As far as social media marketing channels go, Instagram has been a major power player for a while. And that’s particularly true for ecommerce businesses who get access to a visual-focused platform with enthusiastic followers and high engagement.
In the past few years, Instagram has grown and evolved at a rate similar to Facebook, adopting new features at a lightning-fast rate and becoming even more valuable to merchants and users alike.
In this starter guide, we’ll outline all of the fundamentals for Instagram marketing, including how to optimize your profile, how to create high-engaging posts, how to get more results with both feed and Stories content, and how to evaluate your progress on the platform.
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Why use Instagram for marketing?
Instagram is a staple of many small businesses’ marketing campaigns. And for good reason. It has a large and diverse audience that is happy to engage with brands, resulting in high engagement overall.
Research and case studies have demonstrated these benefits clearly, finding that they can translate directly into sales and leads.
80% of users follow at least one brand on Instagram, with 60% of these users saying they’ve discovered new products or services through the platform.
At least 30% of Instagram users have purchased products they discovered on Instagram.
65% of top-performing Instagram posts clearly feature products.
People are happy to follow brands on Instagram, and they’re actively discovering and purchasing products on the platform. That’s a big win.
Also worth noting is Instagram’s continued efforts to embrace commerce.
Instagram ads see excellent results and offer high engagement. Shopping on Instagram streamlines the Instagram sales process. And business profiles with over 10,000 Instagram followers gain “Swipe Up” links they can add to Instagram Stories to drive traffic directly to the site, something that was otherwise difficult to do on the platform.
The platform keeps expanding, making it more valuable to merchants and ecommerce businesses, especially if they have products with a strong visual appeal.
Most merchants know the basics about setting up an online profile; you need to fill out your contact information, have a keyword-optimized description, and choose a profile picture that’s easily identifiable, like a logo. This is a great start.
But Instagram has rolled out several changes that affect business accounts. To get the most out of your limited Instagram profile space, you should include the following:
Clickable hashtags. These can now be added to your profile description just by entering # and then the desired phrase, just as you would on a post. Focusing on your branded hashtag is a good choice for most businesses and can help you work with the Instagram algorithm.
Clickable profile links.
There’s several options for how to use this, but you can now also add clickable links to other user profiles in your own Instagram bio. If you have two different profiles for a sister company, you can use this to direct traffic there. If you’re hosting a contest with another merchant, link to them when discussing the contest in your bio. You can also use this feature to send people to your personal profile if that fits with your branding.
Story Highlights. We’ll talk more about Story Highlights a few sections down, but this relatively new feature lets you add “expired” Stories to different featured categories, which will be listed above your Instagram feed on your profile. This helps your profile to look fleshed out and allows you to showcase certain key Instagram content like UGC or posts that highlight your brand’s story.
Here’s an example from Fashion Nova that combines all three of these features into a well-optimized profile.
What images and videos work best on Instagram?
If you want to get results on Instagram, you need to know what types of posts perform best. While every audience is different, there’s fortunately been a lot of data compiled that can give us some insight on where to start.
In terms of the types of posts users want to see, they’re pretty open. They’re happy to see promotional posts, motivational quotes, product photos, DIY or tutorial content, and images shared from other users (i.e. user-generated content). That being said, they want to see diversity; they’ll get bored or annoyed if you just use one type of post for too long.
Videos can share more information with users, making them valuable, but high-quality photos typically get 36% more engagement on average. If you’re going to use video on Instagram, keep it short, even on IGTV. Instagram users are predominantly mobile users, and they aren’t likely to stick around for more than ten to fifteen seconds at a time.
You should also change up the different camera effects, because you don’t want to give users a headache by using Boomerang for every single post.
In many ways, the aesthetic of the images and videos are a lot more important. Instagram is, after all, a visual-centric platform.
Here’s what we know about the content that performs best on Instagram, largely thanks to a study from Curalate:
- Lighter images performed better than darker ones
More background or white space is preferred
Images with bluer dominant colors performed over red dominant colors, and images with a single dominant color did better than those with multiple dominant colors
Images that feature contrasting textures tend to generate more likes
How to get the most out of Instagram hashtags
Hashtags started on Twitter, and while they never took off on Facebook, they’re a staple of Instagram marketing. Just by adding text after the # symbol in an Instagram caption, bio, or story, you can turn any word or phrase into a clickable topic.
When users click, they’ll be taken to all the public posts tagged with that hashtag. Perhaps even more significant, users can now also follow hashtags that interest them. This provides them with a stream of content using the hashtags even if they don’t follow the poster. It’s a great way for users to find content they’re interested in, and—for merchants to expand the reach of their content.
The different types of hashtags you should be using
In order to fully expand your reach and get the most results from your Instagram marketing, you need to be using the right types of best hashtags.
There are six key types of hashtags that are crucial for ecommerce businesses to incorporate into their marketing strategy.
Branded hashtags: Most brands will (and should) have a unique branded hashtag. They’ll attach this to each post, place it in their profile, and encourage users to attach it to any posts in which they’re sharing user-generated content. It can include your brand name, but it doesn’t have to. Examples include Fashion Nova’s #NovaBabe hashtag.
These hashtags are a type of branded hashtag created for a specific contest. These are often used to identify contest entries for photo submission contests, and to generate contest awareness overall. In addition to the main branded hashtag contest, you should also incorporate general contest hashtags like #instacontest and #giveaway.
General appeal hashtags: There are certain hashtags that are popular among large, diverse audiences. These can help you get significant reach on your posts, because they’re more likely to be sought out. Examples include #nofilter, #antiques, #ilovemyjob, and #puppylove.
Each industry will have phrases and keywords that are relevant only to their target audience. These hashtags won’t get you the same reach as the general-appeal hashtags, but they’ll get you more relevant traffic, such as #harrypotter (if you’re selling jewelry inspired by the Harry Potter series).
Timely hashtags: Current events and seasonal holidays can make great hashtags, especially when you factor in selling-focused holidays like Valentine’s Day or Christmas. People are likely to be searching for content that’s relevant right now, so take advantage of a few #valentineformyvalentine and #stockingstuffer hashtags.