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How to Create Captivating Visuals, Grow Your Following, and Drive Engagement on Instagram

Instagram is the second most accessed network behind Facebook. The popular visual-first social medium sees over one billion active monthly users and 500 million daily Instagram Stories.

Instagram is the second most accessed network behind Facebook. The popular visual-first social medium sees over one billion active monthly users and 500 million daily Instagram Stories.

Everyone and their dog (literally) is on the social media platform.

“Everyone” includes individuals, pets, and, you guessed it, businesses.

The increase in brands who’ve developed a presence on the platform has skyrocketed. Oberlo estimates that 71% of US businesses use Instagram. But is it worth their time, and should your business also be on the platform? The answer is yes, and here’s why:

  • Instagram sees over one billion active monthly users and 500 million daily Instagram Stories.
  • There are 140 million Instagram users in the U.S.
  • Instagram is the second most accessed network behind Facebook. Users browse for an average of 53 minutes per day.
  • About 71% of US businesses use Instagram.
  • Nearly 45% of Instagram’s users are between the ages of 18 and 44.

New Data: Instagram Engagement Report [Free Download]

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There are more than
active monthly Instagram users
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More than
of Instagram users have discovered a new product or service on the platform
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It’s clear that Instagram isn’t just for personal use anymore. It’s now a global platform that allows brands to humanize their content, recruit new talent, showcase products, and inspire their audience.

Moreover, Instagram users aren’t just active — they’re engaged. About 59% of the platform’s active users visit the site daily, and spend at least 7 hours per week browsing content and interacting with friends and brands.

Instagram can also help you grow your brand awareness and introduce new products. Every month, 130 million Instagram users engage with shopping content. Instagram allows you to promote your brand and product in a friendly, authentic way without hard selling to your customers.

Even with all these Instagram statistics, you may still be unsure of how to get started. We know the platform can be a little intimidating at first, and that’s why we’ve created this guide.

Why Market on Instagram?

Instagram’s primary advantage over other social media platforms is its visual nature. If you have a business that benefits from the design of your product or if you have a service that has a visibly noticeable end result, Instagram is the best platform to showcase that content.

Video, imagery, and illustration are all great content fits for this social media platform, but your marketing strategy will ultimately determine what type of content to publish and how often to post it. Establishing a strategy before diving right into a new social media platform, no matter how well it works for everyone else’s business, will keep you focused on your goals and — most importantly — your audience.

Build Your Instagram Marketing Strategy

  1. Set your goals for Instagram
  2. Determine your Instagram target audience.
  3. Conduct a competitive analysis.
  4. Configure an editorial calendar
  5. Build a consistent brand on Instagram
  6. Grow your Instagram follower base.

Build Your Instagram Marketing Strategy

  1. Set your goals for Instagram
  2. Determine your Instagram target audience.
  3. Conduct a competitive analysis.
  4. Configure an editorial calendar
  5. Build a consistent brand on Instagram
  6. Grow your Instagram follower base.

Many businesses feel pressured to be present on every social media platform … and they forget about strategy. Don’t make this mistake.

Since Instagram is very different from other popular social sites, it requires a distinct marketing strategy. Start here to develop your brand’s own unique style.

1. Set your goals for Instagram.

Before you start posting on Instagram, ask yourself (or your team) one thing: Why are you on Instagram? As popular as the platform is, your answer shouldn’t be, “… because everyone else is.” To be successful on Instagram in the long-run, you must have a set purpose and goals so you can justify your time, energy, and monetary investment.

There’s no right answer here. Maybe you’d like to use your Instagram feed to post and sell your products to customers, like Anthropologie. (Many ecommerce and physical products businesses are on Instagram for this reason.)

Maybe you’re leveraging Instagram to share portfolio content so followers can see your product (or service) in action, like my esthetician, The Wicked Waxer.

Perhaps you’re on Instagram to simply build brand awareness by posting motivational quotes and fun visuals, like one of my favorite organizations, The Blurt Foundation.

Maybe you’d like to use Instagram to share user-generated content so that followers can see real people using your product or service as Orangetheory does. (Many worldwide businesses or businesses with franchises do this, too.)

Whatever the reason, be sure to define your Instagram goals first thing. And, guess what? Your Instagram can have multiple goals — you can post product images while also sharing user-generated content (UGC). It’s less about the type of posts you share and more about why you’re sharing them. If you know the why, you can know how to measure your performance and use Instagram Analytics tools.

2. Determine your Instagram target audience.

Determine the audience you want to reach before you begin marketing on Instagram. If you have other marketing strategies in place, draw from those to keep your efforts consistent. Don’t forget to consider factors like age, location, gender, income, interests, motivations, and pain points.

Don’t know where to start? Monitor popular events and interest hashtags related to your business. See who’s using and engaging with these hashtags and check out their profiles. You can also take a look at your competitor’s followers. Instagram makes it easy to define your audience.

3. Conduct a competitive analysis.

After you determine your Instagram audience, do a competitive analysis to see what other marketers in your field are posting.

If you already know your top competitors, start by reviewing their Instagram profiles. If not, search for terms related to your business and industry to find similar accounts.

Conduct a quick audit of related accounts to see what posts are getting the highest engagement, what popular hashtags they’re using, what their captions are, how often they post, and how quickly they’re growing. This information can serve as a benchmark as you start growing your own account.

While auditing your competitors’ content, take note of any opportunities they might’ve missed. Adding unique content into the mix will help your business to stand out from the rest.

4. Configure an editorial calendar.

Creating an editorial calendar can help you save time and manage your Instagram presence. Fill in your calendar with some Instagram post types and plan your captions, hashtags, and posting times in advance.

Your editorial calendar is also a great place to record any key events to highlight on your Instagram account, such as new product launches or special offers. With an editorial calendar, you can keep an eye out for real-time opportunities instead of scrambling for last-minute posts.

Manage and plan your Instagram content with our free calendar guide and template.

5. Build a consistent brand on Instagram.

Random or disjointed content confuses your audience and can cause you to lose followers. To prevent this, maintain a consistent brand aesthetic on your Instagram account.

Determine what this looks like by thinking about your brand personality. What are your brand values? How would your customers and employees define your brand? Are you bold, playful, gritty, or adventurous?

Apartment Therapy’s brand personality is bright, clean, and organized, and its account reflects all three of those traits. Ideally, brand aesthetic helps your brand become recognizable, meaning someone could see your picture in their feed and instantly know it’s yours … without seeing the name.

Taco Bell is another great example of brand aesthetic. Its feed focuses on the bold, on-the-go lifestyle of its millennial audience and features fun images to drive engagement.

Once you determine your brand personality, refine your content to match. This can even apply to the color palette used in your photos.

Brand aesthetic doesn’t just apply to visuals. Aim to post images with your brand narrative in mind, too. Including compelling stories in your captions can make your brand more relatable.

For example, Red Bull’s feed features plenty of high-energy images and videos that add to its brand’s story.

6. Grow your Instagram follower base.

Growing your following takes serious time and energy. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and buy followers … don’t do this! Purchasing followers won’t actually drive engagement, which is really what you need to ensure your posts are being seen. (Also, Instagram’s recent API changes will automatically delete those followers!)

Here’s what you can focus on to build a following the right way.

Make sure your username is recognizable and searchable. If people can’t find you, they can’t follow you! Fill out your bio. It’s the last thing someone sees before they make the decision to follow you so be sure to include who you are and what you do.
Once your profile is optimized (which we talked about in this section), start posting. It’s a good idea to populate your feed with ten to 15 high-quality posts before you really start engaging people. If users visit your profile and find it empty, they probably won’t follow you.
Then, start following accounts that interest you and relate to your business. Think of Instagram like a community and look for other businesses in your area or influencers who might enjoy your product or service. As you follow accounts, Instagram will suggest related ones that you can follow, too.

After you follow an account, interact with their content. This is the most natural way to draw attention to your own Instagram account without being spammy. When you follow or interact with an account, the account owner will get a notification. This could prompt them to check out your account and start following you. Always appreciate your followers by responding to their comments and engaging with their content.

Encourage others to share your content. Invite brand ambassadors to share your account or collaborate with similar accounts.

For a comprehensive guide to getting more followers for your business on Instagram, check out our blog post here.

Promote Your Business on Instagram

Once you establish a dedicated follower base, you can start converting those followers into paying customers. Here are some strategies.

  • Promotions: Deals, discounts, BOGOs, and other offerings are a great way to drive first-time sales with your Instagram audience. Be sure to include what your followers need to do to receive the offer, and mention a deadline to create a sense of urgency.
  • Contests: What better way to make someone a customer than by letting them try your product? Run contests that require someone to follow your account or post with a hashtag to enter.
  • Charity: 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to charity. Doing so can build affinity for your brand and help turn followers into customers. For example, Gap partnered with The Global Fund to help fight AIDS in Africa. Since 2006, it has helped raise over $130 million.
  • Teasers: Instagram is a great platform to show your audience glimpses of new products before they’re available. While you don’t want to spam your followers’ feeds with only product photos, a few images can build excitement.
  • Live launches: Consider showcasing a new product or service using Instagram Live. Then, drive users to purchase by including a purchase link in your bio.

Also, don’t forget to leverage the link in your Instagram bio as well as your Instagram Story Highlights as these can connect followers to your website, blog, and product pages.

Lastly, be sure to promote your Instagram on other channels. Include an Instagram social share button on your website and share your Instagram on other social platforms. Sometimes the fastest way to gain more followers is to simply ask for them!

How to Present & Prove Social ROI

How to Create an Instagram Business Account

Before we begin, it’s important to note that Instagram is intended for in-the-moment content. To stay relevant among your audience, you’ll need to invest the resources required to post regularly.

The best way to keep your followers engaged is to keep your Instagram profile up-to-date. Below, we’ll dive into how to build and maintain a successful Instagram profile.

If you don’t have it already, download the Instagram app from the App Store or Google Play Store. You can view content on Instagram’s website, but you can’t upload it via your desktop. You’ll need the app for that.

Step 1: Open the Instagram app and click Sign Up With iPhone or Email

When you open the Instagram app, you’ll have two choices for creating an Instagram account for your business — Log In With Facebook or Sign Up With Phone or Email. Be sure to sign up with a business email so your Instagram profile isn’t linked to your personal Facebook account. (Trust us, you don’t want to do that!)

Step 2: Enter your account details.

Under Full Name, enter your actual business name so your profile is recognizable to visitors. This name is what’s displayed on your profile; it isn’t your account username (or handle, for those Twitter folks).

Step 3: Pick a username.

The Username is a name unique to your profile and allows other accounts to engage with your brand. HubSpot’s username is @HubSpot.

Pick a username that is recognizable and easy to find. If your business name is taken, try to keep the first part of your business name in your username. Note: You can update your username later in your account settings, so don’t worry if you want to change it in the future.

Optimizing Your Instagram Account

After you’ve set up the basics of your Instagram account, it’s time to optimize it. Follow these steps to create a profile people will want to see on their news feed every day.

Step 4: Choose a profile picture.

Your profile picture is your first impression on new visitors. For this reason, keep your image consistent with your branding and visual markers.

Consider using your logo or another familiar image. Instagram profile pictures are automatically cropped into a circle, so leave room around the corners of your image.

Step 5: Next up — your Instagram bio.

Instagram bios have a 150-character maximum, so your goal here is a direct, concise summary of who you are and why people should follow you. Tell your audience about your business using a hint of personality. Instagram bios aren’t searchable, so don’t worry about keywords or hashtags (which we cover more below).

In your bio, you can encourage users to take a specific action, such as using a certain hashtag or visiting your website. Your bio is the only place where you can feature a clickable URL and drive traffic to an external site.

The Beginner’s Guide to Video Marketing

Types of Instagram Posts

Now that you’ve created and optimized your Instagram account, it’s time to start posting awesome content. Instagram allows you to post several types of content, including photos, videos, and Stories.

Let’s talk about the different Instagram post types and some best practices for encouraging engagement.


The most common post on Instagram is an image post. When posting images, share a variety of photos. Variety will show your brand is diverse and engage your followers in different ways.

It’s also important to remember that Instagram users are looking for genuine posts from brands — not blatant advertisements. Try to capture your company culture with lifestyle shots and behind-the-scenes looks. Avoid posting too many photos of your product.

Example: Nike’s Instagram includes product photos, but the majority show real athletes, concerts, and other types of content that promote the Nike brand personality as a whole.

As you start to explore the platform, you’ll see there are countless kinds of images you can post to your account. Get creative! Take note of any concepts or styles you think would work well for your brand.

To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of some successful Instagram image types.

Behind-the-Scenes Posts
These posts offer a glimpse into the part of your business that people don’t normally see. It’s important that they don’t look staged — authenticity is key!

Example: Aeronaut Brewing Company provided an inside look at its company culture by showcasing its employees at work.

Reposts From Employees

Great content can be right in front of you … on your employees’ Instagrams. (Just be sure to tag or credit the original poster.) Reposting photos from your employees is an easy way to curate authentic content and humanize your business. Not only will your audience engage with your brand, but they’ll also start to “bond” with your employees.

Example: Fenway Park often reposts images shared by the grounds crew as they prepare the stadium.

Educational Posts

Educational posts offer snackable tips on how to do or make something. The photos or videos usually present the instructions in a way that is quick and easy to follow.

Example: The popular Tasty recipe video series from Buzzfeed is educational yet very entertaining and easy to replicate.

Influencer Posts

Influencer posts use the fame of a celebrity or well-known public figure to promote your brand. These posts often include a visual of the influencer using or interacting with your product. One of the main benefits of influencer posts is gaining the attention of another audience.

Example: Goal Zero shows renowned rock climber and photographer Alex Honnold using one of its solar power charging stations. Not only is Goal Zero reaching its own audience, but it’s also reaching Alex’s 500,000-plus Instagram follower base.

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