Introduction to Instagram

Instagram for business

Instagram Dashboard

Instagram is a free social media smartphone for sharing photos and videos with your customers and fans. It’s a simple way to record visual moments, whether they are everyday events, or travel, sport, family and social experiences. It’s easy to use and its built-in editing tools encourage creativity and expression. Instagram is a perfect way for you to expose the color and movement of your business to your customers and grow sales, which is, of course, the endgame to all social media activity for business.

Instagram has over 800 million users, and with Facebook as its parent company, that makes it a powerful social channel that now also has the business function and usability of Facebook powering it. Because of the visual nature of Instagram, it’s important to work on building an engaged following by posting photos that are interesting, touching, humorous, beautiful or striking. The best part is that as a social channel people can engage with you and your community directly, and build their own narratives and evangelism around your product. Instagram has evolved since its creation from a utility visual platform to now being a business powerhouse, with direct sales from shopfronts and advertising being a major feature of the platform. So now you can be a creator/influencer, and a retailer.

If you don’t already have one, setting up an Instagram for business account is easy.

  • Download the Instagram app (from the App Store for iOS, from the Google Play store for Android). Once the app is installed on your phone, tap to open it.
  • Tap Sign Up, then enter your email address and tap Next (or you can tap Log in with Facebook to sign up with your Facebook account).
  • Within the app, find settings, then scroll down to Switch to Business Account.
  • Once you have a business account, you can add in important information like business hours, address, and a phone number

Video case study

Insight into your brand at work and play

You should aim to use Instagram to give your customers insight into the personality behind your brand. Wherever your business lends itself to great visuals, you should take advantage of that on Instagram. If you’re a fashion or clothing retailer, you can use Instagram to share photos of your products being worn in a glamorous setting. If you’re a restaurant, you can post photos of the dishes you serve, or behind the scenes photos from the kitchen. If you’re a winemaker, then you can use Instagram to take photos of small moments on the vineyard, such as a photo of a spider’s web in the vines or a candid snap of the vineyard dog playing on a foggy morning. Even writers are using Instagram to show their books being read by celebrities and influencers for a boost in sales and credibility.

Whatever you do, you can find a way to share your brands world-view with your customers - telling your brand story and a glimpse of the values that underpin your business in a dynamic way.

Creating an Instagram content strategy

Using any social media for business needs a different approach to your personal accounts.

All of your Instagram efforts should be driven by strategic goals. What is your business hoping to achieve by using Instagram? Set goals that tie back to your overarching business goals that are embedded in your digital marketing strategy.

For example:

  • Increase product sales
  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Attract top talent
  • Identifying and establishing relationships with influencers

When executing your strategy you need a plan to cover these three key things:

How often and when to post

You’ll want to maintain a regular posting schedule, but don’t bombard your followers with too many posts. The smartest way to figure out what works best for your business is by testing times when you get the best response and when your audience is most active on the channel. Once you’ve figured out the best rhythm for your posting, create a detailed (ie. daily) content calendar to plan your posts and create a mix of information, CTA, sales and value added content posts.

Content themes

Rotating through different content themes will keep things interesting for your followers, and help you achieve different goals. No ones wants to be sold to, and most realise that as a business there is an endgame to your brand stories, so there is no need to ram that home too explicitly, instead show your product or service in action, give lots of free content and tips to your followers, show that you understand what is going on for them, that you care about them and their lives as more than just a link to the cash register, and every so often give them and offer or a nudge to simply and easily transact with you.

Style guidelines

Your Instagram account should be instantly recognisable as your brand and flavour. This means you need to have a deep think about how your brand visually translates on the channel and what your key imagery conveys. Ask yourself questions like do you use emoji in your captions? Are there grammatical guidelines your brand follows? What hashtags do you use? What types of photos do you post? Are there visual cues that every post should adhere to? What are your key filters and fonts?

Your style guidelines need to cover all of the ways your brand makes itself distinct and consistent. The benefit of doing this is it gives you greater clarity and depth into how you are representing yourself and your values in the world. It also gives you a template to follow in your business for others to post on your behalf while maintaining the message.

Building an Instagram brand for your business

Instagram is all about the visuals, so aim to build a cohesive and recognizable brand identity.

Here are a few ways to do that:

Create visual consistency

The majority of the top performing brands on Instagram use the same filter for every post. By using the same filters over and over, you can establish a style that will become recognisable to your followers. Since your goal is to get Instagram users to stop scrolling once they see your image (in order to engage with it by liking or commenting), the more instantly recognisable your photos are, the better. When you’ve been using Instagram for a while, you’ll notice that certain kinds of posts tend to do better than others on average. Once you see the patterns in your own feed, you can amplify those that are comment and engagement magnets.

Successful styles for Instagram

Instagram posts tend to do better if they align with styles that fit into the overall aesthetic of Instagram as a whole. Try to create images that are bright, colourful, saturated, warm or cool. Photos that utilise high dynamic range tend to do well, as the increased contrast can make detail more readable on small mobile screens.

Remember that most people will view your photographs on phone screens, so small details (such as text or faces in a large crowd) will often be lost. Try to have a single focal point or subject for your photos if you can.

Successful subjects

Photos of animals are often popular, as are photos that include interesting points of contrast (a blue sky in the background and a red tractor in the foreground, for example). Photos of people are successful as well, particularly if the photo tells a story or hints at something that’s outside of the frame. Photos from behind the scenes can give people a glimpse at a side of your business that they wouldn’t normally see. When it’s done well, this can be a powerful way to build brand loyalty. Photos that give a close up of food, drinks and fresh ingredients are a cult subject and get strong traction with the foodie community, and work for your businesses if you are at either end of the food or health supply chain.

Share and Care

Photos and videos on Instagram can be shared to your other social media accounts especially with the relationship to Facebook - however, despite that Facebook parentage, Instagram is a distinct channel of its own, and your customers will not want to see your content replicated on both channels. While you can occasionally get away with a duplicate post, don’t make it a habit, and have the same posting schedule and content calendar approach to your other social presence so you have a fresh take on each one.

Engage with your community

When you reply to your followers' comments they will love it, and it adds that personal touch. Check regularly so you can respond and reply. Follow people back, and then try to connect with them on other social sites.

Include your staff in your social strategy

Platforms like Instagram provide an opportunity to humanise your business; one of the best ways to do that is to use them to provide a little more insight into who your team are and what makes them tick. Humanise your business by posting pictures of your staff doing interesting things (either inside or outside of work). If it’s walking their dog, fly-fishing or racing a motorbike, you never know what may cause a connection with your business.

Encourage your followers to share relevant content

Make use of user-generated content by involving your followers. Ask them for images related to your brand, so that they add to your campaign. Instagram comes into its own with follower engagement, and the authentic experience of third parties working to showcase your brand is a powerful endorsement. Utilising the following of Instagram creators/influencers is also a common way to have a social media leader take your brand to the next level. Influencers are increasingly being used on Instagram to showcase brands, products and regions and can play a strategic role in boosting your following and brand identity.


Common missteps

There are a number of easy mistakes to make on Instagram that you want to avoid.

Common missteps include the following:

Too dark: If an image is too dark, the detail will be impossible to make out on a mobile phone screen. As a general rule, really dark images don’t work terribly well on Instagram (though black and white filters can be used effectively).

Over-editing: While it’s pretty normal for Instagram users to apply a filter or use some editing tools on their photos before posting them, you can definitely overdo it. Be wary of over-editing photos. As a general rule, you’ll want to stick to just using a filter and maybe one editing tool to adjust things slightly. Authenticity trumps perfection so look to being real, your followers want to connect, and will be less inclined to do so if you aren’t reflecting their lives.

Portraits, product shots and stock photos: While photos of people and products can do just fine on Instagram, it’s important to make sure that they don’t appear like stock images, standard product shots, or school portrait photos. Photos that feel like stock appear to be inauthentic and tend to undermine rather than build your brand.

Too artsy or minimalist: While Instagram tends to focus on aesthetics, photos that are too artsy or minimialist don’t tend to do particularly well. Being creative is great, but not necessarily for business brands - unless you are an avant-garde artist, in which case, you are already on brand.

Learn more about taking great photos on Instagram.


Hashtags are essentially Instagram’s sorting process. With approximately 95 million images posted on Instagram every day, it’s difficult for Instagram to efficiently deliver the right content to the right people. Hashtags help your post get discovered by viewers most interested in seeing it. Hashtags are short links preceded by the hash sign (#). For example, #discovertasmania is a commonly used hashtag in the tourism industry in Tasmania, which denotes that a piece of content (such as a photo on Instagram) is related to tourism in Tasmania.

The hash sign turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organise content and track discussion topics based on those keywords. Essentially, hashtags are a better way to categorise your posts. They help you reach a target audience, and more importantly, they help your target audience find you. These users are more likely to engage with your post because your post is exactly what they wanted.

Create unique hashtags for your brand or business. These should be something that represents what you do or defines you uniquely. Each industry has some variety of hashtags associated with it. From product based businesses to service based businesses, existing hashtags are out there. Find them, know them, use them.

On your mobile device, create a notepad note with your favourite/preferred hashtags. You can even create multiple lists if you have multiple types of content you share on Instagram. Set the list with your core hashtags and simply copy and paste it into your Instagram post caption to save you having to type them in each time. It’ll also make sure you don’t leave any out. 5 - 10 hastags is enough, you can use up to 30, but rule of thumb is about 7.

Use hashtags to get your content seen by a wider audience, not just the people that follow you. Add popular hashtags to your images and posts in order to grow your audience. That way, when someone is searching using a hashtag, they will find your posts. If they like what you are doing, they will like the photo or post. If they really like what you are doing then they will follow you. Hastags themselves are now able to be followed too, in the same way you would follow an account. Instagram’s algorithms will then pick and choose some of the highlights from that collection and surface them in your main feed.


Captions should be personal and appealing. Find a consistent voice by giving yourself some parameters that fit your business brand. For example, pick a length: do you want to be a storyteller who writes a paragraph or several or do you favour a minimalist approach with just a few words? Social media rewards cleverness in business and personal posts, so don't hold back with a witty pun or a play on words, it’s likely to get a conversation started and a whole lot of likes and shares along the way. While Instagram is a visual medium, it is increasingly cool to have quite a lot of narrative with your images like a micro blog. Of course that has to be compelling and entice the reader to scroll down. You’ll need to have some line breaks in there too so you don’t just dump a motherlode of text into your post. To learn how to do that, Digital Ready Coach Millie from Squawk Digital has some great tips.


Instagram Stories

Instagram stories feature differentiates significantly from Instagram’s usual image sharing in that stories only last for 24 hours, giving users the chance to build a snapshot of their day, and annotate it with drawings, notes, thought bubbles and stickers.

Instagram Stories appear in a bar at the top of your feed — and all Instagram accounts will be able to share stories, from your best friends to your favourite popular accounts. When there’s something new to see, their profile photo will have a colourful ring around it.

To view someone’s story, you simply need to tap on their profile photo, and their story will appear full-screen, showing you all of the content they’ve posted in the last 24hrs, the content will play in chronological order from oldest to newest. So how will stories be useful for your business? Stories can potentially provide a way for brands to stay top-of-mind on the platform even if their content isn’t always at the top of the feed thanks to the whim of the Insta algorithms. Experimentation with stories could help your brand to get its followers paying more attention to the posts within your feeds and boost engagement across the platform.

With Facebook predicting that in the next five years that platform will be all video, Instagram will naturally be looking to get part of that action. Instagram stories gives brands a way to produce live video content on the platform. You only have 30 seconds in each Instagram Story to say something or show something meaningful. If you’re looking to overcome this constraint, the best approach is to leverage a story storm. A story storm is a continuous stream of updates in which you’re talking about a specific topic of interest. Rather than trying to squeeze a handful of different insights into one Story – you can upload multiple to share a longer message.

Instagram Highlights

Instagram Highlights are like categories to give your audience a glance into your business through Instagram Stories. For example, if you have ongoing events, stories of the events can be saved under a Highlight called Events.

Or if you share regular recipes, you can save all recipe stories under a new Highlight called Recipes. If someone new follows you on Instagram, they can still check out your old stories and get you to know you better under the various Highlights categories.


As well as being the world’s most popular photo sharing app, Instagram has been steadily working on growing video as part of its offering, in line with a wider move towards popularising video on both Instagram and its parent company Facebook’s channel. The game changing move for Instagram came in June 2018 when it launched IGTV, a dedicated channel for video where every account can instantly create its own channel, and make it available to followers. It’s TV for millennials, with every user enabled to become their own creator.

IGTV is accessed in your existing Instagram profile. Use vertical video in an MP4 file format; minimum resolution of 720 pixels; videos must be at least 15 seconds long and no more than 10 minutes long; cover images must be 420 by 654 pixels and once uploaded there is no ability (yet) to edit it. When you are uploading your video, you can choose the IGTV option, and a preview shows up in your feed.

For small business the benefits of IGTV are being able to have a dedicated IGTV channel without doing anything more than setting it up, and instantly being able to port your existing followers along for the ride. It is also the shift from only having 60 seconds of glory, to having up to 10 minutes to captivate and entertain your fans, a game changer from the current state of play for Instagram video. It is also the simplicity of a video channel that is set up for mobile small screens from the get go, designed to quickly and simply enable you to communicate with your fans, promote your business and deepen your brand engagement. Think about how you might use IGTV video real estate to make content about your products, how-to-videos, explainers, product demos and training videos, along with all the infotainment your fans can handle.

Instagram advertising

Leveraging the existing Facebook advertising platform all businesses can access a range of Instagram ads through the Facebook Power Editor, so if you are using Facebook and Instagram in parallel, you can create dynamic campaigns to hit where your customers are.

Make sure your account is a business account rather than a personal one. This will unlock features that give you deeper insight, but it can only be created through a Facebook page. A rule of thumb however when you are advertising on both platforms is to differentiate your offering so as not to make your customers feel like they are in an advertising echo chamber.

Instagram ads are managed with the same tools as Facebook ads:

  • Facebook Ads Manager
  • Facebook Power Editor
  • Facebook’s Marketing API

In addition to these options, you can also advertise by using:

  • The Instagram app
  • Instagram Partners

To set up a Facebook advertising account, follow these guidelines:

  • Open your Business Manager Settings.
  • Under the People and Assets tab, click on “Ad Accounts”
  • On the right side of the page, select “Add New Ad Accounts
  • Choose one of the 3 options: “Claim Ad Account”, “Request Access to an Ad Account” or “Create a New Ad Account”
  • If you choose to request access or claim an ad account, enter the ad account ID. (Learn where to find the account ID)

To add your Instagram account to your Facebook advertising account, follow these steps:

  • Go to your Business Manager
  • Click on “Business Settings” and then “Instagram Accounts”
  • Click on the Instagram account you’d like to assign an ad account to
  • Click “Assign Ad Accounts”

Focus on the Visuals

As outlined, Instagram as a platform is strongly visual, so it makes sense that advertising which stands out on the platform utilises this culture and amplifies it, like an extension of your brand. For starters, make sure that you get your sizing and specs right - you can find all the data about that in the complete Instagram Ad Specs and Size Guide. Use colour and image effectively, and make sure the text in your ad is snappy and to the point, the same limits on text heavy ads that exist with Facebook also apply to the rules of advertising on Instagram.

Given Instagram also has the power of Facebook's demographics and analytics, you can use all of their targeting tools to make sure you get the kind of ad that your customers will respond to. A/B testing is the answer to making sure that you are on message and your call to action is hitting the mark.

Instagram Ad types

Photo Ad: Photo ads allow you to tell your story in a clean and creative canvas, where photos can be in landscape or portrait format. These are also the easiest posts to get up and running, given it's a single image. If you're looking to dip your toe into Instagram advertising, this is the best ad type to test the waters.

Video Ads: These allow you to advertise using videos or gifs. You can share videos that are up to 60 seconds long, in landscape or portrait formats. User engagement with videos are fast outpacing that of static images, so if branding or engagements are a key KPI, a video may be worth testing.

Carousel Ads: Allowing multiple images in carousel format, these are similar to the carousel ads which have been so effective through the Facebook platform. Carousel ads give brands more flexibility in telling their stories by allowing people who view their ads to swipe left to see additional images and link to a website of the brand’s choice.

Stories Ads: Appears in the stories feed, its important to note that Instagram stories disappear from your feed and profile in 24 hours. If your message is time-sensitive, Stories make a great ad application.

Promoted posts: Like Facebook you can promote high performing posts. When choosing a post to promote, look for posts that have achieved strong organic performance in terms of likes and comments. This is a good indication it will be a high-performing paid promotion as well.

Choose Your Objectives

The Instagram advertising platform supports four types of campaign objectives, with two relevant to the type of advertising most business will be looking for:

  1. Website clicks – driving people from Instagram directly to websites from posts. Previously a user would need to go via the bio link, be redirected the home page and then navigate to the page of interest. Now a post will be able to have a ‘call to action’ button linking straight to the relevant page.
  2. Video Views – similar to the current video view campaigns available through Facebook.

Businesses can buy and measure ads across both Instagram and Facebook together so that advertisers can run targeted campaigns on both platforms at the same time with ease. You need a Facebook page to run an ad on Instagram, and there are two options for creating it - Power Editor and Ad Creation and operates the same way as creating ads on Facebook.

Learn more about Instagram advertising.

Instagram Live

Livestreaming on Instagram is known as Instagram Live. People love live interactions. It’s like going to watch your favourite singer perform live and soak in the atmosphere in real time.

The instant gratification narrows the physical distance between your audience and your brand. When you go live on Instagram, you can add filters and also allow your live audience to ask you questions in real-time. At any one time, you can go live up to 60 minutes before it gets cut off. For a longer stream, you’d have to go live again.

Once your live video has ended, there is an option for you to share a replay of it to your Story. The live video will expire after 24 hours.

Instagram has earned its place in the top two social media channels, and like its parent company Facebook is moving from being a consumer to consumer channel, to really promoting businesses and creators to be having a conversation with their followers. It is harder to cut through than it used to be, and is a busy channel, but if you are consistent, know your audience, use the advertising features judiciously, use the video features regularly and most importantly offer value, compelling content and that little bit extra, you will see your audience grow alongside your brand.