How to Use Instagram for Business: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide

How to Use Instagram for Business: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide

More than one billion people use Instagram every month, and roughly 90% of them follow at least one business. This means  that, in 2021, using Instagram for business is a no-brainer.

In just over 10 years Instagram has grown from a photo-sharing app to a hub of business activity. Brands can run fundraisers in Instagram Live broadcasts, open shops from their profiles and let people book reservations from their accounts. Updates of new business tools, features and tips in the app have become pretty much routine.

It can be a lot to keep track of though, especially if running an Instagram business account is only one aspect of your job. So we’ve brought everything together here.

Learn how to use Instagram for business, from setting up an account from scratch to measuring your success.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a lifestyle photographer used to grow from 0 to 600,000 followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.

How to use Instagram for business: 6 steps

Step 1: Get an Instagram business account

Start a new account from scratch or switch from a personal to a business account by following these steps.

How to sign up for an Instagram business account:

1. Download the Instagram app for iOS, Android or Windows.

2. Open the app and tap Sign up.

3. Enter your email address. If you plan to grant access to multiple users or you want to connect your Instagram business account to your Facebook Page, make sure to use an admin email address to sign up or tap Log in with Facebook.

4. Choose your username and password and fill in your profile info. If you logged in with Facebook, you may be asked to sign in.

5. Tap Next.

Congrats! You’ve created a personal Instagram account. Follow the steps below to switch to a business account.

How to switching a personal account to an Instagram business account:

1. From your profile, tap the hamburger menu in the upper-right corner.

2. Tap Settings. Some accounts may see Switch to Professional Account from this menu. If you do, tap it. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.

3. Tap Account.

4. Choose Business (unless it makes sense for you to choose Creator).

5. If you plan to connect your Instagram and Facebook business accounts, follow the steps to connect your account to your Facebook Page.

6. Select your business category and add relevant contact details.

7. Tap Done.

Learn more about the difference between Instagram business and creator accounts.

Step 2: Create a winning Instagram strategy

Define your target audience

A good social media strategy starts with a sound understanding of your audience.

Research Instagram’s audience demographics to get a sense of who uses the platform. For example, 25-34-year-olds represent the largest ad audience on the site. Identify the key segments that overlap with your customer base, or hone in on active niches.

Since defining your target market is one of the most important parts of your marketing strategy for any marketing tool, we’ve created a step-by-step guide that explains all the details. Here’s the short version:

  • Determine who already buys from you.
  • Check the analytics on your other social media channels to learn who follows you there.
  • Conduct competitor research and compare how your audiences vary.

Knowing who’s in your audience puts you in a better position to create content. Look at the type of content your customers post and engage with, and use these insights to inform your creative strategy.

Set goals and objectives

Your Instagram strategy should establish what you hope to achieve on the platform.

Start with your business objectives and identify how Instagram can help you accomplish them. We recommend applying the SMART framework to ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

Track the right performance metrics

With your goals defined, it’s easier to identify important social media metrics to monitor.

These vary for each business, but in broad terms, plan to focus on metrics related to the social funnel.

Align your goals to one of the four stages in the customer journey:

  • Awareness: Includes metrics like follower growth rate, post impressions and accounts reached.
  • Engagement: Includes metrics like engagement rate (based on likes and comments) and amplification rate (based on shares).
  • Conversion: In addition to conversion rate, this includes metrics like click-through rate and bounce rate. If you’re using paid ads, conversion metrics also include cost per click and CPM.
  • Customer: These metrics are based on actions customers take, such as retention, repeat customer rate, etc.

Create a content calendar

With your audience and goals defined, you can plan to publish on Instagram with purpose. A well-planned social media content calendar ensures you don’t miss important dates and allows you to allot enough time for creative production.

Start by plotting out and researching important events. This may include periods such as holiday planning or Black History Month, back to school or tax season, or specific days like Giving Tuesday or International Hug Your Cat Day. Look at sales data to see when your customers start planning for specific occasions.

Look for opportunities to develop themes or regular installments that you can build into a series. “Content buckets,” as some people call them, allow you to check certain boxes without having to overthink creation. The more planning you do upfront, the better you’ll be able to produce regular content and respond to last-minute or unplanned events.

Plan to publish when your followers are online. Because newsfeed algorithms consider “recency” an important ranking signal, posting when people are active is one of the best ways to improve organic reach.

With an Instagram business account, you can check the days and hours that are most popular for your audience:

1. From your profile, tap Insights.

2. Beside Your Audience, tap See All.

3. Scroll down to Most Active Times.

4. Toggle between hours and days to see if a specific time stands out.

audience insights most active times

Step 3: Optimize your Instagram profile to do business

An Instagram business profile gives you a small amount of space to accomplish a lot. It’s where people on Instagram go to learn more about your brand, visit your website or even book an appointment.

Write a great bio

The people reading your bio were curious enough to visit your profile. So, hook them in and show them why they should follow you.

In 150 characters or less, your Instagram bio should describe your brand (especially if it’s not obvious), and showcase your brand voice.

We’ve got a full guide to creating an effective Instagram bio for business, but here are some quick tips:

  • Cut straight to the point. Short and sweet is the name of the game.
  • Use line breaks. Line breaks are a good way to organize bios that include different types of info.
  • Include emoji. The right emoji can save space, inject personality, reinforce an idea or draw attention to important info. Make sure to find the right balance for your brand.
  • Add a CTA. Want people to click on your link? Tell them why they should.

Optimize your profile pic

When using Instagram for business, most brands use their logo as a profile picture. Keep your picture uniform across social media platforms to aid recognition.

Your profile photo displays as 110 x 110 pixels, but it’s stored at 320 x 320 pixels, so that’s the size you should aim to upload. Like most profile icons, your photo will be framed by a circle, so make sure you take that into account.

Use your one link in bio wisely

For accounts with less than 10,000 followers, this is the only spot on Instagram where you can post an organic clickable link. So be sure to include one! Link to your website, your latest blog post, a current campaign or a special Instagram landing page.

Add relevant contact info

When using Instagram for business, it’s important to provide a way for people to contact you directly from your profile. Include your email address, phone number or physical address.

When you add contact information, Instagram creates corresponding buttons (Call, Text, Email or Get Directions) for your profile.

Configure action buttons

Instagram business accounts can include buttons so that customers can book or reserve appointments. To use this feature, you need an account with one of Instagram’s partners.

From your business profile, tap Edit Profile, then scroll down to Action Buttons.

Add Story Highlights and covers

Instagram Story Highlights are another way to maximize your Instagram business profile’s real estate. Organize Stories into saved collections on your page, whether it’s recipes, tips, frequently asked questions or user-generated content.

Whatever you decide, add some polish to your profile with Highlight covers.

Step 4: Share high-quality content

Create a visual aesthetic for your brand

Instagram is all about visuals, so it’s important to have a recognizable visual identity.

Try to establish recurring themes of pillars that you can alternate. In some cases, the content will be obvious. A clothing line might showcase its clothes, and a restaurant might post photos of its food. If you offer services, try showcasing customer stories, or go behind the scenes to highlight office life and the people who make your company tick.

Look at other brands for inspiration. Air France, for example, alternates between destination shots, window seat views, travel amenities and airplane pictures.

Air France Instagram page buildings and destination shots

Source: Air France Instagram

Once you decide on your themes, create a consistent visual look. That includes a color palette and an overall aesthetic that your fans will instantly recognize when they see it in their Instagram feeds.

Take thumb-stopping photos

To make Instagram work for your business, you’ve simply got to have great photos. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer, and you don’t need a lot of equipment.

Your mobile phone is your best friend when it comes to Instagram photography since you can post straight from your device.

Here are some tips to get the best photos when shooting with your phone:

  • Use natural light. No one looks great with a flash lighting up the oiliest parts of their face and casting weird shadows on their nose and chin. The same is true for product shots. Natural light just makes shadows softer, colors richer and photos nicer to look at.
  • Avoid harsh light. Late afternoon is an unbeatable time to take photos. Cloudy days are better than sunny ones for mid-day shooting.
  • Use the rule of thirds. Your phone camera has a grid built in to help you follow this rule. Place your subject where the grid lines meet to create an interesting photo that’s off-center but still balanced.
  • Try different angles. Crouch down, stand on a chair — do whatever it takes to get the most interesting version of your shot (as long as it’s safe to do so, of course).
  • Keep it simple. Make sure your visual is easy to take in at a glance.
  • Make sure there’s enough contrast. Contrast provides balance, makes content more legible and is more accessible.

If you have the budget, support artists and hire photographers or illustrators.

Use tools to help you edit your photos

No matter how great your photos are, it’s likely you’ll need to edit them at some point. Editing tools can help you maintain your aesthetic, add frames or logos, or even create infographics and other original content.

Fortunately, there are a lot of free resources available, including Instagram’s built-in editing tools. When those tools don’t cut it, experiment with mobile photo editing apps, many of which are either free or very affordable.

Here are a few more pointers for editing your Instagram photos.

Write compelling captions

Instagram may be a visual platform, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect your captions.

Captions allow you to tell the story that makes the photo meaningful. Good copy can build empathy, community, and trust. Or it can just be funny.

In two words, this Reformation caption is wry, seasonal, and alludes to the brand’s environmental commitment.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Reformation (@reformation)

Develop a clear brand voice so you can stay consistent. Do you use emoji in your captions? Is there a style guide that your brand follows? What hashtags do you use? A good set of guidelines will help keep your captions distinct and on-brand.

Borrow inspiration from the best copywriters out there. Read our Instagram caption guide for brand examples and copywriting tools.

Trying to figure out how to add line breaks? Uncover this and more Instagram hacks here.

Save more casual content for Instagram Stories

More than 500 million people watch Instagram Stories every day. For perspective, all of Twitter counts an average of 192 million daily users.

People have taken to the casual, disappearing nature of the format, even when it comes to brand content. A 2018 survey by Facebook found that 58% of participants became interested in a brand or product after seeing it in a Story.

Not surprisingly, this format is a great platform for storytelling. Tell authentic brand stories that have a beginning, middle and end. Engage your audience with Stories stickers and provide value for your viewers to get them in the habit of watching your Stories consistently.

Don’t forget, if you have more than 10,000 Instagram followers, you can also include links in your Instagram Stories.

Explore other formats

Instagram may have started as a simple photo-sharing app, but now the platform hosts everything from live broadcasts to Reels. Here’s a rundown of some of the formats that might be a good fit for your brand:

  • Instagram Carousels: Publish up to 10 photos in a single post. Hootsuite experiments have found these posts often have higher engagement.
  • Instagram Reels: This TikTok-esque format now has its own tab on the platform.
  • IGTV: Instagram TV is a long-form video format, ideal for recurring content series.
  • Instagram Live: Now up to four people can broadcast live on Instagram.
  • Instagram Guides: Brands have found several ways to share products, company news, how-to’s and more with this format.

Stay informed about all the latest Instagram product updates.

Create inclusive content

Brand content works best when people can imagine themselves using your products or services. And it’s harder for people to do that if they don’t feel represented or recognized.

Aim for your content to be inclusive in every sense of the word. Celebrate all walks of life, but avoid clichés or stereotypes. Add alt-text image descriptions and automatic captions, and follow best practices to make your posts accessible.

Post consistently

If you’re serious about running an Instagram account for your business, you need to show your followers that you’re serious too. It’s not enough to just post quality content every once in a while. You need to post it consistently, so your audience knows they can expect a steady stream of interesting and helpful content from you on a regular basis — making your brand worth a follow.

That being said, humans who run Instagram accounts for business also need to take vacations and…sleep. That’s where scheduling your posts in advance comes in. Scheduling your Instagram posts with a social media management tool not only helps you stick to a consistent content calendar, but it saves you time and lets you take a break every once in a while.

This 4-minute video shows how to schedule and publish Instagram posts using Hootsuite. Bonus: with Hootsuite, you can schedule posts to all your social networks in one place, saving even more time.

Step 5: Grown and engage your audience

Respond to comments and mentions

Respond to comments and mentions of your business on Instagram, so users feel motivated to keep engaging with your brand.

You might be tempted to automate your engagement using bots. Don’t do it. We tried it, and it doesn’t work out so well. Dedicate some time to responding authentically when someone mentions or tags your brand.

Make sure to have social media guidelines, troll policies and mental health resources in place to support the person in this role so they can manage a positive community.

Use the right hashtags

Hashtags help make your Instagram content easier to find.

Captions on Instagram are not searchable, but hashtags are. When someone clicks on or searches for a hashtag, they see all the associated content. It’s a great way to get your content in front of people who don’t follow you — yet.

You might want to consider creating your own branded hashtag. A branded hashtag embodies your brand and encourages followers to share photos and videos that fit that image. It can be a great source of user-generated content and encourage community among your fans.

Tableware brand Fable encourages customers to post with the #dinewithfable hashtag and shares their posts in Stories.

Fable Instagram hashtag dine with fable

Source: Fable Instagram

Want to know more? Check out our full guide on how to use hashtags on Instagram.

Promote your Instagram business account on other channels

If you’ve got an established following on other social networks, let those people know about your Instagram business account.

Make sure to tell them what kind of content you’ll share on your Insta profile, so they know why it’s worth their time to follow you in more than one place.

If you have a blog, try embedding Instagram posts directly in your posts to showcase your best content and make it super-easy for readers to follow you, like this:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Hootsuite (@hootsuite)

Include your Instagram handle in your email signature, and don’t forget about print materials like business cards, flyers and event signage.

Collaborate with Instagram influencers

Influencer marketing is a powerful way to gain access to an engaged and loyal Instagram following.

Identify influencers and creators whose fans might be interested in your brand. Start with your own customer base. It’s possible you already have influential brand ambassadors, it’s only a matter of making the collaboration official. The more genuine the relationship is the better.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Instagram for Business (@instagramforbusiness)

Even small brands with limited budgets can use influencer marketing by working with micro-influencers: people with a smaller but dedicated following.

While they may have a relatively smaller audience, these influencers can hold a lot of sway in their domain. So much so that big brands are keen to work with them, too.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by MJ (@rebellemj)

For real-world insights on how to best work with Instagram influencers to grow your Instagram business following, check out our insider tips in this post from influencer Lee Vosburgh, creator of the 10×10 Style Challenge.

Use Instagram ads to get in front of a large, targeted audience

It’s no secret that organic reach is in decline and has been for a while. Investing in Instagram ads ensures you can get your content in front of a wide yet targeted audience.

In addition to extending the reach of your content, Instagram ads include call-to-action buttons that allow users to take action straight from Instagram, reducing the number of steps required to get them to your website or store.

Get all the details on how to use Instagram ads for your business in our detailed guide.

Run an Instagram-specific campaign

Instagram campaigns can help you achieve specific goals.

Campaigns often involve ads, but they’re not only about paid content. They put intense focus on a specific goal for a set period of time, in both your organic and paid posts.

You might create an Instagram campaign to:

  • Increase your overall visibility on Instagram.
  • Promote a sale using shoppable Instagram posts.
  • Drive engagement with an Instagram contest.
  • Collect user-generated content with a branded hashtag.

Here are 35 Instagram community-building tips that actually work.

Step 6: Measure success and make adjustments

Track results with analytics tools

When you’re using Instagram for business, it’s important that you track your progress on achieving your goals.

With an Instagram business profile, you have access to the platform’s built-in analytics tool. Keep in mind that Instagram Insights only tracks data back 30 days.

There are several other analytics tools available, including Hootsuite’s, that can track longer time frames, automate reporting and make it easier to compare Instagram metrics across other platforms.

We’ve rounded up 6 Instagram analytics tools here.

Use A/B testing to learn what works

One of the best ways to improve your results is to test different types of content to see how they perform. As you learn what works best for your specific audience, you can refine your overall strategy.

Here’s how to run an A/B test on Instagram:

  1. Choose an element to test (image, caption, hashtags, etc.).
  2. Create two variations based on what your research tells you. Keep the two versions the same except for the one element you want to test (e.g. the same image with a different caption).
  3. Track and analyze the results of each post.
  4. Choose the winning variation.
  5. Test another small variation to see if you can improve your results.
  6. Share what you learn throughout your organization to build a library of best practices for your brand.
  7. Start the process over again.

Learn more about social media A/B testing.

Experiment with new tactics and tools

Go beyond A/B testing. Social media has always involved experimenting and learning as you go. So keep an open mind and never miss the opportunity to test the effect of new formats on the platform.

For example, Hootsuite ran a loose experiment to see what overall effect posting Reels had on account growth. We even analyzed what effect writing “link in bio” in your Instagram caption has on post engagement.

If you have a hunch that something’s working, it’s a good practice to do your research and take a look at the data so you can understand why.

Save time managing Instagram fro business using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts directly to Instagram, engage the audience, measure performance and run all your other social media profiles. Try it free today.

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