It only takes a few minutes after downloading Instagram on your mobile phone to see some beautiful things, from mountaintop pictures taken by travel influencers to the stylish wardrobe choices of leading fashion bloggers. There’s also lots of average-looking content, like photos of someone’s salad. In fact, the sheer volume of imagery on Instagram can be almost overwhelming -- especially if you’re trying to figure out how to use it to promote a small business.

Unfortunately, ignoring or avoiding Instagram is not really an option anymore. With users that now number more than one billion, it represents a key channel where most audiences are likely to be active today. Like all social services, it’s also a two-way medium, which means even if a small business hasn’t set up its own Instagram account, photos of its physical location, its employees or products might have been taken by customers or visitors and already posted there.

Unlike other social services, however, the direct relationship between Instagram and driving sales hasn’t always been clear. Though a “buy” button was recently introduced, there are still limitations to where links to other content can be included on the service. Whereas Facebook might largely be used to share photos and video, and Twitter is focused on text, Instagram incorporates several kinds of media at once in its Stories feature. You could do as much with Instagram or as little as you’d like, in other words. The tricky part is figuring out how to do things that will matter to the bottom line.

Even if you’re a seasoned Instagram user in your personal life, running a business account might seem like a bit of a mystery. Start here to begin developing your Instagram strategy, keeping closed deals and other sales results top of mind.

 

Storyboard The Scope Of Your Instagram Content

 

The cameras included in our smartphones mean we can take pictures of anything, at any time -- but that doesn’t make it any easier to figure out what kind of images you should take and post on Instagram. Before you even set up an account, a good Instagram strategy starts with thinking through your goals, the journey your customers tend to take and then build the strategy from there.

Besides photos of your products, for example, think about how Instagram can be used as a top-of-funnel channel that drives awareness and interest about your brand. Some of the content forms that would make sense in here include:

  • Images of customers (taken and shared with permission, of course) showing them using your products with a brief quote about why they chose it.
  • A video on Instagram Stories where you walk through a product’s features to get potential customers excited about seeing it in person.
  • Photos of your employees bonding or having a great time at work, to convey their approachability and the kind of customer experience visitors will have.
  • Snapshots or videos of your firm taking part in the local community, which may create a positive impression about your mission and values.

Don’t forget to think about how you can embrace and encourage Instagram content from your audience as well. Even if you don’t have a formal “influencer marketing” strategy, you can still offer customers the chance to try products out and share their experiences on Instagram, where they can tag your account and drive more activity.

 

Develop Your Instagram Audience

 

The simplest way to discover customers and prospects who may be interested in your Instagram content is by using the same hashtag feature that you may already be familiar with on services like Twitter. Look for the keywords that relate most to your product category, your customer interests and so on. Look for accounts that show up with pictures whose captions include those hashtags. If they’re a fit, you just have to press “Follow.”

If you want them to follow back, though, consider “liking” their content by pressing the heart button, and share authentic, specific comments about what you liked. This isn’t a place to make a pitch or hard sell, though -- you’re trying to establish a relationship based on mutual interests first.

You may also be able to make use of the CRM data you’ve collected in Sales Cloud by looking for names of individuals or organizations among your top customers. If they’re on Instagram, they might be following a number of others who should be included in your target audience too. Don’t feel pressured to build a giant follower count at once. Instead, look for quality connections whose engagement will be credible and possibly lead to sales later on.

And of course, don’t overlook the other channels where you connect with customers. If you send them an email newsletter, for example, not only mention your Instagram account but the kind of content you’re posting there, and why they should want to follow along.

 

Make Connecting As Easy As Glancing

 

You may not have a call to action for every single photo or video you post to Instagram, but make sure your bio captures your value proposition, your website URL and any other simple ways to get in touch. This should be consistent with any other aspect of your digital presence.

Also, think of creative ways to use Instagram to get people to take the next step in a buyer journey. They may click on a “buy” button, for instance, but you’re not limited there. Use your Instagram Stories to feature videos of a new product you’ve launched or have added, along with text you type and paste over it. Do the same thing when you’re offering special promos or discounts, or when you’re extending your business hours for a special occasion.

You can track all of these things in a myriad of ways, from referral traffic back to your website, ‘likes’ on Instagram itself, the number of video or Stories views and so on. For most small business owners, of course, the big metric that matters is sales. To that end, consider that Instagram is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to extend your reach and show the world who you are and what you’re doing in a visually compelling way.

Seeing is believing -- so give them something worthwhile to look at and then be ready to follow up by selling them directly, based on the impression you’ve already made on Instagram.