These days, it seems like everyone and their grandma has an Instagram account.
Therefore, it makes sense that more and more businesses are establishing presences on the platform. They want to directly reach their target audience on a personal level.
But just because Instagram is a universally used platform, doesn’t mean it’s being used correctly.
If you’re just interested in sharing baby photos and vacation shots with your family and friends, then you don’t need to sweat strategy.
But if you’re trying to make an impact from a company or brand perspective, there are a few best practices you should follow to ensure your efforts are effective.
Here are six smart tips you can use to achieve Instagram marketing success.
1. Watch and learn
Nobody likes a copycat. Even if copying is the highest form of flattery.
However, some of the best inventions ever created were built using someone else’s original idea as a springboard.
When you’re looking to cut your teeth on Instagram marketing for your brand or business, it’s beneficial to keep an eye on what top performers are doing and use it as inspiration for your own strategy.
If it makes sense, of course.
Is a competitor using new hashtags that you think would also apply to your products or services? Does a local business have a certain style of design that you think would help inspire the images and layout of your profile?
Take what you find and build on it. Edit it and use it as the spark for an entirely novel campaign of your own.
That’s the beauty of social media – it’s designed to be shared. So take what you can learn from the established pros and apply it to your strategy, with your own unique spin.
2. Design with intent
Personal users of Instagram don’t need to worry about consistency of design. They just take photos and post them, as they play out in the story of their lives.
Business users of Instagram need to pay attention to the design of their profiles and plan posts accordingly.
That means choosing a particular style and keeping it consistent throughout all posts. This applies to both images and content.
For instance, say you’re the owner of a health food store and regularly post high-quality photos of fresh produce and locally sourced products, with short, poetic captions. You chose this style of layout to emphasize the care you put into product selection and to evoke a clean, pure brand persona.
It wouldn’t make sense then, to add live-action shots of kids at a picnic eating healthy lunches or hand-designed inspirational quotes on colorful backgrounds. Shots like this throw off the balance of the rest of your profile. They appear less thoughtfully designed and can come across rushed or half-done.
Keeping a consistent style of design emphasizes professionalism and highlights your status as a knowledgeable thought leader in your industry.
3. Stay on-brand
This point essentially builds on the last one regarding consistency of design and layout – make sure the style you’ve chosen stays true to your brand persona, and the mission and values that are important to your company.
If you own the business in the last example – the health food store – you’ve chosen to post images and captions that evoke a clean, fresh, pure feel, because that’s how you want people to feel when they think of, visit or purchase from your company.
Posting images of strong athletes winning races and being awarded national titles may emphasize healthy bodies and lifestyles. But it just isn’t the right fit for a local health food boutique that sells vitamins, tea leaves, and organic produce.
You’re not Nike or Gatorade, so don’t pretend to be. If you think about it conversely, those companies would leave patrons scratching their heads if their accounts featured pictures of organic lemons on a cutting board with basil and poppyseeds. It just doesn’t align with their brand personas.
Know who you are and match your consistent design to your brand persona to reach your target audience.
4. Don’t leave captions as an afterthought
Yes, Instagram is a visual platform.
But that doesn’t mean captions should be slapped together last minute because “they don’t matter” or “don’t get read”.
Captions are part of maintaining a consistent style that’s true to your brand.
A luxury product dealer is going to hurt their prestigious image with misspellings and poor grammar throughout their captions. Just as a healthcare provider is going to lose credibility by posting updates that feature incorrect definitions for medical terms and ailments.
Short, hurried, last-minute captions are going to come across as an afterthought.
Accurate, consistently-styled, witty/informative captions emphasize the time and care you put into your profile. Which, in turn, suggests you put equal care into all things related to your company, services, and customers.
Which would you want to see as a prospective customer?
Captions should be considered as part of your strategy, as an equal part of your Instagram profile.
5. Find the hashtag “sweet spot”
The whole point of hashtags, across every social media channel, is to group similar conversations around a particular keyword/topic and to help bring together like-minded users.
Somewhere, this strategic definition got lost in translation.
Hashtag use on Instagram has somehow digressed to a competition to cram as many viable options as possible into each post, hoping to benefit from association across such a wide range of users, topics and conversations.
Or, people decide to conjure up their own original hashtags on the fly. Not to use consistently. Just to do it.
Both of these “strategies” may seem promising at first glance, but both are ultimately ineffective.
Overstuffing posts with hashtags not only comes across as unprofessional on company profiles, but it also detracts from the whole point of social media marketing – reaching your target audience. Using so many hashtags, crossing such a huge span of topics and genres, can dilute the focus of your post and, therefore, overall strategy.
Creating one-time-use hashtags on a whim flies directly in the face of their intent – to bring people and conversations together. If no one has ever used or has no reason to ever use a random hashtag you made up, then there will be no conversations tied to it, no reusing it, and no attributing it to your brand.
Research hashtags that are popular and that speak to your target audience. Use them appropriately, as they fit with your post’s image and content. And don’t overuse them (think 4-6 per post, give or take depending on the topic/style/your brand voice).
Pro Tip: You can speed up the hashtag research process significantly by using a freemium tool like MetaHashtags (aff).
6. Engage regularly
You can have the best strategy and Instagram profile for miles around, but if you don’t engage, you miss out on one of the best things about social media marketing – talking directly to your customer.
Engaging with your followers and other accounts on Instagram helps tie your brand voice to your brand persona.
It shows that you’re actively in-tune with current trends and updates within your niche and that you care enough about your customers’ (and potential customers’) wants/needs/opinions to join the conversation.
Actively monitor your Instagram account. Aim to respond to questions and comments within 24-hours, when possible. Follow and engage with other accounts that are talking about similar topics and that represent your brand’s values and persona.
Staying active on Instagram increases your relevancy as a brand among your target audience and wider audiences alike.
Automation: Improve ROI without investing more time
One of the best things about Instagram is that, unlike many other marketing and advertising strategies, you typically get what you put into it.
If you sloppily throw together a profile, without dedicated planning and research, without regular posting or engagement, you probably won’t get much of an ROI in terms of growth in followers, brand awareness, etc.
On the other hand, if you take the time to design a balanced platform, with quality images, thoughtful captions, strategic hashtags, and engage with your audience every day, you’ll start to see returns that are likely to snowball into a growing following of engaged users. And improved brand recognition and awareness.
But as a business owner, where do you find the time to do all of this?
Core business activities, managing employees and simply maintaining a healthy work-life balance make focusing on one particular social media platform a pretty high ask.
But there is a solution. And it doesn’t involve hiring a troop of social media marketers.
It’s called automation.
What does this mean for you?
Instead of having to set aside time every day to plan, create and share updates, you can choose a single block of time to build out next week/month/month(s) worth of Instagram content, upload the posts, adjust the schedule, and then direct your focus back to engaging and other core business activities.
It may sound complex and too good to be true, but it isn’t. Surprisingly.
Getting a grip on the basics is easy with the help of free articles online that cover the entire process of connecting accounts and scheduling posts on Instagram, for everyone from the Instagram novice to the social media guru.
It’s incredible how far you can get with just a few minutes of reading and hands-on testing.
And when you combine these learnings with the power of the six tips above, you’ll be holding an “insta” strategy to achieving the Instagram marketing success you’ve been looking for.