A former teacher, Matt now specializes in R&D for ecommerce business owners and helps guide merchants in understanding the importance of this digital-first world.
Last week, we dove into the best practices and nuances of product photography.
In keeping with the spirit of creating attractive and engaging visual content, today we’re going to discuss how your company can benefit from maintaining an active presence on Instagram.
In this article, we’ll go over the fundamental aspects of creating an engaging Instagram profile and presence, and take a look at some of the creative ways in which some majorly successful brands have done so.
We’ll then discuss how you can use this engagement as leverage to get your followers to ultimately buy from your ecommerce store.
We’ll also point you toward some additional resources to help further your understanding of these principles.
Before we dive in, though, we need to answer one major question:
Why Your Company Needs to Be On Instagram
Take another look at that subheading.
It doesn’t say you “should be” on Instagram. It says you need to be.
Sure, it wasn’t long ago that having an Instagram account for your brand was just a fun little extra feature for your fans to check out. But it’s not like not having an Instagram was a sign that you were behind the times or anything.
That’s all changed now.
According to eMarketer, nearly half of all companies operating in the US had an active Instagram account in 2016; by the end of 2017, this percentage is projected to reach over 70%.
In other words, if your company isn’t currently active on Instagram, you are now behind the times.
But there’s more to it than just keeping up with the Joneses. Instagram has also gone from being a novelty to a necessity on the user’s side of things, too.
According to Instagram’s own business blog:
- 50% of its users follow at least one brand or business
- 60% conduct research on products or services using the platform
- 75% take further action (e.g., visiting a company website, commenting on a post, tagging a friend) when a post resonates with them
Another major benefit of being active on Instagram is that its users don’t frown upon branded content - they welcome it. While most users dislike seeing promotional content on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they actually expect companies to promote their products on Instagram: According to data collected by Adweek, 68% of Instagram users engage with branded content via the platform (compared to 32% of Facebook users).
(...did we mention that Instagram has over 700 million users? All else aside, being active on Instagram just makes sense from a “numbers game” perspective: attracting even .1% of these users would result in a following of over 700,000.)
But being active on Instagram isn’t just about promoting your products. It’s also about building your brand’s image. Using Instagram allows you to creatively tell your brand’s story through a combination of imagery and wordplay (as we talked about in the post on product photography, the visual element plays a huge role in attracting customers to your brand).
Speaking of engaging your customers, Instagram provides an additional channel for you to interact with your fans on a more personal level. You can communicate directly with individual fans (through comments and direct messaging), and you can also communicate to your entire fan base through live video and Instagram stories.
We’ll talk more about this in a bit.
If you need more proof that Instagram can help skyrocket your business, check out these stories:
- Women's intimate apparel retailer Natori achieved an incredible 100% increase in revenue and a whopping 1,416% increase in referral traffic through Instagram in just a few short weeks.
- Daniel Wellington can contribute its massive success through marketing and selling on Instagram. In fact, the Swedish watch brand was able to sell over 1 million watches solely through working with influencers to sell on Instagram.
- According to Women's Wear Daily Anastasia Beverly Hills has quadrupled year-over-year sales since 2012 which is the same time they joined Instagram.
- Pura Vida Bracelets used carosel and video ads on Instagram (as well as on Facebook) to tell their brand story. The result was an 18% increase in return on spend while reducing cost-per-action by 25%.
- MVMT was one of the few brands selected to test Shoppable Instagram. The beta feature allows brands to tag their products and link them directly to their respective product page. Ryan Dell, chief marketing officer at MVMT, said "the company saw more than 30 percent click-through to shop the product on the MVMT site."
Clearly, Instagram can be a huge boon for your ecommerce business. Of course, this is assuming you go about using it in an effective manner.
In the next section, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about building your brand’s presence on Instagram, and show you how a number of companies (both small and large) are getting it done.
How to Build Your Brand’s Presence, Create a Following, and Sell on Instagram
We’ve already made it clear that the Instagram community is enormous.
While this is a good thing in terms of potentially gaining tens of thousands of followers, the downside is that you have a lot to compete against. According to Brandwatch, Instagram sees an average of 80 million posts per day (with around 40 billion images and videos having been posted since Instagram’s release in 2010).
Not only are you competing with other brands for visibility, but you’re also competing against the average Instagram user posting pictures of their babies, their pets, and their dinners.
Not to worry, though. In this section, we’ll take a look at what you can do to create an Instagram presence that generates a massive following of engaged fans.
Let’s get started.
Create a Branded Profile
Your first order of business is to create a profile that makes clear what your company is all about.
Your company’s Instagram profile includes:
- The company’s name and Instagram handle
- A profile picture
- A biography
(Source / Caption: Airbnb’s fully-fleshed out Instagram profile.)
Let’s talk about each of these in a bit more detail.
Name and Instagram Handle
This might sound pretty straightforward, but there’s a little more to creating an Instagram handle than you might expect.
Ideally, the name of your company can double as your username. However, if your company’s name is longer than 30 characters, you’ll need to opt for a shorthand version of the full name. Of course, if the handle you had in mind is already taken, you’ll have to come up with a variation of your company name that still accurately represents your brand.
(Social Fresh has some crafty ideas for creating a username when the one you had in mind is already taken.)
Before we move on, it’s important to discuss three things youshould avoid doing when creating an Instagram username:
- Don’t use alternate spellings of your brand name (e.g., “Adidaz”)
- Don’t use numbers unless they’re a part of your company’s name
- Don’t use a quirky statement or your slogan as your handle (e.g., Nike’s handle wouldn’t be “justdoit”)
Once you’ve determined your username, you can move on to the next step.
We don’t need to spend much time on this.
Simply put: your Instagram profile picture should be your company’s logo.
As it’s the first image potential followers will see, your profile picture should be immediately recognizable.
Look back to Airbnb’s profile: it’s not a picture of a fancy home or bedroom; it’s the company logo.
You’ll have more than enough time to post other pictures revolving around your company. Keep your profile picture simple.
Here’s where you can finally get a bit creative.
Take a look at Shake Shack’s Instagram bio:
There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, the bio gets straight to the point, telling visitors exactly what Shake Shack is (“a modern day roadside burger stand). Then, it tells visitors how they can find the company on Snapchat (through the ghost emoji). After that, we’re given the company’s branded hashtag (more on this later). Finally, we’re provided a link that brings us to Shake Shack’s product page.
Starbucks’ Instagram bio is a bit different, simply offering the company’s mission statement (in addition to a link):
On the more creative side, we have clothing company ASOS:
Using emojis, hashtags, and links, ASOS tells its visitors what the company is all about, how fans can engage with the brand, and where they can go to purchase the brand’s clothing - all within an incredibly limited amount of space.
You can also opt to utilize more standard call-to-action buttons, like Blue Star Donuts does here:
(Source/ Caption: With an Instagram Business Account, you can include CTA buttons to make it easy for your followers to contact your company.)
Your Instagram bio is one of the first things your new followers will see with regard to your brand. Though you’re free to do pretty much whatever you’d like with it, it’s incredibly important that you use your bio to set the stage for the experience you hope to provide your fans.
Creating Engaging Content
Ah, finally we get to the good stuff.
An engaging Instagram post consists of two main aspects:
- The visual component (image or video)
- The caption
Let’s break down each separately.
The Main Content
Of course, the focus of any Instagram post is on the multimedia being presented.
When creating an image or video for your next Instagram post, you have a ton of options, of which we’ll mention a select few. You can:
- Focus on a specific product
- Feature an influencer
- Showcase a customer using your product (user-generated content)
- Go behind-the-scenes at your company
- Promote a message or statement
Here are a few examples:
Rather than post a studio product picture, Nike chose to go with a more authentic shot showing its new sneaker in action. Such product photos are proven to be the most engaging throughout the Instagram community.
Here, Old Navy worked with actress Meghan Rienks to promote a jumpsuit just in time for Christmas. As you may or may not know, influencer marketing - when done right - is an incredibly effective way of engaging followers and getting them to hit the buy button.
Talk about behind the scenes! In this post, Think Creative Collective gives us a peek into its founder’s “real life” beyond her company.
A post shared by Dollar Shave Club (@dollarshaveclub) on
Dollar Shave Club uses video in innovative ways to spice up their Instagram feed as you can see in the video above where they get in on the Pumpkin Spice fun.
As we said, you have a ton of possible themes to choose from when creating images and videos for Instagram. Take a look at the following articles for more suggestions:
- 15 Types of Posts That Do Extremely Well on Instagram
- 5 Best Types of Instagram Photos to Drive Engagement
- 10 B2C Brands Crushing it with Instagram Video Content in 2017
Of course, you don’t need to stick to just one type of content - in fact, you shouldn’t. But you do need to take a few things into consideration as your content library grows larger.
First, mix up your content often. Your followers don’t want to see product photographs over and over; they can go to your product page for that. On the other hand, they don’t want to have to hunt for information on a new product - so make sure you do give enough attention to your products, as well.
(Source / Caption: Vans’ Instagram page includes a mix of product-focused and other types of images.)
Secondly, think about how all of your content looks when viewed as a gallery. Consider using a consistent color and filter, at least for a given set of photos.
(Source / Caption: Fossil focuses on more subdued, tan colors.)
Perhaps most importantly, maintain a running theme throughout your posts:
(Source / Caption: Photographer Kat Gaskin keeps a tropical vibe going on her Instagram page.)
No matter how gorgeous your images are, they’re only half of what makes an engaging Instagram post. Next, we’ll talk about your photos’ captions.
The caption of your photo or video is where you can really get your audience engaged and get them to take action.
A few key principles for creating an effective caption on Instagram:
- Be authentic and use your brand’s voice
- Know your audience
- Facilitate engagement
Take a look at the following image:
Here, Chubbies almost nails it. The brand’s voice shines through clearly, and they speak to the audience in a silly, tongue-in-cheek way that their followers almost certainly appreciate.
The only thing that’s missing is a quick little call to action.
In this post, thisopenspace not only asks a (rather rhetorical) question of its audience, but they also prompt their fans to take action by checking out the link listed in their bio above.
What we’ve discussed so far are just the basic tenets of creating an Instagram caption that catches your audience’s attention and engages them with your brand.
To really increase your reach via Instagram, you’ll want to use hashtags, geotags, and account tags.
In the above caption, Flight Centre Canada uses a number of popular hashtags (#wanderlust and #travelgram are hugely popular), and also tags the person who took the accompanying photograph.
Doing so serves two purposes:
- Makes the post visible to people using the hashtags as search terms
- Makes the post visible to all of Alex Lop’s followers
You’ll even notice that Lop not only left a quick “thanks” in the comments section, but he also engaged further with another follower of Flight Centre Canada. Neither of these things would have happened had FCC not tagged Lop in the post.
Another “trick” you might consider using in your captions is to ask your followers to tag fellow Instagram users who might find your post (or your company) useful.
Though you can do this “just for fun” with your followers, you could also tie this strategy to a contest or giveaway (picking one of the individuals who tagged a friend as the winner).
A few quick notes on the effectiveness of hashtags, account tags, and geotags in your Instagram posts:
- Proper hashtag usage can result in 12.6% more engagements per post
- Posts with account tags (“@mentions”) in the captions result in 56% more engagements
- Geotags bring in an astounding 79% more engagements
If you look back through the examples we’ve provided so far, you might notice that some companies use emojis within their captions. But they don’t just haphazardly throw in emojis just to be quirky (unless that’s part of their brand’s image); they use specific emojis for specific reasons, such as pointing to a link or calling attention to a request.
- The Ultimate Guide to Writing Good Instagram Captions
- The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags in 2017
- How to Use Geotags on Instagram For Your Business
Okay, so you’ve got an awesome picture, and you came up with the perfect caption. Now you just need to post your content and move on, right?
(I’m assuming you know the answer to that is “Not exactly…”)
Engaging With Your Audience
As we said in the previous section, your photo and caption should work hand-in-hand to facilitate comments from your audience and get them to take further action with your brand.
But this will all be for naught if you don’t follow up with your followers once they do reach out to you.
Just as you would in the comment section of your blog, keep your eye on the conversations going on in the comments on your Instagram posts. Address concerns, answer questions, or simply chat your followers up.
Check out the conversation in the comments section here:
At first, the follower was rather taken aback by the high price of the product in question. However, a representative of Tentsile quickly responded, which led to a pleasurable outcome for all involved.
Entrepreneurs take note: This is how you engage with unhappy customers, whether via social media or otherwise.
Now, there’s more to engaging with your audience than simply getting them to comment on your posts (and replying to these comments).
Don’t forget that you can actually engage with other posts on Instagram, as well. In turn, you’ll increase the chances that others in your followers’ networks will take notice of your brand.
A few ways you might consider doing this:
- Liking and commenting on posts your fans have tagged your brand in
- Starting a discussion on an influencer’s post
- Challenging your competition to a friendly photo-battle
While your main focus should certainly be on building up your own Instagram profile, it’s also important to remember that “if you build it, they will come” just isn’t true. If you really want your following to skyrocket, you’ll need to actively engage with others on the platform as much as they engage with you.
Advertising on Instagram and Making Your Account Shoppable
Aside from the “link in bio” strategy we mentioned earlier, we haven’t focused much how you can use Instagram to directly sell to your audience.
While it’s more prudent (and effective) to play the long game and promote your entire brand (rather than individual products) via Instagram, the latter is becoming more and more acceptable - at least in small spurts.
Advertising via Instagram
Instagram’s advertising feature is relatively new (having been released to the public in late 2015), but, as to be suspected, it’s quickly caught on among large and small companies alike (within a 14 months, 500,000 companies had jumped on board).
While advertising of any kind will, of course, enhance a brand’s visibility, advertising on Instagram is incredibly effective for two main reasons:
As mentioned, Instagram users appreciate branded content in the first place. Seeing sponsored posts while scrolling through their feed doesn’t detract from the user’s overall experience - it enhances it.
Additionally, Instagram ads don’t necessarily jump out as advertisements, either. Take a look:
The only visible difference, on the user’s end, between an organic post and an ad on Instagram is the word “Sponsored” in the top right corner (rather than a timestamp). If a user follows Ben & Jerry’s on Instagram, they likely wouldn’t think twice about seeing the above post appear in their feed (and even if they don’t follow B&J, it’s not going to completely ruin their experience).
For more on how to use Instagram ads to your advantage, check out the following resources:
- Instagram Ads: The Complete Guide for Business
- The Complete Guide to Instagram Ads: A Step-by-Step Guide to Advertising on Instagram
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Advertising on Instagram
Selling on Instagram
Like the company did when unveiling its advertising functionality, Instagram is slowly unrolling the ability to make your posts shoppable.
For now, the feature is available to companies that sell clothing, jewelry, and/or beauty products that have their product catalog available on Facebook. Instagram’s team is using these companies to collect data and fine-tune the “shoppable” experience on their platform before making it accessible to all companies.
Essentially, shoppable Instagram posts work like this:
- The company tags the featured products within an Instagram post
- When a user taps on a tagged product, additional information on the product will be presented to them
- The user will be given the option to “Shop Now,” which will bring them directly to the product page on the company’s website
Since the feature isn’t yet available to all companies, best practices for creating shoppable Instagram posts aren’t exactly known as of now. What we do know, according to Revfluence, is:
- Only business accounts will be able to create shoppable posts
- A maximum of five tagged products per post will be allowed
- Product tags are only allowed on single image posts (not on slideshows, videos, or live-photos)
We’ll be sure to let you know more as Instagram rolls the feature out to more companies.
Instagram Feed Replicators
In lieu of using Instagram’s native “shoppable” option, you can link your Instagram account to feed-replicating sites (such as Have2Have.it) to allow your customers to easily find the product page of an item featured on your posts.
Here’s how it works:
First, you’d include a link to your company’s Have2Have.it site in your Instagram bio:
When your followers click this link, they’ll be brought to a page that looks almost identical to your Instagram feed:
(Source Caption: This page is synced with your Instagram feed and updates automatically.)
Once they click on a photo, they’ll be brought to a product page on your actual website:
While this option merely mimics the “shoppable” functionality of Instagram, the plus side is users who click through to your Have2Have.it site will ultimately be led to your full website, where they’ll be able to browse your entire inventory - not just what you’ve posted on Instagram.
As with all marketing campaigns, you want to be sure you’re getting as much value as you possibly can from your efforts.
There are a number of Instagram analytics tools available that help you track data such as your:
- Top-performing content (in terms of engagement)
- Most engaged fans
- Optimal posting time for maximum visibility and engagement
By analyzing these metrics (and more), you can learn more about who your followers are and the type of content they appreciate, and tweak your overall marketing strategy accordingly.
For a deeper dive into Instagram analytics, check out the following posts:
- The Ultimate Guide to Instagram Analytics: Metrics, Insights, Tools, and Tips
- Instagram Analytics Guide: How to Pull & Examine Your Data
- Unmetric’s Ultimate Guide to Instagram Analytics
Within eight short years, Instagram has evolved from a platform for sharing pictures of cats to a legitimate way to grow an ecommerce business.
That being said, the novelty of Instagram has certainly worn off. In other words, simply having an Instagram account for your business doesn’t guarantee success; you need to be strategic in your approach in order to spur a growth in sales.
As with all other areas of your ecommerce business, focus on figuring out what your fans want to get out of engaging with your company via Instagram first - then work relentlessly to give it to them.