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There are reasons to resent social media — for one, it can be infuriatingly addictive and potentially isolating. But like anything else in today’s social landscape, it’s a two-sided coin.
Social media also fosters connections that would be challenging to make in person, especially between businesses and consumers. It gives businesses a chance to be relatable, and according to the data, it’s working. At least 90% of people on Instagram follow a business, according to Instagram data from October 2019.
Instagram is a crucial tool to grow your small business online — and you don’t have to dive headfirst into the influencer hype to use it successfully. To help you get started, here are six Instagram marketing tips from small-business owners and marketing pros.
1. Keep it in-house, but don’t be afraid to delegate
Suzie Mills, co-founder of Practice Everywhere, a digital fitness company, and Honest Soul Yoga, a yoga studio with locations in Texas and Virginia, tried to hire an outside firm to manage the businesses’ social media accounts. Ultimately, the curated approach didn’t pan out. "It wasn’t timely, it never made sense, it never looked personal," she says.
Rather than spend big bucks on a third-party company, chances are you can find people with a knack for social media within your own business. Julia Lopez, Mills’ co-founder, suggests giving a few trusted employees access to the business’s Instagram account.
"You need to give your Instagram to the people that know your business and your brand best," she says.
2. Plan ahead
Scheduling out content and time to publish Instagram posts is critical for busy small-business owners’ productivity.
"Knowing what days I will post versus what days I just share to my Story are so vital," said Dominique Lenaye, owner of Itty Bitty Bookstore in Stoughton, Wisconsin, in an email. Unlike traditional Instagram posts, Stories disappear after 24 hours. In the same vein, Lopez and Mills put their Instagram photos and captions into their Google calendar to help them stay on schedule and collaborate more easily.
Angel Kwiatkowski, founder of Cohere Coworking in Fort Collins, Colorado, says her best advice for new small-business owners is to "photograph everything relentlessly." That way, you don’t have to rack your brain for content ideas — or lean too heavily into promotional content. To avoid the latter, Chelsea Huddleston, marketing director of ELEV8 Climbing and Fitness in Traverse City, Michigan, tries to strike a balance on the gym’s Instagram account: 60% photo content and 40% promotional content.
3. Share the spotlight with staff and customers
When you’re not sure what to post next, don’t be afraid to pass the baton off and give your staff and customers some attention. Lopez says following your employees is a solid first step. If they share your passion, they might "share things that are in alignment with the business" on Instagram already. In that case, simply repost their relevant content — with credit, of course.
And be sure to look at posts that tag your business. Reposting customers’ positive interactions with your brand (especially on Stories) shows off your business while showing your customers some love.
4. Leverage the features that make sense for your business
There are numerous ways to promote your business on Instagram — but they won’t all make sense for your specific brand.
"I definitely think that overwhelming your Instagram with two, three posts a day is not the way to go," Lopez says. That’s where Stories come in handy, she adds. Stories are a great way to share snippets of your day without inundating your followers’ feeds. By adding interactive elements, like polls or questions, you can also better understand your audience and what they want from your account.
Maria Romo, owner of The Brow Shaping Queen in Frisco, Texas, finds tagging specific businesses to be more organic than hashtags, so this is where she directs her energy. "I feel like you’re probably seen more if you tag other businesses because then they re-share you," she says.
5. Let apps do the work for you
There’s no shortage of small-business apps to make every aspect of your company — including social media — easier.
Lenaye uses Planoly, a free Instagram scheduling app, to keep her business’s account organized, while Huddleston uses Canva Pro templates to simplify the posting process. For editing photos, Aimee Breeden, owner of Studio A Staging in Baltimore, turns to Adobe Lightroom. Other apps, like Unfold, offer free templates for posts and Stories, too.
6. Remember that Instagram isn’t the end-all be-all
"It’s so easy to believe that any methodology is the thing that’s going to make or break your business," Kwiatkowski says. But your business’s future doesn’t hinge on any single thing alone — Instagram included.
"Believe in yourself," Breeden says. "The more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it."