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13 Ways Small Businesses Can Leverage Instagram for Marketing

From increasing brand awareness to hashtag research and displaying social proof at scale, here are 12 ways SMBs can leverage Instagram for marketing.

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on September 27, 2021 (last modified on October 1, 2021) • 16 minute read

Did you know there are roughly 1 billion monthly active Instagram users? If Instagram was a country, it would be three times larger than the entire US population. 

With a few exceptions, there is almost no small business that couldn’t benefit from a thoughtful Instagram marketing strategy.

Unlike Facebook that is pay-to-play these days, you can still see results with organic marketing tactics on Instagram with a good strategy and some hard work.

In this post, we’re sharing 12 ways small businesses can leverage Instagram for marketing purposes.

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Why Should You Use Instagram for Your Small Business?

Instagram is a cost-effective, social platform that lets businesses reach new and existing audiences. No matter how large or small the business, through Instagram, small businesses can put a face to their brand and add a personal touch to their online presence.

Here are the top benefits of using Instagram to market your small business:

  • Boost traffic to your website. Instagram can help boost traffic to your channels by connecting you with your audience, allowing you to have a conversation with followers, and giving you the ability to share your business on a personal level. This will consequntly help you boost sales too.
  • Establish trust. People buy from businesses that they like and that they trust. Having an established Instagram account with engaging, creative, and educational content helps you build that trust with your audience.
  • Suitable for businesses with little to no marketing budget. For small businesses, marketing funds are often tight. Fortunately, creating content and implementing a strategy doesn’t have to be expensive. All you need is a little time and a smartphone.
  • Flexible features that suit your needs. The beauty of Instagram is its flexibility with different types of content and features to suit your needs. For example, you can show minutes-long behind-the-scenes footage of your business using IGTV or Reels or simply take a quick picture of your latest product to add to your feed. With Reels, IGTV, in-feed, guides, and more, there are plenty of features to utilize and new ones being added regularly.

Considering everything we mentioned above, it is no surprise that 48.7% of the marketers we surveyed said Instagram was a very important marketing channel for them.

how important is instagram as a marketing channel for your business

Unlike its parent company, Facebook, you can still have an impact with organic marketing.

do you think that instagram is too cluttered with ads in 2021

For example, Amber Reed-Johnson of Giraffe Social Media says, “Instagram, as a free-to-use platform at its core, allows small businesses to utilize organic techniques to grow their following. You don’t need paid advertising to grow on Instagram, although it helps. Any brand with any budget can utilize hashtags, carousel posts and videos, Reels, Stories, and plenty other Instagram features to grow their business.”

Joe Leitner of Rentiel Media agrees, “A big benefit for us as a company has been using Instagram to share free advice and tips for the services we offer and occasionally showcase our work. It allows people to see who we are, what we do, and mainly gain confidence in us and our services by seeing the value we can provide. Free advice doesn’t hurt your business one bit, in fact, it allows people to see that you know what you’re talking about. Another simple reason to be active on Instagram is if people check you on Instagram and they don’t see much it can very well put them off.”

12 Ways to Use Instagram for Your Small Business

From increasing brand awareness at the top of the funnel to making sales, there is a lot of ways SMBs can use Instagram in their marketing. 

  1. Get closer to your audience
  2. Increase brand awareness
  3. Use hashtags to extend your reach
  4. Redirect your traffic to owned channels
  5. Display social proof
  6. Provide valuable content
  7. Run polls on Instagram stories
  8. Focus on the quality of your visuals
  9. Use Instagram’s new features early
  10. Tell engaging stories
  11. Run organic and paid ad experiments
  12. Host a giveaway
  13. Scale your marketing in a cost-effective manner

1. Get closer to your audience

The brands that get closer to their customers or audience have a big advantage. Instagram can play a big role in this.

“The biggest benefit of Instagram for small businesses is the ability to connect and engage with consumers in a personal way,” says Erin Stone of HinterlandCo., “Connecting in a natural way helps to give your brand a heart. Don’t just share, engage and be there.  This drives your engagement beyond just counting followers.”

Madhav Goenka of FrazileMedia adds, “Engagement is the most important benefit Instagram has for small businesses. It has proven to provide 4x more content interactions compared to other social media platforms. In a 2019 report released by Facebook, it was revealed that Instagram helps more than 80% of its users in deciding whether or not to purchase a product or service. In short, Instagram is a great platform for all those small businesses that have failed to achieve traction and engagement on other social media platforms in spite of amazing content quality may be because of high competition.”

For example, Alex Birkett of Conversion.AI says, “We’ve only recently begun to explore Instagram, but it’s already successful. The way we’re approaching it is as an extension of our existing community efforts, which have been the primary growth mechanism for the company so far. So we drive Instagram engagement from our existing audience and seek both to drive new audience on the platform as well as double down on key messaging and launches on the platform. The way I look at it, you have to ‘go where the fish are,’ and it turns out that people spend a lot of time and attention on Instagram. The biggest benefit, then, has been to create a surround sound effect for our campaigns and reach people where they’re already spending a ton of time.”

2. Increase brand awareness

With the right strategy and hard work, you can increase your brand’s visibility considerably without spending a dime on ads. And, adding Instagram ads on top of that can amplify your efforts further.

Natalie Slyman of BenchmarkONE says, “Instagram offers small businesses the option to market and advertise their services to the masses in a cost-efficient way. There was a time, not so long ago, when small businesses had to rely on the chances of their website being discovered or foot traffic to solidify steady business, but with Instagram, they can tap into a highly engaged audience all over the world. And by taking advantage of Instagram’s ads, their content will show up in the feeds of those most likely to engage with it. It’s simple, effective marketing to targeted audiences, which in turn will help their business grow and thrive in a totally new way.”

Natasha Rei of Explainerd adds, “With Instagram, you can find potential customers that are often out of reach due to geographical differences. One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is building an audience from the ground. It’s exceptionally hard when the business has a small marketing resource to run an offline campaign. Using Instagram enables them to connect with the target audience more effectively.”

3. Use hashtags to extend your reach

If you are looking for organic growth, doing hashtag research is the way to go.

“The biggest benefit Instagram offers is the ability to connect with audiences in an authentic way and reach new ones, through hashtags, Reels, stories, and high-quality content,” says Andrianna Frois of Hurrdat.

Shika Lakshman of Online Optimism adds, “The most important benefit is visibility. It’s easy for businesses to grow their reach by using hashtags, paid advertising, and simply having great content. Users can shop/click links directly in-app, share brand posts in DMs or stories, etc. Businesses have the ability to create shareable content more easily on Instagram than any other app and have them connected directly to conversions. Facebook isn’t as “shareable”, Twitter doesn’t have in-app conversions for many industries, TikTok and Snapchat are more about awareness. Instagram allows businesses to generate awareness and conversions with the same post/ad.”

4. Redirect your traffic to owned channels

While you can use Instagram to land sales directly (as we alluded to above),  it is often better to use it to widen your funnel and increase brand awareness. Then, as they learn more about your brand, you can direct them to channels that you own.

“Instagram is a great place for small businesses to build their local visibility, especially if you have a well-thought-out strategy in place,” says  Philipp Zeiske of Zeitholz Watches. “It’s one of the best platforms for small businesses to reach out to an audience that’s actively interested in what they have to offer. Building this community of engaged users can take time but the results are worth the effort. If you’re consistent with the value that you bring to the table, and are able to educate your audience well then you can rely on your users to keep coming back. With its many ad features, you can redirect your community to your website, blog, and various other channels.”

5. Display social proof

With Instagram, you can display your expertise, awards, and testimonials at scale in a visually pleasing manner.

“As a small business, Instagram can be great for brand awareness and social proof,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers Marketing. “You might not sign new clients directly from Instagram but it might help you in an indirect way. What do I mean by this? People might have found your business through Google search, advertising, etc before engaging with you, they’re going to check your Instagram account to see if you’re active there and if the content you publish resonates with them.”

6. Provide valuable content

The best way to grow your following on Instagram is to share valuable content on a regular basis. This can either be educational or entertaining.

“Instagram is a digital shopfront for businesses,” says Mia de Villa of Genbook. “However, to get people to shop, business owners have to act more like editors/publishers than salespeople. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. If every post on Instagram was a sell, would you follow them on Instagram? The simple key to marketing on Instagram is to gain followers by posting entertaining and relatable content, turning followers into fans by providing educational and valuable content, and making them customers by consistently listening and evolving to meet their needs.

At Genbook, we aim to always include our community in the discussion by asking them questions in the captions. What do they think/ what was their experience/ do they agree? We’ve included a link to caption prompts with this form. But what about the selling part? Well, of course, you can’t forget about Instagram Ads to acquire new customers to use your product/service. It’s a mix of both organic and ads – if small businesses master both, they’ll be able to translate followers into revenue.”

7. Run polls on Instagram stories

Instagram stories are one of the many features the social media network has that can feel uniquely personal when used well.

For example, Janice Wald of Mostly Blogging says, “We ask a question in a poll with 2 choices: Yes and Send the Link. We get many people who choose the 2nd response which puts them in our marketing funnel. We introduce ourselves and share the link in a DM. That tells Instagram’s algorithms we know the users which get us more visibility in their feed. I’d sold courses this way. I also use the Swipe Up link to sell ebooks using Instagram stories. I also grow my account which motivates brands to contact me. They pay me to be their brand ambassador and post their content on my blog.”

8. Focus on the quality of your visuals

While your copy matters in your Instagram captions, an engaging image or video is what will “hook” people in from all of the other content in their feed.

“One of the best ways we use Instagram is for videos of our products,” says  Jeff Moriarty of Moriarty’s Gem Art. “Every product we sell, we create a video for it. We get much more engagement with our videos on Instagram than any other social media platform as they are product-focused. This had led to a ton of sales coming from that platform.”

Abby Ha of OurPCB adds, “Thanks to Instagram, we are able to promote our products and services easily through the photos that we post. We can showcase what type of business we have by posting pics of our products or services in action.

We can also put out calls to action by encouraging our followers to tag a friend who would be interested in our services and products.

Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool; there is no doubt about that. But what happens when your product or service has nothing to do with photo storytelling?

What are some other ways that you can leverage Instagram for your business? Here are some ideas: Do you run a restaurant? Use Instagram to take photos of the food you are cooking. You can even photograph the process of cooking as it plays out behind your kitchen window. If you have a burger joint, take photos of the burgers just before they’re ready to be served. Even if you do not have a Michelin star or award-winning chef, the photos speak for themselves.”

You can also use Instagram to showcase your expertise and skills.

Steven Helliwell of Orange Media says, “For me, the biggest benefit of using Instagram is that it allows me to showcase my graphic design ability to great effect. As Instagram is an entirely visual-based platform I can truly demonstrate the quality of work that I can provide to clients requiring graphics design services.

Not only this but the layout of the profiles on Instagram has allowed me to create an incredibly complex background styling to my profile with all of the 3 image rows and columns intertwining with one another to give the profile page a real collage effect.

This platform is by far one of my most successful ones in regard to Social Media and due to my creativity with the profile has been the talking point of many of my clients in the lead up to onboarding them for graphic design services.”

9. Use Instagram’s new features early

Instagram has been known to prioritize and reward early adopters of their newest features. This is still happening to this day with Reels.

Vera Mirzoyan of Uteach explains, “Being a relatively new feature of this social media channel, Instagram Reels brought a new rate of growth to pages. As we may know, using new tools provide a better engagement on Instagram.

Besides, Reels are very easy to create, use, and benefit from. One of the greatest advantages of this feature is that it is displayed not only in the feed (where only the followers of the profile can watch it) but also in the section of “suggested” for people who are interested in similar content. “

10. Tell engaging stories

Don’t just share photos, videos, or promos. Instead, tell stories. You’ll resonate more with your followers and grow your reach.

“People like stories,” says Sasha Matviienko of growth360.  “People want authentic stories. Instagram allows every small business to communicate with the local community showing behind the scenes life of a fancy restaurant or a small local store. If you love what you do, your passion belongs on Instagram. This will help you establish rapport with the local customers.”

11. Run organic and paid experiments

Not every strategy or tactic you try will work. That’s why experimentation is key.

For example, Ben Arndt of DUNK Basketball says, “We’ve recently conducted a small advertising campaign on both Facebook and Instagram. With the same marketing spend on each platform, we observed 8x leads garnered from our Instagram campaign compared to that of Facebook. This makes Instagram a no-brainer when forward planning for future advertising campaigns. It’s a bonus that creating an Instagram promotion is extremely quick, easy and understandable; and that the metrics provided are clear and concise.”

12. Host a giveaway

Giveaways and contests are enough way to expand your reach.

“Giveaways are a great way to create awareness around your account,” says Chloe Sisson of Zen Media, a PR agency. “Yes, you’re going to have to giveaway something in return for the free advertising, but in the end, giveaways can tremendously increase your following. Everyone likes to win free stuff, and people are usually willing to engage with and repost your post if there is a chance that they could win something. And if you’re giving away your product, there’s a chance the winner will post positive comments about it on their account. You can interact with people in the comments and repost their entries on your story as well in order to engage with your audience.”

13. Scale your marketing in a cost-effective manner

As your efforts start to take off, Instagram is one of the easier marketing channels to scale.

“It has a very low barrier to entry and is incredibly manageable to scale,” says Julian Vaca of Soundstripe.  “For example, once you’ve set up your account and researched the best publishing times for your target audience (and region), it’s off to the races. Simply-crafted posts that are geared toward educating audiences about who you are, while ALSO engaging them weekly and daily is a huge asset for your business – no matter the size. Simply put: Instagram allows businesses to reach their audience effectively while also engaging that audience in real-time.”

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In sum, these are 12 tactics you can use to grow your business’s Instagram presence.  If you are just starting out, try 1-2 tactics first. Then, keep experimenting until something starts to work and then double down on it.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.
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