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Using Instagram for Business

Updated on November 17, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

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A networking friend of mine suggested that I should spend more time on “visual” social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. My strongest channel over the years has been Twitter, a highly text-based, fast-paced platform. So I had to really think about this suggestion.

Instagram. Hmm... I had played with it years ago when it had just made the scene around 2010. It didn’t make a major impression on me. I typically don’t take or share a lot of photos or videos and it didn’t look like something worth my time. But since I know that today’s younger markets are much more visually literate, I figured I’d make a stab at it again now.

Since the early days when a couple of my friends and I tried it out, Instagram has become part of the Facebook universe. That made it easier to hop on the app and lurk to see what this was all about now, and to see if it’s worth using Instagram for business.

Here's what I've learned so far...

Personal Versus Business Instagram Account

When you sign up for Instagram, it will be a personal account unless you decide to turn it into a business account. Switching to a business account allows you to add your contact information (email, phone, business address—at least one is required). A business account will also give you analytics insight and the ability to purchase Instagram advertising. There’s no charge to make the switch, but there are fees to advertise as you might expect.

Though I might make the switch at some point, I decided to keep my account personal for the moment since I don’t have a physical business location and prefer not to publish my email, address, or phone number on this platform. As a side note, it looks like one of Instagram’s leading users—model and reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, who has 130 million followers—still has her account set as personal. But other big influencers on the network are set up as business accounts. So let your business type, sales funnel, and personal preferences help you decide what's right for you.

Even if you do keep your account as personal, there is a message function through the app for people you follow. If they don’t follow you, they can still try to send you a message and you can accept or reject the request. You are also allowed to put a link to your website on either a personal or business account. So one way or another, users will have a way to connect with you.

As with other social media networks, there are privacy settings you can choose. See the Instagram Help Center for details.

How Do You Find People to Follow on Instagram and How Do They Find and Follow You?

Because of its integration with Facebook, and its algorithms which analyze your posting and following activity, Instagram will make a lot of suggestions for possible connections for you to consider. Likewise, you are probably showing up in other users’ suggestion lists, too, helping you to gain followers.

As with other social media platforms, there will be nut jobs who want to follow you. I don’t automatically follow back those who follow me (that behavior is so social media in 2009!). And if the person seems questionable, I might block them, too.

The goal, of course, is to continue to gain new followers for you and your business by posting interesting and relevant content.

Mobile Friendly

One of the things that I totally love about Instagram is that all posts (photo or video) can be created and interacted with on the smartphone app. It’s actually geared for mobile! This is fantastic and makes it super convenient to use throughout one’s day, even without Wi-Fi, which makes it great for use at events.

What Should You Post on Instagram for Business?

Food, scenery, pets, kids, events, daily activities, infographics... these are very common subject matter for photo and video posts. So how can you use such posts for business? This is one of the more challenging aspects of this platform.

Instagram seems more geared for B2C (business to consumer) than B2B (business to business). Of course, if your business is B2C, great. But my B2B business is editing. Not very visual! So I’ve been posting some infographics on self publishing and business, and am experimenting with video, in addition to some personal photos. I’m still figuring out what mix of business and personal will work best.

More Insight on Infographics for Instagram...

Infographics, photos or illustrations that have quotes or other text imposed on top of them can be popular on Instagram.

To create infographics, I have used the free Canva iPhone app which has design layouts just for Instagram (some layouts are free and some are paid—choose the free ones if you're trying to save money). I use Canva on the desktop, too. But you could use it exclusively on mobile. Be aware, though, that it can require quite a bit of manual dexterity and practice to get things just right on mobile.

An even easier way to create infographic type content is to use the text and drawing tools right in the Instagram app (currently accessed through the camera icon on the home screen). It’s not as fully featured as Canva, but it’s way easier, even though it, too, will take some practice.

One thing to keep in mind: While regular infographics might be BIG detailed graphics, for Instagram, smaller is better. Limit the text to maybe a few words. Remember that these will likely be viewed on a smartphone! So creating them on a smartphone helps you figure out if what you created will be able to be viewed effectively.

Instagram Video

While photos rule on Instagram, video is very popular. However, Instagram video time limit is 3 to 60 seconds. Yes, one minute! I can so deal with that. View and move on.

You can quickly create videos right in the Instagram app and even make some edits to them. Or you can upload your own from your smartphone's photo library. Just remember the one-minute limit.

How Does Information Get Shared on Instagram?

Since I’ve been most active in the Twitterverse for many years, I was a bit confused by not being able to publicly reshare posts to my followers (“retweeting” is a primary feature of Twitter).

On Instagram, conversation is more about comments and liking posts. You can also mention relevant users in captions and comments. Those mentioned will get a notification about the activity so they can decide whether to jump into the conversation.

Here’s an example of how that works. On a friend’s post about his pet, I mentioned another Instagram friend who might have a suggestion for him. She got a notification about my mention and chimed in with a comment on his original post.

There are also direct messaging and group conversation capabilities.

See Instagram's Help Center for specific rules and procedures on commenting, direct messages, and group conversations. Heads up: There's a bit of a learning curve.

The Instagram Stories Disappearing Act

Following Snapchat's lead, Instagram has "Stories" which are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. You might be thinking, "What is the point of that?" In the Snapchat world, teens liked having a Stories function since it could erase (in theory) photos and videos they don't want to come back and haunt them later. But there are advantages for Stories for businesses, too.

True, you'll want to have enough static content on your profile so people can see what you're all about. However, if you become an Instagram power user, having disappearing stories doesn't load up your profile and feed with excessive posts which can annoy other users. Plus, if you have great content, it could be an incentive for people to check out your stories daily.

Hashtag Heaven

Hashtags are keywords or phrases preceded by the # symbol—also known as the hash, number, or pound sign—added to social media posts. It’s a convenient and almost universal shorthand for organizing social content according to its subject.

The one thing that you’ll notice on Instagram is that some posts and profiles are LOADED with hashtags, almost to the point of being annoying. On Twitter, where hashtags rule, putting more than a few hashtags in a post is considered bad social media etiquette. Plus, with only 140 characters, too many hashtags ate up valuable tweeting real estate.

But on Instagram, using a slew of hashtags is considered totally normal. Even at that, use good judgment and add some regular language to start off captions and comments to make what you say more readable.

Similar to Twitter, you can also use hashtags in Instagram search to locate and connect with people that share your interests. As you type in a potential hashtag, suggestions will appear below the search box which helps in finding popular hashtags that would apply to your business.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Website Traffic from Instagram

As noted earlier, you are allowed to post a clickable link to your website on your profile, regardless of whether you have a business or personal account. However, there are no clickable links allowed in posts unless you have a business account AND you buy advertising. So if you’re not advertising, you can put a link URL in your post, comment, or caption, but it won’t be active.

So you have to understand what you can expect in terms of traffic or other benefits of using Instagram for business. Be aware that the leap to your website from the link on your profile is not a sure thing. Instagram users are more interested in their news feeds and may not take the time to even look at your profile.

Remember that your goal for having a presence in any media, including social media, is a public relations (PR) effort aimed to build brand recognition and top of mind awareness. So offering relevant and interesting photos and videos that encourage users to follow you is probably the best you can hope for without resorting to paid advertising.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Larry! Hope all is good. Cheers!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Always helpful:-)

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, from being active on Twitter for so many years, I also found the Instagram hashtag bonanza quite annoying at first. Honestly, I've learned to look over it and appreciate it when users relegate their hashtag riffs to the end of their caption. I realize they're just trying to get others to find them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! Have a wonderful day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the information, Heidi. It's interesting and useful, as always. I must admit that I found "hashtag heaven" at Instagram offputting at first, but as you say, it's considered to be normal there. I certainly agree that we need to use good judgement when we use hashtags, though!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Sadly, it appears there's no way currently to upload photos to Instagram from a PC or Mac. It's a pain! I've wanted to do it, too. If I do find a viable way to do this, I will update the post. Thanks for asking and have a great day!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 4 weeks ago from Norfolk

      Unfortunately, I cannot add them from the Digital SLR, only the tablet and mobile phone to Instagram. As far as I know, you cannot upload photos from your computer (which I would love to be able to to do) but if you know otherwise, would love to know how it is done.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Sally, I can totally relate on the mobile phone issue! I get so frustrated with trying to manipulate images and such. So I'm trying to keep it as simple as possible when I post. If taking pics with your pro DSLR works for you, keep doing what you're doing. Your hubs are amazing for that aspect. Thanks so much for adding your perspective to the conversation! Happy Thursday!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, I pretty much abandoned G+. However, as you noted, I thought it was an excellent platform for visual sharing. I, too, bought some art from a gal I met on G+. It's too bad Google couldn't make that into a more powerful platform. I had some high hopes for it back about 2010-2012. Thanks for sharing your experience, as always! Happy Thursday!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, I pretty much wrote it off, too. But I'm going to make an effort since that's one place where all the "kids" are. Thanks for chiming in! Happy Thursday!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 4 weeks ago from Norfolk

      Odd as it may seem, I think that one of the disadvantages for me of Instagram is the fact that I am absolutely useless with my mobile phone and seldom use it take pictures as I always have a Digital SLR with me. I do sometimes post images from my tablet to Instagram but know I could do so much better. I also wish I could get to grips with hashtags. I don't fully understand how I should be using them. Perhaps you could write a hub on that just for me:) Very informative as usual Heidi, thank you so much.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 weeks ago from USA

      I haven’t tried Instagram but I do like G+. I was following one artist and he posted his latest work. I bought it based on the social media visual so I guess in that instance it worked. It’s so neat to discover talented people who you’d never likely meet in real life but with whom you share quirky interests.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      It's not going to happen but thanks for the information. :) I haven't devoted enough time to my writing in the last six months so that is now my main focus. But, as always, I'll save this for future reference.

      Have a Wicked Wednesday!