Instagram is a leading photo-based social media platform, but it does more than keep you up to date on your friends’ adventures. Influencers and small businesses use Instagram as a tool for audience connection, engagement and sales.
Instagram’s robust business features are available only if you create a business or creator account. We’ll explore setting up your Instagram business account and show you how to take advantage of Instagram’s top connection, engagement and sales tools.
How to use Instagram for business
Between posts, ads and stories, there’s no shortage of potential small business marketing tools on Instagram. Here are some basics to help you start using Instagram for business.
1. Add professional-looking photos.
Instagram is a photo-sharing social media platform, so it’s essential to share visually engaging content. Generic photos won’t cut it. Take photos, edit them and take time to ensure you’re creating a cohesive grid on Instagram.
To add a new photo post:
- Tap Create (plus sign) at the top of your screen.
- Select Post.
- Tap the camera icon to take a new photo, or select a photo from your camera roll.
- Tap Next to choose filters and edit options.
- Tap Next and then write a caption, tag people and add a location.
- Optionally, choose to share the post to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
- Tap Advanced Settings to control like and view count visibility, turn off commenting, and more.
- When you’re satisfied, tap Share to share your photo post.
To prevent copyright infringement on social media sites like Instagram, only post images that you’ve taken yourself or received explicit permission to use.
2. Use Instagram Stories.
Instagram Stories is a popular feature for personal accounts and business profiles. Instagram Stories comprise photos, videos and more that disappear 24 hours after posting them.
Instagram Stories lets you create a vibrant montage that can grab viewers’ attention and present more information than a traditional post. You can use recorded videos, still photos, live videos, boomerangs (videos that loop back and forth), text, music and focused photos.
Add stickers to show your location, the temperature, user tags and hashtags.
Interact with your viewers by creating polls and inviting questions, making it easy to collect valuable feedback. For example, some accounts use the questions feature to hold a weekly Ask Me Anything session, a fun way to answer common questions.
Use Instagram’s Stories Highlights feature to create categorized stores that stay on your profile so viewers can go back and watch them.
3. Stream live videos.
In addition to Instagram Stories, users can take and stream live video that disappears – sort of like a cross between Facebook Live and Snapchat. Give customers a live look behind the scenes of exciting aspects of your business, show products or answer live questions via the comments.
Once the video ends, it lives in your Instagram story for 24 hours. If you want a video to remain on your Instagram feed, upload a video you’ve taken or shoot one directly through the app to post. If you choose to shoot or upload a video, you can still add filters and change the cover.
4. Interact with your followers.
As with any social media platform, it’s crucial to engage and interact with your followers on Instagram.
- Liking: Liking is an easy way to connect with other users. To like a photo, double-tap the image or tap the heart button under the post.
- Commenting: To comment on a post, tap the comment icon (speech bubble), and the app will take you to that post’s comments page. Type your comment into the text box, add emojis if you like and tap Post.
- Mentioning: As on Twitter, use the @ symbol to tag other users in your Instagram comments or post captions. They’ll be alerted to the mention and may circle back and interact more.
- Tagging: Instagram allows you to add tags before and after posting content. To do so, tap Tag People before sharing your photo, and tap where you want to add the tag in the photo. The app prompts you to type in the person’s name to search for their account. Once you’ve tagged people in your photo and shared the image, other users can tap on the photo to see the tagged people.
- Direct messaging: To access Instagram Direct, go to your home page and tap the Messenger icon on the top right. (Facebook’s Messenger is integrated into Instagram.) Send private instant messages, including photos and videos, to other users. To send a new direct message, tap the notepad button in the top right corner and search for the person or business you want to contact. 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.
5. Use hashtags.
Hashtags are an excellent way to help users find 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 search for hashtags and click on hashtags they see in posts, relevant hashtags can be a highly effective tool for getting noticed. However, ensure you’re using the right hashtags for your brand.
Follow these best practices for hashtags:
- Use relevant hashtags. 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. Look at other established brands or users and bloggers in your industry for examples of what hashtags to use.
- Don’t use excessive hashtags. Instagram allows 30 hashtags in a post or comment (and up to 10 in an Instagram story), but that many would be excessive. The fewer hashtags you can use to get quality responses, the better. Using many 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 interested in your brand, but rather those who saw and liked your image.
- Experiment with hashtags. Once you understand hashtags, 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 an event you’re hosting. This way, customers can follow along with an event, even if they aren’t there in person.
6. Use Instagram Reels.
Instagram Reels are short, entertaining videos that can help you bring your brand to life. Offer a behind-the-scenes tour, or show how your product is made. Add effects and transitions, tag products from your catalog, showcase paid partnerships, and more.
Reels are an excellent way to create a campaign for a specific target customer or expand on an Instagram story’s product or service focus. [Learn more about connecting to your target customers.]
To get started making a Reel, tap Create (plus sign) from your home page and select Reel.
7. Advertise on Instagram.
Like on other social channels, businesses can advertise on Instagram. You have a few options to consider.
To create a new Instagram ad, you choose from three basic formats: photo, video and carousel ads.
- Photo ads: These look like regular photo posts, but they have a Sponsored label above the photo. They also have a call-to-action button at the bottom right of the photo. Many photo ads are boosted posts, where you pay to amplify an existing post’s reach.
- 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.
Of course, you also have other advertising options on Instagram.
- Instagram Stories ads: Instagram Stories ads appear when users tap through other accounts’ stories. Stories ads use the entire device screen, so ensure you’re using a visually captivating image.
- Collection ads: Collection ads feature a main image with a product catalog at the bottom. This is an excellent way to invite viewers to explore your products.
- Explore ads: Explore ads appear on a user’s Explore page, where Instagram presents posts that might appeal to their interests. Explore ads are an excellent way to get your business in front of people likely to be interested in your brand.
When you advertise on Instagram, you can go through the Instagram app or the Facebook Ads Manager (if your account is connected to your business Facebook Page). Both options let you choose your ad’s objective, set an audience base, determine the ad’s budget and set the length of time it will run. Facebook’s Ads manager offers additional configuration, formatting and demographic options. [Related article: What Are Demographics in Marketing?]
Instagram ad objectives include video views, click-throughs to your website, mobile app installations and mass awareness.
Need help with your overall social media marketing strategy? Visit our comprehensive overview of social media marketing solutions. Before paying for a solution, though, develop a marketing budget to figure out what specific services you can afford.
7. Obtain audience insights.
Anyone with a business account can access insights about their audience and engagement levels. In your Instagram business account, open the menu and tap Insights to see metrics on your followers and their activity with your content. On any individual post, tap View Insights to see metrics for that post.
The information you glean from Insights can help you optimize your posting schedule, pinpoint your target audience and find out what’s working.
8. Sell products on Instagram.
Instagram is a great way to start selling online. In November 2020, Instagram added the Shop tab, allowing users to discover and purchase products from brands directly through the app. Instagram’s Shop functionality is likely a response to continuous social media and mobile shopping growth.
You can sell your products under the Shop tab or create shoppable posts by adding product tags to your posts, stories, and reels.
To set up shopping on Instagram:
- Connect your Instagram business account to your Facebook business page.
- Confirm that Instagram supports your market.
- Choose whether you want to set up shop using Facebook’s Commerce Manager or a supported partner like Shopify.
- Create your shop in Commerce Manager or your platform.
To complete a transaction, users enter their name, email address, billing info and shipping address. Meta, Instagram’s parent company, will save that data for future transactions. Users can pay via Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover and PayPal.
To maximize Instagram for your business, connect it to your Facebook business page, interact with other users, use hashtags thoughtfully, post quality photos, and set up a shop.
Here are some common questions about Instagram business accounts.
Are Instagram business accounts free?
Yes, an Instagram business account is free, as are all Instagram accounts. While having an account is free, you’ll need to pay for any ads you run.
What are the benefits of using Instagram for business?
Using Instagram for business can drive brand awareness, boost sales, and build and track audience engagement. It’s an excellent way to find customers where they’re already spending time. It can also provide valuable audience insights to use with all your marketing plan strategies. [Learn how to create a great business marketing plan.]
What are the disadvantages of using Instagram for business?
Although Instagram for business has far more advantages than drawbacks, using it opens your direct messages to just about anyone. That direct line of communication can prove frustrating for certain business owners. Using Instagram for business can also give competitors more insight into your operations.
How do you get paid for Instagram?
The vast majority of Instagram users who get paid for being on the platform are influencers – as in people, not businesses. However, you could monetize your videos with ads or upload lots of shoppable posts. But overall, you’re better off viewing Instagram as a marketing tool or online catalog, not a new revenue stream.
Can I have a business and personal Instagram account?
Yes, you can have both a business and a personal Instagram account. You probably shouldn’t use your personal account for business purposes. Only business accounts have access to several features key to successful Instagram marketing and sales.
What can I sell on Instagram?
You can sell any permitted physical product on Instagram. You’ll likely fare best if you sell beauty, health, fitness, pet, fashion, travel, business or lifestyle products. These categories are consistently the highest sellers on Instagram.
Saige Driver and Kiely Kuligowski contributed to the writing and research in this article.