Instagram has been a game-changer for many small businesses, giving them a chance to reach a wider audience through inspiring photography and fun captions. If you’re ready to get your small business started on Instagram, or have started already but need some guidance, then this guide is for you. Start doing these 14 things and you’ll see your small business shine and stand out when it comes to Instagram.
1. Only share REALLY GOOD photos
Instagram is a platform for sharing and viewing beautiful, inspiring, high-quality photos, so setting that standard for your small business is a going to help you stand out. If you have a DSLR camera, consider sharing pictures taken on that camera because the quality will be impressive— this is what I usually do for my account for Love and London as my Olympus PEN has a built-in wifi feature that sends photos right to my phone.
That being said, smartphones take pretty awesome pictures these days so if that’s all you have then you’re set, just follow some photography best practices to make sure you make your photo look its best. There’s a saying that it’s not the camera that makes the picture, it’s the person behind it, which is COMPLETELY true.
Some photography best practices to keep in mind when taking photos for Instagram:
• Turn the grid option on on your phone so you can use the rule of thirds, which is a principle that says that positioning your photo’s subject (a person, dog, etc.) along one of the grid lines is much more appealing to the eye than not. Here’s a post that will teach you more about the rule of thirds and how to use it with your smartphone snaps.
• Never use the flash, and only share photos that are lit by natural light or professional studio lighting. Dark photos are a big no no!
• Go EASY on the filters. In fact, consider not even using any!
• Be aware of what’s in the background of your photo that will be distracting, like ugly trash bins, coffee cups, etc.
If you have photos that you really want to share but they aren’t the best quality (dark, fuzzy, etc.), resist the urge to share them on Instagram. If you really must share them, stick with Twitter, where less-than-stellar photos are sometimes forgiven 😉
2. Include yourself and your employees in photos
Instagram is a great platform for sharing bits and pieces of your business that you wouldn’t normally convey on your website or other platforms. This can include you and your employees, and can help “humanise” your business to your followers and potential customers.
Some businesses are great at doing this, but remember that most people probably won’t know who your employees are, and at this point they don’t really care either, so find a way to work them into the photo where they aren’t the main focus of it– there needs to be another subject in the photo that they’ll be drawn to.
Here’s a GREAT example— even though we don’t quite know who these staff members are, they are doing a really fun jumping photo (their customer base LOVES these) and have a gorgeous background to go along with it.
For businesses that don’t get to have the Amalfi Coast as their backdrop often, here’s another great example from Hootsuite. A staff member is in this photo but the wall art that he’s strategically placed under makes the photo look really visually appealing and interesting.
Connect into the Owl. @holeytonal getting inspired by new murals in our London office! Photo: @merindapeppard #hootsuitelife A photo posted by Hootsuite (@hootsuite) on
3. Learn how to take candid shots
This should be applied to what we talked about just before— remember that candid shots of yourself, your employees or even your customers can be really fun and interesting to look at. Instead of a boring posed photo, try snapping a photo while no one is looking and see how it turns out— and show your followers something “in the moment”.
One of my past clients has been killing it on Instagram— here’s an example of a great candid moment she shared:
4. Limit the promotional/product shots
As I’ve talked about in a few of my previous posts, like the top mistakes that small business owners make on social media, talking about you and only you is a big no-no when it comes to social media. It’s boring, uninspiring, doesn’t start a conversation and gives nothing to your community. Just as you should on Facebook and Twitter, limit the purely promotional content you share— that’s not what Instagram is about, and you’ll just turn your followers off and perhaps turn them into unfollowers.
5. Get creative with your promo/product shots
When you DO share promo or product shots, get creative with it— people LOVE that on Instagram. Some businesses get creative enough with their shots that they post almost purely promotional content, but their audience LOVES it. American fashion business Bando is really good at this — their theme is all things bright and colorful, which makes their account and each individual photo seriously POP— and they’ve done it so well that they have over 270,000 followers. WOAH. To top it off, more than 50% of their Instagrams have some kind of promotional message in them, but they include them so cleverly and creatively that their community just eats it up.
staying focused this weekend?✌ pic via @a.r.t.nyc. ::link in profile:: #bandofun A photo posted by ban.do (@shopbando) on
6. Be aware of Instagram’s new truncated captions
There’s pretty much NO limit on the amount of characters that an Instagram’s caption can be, which used to be awesome for storytelling. But recently, Instagram have switched to truncated captions on the home feed, which means that your followers will only see the first 3 lines of a caption before see a “more” button.
It’s important to remember this when crafting your captions. We can assume that the majority of your followers won’t click the “more” button, just like on Facebook, so if you have super-important messaging that you want the majority of your community to see, then make sure it’s included in the first three lines of your caption.
7. Share your customers’ Instagrams
If you’ve read my guide to getting your customers to start talking about you on social media, then you’ve probably seen lots of great Instagrams popping up from your customers— awesome! That’s pretty powerful WOM marketing right there. Why not share the best photos with your community? It’s less work for you (just screenshot, then share) and you’ll encourage more of your customers to start sharing photos from your business. Consider using a hashtag so that you can easily find photos, like how I promote #theabroadguide for my study abroad website.
Just remember to ask the Instagrammer if they wouldn’t mind you sharing their photo and tagging their account— most wouldn’t, but its best to ask anyways so you don’t get into any legal trouble!
8. Share “behind the scenes” shots
Make your followers feel like their are VIPs because they follow you on Instagram and give them a sneak peek into the behind-the-scenes of your business. This is a great opportunity to use Instagram’s video feature, or to build up anticipation for new products or services you’ll be introducing soon. Innocent is BRILLIANT at using Instagram for letting their customers in on what happens at the company headquarters from day-to-day, which pretty much just seems like practical jokes and pun brainstorming all day, every day. It furthers their “coolness” factor, and makes people even more obsessed with the brand than they already are.
Clare is one of our designers here. We spotted her doing some pretty serious design work this morning. A photo posted by Innocent (@innocentsmoothies) on
9. Post consistently
In order to continuously build your community and keep your followers engaged, your business should be posting at least one Instagram per day, but 2-3 is ideal. That being said, it’s quality over quantity, so if you don’t have any great pictures to share one day, it’s better not to share at all than to share something that isn’t well thought out or of high quality.
If you need some help with finding the time for social media tasks when running your business, this post will help (and includes a free worksheet).
10. Be aware of how your profile looks at first glance
Before deciding to follow you, Instagram users will first look at your Instagram profile. This is their first impression of you and your account, so make it count. Be sure that your bio clearly explains who you are and what you do, and of course includes a link to your website. Also keep an eye on how your six latest photos appear and if they fit cohesively together. Whether it be with a color theme (like, all grey photos) or just being sure that you don’t post more than one food shot in a row, don’t be afraid to delete anything that doesn’t fit!
11. Use the link in your profile to your advantage
The only spot where you can include a clickable link in Instagram is in your profile bio, so use that wisely. If you’ve posted a photo and want to include a link with it, direct your followers to your bio and tell them to click the link— before you post, change the link to the one you want them to end up at.
12. Get your customers involved
Everything’s more fun when your customers get involved, right? It makes you feel like you aren’t just talking (or rather, tweeting) to a wall. In this post about how to get your customers to talk about your small business on social media, I give some ideas for how you can encourage your customers to start generating some authentic word-of-mouth marketing for you.
13. Get re-grammed
A great way to build some brand awareness and increase your Instagram community is to get re-grammed by other relevant accounts. You can attempt to do this by using relevant hashtags, tagging the account in your photo in an authentic way (don’t be spammy), or just by engaging with the photos already posted by the accounts you’d like to be re-grammed by. Here’s an example— an estate agency in Clapham could share some photos from around the area, including restaurant recommendations, shops, and other points of interest. By tagging the relevant accounts for each photo, there’s a chance that the businesses will re-gram the estate agency’s photo, sharing it with their followers that most likely live in Clapham— the agency’s target market! They may gain some followers, but in the least they’ll gain some brand awareness.
#London is full of colour! 🌈 Wonderful #NottingHill by @jess_inlondon ❤️ // #thisislondon A photo posted by @LONDON | TAG #THISISLONDON (@london) on
14. Have fun, but stay on brand
Utilise Instagram to show a different side of your business, but always put your best foot forward and be true to your brand — a principle to be applied to anything that involves your business!
What have you found does or doesn’t work when it comes to your small business using Instagram? Let me know in the comments below.