Posted: Tue 19th Mar 2019
Instagram now has one billion active users and more than half use the site every day. That means more small businesses are using the platform to show their brand off to potential customers than ever.
How can you get more sales through the platform? In this blog, we look at how to use Instagram's tools for business, building a following and converting fans into customers.
Use the tools that are available to you
Claire Russell, founder of children's play brand playHOORAY, has grown her business's Instagram account to over 58,000 followers. It fast became Claire's favourite platform because of the tools it offers and the popularity with her customers.
She bought into video a few years ago, rightly believing it would increase in importance. This meant pushing herself to become more comfortable speaking on camera. She started talking for short amounts of time without showing her face and built up from there.
"I'm actually a pretty shy person but I have practised using video and I'm passionate about what I talk about. It's helped me to engage and support my community. My followers can rely on me to be there live at 10am every weekday and I think that has helped set me apart from my competition!"
These live videos appear on Facebook and Instagram at the same time.
Think about how regularly you're going to post
Claire posts on Instagram two or three times a day during the week but less at the weekends. She said consistency is important but it's OK if you miss a post.
The timing is based on her audience's routines. It starts at 7am when a lot of parents get up and are scrolling to look for something to do with the kids that day.
She posts a video mid-afternoon because "anyone with little ones at home knows how long the afternoons can be". Finally, there's a post at approximately 8pm once the kids are in bed and people are looking at Instagram again.
"I'm primarily helping parents. Being a parent to a young child myself, I know how I like to use Instagram, so I try to make it as useful and easy as possible."
Publishing posts when your audience is most active helps optimise your account for Instagram search. Business profiles allow you to check the days and hours your followers are most active, providing an opportunity to post at the most effective time.
Ideas for content can be split between social media platforms and website blog posts. This helps drive traffic back to your website where it's easier to convert. For example, Claire uses conversation starters on Instagram that point people to a blog post with more detail.
Instagram doesn't allow you to post clickable links in posts so Claire updates her profile link to point people to what's relevant to the current posts. If you're including a single link in your profile, using link shortening tool Bitly will allow you to track traffic.
Linktree is a great tool which lets you creates an Instagram-friendly list of links. This means you can promote a number of products and other content that's relevant to your Instagram posts. It provides statistics on link clicks.
How quickly do business Instagram accounts grow?
Claire said the playHOORAY! account grew to nearly 60,000 followers organically and that there was no step-change in growth.
"I began with the intention of sharing simple play ideas to inspire fellow parents. As it grew, it changed to a business account but I'm still posting with the intention of supporting and inspiring others."
She added that there have been periods of time when the account's growth slowed or posts weren't being interacted with as much. She believes this is in part due to the algorithms but avoids fretting about it and continues with the approach that's been working so far.
Conveying your business's brand on Instagram
Brands often pick colours and image themes to tie their Instagram posts together. This makes the profile page feel uniform and helps followers identify their posts when they're scrolling.
Claire knows the benefit of having clear branding but said it's difficult to stick to. This is partly because she doesn't schedule posts in advance. However, she has implemented themed days, which encourage her audience to check-in regularly.
Baby Play Monday has been really popular as people are planning what to do with their baby for the week, for example.
These are important on Instagram and help to spread the word about your business as people will keep track of posts using hashtags that interest them. You can use up to 30 hashtags in a post on the main grid.
Search for hashtags that are very relevant to your business. Apps like Preview help you to find the best hashtags to use.
When selecting a hashtag, Instagram will show you how many posts have been published using it. If your chosen hashtag has millions of posts, it might be better to select a less popular but more relevant one as you have a better chance of being seen.
The Instagram app also allows you to follow hashtags so you can keep an eye on what's being posted and talked about in conversations relevant to your business.
Watch this video with social media consultant Laurie Wang for more Instagram tips, including building a loyal following, converting followers into customers and Instagram hacks to improve results:
Converting Instagram followers into customers
Social media consultant and Enterprise Nation member Laurie Wang believes converting social media followers to customers is a long-term play. "Social media is a brand-building platform," she says in the video interview above.
Laurie advocates providing useful information on a regular basis to build your reputation.
"As the like and trust factor increases, you can convert them. Give them loyalty offers. Give them an Instagram-specific offer."
She offers subscribers incentives to click through to her website, such as a free downloadable course.
Laurie adds that it's become more common for people to look at social media when researching what product to buy.
Instagram is Claire Russell's key marketing channel and 89% of her website traffic is from social media. Her main product is playPROMPTS and she uses Instagram Stories, the feature on Instagram which allows you to add images and videos which remain live for 24 hours, to show how they are used in everyday life and provide a behind the scenes look at how they're created.
Another feature for Stories is Highlights, which allows you to group together particular images and videos in themes. These don't automatically disappear and remain on your profile.
Claire uses Highlights to make sure anyone viewing her profile sees the key things she wants to promote including products, her podcast and app.
Once you reach 10,000 followers, Instagram allows you to add direct links to Stories, If you swipe up on playPROMPTS Stories, it takes you straight to the purchase or subscribe pages.
If you're a product business, Instagram lets you tag products with a link to where people can buy them within a post.
Answering questions and building a community
Laurie Wang stresses the benefit of answering comments.
"They are more likely to buy once their questions have been answered. Being real-time and human is so important."
Claire Russell built her social strategy around the strength of the community. Parents support each other, with some even volunteering to manage Facebook groups. That doesn't mean it's been easy to deal with detractors on the platform.
"It's tricky. As I've grown, I do fear negative comments as they often put doubt in your mind. I have to remember I'm an expert in my field and know what I'm talking about.
"Not everyone will agree and that's bound to happen. I try my very best to answer all comments and DMs but it is time-consuming."
Every small business needs to build trust with its customers. It might be about establishing yourself as an industry expert or demonstrating the strength of a product.