This post aims to be a collaborative best practices document that aggregates the learnings from our community. I'll start it with some ideas I've learned in my personal experience with using Instagram, and some tips I've picked up from listening to various webcasts and podcasts on the topic. Please add your own best practices in the comments, and the Admin Team will update the post regularly. Looking forward to all of us helping to raise each other’s IG game!
GENERAL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT INSTAGRAM:
- It's owned by Facebook
- The service’s terms of service and ad strategy can change regularly. They usually email when there are a change in terms, but here’s the direct link: bit.ly/IGterms
- Instagram has an entire help guide dedicated to businesses: bit.ly/IGgetstarted. Their Business Blog is also useful too! https://business.instagram.com
- Their features and functionality can, and will, change regularly
Read this doc all in one sitting, or jump to the sections that look interesting to you:
TIP #1: Decide why you want to be on Instagram
REASON: I know, I know... every post you read starts with this tip. But it's for good reason! Knowing your end-goal will help you to make better decisions around the content you choose to post, the captions and hashtags you'll use, the brands you choose to partner with, the contests you run, etc. When you're deciding whether or not to post a particular photo or video, you can look at it and ask "will it help me [your reason here]?" and make an easy decision based on your goals.
HOW TO DO IT:
Which of the following statements resonates most with you?
- I want to drive sales for specific products
- I want to raise broader visibility, or awareness about my brand or product
- I want to start a conversation, or inspire action with my intended audience
- I want to share my company’s story and inspiration with my intended audience
- I want to [fill in the blank]
The statement that resonates most is your core reason for being on Instagram. Write down the statement, and keep it close by, so you can refer back to it as needed.
- Half Hitch Goods uses their Instagram account to showcase things that inspire their brand: https://instagram.com/halfhitchgoods
- Pretty Things Inside (a Square Seller!) uses their Instagram account to drive online sales: https://instagram.com/shoppti
TIP #2: Define your audience
REASON: This goes hand in hand with understanding why you want to be on IG. When you know who your ideal follower is, you'll be able to more easily develop content and engagement strategies to intrigue them.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Audit your followers - do you recognize any of them personally? Which characteristics or attributes do they seem to have?
- Think about the types of people that you want to have follow your account – are they at a certain income level? Do they carry specific, shared characteristics? Are they determined or artistic? What do they like, and what do they dislike?
You don't have to spend a lot of time defining your audience, but even having some clarifying traits written down next to your core goal will help you to focus your content and create a cohesive look and feel for your account. You’ll know who you’re creating for!
TIP #3: Define your style
REASON: A couple of different webcasts I watched claimed that users on Instagram evaluate profiles, and determine whether or not to follow, based on the cohesive look of the profile. Since hearing about this claim, I've taken note of my own personal Instagram behavior, and can verify that I do the same! Here's an example of how it works: I discover a photo that I love from a brand in the “explore” section, and give it a like (heart). My next step is typically to click through to the brands profile, and look at the whole thing to see if I’d be interested in seeing their content in my feed regularly. The style of an overall feed heavily factors into whether or not I follow. The light, dreamy photos help me to feel inspired, whereas the vibrant, colorful photos make me feel energized. An account with well-lit food photos often makes me hungry.
HOW TO DO IT:
- The subject, angle, location, color scheme, and amount of light/ darkness in your photos all factor in to the brand of your account
- Use consistent photo editing techniques - similar filters, crop size, and style
- Look up instagram accounts that you want to emulate, and try and get a handle on their style
- Baking Betty’s - This account focuses on light, close-up photos of their products with the occasional fan repost thrown in: https://instagram.com/bakingbettys
- Mindy Mae’s Market - The style of this account comes through loud and clear. Very casual, yet almost dreamlike with their use of filters: https://instagram.com/mindymaesmarket
- Joyce Su - SF-based graphic designer who approaches her instagram account from a very different perspective: https://instagram.com/joycesu
TIP #1: Post great content
REASON: Hear me out on this. Have you ever posted a photo just for the sake of posting something? I've come across so many different brand accounts that are happy to post poor quality photos just to post something at all. The content you choose to post is largely what will encourage people to follow you, so make it great for them. Great content will inspire your followers to interact, and ultimately take the actions which help you to move towards your primary reason of being on Instagram in the first place. Quality over quantity is key!
HOW TO DO IT:
- Natural light is the best light for taking photos. Dark, blurry, grainy, or otherwise poor-quality photos aren’t worth posting
- Faces do really well on Instagram - consider taking product photos with a person featured
- Keep styling in mind - are there any accessories or props that could be used to enhance the photo you’re taking?
- Use the rule of thirds to help compose your photo, or even crop down a photo after it’s been taken. Stand on a stepstool to get great shots from above!
- Be mindful of using the zoom functionality - especially on your smartphone. It often results in lower quality images. It’s better to take a full photo from further away, and crop down, than to try and zoom in.
- Use a service like Dropbox or Google Drive to sync photos that exist on your computer to your phone. This is a handy trick if you have photos from a professional photographer, or photos from a manufacturer that you’d like to use
- Audit your accounts previous photos. Are they blurry or dark? Do they have low engagement? If so, remove them! There's no harm, and definitely no shame, in deleting a photo that isn't working with the vibe of your account.
- This is one of my own photos, and it’s a cropped-down version of the original. I actually hated the original, but love the crop! https://instagram.com/p/5FN9yONxB8
- Blush Shop does a great job composing a “flat lay”-style photo. Notice the balance of the composition, and the available white space: https://instagram.com/p/6VWCUAQ4jl
TIP #2: Use apps to enhance your photos
REASON: Most Instagrammers are not professional photographers, but a lot of photos seem to suggest otherwise. Many folks use photo editing apps outside of Instagram to lighten photos that are dark, boost contrast and saturation, or add a little bit of a tint to better balance the color. Once the photo has been edited to their liking, they save to their camera roll and bring it in to IG. There are a ton of different photo editing apps – most of which are free – so experiment and see if they work for your brand!
HOW TO USE THEM:
- Balance brightness, contrast, and slightly adjust saturation before going with a pre-built filter from Instagram. It will give your photo a more natural look!
- Use temperature settings to add warmth or coolness to a photo. “Warmth” adds more red and yellow tones, while “coolness” adds more blue, purple, and green tones. If you have a photo that seems to have wayyy too much red or yellow, you can adjust the temperature to be more cool to help balance it out for a more natural look.
- Once you use an Instagram filter, you can tap on the filter’s name to adjust the intensity of the filter (it defaults to 100%). This is a great way to help enhance photos without making it look like it was so obviously filtered.
- Not every photo editing app out there is free, so make sure to review screenshots and read reviews before deciding to invest in one!
TIP #3: Practice
REASON: You won't become an expert photographer over night. Some of the most beautiful Instagram accounts out there run by professional photographers, so try not to feel that you have to measure up. Practice when you can, and over time you'll see your skills improve! I know this is true because I've seen the quality of my own Instagram content improve after taking the time to practice lighting, cropping, and editing.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Practice outside of work! Take photos of your family or friends, or of interesting sights and experiences. I love taking photos of cool flowers I see when I'm out walking with my dog, or of interesting patterns on the side of buildings. Rainstorms make for great practice subjects!
- Challenge yourself to practice on one photo a day. Project 365 is a popular photo challenge that I seen on Instagram, but perhaps we can have our own challenge in the community too.
- Keep track of your practice photos! Don't feel the need to post them (unless you want to!), but it can be helpful to keep an album so you are able to look back over time and see your progress.
TIP #1: Post often
REASON: Followers like to interact with active accounts, and at this stage in Instagram’s lifecycle, most people are following so many accounts that they can’t keep up with what everyone posted every day. Instagram recommends that brands post at least once per day, with some accounts posting as much as 2-6x per day.
HOW TO DO IT
- Remember… quality over quantity. Keep in mind the look of your overall account when you are coming up with content to share. Don’t share the same photo over and over just for the sake of sharing something!
- Use an Instagram analytics tool to find out when your audience interacts with you the most often. Studies generally say it’s most ideal to post to Instagram early in the morning, or later in the afternoon or evening, but specific tools will analyze your account and suggest times based when people interact with your photos. Iconosquare offers a 7 day free trial of their analytics tool: http://iconosquare.com
@cakesbycliff posts photos of his creations 2-5x per day. Notice that he’s often posting different shots or angles of the same subject to drive more engagement: https://instagram.com/cakesbycliff
TIP #2: Curate content to supplement your posts
REASON: Content curation is the process of collecting, organizing and displaying information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. It can be really hard to come up with original images to post every day, so curating relevant content to post on your account can help to fill the gaps.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Use an app like Repost to add relevant content to your account while still giving the original poster attribution
If you don’t use an app like Repost, the best practice is to say something like “Regram from @username” in the caption so that your followers know it’s a curated post
- It’s a best practice to mention the original user in your caption regardless if the photo has specific attribution
- Do *not* repost someone’s photo if their account explicitly says not to
- If customers mention your brand or hashtag, consider reposting their content as a weekly or daily customer spotlight segment! You could get to the point where people are submitting photos explicitly for you to share
EXAMPLES: On my Instagram account, I regularly repost cakes that I find to be beautiful and inspiring. They’re indicated with the black “repost” icon in the lower left-hand corner that’s automatically appended when using the Repost app: https://instagram.com/p/6N07pbtxOu
TIP #3: Leverage hashtags strategically
REASON: Hashtags (#hashtag) are essentially labels. By hashtagging your content, it will appear in relevant feeds, and expose your content to a broader audience
HOW TO DO IT:
- Use Iconosquare and/ or Hashtagify to find out which hashtags are most popular and relevant for your audience.
- Opt for broad hashtags that will get your content visibility. Unique or specific hashtags will only expose to a limited audience.
- Instagram.com on the web now has a search functionality. Search for a particular hashtag, and it will show you how many posts are associated with it!
- Post hashtags as a comment instead of in the actual caption of the post. Multiple hashtags in captions looks spammy, but once you get 2+ comments, the comments will roll up and the first comment will be hidden. Also, you can always delete a hashtag comment if necessary.
- Add a comment with hashtags to older posts to re-push them through the relevant feeds at opportune times. Then delete the comment a couple of days later.
- You’re allowed 30 hashtags per post, so max it out! I like to keep a note on my phone with all of my relevant hashtags saved so I can easily copy & paste when I’m ready to post something. Iconosquare does a good job of recommending popular hashtags to use.
EXAMPLES: I’m sure you’ve seen hashtags on Instagram, and hashtag “clouds” within captions. If you notice a popular post with a lot of comments, click through the “see more” link and scroll to the top. My guess is that comment #1 or 2 is full of hashtags!
TIP #3: Point location tags to your storefront!
REASON: When you upload a post to Instagram, you have the opportunity to add a location to the post. As Instagram is a part of Facebook, it actually pulls in locations based on locations created with Facebook Check-Ins. For most of you that means your store’s location likely already exists within Instagram, and can be added to photos!
This is cool because each location on Instagram links to a specific page that aggregates all photos tagged with that location, along with a specific map so people can see where the location exists. That means, someone could find a photo of something in your store that they wanted, tap through the location tag, and see exactly where your store is so they can purchase!
HOW TO DO IT:
- Upload a new photo, or edit an existing photo on Instagram
- Tap “Add Location” and search for your store. If your store doesn’t yet exist, follow these instructions to create the location on Facebook, and then try again: https://www.facebook.com/help/175921872462772
- Post your photo, and test out your location page!
NOTE: Location tags usually mean confusion when it comes to personal privacy. Make sure to read Instagram’s help article on privacy & the location/ photo map features so that you know what’s happening when you post photos: https://help.instagram.com/502180853174568
Additionally, please test your own photos to see how they appear on your personal photo map. If you’re concerned about privacy, it’s probably best not to post photos with a location tag.
Check out Sparkle By Madison’s location page (another Square Seller!): https://instagram.com/explore/locations/250029441
TIP #1: Give your fans some love!
REASON: Your fans are out there spreading your message to their own friends, families, and networks. They deserve to hear thank you, or to get some support from your brand. Fun fact? 65% of a 16K person survey shared they feel “honored” when a brand gives a heart to their photos.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Go through your @mentions, and give a heart to the photos you like. Do the same for photos that appear under your location tag
- Respond to positive comments on your posts. You can thank the user for their compliment, send a cute emoji, or ask a question back to drive more engagement! Responses can help drive repeat visitors. (See note below for responding to negative comments.)
- Repost photos from your fans! Start a daily or weekly fan regram, and ask your followers to submit photos to you using a hashtag that’s specific to your business.
NOTE: Be very careful of responding to negative comments on your posts. Oftentimes people who post negative comments are not interested in a productive conversation, and your response is likely to inflame the situation no matter how friendly.
If a comment is posted on your content that is obscene, hateful, or otherwise inappropriate, just delete it. You can do so by tapping on the comment icon, then swiping left across the specific comment to delete.
Customer service complaints are the only negative comments I would ever consider responding to, but doing so requires great care and finesse. Your response must come across as sincere, empathetic, and understanding regardless of how frustrating the situation might be for you. Posting a comment or message that shows any sort of defensiveness or aggression will make your business look bad in the eyes of people who also stumble across the post. Think very carefully before posting!
EXAMPLE: Karena Dawn & Katrina Scott run the very popular Tone It Up site and community. They regularly encourage their followers to “check in” by posting photos on Instagram under specific hashtags. They then go in and give a heart to the stories they like, which in turn boosts the confidence and support of the original poster!
TIP #2: Interact with the broader Instagram community
REASON: Interacting with the broader community by liking, commenting, and sharing others content will help you to build a larger follower base. The more active you are, the more you’ll show up in different places on the service, including the coveted “Explore” tab.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Peruse through the different hashtag feeds, and engage with hashtags and accounts with a similar interest. This means giving a like to someone else - potentially someone you don’t even know (assuming their account aligns with your brand)!
- Anecdotally, I’ve found more success in liking & commenting on posts & accounts who have a lower number of followers and likes. These folks are more likely to be paying attention to the people who do interact with their posts than the accounts that have thousands of followers
- Be strategic when engaging with very active accounts. Likes and comments on a very active post (400+ likes) are likely to be lost by the account owner. So if you’re trying to get their attention in that way it’s just wasted time. However, if you’re truly moved by the photo, then by all means show your support!
- You can comment & engage with others within the comments section of a very active post. This can draw attention to your account from those who are also participating on the post, but not necessarily from the original post owner.
EXAMPLE: Anecdotally, I’ve found success in liking & commenting on posts from accounts who are posting in a similar hashtag stream as I am. A fair number of them have become followers after a few interactions back and forth.
Phew! That was a lot. What other tips do you have to get results on Instagram? Post your comments below, and we'll update the doc regularly.