As a brand strategist, I’ve had the privilege of guiding hundreds of small businesses through the valleys and mountains of Instagram. Believe me when I tell you that I know how intimidating Instagram can be for a small business.
I know how frustrating it can be to spend time on a post—only for it to fall flat with a few likes.
I know how disheartening it is to invest time and staff hours into a content strategy—only to stay stagnant in follower count.
I know how rough it can feel to see a competitor begin posting—and take off.
But I also know that Instagram is one of the most incredible tools for expanding the reach of your business—if you know the secrets to navigating the platform.
In this blog post, I’m going to assure you that Instagram doesn’t have to be a lot of work to be effective. You’re going to learn that a small and engaged community is more important than a gigantic and disinterested one. You’ll get my favorite tools for mastering visuals, tips for using hashtags, and techniques for planning your feed. And by the end of this piece, my hope is that you’re so revved up about this incredible platform’s opportunity that you send out a post immediately.
Ready to get started? Here are my nine go-to strategies for promoting your small business with effectiveness and ease.
1. Understand how the Instagram algorithm works.
When you log into Instagram, you’re being delivered posts that Instagram thinks you’ll like. To outsmart the algorithm as a small business, try to do the following: develop a strong relationship with your followers and other users via DMs and commenting on each other’s posts; post consistently (more on that in #2); and interest, which means staying consistent and focused with your content topics so it appeals to people with that interest. The more you post, the more interested people will see, which means the more people will engage, which means they’ll see more of your posts. It’s all related.
2. Plan your feed ahead of time.
Think of this like the meal planning of social media. Planning ahead means spending less time actually posting, freeing up more time to engage and analyze your performance. That’s really important. My favorite tool for this is Preview, which has the ability to save my captions offline and visually see how my soon-to-be-published posts will look, and Later is another popular tool.
3. Incorporate graphic elements.
Clients are often surprised to find out that you don’t need to be a photographer to succeed on Instagram. In fact, a plain old graphic with a quote or text is often what the Instagram doctor ordered. Use a tool like Canva to design templates and easily duplicate from previous designs, so you aren’t starting from scratch with every post layout. Canva has a free template library, which makes it even easier to find the right design for your small business’ marketing needs.
4. Incorporate hashtags.
Don't expect them to change the world, but hashtags can help you reach outside of your existing follower base. Instagram allows you to publish up to 30 hashtags per day on a post—and 10 per Instagram story—and I recommend taking advantage of every single hashtag slot. Think of hashtags as a way to organize your contact and alert users, “Hey! You might be interested in this topic.” If you have less than 10K followers, I recommend exclusively using hashtags that are used between 500-5K times each. This increases your chances of ranking for a particular hashtag (less competition) and getting more followers as a result. Word of caution: Only use hashtags that are *actually* related to your business or post topic so your post reaches the right people.
5. Be experimental.
Think of your Instagram as a giant experiment. You might hypothesize about the content that your audience wants (like photos of your products), but until you experiment with formats and topics, you don’t really know what people want. I encourage you to maximize all of the different media formats that Instagram allows you to post, from reels to photos to galleries to video posts to IGTV, with consistency. After a few months, conduct an analysis and look back at what your audience enjoyed.
6. Embrace imperfection.
As a recovering perfectionist, I know how striving for perfect can slow you down. Providing value in your content doesn’t mean providing perfection. As long as your post is useful for your audience (entertaining, interesting, educational), I encourage you to post. Instagram Reels are a great way to create QUICK, engaging content, and this format is forgiving of visual imperfections.
7. Regram content from others.
You read this right: It’s totally fine to post someone else’s photo to your feed (and ultimately save you time of finding the perfect shot). The most important thing is to credit the original account in your caption so the poster gets credit for your regram.
8. When you aren’t sure what to post, teach.
People follow Instagram accounts with an expectation for something in return. It might be first access to a sale, funny memes, or it might be for inspiration. If you aren’t sure what your audience wants from you, I recommend teaching something related to your business. Think of the most common questions you get from customers and share the answer from your post.
9. Join in the fun.
Social media isn’t a broadcasting tool. It’s a relationship building tool. I want you to take time out of your busy day to truly engage with people on Instagram. Search for hashtags related to your industry and give a nice comment on the top accounts. Send a DM to someone who pops up in your feed. Spend time in Discover and get inspired by the content. To beat ‘em, you’ve got to join ‘em, and the best way to master Instagram is to spend time on this wonderful platform.
Now, it’s time for you to take action. Pick any of the nine tips above and implement today. You’ll be one step closer to mastering Instagram. Enjoy it!
Phil on Social: https://www.instagram.com/philpallen/
This article was written by Phil Pallen.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Bank of Hope.