Article first published April 2019, updated May 2021.
Instagram is no longer just a social channel for personal use, it’s now a legitimate marketing and shopping tool that you need to have in your e-commerce strategy. Why?
- 1.1 billion people use Instagram every month
- 35% of online adults use Instagram
- 60% of users look for new products on Instagram
- 71% of US businesses use Instagram
- 80% of accounts follow at least one business
These are staggering stats for a channel that many businesses use, but don’t know how to use the channel effectively.
Instagram is almost tailor-made for e-commerce brands that want to showcase products for sale, with the channel’s emphasis on high-quality images. That’s why we encourage all retailers to get their account set up and connect it to their online inventory.
WebSell webstores integrate directly with Instagram, meaning your product inventory can automatically transfer to your Instagram Shop.
Instagram is a global platform that presents a different set of challenges and exposes a new (and engaged) audience for businesses.
This 17-step guide will take you on a journey from the basics of selling on Instagram through to more advanced tactics. If you want more detailed tips about growing your channel’s following 👇
1. Know how Instagram works
Instagram is a very different type of social media network than Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. If you’re new to Instagram, you should be aware that links don’t work on Instagram like they do on other social networks.
If you post a link on Instagram, it won’t translate into a clickable hyperlink. Instead it will just appear as a messy, static URL. Instagram will only give you one clickable link to use across the whole platform, the link in your profile bio.
You will often see this link exploited in posts (“click the link in our bio”) and as a result, it is frequently updated as campaigns and goals change. However, you could (and probably should) use tools Linktree or Linkin.bio to create a table of different links from your bio link.
While this could make you think Instagram would be a difficult place to promote direct sales, recent studies have shown engaged Instagram followers to be worth $10 more than Facebook followers 😲
Many factors contribute to this stat, including Instagram users’ increased likelihood to engage with a brand and Instagram’s increased ability to reach all of a brand’s followers. There are ways to sell products directly with links on Instagram too which we’ll get to later.
2. Define your goals for Instagram
Before you start marketing on Instagram, define what success will mean for you on Instagram and understand that initially, building your audience will be one of your main focuses.
While audience size certainly isn’t everything, you will still need to build an initial base of followers that you can interact with and who you can rely on for early engagement.
Pro Tip: When you post something let your employees and friends know so you can get some easy and early likes.
You should have an idea why you want to have an Instagram and what you intend to do with it. Do you want to share beautiful photos of your products? Do you want to encourage customers to send you pictures with your products in exchange for rewards? Do you want to tell your customers more about your store?
Whatever you decide to use your Instagram channel for, make sure you define it first and then build your content around this central goal. HubSpot’s guide has some good pointers on this particular area.
After your initial experiments and audience tests you can start to turn Instagram into a direct referral and shopping channel and start to assign metrics to each goal.
Read on to discover more about how to turn Instagram into a direct shopping experience.
3. Know your audience
It’s crucial that you know what audience you want to reach and use data gathered from other sales touch points before you start marketing on Instagram. Identifying the common characteristics of your customer base like age, interests, pain points, etc. can help you shape your content.
There’s no point posting content that gets no engagement on Instagram, because on Instagram engagement is king. Know what your audience like and are likely to engage with.
Note: On Instagram engagement refers to likes and comments.
As hashtags are used so frequently on Instagram, you can conduct searches for hashtags related to your business to get a feel for what kind of content performs well and what kind of users post with those hashtags. This can help you to further define who your audience is.
4. Get the timing right
Brands currently post around six images per week on average on Instagram. That’s quite a lot when mapped to a full year. Creating an editorial calendar is one way to ensure you stick to a schedule. Getting consistent engagement every week is key to success on Instagram.
One of the main ways to ensure you maximize engagement on your posts is to make sure you’re posting at the right time. You’ve taken the time to analyze the competition, research your key hashtags, and craft suitable content. It would be a waste to post at the wrong time meaning the content falls flat. Early engagement is essential on Instagram as posts have a relatively short lifespan.
According to research, the best time to post on Instagram is usually around midday on weekdays. Most users will be checking their phones at lunch time during the working day, so it makes sense that this is the best time for engagement.
Posting in the evening also works well as you catch people after working hours.
5. Sell directly with shoppable posts & Instagram Shopping
As mentioned earlier, there are ways to sell products directly on Instagram through the shoppable posts feature. With shoppable posts, Instagram becomes a medium where users can complete the full buying process from discovery to purchase. You can identify shoppable posts on Instagram with the “Tap to View Products” text that pops up or the shopping bag icon.
To turn your Instagram account into a complete shopping experience you’ll first need to ensure you meet the following criteria:
- Own an Instagram business account. You can find more on how here, but the key action is to go into your Instagram’s account settings and hit Switch to Business Account.
- The business must be selling physical goods and you need to comply with Instagram’s merchant agreement and commerce policies.
- Connect your business profile to a Facebook catalog. You can create and manage this directly through Business Manager on Facebook. Read Facebook’s guide to how to do this for more detail.
Once all these criteria are met, you can start posting shoppable posts on Instagram and turn your social channel into a reflection of your online store.
6. Preview your new products
Instagram is a great place to build hype and increase early demand for a new product you have for sale. You’re already updating your WebSell-integrated online store with product images on the backend, so why not take those images and re-purpose them for Instagram to preview new products that will be available to purchase soon?
Here’s an example from one of the best to do it, Adidas:
Now you might not have access to great artist renderings of your products like this, but a simple product image or box with your branding on it and a date will do enough to start building hype.
If you want to compete with the bigger brands, who are posting an average of 1.5 times per day, then you need to fill up your content bucket with engagement-rich posts.
7. Utilize user-generated content for organic growth
If customers are posting images with your products in them on Instagram then you should repost and share these images, as this type of customer content builds trust in your brand and drives motivation to purchase. This social proof puts the physicality of your product into the buyer’s mind and with 93% of consumers finding UGC (user-generated content) helpful when making a purchase, it’s essential to capitalize on the opportunity when it presents itself.
As long as you credit the person that took the picture and inform them of your intention to repost the image, then you have the right to share this image on your channels. This action may even result in a microinfluencer type of relationship which can be a very productive way to drive sales and consideration from Instagram.
It’s worthwhile to even request that your customers post images of their purchases to social in exchange for something like a discount or special offer. Many brands actively pursue this method of acquiring social proof.
8. Maintain brand consistency
Maintaining consistency throughout your Instagram account is key for first impressions. New visitors will likely look at your profile image, scan through the first group of posts, and click into any that catches their eye. Content that feels out of place can cause you to lose followers quickly.
Determine your brand values and tone of voice for using Instagram before posting content. Think about how your typical customer would use Instagram or conduct some research on hashtags to understand what type of content they engage with.
Like all social channels, each one is used in a specific way and people can behave very differently from one channel to the next. An example of great brand consistency on Instagram is Red Bull. From a quick visit to the page, we immediately understand what type of content we’ll be seeing:
Now, that’s a big business example which isn’t relevant for 99% of Instagram users, but the principle is the same. Stay consistent and build a clearly defined Instagram channels that sticks to a consistent theme. You’ll find that your Instagram grows much more steadily as a result.
9. Optimize your bio
We mentioned earlier about building our your link tree on Instagram which is highly recommended, but there’s a lot more you can with your bio to promote your business.
A useful practice for e-commerce businesses is to treat your Instagram bio like the Unique Selling Point IUSP) section you might find on your homepage. You know the place where you talk about free delivery or how many products you stock? That.
Using emojis with a piece of text that details your USPs stands out and draws the eye straight away. Take your on-site USPs or create some, and post them in your bio. Like The Rugged Mill does here:
The location pin and the delivery van help to illustrate the point immediately before reading. If a customer is scanning their profile, they’ll take away the key info much more easily. They’ve also promoted a hashtag for customers to use if they want to share pictures with the business.
Make your bio work for you and treat it like another webstore. You want to get your key info and messaging across and you don’t have many characters to work with!
10. Get more followers organically
Don’t take the easy way out and buy followers. It’s expensive and won’t lead to increased engagement. There are many simple optimizations you can make to your account to ensure followers can find you easily. Firstly, make sure your username is searchable and your bio is completed (see above).
When starting out, ensure you have a feed with at least 12 to 15 posts on your profile so users know you’re committed to using Instagram. Then you can start following accounts that are related to your business and interact with them, this way you will pick up new followers and Instagram will suggest similar accounts to follow that match your circle of followers.
Lastly, announce on your other channels that you are on Instagram and include a link to your profile encouraging users to follow your account.
These are just a few tips though, we have a full guide for getting more Instagram followers over here.
11. Convert followers into customers
Converting your followers into customers will be a key measurement of success for your Instagram channel. Offering channel-specific promotions and deals to your Instagram audience to increase first-time sales can be a very effective way to launch your channel. It serves as an introduction to your new followers and establishes early brand loyalty.
Running contests and giveaways asking users to post using a specific hashtag to enter is another proven tactic for building brand awareness and loyalty. Make the hashtag specific (but not too long) so a search for it will only show posts relating to your competition which makes selecting the winner much easier.
People love free stuff and you can tap into this in a big way on Instagram. When there’s something for free on the cards, people will be willing to go the extra mile.
Businesses usually ask people to follow, like, share, and tag to enter a competition. You want to include all of these requirements to draw in the maximum amount of engagement on your posts.
12. Use Instagram Stories
Instagram has a time-limited, disappearing style of post called stories. And they’re pretty popular.
Stories are used by over 500 million people every day and have encouraged a lot of users to come back to the channel and use it daily. With the Story Highlights features, you can also set them to never truly go away by saving the best ones to your bio.
Stories are suited to authentic, real-life content and be a fantastic way to bring personality to your business.
Stories are images or videos that disappear after 24 hours, although you can save them to your highlights. Posting every image you post to your timeline to your story is a viable practice as many Instagram users only use Instagram for the Stories content.
Beyond that, you should use Instagram Stories to put a face behind the business or experiment with behind-the-scenes style content from your business. Getting new deliveries, previewing new products, or posting product reviews are all proven Stories that e-commerce businesses use.
13. Recruit some influencers
There are currently over 500,000 active influencers operating only on Instagram. According to a study by InfluencerDB, 39% of all Instagram accounts with more than 15,000 followers are influencers. You should only really invest in influencer marketing if there is a natural fit for your business where the personality of the influencer aligns completely with your business. When considering this rationale, it starts to narrow any list of prospects you draw up.
While the influencer market on Instagram is large and expanding, according to an Influencer Intelligence and Econsultancy study, just 12% of US marketers strongly agree that influencers have increased revenues.
Finding the right influencer for your business can be difficult as matching your brand promises to one specific person can be a laborious task. However, an in-depth evaluation process for every influencer is absolutely essential to ensure that your business will not be brought into disrepute.
You may eventually conclude that there isn’t any influencer that your business aligns with, and this is preferable to forcing a marriage between your business and someone with a decent following. Rigorous research and background checks should be conducted before you finish your search.
When finalizing on which influencer to employ the services of, it’s important to draw up a contract which strictly states how many posts per week/month/year are required and that a failure to do so indicates a breach of contract. Writing down everything you expect from your influencer and defining exactly what constitutes fulfilling the contract (Posts or Stories) is essential.
14. Use the right hashtags
Hashtags are a vital ingredient to cooking up success on Instagram. With them you can see what your competitors are doing, find more followers, and encourage engagement. They’re a way to categorize your posts with similar content via a searchable tag. It’s a really powerful tool for e-commerce marketers.
A post with at least one hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than posts with none.
Use the right hashtags though, and make sure your brand fits in with the climate of other posts using that hashtag. If you can’t find one that matches what you sell, create your own! Although it is much more difficult to attract engagement with a new tag. Best practice is to find an existing one that will work for now.
15. Focus on quality over quantity
As Gary Vaynerchuk said: “Followers can be absolutely everything or absolutely nothing.” What crucially matters is the value of your content and not how many saw it. While it’s nice to have a large audience, engagement is the key.
Instagram is the best social channel there is at the moment for engagement so for retailers looking to increase brand awareness and purchase consideration, this is the place to be. In short, quality over quantity.
A big part of this is getting your caption right. The text you use to accompany your image is very important. You can use it to tell a story or else use a short, snappy piece of text. Ask questions or encourage people to tag someone. Whatever you decide to write, make sure it’s on brand and makes sense coming from your business. Everyone knows there’s a person behind each social media account, but that personality should fit in with your brand identity.
16. Strive for authenticity
As we mentioned previously, every social channel is used differently so what works on your other platforms may not work on Instagram. One strategy that is proven to work on Instagram is authenticity, so this should form your content backbone.
Whether it’s using Instagram Stories to show users behind-the-scenes of your business or posting content that celebrates your employees, creating authentic and personable content is essential. Instagram, more than any other social channel, is where you turn your business into a real person.
17. Measure your success with analytics
As with any marketing activity, measuring is the key to defining success. However, Instagram doesn’t yet have a built-in analytics platform so this makes it a little tricky. When you do switch to a Business account, you will get access to some limited analytics around followers, impressions, and engagement.
You can also track campaign performance through Facebook’s Ads Manager, but only per campaign. Tagging each Instagram campaign with the name ‘Instagram’ or similar and then filtering by the word is a common practice so as not to have your Facebook and Instagram campaigns appearing together.
Third party apps like Iconosquare are also available which allow you to measure your account over time and compare your business with competitors.
WebSell & Instagram Shopping
NitroSell webstores now integrate directly to Instagram meaning your customers can shop directly from the social network.
Retailers can now automatically upload their product catalog from their e-commerce site to Facebook, and keep it automatically updated.