Beginners Guide to Instagram – for small business owners

Beginners Guide to Instagram – for small business owners

A Step by step guide to getting started on Instagram

Instagram. The safe haven of social medial. A gentle and beautiful place where the haters are relatively minimal but perfectly styled photographs are front and centre. But what is instagram and why should you consider using it for you small business?

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a photo-sharing, smart-phone based, social media network. Its clean and graphic-led nature has made it a big hit with style-loving millennials, but it’s popularity is now booming across all generations. It’s too big to ignore and it’s too fun not to want to get involved.

How is Instagram Valuable to a Small Business?

Here are a few key benefits of Instagram for your business:

  • Getting in front of your potential audience is what matters and instagram is the fastest growing social media platform in the last two years. Figures currently show there are over 800 million users a month, and it’s on the rise. There are 300 million active users on Instagram each day. Your audience is there, are you?
  • Instagram is a super simple to use – with a bit of guidance and practice you can use it as an effective marketing tool for your business by spending just 15 minutes a day on it.
  • Instagram is a very visual platform, so you have a great opportunity to build your brand in a really creative way and add some sizzle to your story telling.
  • 80% of users follow a business on Instagram. Which means your audience is receptive to your offering but the competition is still pretty low – so jump on quick!
  • Instagram users are a highly engaged crowd so you have a great opportunity to connect with your audience and build relationships.
  • Learn what your audience loves. People are sharing products, events and activities that they love every day. Listen carefully, watch your audience – your customers are telling you what they want. That’s gold dust!
  • The Instagram/Facebook partnership does mean you can use your Facebook pages account to more easily run some ads on Instagram. The administrational headache of managing another platform for advertising is pretty non-existent due to this. Though the type of ad and the creative you use is probably going to be quite different. But that’s for another day. This is after all a beginners guide to instagram….
  • Sales – yes it is possible to make real sales from Instagram and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about in the end, right? My clients have the analytics to show that Instagram was the source of their sales.

Getting Started on Instagram

First download the app to your phone. You cannot set up an account via a computer or a laptop. Instagram is a smart-phone based app and though you can use it on a computer it’s very limited, so download it from the app store that is relevant to your smart phone.

You’ll need to set up a new account with a handle, username and password. You will have the option of using your Facebook account to sign up. Before you do this, read the next section about your instagram bio.

The Importance of your Instagram Bio

Like all of your social media profiles, give this some thought. A complete instagram bio is broken down into several parts:

  • Handle
  • Username
  • Description
  • Website
  • Contact
  • Profile picture

Instagram Handle and Username

Your ‘handle’ should clearly represent you and ideally be your business name (though you cannot use spaces or capital letters). It is listed above all of your posts and it’s how others tag you in their posts. So, choose this really carefully. Your Instagram user name is shown only on your profile page so this should should also be your business name (you can capitalise it and use spaces). See below how they differ:Instagram for Beginners - Completing your Instagram profile

Instagram Bio Description, Contact and Profile Picture

Then complete your profile description carefully. All of the words in your profile are searchable so do you not need to list hashtags in here. But it should be clear what you do and who you are for. You can use some clever emojis here to make it visually interesting and add impact. It’s also worth considering including a call to action.

Add a profile picture (it will be cropped to a circle). This might be your logo, a striking image that represents your business or your face.

Ensure your website is also added to your bio – there is a field just for this and it will appear as a hyperlink on your profile.

If you have opted to have a business account – and you really should as you will be able to view analytics and use your account to advertise at a later stage – then you an also include a single form of contact (email or phone number).

Posting on Instagram

Creating and Sharing Your First Instagram Post

These are the very simple and basic steps to sharing a a photo (or a image or quote you have created in a program such as canva):

  • Open Instagram and hit the plus button
  • Select the image from your library
  • Choose a filter
  • Add a caption
  • Tag people (optional)
  • Add location (optional)
  • Share

That’s it! But before you go ahead and do that, please read the rest of this article…

Aesthetic Strategy

Before littering your instagram account with photos of your cat, I want you to stop and have a think about the overall visual concept for Instagram and how it will represent your business in the best way.

When posting to instagram, it’s well worth considering not just how the image you are about to post will look, but also what your over all grid will look like at any given point. If someone sees one of your posted images in their feed (more on how that happens later), then there is a good chance that they will click onto your profile and look at your instagram account, which will show a grid of your last 9-12 images. So you can use this like a visual landing page to create quite an impactful first impression.

When thinking about this, you might consider keeping your posts to a similar theme, using all one colour or posting in blocks of colour so you are not too limited, posting only one type of subject, sticking to the same filter (even if you don’t I do recommend you limiting your use of filters to keep a consistent look), using quotes every six squares, alternating light and dark images.

The list is endless and if you are a creative business then it’s something I strongly suggest you think about before you get started or if you have started, then think about changing your aesthetic to create a really strong and consistent theme. Actually I think its a good move for any business, not just a creative one because the effect can be really quite powerful.

Here are some great examples of accounts that use some of these techniques to create a strong visual identity:

Instagram for Beginners - examples of a great instagram gridInstagram for Beginners - examples of a great instagram grid
Instagram for Beginners - examples of a great instagram gridInstagram for Beginners - examples of a great instagram grid

https://www.instagram.com/agraylife/

https://www.instagram.com/michelletholelifecoach/

https://www.instagram.com/symmetrybreakfast/

https://www.instagram.com/cabinfolk/

Instagram Captions

When you post images to instagram you can and should create a caption underneath it. This might be a basic explanation of the image, or a statement or quote that relates to it. It could be a joke or a funny story or perhaps a question? This is most likely going to vary and ultimately the aim of instagram is to attract followers, engagement and shares from people that will eventually buy from you. But it’s long game and you are at the very start of building relationships with people that may not yet know you or your business. So you will need to experiment and see what resonates with your audience. Play around to see what gets a reaction.

Instagram #Hashtags

Instagram hashtags are really what drive likes and followers to your account, so should be an integral part of your caption. There are arguments for placing hashtags into the first comment underneath your post, but I’d advise you to make your life as simple as possible and simply add to the bottom of your caption and even integrate one or two into your caption for impact. But not too many as it’s hard to read if every other word is a hashtag.

You can include up to 30 hashtags with your post. So use them all! I recommend splitting them into batches of 10. Use 10 regular ones on all your posts that are super relevant to your business and industry. Then vary the other two batches of 10 depending on the image used.

There are some hashtags that are best to avoid and these tend to be ones that have millions of uses. As a beginner your account is simply going to be too tiny to benefit from a hashtags with tens of thousands of uses, so stick to ones that have been used less than 5,000 times or your post will be dwarfed by much more popular and bigger accounts on the explore page.

There is quite a strategy you can employ when using hashtags as a way to get your posts seen by a wider audience. Once you are comfortable with instagram and regularly posting with ease, then you can up your game. As your account grows you can begin to use more popular hashtags and like using a step ladder, climb up the rankings. But first things first, get the basics right.

Using the Explore Page

The explore page is a tab that shows the most popular posts and stories that instagram thinks you will want to see based on your own activity, hashtags you follow and numerous other factors. It’s found by clicking on the magnifying glass at the bottom of instagram (to the right of the home button).

It’s a great tool for exploring (get it?) and finding out what your audience is into – the aesthetics, who they follow, what resonates with them and what geographically is happening around you. It’s called social listening – basically figuring out what’s rocking your audience’s boat and giving them a dose of it in your own unique way.

Getting your posts onto other’s explore pages is based on these numerous factors including hash tags, age of account and engagement with your followers. It can make a huge difference to the reach and success of your post so it’s the ultimate goal but it takes time, persistance and a bit of cunning. Baby steps…

How Often Should You Post to Instagram?

That’s really up to you but I would suggest that once a day is sufficient if you are also running a business and have many other responsibilities. Be realistic and start with consistently showing up daily – vary the time you post each day if you can and see what works.

If you do post more than once per day, then put a few hours between each post (this will also mean that your posts are shown to a new audience in a different time zone). Posts don’t necessarily show up in newsfeeds in the order in which they were posted anyway. There is, like everything else, an algorithm. But to begin with you should focus on creating a good habit and making it as painless as possible to get started.

Growing your Instagram Account

As is always the case when trying to grow your social media following, you actually need to spend more time on other people’s accounts and put in some leg work creating relationships.

But before you go looking for other people and posts, make sure your own account is seeded with at least 9-12 stunning photos with great captions. So that anyone noticing your activity and checking out your account will see a great grid and an abundant and interesting feed.

Finding Followers

Once that you have some great posts in place, you should begin by following other accounts that are relevant to your industry, whose work or instagram accounts you admire, or who may share a similar audience to you. And it is perfectly fine to follow your competitors. Just don’t copy them!

You should also be searching for posts to look and comment on using the search bar and typing in relevant hashtags. This will bring up any recent posts using a certain hashtag and you can then like and comment on these posts – you don’t need to follow all of the accounts, but instead post something meaningful in the comments and not just a copy and paste spammy type phrase such as “Great pic, follow me!” But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep a little list of industry relevant and well thought out phrases on a note pad that you can paste. Just be thoughtful and genuine about it.

When liking posts and following other accounts, be careful to limit your activity to just under 100 actions per day. Or you risk being tagged as a bot or a spammer and could have your account temporarily shut down. Easy does it…

Following Hashtags

You can now also follow hashtags in instagram, which I find to be a great tool. You can keep abreast of the key hashtags in your industry and be one of the first to like and comment on posts using it, therefore increasing your visibility within your target audience.

What Next?

That’s the basics of instagram for beginners. There’s more to learn – such as stories, location hashtags, promotional posts, live streams, multiple posts and advertising. For now though, I recommended spending the next month or two honing your instagram skills and cultivating some awesome posts and captions so that it feels natural and easy. Once you that feels like second nature, you can take it to the next level.

Instagram Scheduling Tools

Once you start adding more than one social media channel to your marketing mix, then you might want to start thinking about using a scheduling tool to make life a bit easier. You can batch your time and schedule posts to drop throughout the week.

This does however affect the reach of your posts – Facebook for example prefers you to post directly to the platform and use their built in scheduling option over a third party API. But over in the real world we are busy business owners and sometimes we have find short cuts that help us all get more done each day.

Until recently (announced Jan 2018) Instagram did not allow any third party apps to post directly to the platform. Instead the schedulers send push reminders to your phone and then you open your ‘scheduled’ post with caption in Instagram and go through the normal procedures to post. It has been a perfectly fine work around to enable you the benefits of scheduling without breaking Instagram’s previous terms of service. I’ve never found it to be too difficult to manage but as of now you can expect this to start changing and it will become a more streamlined process. Woop!

Hootsuite will be the first to use its scheduling tool to directly post to Instagram but here’s a full list of tools that you might want to consider. Most have some free options or trial periods so that you can see how it is to work with. All have pros and cons and I believe it comes down to which one feels the most comfortable for you to use.

FYI, I use Buffer because I like the clean layout. I have previously used Hootsuite and though it has a wealth of additional features and analytics, I find it a bit painful to work with, but many people swear by it. It’s horses for courses so try them all out and see what fits your needs.

Thinking of moving over to scheduling for your instagram posts? Here’s a list of 9 Instagram Scheduling Tools for you to compare. The list includes prices and links for comparison. Most offer a free trial so you can take them for a test drive and see what works for you.

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