runway, Instagram and Snapchat show us what’s going on behind the curtain. Your followers will appreciate this. Especially because we as course creators are just hard working people with laptops—share yourself with your students. Show them who’s creating their course.
Rather than just posting randomly on Instagram, you can coordinate programs that generate excitement and help build up other business activities like your course launch.
Say you have a course launch coming up. As you grow your email list with various lead magnets, you can change the link in your bio to link to this new content. Some suggest changing the link in the bio to every new blog post your write—not a bad idea. Create images that generate excitement for this free content and use the same hashtags on Instagram as you are on Twitter.
Maybe you’re hosting a webinar? The custom images create for the slides can be reused on Twitter and resized for Instagram.
Let's take the next step
No matter what stage your business is in, our “online course creator’s checklist” is waiting so you don’t miss a beat.
Instagram is perfect for promoting giveaways, webinars, new blog posts. You name it. And while Instagram accounts aren’t always known for new lead generation, your most engaged users are hanging out here so the conversion rates tend to be high. In fact, Instagram has a business blog where you can read case studies of how top-profile brand use it in their own promo strategies.
Amplify your reach
There are three big things you can do to amplify your reach and grow faster, easier. The first is to automate your posts. Don’t worry about getting online two times a day every day. Use programs like Buffer to automate your posting.
Foundr says, “Crowdfire shows you which users you follow, but don’t follow you back. This allows you to quickly unfollow those who are uninterested in what you do. We got a paid account for $9.99 a month, which unlocked the ability for us to hide which users we had followed and then unfollowed in the past, preventing us from following the same person twice.
Keep in mind due to Instagram restrictions, you are only allowed to perform 400 actions a day (an action either being a follow or unfollow). So make sure you max out the number of actions you perform every single day. We got into the routine of three days of copying followers, and then one day of unfollowing.”
Ultimately one of the best ways to get inspiration for your account is to look at what other industry leaders are doing. Stay active on Instagram and you just may find inspiration everywhere.