This post will guide you, step-by-step, through the process of using Instagram for your ecommerce business, from setting up your account, all the way to tracking and achieving the goals you’ve set for the growth of your ecommerce business. Specifically, you will learn:
- What Instagram is and how it is used for business
- How to create a business account
- How to navigate the app
- How to optimize your account for your business
- How to create an Instagram marketing strategy
- What content you should post to reach your target audience
This may seem like a lot of information now, but when you consider the exponentially increasing popularity of using Instagram for brand marketing, you’ll agree that it is worth investing the time to understand how to use Instagram to grow business. For instance, consider that Instagram currently has an estimated 600 million users, with about 100 million posts shared every day. With numbers like this, it’s no wonder that a recent Emarketer report estimated that 70.7% of all brands U.S. brands with 100+ employees will use Instagram in 2017. And this surge in popularity is not limited to the U.S.—Instagram’s popularity is growing worldwide, thereby creating vast opportunities for your marketing campaigns to reach a large international audience.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.
A very brief history of Instagram
Instagram was born in San Francisco in 2010, just after the smartphone boom. As more and more people began using smartphones as their primary cameras, app developers saw an opportunity and created Instagram: an app that allows users to upload, edit, and share smartphone photos with their social network. Now, as smartphones are becoming more complex and sophisticated, Instagram is also growing in its complexity and capability, and in the years since its development, the app has added several features that reflect how its users are using their smartphones.
Instagram is not only available on your smartphone. There is also a desktop version, but it has limited functionality: it can only be used to share content across social media platforms; it is currently incapable of uploading photos or videos. Uploads still must be done from an iOS or Android device.
Why use Instagram for your business?
Instagram is no longer the gallery of teenage selfies and cute animal pictures that it once was. The platform has grown considerably in recent years, and business owners have rightly been looking to Instagram for its marketing opportunities.
Although Instagram still only permits one external link per profile, app developers have created several loopholes and workarounds. There are several handy tools available for download that help ecommerce business owners run their Instagram feed as if it’s a branch of their ecommerce store. Given the huge number of users that are interacting on the Instagram platform every day, a well-curated Instagram business account has the power to expand your customer base, direct new traffic to your site, and drive sales.
Setting up Instagram for your business
Let’s start with the obvious: you need an Instagram account, specifically a business account. This account gives you access to every aspect of Instagram: a profile, access to other profiles, and the ability to interact with other users. If you are familiar with the mechanics of other social networks, then Instagram will appear straightforward: other users can follow you, you can follow them, and you can like or comment on posts, tag or @mention other users, or send private messages.
Download the app
To begin, you’ll need to download the Instagram app and sign up.
Because Instagram was developed for smartphones, it prefers smartphones, and you’ll therefore have to download the app on your smartphone. You can find it for free in the Apple App store or Google Play store.
There are two ways for you to sign up, or create your Instagram account:
You can link your Instagram account to your Facebook account, in which case your name and profile photo will be automatically added.
You can sign up with an email address.
In both cases you will be asked to create a username (your “handle”) and choose a password. If you choose the first option, and sign up through Facebook, you’ll probably be asked if you’d like to connect with your Facebook friends that are already on Instagram. If you don’t want to do this now, don’t worry, you can come back to it at any time.
Note that Instagram has both personal and business accounts. You will want to open a business account so that you can take advantage of many useful tools that can help you grow your business, such as insight and analytics. More on this, below.
Navigating the app
After creating your account, you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the app. Here is a user manual, of sorts, to get you started:
The Home screen
The home screen is your default starting point every time you sign into the app. This screen is where you’ll see a never-ending stream of posts from the users you follow, and the point from which you can access all the app functions that allow you to search for content, create content, interact with the Instagram community, and manage and edit your own profile and feed.
The Timeline tab is the default tab that opens when you open the app and begin on the home screen. This tab displays a feed containing:
- Your timeline: This is a long feed of all of your posts in chronological order.
- Your Stories – displays your images/video that you have made into ‘stories’, which disappear from your account after 24 hours (more about this below)
- Add to your story –allows you to add new photos or video (Boomerang or hands-free) to your existing stories.
You can access the Search tab by clicking on the icon of the magnifying glass. In this tab, you’re able to search by username, hashtag, or content type. These searches are great ways to find brands that are similar to yours, which will lead you to potential new followers. You can also use the search function to see which hashtags are trending. Trending hashtags will help you identify what content is popular, so that you can tweak your feed accordingly. Content is the currency of Instagram marketing, so it will help you gain popularity if you know what type and style of content to post.
Within the Search tab, you can search within three categories: people, places, and tags. If you don’t select a search category, your search results will be automatically filtered by popularity, based on your search term.
Finally, you may also search Stories (to see content from the past 24 hours) or recommended content, which is automatically displayed in the feed below the Stories bar.
Create content tab
This is the middle tab on the bottom bar of the app, marked with a plus sign. This is the tab where you will upload content to your account, so once your account is active, you will use this feature frequently.
You can share a few different types of content on Instagram, including: photos and videos that you upload from your library and caption; second-long Boomerang videos that play on a loop; photos that you take instantly, using the camera function; and videos that you can record instantly within the app’s video function. You can also share an Instagram Story, which I will discuss in greater detail below.
The Interactions tab is accessed by clicking on the heart icon. This is where you will find information about the interactions you’ve had with other Instagrammers that you’re connected with. The key to successful marketing on Instagram is to build your community, and the Interactions tab conveniently allows you to observe how you interact with that community. Understanding how other Instagrammers respond to your account is crucial to developing and improving your marketing strategy.
Within the Interactions tab are two sub-categories of tabs: “Following” and “You.”
- Following: This tab shows you the activity of other Instagrammers that you follow.
- You: This tab is a comprehensive list of people who have interacted with your account by following you, by liking or commenting on your posts, or by @mentioning or tagging your brand’s account.
The Profile tab is the circular icon on the bottom right of the home screen, that displays your thumbnail profile picture. This tab gives you access to important functional features of your account, such as your account settings and the ability to edit your profile. It also gives you an overview of your activity, access to archived posts, and provides a tool to discover other users and connect with your existing phone/Facebook contacts.
Here you can also:
- See your followers and who you are following
- View your content, in either of two layouts
- View the posts you’ve been tagged in
- View your saved content
- Check your content timeline
- Adjust your settings for both standard posts and Stories
- Check performance analytics (these will help you monitor and understand the number of views your posts attract, which will help you tailor your marketing strategy)
Direct messages tab
You can access direct messages by tapping on the triangular paper airplane icon in the top right corner of the home screen. Here, you can send personal messages to other Instagram users, including your current followers, accounts you follow, or potential new followers. Direct messages can help you connect with other Instagrammers on a more personal level, which will help you build community.
Messages can be sent to a single user or group of people, and in either case, a message thread between the users will be created and stored in your Direct messages tab. All of the messages you’ve sent and received can be accessed here.
The type of content you can send in a direct message includes:
- Photos or videos you upload from your smartphone or take within the app
- Disappearing photos and videos
- Content posted by other Instagrammers
- Links to other profiles
- Plain text messages
Now that you have a better understanding of how to navigate the app, let’s discuss how you can use it to create better opportunities for your ecommerce business.
Optimizing your Instagram account for business
Because Instagram is a visual-content platform, it is of course important that the content you post is visually appealing. But you’re not joining Instagram simply to curate a beautiful feed; you’re joining Instagram because you want to grow your business. Therefore, it’s important that you optimize your account to ensure that Instagram is actually helping you market your product to your target audience and reach your business goals. To that end, posting beautiful content is not enough; need to make use of your profile copy, links, and social network to reach a larger audience and expand your customer base.
Your profile copy
Your profile copy is limited to 150 characters. This is where you should speak directly to your target customers. Tell them how they will benefit from your service or product, and include a call to action!
Your profile link
Instagram posts cannot include active links, and your profile is restricted to one link, so you’ll optimizing your profile link is a must. Use the Short URL tool in Google to create a branded link and then link it to a stoppable Instagram page – where your followers are connected instantly to your products and are able to purchase them. This will help increase traffic to, and conversions in, your ecommerce store.
Your profile image
Instagram also only allows one profile image, rather than the scrollable album of profile photos you’ll find on Facebook. For this reason, your profile picture is important. It will come up as the thumbnail image alongside your username every time you interact with other Instagrammers on the platform. Many ecommerce stores use their brand logo as their profile image, and if yours is bright and clean, you’ll want to do the same. The image should be 110 pixels x 110 pixels and attention-grabbing.
Your social media accounts
To optimize your Instagram business account, ensure that all of your social accounts are linked to your Instagram account. This includes Facebook (which should be linked automatically), Snapchat, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. Linking your accounts will help you reach the maximum possible audience with your content.
Your comment settings
The main way to optimize your comment settings is to hide inappropriate comments. This is unlikely to be a major issue for you, but the occasional troll does exist, and his or her comments can damage your brand image if the comments become too “noisy” and go unchecked.
Converting a personal account into a business account
As I mentioned earlier, Instagram has two types of account: personal and business. Maybe you already have a personal account on Instagram, and rather than create a new business account, you’d like to convert your existing personal account to a business account. This is simple, and can be achieved by following these steps:
In your Profile tab, click Settings, then select Switch to Business Profile.
Next, you’ll be prompted to link your Instagram account to your business’s Facebook page. On the Connect Your Facebook Page screen, you will see a list of all of the Facebook pages on which you are an administrator. From there, choose the page you want to connect to your Instagram business account.
Next, you’ll come to a page to Set Up Your Business Profile. Here, review, and if necessary, amend the contact information for your business.
Click Done to finish.
Voila! Your Instagram business account is up and running.
Using Instagram to expand your business
Now that you’ve successfully setup your account, it’s time to talk marketing. Luckily for you, there are many resources available that can help you develop a successful Instagram marketing strategy, one of which is my Instagram marketing strategy post, which takes you step-by-step from setting goals to growing sales, all while helping you measure and analyze your results. Don’t be discouraged by the amount of work you will need to dedicate to this part of the process; creating a successful Instagram marketing strategy is hard work, but the payoff is absolutely worth the effort.
Here is how you should approach the task of creating your Instagram marketing strategy, in seven basic steps:
- Establish clear business objectives. What are your goals? To increase site traffic? Sell more of your product? Increase brand awareness? Be specific.
- Know your target audience. Who are you marketing to? Define this group clearly so that you can find new followers more easily.
- Optimize your Instagram business account. How can you use your profile photo, profile copy, link, and other social media accounts to reach more people in your target audience? Follow the instructions discussed above to optimize your image, copy, and link.
- Develop a content marketing strategy. – using all the types of content and all the marketing tools available to you
- Develop a content calendar. What content are you presenting to your target audience and when? Utilize templates that help you create content more quickly and easily, and use tools that help automate the posting process. You want to make sure your posts provide an interesting mix of content that appears regularly in your followers’ feeds.
- Grow your account. How can you increase your following and build your community? Consider how to use the follow/unfollow, like, comment, and direct message features to grow your following.
- Measure and analyze your results. How are you doing? Are you hitting your business goals? Use the numerous resources and tools available to you to measure your results and tweak your strategy based on your progress and lessons learned.
This seven-point list is just a quick summary of how to approach your Instagram strategy; if you’ve hit a wall, or are stuck on your strategy, please take a look at the much more detailed post I linked above.
Next, it’s time to discuss what should be the focal point of your Instagram marketing strategy: creating content that engages your followers.
Creating top content
Creating content that drives other users to interact with your account is the key to any Instagram marketing strategy. Here, I will teach you about the three main elements of content creation: what content to create; how to optimize your content to grow your following; and how to interact with other users’ content to build community.
As discussed earlier, Instagram is a mobile-first app which allows you to post several different types of content, namely different variations of photos and videos that are either uploaded from your library or created within the app.
From your library
Because Instagram was designed to be used with a smartphone, your content must be uploaded directly from your phone. You can upload a photo or video from your library by opening the Create content tab and selecting the Library option at the bottom left of the screen. From here, you can use any photo or video in your library—for example, a photo of a customer using your product, or a video you took last month at a marketing event. To help organize the media you share from your library, consider creating a special album within your smartphone photos app. Once you’re in the Create content tab, choose Library, and access your photo albums by tapping the drop-down menu at the top of the screen.
Another way to share photos is by selecting the Photo option in the Create content tab. This option allows you to shoot a new photo on the spot, using the camera built into the Instagram app. This feature is useful if you want to share a photo of a spontaneous moment, for example, a behind-the-scenes photo from your business office. Most content you will see on Instagram will be in photo form. Note that if you take a photo within the app using the Photo option, photo will be automatically uploaded in the shape of a square. However, if you upload a photo using the Library, you will have the option to post the photo as a square or rectangle.
As Instagram continues to gain popularity, especially among video-hungry millennials, video posts are becoming more and more common. Whether you upload a video from your library, or use the Video function to shoot a video in the moment, sharing video content is a great way to tell the story of your brand in an impactful way. You can even now shoot and post live video, as I will discuss in more detail below.
User-generated content (UGC)
User-generated content, or UGC is a very useful way to bring attention to your brand. UGC is content created for your brand by other Instagrammers, and there is no one better suited to market and sell your product than the people who use it and love it. For this reason, UGC should be something you consider when creating your Instagram marketing strategy.
Here’s an example of how it works: let’s look at GoPro as an example: GoPro’s Instagram business page hosts a daily “Photo of the Day” contest, in which they post a user-generated photo every day that showcases the different ways that people are using GoPro products. By featuring its followers’ photos, GoPro not only receives new UGC every day, but it showcases its products and their uses while engaging its community in a fun and interactive contest. By following this model, GoPro was able to use UGC to help grow its audience to over 11 million followers. No wonder UGC is a core component of successful business accounts!
Other types of content
Beyond the types of content discussed above, there are several other types of content that you can create and share to diversify your account, expanding your Instagram following, and grow your business. In addition to standard product shots, consider featuring the following types of content to attract new followers:
- UGC (as discussed above)
- Behind-the-scenes images and videos displaying company culture or product development
- Introduction to the team
- Customer experiences and stories
- Creative product showcase
- Educational information
- Fun/lifestyle shots of your product in the world
- Guest posts by celebrities or famous Instagrammers who take over your account for a day
- Seasonal posts
- Creative video
To see an example of each type of content listed above, please visit this post.
While many third-party apps have created tools to enhance your photos and videos on Instagram, the Instagram app itself also offers features that allow you to personalize your content to make your images more unique and shareable.
Adding a caption to your post is a great way to provide information directly to your target audience. Instagram permits 2,200 characters per caption, and you should use these characters to communicate information about your product, ask questions that engage your community, or put out a call to action. This space will also include the hashtags, emojis, and/or @mentions that you use to interact with your followers and target audience. Instagram defaults to displaying only the first three lines of your caption, so fill this space wisely; to see the remaining lines of the caption, users must actively click “more.”
Hashtags are an essential component of any successful Instagram marketing plan, and are created simply by including the symbol # before a word or string of words. Hashtags make your photos and videos searchable, thereby enabling your content to reach more potential customers. By captioning your content with trending hashtags, you can direct traffic to your profile and ecommerce store, thereby driving sales.
The Instagram Stories feature has recently become an incredibly popular way for Instagram users to connect and communicate with their following. Everyone from clothing designers to fitness coaches are using Stories to share new products and product updates with their community. Stories serves more or less as a subsidiary feed to the main feed you see on your Timeline tab, and rests at the very top of your Timeline tab.
Your Stories appear as a slideshow of either photos, videos, or both. This content is available for only 24 hours, after which time it disappears. Using Instagram Stories to deliver your content to your followers adds variety to your feed, and is useful to engage the growing number of users that prefer using Stories to view their favorite users’ content.
You will know when a user you follow has added a Story because a colorful ring will appear around their profile image on the top Stories bar. To view the Story, simply tap the thumbnail image of the user. To publish a Story yourself, tap your own circular image on the left of the Stories bar or swipe right on the Timeline tab. From here you will see familiar content types, as well as tools to enhance your content, such as text, stickers, and filters, which I will discuss more below. You can add to your Story by clicking on your profile image within the Profile tab.
In addition to the content enhancers discussed below, Stories includes several other features that allow you to personalize your content to give it more character and originality. Within each of these functions, you can save the content you’ve created to your library, and either post it as part of your Story or independently, as standalone content.
This feature allows you to film video live, and feature it on your Instagram Story. Instagram will notify your followers that you’ve started a live video by marking your circular icon in the Stories bar with a “LIVE” tag.
The Boomerang feature allows you to create a one-second-long video that is played forwards and backwards on a loop. While you can record your Boomerang video directly within the Stories function, you can also add any Boomerang video you’ve created in the past 24 hours to your Story.
Rewind is a feature that allows you to record a video, which is then played backwards. Hand-free allows you to record video with a single tap, rather than pressing and holding down the video button as is required when recording video within the Create content > Video tab. Hands-free is a useful tool if you need to record video while busy or on-the-go.
Stickers are another content-enhancer that add originality to your posts. Stickers allow you to adorn your photos with a variety of topical icons—from tags with the current location or weather, to trendy catchphrases, to decorative labels for special occasions such as a birthday. These icons provide context about the photo or video you’ve shared. There is also an assortment of stickers that allow you to accessorize an image with different hats and glasses that you can adjust in size to fit your image. You can use any number of these stickers in conjunction to make your content more relevant or more eye-catching. To access your stickers, enter the Stories function, tap Normal, and click on the smiling face icon in the top right corner of the screen.
Another way to personalize your posts is to use the draw function to mark images or videos with text or doodles that you draw yourself. You can draw with several different sizes and styles of pens in an assortment of widths and colors. To access the draw feature, enter Stories, choose the Normal option, and tap the marker icon in the top right corner of the screen.
You can add text to both photo and video content you share on Instagram. You can enter this text by using your smartphone’s keyboard to type directly on screen. This feature provides a variety of colors, orientations, and background color options to choose for your text box, all of which you can access within the Stories function > Normal option, by tapping on the “Aa” image in the top right corner of the screen. You can use this function to add context or meaning to your images or videos.
One final way to enhance your content is to share it across other social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. By sharing your photos and videos across social networks, you expand the reach of your content, thereby building your community and finding new customers. To make cross-network sharing easier, link your social media accounts. You can do this within in the Profile tab by entering Settings > Linked Accounts and selecting which networks you’d like to link to your Instagram business account. From then on, each time you reach the New Post page, you’ll have the ability to share your content across platforms.
Interacting with content
As mentioned earlier in the post, if you want to use Instagram to build your ecommerce business, it is simply not enough to produce beautiful, high-quality content. You should view this content as a stepping stone toward your business goals. To reach these goals, you will need to both create visually appealing content and also build and actively engage your Instagram community. Instagram gives you many ways to engage your audience, and successful brands utilize all of them.
Liking other users’ content is certainly the quickest and easiest way to connect with other Instagrammers. To like another users’ post, simply double tap the photo or video. You can also like posts by tapping the heart icon below the post. To revisit the posts you’ve liked, go to your Profile tab > Settings > Posts You’ve Liked.
Commenting on another Instagrammer’s content is one step up from liking it. You can assume that a kind or positive comment on another user’s post will be appreciated. Taking the time to engage with your community will not only help you create a positive brand image, but it will likely also increase the amount of likes and comments you receive on your own posts. To comment on a post, tap the blurb icon to the right of the heart icon below the post. Type your comment into the space provided and click “Post” to submit the comment.
Typing the “at sign” or “@” before a username serves to tag that user. You can use this function in a post caption or in a comment, and once the user is mentioned, they will be notified of the mention in their Interactions tab. This function is very easy to use; once you type the “@,” Instagram will suggest a list of users to mention, based on the subsequent letters you type. This saves you from burdensome task of remembering the handles of countless users you want to engage with.
While tagging is similar to the @Mention function in that both functions serve to tag another Instagrammer, tagging is slightly different because tags appear in users’ profiles. With respect to the tagging function, it is common Instagram etiquette to tag users whose content you feature on your own page (as in the case of UGC). This tag ensures that your post featuring their content appears on their profile. To tag another user, simply create your content as normal, and on the New Post screen, click Tag People. From there, tap anywhere on the photo to bring up a search bar that will allow you to search user names. Tagged photos will include an icon in the bottom left corner. Other users viewing this photo can tap the photo once to show a list of all Instagrammers tagged in the post.
As discussed above, you can interact with your Instagram community by sending direct private messages. The quickest way to access the Direct Messages screen is through the triangular paper airplane icon in the top right corner of the home screen. Within direct messages, you can send users any of the types of content you are able to post. If a user is not already following you, they will be required to confirm that they accept messages from you before viewing the message.
Though we already discussed the importance of hashtags, it’s worth mentioning again, as hashtags are a major way that brands are discovered on Instagram. Because users can both search by hashtags and click on caption hashtags to see a list of all other posts that use the same hashtag, this feature has the potential to really expand your following. Therefore, it’s important to include commonly searched and trending hashtags that are relevant to your brand in your posts. Instagram permits up to 30 hashtags per caption, but once you find the appropriate hashtags, trust that less is more. Also, make sure you include only letters and/or numbers in your hashtag; don’t use other symbols.
A geotag is essentially a location tag added to a post or Instagram Story. In the case of a normal photo or video, the location tag appears above the post, below your username. The utility of this feature is obvious: once a location is tagged, any other Instagrammer can tap on that geotag to see a list of all other posts tagged with that same location. If you’re a brand with a predominantly local following, or if your ecommerce business also has a brick and mortar location, geotags will be a useful way to communicate to your following that you have a physical address. Once users click on the geotag, they will be given the option to open the location in their smartphone’s map function.
To use geotags in Instagram Stories, open the Stories feature, select Normal mode, click on the smiling face Stickers icon in the top right corner of the screen, and select the Location sticker.
Adding Instagram content to your website
As you now know, because Instagram is a mobile-first app, its functionality is limited in its web version. However, there are many reasons that you’ll want to share your Instagram content by embedding your images and videos on your ecommerce website. First, a regular output of new content helps your website SEO. Second, sharing your Instagram content on your ecommerce site and store informs your site visitors that you have an Instagram account, thus growing your audience, following, and customer base.
One simple way to embed your Instagram content on your ecommerce site is by using SnapWidget, a tool that easily integrates with Shopify. There are several versions of the tool available, based on your specific business needs.
Some final tips
Now that you’ve learned the basics of getting your Instagram business account up and running, your next step should be transforming your Instagram account into your main ecommerce marketing tool, and this requires much more work than simply setting up the account and understanding the basics of how to use the app. To really take advantage of the benefits of Instagram marketing, you’ll want to take a look at how the most successful Instagram businesses have used the app to drive sales. For a full list of Instagram marketing tips for business, click here. I’ve highlighted the five best tips below:
Use a content calendar
SkedSocial is a content-scheduling calendar that was developed specifically for Instagram business accounts. Use this app to efficiently plan and automate the content you share to your page.
Speaking of content, there’s no better content than that created by already-loyal fans. Simply put, no one is more capable of successfully marketing your product than your existing customers. People who love your products have the unique ability to convey passion and enthusiasm for your brand in a truly authentic way, which is the key to social media marketing. Yotpo is a mobile app designed to grow your reviews and other UGC, which will be key components of your marketing strategy.
Building on the topic of UGC, hosting competitions is a tried-and-true way to engage and excite your community of followers. Wyng is an app that helps you run competitions and other types of campaigns that drive engagement and interaction with your page and amp up UGC.
Shoutouts are a way of interacting with similar brands in order to expand your audience, grow your following, and drive more traffic to your ecommerce site. To request a shoutout, mention or tag a brand that has a similar audience, but a bigger following and a different product.
Make your feed shoppable
At the end of the day, the goal of your Instagram business account is to generate sales in your online store. Foursixty is a tool that will help your convert your own content and UGC into a shoppable catalog for your ecommerce site by providing your followers with direct access to your products. Curalate is a multi-channel marketing platform with a Like2Buy app that creates shoppable content.
Setting expectations for engagement
Now that you’ve learned how to create the conditions that allow for the maximum engagement from your existing community and new, potential followers, how can you assess your engagement levels on Instagram? This is a common question, and of course the answer is different for each brand, but it’s helpful to look at some statistics to have some benchmarks that can help you track your progress. Last year, Track Maven reported that, with respect to Fortune 500 companies on Instagram, 37 total likes and comments were received, per post, for every 1,000 followers. As an example, if 500 users follow your business page, you can expect 19 likes and comments per post. If you have 1,500 followers, aim for 56 likes and comments per post. Remember that this study applied to big brands, and also remember that likes are more common than comments because they are less time-consuming. To this point, some studies estimated that business page posts receive 100 likes for every comment.