f you’re a business owner and you haven’t been using Instagram to drive traffic to your website, then chances are you have been leaving thousands of dollars (if not more) on the table every month.
Over the past few years, Instagram has taken the world by storm. According to Pew Research, over 37% of American adults use Instagram, which amounts to roughly ~121 million people in the United States alone. After accounting for the rest of the world, we can begin to see how Instagram now has over 1 Billion active users every month. No matter how you cut it, Instagram has a massive user base and presents an incredible online sales channel for businesses.
As a business owner, there are several ways to leverage your Instagram account to create more sales for your business. Some of these include paid advertising, but for the purpose of this blog post we will be focusing exclusively on the methods that are available for free.
The simplest way to generate sales on Instagram without any paid advertising is to create visual content. You want to post videos and photos that reflect the lifestyle that your business stands for, and also highlight some of your best products. Not everyone will want to create their own content and do their own photography, so we will cover some strategies for using other people’s content later in this article. You can get your content out to people by using hashtags which allow them to find it in search results. Even if you are starting from zero, you can organically build an audience to a size limited only by your imagination.
The first thing you will need to do, if you haven’t already, is set up an Instagram account for your business. You will need to register it to your email address, and select a handle (i.e. @Username) that is close to your business’s name. Some businesses won’t have their first choice available, and you might have to get creative. This is why we recommend getting started on social media as quickly as possible - so you can lock down the ideal username.
Once your account is set up, you’ll want to begin personalizing your account with a profile picture and a bio. Generally speaking, you can just put your logo as the profile picture. You don’t need to include your business name in the photo since you will be setting that as your name. As for the bio, you will want to come up with a succinct description of your value proposition. For Walmart this might be something like “Everything you need, for less”. Tesla’s might say something “The world leader in electric vehicles”. This should be no longer than one or two lines.
The second line of your bio should generally be a call to action. Why should the user click through to your website? You want to give the user an incentive to click the link to your store that is coming up next. This is the perfect spot to advertise your latest sale, draw attention to your latest blog posts, or inform customers about your latest contest or giveaway. This is also a good spot to include an emoji or symbol that points downwards to your link in the next line, if you can find a way to stay aligned with your brand image.
The third line is of course where you will include the link to your business. You will want to keep this as short as possible, so you probably just want to link to yoursite.com. You can forego the "http" and "www" since that will automatically populate once the user arrives at your website.
Another thing that you will want to do in the set up is make sure that your Google Analytics account (or whatever analytical software you use) can identify the traffic that your Instagram account generates. You probably won’t have any to start, but the reason you want this set up anyways is because you will be able to track those metrics over time, and relate your results to your efforts.
Some people advocate buying a few thousand followers to start your page off with some perceived social proof. The idea we this is that people may be more likely to follow you if they believe that there are already X amount of people following you. We advise against this for several reasons. First, fake users are fairly obvious when examined. They usually have spammy usernames, no/few followers, and no posts of their own. If users look into it and find that all your followers are fake, they will likely lose some respect for your brand. Second, fake users don’t engage. The seller might set them up to engage with your content at first, but over time their engagement will fall and patterns will emerge in their comments, and people will begin to catch on. It’s going to look a bit weird a month later when you have 5,000 followers but only 3 likes on your latest post. Third, Instagram can catch on and begin to associate you with the spam accounts, or other brands will be less willing to work with you. Overall, it’s much better to acquire organic users, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Creating Product Content:
If you are an inventory-holding company, then creating content can be pretty easy depending on what you are selling. You can just use one or a few of your products and take some photos of them in different settings. Product photography is a subject for another post, but if you are looking for inspiration then you can do some research to see how your competitors are highlighting their products, and gauge what is or isn't working for them based on their engagement.
Depending on what you are selling, you can probably find some content that your manufacturer or supplier has created. This will usually be some generic product photography or videos that you can use in your own advertising if you are dropshipping. While this will help get the ball rolling, it is unlikely to be high-quality or in-line with the brand image that you are seeking to create.
Another way to create content is to solicit photos from your past customers. If they are happy with their purchase, then there is a chance that they would be willing to post a photo on their social media of them using the product, or just send you one. To improve your odds of them saying yes you can set up a giveaway or contest where posting/sending a photo is the entry requirement, and set this up as a email workflow a week or two after your customer receives their order. Another method (that works best with branded products) is to set up a brand ambassador affiliate network. This is basically a network of past customers who help you sell your products by creating content and marketing it to their social media followers.
A great example of this is GymShark. Gymshark is a brand of Activewear that has a global network of athletic brand ambassadors. These ambassadors are athletes with social media followers ranging from a few thousand to several million. Depending on the affiliate’s following, you can either offer them a discount on their orders, give them the products for free, or actively pay them for each post by using affiliate codes. But, we will go more in depth with paid affiliate networks in a later article.
Finding Free Lifestyle Content:
Depending on what you are selling, you can likely find some content that already exists, and is free to use for commercial use. It might not be content that directly features the products that your store offers. This is a better solution for finding lifestyle content - content that is somewhat related to what you offer, and that your customers might appreciate. To use Gymshark as an example again, their Instagram feed is filled with real people wearing their products, motivational quotes, workout programs, and videos of people exercising. Even though they only sell apparel, they know that they are marketing to people who love to stay active. So, as long as their posts are somehow related to exercise, then they are staying consistent with their brand.
One of the best places to find free-to-use photos is a website called Unsplash. Unsplash has thousands and thousands of photos that photographers have generously authorized people to use in their projects for free. While you are encouraged to give the author credit, it is not formally required. This should be the first place you check when looking for content, and chances are you’ll be able to find a sizeable amount of images to get you started.
Another website in the same vein as Unsplash is Coverr. Coverr is a website that focuses on video content, and just like Unsplash, all of the content is free to use for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You don’t even have to ask for permission. To get the most out of this service you might want to cut the videos up or splice some together along with your own footage or footage or your products. You can do this with free software like iMovie, and you can find Youtube tutorials that cover the basics.
Creating a Narrative:
While posting product and lifestyle content is great, what will really help set your brand’s instagram feed apart is the creative, aesthetic use of theme colours and narration. For example, check out the news feed for an accessory brand called Humbler:
Humbler chooses to edit their photos to fit a very dark aesthetic. The colour Black is saturated in all of their pictures, making it in line with their brand image. They also choose to post a quote every third post, which has the dual benefit of reducing their need for other content and informing the customer of their brand values (i.e. what makes them different from other brands). Despite the fact that Dog Tags have been around forever, their product is new in the eyes of consumers because of its design and the projected brand image. Simple, yet effective.
There are plenty of programs available where you can create content like what Humbler is doing for absolutely free. Canva has plenty of free designs available, or you can create your own with a simple text box and background. You can add borders, drag your logo over top, or get as creative as you want. While you’re on Canva, you can also find great designs for Instagram stories, or highlight cover buttons for your pinned highlight reel. If you aren’t a fan of Canva, then check out Stencil or Snappa since they both have free (but limited) versions available.
As anyone who uses Instagram will know, every post will usually come with a caption. This is an opportunity to create engagement with your followers, and encourage them to share your content with their friends. This is your chance to get creative. You can ask your followers which of the following products they like the most, get their thoughts on current events in your industry, create challenges or giveaways for them to tag their friends in, or share stuff that you find interesting and relevant. You can share stories, state the rules for contests and giveaways, and let your customers know about current promotions. The possibilities are endless.
#Hashtags are keywords that can be searched for on most social media platforms. Every time a post is tagged with a #hashtag, you can click that hashtag and pull up the most recent and popular posts that have been tagged. This is a great way to help your audience find your content on social media. For Instagram, each post can be tagged with up to 30 hashtags. Anything more than this won’t work.
Selecting a Hashtag:
You will want to choose hashtags that are relevant to your product or business niche. When you begin typing in a hashtag, you will see how many posts each of them have. You will want to mix in some very popular hashtags with some moderately popular ones, add in some niche-specific ones, and also some hashtags related to your brand. The most popular hashtags (e.g. #Fitness) tend to get so many posts that your content will be soon buried. Moderately popular hashtags will help your posts be found for a bit longer since they receive less content, and niche-specific hashtags will help your business be found in the long-term. Brand-specific hashtags (e.g. #DropCommerce) will help customers and potential customers specifically engage with your brand, and can be used to help your community members find each other.
Choosing a Hashtag Location:
The two ways to include hashtags are two include them in the caption, usually at the end, or to comment them on your post after it has been posted. Both are viable options, with relatively the same results. However, the benefit of posting them in a comment is that it won’t detract from your caption. The post will feel simpler and more authentic since your self-promotion is less blatant. The only downside of this is that it will take you a minute or two to get the comment pushed through after the post’s creation, and your most popular hashtag feeds will see a lot of content by then, pushing you further down in the new feed. You can choose to put your most popular hashtags in the caption and the rest in the comment, if you don't mind them being split up, or you can go with one or the other. The choice is yours, and it probably doesn't matter that much as long as you include them somewhere.
Building your Followers:
The best and easiest way to build your list of followers is to be highly active online. Being active on Instagram means posting new content, liking and commenting on other people's content, and following people. Following people is the big one. An easy way to acquire followers is to simply find a popular page in your niche, and follow the people who come up in their "Followers" tab. Since Instagram sorts this list chronologically, the newest followers will always be at the top, and these people are basically proven to have been online lately and interested in your niche. You can go down the list, following people and liking their photos, and if you have good enough content on your page, some of them will follow back.
Now, the quality of these followers may vary. Just because they followed your competitor's account does not mean that they will follow yours, or purchase something from you. But, it never hurts to build your following. At the very least it will add social proof to your actual customers. Also, a few days after your following spree you can unfollow the people who never followed you back. This will help keep your following-followers ratio relatively even.
Putting It All Together:
By this point you should have an account set up, with a custom username, profile picture and bio. You should also be starting to have some ideas about what to post, and how to organize it. Lastly, you should be starting to think about how to include a narrative in your news feed, and bring your brand’s values and image to life.
If you’re stuck on any one of these, then ask yourself “what did other people who were stuck in my position do?”. Turn that question into a Google query, and you’ll be all set.