Instagram is a photo-sharing social media platform that was created in 2010 and bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion. With more than 500 million people using it daily, Instagram is a growing social media platform that businesses shouldn’t be afraid to use.

Between posts, ads and stories, there is no shortage of potential marketing tools on Instagram. Here is everything you should know about using this social media platform to market your business.

Although it can be viewed on a desktop, Instagram is primarily a mobile app. When you sign up, you’ll want to convert your brand’s Instagram profile to a business account to access analytics.

To do this, you’ll need to connect the account with your business’s Facebook page by following the in-app prompts from the Switch to Business Profile option under Settings.

Once your Instagram account is created, you can go to the Profile tab and edit or add your name, username, profile picture, website and a short biography.

The primary purpose of Instagram is sharing photos, which are added to your profile and your followers’ timelines. To add a new photo, tap the add (camera) button on the bottom of your screen. You can either take a new photo, record a short video or select one from your camera roll.

Next, you’ll be taken to a screen with multiple options, including Instagram’s filters and an edit button. Once you’ve edited the photo to your liking, click Next. Then you can write a caption, add a location, tag people and share it on other social media platforms. You also have the option to turn off comments (at the bottom of the Advanced Settings page).

Now that you know how to create a profile and post photos, here’s how to promote your business on Instagram.

Instagram Stories are photos and videos that disappear 24 hours after they’re posted. Instagram provides a lot of tools that make it easy to create engaging and creative stories.

“Small businesses should leverage Instagram Stories to market their products and services, getting their messages to followers that otherwise might not see regular Instagram posts in their feed because of the latest updates to the algorithm,” said Laura Kenat, content coordinator at Jo Chicago.

You can add normal photos, live videos, boomerangs (mini videos that loop back and forth), basic text, music and focused photos to your story. Once you record your video or take a picture, you can add stickers such as your location, tags for other users and hashtags to your content.

There are also stickers like polls, questions and sliding bars that allow you to directly interact with your users. Another way you can draw attention to your brand or specific product is with Stories Highlights, which is like a highlight reel. Stories Highlights are on your profile above your post and stay on your profile until you remove them.

In addition to Instagram Stories, users can take and stream live video that disappears – sort of like a combination between Facebook Live and Snapchat. You can give customers a live look behind the scenes of interesting aspects of your business, show products or answer live questions through the comments.

Once the video ends, it lives in your Instagram Stories for 24 hours. If you want video that remains on your Instagram feed, you can upload video you’ve taken or shoot video directly through the app to post. If you choose to shoot or upload video, you can still add filters and change the cover. You also have the option of including sound.

There are many ways to interact with other users on Instagram. For instance, you can tag other users in your photos or privately message people.

  • Liking: Liking is a simple way to connect with other users. To like a photo, either double-tap the image or tap the heart button under the post.
  • Commenting: Next to the like button is a comment button – just tap it, and the app will take you to the comments page for that photo, with a text box where you can enter what you want to say. Hit Post when it’s complete.
  • Mentioning: As on Twitter, you can use the @ symbol to tag other users in your Instagram comments or post captions.
  • Tagging: Instagram allows you to add tags before you post an image or video. To do so, tap Tag People before sharing your photo, and then tap where in the photo you’d like to add a tag. The app then prompts you to type in the person’s name to search for their account. Once you’ve tagged other users in your photo and shared the image, other users can tap on the photo to see the people who are tagged.
  • Direct messaging: To access Instagram Direct, go to the homepage and tap the button in the top right corner. Here, you can send private instant messages, photos and videos to other users. To send a new direct message (DM), tap the + button in the top right corner and select Send Photo or Video, or Send Message. Once you’ve sent the message, you and the recipients can message back and forth. Users who are not already following you will be asked whether they want to allow you to send them photos and videos before they can view your DM.

Hashtags are a great way to help other users find your content on Instagram. Hashtags can include letters and numbers, but they can’t contain any non-numerical characters. For example, #DaveAndBusters works as a hashtag, but #Dave&Busters does not.

Because users can both search for hashtags and click on hashtags they see in posts in the app, relevant hashtags can be a highly effective tool for getting noticed. However, make sure you’re using the right hashtags for your brand and don’t go overboard.

Hashtags such as #nofilter (a photo that hasn’t been heavily edited with filters), #selfie (a picture of yourself), and #tbt or #throwbackthursday (old photos) are popular on Instagram, but they may not work for you or your brand. It’s a good idea to look at other established brands or even personal users and bloggers in your industry for examples of what hashtags to use.

Instagram allows a maximum of 30 hashtags in a post or comment, but that many would be excessive. The fewer hashtags you can use to get quality responses, the better. Using a lot of popular hashtags might earn you a lot of likes from other users, but it probably won’t increase your following all that much, and the interactions you get will likely not be from people who are interested in your brand but rather those who just saw and liked your image.

Once you understand hashtags, you can branch out and experiment to find which ones work best for your brand. It’s also smart to create a custom hashtag for your business or even an event you’re hosting. This way customers can follow along with an event, even if they aren’t there in person.

Like on other social channels, businesses have the option to advertise on Instagram. There are three formats for advertising:

  • Photo ads: These look like regular photo posts, but they have a Sponsored label above the photo. They also have a Learn More button in the bottom right corner under the photo.
  • Video ads: Like the photo ads, these look like regular video posts, but with a Sponsored label on top.
  • Carousel ads: These ads look identical to photo ads but feature multiple photos that users can swipe through.

All three ad formats appear in users’ home feeds. These ads support four objectives: video views, click-thrus to your website, mobile app installations and mass awareness.

To get the most out of your Instagram account, keep these tips in mind.

Links don’t work in Instagram captions. The only place you can share a working link that takes users to a website is in your profile. Links don’t work in captions or photo comments, so if you’re trying to direct people to a specific webpage, you can change the default link in your bio to that page and note in the caption that the link is in your profile.

Make sure your posts relate to your brand. It can be tempting to share photos of food, fashion and animals because they’re so popular on the platform. But if your business has nothing to do with those things, it could make you look disjointed and confuse your followers. However, if you can find a way to incorporate pictures like these while still making them relevant to your business, it could make your social marketing strategy more successful.

Run giveaways and promotions. Post an image advertising your giveaway, sale or contest, and ask users to repost that image with a specific, custom hashtag to enter. You can then search that hashtag to see who has reposted it and pick a winner. Promotions like this allow your customers and followers to market your brand for you by talking about your promotion on their personal pages, and it drives more people to visit your profile. If you do decide to run a contest or sweepstakes, though, make sure you’re following rules and guidelines.

Respond to other users’ comments. When people comment on your photos, reply to them. Interacting with customers and followers shows that you are paying attention and care about what they say. They’ll be more likely to continue following you and interacting with your pictures if they feel like they matter.

Also, like Facebook, Instagram’s algorithm favors posts and users with high engagement rates. “The platform rewards you for receiving high engagement from your permanent postings and stories,” said Kenat. “High engagement results in your content being placed at the top of follower and hashtag feeds, whether it’s through stories or permanent posts, and gives your consumers a chance to interact with your brand effectively over time.”

Embed Instagram posts on your website. From the desktop version of Instagram, you can get an embed code to add specific images and videos to your company’s website. This shows visitors that you’re active on Instagram and can help you gain more followers. Just select the photo you want to embed, click the ellipsis button in the bottom right corner, and select Embed. This pulls up a box with the embed code and gives you the option to display the caption. From there, copy and paste the code where you want it to go on your website.

Use Instagram influencers to promote your business. Influencers are people who have large followings on Instagram. You can pay influencers to market your products to their followers in a natural way. These sponsored posts typically are subtle and don’t look like ads. This is helpful because people typically hate advertisements.

Share posts directly to your story. In May 2018, Instagram announced a feature that allows users to share posts directly to their stories. With this feature, small businesses can interact with their followers while promoting their product or services. If a client posts a photo of your product, you can share the post directly to your story to highlight the product and your client.

Use polls and other features in your stories. Instagram offers many interactive features that can be used to build online conversations and relationships, said Kenat. “Polls allow you to crowdsource opinions from your audience about your product and services, while geotags, hashtags and tagging allow you to make your brand using relevant trends, places and people to maximize responses from your target audience,” she told Business News Daily.

You can also use Instagram’s interactive questions sticker in Instagram Stories. This feature lets followers submit questions for you to answer. This is a fun and simple way to interact with your followers.

Use IGTV. Launched in June 2018, IGTV is a feature that shows long-form, vertical videos. IGTV is available in a stand-alone app along within Instagram’s app, and each video can be up to an hour long. If you get creative, you can use IGTV to market your business in several ways, including by hosting FAQ sessions and conducting how-to chats. 

Use Instagram’s payments feature. In May 2018, Instagram added a payment feature for select users. Even though this feature isn’t available to all users, it could potentially have a big impact for small businesses. With the feature, users would be able to buy things without leaving Instagram. It could also potentially be used to book appointments at restaurants or salons.

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