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Ever since its arrival in 2010, Instagram has steadily grown to become one of the most dominant social media platforms in the world.
Today, the network has more than 500 million monthly active users, it’s estimated that 20% of all internet users have Instagram accounts, and there is little sign of the photo-sharing app slowing down anytime soon. With such impressive stats, businesses everywhere are making Instagram the cornerstone of their marketing strategies.
The problem is, Instagram has some very particular rules and features, and combined with an ever-growing field of users and marketers, it’s not always clear how to turn it into business success.
To crack the Instagram code, we’ve invited some of the best Instagram marketers in the world to share their top tips, tactics, and strategies on dominating Instagram marketing.
What’s so great about Instagram?
As longtime readers will know, Instagram provided a key turning point in making Foundr what it is today. Thanks to Instagram, we’ve been able to drastically expand our brand’s presence, and crush sales and conversions. In fact, within two weeks of using Instagram we were able to increase our customer conversion rate by more than 30%!
If our story doesn’t convince you as to why you should start using Instagram, just listen to what the experts have to say about it:
“Instagram is a digital branding catalogue, and is more intuitive and easier to access than most other web platforms; I use it as both a portfolio and photo journal. My Instagram gets much more web traffic than my actual website. Almost all my gigs involve posting an ad on my Instagram account in the form of a unique photo that’s blended seamlessly into my other content.” – Laura Lawson Visconti, travel journalist, social influencer, business owner
“I use Instagram to build my personal brand by documenting my life and through networking.” – Paul Ramondo, Digital Marketing Strategist
“I use Instagram to help as many people as possible with their businesses, so beyond the inspirational quotes, Instagram for me is now a platform to promote either my own free magazine, my own e-books/pdfs or other people’s/companies’ free and paid products.” – Brad Cameron, founder of Build Your Empire Magazine.
“We use it to build brand value by showing inspiring use cases for our clients’ products. After all, nobody buys something unless they are compelled to use it.” – Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media
“I use Instagram for brand awareness and development and as a means to connect more intimately with my audience.” – Jenn Herman, expert and blogger on Instagram marketing
“I treat marketing like a boy I want: Keep it simple, but attractive, and always make him want more.” – Deonna Monique, founder and CEO of Boho Exotic Studio
“Instagram is the best platform to present my brand’s image and reach my target audience and new potential customers. Over time, this audience can be leveraged for website clicks, sales, and more.” – Zahara Jade, community manager at Hire Influence
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At the heart of any good Instagram marketing strategy is the fact that you need a great content strategy. Not a good content strategy. A great one.
After all, unlike other social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, Instagram is almost purely a content platform. In fact, your ability to get more followers on Instagram all depends on whether or not you’re consistently generating great content that your audience likes. But even trying to figure out what content your audience likes is a struggle in and of itself.
So here are eight ways you can start putting together a great content strategy.
“I always adhere to an 80/20 allocation of value/promotion. Meaning that I aim to create content that provides direct value to my audience throughout 80% of my posts and create ‘soft’ promotional content for the remaining 20% of my posts.”- Paul Ramondo, Digital Marketing Strategist
“I always tell a story through my images and make the image as relatable to the viewer as possible. There’s a fine line between being too inspirational where it becomes out of reach and then being on a level where viewers feel like you’re one of them.” -Bianca Cheah, founder and MD of Sporteluxe
“The most important thing about content is consistency. Good consistent content is better than sparse great content. You want people to trust that if they look at your feed for something new, it will always be there.” – Matthias Barker, Photographer
“Consistency is king and quality is queen when it comes to posting on Instagram. We make sure to post six posts a day, every day, 365 days a year. We treat our Instagram very much like a daily newspaper with a focus on consistently delivering fresh, relevant and quality content throughout the day.” – Kevin Kuster, CEO and Partner at #JJ COMMUNITY
“Aesthetics matter but less than people think. @Chubbies is a great example of an instagram that is absolutely hideous but is also highly successful because it knows its audience. The best advice I can give is to try to make people say ‘wow’—whether because it’s hilarious, moving, stunning, or incredible.” – Chris Jones, founder of BEC SPORT
“80% content with 20% ads, and the ads are usually deleted within 24 hours. Aesthetically speaking, I currently have a pattern of three posts one after the other. So I’ll do a quote post with a white background, and then black text. Then I’ll do a post with a black background, with white text. Then for the 3rd post I’ll do a picture of either an entrepreneur (with the text telling about their entrepreneurial story) or an ad for either our new magazine or a product we are promoting.” – Brad Cameron, founder of Build Your Empire Magazine.
“Before posting on Instagram, you need to focus on a strategy revolved around your buyer persona. Think about what aesthetics they are drawn to, which memes they would find funny, or which videos they would watch. Similar to Gary Vee’s ‘Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’ strategy, you should primarily be connecting with your audience on a trusted level and then through this relationship you can use sales tactics.
You want your target demographic to enjoy your content and look forward to your posts. After trust is established—through analyzing the engagement by likes and comments—you can use third-party Instagram tools to make it easier for your users to purchase your content. To make it even less sales-y, use Instagram influencers to highlight your products. Again, they are trusted by their audience, which leads to higher conversion rates.” – Kate Talbot, Content Marketing and Social Media Strategist
“On Instagram it is all about the aesthetics. I alway think you have about two seconds to capture a follower, like, or comment before they are scrolling right past. So think about the quality of your images before you post. Get the right angle and most importantly the right filter that isn’t too grainy, fake or blurry.” – Morgan Molitor, Home Renovation & Style Blogger at construction2style and Social Media Director at Snap Agency
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Hashtags are a vital part of any Instagram marketing strategy, especially if you’re just getting started. Hashtags not only make your images more searchable and easier to find, but they also can give your images context and help connect your content to the audience you want.
Here are some of the creative ways some of the top Instagram marketers in the world are using hashtags.
“I just use one hashtag in my caption and that would be my client’s main tag. After I’ve uploaded I then paste a set of approximately 25 hashtags into a comment box underneath, and I use a variety of tags, especially tourism boards, feature accounts and news outlets, plus image specific tags.” – Lauren Bath, Freelance Social Media Marketer
“I try to pay attention to what tags other people use. I also just experiment a lot with what works best. And I save good ones in a notepad on my phone so I don’t have to type them all in every time. Just copy, paste and post. It’s important because you want your post at the top of the hashtag feed.” – Ricky Staub, founder and director of Neighborhood Film
“I use hashtags that are trending in my niche and the hashtags that my ideal clients are following.” – Tracy Matthews, Chief Visionary Officer at Flourish and Thrive
“Hashtags should take a backseat to engagement, but if I had one piece of advice it would be ‘climb the ladder.’ When trying to break into the top nine, conquer smaller hashtags first, then move up.” – Chris Jones, founder of BEC SPORT
“Hashtags are so amazing because you can build a community out of using the right ones. I have discovered so many incredible people, as incredible new people have discovered me by using niche hashtags. I always make a point to add five asterisks going vertically down, and then add 30 niche hashtags that I am targeting.” – Melissa Johnson, Brand Coach & CEO of Best Friends For Frosting
“My number one hack is to use the ‘….’ strategy. Go in your iPhone notes and put periods in a straight down line, then add as many hashtags as you want. You then copy and paste this into the first comment on your Instagram post. This way the hashtags are hidden. Now, your content is searchable through relevent hashtags and you can expand your brand and community.” -Kate Talbot, Content Marketing and Social Media Strategist
“If I do use hashtags, I only use to two relevant hashtags that flow with the conversation.” – Deonna Monique, founder and CEO of Boho Exotic Studio
“I have many business-specific hashtags I use within my IG feed. They are used as a file system to keep all of my different types of photos organized and easy to access. For example I have a #hgeblooms tag and a #rhiannonnicolefloral tag. The first is for any floral work my team and I do and the latter is for personal floral work I do, usually in my studio to build my skillset and try new techniques. The hashtags allow my photos to serve as a portfolio online outside of my website. I also try to keep the hashtags I use to a minimum as to not overwhelm the visuals of my comment section.” – Rhiannon Bosse, CEO and creative director of Hey Gorgeous Events
“Research trending hashtags in your niche and don’t be afraid to use them. If you are starting out or trying to build your Instagram audience, use those hashtags like you are calling in your army! The competition is too fierce and there are tens of thousands of people doing exactly what you are doing, so hashtags are one of the only ways to distinguish yourself from similar profiles and attract your niche audience.” – Zahara Jade, community manager at Hire Influence
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In our Instagram Domination course, in which we give away the secrets behind our own Instagram marketing strategy, we teach a whole section on S4S, also known as share-for-share. For us, S4S is one of the biggest reasons we were able to grow our Instagram to half a million real Instagram followers in just one year.
S4S is a tactic where you have another account share your content in return for you sharing theirs. We believe that there is no better way to introduce your brand to a new and relevant audience and it remains completely unaffected by Instagram’s constant algorithm changes.
Here’s what 5 experts have to say when it comes to using this tactic:
“It depends how you go about this. I am all for supporting my community and tribe, but when someone reaches out to me and asks for a like for like, follow for follow without using my name as an intro or a little blurb about who they are, it’s meaningless.
I am all about creating a supportive community, but only with those who are going to be actively engaged and actually care about our content. Otherwise, people are just in it for the following numbers, not for the actual value of the relationship that will ultimately lead to sales.” – Morgan Molitor, Home Renovation & Style Blogger at construction2style and Social Media Director at Snap Agency
“It’s the #1 way to grow for free.” – Jason Stone, founder of Millionaire Mentor
“I actually have used this strategy before. But I only do it with like-minded people who share the same interests as myself. Otherwise there is no point. It does work and it also enables me to reach an audience that I may never have been able to reach.” – Bianca Cheah, founder and MD of Sporteluxe
“I don’t use S4S. I think you get further in the long run if you focus on your own work and your own community.” – Lauren Bath, Freelance Social Media Marketer
“Definitely, S4S is the most effective strategy we have used to grow our following. I think it’s crucial for all accounts starting out to find accounts that have a similar-sized following as them in a similar niche to do S4S with.” – Brad Cameron, founder of Build Your Empire Magazine.
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In order to get the job done right, you need the right set of tools.
Like I mentioned earlier, Instagram is all about having great content. But don’t worry if you’re not a professional graphic designer or photographer, because it turns out there are a bunch of tools out there you can use to create awesome-looking images. At Foundr, we favor apps like Typorama and Wordswag when it comes to creating our own posts on Instagram.
Find out what others are using to make sure they’re always creating quality content:
“Snapseed is the best photo editing app in the world.” – Kevin Kuster, CEO and Partner at #JJ COMMUNITY
“I love to use Snapseed. It’s my favorite photo editing app.” – Bianca Cheah, founder and MD of Sporteluxe
“I always edit my photos in Lightroom on my desktop then usually will tweak a bit more on mobile, as photos often look different on the phone than on a big computer screen. I have so many photo editing apps on my phone, but really only use Filterstorm, Snapseed and VSCO.” – Laura Lawson, travel journalist, social influencer, business owner
“It’s Grum! Grum is literally the best thing since sliced bread. It’s visually appealing and not only does it allow you to schedule out all of your Instagram posts and automatically share to Facebook but it also allows you to schedule the first comment under each share when it goes live.” – Melissa Johnson, Brand Coach & CEO of Best Friends For Frosting
“Couldn’t live without VSCO for photo editing.” – Taline Gabriel, founder and CEO of Hippie Lane
“I use PhotoGrid for creating collages or formatting images. I use Photofy and TextCutie for text overlay or graphic creation. I use Legend – Animate Text in Video for exactly what it says. And I use Repost for sharing other content on my account.” – Jenn Herman, expert and blogger on Instagram Marketing
“I use the PicTapGo app to lightly edit photos and have been using a custom filter recipe for the last few years. I do, however, believe strongly in uploading my own photos in real time. This ensures I can proofread captions, ensure my feed looks cohesive as a whole, and gives me time to interact with users when necessary.” – Rhiannon Bosse, CEO and creative director of Hey Gorgeous Events
“I’m really basic—I love Hootsuite and use it to schedule my Instagram posts. The best part is that I can write in all the copy along with hashtags and the post is ready to go.” – Zahara Jade, community manager at Hire Influence
“VSCO. Free photo editing suite with powerful tools and gorgeous filters.” – Carlo Pacis, Content Marketer at Wishpond
“Color Story is our favorite photo editing tool. It makes your images crisp without oversaturating. Now that Instagram has upgraded to business accounts, we use Instagram to schedule out all of our posts the week ahead into drafts. That way, once we’re ready to publish, they are already there on the platform ready to rock and roll. Since not all accounts have been able to upgrade to a business account, NUVI is our go-to scheduling tool where we can plan out all of our social posts and get alerted on Instagram when to bring it over to post.” – Morgan Molitor, Home Renovation & Style Blogger at construction2style and Social Media Director at Snap Agency
“For making quote graphics, my favorite app is Phonto. A lot of people use apps that give them a limited number of fonts and don’t offer a lot of options in the way of customization. This has caused a lot of accounts that look the same as each other to pop up recently. Phonto is super customizable so you can really get creative and have your own signature style. For photo editing, I love Afterlight.” – Ruben Chavez, Content Creator at ThinkGrowProsper
“Planoly is my absolute fave Instagram app. It’s pretty amazing. Planoly is an end-to-end Instagram management platform. It allows you to visually plan and schedule, and drag and drop your photos to see how it’ll actually look on your feed. You can play with the layout and think like a magazine editor for more success on Instagram.” – Peg Fitzpatrick
“We use Schedugram and Iconosquare for IG. We also build graphics in Canva, which we love.” – Tracy Matthews, Chief Visionary Officer at Flourish and Thrive
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Lately we’ve been seeing marketers focus more on data-driven tactics, and Instagram is no different. To really succeed with Instagram marketing you often have to get very granular in order to find out what kind of content your audiences like the most, the best time to post, and what hashtags are working for you.
Six Instagram marketing experts shared their insights on the metrics they focus on and their preferred tools for tracking these numbers.
“There are several different apps which track all sorts of variables, and the new Instagram analytics is great and insightful. The most important metrics I watch out for are Direct Messages and Comments. Those are the people who are most engaged, and if I treat them well and include them in my art/projects, they become my biggest asset for growing my business/following.” – Matthias Barker, Photographer
“I keep it simple with my Instagram analytics. I find that tracking metrics like followers, likes, and comments is enough.” – Chris Jones, founder of BEC SPORT
“I don’t. Following analytics becomes an obsession for people and I think it hurts their self-esteem too much. I’d rather enjoy social media vs. have it rule my life. What I don’t know can’t hurt me.” – Ricky Staub, founder and director of Neighborhood Film
“We now use Instagram to track analytics. But prior to Instagram having the business profiles, we used a number of different great tools such as Iconosquare and Instafollow.” – Morgan Molitor, Home Renovation & Style Blogger at construction2style and Social Media Director at Snap Agency
“I use Socialblade.com to track followers growth per day. I also use socialrank.com to track who exactly is following me, that way I can see which popular influencers are following me so I can easily reach out to them to ask if I can provide any value and build a relationship.” – Brad Cameron, founder of Build Your Empire Magazine.
“We use both Instagram’s built in insights along with Iconosquare. We love how in-depth you can get with Iconosquare, even knowing who your top followers are and the best times to post.” – Jaime Derringer, Editor of Design Milk
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A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that people don’t read the captions on Instagram posts. But you might be surprised to find out that the caption can make or break an Instagram marketing strategy.
We’ve found out that adding in a simple call-to-action in the captions, asking people to “double tap if you agree!” has done wonders for our engagement levels and building our community. If you’re not taking advantage of the captions in your posts, you’re sorely missing out.
Here are some tips on how you can start using your captions for success.
“Strong call to action in the photo, and also in the caption something like: click link in bio>>@millionaire_mentor. Make sure to put in your own name too, so it makes it easier for people to click on your bio link.” – Jason Stone, founder of Millionaire Mentor
“For captions, one of the mistakes a lot of people make is repeating or paraphrasing what’s in the picture/graphic you’re posting. If you don’t have anything extra or valuable to add in the caption, don’t write anything at all. That’s more powerful than being redundant. Think of your picture as the headline and the caption as the article. Get their attention with the graphic and then elaborate or explain more in the caption. Use it to provide your own twist or unique perspective on your post. The goal is to always add more value for your audience.” – Ruben Chavez, Content Creator at ThinkGrowProsper
“Try to have your captions on Instagram be as conversational as possible and in tune with how you talk and converse in real life. This creates trust and familiarity with your followers, which translates to loyal fans and ultimately, loyal customers too, outside of social media.” – Rhiannon Bosse, CEO and creative director of Hey Gorgeous Events
“Writing captions that actually tell a story has always been one of my favorite parts of photography. Being able to share a story and really help bridge the gap between viewers and the image really makes it so much more gratifying.” – Chris Burkard, Photographer
“Use good grammar, throw an emoji or two in there to keep things playful, and find that perfect balance between keeping things simple and telling a deeper story. People really will take the time to read a paragraph-long caption, but not if you do it every time!” – Laura Lawson, travel journalist, social influencer, business owner
“Keep captions concise to maximize engagement; tag people in the photo or brands related to the image. If you’re an e-commerce venture, look to monetization tools like Like2b.uy and Have2have.it to direct Instagram traffic into your sales funnel.” – Carlo Pacis, Content Marketer at Wishpond
“Putting a question in your caption always creates interest and forces people to read and hopefully respond.” – Bianca Cheah, founder and MD of Sporteluxe
The most valuable piece of real estate on your Instagram account is your bio. There are two reasons it’s so important:
- It’s the first thing new audience members will see when they go onto your Instagram page. If you don’t have a compelling bio, you can be sure they’ll close your feed almost immediately.
- Your bio link is the only live link that’s allowed on Instagram. That means if your goal is to set up a strong sales funnel on Instagram, you need to know the right way to draw people to your bio link.
Here’s what the top Instagram experts are saying about crafting the perfect bio:
“Your bio should be a one line ‘elevator pitch’ about who you are/what you do, along with an important link (to your website, to a landing page where you are selling your latest product, to your blog page), an emoticon or two. Give people a reason to click on your profile. Keep in mind that the bio http link can be changed, and this is a good idea depending on your marketing strategy for gaining new readers, customers, or boosting sales, etc.” – Zahara Jade, community manager at Hire Influence
I recommend creating your bio on desktop as it allows you greater control over your formatting (i.e. you can actually create paragraphs). I also recommend using relevant emoji to assist in your aesthetics as well as making the last line of your bio a call to action for your bio link.” – Paul Ramondo, Digital Marketing Strategist
“Make sure you use bit.ly to track your success. We know that Instagram drives 200-250 new leads weekly to our Strategy Guide from tracking our links on @suebzimmerman @theinstagramexpert and my team acct. @sbzteam” – Sue B. Zimmerman
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We want to thank all of these gracious Instagram experts who were willing to share with us their best tips for marketing on the platform. We certainly learned a lot and hope you did too!
One of the most gratifying things about reaching out to all these folks was observing not only how impressive their Instagram marketing chops are, but how varied their strategies and businesses are. It really goes to show that, if you can figure out the ins and outs of this powerful network, it can really be a boon to pretty much anyone.
Now we want to hear from you. What did these pros leave out? Any questions for our panel of experts? Let us know below!