Instagram is a platform that has demonstrated tremendous growth. In fact, the Instagram community grew to over 400 million users this past year.
Despite its impressive reach, many business owners are still overlooking its marketing potential. As a result, they're leaving high levels of engagement, brand awareness, and even profit on the table.
In just 12 months, we used Instagram to gain 400,000 followers for Foundr -- which translated to over 70,000 email subscribers. At the end of that period, we were averaging 30,000 call-to-action clicks per month from Instagram, and converting 30% of the users who landed on our website from our Instagram page into email subscribers.
We've seen it work ... now it's time for you to get in on the action. Here are four ways to use Instagram to build your business and brand. (And if you're looking for more marketing tools and resources for your new business, check out our comprehensive guide on how to start a business.)
4 Surprising Ways You Can Use Instagram to Build Your Business & Brand
1) Grow your Instagram following with strategic partnerships.
One of the biggest frustrations for most marketers delving into Instagram is that they don’t know how to build a following. After all, without a large number of followers, how can it possibly be an effective marketing channel?
But based on our experience since launching the Foundr Instagram account, growing your following is not as complicated as it might seem. There’s one tactic in particular that we used to quickly grow our Instagram following to 10,000 in just a couple of weeks: partnering with other Instagram accounts.
To start, create a list of popular Instagram accounts that reach your target audience. When you’ve found them, you can then partner with them for what they call “shout-outs,” which can be either paid or unpaid. Here's how the two differ ...
Unpaid shout-outs are usually called "share for share." You share one another’s content, and you both encourage your followers to follow the other account. You get access to their audience, and they get access to yours.
To start with free shout-outs, focus on accounts that have similar reach as yours. The owners of those accounts will be more receptive to a share for share partnership, since both sides will benefit about the same.
But if you want to broaden your reach to accounts with bigger pools of followers, you may want to try paying for shout-outs. Here is an example of an unpaid shout-out partnership we did with Rich20Something, an Instagram account with a similar reach to Foundr’s:
We each shared an image from the other account and encouraged our followers to follow them, too.
If you don't have a budget for social media, you may want to skip over this portion, but paid shout-outs can be a great way to gain thousands of followers -- and gain them fast.
With paid shout-outs, you're aiming for accounts that have much higher numbers and a strong level of engagement (accounts where 2-3% of their followers “like” their content).
Foundr spent about $100 on shout-outs in the first two weeks of our Instagram account, and it was $100 well spent. This became instrumental in getting us to our first 10,000 followers.
Make sure to ask for a call-to-action in the shout-out, in which the account owner is actually asking their followers to take action on something. We’ve found the best strategy is to ask for their followers to follow your Instagram account.
As you begin to gain your first few thousand followers, you can begin to drive those followers to your website, engage with your brand, and subscribe to your email list.
2) Build your email list by converting your followers into subscribers.
As you know, email marketing is crucial to a thriving business. Your email list is made up of your customers. These are your fans -- the people who will purchase your products and services.
Instagram has been an important driver of email subscribers for Foundr, converting around 15,000–30,000 followers into subscribers each month, depending on our promotions.
If you’re familiar with Instagram’s limitations, you may be wondering how this is possible. After all, Instagram doesn’t allow links in photo descriptions.
That’s where a well-crafted bio comes into play.
Many businesses find it difficult to get followers to click the links in their bios because the tendency is to overload bios with ... well, junk. Break that pattern by writing your bio like you'd write a Tweet: short, useful, and packed with intention.
Here’s what we’ve chosen as our bio:
There’s a very simple secret: Within your bio, use a very specific call-to-action with a memorable URL that takes users to a unique page on your website.
Then convert those visitors by ensuring the page they land on is packed with value. We go out of our way to ensure we deliver a ton of value to each visitor who clicks our bio link. The URL in our bio brings users to a page that both enrolls them in a free course and offers them two PDFs packed with actionable content.
Once you’ve put the systems into place to not only entice your followers to click on the link in your bio, but also to lead them to insanely useful content, start driving followers to your bio by including calls-to-action in your image descriptions. Your photo caption leads to your bio, your bio leads to your link, your link leads to a huge offer of value.
3) Create compelling content that's worthy of being shared by others.
An Instagram strategy that includes creating beautiful, easily digestible content that not only resonates with your audience but also drives them to share and interact with your brand is crucial, and can explode your growth.
A great Instagram post can be boiled down to a formula, and requires two elements: beautiful imagery and engaging text.
Choose images that tell a story or elicit emotion. This image we shared is not only compelling and interesting, but it also elicits emotion and therefore drives engagement from our followers.
What this will look like for your business will depend on your industry, but think outside of posting images of your own products and services. Posting about yourself repeatedly on social media is like being that person at a party who talks constantly about themselves. Also, beware of copyright issues. If the image is not your own, request permission to use it or source non-attribution-required photos. (Check out this awesome list of royalty-free stock photos here.)
While you don’t have to add text to your Instagram posts, doing so packs a punch that a plain image won’t provide.
Text can range anywhere from a compelling question to a powerful, motivational quote. We encourage you to experiment with the latter, as a study conducted by Jonah Berger, author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, shows that "high arousal" emotion causes us to want to share far more than things that do not elicit such emotion.
To create a stunning visual using text, you don’t need to hire a designer. In fact, we use an app called WORDSWAG to quickly and easily create images like the one you see below. (If you're an Android user, try Phonto.)
One of our images was even shared by the rap artist LL Cool J:
While you'll notice that someone cropped out our logo and added their own attribution in the photo shared above, we always make sure to include our branding as part of all of our posts.
For example, if we post an image with a popular quote, we'll include our logo at the bottom of the image.
This small step has not only built brand awareness to our Instagram followers, but it also spreads as our Instagram content is shared on other platforms.
After you’ve nailed your Instagram content, and you have systems in place that will generate followers and email subscribers, it’s important to ensure that your followers are engaging with you to maximize your reach.
4) Foster a community of highly engaged followers.
Engagement comes in many forms, including followers sharing your content, interacting with it some way, tagging their friends, and clicking on your calls-to-action. In this section we'll go over some of our tactics for fostering a community of highly engaged followers on Instagram.
Post When Your Followers Will Actually See Your Content
Have you ever posted something to social media that you think will do really well, only to be met with crickets? Nobody liked post, nobody shared it with their friends, and the only comments you landed were from spambots.
While it's easy to assume you miscalculated the potential of the post, it could just be that you posted the update at the wrong time. After all, networks like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are simply feeds: the newer the content (with some exceptions), the higher up it will be in your followers' feeds.
To avoid this happening again, develop a pipeline of automated updates to be posted when your followers are actually going to see them. We use Iconosquare to find out when most of our followers are online. The service analyzes your followers’ activities and reports back with the best time to schedule your posts.
Posting when the largest portion of your followers are online will ensure your content is working overtime for you.
Ask for Engagement
A lot of brands will start Instagram accounts and become frustrated when people aren't engaging with their photos.
It seems so obvious and simple, but sometimes actually asking for your audience to engage makes all the difference. You can either include the action you want your followers to take as part of the image itself, or include it in the description of your post.
The best tactic? Both ... as long as it's specific and actionable. For example, ask them to "double tap" if they agree with your post, or tell them to tag a friend like we did in this post:
Instagram is a social platform with tremendous potential for businesses in almost any industry. And if you use Instagram strategically, it can have a significant impact on your reach, brand awareness, and ultimately the revenue of your company.
Have you tried any of the tips above? Let us know what's working for your business in the comments section below.