The Beginners Guide to Instagram for Small Businesses

Instagram is a massive social media platform; everyone from teenagers to celebrities to small businesses use Instagram to interact with their followers using visual content.

Instagram is especially useful to e-commerce businesses or anyone that relies on visual content to promote their products or services. Visual content appeals to consumers in a way that text or audio content cannot; 65% of people are visual learners.

People process information faster if they get it from visual content. If you have a message that you want to spread, you should do so with a mix of media, including text, video, and photos.

Instagram was founded in 2010 but has grown into an app that is used by 800 million people. 500 million people use the app every single day.

Thus, Instagram can be used to meet several goals:

  • Reach followers in the area and introduce them to your business
  • Direct followers to your website for further engagement
  • Tell the story of your brand and provide updates
  • Give away free products or consultations
  • Directly sell products on the app with Instagram Shopping

Instagram is beloved by many businesses who use the app for one or more of the above. Consumers appreciate Instagram’s ability connect with their favorite businesses. Six in ten Instagram users have reported learning about new products or services through the app.

Seven in ten businesses currently using it for marketing, making Instagram a more popular marketing tool than Twitter.

The popularity of Instagram among businesses has led to the creation of Instagram Business profiles.

Businesses big and small can create a profile that is catered to businesses who are looking to market or sell products.

How to Set Up an Instagram Business Profile

Instagram allows users to have one of two profiles: personal (default) or business. Business accounts do not cost anything extra but allow you to:

  • Gain insights into each of your posts and stories
  • Create promotions and ads that reach more Instagram users
  • Add more information about your business
  • Add extensions to your profile so users can contact your business with a click

Creating a profile can be done in a few minutes. Businesses should create a username that looks professional and reflects their business.

For example, say you are a travel agency in Katy, Texas called One Stop Travel. Your first choice of username is OneStopTravel, which is a great username. If that name is taken, it’s time to get creative:

  • Play with numbers and abbreviations (while still looking professional). 1StopTravel may still be okay for your business.
  • Add your location: OneStopTravelKatyTX or KatyTXOneStop distinguishes your business from other businesses around the country.
  • Use underscores or periods to separate words: for example, One_Stop_Travel

Your username should be relatively permanent unless you make a big change to your business. If you constantly change the name of your Instagram profile, you will quickly confuse your followers.

Choose a photo that represents your business in a professional manner (i.e. your logo.) Instagram profile photos are very small and only viewed on mobile devices, so choose something simple that will not have users squinting.

Bios should explain your business briefly, and be consistent with other copy on your website or social media pages. Even if you feel like you are repeating yourself by adding the same tagline or motto to all of your social media profiles, consistency helps users recognize a business faster as they browse online.

Break up text with emojis, but don’t use too many. One or two can be fun, but a very long string of emojis may look unprofessional.

This Instagram bio has relevant emojis that frame the text and look professional.

Also be sure to include correct contact information that will direct interested followers to the next step on the buyer’s journey like. a landing page or your website.

Once you create a profile, you will have to make the switch to a business account manually. On your account options (which you can find in the top-right corner of your profile,) you just need to click Switch to Business Profile. And you’re done!

Once you publish a few posts and give Instagram time to collect data on your profile, you will be able to use insights and create more optimized posts.

Creating an Optimized Post

Don’t let your Instagram posts go unnoticed. Businesses can use different techniques to reach a targeted audience and keep them engaged.

As a general rule, the posts that get the most engagement are the posts that produce high-quality photos and captions that are relevant to followers and the business. Give followers content that they want to consume and engage with.

Content and Captions Dos and Don’ts

Do tell a story with your Instagram post. People love to hear a good story. A picture says a thousand words, but your caption can back your story up. Think about the purpose of your Instagram post and the story you want to tell.

Do add your location. Underneath the post’s caption, you can tag fellow Instagram accounts and add your location. Users can search for Instagram posts based on location. If you are trying to reach users in a certain location, tag your post in that location.

Do post to other social media network sites. Underneath the location options are options for posting to other social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  Before you create a post, think about what other followers would enjoy seeing your post.

(If you are adding a list of hashtags to your post, be sure to visit the other social media sites after the post has been uploaded and clean up the captions, remove unnecessary hashtags, etc.)

Don’t forget to proofread the post! This should go without saying, but a misspelled Instagram post sends a bad message to users. Show your Instagram post to one or two other members of your team before you send it out.

Don’t post when your followers aren’t on Instagram!   In March 2018, Instagram announced that they were going to change their algorithm to prioritize more recent posts. When a user opens their Instagram feed, they are more likely to see posts in a roughly chronological order.

Consider the time when you are posting to Instagram. If you have a business account, you can see when your followers are online and more likely to engage with your posts. We will discuss insights later in this post.

Hashtag Usage

One of the unique things about Instagram is the use of hashtags. Hashtags are popular on Twitter and Instagram, but you will rarely see them on other social networking sites like Facebook or Pinterest.

A hashtag describes what is happening in your post.  When users click on your hashtags, they will find similar posts that have used the same hashtag. Instagram users can also search for posts via chosen hashtags.

Hashtags are important for two reasons. They can be used humorously and add to your content, and they can be used as a way for Instagram users to find you and your profile.

If, for example, you are a local business in Austin, TX, the hashtag #austintx may allow you to reach more people searching for posts related to Austin.

How to Choose Hashtags

Hashtag usage has evolved and changed as businesses (and spammers) have used them to reach and gain followers. The rise of spammers has caused Instagram to crack down on certain hashtag usage, so be cautious before you post!

If you want to use hashtags, think about the content of the post and what hashtags would help to tell your story to an interested Instagram community. Say you are a restaurant that offers a strictly vegetarian menu.

A hashtag like #food is not only generic (it comes up with over 274,000,000 results,) but it also fails to mention what type of food you sell or what makes you unique.

A post like #food has a lot of competition for the top posts and sends a red flag to Instagram. If your post uses a long list of very generic or irrelevant hashtags, Instagram may shadowban you and limit the number of users who see your post.

Let’s look at some better hashtags for your business. If you advertise yourself as a plant-based establishment, you might want to try a hashtag like #plantbasedliving. This helps to tell your story; your menu fuels a plant-based life. This hashtag is still widely used (it’s used on 115,000+ posts,) but is more specific to your mission and menu.

Hashtags like #yoga could get you shadowbanned. But using #yogaeverydamnday can still reach a wide audience of users interested in yoga.

Do some hashtag research before you start a post. Business owners can conduct research by simply using Instagram and playing around with searching for hashtags (think like your customers!)

Certain Instagram tools like Tailwind allow users to conduct hashtag research and collect a list of relevant hashtags to choose from when they create a new post.

Once you’ve found a good hashtag for your post, find another! Posts with nine hashtags see 2.5x more engagement than posts with a single hashtag. A small collection of relevant hashtags can expand your post’s reach even wider.

How to Schedule Posts (App Suggestions, etc.)

Instagram posts can be produced in minutes, but if you are using Instagram as a part of a larger social media strategy, you might want to schedule your posts ahead of time. Many apps are available for marketers and businesses that want to schedule Instagram posts, including:

Take a look at different scheduling apps and the plans they offer social media accounts. Scheduling posts can help you save a lot of time and resources.

Keep in mind that Instagram does not allow these apps to post to Instagram for you, automatically.  They just give you a reminder and make it easy to copy over your content when it’s time to post.

Instagram Stories and Instagram Live

Instagram has expanded content opportunities beyond traditional posts. Instagram Stories (and Instagram Live) both offer accounts the chance to tell a story in a different way.

What’s different about Instagram Stories is that they disappear 24 hours after they have been posted.

Although Stories was only launched in 2016, it has become a wildly popular way for personal and business accounts to engage with followers. Over 300 million Instagram users and 50% of all business accounts share stories daily.

Stories can be used to tell a longer story and reach followers in a different way. Businesses use Instagram stories to:

  • Document and record an event.
  • Make announcements.
  • Demonstrate how to use products or services.
  • Conduct interviews with customers, employees, etc.

Get creative with your Instagram Stories. Stories can use location tags and single hashtags like a traditional post, so many of the rules of writing a traditional post still apply.

Instagram Live allows you to create and share a long-form video with followers in real-time. Followers who are using the app will get a notification that an account is starting a live video and have the opportunity to click and watch.

Instagram Live stories should be planned in advance. Ask yourself the following questions before broadcasting live to followers:

  • Who will be filming? How will the area be set up to provide professional lighting and a quality video?
  • What is the purpose of going live?
  • How will your business promote your live story on other social media networks?

Have fun with your posts and content creation, but remember that each story or post is a reflection of your business.

How to Engage With Your Network

Once you have created an effective and optimized post, you will hopefully see likes, comments, and even “reblogs” of your posts. Keep the engagement going to seek out new followers and show that your business is part of your community.

It may sound silly, but particular hashtags and posts do create a community of sorts. Do not be afraid to engage with followers and businesses, but keep your goals in mind when you make a comment or hit “follow.”

Likes and Following Dos and Don’ts

Do respond to engagement from users.

Recently, Instagram has allowed users to directly respond to individual comments. When someone comments on your Instagram profile, respond! If they have a question, give them an answer and direct the conversation further in the buyer’s journey (suggest a visit to your website, etc.) If a follower gives you company or post a compliment, respond with a “thank you.”

The more engagement your posts get, the more relevant your post will be and the more users you will reach.

Do follow relevant businesses.

Following businesses, even your competition, can provide great insight into what businesses around the area are doing with Instagram. If your profile follows and engages with similar profiles, their followers are more likely to see your posts.

Also, follow profiles that are relevant. If you are a yoga studio in New York City, following accounting firms in Australia will not help you get any more yoga students. Following other studios in the city, or local businesses on your block will help, however.

Don’t spam profiles with comments.

If you research “how to get new followers on Instagram,” you will see small tips and tricks about hashtag usage and optimization.

But you will also see advertisements and blog posts promoting Instagram automation. These services like, comment, or follow users for a small price a day.

If you have ever seen an out-of-place, possibly totally irrelevant comment from a random follower on one of your photos, you might have experienced this before.

These comments are pretty generic: “Nice!” or “Great photo!” The idea behind automation is to bring attention to followers, who click on the commentator’s profile and hopefully follow or continue the engagement.

A small amount of automation can get your business more followers, but these followers may not be relevant to your business. If you put too much of your budget into automation, your page is at risk of coming off as spammy or awkward.

How to Use Instagram Business Insights

Likes, comments, and follows are just a handful of insights that you can use to gauge interest in your profile. An Instagram Business profile allows you to get more data, including specific demographics about the followers who are engaging with your page.

Business insights shows you:

  • Reach and impressions
  • Profile visits
  • Website clicks
  • Insights on individual posts, stories, and promotions
  • Gender, age range, and locations of your followers
  • The times and days that your followers are active on Instagram

Use these insights to help you decide when to post, who to tailor your posts for, and whether or not your posts are reaching target audiences.

Creating and Promoting an Instagram Ad

If you want your content to reach more followers and include a more effective call to action (CTA,) it might be time to set up a promoted post or Instagram ad. These posts will appear on a user’s timeline, even if they are not following your business.

You can create a promotion at any time; simply click the “promote” button on your profile. Instagram will give you a list of recent photos that you can “boost.”

Tip: Choose a photo that is already popular and has received a lot of engagement. You can see which of your recent photos are most popular by visiting your Instagram Business insights. If this post is already doing well with followers, you should invest in this popularity and can expect positive results when the post is boosted.

Once you choose a photo, you can add a CTA or set up the post to promote more profile views. The post will be sent out to the target audience of your choosing. Think about your goals before you create this ad. If, for example, you are looking to gain more website views from followers in the area, you can adjust your promotion settings accordingly.

A promoted post with a clear message and an effective call to action.

Before you create a target audience, look at your insights. If your followers are mainly female between the ages of 25-34, then you should continue to target your posts to users who fit this demographic, unless you are trying to reach a different target audience.

Tip: Target audiences can be saved on Facebook or Instagram so you can continue to target audiences in future promotions.

Once you have chosen a motivation and a target audience, you set your daily budget and how long you would like the promotion to last. After that, you’re done!

Instagram will do the work to distribute your post to users who fall under your target audience, and collects data from the promotion for you to view as the promotion is going.

Stay Updated with Instagram

It is important to post, update, and learn about Instagram constantly. Changes to the Instagram algorithm can affect how to best use hashtags and post content to reach your business goals.

Instagram and user behavior are always changing so do not be afraid to take risks, test out new ideas, and get creative with your Instagram account.

Good luck, and happy ‘gramming!