A comprehensive guide to marketing and selling on Instagram

With over 800 million active users, Instagram is only beat by Facebook in global popularity. And because the platform is owned by Facebook, it’s also privy to Facebook’s unbeatable targeting capabilities and analytics.

But that isn’t the only reason Instagram is such a powerful marketing and sales tool.

Instagram’s unique setup allows brands of any size to connect visually and emotionally with their followers, laying the groundwork for building a strong, lasting business-customer relationship.

Whether you just want to get your Business Page set up and attract followers, market your brand, sell actual products or find ways to leverage the success you’ve already achieved on the social media site, there are endless ways to get amazing results with Instagram.

Tips for mastering the basics

Instagram has created a platform that, although huge, often feels like a small, tight-knit community to users. To get traction on the site, you need to keep that in mind. Once your Business Profile is set up, spend plenty of time researching your niche and who’s active in it before you post.

Look for profiles belonging to people and companies in your industry and stalk their pages for a bit. See what they post, what gets the most love and the types of people following those accounts, including what else they like and are interested in. Take notes, because this is likely the same community you’ll be interacting with shortly.

Decide on a “look” for your content. Don’t view each post as a single, separate entity; instead, see each post as a puzzle piece in your entire Instagram feed and find ways to make your content look cohesive. Whether it’s a unique set of angles you use for photos or setting your style guide to use a series of filters that coordinate, when a user clicks on your profile, every post should look like it belongs.

Understand that hashtags are everything. When used properly, they up your visibility in search engines, let you see and track how your posts are trending on the platform and help you keep a handle on your mentions. When used overenthusiastically, they drive followers away and make visitors roll their eyes and wander off. Use them for marketing campaigns, to start interactive hashtags with followers and joke around on occasion; but, keep some posts informal, hashtag-free and story-focused.

Instagram marketing ideas that work

Instagram’s platform allows you to fluidly market your business with a subtlety that other platforms can’t match. The key is to not only promote what you’re trying to sell, but to create an entire lifestyle around those products and services. The same basic marketing rules apply to Instagram as they do to other social media platforms: focus on spinning your ads and efforts in a way that connects with your followers, always take the time to engage with them and don’t try to appeal to everyone (otherwise, you just come off as generic).

Try these marketing angles to get real results

Create a list of a few hashtags to use for campaigns that line up with the product or service you’re promoting and/or the campaign you’re running. Come up with one specifically for the campaign, and then incorporate your brand’s hashtag as well as one or more popular or trending hashtags that relate to your product or service. Use Instagram’s “Explore” tab to find popular hashtags that work for your post.

Offer exclusive deals to your Instagram followers to drive first-time sales. The deal period should be short to create a sense of urgency.

Get involved in charity. This is touted as a tip for nearly every social media platform, but it’s essential on Instagram. Most users are 25 years old or younger, and a whopping 81% of people in that age group expect companies to publicly give to charities. Build trust and brand affinity by creating a donation hashtag for a charity of your choice; setting a period of time where a percentage of your sales goes directly to charity if enough people like your post; or, posting photos of you or your employees volunteering.

Host photo contests to get your followers involved. Create a hashtag for the contest and ask followers to post a photo of them using your product or service to their feed, with the hashtag, for a chance to win a new or popular product or service.

Tease or launch products directly on the platform. Whether you want to show a few shots of a new product before it launches or hop on Instagram Live on the launch day to show it off, both options build excitement for your brand. Again, Instagram users tend to feel as if they’re part of a smaller community, so teasing new launches or kicking them off on Instagram make followers feel like they’re in an exclusive club.

The options for organic, nonpaid, marketing on Instagram are a huge benefit to freelancers and businesses just starting out, but they aren’t the only choices available. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which means you can use Facebook Ads to create Instagram marketing campaigns to draw attention to your business.

Selling directly on Instagram

Over 800,000 Instagram users shop on the site every single month. If you have a U.S. Instagram Business Profile and sell physical products in US dollars, you may be eligible to use Instagram Shopping. This feature allows users to buy products from you directly on the platform, similar to how Facebook Shop works. In fact, you need to be approved for Facebook Shop to use the feature on Instagram.

If you don’t currently have a Facebook Shop and a product catalogue tied to it, you’ll need to set one up. It doesn’t have to be live, but it needs to be approved, because the two platforms use the same system for the shopping features. After that, just link your Instagram and Facebook business profiles and enable product tagging.

What if I’m not eligible?

While the shop option is user-friendly and seamless, not everyone, or every store, is eligible. If you want the option of selling on Instagram, you can:

  • Add a call-to-action message in your bio so followers can quickly click over to your e-commerce shop when they see something in a post they want.
  • Use an Instagram monetization app that gathers up products from your e-commerce website based on the products you’re promoting on Instagram. All followers need to do is click the link created by the third-party app in your bio and they’re taken to a gallery page on the monetization app where they can buy anything you’ve featured. After clicking the item in the gallery, they’re redirected to your e-commerce site’s product page. Like2Buy and Have2Have.it are two popular apps.

Leveraging your initial success

Already seeing growth, sales and success with your Instagram account? That’s fantastic, but it’s also just the beginning. Keep these ideas and tips in mind to maintain your followers, attract new ones and propel your brand to the next level.

Don’t get lazy. One of the biggest mistakes successful Instagramers make, whether influencers or retailers, is cutting back on responding to comments on their posts once they’ve reached their “ideal” follower count. No matter how big you get, failing to engage with your base will result in reduced sales at best, and a drop in followers at worst.

Invest in a quality DSLR camera and start dabbling in video. Quick clips made with your phone give your account a friendly feel, but professional videos draw more people in and enhance trust in your brand; if your Instagram content is high quality, they assume your business is as well.

Reach out to influencers. When you first started out, you weren’t very appealing to medium- to large-scale influencers. But with a solid follower base that grows daily, you’re in a prime position to team up with someone. Find noncompetitive accounts in your niche and start engaging. Comment on posts, hit that like button and regram anything that you think your followers might find interesting. Then, reach out via DMs and introduce the idea of a cross-promotion or sponsorship.

Repost content from your followers. Once your account gets larger, there’s not enough time to respond to the same percentage of followers as you did in the past. But you’re scrolling through your feed already, so why not utilize the content your followers are making to add to your own and show your base that you’re “one of them”? This alternative form of engagement frees up time on your part, while still keeping your business on your followers’ minds.

There’s no sure-fire formula for success on Instagram, but if you have the basics down and keep working the platform even after you have a solid number of followers, it can become one of the best marketing and selling tools you have at your disposal.


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