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April 3, 2017

How to Use Instagram to Grow Your Small Business

More than 600 million people use Instagram worldwide – making it the second most used social media platform, after Facebook. Founded in 2010 and sold to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion in 2012 – Instagram has become one of the most lucrative social media platforms for business.

Businesses large and small use the mobile-based photo- and video-sharing social network to share images and create communities built on brand personality with users around the world.

However, Instagram marketing for small businesses is a fairly new concept. Sure, the well-known big brands are established on the social media platform: they have dedicated social media managers in place to keep ahead of all the latest developments and opportunities. But how easy is it for small businesses to get started and succeed on Instagram?

Read on to discover how you can start using Instagram to leverage your business profile online and build an Instagram community that loves what you do and what you stand for.

Define Your Objectives

As a small business owner you already know that before doing anything in business it’s wise to have an idea of why and for what outcome. Using social media platforms like Instagram for business is no different.

There are countless reasons to use Instagram for your business. Instagram not only allows you to showcase your products and services but also your values: what your company believes in and what your brand stands for. This is increasingly important for today’s customers, and it all feeds back to the notion of building trust and communities online – communities of people who need a solution to a problem. The solution is, of course, your product or service. So, with this in mind let’s look at some examples of objectives that Instagram could help fulfil:

  • Increase brand awareness: Instagram is a highly interactive social media platform and people like to share the wonderful new accounts and posts they’ve found with their friends and followers.
  • Demonstrate what your business stands for: People love brands whose values align to theirs. Tell people what your brand believes in and your online tribe will find you.
  • Showcase products or services: Give your followers a taste of what you have to offer. The London Helicopter’s Instagram account is a great example of how to do this successfully. It uses unique birds-eye-view photographs of London to create a visually stunning Instagram account based on what you will experience as a customer.
  • Encourage customer engagement and loyalty: ask your followers questions and make them feel valued and included.


Develop a Consistent Content Strategy and Brand Profile

As human beings we love consistency. It feels safe and we can more easily trust a brand that is consistent in the communications it puts out than one that is sporadic and unpredictable. Consistency relates to a number of different factors in Instagram marketing: the visual aesthetics of your Instagram account, frequency and time of posting and tone of voice used in your captions.

The phone case design company Case Hut leads by example in having a clearly designed aesthetic. Take a look at the screenshot of its Instagram account below. See how its images look like part of a collection? All posts use the same soft pink tones, achievable by Instagram’s 19 available filters, which creates not only a pleasing aesthetic but a sense of security – followers know what to expect from Case Hut’s Instagram posts and are attracted to what the aesthetic represents: a fun and feminine lifestyle.


Oreo is another great example of a company with a well-defined brand aesthetic and excellent, consistent photo composition. Oreo’s multimedia content reliably uses its signature brand colour. This evokes familiarity with its followers and helps to reinforce the brand’s image.

The frequency in which you post is also very important. Be consistent in the time and the day you post to Instagram and your follows will start to look forward to seeing your content. The more regular you post, the more opportunity for engagement and interaction and the more traction your Instagram profile will gain. Depending on your audience, there will be an optimum time and day to post.

Online tools such as Social Insights and Iconosquare can be used to better understand your followers and work out the best times to post for maximum engagement and interaction. You can also use tools like these to schedule and manage your Instagram posts and find the best influencers for your business – which we’ll come back to.

Using a consistent tone of voice on social media is also key to building your brand – it’s a very worthwhile exercise to have in writing the types of adjectives your brand would use, as well as the types of adjectives your brand would not use. Also consider the tone: is your brand serious and professional, chatty and inclusive or informative and knowledgeable? Whatever it is, be consistent.

As your business expands and grows you need a unified brand experience for your Instagram followers – create an Instagram content and style guide to help any future employees communicate your brand in the way you envision.


Create Your Community

Once you’ve started your Instagram account, created a content strategy, and are posting high-quality content regularly, you’ll want to steadily increase your following and build your own Instagram community.

One of the most effective ways for small businesses to leverage their following on Instagram is through hashtags. To do this you can use the app to find popular hashtags that your community, competitors and the brands you aspire to are using alongside their photos.  Spend some time engaging with the content you find via hashtags. Every time you like or comment on a photo, other users scrolling through their feed can see your comment, which can lead to more profile visits and potentially new followers.

Let’s say, for examples sake, that your product is a health boosting protein powder. Your key audience would be in the health, fitness and self-improvement sectors and you would want to promote content focused around good health, self-improvement and motivation, accompanied by hashtags like: #quoteoftheday, #inspiration, #livestrong, etc. These are widely used hashtags you could use to get your account noticed.

Another effective way to grow your followers and in turn create your Instagram community is to collaborate with influencers. Influencers are Instagram users who have an established credibility and a loyal audience; who can persuade others by virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Partnering with influencers can increase reach, brand awareness and if done well sales too.

View Your Instagram Account as Your ‘Head of Customer Service’

Recent research by J.D Power discovered that 67% of customers turn to social media for enquires and complaints. Instagram is ahead of the game with their “contact” button for businesses, letting customers reach out with their queries directly on the platform. Customers with a question can tap the button, after which they are prompted to call, text or email the brand.

As a small business you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers – or potential customers – to contact you. Research by the Aberdeen Group states that brands who excel at customer service benefit from an annual financial gain of 7.5 percent while brands that don’t provide good customer service only see a 2.9 percent rise.

As you can see, the benefits of Instagram for small business offers an excellent opportunity to diversify your content as a means to broaden your online reach.


Content strategist for a number of small businesses that operate on a local and national level, in the past Matt has worked with major global brands' online content and digital PR. He writes about marketing, PR, SEO and digital strategies for business. Contact him at