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The platform that powers our solutions
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Resources for amazing social media marketers
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Resources for amazing social media marketers

Instagram Marketing

Everything you need to know to create a successful Instagram marketing strategy for your business.

Across the globe, there are over 800 million Instagrammers — more than 500 million of whom use Instagram every single day, sharing more than 250 million piece of content each day.

Those are huge numbers. And no matter who your audience is — age, gender, occupation, anything — you’ll be sure to reach them through Instagram. So the question becomes…

How to promote your business on Instagram?

How can you stand out among the other millions photos, videos and stories posted each day? How can non-designers and amateur photographers create beautiful content for Instagram?

These are all questions we’d love to help you answer in this guide.

Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling! Schedule single-image posts or set reminders to post videos at your best times to grow your Instagram following. Learn more today.

The Complete Guide to Instagram Marketing

First things first: Why use Instagram for business?

Boasting over 300 million daily active users, Instagram has huge potential for marketers. But the potential in Instagram lies more in the user behavior than the numbers.

Instagrammers like to connect with brands.

Research shows that brands enjoy a number of distinct benefits and advantages on the network:

Social media has been proven to influence purchase decisions. And if you can find the right mix of content, your audience will soak it up – and even buy from you – without the need for a hard push or sales pitch. It’s the marketers dream.

Still need convincing? Let’s take a look at what marketers have to say about the platform.

What marketers are saying about Instagram

The numbers and research above all sound great, but what are marketers – the people who use Instagram to drive business results – actually saying about the platform? Here’s what marketers from brand like Birchbox, and Ben & Jerry’s have to say about the platform:

The formula for Instagram success

Success for businesses on Instagram relies on more than simply publishing a few nice-looking images. You need to also have these elements:

When you combine together these ingredients, Instagram can deliver huge results for your business.

Madewell is a great example of creative Instagram marketing. The fashion brand has amassed a hugely engaged audience on Instagram (over 700,000 followers and 7,000 to 10,000 likes per post). The platform has become a key marketing channel for them, enabling them to connect with thousands of potential customers on a daily basis.

So, how do Madewell and other successful brands stand out on Instagram? We put together this guide to help you craft your own Instagram marketing strategy that’s based on a clear vision and results that you can measure.

How to Create an Instagram Marketing Strategy

Why are you on Instagram? Choose 1-to-2 main goals

Whether you’re completely new to Instagram and preparing to share your first post or are already established and looking to boost your presence on the platform, it’s important to start with clear goals in mind.

Setting goals will help you to define your strategy on Instagram and create content that will help you to achieve your targets.

Here are some common ones that brands, teams, and individuals tend to choose:

  1. Showcase your products or services
  2. Build your community
  3. Increase awareness of your brand
  4. Showcase your company culture and values
  5. Advertise to potential customers
  6. Increase brand loyalty
  7. Share company news and updates

It’s best to choose one or two goals for your Instagram profile, either from the above list or a custom goal of your choosing. To help decide which goals make sense for you, it can be good to consider the following questions:

Here at Buffer we have two main goals for our Instagram marketing strategy.

Our top goal is to build and nurture an engaged community of Buffer users and supporters. To ensure we reach that goal we have a set target of reaching out to and featuring the work of four-to-six Buffer community members per week. If we do that 52 weeks per year that’s between 208-to-312 people that we’ve connected with one-on-one.

The second goal for our Instagram marketing strategy is to continually increase engagement on every one of our posts.

Currently, our engagement rate (avg. engagement per post/number of followers) is about 1.75% which is a bit higher than industry standard. We’re focusing on producing the highest quality Instagram content so that our engagement rate stays at or above this benchmark.

Which members of your audience are on
Instagram? Search the demographics

Marketing is all about delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time.

And understanding the demographics of a platform is an important part of ensuring you’re hitting your target audience.

Pew Research released a breakdown of Instagram demographics and I’d love to share the key findings with you here.

Age and gender of internet users on Instagram

Roughly half of internet-using young adults ages 18-29 (53%) use Instagram. Here the full breakdown of age groups:

Also, slightly more of Instagram’s users are female:

Location of Instagram users

Instagram education demographics

Instagram income demographics

Now that you have your goals in mind and know which members of your audience are active on Instagram, you can get started on building out your presence on Instagram. First step: optimizing your profile.

How to optimize your Instagram profile

Keys to getting the most lift from your profile picture, bio, and link

This section will give you an overview of how to use Instagram and set up your profile.

Your Instagram profile is essentially your homepage on the platform. It provides you with space to share a little information about your business and also gives you the chance to drive some traffic back to your website. In this section, we’ll guide you through how to maximize your Instagram profile and drive as much value as possible from it.

Your bio/description

Your description is very personal to your brand, what you choose to share here should be representative of your business and show your followers what you do as a company. Most businesses tend to include either (or both) of the below:

Some large brands also choose to include a brand hashtag within their bio (for example, Nike Basketball below).

Here are a few examples:

Unbounce:

Nike Basketball:

Sheraton Hotels:

Profile picture

Your profile picture is one of the most important parts of your Instagram profile and the best way to showcase your branding on Instagram. When someone views one of your posts or clicks on your profile, it’s great if your brand is instantly recognizable. For many brands this tends to mean using one of three options:

At Buffer, we keep it simple and use our logomark over a plain white background on Instagram and all other networks:

Your link

Unlike many other social networks, Instagram doesn’t allow you to add links to every post. Instead, you only get one link, and that’s the one in your profile.

Most businesses tend to use this link to drive traffic back to their homepage, and this link can also be a key way to drive traffic from Instagram to campaign-specific landing pages or individual pieces of content.

Gary Vaynerchuk does this to great effect on his Instagram feed. Whenever he publishes a new piece of content online, he’ll share a relevant image or video to Instagram and update the link in his bio to reflect it.

Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling! Schedule single-image posts or set reminders to post videos at your best times to grow your Instagram following. Learn more today.

Creating a content strategy for Instagram

How to build content pillars for the type of content you share to Instagram

Content is the heart of Instagram. The 95 million photos and videos shared daily to the platform are the reason more than 300 million people open the app every day. And content should be at the core of your strategy, too.

But what should you post about?

Before you get into thinking about your visual style, it’s good to have a clear vision for the type of content you’re putting out.

Some brands focus on their products. For example, Nike Running often make their trainers and running equipment the focal point of their content:

Whereas other brands, such as WeWork, put more focus on their community and culture:

At Buffer, our Instagram marketing strategy is to post consistently quality content that aims to build Buffer’s brand while also connecting on an individual basis with our community members. We believe strongly in the power of one-on-one interactions and connections.

In that spirit, we’ve created the hashtag #BufferStories which allows our community to tell a story about what they’re passionate about both personally and professionally, we then repost their content (with permission) to our Buffer Instagram page.

Instagram is a tremendous medium for short-form content, but there’s also the possibility for relevant, long-form content. Our audience has responded quite well to the passionate stories of others.

There’s no hard and fast rule for the best angle to take when it comes to your strategy — it’ll vary from business to business. What’s important is to focus on creating content that aligns with both your audience and your goals. This starts with defining your content pillars.

Build your content pillars

The foundations of any strategy are built on solid content pillars or themes.

Every business, no matter its size, industry or location has a wealth of potentially brilliant content to share on Instagram. Whether it’s stories from your employees, culture-focused content, or product-led demos, there’s a whole host of opportunities and worthy subjects for your videos and photos.

Some example content pillars include (but aren’t limited to):

What I love to do when it comes to defining themes is to open up a notepad and throw around some ideas. Starting with some key company values, I then scribble down everything that comes to mind. From these notes, you can then start to formulate ideas for your key content pillars.

For example at Buffer, here are the themes we work with:

3 successful brands on Instagram and their content pillars

1. Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live’s Instagram feed focus on two key pillars: Taking fans behind the scenes of the show and sharing exclusive clips. When fans check Instagram they can expect to see a fun-filled photo or video of their favorite SNL stars or get a sneak peek at what goes on behind the cameras to get the show out there.

2. FedEx

FedEx's feed consists of photos based around the theme of FedEx’s delivery drivers, vans and planes out in the wild. they often feature images shared with them by followers, too – a great way to keep their fans on the lookout for FedEx vehicles to photograph. Their feed also gives off a vibe of high-end, artistic photography.

3. Oreo

Oreo put their product at the heart of their Instagram content and manage to do so in a way that’s fun and highly engaging. They often use entertaining copy within the images themselves and use solid, vibrant backgrounds to make their posts stand out within the Instagram feed.

Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling! Schedule single-image posts or set reminders to post videos at your best times to grow your Instagram following. Learn more today.

Instagram Stories

In August, 2016, Instagram released a new type of content: Instagram Stories.

Instagram Stories let users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours.

To create a story on Instagram, you have to tap a new “+” icon at the top left-hand corner of the screen, or you can reveal the story camera by simply swiping left.

Once you’ve posted a story, you can also see how many times each post in your story has been viewed and who has viewed it. When watching your own story, swipe up to check out this data and who’s seen each photo and video.

How brands are using Instagram Stories

Over 300 millions people use Instagram Stories every day and business are seeing great success with stories content:

There are many ways brands can use Instagram Stories. And below, I’d love to share a few examples.

1. Promoting content

Shopify use Instagram Stories as a way to drive awareness of content they’ve created on other platforms, such as their blog:

2. Behind-the-scenes

The UFC and Pencils of Promise both use Instagram Stories to take their followers behind-the-scenes:

3. Host Instagram takeovers

An Instagram takeover is the process of taking over someone else’s Instagram account temporarily and sharing content with their audience.

Here’s an example from when we collaborated with Brian Fanzo on a takeover:

To help you get started with Instagram Stories, we’ve created a bunch of Instagram templates to help you save a ton of time when it comes to creating content.

Creating a content plan

The 7 keys to cohesive content to drive exceptional results

Once you have your content themes in place (you can always test and adapt themes to see what works best), it’s time to bring it all together into a content plan. A content plan should help you define the style and aesthetic feel of your posts, alongside how frequently you’re going to post to Instagram.

Let’s begin with a look at how to create your Instagram style guide.

1. Style guide

One of the most important parts of any social media strategy is the style guide. Why are they so important? They ensure consistency across all marketing channels and throughout every piece of content you produce.

Style guides contain all the necessary information for a piece of content from beginning to end — from the design and layout of post to the copy and hashtags that accompany it. When it comes to Instagram you should consider the following items:

2. Composition

Composition refers to the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work. Not every marketer is an expert photographer, so it can be great to define a few quick composition rules.

These can include things like:

Amy Tangerine, a company that shares “a slice of the sweet life” through an array of scrapbooking products and lifestyle services, is a great example of a clear visual style and composition. Its posts often feature a solid background color or texture allowing the focal point of the composition to stand out clearly.

3. Color palette

Picking out a color palette will help keep your feed consistent and focused. Having a palette doesn’t mean that you can strictly only use these colors, but it will help your posts have a nice consistent, familiar feeling. It can feel great to keep your color palette in line with other areas of your brand, too.

Frooti, the largest-selling fruit drink brand in India, uses Instagram to showcase their distinct brand personality. A key part of this aesthetic is the vibrant color palette used by the brand:

In contrast, Everlane uses a much softer color palette across Instagram, staying true to their brand’s signature grey/black/white look:

4. Fonts

If you’re going to post quotes or text overlays on your Instagram images, you should try to keep the fonts consistent with your brand by choosing the same fonts you use on your website or other marketing materials.

Headspace is a great example of keeping fonts consistent across posts. The mindfulness app regularly shares text-based posts, and by keeping the font in-line with the rest of their brand, followers can instantly recognize Headspace’s content within their feed.

5. Filters

Instagram filters can make amateur photographers feel like pros. And if you don’t have high-end photography equipment or editing software, they’re a great way to enhance photos with just a few taps. Filters can drastically change the look and feel of a photo or video, so it’s important to use only a few that you feel best represent your brand — and stick to the few you’ve chosen. Using a different filter for every post can quickly make an Instagram feed feel a little disjointed.

6. Captions

Instagram captions are limited to 2,200 characters, and after three lines of text they become truncated with an ellipsis.

Captions are a chance to enhance your content further and there are plenty of ways brands use them. Some choose to treat captions as a place for sharing stories and micro-blogging, others use them to add a short, snappy headline to a post and others use captions to ask questions and encourage replies. The possibilities are endless. What’s important is to ensure the copy is aligned with your brand.

Mailchimp is well known for its unique brand voice – they even had a website dedicated to it — and their fun-loving tone is carried through into their Instagram captions, too:

Everlane is again a great example of how to use Instagram captions. The brand uses captions to convey a funny, familiar voice that their buyers can relate to. For example, the below post (shared in winter time) is captioned: “About how cold we feel right now.”

7. Hashtags

Hashtags have become a uniform way to catagorize content on many social media platforms. Hashtags allow Instagrammers to discover content and accounts to follow. Research from Track Maven found that posts with over 11 hashtags tend to get more engagement.

Top Tip: If you would like to avoid adding too many hashtags to your caption, you can also add hashtags as comments. For example, you can see below how Amy Tangerine adds additional hashtags to the photo in the comments:

When it comes to choosing the right hashtags for your content, it’s best to do your research and see which hashtags people in your market are using and which are most active.

How to find your best frequency and timing on Instagram

Best practices and data tips for maximizing your chance for success

There’s a lot to be said for consistency on social media. Consistency and publishing frequency can help your audience learn when to expect new content from you, and keeping a consistent schedule makes sure you maximize engagement without hitting any lulls or stretches without updates.

A study by Union Metrics found that most brands post to Instagram daily. In fact the average was 1.5 posts per day. The study also found — and this was really interesting — that there was no correlation between increased frequency and lower engagement, meaning brands that posted more than twice per day didn’t see any ill effects.

Our best advice here is to aim to post at least once per day on Instagram and experiment with additional posts to find what works best for you.

What time should you post to Instagram?

With Instagram’s change to an algorithmic timeline, timing is now one of many elements considered by the algorithm when it decides what content to show you. So it’s important to post at the times when your content is likely to pick up the most engagement. Our hunch here is Instagram’s algorithm may then determine this post should appear near the top of your follower’s feeds.

CoSchedule collected research from 16 social media studies to come up with these best practices for Instagram:

It could be best to treat these best practices as guidelines and times to test out since the best time to post can rely on a bunch of factors and vary from profile to profile. For example, we’ve found that our best time at Buffer is 11:00 a.m. Pacific.

How to ensure consistent posting on Instagram

Once you’ve determined your content themes and the frequency at which you’d like to post to Instagram, one of the best ways to ensure you stick to your strategy is to create a content calendar that tracks which posts will be shared and when.

The Instagram API doesn’t quite allow scheduling just yet, which means you cannot schedule posts directly on Instagram. To post consistently with Instagram, we schedule Instagram reminders in Buffer (our Instagram marketing software). Here’s how it works:

  1. Find, edit, and upload a beautiful picture to Buffer. Add a caption with hashtags, mentions, and emoji. Schedule for the ideal time.
  2. Receive a push notification on our phone at the scheduled time.
  3. Open the notification, select Open in Instagram, and preview the post.
  4. Make any final edits (filters, geolocation) and share from the Instagram app.

Buffer for Instagram works by adding a post through Buffer and having a reminder pop up on a user’s phone when it’s time to send it out.

Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling! Schedule single-image posts or set reminders to post videos at your best times to grow your Instagram following. Learn more today.

4 tips to help increase your growth and engagement

Test out the below Instagram tips to help increase your growth and engagement on Instagram.

1. Embrace user generated content

Instagram users provide a wealth of potential content for your business. Curating content from your followers can help you to build a vibrant and engaged community and user generated content can also incentivize your audience to share their own creative ways of interacting with your products, services or company.

2. Include some faces in your posts to boost engagement

A study from Georgia Tech looked at 1.1 million random Instagram pictures and discovered these two really interesting bits of information. Pictures with faces get:

This is something HubSpot does very well in its feed to showcase the people behind the company:

3. Try sharing your Instagram posts to Facebook

A Buzzsumo study of over 1 billion Facebook posts from 3 million brand pages found that images posted to Facebook via Instagram receive more engagement than natively published images:

4. Experiment with Instagram ads

As more and more brands join Instagram, the feed becomes more competitive and it can be harder to stand out. With Instagram ads, you can reach the specific groups of Instagram users you want to connect with, engage them, and convert them into customers.

Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling! Schedule single-image posts or set reminders to post videos at your best times to grow your Instagram following. Learn more today.

Measuring your results with Instagram analytics

How to learn what’s working with your Instagram marketing

Instagram analytics enable you to pay close attention to your audience growth, and the number of likes and comments your posts receive—this, in turn, will give you clues as to what’s working and what could maybe be improved.

Instagram provides a wide range of metrics and insights for you to measure your performance, understand your audience, and improve the results of your Instagram marketing.

To gain access to Instagram Insights for your Instagram account, you’ll have to convert your Instagram profile to a Business Profile.

Once you have converted to a Business Profile, you’ll see a graph icon in the upper-right corner of your profile. That’s the button for Instagram Insights, similar to the analytics for your Facebook page.

Note: Instagram Insights is only available in the mobile app at the moment.

For a full breakdown of how to use Instagram analytics, check out our complete guide here.

Buffer for Instagram analytics

Buffer’s analytics enable you to check in on your key metrics for networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

With Instagram analytics on Buffer paid plans, you can sort every post by the most popular, most likes, and most comments. You can also select any custom timeframe or from presets like 7, 30, or 90 days. This is a fantastic way to keep an eye on trends and what’s performing.

Buffer’s Instagram analytics can also help you to find the perfect sharing frequency. Using the ‘Posts Per Day plus Likes’ function you can see how the number of posts per day affect your engagement. Here’s a quick snapshot from our account:

In addition to these stats, you can also use Buffer for Instagram to:

Analytics can help you judge the effect of your content, schedule, and frequency of posting on Instagram and measure how it affects important Instagram metrics such as likes and followers.

Bonus: Buffer for Instagram now comes with direct scheduling!

We’re so excited to share that Instagram scheduling is now available in Buffer! 🎉

Now you can schedule single-image posts on desktop or mobile to any of your Instagram business profiles, and Buffer will automatically publish for you at your preferred times.

You can also plan your video, landscape, and portrait image posts in advance. Just upload them to your Buffer queue, and we’ll send a notification to your phone at your scheduled time. We’ll automatically load your post into Instagram with your pre-written caption, ready to be pasted, and you can customize and publish.

As you progress with your Instagram marketing strategy, you’ll begin to notice some trends and what types of content help you to reach your goals. It’s never easy to build a loyal, engaged following on any channel, but with the right approach and enough experimenting you’ll find a great fit for your brand.

I hope you found this guide useful and I’d love to share some additional Instagram marketing articles and resources with you below:

More great Instagram marketing resources

Set up your Instagram posting schedule with Buffer

Quickly and easily schedule posts for all of your social accounts and Buffer will publish them automatically, according to the posting schedule you put in place.

Schedule your first post now