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December 25, 2021
Dec 25, 2021

How to use Instagram for small business in 2024

Pim de Vos
Written by
instagram guide

Instagram has over 1 billion users monthly with users spending an average of 53 minutes per day on the platform. According to Instagram, 90 percent of users follow at least one business. Not only that, 71 percent of US businesses use Instagram for their business, and Instagram generates over four times more interactions as compared to Facebook.

With stats like that, you don’t want to miss out on these potential consumers. You can’t afford to let your competitors have these consumers all to themselves. In this guide, we’re going to talk about how you can get the most out of Instagram for your small business and stay one step ahead of your competitors.

We’ve put together a complete guide on how to get the most out of Instagram for your small business. It’s a lot, so we’re going to break it down into manageable, actionable steps you can take to make the most of Instagram.

These are the four sections we’re going to cover:

1.      Identifying your customers and lookalike customers on Instagram

2.      Auditing your competitors' content, engagement, and customer service on Instagram

3.      Building and running your business content calendar on Instagram

4.  Interacting with your customers on Instagram and converting them into customers.

Part 1: Identifying your customers and lookalike customers on Instagram

First, we’re talking about how to identify your customers and lookalike customers, and the importance of hashtags. We’ll close with some action items to get you started. But first, let’s talk about why Instagram is so important.

Instagram is hot and here to stay

Instagram is a social network that allows users to share and edit photos and videos. It was once used mainly by teens and millennials. Now, 71 percent of the active monthly users are under the age of 35. Almost 25 percent are age 35 to 54.

Your business presence on Instagram can leave a lasting impression on consumers. A survey indicated that 83 percent of people discover new products or services while scrolling through Instagram. And 80 percent decide if they will buy a product or service based on what they discover on Instagram.

83% of people discover new product in instagram

If your small business isn’t on Instagram, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to connect with new customers. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Identifying your customers on Instagram

A lot of the guides out there have you start by picking your product or niche.

We’re going to assume you already have a product or service that you want to sell on Instagram. What we want to focus on is that you’re marketing to the right audience.

The purpose of identifying your audience

Identifying your audience consists of two parts: are your current customers on Instagram, and who’s on Instagram that could be your next new customer?

If you discover that your current customers are on a different social platform, you’ll want to focus your social marketing efforts there. If they are on Instagram, you can focus on how to find and target new customers on Instagram and how to make the best use of it for your small business.

When you’ve identified your target audience, you can advertise more effectively and create more engaging organic content. It’s when you target a smaller audience that you can really hone in on the consumers who may want to buy what you’re selling. When you identify your audience, you can also put your resources, such as time and money, toward relevant groups. When you’re targeting a specific audience, you can create messaging that will resonate with them.

The images you use, and the words, should all point towards a somewhat specific age group. For example, you might use an image with a mom in her 30’s if that’s the age group you’re targeting. But if you want to grab the attention of young-at-heart moms, you might use a younger person in the image as well as some language that targets a younger audience.

Either way, you will begin to learn what type of content your audience likes. Do they want to see meme posts, Stories, or Reels? What about polls and questions that engage audience members who like to be active and interact with the brands they follow? When you show them what they want, you’ll be able to build deeper connections and gain their trust and loyalty.

Who is your current audience on Instagram? (AKA How to actually identify your audience)

You want to see who your current audience is on Instagram, too. You’ll look at the insights to see who’s already following you and how they respond to what you’re doing now. You can use your own insights to try to make improvements or adjustments.

In order to view the insights on your Instagram profile, you’ll need to have a professional account. From your account profile, click on insights. Under the insights overview, you can look at accounts reached, accounts engaged, and total followers. You can view the comparison of the last seven days, or change that from a drop-down menu to view the last 14 days, last 30 days, the previous month, or the last 90 days.

It also displays the content that you shared in the chosen time period. You can then click on each individual post and then click on insights for that specific post. In doing that, you’ll see an overview of the interactions for that post; accounts reached, content interactions, and profile activity.

You’ll see a breakdown of the accounts reached that will show you how many of the accounts reached were your followers and how many were non-followers. This is great information because you can start to look at the content type and the hashtags and make a correlation as to how effective your post was at reaching new potential consumers.

I find the total followers to be quite useful. You can see your account’s growth, the location of your followers, the age range, genders, and times they are most active. You can use this information to help you with your posting schedule, to make sure you’re posting when your audience is most active.

How does your Instagram audience align with your total audience?

How does this information compare to your current customer base? Do the insights on your Instagram account point to the same population? Are they in the same age range? If your current customer base matches the demographics found on your Instagram insights, then you’re on the right track.

Now click on a specific image and click on post insights. You can see an overview, followed by reach, impressions, content interactions, and profile activity. The impressions section is interesting because you can see where the impressions are coming from. For example, you can see if they found your post because of the hashtag. This is very useful because if you’re getting a good reach, you can look at what hashtags were used and try using them again.

Content interactions include likes, comments, shares, and saves. Likes are OK, comments are good, but you really want to see that people are sharing and saving your content.

In profile activity, you can see if anyone clicks on your links or if you gain any new followers. This is another useful piece of information because you can try to replicate parts of the post to see what’s working best to grow your audience.

Looking at all of the insights, you can use your current Instagram analytics to help define your audience.

You can also look at the content that has been posted to see how effective each individual post was. Later on, we’re going to talk about your content calendar and we’ll get more into post performance.

Identifying lookalike customers on Instagram

Research indicates that the easiest way to find your lookalike customers is through Facebook ads. If you’re using Facebook for business, you can create a custom audience, and then from the Instagram ads manager, you can create a lookalike audience. Some experts recommend this method, and it does appear to be the most direct route to finding a lookalike audience.

Why do you want a lookalike audience? It’s people who have similar characteristics to your audience. It’s how you will get your ads to reach people who have similar interests as your target audience.

Using hashtags to reach your target audience

I talked earlier about hashtags. But let’s talk about them in more detail. Hashtags are a necessity in social media. By using hashtags, you’ll start to identify your audience by helping them find you.

Let’s look at an example. Say you have a line of graphic t-shirts. But you’re going to want to narrow the search so that you find people who want the kind of t-shirt styles that you have. So, let’s say you have a line of graphic t’s for musicians. Even more specifically, you have a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt. You’re obviously going to hashtag Lynyrd Skynyrd.

When you type the hashtag and the name or word you want to tag, you’ll see the number of public posts for that hashtag, as well as a list of similar posts. For example, #lynyrdskynyrd has 194,236 public posts. Whereas #lynyrdskynyrdband only has 5,039 public posts. If someone does a search for #lynyrdskynyrd, your post could get lost in that sea of 194k posts. But you might have a better chance of being spotted if you add the word band. #Lynyrdskynyrdtshirt has 446 public posts.

Instagram will limit you to 30 hashtags, but that’s a bit overkill. I recommend that you experiment with using 8–10 hashtags per post. As a matter of fact, the average number of hashtags per post is 10.7. So right around 10 hashtags is a good place to be.

If you try to target only people who are interested in graphic t-shirts, you’re going to find a lot of people who might not like what you actually have in stock. You want to niche down to narrow the focus.

Be careful though, because if you use the same hashtags for every post, you’ll be “shadow-banned.” Shadow-banning is when your posts are blocked from being viewed. According to my research, if you use the same hashtags for every post, Instagram will block your posts from being seen or even from being viewed in a hashtag search.

I love hashtags and I love processes and systems. This would be a great place to create a system for rotating your hashtags. If your next graphic t-shirt post is for the Beatles, you’ll have Beatles-related hashtags, but you could also throw in something different, such as #musiclover or #classicrock.

Even if you don’t make a system, which could be tedious, it’s important to mix up the hashtags so you are constantly attracting a different crowd. If they like your post and follow you, then you know that you struck a chord with your viewers and you can re-use some of those hashtags in future posts. And by all means, remember to use branded hashtags so consumers can find YOUR BRAND.

Action items for Part 1 finding your customers on Instagram

  1. Make sure your Instagram account is converted to a professional account. Get familiar with the insights. If you’re having trouble finding things, I’ve noticed that you have a bit more control using your phone than you do on the computer. Social media apps are an ever-evolving thing, so just keep in mind that you can see different things from your phone versus computer.
  1. Identify your target audience and narrow it down further so that you are targeting a smaller subsection of your audience. Having a narrowed focus will help you reach an audience that is more interested in your product or service.

  2. Open up a blank Google spreadsheet and start a list of hashtags that you can use to help reach your audience.

  3. Go into your Instagram business account and post something. Ask for a response in the text, for example, “like it or love it?” Or “yay or nay?” Remember to use 8–10 hashtags to draw people to your post.

Next, we’re going to talk about auditing your competitors' content, engagement, and customer service on Instagram.

Part 2: Auditing your competitors' content, engagement, and customer service on Instagram

In the second quarter of 2020, Instagram was the fifth most downloaded app worldwide. This was at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, and the number one downloaded app was Zoom.

People needed more and different ways to communicate, socialize, and shop. Not surprisingly, Instagram became wildly more popular than anticipated and passed the 1 billion monthly-active-users mark about a year before expected.

We’ve put together a complete guide on how to get the most out of Instagram for your small business. In the previous section, we talked about identifying your target audience to ensure that you’re marketing to the right people.

In this part of the guide, we’re talking about finding your competitors and auditing their content, engagement, and customer service on the platform. You need to be better than your competitors, so first you need to find out what they’re doing.

insta guide

Finding and identifying your competitors on Instagram

If you sold athletic shoes, you might say that Nike and Adidas are competitors. If you’re a specialty brand, maybe you have smaller competitors. Either way, most small business owners know who their competitors are. Are they on Instagram?

Many blog posts say you have to use specialized tools to find your competitors on Instagram. I don’t buy it. And I don’t want to buy those services. Let’s look at some crafty ways to find your competitors. This first list is based on already knowing your competitors:

·         Make a list of your competitors, big and small. As in the athletic shoe example, list the big fish and the small specialty brands, too, especially if that’s more of a direct competitor.

·         Now look on Instagram to find them. Are they there? Do you like their profiles? What do you think is working for them? Is it something you can incorporate into your own brand profile?

·         Look at the hashtags that they use. Add them to your list. You might even break it out like a chart, so you know what competitor is using what hashtags.

·         Look at their followers. Is there anyone with a lot of followers that maybe you should follow?

You have to have a decent grasp on who you want to target. What products or services are you selling? This list is based on knowing the hashtags that you want to identify with and that you want to compete for:

·         Open up Instagram and go to the search bar.

·         Type in one of the hashtags that you want to use. You’ll see posts from other people or businesses who use that hashtag.

·         Click on a post that looks like something your business would post, or any post that catches your eye.

·         These are posts from your competitors. You’ll want to look at several of them.

·         Open up the Google sheet with your hashtag list. You’ll find new hashtags by seeing what other hashtags your competitors are using.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re selling a virtual service, and one of your regular hashtags is #virtualassistant. Open Instagram and type “virtual assistant” in the search bar. Do you see any posts that look like your posts? Click on one of them. You’ll see the text and all of the hashtags that they use.

Exit out of that post and click on another one. What other hashtags do they use on their posts? Make note of anything that they do that you like and want to try to replicate.

You’re not trying to blatantly mimic your competitor. You’re simply trying to see what they do that you think works well. These are things that you can try when creating content for your brand.

Auditing your competitors

To say you’re going to audit your competitors means that you’re going to examine their content, style, engagement, and customer service. You want to analyze what they’re doing and find how your brand differs from theirs. You need to know what they’re doing so that you can make sure your brand stands out.

Make sure you’re staying true to your brand voice and style. What do you like about their content? What do you dislike? Are they falling short in any areas where you can learn from their mistakes? Take what you uncover about your competitors, add the voice and style of your brand, and stand tall next to your competitors.

It’s OK to interact with your competitors. If you comment on your competitors’ posts, their followers will see you too. You might agree with something they say. Go ahead and give them credit where credit is due. Compliment them. Keep your interactions positive and tactful. Make sure you are adding value whenever possible and remember to stay true to the voice of your brand.

Action items for Part 2 of Instagram for small business

  1. Go to the search bar in Instagram and search your known competitors.
  2. Now search some hashtags to find other competitors.
  3. Follow some competitors and learn from them. Discover how you can stand out.
  4. Add new hashtags to your list that your competitors are using. Think about how you want to compete against them.

Next, we’re going to talk about building and running your business content calendar on Instagram.

Part 3: Building and running your business content calendar on Instagram

In part 1 of this guide, we talked about identifying your target audience. In part 2, we talked about identifying your competitors and auditing them. Now we’re going to talk about building and running your business content calendar on Instagram.

Why Instagram

In 2016, Instagram introduced Instagram Stories, which allows users to add photos and videos that are only visible for 24 hours before they disappear. Instagram stories helped to increase the popularity of Instagram, and one-third of the most viewed stories are published by businesses.

Instagram stories allow for the repurposing of your blog content and help your brand reach more potential consumers. Based on this information, you will definitely want to add Instagram stories to your content calendar.

Building and managing your content calendar

So far, you’ve identified your customers and lookalike customers. You’ve also identified and analyzed your competitors. Now you need to build your own content calendar.

To do this, you can use the same workbook where you started to build your hashtag list. Open up a new tab and name it by the month and year.

Here are the key elements to include in your content calendar:

●     Date and time. This is the day, date, and time you want to post.

●     Text. This is the actual text for the post.

●     Link. You’ll want to include a link to your product, a blog post, or whatever you’re trying to promote. In Instagram, you can include a link in the text, but it won’t be clickable unless you boost the post and create an ad. But that’s OK because people know they need to copy and paste the URL into a new tab, so make sure you include a link so they can take action.

●     Images. Include a link to the image or images. You can create a folder to store all your content images.

●     Hashtags. Make a list of the hashtags you will use.

●     Who’s responsible for posting it. If you have multiple people who might be posting content, it’s a good idea to say exactly who is posting it.

●     Notes. Use this cell to note the impressions, especially if a post performs really well.

You’ll want to post at least once per day, but no more than three posts on any given day. You can observe and maybe make some notes on what your competitors are posting. But remember, you’re trying to stand out from your competition, not duplicate them. Maybe every other day you’ll post twice and on odd days, post three times. Mix it up and experiment with it.


How to use your content calendar to improve your engagement and conversions

In part 1 of this series, we talked about identifying your audience. When you look at the insights for your Instagram account, you can see who is most interested in your content. You can actually look at each individual post to see how effective it was at engaging with your audience.

We always talk about reviewing your processes. This is no different. At the end of the month, I recommend that you review each post and go back to your content calendar and highlight the posts that created the kind of engagement that you want.

Use this to help create new content that mimics or has similar characteristics as the posts that you have identified as effective. Take these characteristics and make sure you are including them in your content calendar for the next month.

For example, let’s say you had a post that did particularly well. It had several likes, comments, you gained new followers, and you had click-throughs.

1.    First, highlight it in your content calendar so you can reference it again in the future. In the note column, you can add a reference, like (1), (2), (3), and so on, or use a subscript text or italicize it. Basically, you’re numbering it so you can tie it together when you try it again next month.

2.    Now analyze it. Did you use a different hashtag that is new for your brand? Was it a black and white image or was there something remarkably different about the images? What were the comments about? Was there a clear CTA that prompted them to click on a link or click through?

3.    Take all these notable points and add them to different posts in your content calendar for the next month. In the notes column for the new month, add the same reference number you gave it in the original month. This ties them together and when you look at your content’s performance at the end of the second month, you can see if any of the notable items performed well again.

Try adding different types of content to see what kind of different engagement you receive. You can add a post, reel, story, story highlight, live, or guide.

Action items for Part 3 creating your content calendar

  1. Open the Google spreadsheet that you started listing your hashtags and add a new sheet to create your calendar. Across the top, add all of the items listed above: date and time, text, link, images, hashtags, responsibility, and notes.
  2. Fill in content to post for the next month.
  3. Look at your insights for the posts that you added during part 1 and part 2 of this complete guide. How did they perform? Is there anything notable that you should try to recreate in a future post?

Next, we’re going to talk about the ins and outs of engagement and interacting with your customers on Instagram.

Part 4: Interacting with your customers on Instagram

We’ve put together a complete guide on how to get the most out of Instagram for your small business. In part 1, we talked about identifying your customers and lookalike customers. In part 2, we talked about finding and auditing your competitors. In part 3, we talked about building and managing your content calendar.

Now we’re going to talk about interacting with your customers on Instagram.

Why Instagram

Why do you want your small business to be on Instagram? One study showed that people who see a brand on Instagram perceive it to be popular, creative, entertaining, relevant, and committed to the community. Seventy-eight percent of the people surveyed said that after seeing product information on Instagram, they acted on it. They either started following the brand, clicked on the website, or made a purchase.

That’s what we want to talk about – turning your audience into followers and customers.

insta guide

Interacting with your customers on Instagram

So far, you’ve identified your customers and lookalike customers. You’ve identified and analyzed your competitors. You’ve built your own content calendar and put a plan in place to manage it.

Now you need to make sure you’re effectively engaging with your audience and turning them into actual customers.

●     Make it easy for your audience to interact with you. Close your post with a CTA, such as, “Drop a thumbs up below if you agree.” Not every CTA needs to be geared towards making a purchase. You’re trying to build a lasting relationship. Ask them what they like and how they feel.

●     Make it easy to read. Use emojis to break up your text and make it easier to read. Not only do they make it easier to read, but emojis can make your brand feel more humanized and appear relatable. Emojis add an element of whimsy and emotion, plus the pop of color mixed in the text makes it easier for the viewer to read your whole message.

●     Respond promptly to every comment. A quick response has got to be one of the most important factors in interacting with your audience and turning them into customers. Use something like Trengo to make sure you don’t miss any messages. When all your social media messages filter in through one inbox, there is a lower likelihood of messages getting lost.

How is engagement measured on Instagram?

Not all engagement is created equal. Instagram insights allow you to see how your content is performing.

Engagement on Instagram is referring to any interaction that happens with your content, such as likes, comments, shares, saves, profile visits, followers, and replies to Instagram stories. To measure it, you take the sum of all interactions, divide by the number of followers, and multiply by 100 to get the percentage.

You can see your engagement when you look at the insights on your Instagram account. You’ll see how many of the accounts that engaged with you are currently followers or non-followers. I would just try to improve this number week over week.

If you click on a post and look at the post insights, the engagement is called “reach”. You’ll see the accounts reached, and followers versus non-followers.

How to increase engagement on Instagram

Based on a study of 22 million Instagram posts, the average engagement rate of an image posted on Instagram is 1.74, maxing out at 2.07 for posts with 10 images. I recommend that you try a mix of different types of content. The engagement rate slowly increases with each additional image, but strangely, is the lowest for posts with 4–5 images.

This makes perfect sense. If you’re a clothing boutique and you’re posting a pair of pants, you want to post several different images of the same item. If I’m the person shopping, I want to see them being worn by different body types and in different social situations. I need to be able to imagine myself wearing them. If I’m swiping through and it ends after only four images, that’s probably not enough to evoke a feeling that I have to have them.

A carousel is simply a string of images and videos in one post. Viewers swipe to see all the content, and studies show that consumers like it better than any other type of Instagram content. The average engagement rate per carousel post is 1.92 percent, higher than that for images and videos alone. I would definitely add carousels to the mix when you’re planning out your content calendar. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the 10-image limit.

Another thing you can try is a “reel” or basically a short video. The Instagram algorithm loves a reel, so that makes them extra helpful when you’re trying to boost engagement.

Turn your Instagram audience into customers

One very important factor in turning your audience into customers is responding to Instagram comments and messages.

If you don’t respond, they’re going to move on to the next post, and sadly, they could move on to a competitor. On the other hand, if you respond quickly and with a personal touch, you’re going to create loyalty and that will help you turn your audience into customers.

Automation can help your business get the most value from your Instagram interactions with customers. You can set up tools like bots, rules, quick replies, and auto-replies to make sure customers hear from you right away.

Imagine that someone sees your brand’s post late at night and let’s say they like the post and send you a DM with a question about your products. You can have a rule set up to automatically reply so they don’t have to wait to hear back from you--and to let them know your team will follow up when they’re back online in the morning.  

You could even create a rule that will automatically send a coupon code to someone who starts following you. Wow! A personal thank you that includes a coupon and a link to the website. Remember, you want to make it easy for them to want to stick around.

mobile phone hands looking

Action items for Part 4 of Instagram for small business

We’ve given you action items throughout each part of this complete guide. If you haven’t been doing them, go back and start now. If you have been following along, here’s what’s next:

  1. Review the content calendar that you created and add in a carousel post and a reel. See what happens when you add different types of content.
  2. Review the insights on the individual posts that you’ve already posted. Look at the impressions. If the impressions of a particular post are higher than the others, what’s different? I’m a big fan of highlighting. Highlight the hashtags that seem to be more popular and more effective at hitting new people who weren’t already following you.

If you started with part 1 of this series, then you know we’ve been building a foundation of using Instagram for your small business. We’ve included action items to encourage you to put what you’re learning into play. You’re ready to get the most value from Instagram for your business.

Further reading

Want more inspiration for improving your organization’s customer relationships? Learn more about using Trengo for email management and ticketing and Instagram direct ads.

Pim de Vos
Written by
Senior Content Marketer

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