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9 tips and tactics for using Instagram for small businesses

Don’t know how to use Instagram in your digital product business? No problem. These 9 tips and strategies can set you in the right direction.

If you sell digital products, this is probably a familiar crossroads for you:

Should you even bother with Instagram? And if so, just what the heck are you supposed to post on Instagram?

Well, you could share quotes and reviews from your customers, product screenshots, videos, and live streams, to name a few things. 

But, I get it -- you’re skeptical. When is the last time you saw a digital product promoted on Instagram, anyway?

I’m here to tell you that not only can you use Instagram to promote your business and digital products, but you can use it to make them thrive.

And today, we’ll show you nine proven strategies to get it done.

Let’s get started.

#1: Build your brand on Instagram

What it’s good for:

  • Early-aughts brand building

  • Increasing brand awareness 

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness 

Before all else, you should build your brand and increase brand awareness on Instagram. 

Otherwise, precious few people will see or care about your content. 

One way to build your brand is by sharing content that reveals your business personality.

Deciem, a skincare company, shared this behind-the-scenes video of their employees dressed up for Halloween. 

Dr. Squatch, a soap company, alters popular memes to promote their products and reflect their personality. 

Sharing your company’s personality has two main benefits. Firstly, it can help your business stand out from hundreds of other companies with forgettable personas. 

Secondly, it can help customers get to know and trust you.

Only 34% of consumers said they trust the brands they buy from. 

81% of consumers said trust is a deciding factor when making a purchase.

Ergo, working hard to earn customers’ trust can pay off later on. 

Another way to demonstrate your business’ personality is by showcasing your values.

Avocado Mattress used an Instagram post to highlight their manufacturing process and values, as an example. 

Spindrift also used an Instagram post to give more background about their company. 

Specifically, their post talked about how the cranberries for their cranberry-flavored beverage were harvested. 

For more insight on how to use your business’ voice and values to build a brand, don’t miss these five actionable branding tips for entrepreneurs

Otherwise, turn your attention to your bio next.

What it’s good for:

  • Getting clicks to your website

  • Driving traffic 

  • Guiding visitors down the sales funnel 

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision

Instagram bios are limited to 150 characters. Bios are where you can describe what your business is, what you do, who you help, and convince visitors to take action. 

Though that sounds like a tall order to squeeze into so few characters, these examples prove that it is possible. 

For example, Marie Forleo included the following in her bio:

  • Her current role (entrepreneur)

  • A testimonial from Oprah Winfrey

  • Her content (Marie TV and The Marie Forleo Podcast)

  • An accomplishment (being a New York Times best-selling author)

  • A link to her website

Latasha James shared her job description, who she serves, and a link to her product page in her Instagram bio. 

Besides using your Instagram bio to give background about your business, you can also use it to share one link. 

Some businesses keep the same link for months at a time. More often than not, this is a link to their homepage or a high-priority landing page. 

(Psst: Do your landing pages need some love? Sign up for a Podia free trial so you can create your own landing page in less than an hour.)

As an example, DJ Mac Joseph’s bio includes a link to his website homepage at the time of this writing. 

Other businesses change the bio link as they release new content. In these cases, brands will tell their followers in the post description to check their bio for the updated link. 

You could also include a copy-and-pastable link in your Instagram description, as Vegan Richa did. 

Even though you can include a link to your content in the post description, you should still include a link in your bio. 

Shoppers ages 18 to 34 are 3.3 times more likely to discover products on Instagram than American consumers in general.

Additionally, a staggering 130 million Instagram accounts tap on shopping posts to learn about products every month.

Of course, in addition to sharing links to your existing content, you can also repurpose content on Instagram. 

#3: Repurpose content on Instagram 

What it’s good for:

  • Saving time on content production

  • Reusing existing content for a new channel 

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision 

Sharing links to your existing content has its purpose on Instagram, but you shouldn’t use Instagram just for distribution. 

Repurposing content is one of the best ways to use social media to sell more digital products, after all. 

To that end, repurpose existing content specifically for Instagram. 

You could share an excerpt from a previous video or live training on Instagram as a video post. 

Gary Vaynerchuck shared this video snippet from a longer video on his Instagram channel, for instance.  

You could also take a topic and recycle it in one or several Instagram photo posts, video posts, or live streams. 

Let’s say you have a blog post on how to travel the world while living in a van. 

You could repurpose this post for Instagram by creating any of the following:

  • A live stream or webinar using Instagram Live

  • A series of Instagram Stories

  • A series of video posts 

  • Instagram TV (IGTV) videos

  • Photo posts with quotes

  • Photo posts with one piece of advice per post

  • A photo post with accompanying information in the post description, such as in Drizly’s post about having a well-stocked home bar

Aside from existing content, use Instagram content to tease a lead magnet, sale, product, or customer survey. 

Don’t worry about upsetting your audience with repurposed content. Most of your followers probably won’t notice that you’re covering the same points or topics. 

Besides, many will probably appreciate a review of the material. Repurposing your content into a new format can also help you reach customers who prefer that format, such as concise Stories or longer IGTV videos. 

If nothing else, consider this: 

Bloggers took an average of three hours and 57 minutes to write a blog post in 2019.

On the other hand, videos published in 2018 were an average of 4.07 minutes in length. 

Even accounting for time to script and edit videos, you could create several videos and photo posts for Instagram in the time it takes to write one blog post. 

But just what can you do with your Instagram content?

You could drive traffic to your blog, YouTube channel, or podcast by sharing excerpts on Instagram. 

Furthermore, sharing valuable information could increase brand awareness and drive website traffic. 

Instagram posts about your products and promotions could generate more sales, too. 

But if you’re still struggling to figure out what content to post on Instagram -- and are looking to bond more with your customers -- you’ll want to follow our next tactic, as well. 

#4: Join online discussions and comment on Instagram posts

What it’s good for:

  • Customer research

  • Brand-customer relationship building 

  • Driving traffic 

  • Growing your follower count 

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration 

Much of your effort should go to producing content on your Instagram channel. Answering your followers’ comments should be a top priority, too.

However, you should dedicate a few minutes each day to joining discussions on Instagram. 

Engaging with other Instagram users’ content can help you in several ways. 

For one, sharing thoughtful comments can position you as a knowledgeable and trustworthy business.

This can drive further interest and trust in your brand, which could convert more customers later on. 

Commenting can also direct more people to your Instagram channel. 83% of Instagram users discover new products or brands on Instagram. 

200 million users visit at least one business profile per day. 

Commenting is one powerful (and free) way you can “introduce” other Instagram users to your company. 

You don’t have to find these discussions on your own, either. You can use tools like Awario and Mention to identify important conversations and comments. 

Participating in discussions can also help you conduct customer research by giving you a clearer picture of who your audience is and what they want. 

This can help you release more content that addresses their problems and interests. 

You could even use the information from these online discussions to come up with new product ideas or ways to better existing products. 

A win-win, right?

But if you still need convincing, just consider this:

Bonding with followers is a strong motivation for many Instagrammers to use the channel. 

So, if you’re down for building a relationship with your audience -- and you should be -- then there are few better strategies than joining the discussions they’re already having.

Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t make that strategy even better by netting one of those discussion leaders in your corner.

In other words, if you want to capitalize on Instagram’s audience-building power, then in addition to joining discussions, join the people leading them: the influencers.

#5: Leverage influence and/or affiliate marketing

What it’s good for:         

  • Expanding your reach

  • Introducing new people to your brand

  • Increasing traffic and sales

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision 

Digital product creators will probably see the best results from influencer outreach by working with micro-influencers. 

But just what is a micro-influencer?

There’s no strict definition.  

An article in CMS Wire defines micro-influencers as having 1,000 to 100,000 followers, whereas Social Media Today says that micro-influencers often have less than 10,000 followers

However you define it, micro-influencers have smaller audiences than big-name influencers like Kylie Jenner or Jamie Oliver

Despite that, they often have more engaged followers. Among other things, engaged audiences tend to interact more with influencers’ content and take action on their recommendations. 

Research by InfluencerDB found that influencers with between 1,000 to 5,000 followers had an engagement rate of 8.8%, which was the highest of all influencer engagement rates. 

Besides the higher engagement rate, many marketers have found that micro-influencers have a higher ROI than larger influencers. Nearly half of marketers agreed they can help deliver more targeted messages, as well. 

Plus, micro-influencers typically charge far less than larger influencers. Some may be willing to accept non-monetary compensation, like products.

Creators have a few options when it comes to how the influencer promotes their business. 

The first is for the influencer to create a post about your product. 

For instance, Joy Cho shared a sponsored post for the KitchenAid K400 blender and included a recipe her followers could make using the blender. 

Similarly, Steven Onoja shared a sponsored post from Crown Royal. 

Aside from writing a description that spotlighted Crown Royal, he also pictured himself holding a glass of their product and wearing The Royal Blazer. 

In the case of digital products, you could ask micro-influencers to share a post discussing how your product solved a problem, inspired them, or otherwise influenced them. 

Influencers could also announce a new product release, promotion, or giveaway. 

Doug the Pug used this Instagram post to spotlight Jimmy Dean’s Recipe Gift Exchange.

You could also work with micro-influencers -- and happy customers more generally -- by setting up an affiliate program. 

An affiliate program can reward customers for recommending new customers to your brand. 

Unlike influencer partnerships, which typically have a set duration, micro-influencers can participate in an affiliate program an infinite number of times. 

And affiliate programs are quite popular, too -- affiliate marketing spending is expected to reach 6.8 billion by 2020.

If you need a little extra convincing, mull over the fact that affiliate marketing drives 16% of all online orders

With those numbers, you’ll want to get an affiliate program in place ASAP so you can reward happy customers and earn more referrals. 

And if you’re looking for a strategy to pair alongside your influence and/or affiliate marketing, look no further than our next tactic -- it costs virtually nothing and can generate massive returns. 

#6: Encourage user-generated content

What it’s good for:

  • Raising brand awareness amongst your customers’ social circles

  • Word-of-mouth marketing

  • Brand awareness

  • Influencing buying decisions

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision 

User-generated content (UGC) is any content, like a post or video, that a customer makes about your company. 

UGC can come organically from customers who genuinely enjoyed using your product or service. 

Other times, companies can encourage UGC through contests, giveaways, or by asking for it. 

Duluth Trading Company collected UGC -- such as the picture below -- by running their Functional Family Christmas Contest. 

As far as marketing tools go, UGC is one of the most powerful tactics brands of any size can utilize. 

Firstly, UGC can reach people  -- your customers’ social networks -- that you otherwise may not have been able to reach. 

Secondly, UGC can be perceived as being authentic and trustworthy since it comes from consumers, not brands or paid partners. 

Also, UGC doesn’t always have to take on the form of a product review.

Some UGC can spotlight your product or demonstrate how to use it. 

This post from Lush Cosmetics shows a customer wearing and displaying one of their mask products. 

UGC can also take the form of customer testimonials, where users discuss how your product positively impacted their lives.  

Consider Dave Damsey as an example. 

Dave Ramsey reposted this photo on his channel from a customer who used one of his products to get out of debt.

Though an extreme example, many customers do share UGC to celebrate achievements. 

Research by Sprout Social found that 50% of consumers would include a business in a life milestone post to recommend that company.  

Because of how influential UGC can be, don’t leave it to gracefully age on your followers’ Instagram accounts. 

Curate UGC and share it on your channel instead. 

Only 58.11% of brands leverage UGC by sharing it on social media, which is a major faux pas if you want to use Instagram to market and grow your business. 

Besides your channel, share UGC on your website, product pages, ads, and other business content.

Otherwise, you’ll pass over countless opportunities to attract more customers. 

#7: Highlight your products and promotions

What it’s best for:

  • Introducing customers to your products

  • Promoting sales and discounts

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision

Customers don’t like businesses that constantly talk themselves up. 

But then again, Instagram isn’t the place to be a wallflower. 

65% of Instagrammers visited a brand’s website or app after seeing their product on Instagram, so your followers probably will want to see advertorial content from time to time. 

To keep your feed from being overrun with promotional posts, keep your Instagram feed balanced with an 80/20 mix of informational and promotional content. 

One way to advertise your company is by showcasing your products. Target used this Instagram post to feature matching jackets for families. 

The Well Coffeehouse announced that their Blue Note coffee was made available in a new form in an Instagram post. 

For a digital product, you could share a screenshot from your ebook or video snippet from an online course. 

Instagram Live video would also be a great way to promote your products since you answer customers’ questions in real-time. 

Brands can also use Instagram posts to highlight a specific feature or use for their product. 

Let’s look at Lay’s as an example. 

While most people eat potato chips from the bag, Lay’s video demonstrated how to use their potato chips in a casserole. 

Likewise, Cuyana used a short video to demonstrate how comfortable their cashmere sweater was.

And of course, promoting discounts or exclusive offers -- such as Bolzico Beef’s 10% off discount -- can go over well on Instagram, too. 

Regardless of your marketing budget, you can start advertising your business on Instagram using occasional promotional posts. 

For super-powered promotion, however, you’ll want to dig into Instagram ads. 

#8: Buy Instagram ads

What it’s best for:

  • Increasing brand awareness

  • Expanding your audience reach 

  • Promoting products

Sales funnel stage:

  • Awareness

  • Consideration

  • Decision 

Though ads get a bad rap, they can be helpful.

67% of shoppers have purchased something after seeing an advertisement on social media, for instance. 

65% of consumers also said they like when ads show them products they are interested in and otherwise wouldn’t have found. 

Many businesses have found success with Instagram ads, too. 

As an example, this sofa company used Story ads to reach over 3 million people and increase brand consideration and ad recall. 

This lingerie company doubled sales of their SoftStretch underwear collection, in addition to increasing brand awareness and ad recall. 

To get the most from your ads, pair them with a landing page that encourages your followers to join your list, make a purchase, or take some other action. 

OK. Whether you’ve won over customers using ads, content, commenting, or a mix of strategies, your work isn’t just done yet -- you’ll need to offer them customer support after their orders are fulfilled. 

#9: Use Instagram for customer service

What it’s best for:

  • Customer service

  • Customer messaging 

Stage of the sales funnel:

  • Decision

  • Post-purchase

This one is pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll keep it short and sweet.

If you’re not using your social media to field customer inquiries, you’re leaving a lot of customers unsatisfied -- or downright averse to doing business with you.

After all, many customers use social media for customer service --  35% of shoppers reported reaching out to brands on social media in the past year, according to a report from American Express. 

Those shoppers expect speedy responses, too. 

42% of customers expect a response within 60 minutes after contacting a business on social media for customer support. 

37% of those who use social media to ask a question or complain to companies expect responses within 30 minutes.

To that end, you can use it to address product questions or customer complaints. 

Pink Chicken, for example, answered a product question on Instagram. 

If you notice you get the same questions, you could even create customer service videos or posts on Instagram to address common questions, so your customers don’t always have to message you for a solution, saving both of you time.

It doesn’t get much better (or quicker) than that.

Reap the ROI from making your brand Instagram-worthy

Instagram may not be the first place digital product creators go to build their businesses, but it deserves consideration. 

Instagram’s massive user base and versatile content and advertising formats give creators many opportunities to bond with customers, market their products, and earn more sales. 

Some ways entrepreneurs can use Instagram for business include:

  • Increasing brand awareness

  • Using Instagram link bios to drive traffic

  • Repurposing content

  • Joining online discussions

  • Partnering with influencers

  • Publishing and curating UGC

  • Spotlighting products, product features, and promotions

  • Adding Instagram ads to your sales funnel 

  • Using Instagram for customer service

Basically, regardless of your business or marketing goal, Instagram can help you achieve it, and with so many free strategies to leverage, you’ve got a lot to gain and very little to lose.

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About the author

Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Taylor enjoys learning foreign languages, fiction writing, and pugs in no particular order.