Instagram may not be a pay-to-play service, but it does require something much more valuable for entrepreneurs: time.
When you start a business, you want every effort to attract new customers. Taking time out of your day to craft a high-quality photo, choose the right hashtags, and double-check your copy could help you do that — or it could just pull you away from more important, money-making tasks.
So how do you know if the ubiquitous photo sharing site is worth the effort? It depends on your business and your goals. Below we’ll explore what works, what doesn’t, and how your business fits into the (filtered) picture.
Audience building, not sales
Let’s get this out of the way first: Instagram is not made for driving sales directly. You can launch Instagram ads with call-to-action buttons like “Shop Now” and “Learn More.” But organically, the app is best for generating awareness and building your audience. After all, when you strip away the more in-your-face marketing content, you can focus on creating a community based on shared interests and values with your customers.
Some businesses have also used Instagram to turn followers into email subscribers. They do this by directing viewers to a link in their bio — the only place you can post links on Instagram — and sending them to a landing page to download free content or sign up for their newsletter.
Take Ashley Alexander. She uses Instagram to share recipes and resources from her website, Gather & Feast. Everyone who comes to her page will see an offer for a free recipe ebook. Once they click the link in her bio, they’ll be taken to a landing page where they can enter their email to access the content.
Additionally, Foundr Magazine drove 70,000 email subscribers from its Instagram account in just a year. As they shared in an article for Hubspot, 30,000 people clicked through to their website each month, and roughly 30% of them converted. How did they do it? Again, by planting a link in their bio that leads to a downloadable report.
Before Foundr could generate those clicks, however, it had to grab people’s attention with its Instagram content. That meant understanding what its audience wanted, catering to those interests, and building its follower base. At best, Instagram is the very top of the top part of the funnel.
Want to use these tactics to grow your audience? Let’s see how your industry fits into the Instagram ecosystem.
Which industries are most successful on Instagram?
According to Socialbakers, the top five industries on Instagram are media, fashion, beauty, auto, and sporting goods. These generate the most interactions on the app.
This makes intuitive sense. Media outlets are in the business of building communities of like-minded people. And fashion, beauty, and auto tend to lend themselves to beautiful visuals (more on that below). But you don’t have to be Burberry or Nike to come out on top. You might be a fashion coach, beauty expert, or fitness guru who can fit your business into one of these categories. Unsurprisingly, these groups of entrepreneurs are quite active on Instagram.
Take Darya Rose, owner of Summer Tomato and graduate of Zero to Launch. Instagram is a perfect fit for her health company, which teaches people to lose weight without dieting. She uses her feed to post pictures of her favorite foods and original recipes.
Then there’s fitness coach Scott Laidler, who shares some of his go-to sporting goods on Instagram.
If you run a lifestyle business in health, fitness, beauty, or fashion, people are already engaging with similar content on Instagram. This means that Instagram is where your customers already are, so you have an opportunity to tap into those audiences. You can share content that matches these interests — like the examples above — and start to build your community.
What about Instagram marketing for “boring” industries?
You might be thinking, “What if I’m a software consultant or business strategist? I can’t exactly promote that with pretty pictures.”
True, but you can still use Instagram to build your following and reach potential customers. It just requires a bit more imagination and a more indirect approach. Instagram CAN be good to more “boring” industries: TrackMaven found that B2B brands drive more engagement (likes, shares, comments) on Instagram than on any other social network.
For instance, you can use Instagram to humanize your brand with personal, behind-the-scenes content. Derek Halpern — founder of Social Triggers, a site about psychology and internet marketing — uses this tactic.
You can also use Instagram to promote events, deals, and other content assets. For example, copywriting coach Alyssa Martin hosts a weekly podcast. To get the word out, she creates custom graphics with quotes from her speakers.
Other effective Instagram strategies include hosting contests, partnering with influencers, and showcasing your clients’ success stories. These tactics help you build new relationships with your audience and generate brand affinity and DON’T necessarily require captivating imagery.
Which content works best on Instagram?
So you’ve decided Instagram can work for your business. Awesome. How can you build the largest following in the fastest way? By posting things that garner attention. Here’s where to start:
Instagram is all about positive messages and high-quality visuals. In 2016, the most-used hashtags were #love and #instagood, and the most-used emoji was a heart. Psychology Today even called Instagram “the happiest place on the Internet.”
If you can share the most positive aspects of your business — like customer success stories or inspirational tips — then your posts will be more likely to generate engagement. But if positive messaging is off-brand for you, it may be best to take to other social media.
Above, we discussed how businesses post links in their bios to drive website traffic. This works, but it’s disruptive to the user experience. That’s why brands like BuzzFeed create platform-specific content for Instagram. For instance, the publication launched its @comics account, which features fun and relatable graphics by its own artists.
The content doesn’t beg people to go to BuzzFeed.com or check the link in the bio. It just gives Instagram users something unique to engage with while they’re scrolling through their feeds. And it helps them associate entertaining content with the BuzzFeed brand.
When it comes to Instagram, don’t rely on repurposed social content (like, say, that meme that totally killed on Facebook). Users can tell when you’re giving them copy-and-pasted work. Instead, focus on creating authentic posts for the platform — even if that means taking some extra time to edit your photos and videos.
Content for young audiences
Instagram has over 500 million monthly active users. Eighty percent of them are less than 35 years old, and 80% of them live outside the US. If you’re looking to reach millennials and Gen-Z, Instagram is where you’ll find them.
To ‘gram or not to ‘gram?
Let’s recap. Instagram is definitely worth your time if:
- You have positive content to share
- You have time and space to build a BRAND and not a direct sales channel
- You can create high-quality visuals
- You produce platform-specific posts
- You want to reach younger audiences
- You can offer lifestyle content
Remember: Instagram marketing isn’t about driving mind-blowing website traffic; it’s about generating awareness, honing your brand voice, and building your audience. It’s a slow play, and you must be prepared to dedicate time to building a strong foundation.
So, if you can’t check at least three of these boxes, or already have your hands full with other, more industry-appropriate brand building channels, consider leaving Instagram on the backburner.