There’s a lot to learn from each social media channel–especially if you want your business to stay relevant. As you build your brand, knowing the ins and outs of a platform like Instagram will truly decide whether or not your social media strategy succeeds.
By following Instagram best practices, you’re able to use the platform as a marketing tool and raise the valuable audience engagement the platform has to offer.
What are the best practices for Instagram?
Being present on Instagram means more than just uploading your brand photos and videos without a plan. Based on what the social world sees from Instagram trends year over year, you probably already know how essential the social network can be to your marketing strategy.
For example, Tito’s Handmade Vodka increased its Instagram engagement by 37% through a single quarter. The company also grew its followers by 14.8% by focusing on using Instagram as an engagement tool.
Planning your strategy in advance with best practices for Instagram in mind is crucial to success and seeing real results with your followers.
Since Instagram is such a visual-first network, it’s the perfect place to show off how your brand stands out with a unique visual identity.
Understanding your audience and brand are essential to promoting, advertising and even engaging on Instagram. Again, you can’t walk into your strategy blindly, so first try to ask questions that define you and your audience. These questions can include:
- What does our audience like most about our brand?
- Who are we trying to ultimately reach?
- How do competitors find success on Instagram?
- What marketing strategies have worked in the past?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you should be ready to tackle these Instagram best practices:
1. Post engaging, high-quality images
Instagram is all about great visuals and content. Scroll through some popular feeds with thousands of likes and views, and you’ll quickly understand why these brands drive engagement.
Great images and videos engage. Think about it like a billboard campaign. With more than 400 million users, people are constantly exploring all corners of Instagram, so why not present your brand in the most beautiful way possible?
Shopify released an infographic on the importance of color in marketing, and the research showed 93% of buyers cited “visual appearance” as the main reason for their purchasing decisions. To add to it, nearly 85% of buyers said color was the main reason for purchasing a specific product.
Original Penguin is all about color on Instagram and frequently uses imagery that highlights their clothing’s colors. As you can see in the examples above, pre-planning how your images will look in the grid view adds to their impact.
Simply put, it pays to have color in your Instagram photos. Work with your design team to get the most out of each image before you post it on Instagram, or try free image editing tools that make it easy to get the most out of your photos.
Your Instagram content should stand out in a user’s feed, so don’t skip on visual aesthetics.
Once you’ve developed a great base of brand images, be sure to upload them to Sprout Social’s asset library so your whole team can access them as needed.
2. Stay on top of Instagram changes and updates
Instagram is constantly changing and you have to be right there when new trends, features or updates hit the public. Over the last few years, Instagram has consistently updated its look and added new features such as Stories and IGTV.
Just staying up-to-date with the best practices for all these new formats is a challenge in itself for a marketing team. However, brands, individual users and influencers are all racing to capitalize on these new features as they drop. You don’t want potential audiences to assume your brand is behind on the trends and features they are using to communicate every day.
You don’t want to implement new content types at random, however. Being able to collect data on post times, engagement rates and how users are connecting to you is essential to know.
Following trends keeps you above the competition and shows your audience your ability to adapt to change. Your data-driven decisions should be backed by knowledge of trends within the industry and on Instagram as well.
3. Know what your audience wants
Data from Forrester showed Instagram with the highest engagement rates between customers and brands among all major social media channels. With so much potential to connect your audience, Instagram engagement is a must.
This is where social data plays another huge role in your marketing strategy. Learn how to implement social media listening and monitoring strategies on Instagram, and you’ll uncover a wealth of insight. Viewed through the right lens, your audience’s actions on social are literally telling you what they want to see on a constant basis.
You can also uncover audience insights on the fly by posting content that encourages participation:
- Hold contests: Contests drive engagement, help you gain new followers and keep people coming back. Remember to make Instagram contests unique. Ask people to repost images or use branded hashtags.
- Post user-generated content: People love to be acknowledged and what better way than posting someone’s content on your network? Regramming could spark more people to participate.
- Ask questions: What’s the best way to get a response? Ask a question and get users’ opinions about your products or services. Always remember to engage with the answers.
4. Post at the optimal times
Like any social media network, Instagram always rewards quality over quantity. Get the most out of the ever-changing Instagram algorithm by posting at peak times.
In fact, we recently analyzed the data from our customer base to find out when their Instagram accounts received the most engagement. We even broke it down per industry, which you can see further in detail in our research!
Also, quality content keeps your audience coming back. As you find out what works best for you and your other social networks, schedule content at optimal times by using a social media calendar – or use Sprout’s patented ViralPost feature to take out the guesswork.
5. Tell visual stories
Instagram gives you the unique chance to tell great stories through visual content. Instagram videos are highly effective at telling your brand’s story within a short time frame. Storytelling is an amazing way to market your brand and create engaging images or videos.
Get creative when it comes to standard marketing techniques by showcasing your brand or services in a new light. You can use this as an opportunity to show off your brand’s versatility or humanize it with a behind the scenes look.
For example, Urban Outfitters shows users’ updates for its #UORoadTrip hashtag. By collecting together these themed posts under one hashtag, they’ve ended up with a visual campaign that has a unique and cohesive theme compared to the rest of their feed. Bringing a new vantage point to your product is an ideal jumping-off point for creating new brand stories.
Being authentic on Instagram is what users crave, so use this channel to engage and inspire your audience through attractive and interesting visuals.
6. Use hashtags to get discovered
Sitting around, waiting for users to follow you might not get you too far. On the other hand, when you find different avenues to promote your Instagram, you increase the chance to get discovered.
One of the most popular features on Instagram is the Explore Page. This helps people find users or posts that are highly relevant to their interests but that they don’t yet follow. Drive engagement with your own followers to get more visibility here, and use hashtags that highlight the topic of your posts to earn more interest.
Instagram hashtags are your best friend. Hashtags help you get discovered, archive content and participate with highly relevant topics. Branded hashtags can do wonders for your marketing strategy, but you should also look to engage with the community around your brand’s niche by using relevant hashtags.
If there’s anyone participating in your campaign, such as partnered influencers or event locations, make sure to tag them in your posts. Additionally, if you use user generated content, give the person an appropriate shoutout. Using @mentions can actually double your engagement. This sparks a chain of events for friends of friends to notice your content.
7. Make data-driven decisions
Identifying where you are among the crowd can have serious payoffs for your social media strategy. By using Sprout Social’s Instagram analytics tools, you have the ability to:
- Track post performance
- Monitor Instagram trends
- Track comments and hashtag usage
- Measure audience engagement
- Identify influencers
- Report across multiple profiles
Analytics can tell you what’s working and what needs improvement. Overtime, you can built a large scope of data to track and measure performance. It’s critical to know when and how your audience is engaging with your Instagram content.
Don’t simply rely on likes and followers, take the next step toward social media analytics and be confident in your marketing decisions.
There are many ways to succeed and fail on Instagram, but by following these best practices, you have a better chance at keeping your audience happy. Let us know what’s worked for your brand in the comments or @SproutSocial!
Update: Instagram made changes to their Graph API in 2018, which may affect functionality mentioned above. Read here for more information