Using Instagram as a Marketing Tool

Instagram is one of the most rapidly growing social media platforms, as it allows for users, including businesses, to showcase what they're all about via a visual story. There's no surprise that this has been a huge success with the visually oriented group of consumers that we've become. There are over 400 million active users on Instagram across the globe, and of those users 60% are active on a daily basis (1). Instagram's platform seems pretty straightforward but in order to get the full impact with your marketing efforts it's important to utilize every feature offered. How do you get started though, and how can you make your content stand out amongst the millions of other photos and videos posted each day? These are two questions that we aim to provide answer for within this article.

Why Instagram?

As a marketer, you may feel like you're already managing too many social networks. Why add another one like Instagram into the mix? It's only a feed of images, right? Not exactly. In fact, Instagram has quickly grown to become one of the most popular platforms out there, and is arguably one of the most promising for businesses, depending upon your industry. Here are a few of the many reasons as to why you should implement Instagram as a marketing tool for your business:

  • Instagram puts visual content first. 

  • Instagram is less cluttered.

  • Character limits aren't a factor.

A complete profile is the best approach to let others know who you are, what you do and/or what you will do. Before we dig any deeper into Instagram's value, let's discuss what your complete profile should contain.

Essential Instagram profile elements

Your Instagram profile serves as your homepage within the platform. It's important to make sure that your profile is complete and has all of the pertinent information that your followers will be looking for, so that they can determine whether or not you're the type of company they want to consider following. The first thing you should focus on is establishing the right image for your company's profile picture. Again, like most business accounts, your logo is most fitting here.

You also have the opportunity to provide a short bio to let fans and followers know a little bit more about your company image, what you have to offer and what you stand for. Consider including a brief yet descriptive sentence on your products or services, your company tagline and your company-branded hashtags should you have any (hint: you should). You'll have another section within your profile to link your company website where users can easily find more information if they wish to do so. 

Speaking of links, unlike most other social networks, Instagram doesn't allow links to be included in every post. Instead, users only get one link, and that's the one embedded within their profile. There's a way around this, however. Most businesses tend to still use this one link to drive traffic back to their homepage or specific pieces of content. How? Whenever you publish a new piece of content online or want to simply bring more awareness to a specific webpage, for example, you can share a relevant photo or video, update the URL in your profile and use a call-to-action within your caption to let your followers know it's there to click.

Set clear goals and objectives

Whether you're new to the Instagram platform or are already established and just looking for ways to boost your presence, it's always important to first start with clear goals in mind. Establishing goals will help you to define a strategy and create content that will increase your odds of reaching those targets. Here are some common goals that business strive for with Instagram marketing:

  • To showcase products and/or services

  • To build a community

  • To increase brand loyalty

  • To advertise to potential customers

  • To increase brand awareness

  • To showcase company culture and values

  • To share company news and updates

It's best to choose several goals for your Instagram strategy, and many of the above listed can work cohesively together.

Build your content pillars

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Social Media Marketing course?

The foundation of any social media strategy is built upon content. Every business, no matter of its size, industry or location has a whole host of potential content that they can share across Instagram. Need some inspiration? Check out Saturday Night Live or Oreo's Instagram feed. These are two great examples of brands that are effectively using Instagram to their advantage. Possible content pillars include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Behind the scenes action shots

  • User-generated content

  • Product demos

  • Customer stories

  • Team member features

  • Team member takeovers

Success on Instagram relies on more than simply publishing a few great-looking images or videos, however. It's also necessary to have a clear vision, a clear visual style, knowledge of your target audience and, finally, consistency. With these elements combined, Instagram has the potential to deliver huge results for your business.

Set your style guides

With Instagram being such a visual platform, style guides are necessary. After all, consistency is key (as we've been drilling you on). Style guides can include everything from the actual design and layout of posts to the hashtags that will accompany them. Consider each of the following to help you create a sort of branded "theme" for your account:

  • Composition

  • Color palette

  • Filters

  • Hashtags

  • Captions

Utilize hashtags and become more searchable

Although the hashtag originated from Twitter, they are also wildly, if not more, popular on Instagram. Hashtags allow Instagrammers to discover new content and accounts to follow, as well as serve as a way to bring humor and relevancy to their posts. Similar to Twitter and other platforms, there's a fine line when it come to using hashtags, as they can quickly become obnoxiously "salesy". While Instagram's audience certainly accepts more hashtags allowed per post than Twitter, you still want to make sure they're significant to what's being posted and not overdo it. To avoid adding too many hashtags to an actual caption, you can "hide" hashtags in the comments section within a post, and still reap their full benefits. Stay knowledgeable on trending hashtags so that you can incorporate these into your own posts and reach a larger audience than those of which already follow you. If possible, create a hashtag or two specific to your brand and promote these within your own content as well as encourage fans to do the same. A great way to gain visibility with company-created hashtags is through running Instagram contests, which we will discuss further.

Get creative with your captions

Caption all of your posts, both photos and videos, to make them more inviting and to give users a description to go along with what they're viewing. You don't want to clutter this area, as the photo or video is ultimately the main attraction, but it can often come off as lazy if some sort of copy doesn't accompany them. This is also a great opportunity to attract user involvement. Engage your followers by asking open-ended questions where they are more inclined to comment. For example, ask consumers what they think of your newly launched product or encourage them to open up about how they feel on a certain topic. The right caption can spark loads of engagement, which is great for Instagram's algorithm controlling their "might like" section, or help to you gather useful feedback that can be applied towards your overall business goals.

Embrace user-generated content

Your Instagram followers themselves can serve to provide a wealth of content to be utilized. Using user-generated content can help your brand to build strong pillars for your content strategy as well as foster an engaged audience by incentivizing fans to share their interactions with your company offerings. Most importantly, however, this type of content is generally regarded as more genuine and less pushy, often leading to a greater ROI (with the investment being quite small).

Utilize Geotagging

Geotagging is a new feature that is essentially the equivalent to "checking in" at a location. Geotag as much as possible and encourage your consumers to Geotag their location as well if it relates to your brand. In this regard you can think of Instagram as a free flyer to promote your event. This allows you to not only bring offline events online but to also bring online events offline. 

Host Instagram contests

Contests are another great way to get consumers to interact with your company's page and quickly expand your scope to an audience that you originally may not have otherwise. There are many kinds of Instagram contests and really no restrictions to what you can and can't do. Get creative! Here are three of the most popular forms:

  • Like-to-win or comment-to-win contests: These types of contests simply ask users to like or comment on a post (typically answering a question or tagging friends) to enter. This is the easiest and least invasive way to get fans involved.

  • Hashtag user-generated contests: A hashtag user-generated contest involves a contest-specific hashtag (I.E. #CompanyNameTurnsTwo or #MyCompanyNameStory) and asks participants to share content and promote the hashtag via their caption to enter.

  • Repost contests: A repost contest asks participants to repost a previously posted image or video from your user account (a third party app is required to do so) to share on their own page to their own set of followers to enter.

Be consistent

Come up with a creative strategy and stick to it. You want all of your posts to be different of course but to have the same "feel". This will help your followers formulate a clear idea and image of who your company is and what you stand for. You should determine your post frequency when creating your content strategy in the beginning, although this will likely have to be tweaked as you analyze your efforts and grow your presence. You want to make sure and post regularly enough so that your followers know you're there but not be too overwhelming with your account. Stay balanced, consistent and timely.

Track your efforts

Tracking your efforts and performance is essential to really any marketing strategy, and social media is no exception. Doing so allows for you to understand which of your content your audience finds most relevant and engaging, allowing you to really hone in and optimize your strategy as you move forward with it. Do your research so that you can continually improve your efforts. Learn and understand more about your target audience on Instagram. See what they're "liking", reposting and commenting on. This will help you to gather an idea of what they're looking for in terms of content and allow you to mirror a company image that will therefore draw them in, too.

Make your followers feel important

Make sure and show appreciation to your followers. When someone follows you, don't be afraid to follow back. It shows that you appreciate the interest they took in you and that you are likewise interested in your consumers as well. The same approach can be applied with likes and comments. Encourage users to "Turn on Post Notifications" for your specific account. Consider creating a post promoting this, or asking users to take action in the bio of your profile. By doing so, they'll receive a push notification each time you publish new content, which will further foster an established "relationship".


Instagram serves as a visual storyboard to unfold to your consumers. As you progress with your strategy, you'll begin to notice trends and what types of content will help you to reach your targets. It's never easy to build a loyal following on any channel, but with the right approach and a bit of experimenting you'll soon find the right approach for your brand. If you follow these guidelines and use Instagram wisely, it can have a major impact on your image, brand awareness, reach and ultimately the revenue of your business.