Why your local business can thrive on Instagram
There is huge potential for local businesses to be successful on Instagram – from shops, e-commerce, cafes, yoga studios, bakeries, restaurants, sports clubs, tourist attractions and more.
Instagram has grown to become much more than a photo sharing site – you can now open a shop from your profile, make reservations, watch live video broadcasts and more. 18-34 year olds make up the largest audience on Instagram and are one of the most active user bases of all social media platforms (around 60% of users logging in at least once a day with the average time spent on Instagram per day of over 50 minutes). With around 90% of Instagram users following at least one business on there, using Instagram for your small business can be a very powerful and affordable way to reach new customers as well as connecting with existing ones.
Before you get started, it’s essential to think about your business’ values and target audience. How can you help these people? Research which social platform they are most active on, especially if you don’t have time to invest in multiple social platforms. Ask your current customers if they are on Instagram, look at your own competitors – are they active on there? Does your target audience fit Instagram’s audience or are you better off spending your resources elsewhere?
Think about what you want to achieve through social media – is it creating awareness around your business? Driving traffic to your website? Generating leads? Increasing conversions on your website? You’ll need to plan your strategy accordingly and then set some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals to achieve your aim. Every post and comment you put on Instagram should ultimately support your goals.
If the answers are YES, then all you need to get started is a free account, a smartphone camera and some creativity!
Set up and optimise your Instagram account
There are 3 different types of accounts – Instagram business profile, personal profile and creator profile.
Personal profile: This is the default profile you’ll be given when you register for Instagram. A Personal Profile can be set to “private” and you can link it to Facebook pages, but you have no access to advertising or analytics.
Creator profile: This is specifically designed for public figures, influencers or content producers and comes with audience insights (analytics) and the Instagram Shop.
Business profile: This is the best profile for small businesses as you will get access to analytics, Instagram Shop, the ability to use paid advertising and you can schedule posts through third party applications. Posts from business profiles are always public.
To learn how to set up a Personal Instagram account click here.
To learn how to set up an Instagram Business Account click here.
Optimising Your Profile
Next you’ll want to ensure your Instagram profile creates a great first impression for new followers, with your bio and profile picture reflecting your brand and values. Be aware that the settings often change on Instagram so it’s worth checking your profile is fully complete from time to time. In particular, ensure these items are up to date: business categories, hours, location, how to contact you, links to your services or products. Get started here.
Name and Username
Your name and username will come up on search results so make sure you are happy with your choice! When choosing your Instagram handle try to keep it consistent with your other social media account handles, so it’s easy for people to find you.
Your username is your Instagram handle (eg @inhounslow) and your name can be anything up to 30 characters.
Instagram Bio and Link
An Instagram bio is the 150-character description found under your username on your Instagram profile page. It’s your opportunity to show people visiting your profile why they should follow you. Bear in mind that 2 out of 3 profile visitors are from non-followers, so your bio will need to describe your brand in 150 characters or less using your brand voice. You’ll need to be short and snappy with your bio copy with so few characters, but using emojis can save space, while using line breaks can present different services/products more clearly.
You’ll see lots of references to “the link in bio” and with this being the one place on your profile where you can post an organic link, you’ll want to make the most of it. You can link to your website, or to a campaign page or a blog post. If you want profile visitors to click on your link, don’t forget to include a clear call to action telling them why they should click the link in the bio!
If you have multiple links, you can also use a link to a link tree where you can share more than one link as Instagram for Business has done here.
Most businesses will use their brand logo as their profile picture on Instagram. It’s a good idea to keep consistent with your other social media profiles too. The logo will need to be 320 x 320 pixels and will be framed by a circle when it is uploaded.
Remember to include ways for people to get in touch with you from your Instagram profile – your email address, phone number or physical address. When you add this information, Instagram will add buttons to your profile (Call, Text, Email or Get Directions).
If customers need to book an appointment with your business and you have an account with one of Instagram’s partners, you can include buttons for them to book or reserve appointments, by going to “Edit Profile” then “Action Buttons.”
Instagram Story Highlights and Covers
Another way to introduce your brand to people visiting your profile is by adding Story Highlights onto your account – you can save your best Instagram Stories as Highlights which live on your profile (see below for more on Stories).
These are a new feature where you can curate your best posts into one piece of featured content (similar to Story Highlights). You can include your own photos and posts but also from other accounts which you have saved. More on these here.
Which are the different types of post?
Instagram has grown over recent years to include several different post formats which serve slightly different purposes. Try them all out and see which ones work best for you.
As Instagram is focusing more on what young adults want, the algorithm currently favours Reels and Live Videos over Grid Posts and Stories, so it is well worth spending time on these two newer post formats if you want your content seen by people who do not already follow you.
The most important thing is to think about what you can do for your audience – how are you going to appeal to them? What will they engage with? What can you do for them? How can you help them? Ideally your content should be inspiring enough for people to come back to your profile for more – whether it is informative, topical, humorous or beautiful.
Here’s how to post a photo on Instagram.
With Instagram being such a visual platform, it’s important to think about how your posts will look on your grid – each post needs to be high quality and engaging as part of your recognisable visual identity – so quality over quantity!
Decide on your main themes and plan your posts around them – for example, a café might post coffees, food, the venue itself, behind the scenes, your employees or your customers. Then think about the overall look of your posts (the main colours, consistently sticking to the same filters where possible) to create a recognisable aesthetic – think of your grid as a whole rather than individual posts. On the other hand, don’t get too hung up about this – don’t get colour palette obsessed to the point where you don’t post!
Tip: This is where Stories are useful if you have content to post that doesn’t fit in with the look of your grid.
On the grid you can post single images or up to 10 at once (so users can scroll through them within one post) – these are called Carousels – and are worth experimenting with as many people find they have better engagement than single image posts. Carousels are great for showing a visual journey or even grouping testimonials together.
Videos posted on your feed can be up to 60 minutes long. Live videos can be up to 4 hours long. Some say that videos perform better than Carousels. Last year Instagram removed the IGTV tab so now all videos live in a single video tab making it easier to find them.
Grid Photo Tips
Put your subject slightly off centre (use the grid lines on your phone camera) to make a balanced but more interesting shot.
Use natural light
Experiment with interesting angles
Use plenty of contrast in your shots – light, textures etc
Photo & Video Editing Apps
Photo and video editing apps can really enhance the quality of your posts your game with some little tweaks. Try out simple to use photo editing tools on your phone to help your aesthetic with filters, frames, logos, layers such as VSCO and A Color Story. The Layout from Instagram app also lets you create collages for your grid posts. You can use Instagram’s Hyperlapse app to create a time lapse video, or Boomerang to show a repeated video action, while InShot is great for creating short videos from still and video images.
Although Instagram is all about the visuals, don’t forget the importance of the captions. Great captions can make all the difference – they tell the story behind the image. The first line is crucial in grabbing people’s attention – you’ll want to include your most important words first as if the caption is longer than 125 characters, users will have to tap “more” to see all of it – will they decide to expand the text to read on? Remember to speak to your customer pain points.
Instagram captions can be up to 2,200 characters – it’s worth testing whether short and sweet or long form in-depth story telling works better for you. Either way, your caption needs to describe the image, why you shared it and why it’s relevant to the audience. To increase your chances of people engaging, use short paragraphs and short readable sentences. Include a call to action for them or ask them a question so they’re more likely to comment (this will mean your post is shown to more people) – click on the link in the bio or DM us for info. Emojis can also be helpful in catching your reader’s attention as well as breaking up the text on captions. Include link breaks, eg use bullet points too. Do all you can to encourage conversations on there as comments are heavily favoured by the algorithm.
Make sure you are consistent in your tone of voice. Take a stand on issues that matter to your brand but don’t let your personal feelings get in the way. Show personality and be authentic. Although don’t forget that Instagram is still a fun social media platform, so don’t be afraid to use a bit of slang or include popular acronyms like DM, IRL, FOMO etc.
“Instagram Stories” are portrait photos or videos, up to 15 seconds, which disappear after 24 hours. You can see them at the top of an active user’s app when logged in. When your post a story, a colourful circle will appear around your profile picture. When other users see this circle around your profile picture, it shows it is clickable. They then tap on it and can see your Story. Here’s how to get started with Stories.
Instagram Stories is a great format for storytelling as it gives you the chance to tell real stories about your business with a beginning, middle and end. They’re also a good way to be seen by people who don’t already follow you, particularly if you use the location and hashtag stickers in your Stories. They’re very useful for showing the human or fun side of your business – eg “off the cuff posts from behind the scenes. Stories’ users are usually very engaged – you can encourage more engagement by using the interactive features on offer within the stickers options such as polls, asking questions, messaging. You can also add a link to your website through the sticker option. It’s also possible to add user-generated content on your Stories (eg if someone tags you when they are using your product/services) to help gain more followers, or you can encourage people to share photos or videos of them using your products by including a call to action on your Stories.
You can then choose to archive your Stories to include in your Story Highlights which are shown just above your photo grid. Decide on 4 or 5 key areas of your business you would like to feature (could be About You, Customer Reviews, Products, FAQs) – then add Highlight Cover Buttons in your branded colours. These are a great chance to prolong the life of your best Stories which would normally disappear after 24 hours. More on using Stories Highlights for small businesses here.
You can broadcast live from your mobile phone through Instagram Stories. When the live broadcast ends, you can choose to make it available for replay on your Story for 24 hours. Whenever you go live, all your followers will be notified – great news for engagement – you can see the live comments as they come in too! You could broadcast a live interview, run a Q&A, show off a product or even have a behind the scenes live. Try out a regular fixed live slot each month or week. Here’s how to go live.
These are 10-60 second videos in portrait format. Similar to TikToks, Reels are the best content format to grow and reach new audiences, especially if your Reels make it onto the Explore page. Reels should be a priority for new accounts – even very small accounts with 50 followers can find their Reels getting ten times the reach of one of their feed posts. The Explore page is a collection of public Reels, Stories, photos, videos tailored to help each user find posts, accounts, hashtags or products they might like from accounts they don’t yet follow. You can access it by clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the Instagram app. This shows a grid of content taken from different accounts consisting of Instagram Reels, Stories and Posts. The selection of content will be chosen by the Instagram algorithm according to each user’s behaviour on the platform. Users then can either click onto any of the posts or choose to look at one of the subject channels suggested by Instagram at the top of the screen. Over 50% of Instagram accounts use Explore every month.
The more engaging your Reels are, the more the algorithm will show it to a wider range of people. Like Stories, Reels give you the chance to show off your brand personality and be creative. You could use Reels to show off your latest products, behind the scenes, how to videos. Do remember to share your Reels to your Stories as your super fans who engaged with your Stories and feed may not see them as Reels are pushed towards new audiences. Here’s how to get started on Reels.
Businesses can also set up an Instagram Shop so you can tag your products on posts or Stories, so potential customers can get more information then go to your website to buy it. One in two people use Instagram to discover new brands, so it’s a great place to start selling. Here’s how to set up a shop on Instagram.
What to post
How can you come up with some really engaging content? What will your audience enjoy looking at or reading about? Decide on your main themes or “content buckets” and plan your posts around them – eg a café might post coffees, food, the venue itself, behind the scenes, about its employees or customers. By planning ahead you will be able to come up with regular content without having last minute panics.
You may find that putting together an Instagram campaign can help – not only with planning your posts but to achieve specific goals. For example you might want to promote a sale using shoppable Instagram posts, increase overall awareness on Instagram, drive up engagement with a competition on Instagram, or encourage user generated content (by using a specific branded unique hashtag).
You also might find putting together a “topical content calendar” useful where your posts can link in with national or local events or holidays. Local events are particularly relevant for this as you can use geo tagging and local hashtags to join in conversations.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, you can use the Save Post feature – here you can save some of your competitors’ posts, or others’ great captions or even save some posts from potential influencers to give you ideas for future posts. You can then create collections to organise the posts you save on Instagram.
When to post
Because social media algorithms consider “recency” as an important ranking point, posting when people are active is one of the best ways that you can improve your organic (not paid for) reach. Ask your target audience when they are using social media most (evenings, weekends, during their commutes?) Look at your own website stats to gauge when your audience is viewing your content. You can use a scheduling tool (examples are Later.com, Hootsuite.com or you can use Facebook Meta Business Suite for both Facebook and Instagram scheduling if your accounts are linked) to save you time to post things you have planned in advance at the optimum times, but it’s important to be online to post “in the moment” so you can join in conversations in real-time and respond to replies and mentions.
On your Instagram business account, you can check the days and hours that are most popular for your audience:
1. From your profile, tap Insights.
2. Click on the > by Total Followers
3. Scroll down to Most Active Times
(If you’re using Meta Business Suite via Facebook you can see these times on there too.)
How often to post?
Opinion varies on this though posting on a consistent schedule is recommended so you can engage regularly without having any big gaps without any posts. If you’re starting out then one grid post a week is fine, but for optimum posting to get reach, relationships and results, 3-5 posts a week on the grid plus 2-3 stories per week are recommended.
How to amplify your messages and increase engagement
Engagement is the most important element of social media – the best way to show the human side of your business and start to get seen by your target audience. Commit to spending time daily engaging with other Instagrammers and topics that matter to you.
Hashtags are a great way to identify communities, so are important in boosting your Instagram audience and increasing your reach beyond your followers, as they’ll help make your content easier to find within Instagram search. Do post hashtags at the bottom of your caption (include some line breaks if you like ahead of them) as Instagram prefers people not to post them in the comments.
Instagram users can also follow hashtags, so your hashtagged content may appear in feeds of people who don’t follow you. When you post using a hashtag, your post will appear on the page for that hashtag. If you use a hashtag on your Story, it might be included in the relevant hashtag Story, which also appears on the hashtag page.
On a single Instagram Grid post you can use up to 30 hashtags, but it’s advisable to limit it to 11-15. There are different types of hashtags you can use. These include:
Branded hashtags (unique to your business – always use one of these), Competition hashtags (if you are running a specific contest and you want to identify competition entrants as well as help generate competition awareness), Niche hashtags (very specific to your target audience), Current hashtags (for when people are searching for something immediately (eg #Easterchocolate), Entertaining hashtags (just funny ones #helpmenow or popular acronyms to show your brand personality eg FOMO).
Make sure you vary your hashtags – don’t use the same ones for each post. It’s a good idea to put together groups of hashtags you can use on different posts. Spend some time doing hashtag research so you don’t include a banned hashtag by mistake.
Hashtag research is also useful to see the number of posts out there by hashtag – try to use ones with under one million posts so your posts don’t get lost among all the others.
Don’t use gimmicky hashtags like #followme or #likeforlike as this will just attract bots or people who just want followers and who are not interested in really engaging with you – this will not help your engagement in the long term.
Local or community hashtags can be really useful for local businesses so spend time looking for and engaging with people using these.
How often will your post show up using the hashtags?
It all depends on your content, your relevancy and the competition. When someone searches for (or follows) a hashtag, the content they are served is the top performing content with that hashtag (similar to Google Search’s first page). Most people look at the first 9 posts, maybe the top 25 and a keen scroller might look at the top 50. But beyond that, probably not. If your post gets into the top posts, this is called Hashtag Ranking. To get in here you’ll need exceptional engagement – the same as those posts which are in the top 9 or 25. The best way to do that is to compare your levels of engagement on one of your posts with one of those in the first 9 or 25 posts. If your engagement is much lower than any of those, then your best tactic would be to try to rank better on a more specific, niche hashtag first (less competitive) then attract better levels of engagement and slowly try to compete and rank with more popular hashtags.
Do add your location in your Story or your grid post – eg if people are looking for your local town and you have tagged it in your post, Instagram will curate all the posts tagged at that location, sort them into top and recent posts, so your business posts will be shown alongside other photos. If you forget to add the geo tag at the time, you can always go in and edit posts later to include it.
Follow relevant accounts
If your own feed is full of compelling content relevant to others, engage with and then follow them, then they are likely to return the favour and follow you back.
Promote your Instagram Account through other channels
Do share your Instagram account through your other social media channels, email signature or e-newsletter, as well as on your website. If you’re starting out on Instagram, make sure you have posted at least 12 posts before sharing the account so there is something for people to see. On your website, why not embed some of your Instagram posts, so they are clickable allowing users to go straight into the posts themselves on Instagram? Don’t forget about your non-digital assets too – include the handle on your business cards, packing slips or posters.
Promotions or Competitions run on Instagram
Why not offer an exclusive deal or discount for people who follow you through Instagram? Or run a competition encouraging people to follow you or post including your hashtag to enter? (make sure you are on top of the Terms & Conditions for running contests on Instagram before setting it up).
To get the attention of certain users, you can tag them in your photos (either @ mention in the caption or use the tag function in the post) or on your Stories (@ mention). They will be notified of your post so can comment or share your post if they want to – it is especially easy to reshare the content in their own Stories. It’s a great way of engaging with others but you’ll not want to overdo it – just choose very relevant people to tag.
Engaging with local influencers
Identify which influencers you are keen to get on the radar of, or whose messages you are aligned with. These could be accounts in your local area or organisations/businesses within your sector. Take an active interest in what they are posting and who they are interacting with. Who is following them? What sort of content are they posting? Identify and then engage with them (liking, commenting, but no hard selling or self promotion! Engage slowly to gain credibility and trust and they will start to engage back with you. This will be key to growing your account and increasing awareness for your business. A little-known feature of Instagram is Collections – which works a little like Twitter lists – so you can curate the accounts you want to keep an eye on or engage with – keeps them all in one place and saves you having to search every time for individual accounts.
Collaborating with Instagram influencers
An Instagram Influencer is someone who has built up a reputation through a highly engaged audience on a specific niche on Instagram. Their audience trusts what the influencer posts and promotes, so could be interested in sharing your product with their audience in exchange for payment, experiences or free products.
Influencer marketing can be a route to get access to a new and engaged audience. You could start by looking at your own audience – you may already have some fans who could become your own brand ambassadors. Or you might be able to work with micro influencers (1,000-10,000 followers)– these are people with smaller but still dedicated followers within their own niche.
Think who you could reach out to – especially local brands or businesses you already work with – there may be a way you could work together on Instagram, which could bring more followers for everyone on the platform!
Don’t forget your own followers!
Remember to focus on the followers you have already – nurture these instead of always chasing the new followers.
Be a conversation-starter: Ask your followers questions about topics in your community. You can ask direct questions such as “What’s your favourite part of X (what you are showing in your image” or “How often do you need one of these X?” (what you are showing in your image). You can also ask people to double tap (if something relevant to your business), or tag someone (if something relevant to your business). Don’t forget to use the engagement stickers as part of your Stories too.
Social listening: Research your keywords and use Instagram Search or tools like Hootsuite to monitor the conversations around them, then join in with current conversations on Instagram. You can choose to follow key hashtags on Instagram too.
Get involved in your niche, community or local area by liking, commenting on, and sharing content from others in your area. Whenever you comment or like something, the other account will be notified and may respond to your comment or check out your profile to engage or follow you back. Don’t use bland generic comments like “Love that!” or “Great post!” as this can look like a bot.
User-generated content is one of the best ways to entice and attract people to engage with your business. Brainstorm how you could encourage this.
If someone is asking a question that you can answer, then join in the conversation and help them out. Actively monitor your mentions and brand hashtags to respond quickly and helpfully to customers — not only will it help that person, but it shows everyone else that you care. Best practice on responses: respond in real time, or as fast as possible! The average response time for a brand to reply on social media to a user is 10 hours, while the average user will only wait 4 hours. Your responses should use the person’s name and aim to give a genuine, personal response that enhances the conversation. “Thank you” isn’t enough!
With an Instagram Business profile you get access to Instagram’s Insights analytics tool to help you track your progress. Remember to keep up to date with your analytics though as you can only track the last 30 days worth of posts on here. Insights will give you data for each post on how many likes, how many accounts reached, content interactions, profile activity, the breakdown between followers and non-followers, plus how they found your content. To see this by post just click on your latest post and click on “View Insights.” To view your overall account analytics, click on the burger on the top right of your profile, then “Insights.” Here you can see the same data but for your overall account up to the last 30 days, with details on your posts, stories & reels as well as your followers (growth, location, age, gender, most active times on Instagram).
To measure brand awareness on a new Instagram account, you need to keep an eye on and set targets for these: increase in account reach, no. of followers; grid post reach, grid post content interaction on posts (likes, comments, saves, shares); Stories Reach
Growing your following will take some time and energy but don’t be tempted to buy followers – they are easy to spot, can damage your reputation and also won’t help your engagement or the chances of your posts being shown to more people.
Advertising on Instagram
If you have the budget, then Instagram Ads can help you grow your audience, promote your products, drive traffic to your website, and more. There are different options for advertising and you can target audiences by demographics, location, behaviours and interests. There are a multitude of advertising formats on Instagram including images, stories, videos, carousels, collections, shopping, reels. There are ads for all different campaign objectives including brand awareness, lead generation, engagement, app installs, website traffic, reach, messages and more. You can run ads by simply promoting a post or taking advantage of more options, such as creating lookalike audiences through Ads Manager. Get started by taking a read here.