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8 tips for using Instagram for small businesses (without ads)

If you want to know the best ways to use Instagram for your small business, get our guide. It includes 8 key Instagram tips for growing your following and brand.

Growing an Instagram following can feel like a persistent photo-shoot that never ends.

You do want to use social media for your small business, but is Instagram the way to go?

The answer is yes, if your audience hangs out on the social media platform.

Don’t worry, though.

There’s more to leverage on the social network than just glam shots.

There are other ways to use Instagram to grow your brand.

And today, we give you eight trusty ways to use Instagram in your small business. They’re straightforward tactics that you can incorporate into your digital marketing plans today.

Let’s dive right in.

8 best ways to use Instagram for small businesses (without Instagram ads)

#1. Optimize your Instagram account for your small business

The first way to leverage your Instagram account for your small business is to update your Instagram profile with a business profile that features your brand.

It goes without saying that you can create an Instagram account for your business that’s separate from your personal Instagram account. If you want to rebrand your personal one to feature your business, that’s also an option.

A good one, too, especially if you’re the business owner.

After all, when it comes to personal branding, 90% of buyers trust personal recommendations, compared to 33% of company-branded messages, so it might be worth merging your two worlds together.

To make the most of your Instagram profile, include the kind of content marketers use in building brand awareness.

More specifically, include top-level info about you and your small business.

This can be details like your role, your company website, a testimonial, and an achievement — basically, anything that explains and touts what you and your small business help your target audience do.

Sidenote: it never hurts to emphasize your messaging with an emoji. Given that 92% of the online population uses emoji every day, more people appreciate them than not.

Check out how business superstar, Marie Forleo, includes the following in her Instagram page bio (emoji included):

  • Her current role (CEO)

  • A testimonial (shout-out by Oprah Winfrey)

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

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

  • A link to her website

Take it a step further and include a call-to-action (CTA) in your Instagram bio, just like Jay Shetty does.

At the bottom of Jay’s Instagram profile, he includes a “Get my book” CTA and link.

While both Marie’s and Jay’s Instagram bios are short and to the point, people that visit their Instagram pages can easily see what their businesses offer and the target audience they serve.

Once your Instagram bio messaging is optimized for your business, it’s time to publish Instagram posts that also showcase your brand.

#2. Include high-quality graphics in your Instagram posts

Instagram is a hugely visual social media platform, so it’s important to post high-quality images that are visually compelling.

It’s worth noting that “high-quality,” in this case, doesn’t mean “high-resolution”. It means “interesting and relevant,” so post related content that’s compelling enough to capture your audience’s attention as they scroll through their Instagram feed.

(By the way, in case you’re curious, the optimal size for Instagram images is 1,080 pixels wide x 566 pixels to 1,350 pixels high.)

You can play around with creative ways to capture your brand’s essence, like in this Instagram post by Jay Shetty, which includes an artsy text overlay that promotes his book.

Jay scored nearly 227,000 likes and 603 comments with this Instagram post image featuring a quote from his Think Like a Monk book.

This Instagram post by Brené Brown is another great example of an attention-grabbing graphic that promotes her Unlocking Us podcast interview with Dolly Parton.

Notice that, in both of these Instagram posts, the content itself is eye-catching, relevant, and valuable to their target audiences.

The images in your Instagram posts don’t have to include a text overlay, either, to be eye-catching, relevant, and valuable.

Take, for instance, this Warby Parker Instagram post that simply features a sweet puppy wearing one of their featured products.

Who wouldn’t want to stop scrolling their Instagram feed to quickly adore this fashion-forward pup?

With or without text, the main takeaway is to feature relevant and compelling graphics in your Instagram posts to stop people in their Instagram feed tracks.

If you want a content format that grabs attention exceptionally well, look to our next tip.

#3. Publish videos in your Instagram posts

These days, video is a dominant part of any marketing strategy, let alone an Instagram strategy.

And the reason is clear: people watch videos.

52% of viewers watch a video all the way through, regardless of its length. On top of that, 54% of consumers prefer to see more video content from the brands and businesses they support.

And the popularity of video is no different on Instagram, considering the fact that Instagram posts that include video receive about 38% more engagement than posts with images.

If you’re wondering what type of video content to post to your Instagram account, consider publishing videos that evoke the most popular emotions in posts — like awe, amusement, or joy — which is what Nike does in this video post.

Or consider posting a video with a superstar customer that vouches for your brand, like this Bose Instagram post featuring a video of 7-time Drivers’ Championship winner, Lewis Hamilton.

Bose tastefully plugs their products while also congratulating Lewis on his recent win.

Another great option is to post a straightforward video that highlights your brand’s products or services, like this OhJoy! Instagram post that showcases its new line of kids’ pajamas.

If you think you need to shy away from product videos, think again.

Not only do users prefer to watch videos, but they also watch them to shop and learn about products and services.

So much so that an overwhelming 96% of people claim they’ve watched an explainer video to learn more about a brand’s product or service, and another 84% are convinced to purchase after watching a brand’s video.

If producing a video sounds too much like a heavy lift right now, don’t worry. You can record high-quality videos from your iPhone.

You can also take advantage of Instagram Stories, which gives the same effect as videos but without having to create a video, which brings us to our next tip today.

#4. Leverage Instagram Stories

Over 500 million Instagram users use Instagram Stories daily.

If you think Instagram Stories are best-suited for publishing personal stories by personal accounts, think again.

One-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are posted by businesses.

Instagram lets you post up to 100 clips to Instagram Stories within 24 hours, which means you can have a heyday with the array of content you post in your Instagram Story clips.

Joy Cho’s Instagram Story content, for instance, ranges from shots of her family’s takeout food ...

To trendy product pictures from her Oh Joy! gift guide.

If you do produce videos, you can break up a larger video clip into smaller clips on Instagram Stories, like in this JLab Audio Instagram Story.

You can see the numerous video clips marked by the tiny dots at the top of the Instagram post.

So, that covers content for your Instagram Stories. Now, let’s talk about frequency.

Wondering how often to publish Instagram Stories?

Brands post an average of 2.5 Instagram Stories each week.

This means, if you want to post Instagram Stories with tons of different shots, it’s worth mapping out your content plan well in advance, so you can land a publishing cadence that’s consistent over time.

I’m sure you’ve heard it plenty, but it’s worth iterating here: Consistency is key, especially when it comes to publishing B2C content, which peaks after two years in terms of organic growth.

There’s one content format that doesn’t take too much time to create, though — user-generated content. Conveniently, it’s also our next tip.

#5. Feature user-generated content

There’s a good reason why people highlight user-generated content on their social networks.

For one, a significant 93% of customers think user-generated content is very helpful when they make a purchasing decision. What’s more, another 70% of consumers consider user-generated content reviews before making purchasing decisions.

It’s no wonder that over 86% of companies include user-generated content in their marketing strategies these days.

You can, too, by publishing relevant reposts with the #regram hashtag in your Instagram marketing.

Check out this repost by Spanx with the #regram hashtag crediting the original poster.

Better yet, repost content from influencers. It’ll help expand your reach to new followers.

Jay Shetty, for instance, shared a video repost by popular Instagram user jillianngrouse that landed over 1.5 million views and over 7,800 comments (as of this writing).

Beyond reposts, you can also feature content created and submitted by your customers.

Just tag your customer Instagram user, like in this Volkswagen Instagram post featuring a customer’s image.

The gist here is short and sweet:

Include user-generated content in your Instagram marketing. It saves you content creation time and builds your credibility.

Now that you’ve got a few ideas about the type of content to include in your Instagram posts, let’s cover the accompanying text.

#6. Write long-form Instagram captions

A great image or video can certainly carry your Instagram strategy pretty far. But, coupled with the right Instagram caption and hashtags (more on hashtags later), your social media marketing will take you even further.

One of the most notable trending habits of 2020 that Instagram users leverage is using longer captions.

Instagram captions have more than doubled since 2016, the average caption length logging in at 405 characters (65–70 words).

This means there’s a big opportunity for small businesses to treat Instagram captions like micro-blogs, where you include more detailed messaging about your brand’s unique personality and offers. It’s a great way to grow your base of new followers and new customers.

In other words, your Instagram captions are a great place to use copywriting to sell your brand.

Instagram influencer Sarah Nicole Landry, for instance, carefully crafts long-form captions, which helped grow her @thebirdspapaya Instagram account from 70,000 followers to 1.7 million Instagram followers over two years.

Here’s an example of one of Sarah’s long-form Instagram captions.

It goes without saying that writing valuable content is key here, not just writing for the sake of putting longer captions into place.

That’s if you want to lift your engagement rate metric, anyway.

According to Sarah:

“Once I started to put value in the written word, I began to see a huge return. I’d put up a post with a short snappy caption and then put up a similar post with a long-form caption. I saw so much more engagement and shares on the long-form post.”

Speaking of engagement, if your Instagram captions resonate with your audience and they leave comments on your post, engage back and respond to every comment.

Even if it’s a quick response with an emoji, respond to every single comment if you can, just like Sarah does.

On top of a lengthier Instagram caption, another trending habit is to include more hashtags. Read our next tip for the details.

#7. Use hashtags strategically

Hashtags make up another vital part of a good Instagram strategy, mainly because they’re an effective way to get your brand in front of a new audience and boost engagement.

In fact, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag attract 12.6% more engagement.

In Instagram’s top search bar, you can type in any hashtag following the “#” symbol, and it will auto-populate the number of times people use that hashtag.

Of course, the top search bar isn’t the only way Instagram users stumble upon hashtags and topics they’re interested in.

More than likely, they’ll see hashtags listed in Instagram posts and click on the actual post hashtag to see a page that displays all posts including that hashtag. Instagram users can even follow hashtags, so posts with that hashtag show up in their Instagram feed.

What does this mean for your small business? Use hashtags to become more discoverable.

Brands use hashtags in their digital marketing strategy as a way for potential new customers to discover their brand while searching topics on social media platforms.

This boost in discoverability explains why a whopping 70% of the most used hashtags are branded.

If a hashtag is trending, it’s a great way for you to ride the popularity wave and use hashtags to expose your brand to new audiences.

There’s a caveat, though:

Don’t just use hashtags because they’re trending and popular. Use them because they’re useful and relevant to your audience, too.

Now that the caveat’s out of the way, how do you find trending hashtags?

Marketing tools, like All Hashtag, Ingramer, and Sistrix, help you find and use trending hashtags by simply typing in and submitting your keyword into a form field query.

All Hashtag, for instance, popped out 30 hashtags to use for the topic “yoga”.

While 30 hashtags is the limit per Instagram post, a trending habit is to use about eight hashtags per post. This is a number that’s nearly quadrupled in recent years, but still far from hitting the Instagram hashtag limit.

Social Sprout recommends using even less, at 2–5 hashtags per Instagram post, which is generally what most top brands do.

The lesson here is: using fewer hashtags that are niche and relevant to your audience is more useful than using a ton of general hashtags that are popular.

It’s also worth getting to know the different Instagram hashtag types to help you narrow and niche down. Here are hashtag types (with examples) that make up the Instagram hashtag funnel:

  • Industry — #photographer

  • Niche — #weddingphotographer

  • Brand — # weddingphotogmag

  • Community — #dearphotographer

  • Location — #sydneyweddingphotographer

  • Event — #brianandkellyforever

  • Special day — #brianandkellyswedding

Finally, as for formatting, if you don’t want your numerous hashtags to distract Instagram users from reading your well-crafted captions, a great option is to include periods as line spacers below your caption.

Makeup Dupes does this after their main Instagram caption.

Another option is to include your hashtags in your first comment, similar to the way L’Oréal Skincare does.

All in all:

Use hashtags to increase your discoverability. First and foremost, make sure your hashtags are niche and highly relevant to your Instagram posts, audience, and brand.

Now for one final way to increase your brand awareness and followers on Instagram.

#8. Run a contest or giveaway to boost your brand awareness

Our final tip today is to run contest giveaways on your Instagram account to build brand awareness and attract new followers to your page.

To this day, people still love free stuff. Even if they have to enter a contest to win it.

So much so that contest CTAs have a 3.73% higher conversion rate compared to other CTAs.

Before announcing your contest to the world, first determine your goal of running the giveaway contest, which you can do by asking:

  • Is your goal to increase brand awareness?

  • Is your goal to grow your Instagram followers?

  • Is your goal to lift sales?

This can help inform details in your giveaway.

For instance, if your goal is to grow your followers, consider requiring a follow to enter the contest.

If your goal is to build your brand awareness, ask people to tag additional friends to enter the chance to win.

Or, if it’s to boost sales, make sure your giveaway gift is something that highlights the quality of your products.

When posting anything related to your giveaway, use hashtags that will help attract more submissions from new followers and potential new customers.

Just like JLab Audio does, which uses hashtags #giveaway, #contest, #holidaygiveaway, and #blackfridaygifts.

While JLab Audio uses hashtags to boost its discoverability, the real Instagram strategy for gaining new followers is in the “To enter: Follow @jlabaudio” requirement to enter the contest.

Succulent Studios also follows the same Instagram strategy for pulling in new followers in its Instagram post featuring a succulent giveaway. To enter the giveaway, Instagram users need to “Follow @sucstu on Instagram and like this post,” then tag a friend in the comments.

And you’re not confined to giving away just physical products, either.

You can give away free digital goods, too, like Maria Types Letters’ free digital download.

Whether it’s a physical or digital product, though, the parameters of your giveaway should align with your goal.

Once your contest window is closed, be sure to proudly announce the winner in your Instagram posts.

It’ll help build credibility among your audience. Not only is it proof that you followed through with your word, but it’s another shining opportunity to post something feel-good and positive about your brand.

Here’s Bionic Yogi’s Instagram post announcing its contest winner, as an example.

In a nutshell:

Use Instagram giveaways to gain exposure, brand awareness, and new followers. After clarifying a goal for your giveaway, use that to inform the details of your contest, and be sure to seal the deal with a nice winner announcement post.

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Boost your brand and business by making it Instagram-worthy

Instagram might not be the first place digital product entrepreneurs and small business owners go to build their businesses, but it deserves some serious consideration.

Instagram’s massive user base and versatile content and advertising formats give you a ton of opportunities to bond with customers, market your products, and, ultimately, earn more sales.

Here’s how to use Instagram for your small business:

  • #1. Set your Instagram bio up to feature your brand in a polished and clear way.

  • #2. Feature graphics with compelling and relevant visuals in your Instagram posts.

  • #3. Incorporate interesting and valuable videos into your Instagram posts.

  • #4. Post consistent Instagram Stories to help bolster your unique brand and personality.

  • #5. Leverage user-generated content and pepper it into your publishing cadence.

  • #6. Craft long-form Instagram captions to deliver more value and connect with followers.

  • #7. Use niche and relevant hashtags to lift discoverability among a relevant audience.

  • #8. Run a contest giveaway to attract new audiences and potential new customers.

And here’s to your Instagram success. Happy Instagram posting.

About the author

Cyn Meyer is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.