Posted by Tamsyn Strike
2 August, 2018

Instagram is an effective tool to build and engage your audience – if you use it right.

In this post we cover the platform’s best practices, from hashtags and planning ahead to paid promotion, to help you get the most out of your Instagram account.

1. Know your followers

As always, understanding your audience is the key to engaging them. With a business account on Instagram, you’re able to add information to your profile that potential customers want to know: an outline of what your business is all about, contact details, opening hours and a link to your website. More importantly, a business account allows you to get insights on your followers and understand how they interact with your posts and stories.

Instagram Insights is an analytics tool that gives you a real-time picture of your followers: their gender, age group, location, behaviours, what content they like, when they’re most active and what they’re likely to take action on. By understanding your audience and the posts they’re interacting with, you can deliver content that’s relevant and valuable, at a time that’s right for them.

To use Insights, go to your profile page and tap the four-bar icon up in the top-right corner. Insights is divided into three tabs: Activity, Content and Audience; have a poke around to get used to it. You can also tap ‘View Insights’ when looking at a photo or video to get data on that specific post.

The Nixon Design Instagram page with an arrow pointing to the Insights button.
Pie chart and bar chart in Instagram Insights.
The Nixon Design Instagram Insights tab.

2. Do it with style

Instagram is a visual medium, so people expect inspiring, eye-catching content. The most successful businesses on Instagram post captivating imagery in their own style. Make sure you’re always uploading great-quality images, and that your aesthetic is consistent and on brand. For more guidance on getting your imagery right, check out our post Why images are important in social media.

You also want to mix up your content, as too much of the same thing gets stale. Say you’re a hotel: go for a healthy mix of location, food, lifestyle and hotel goings-on shots. Try uploading videos, multi-image posts and stories, and using Instagram’s free apps Layout and Boomerang to vary your content types.

Images of a yacht-sail curtain and a vase of flowers being uploaded onto Instagram.
A screenshot of three images in Instagram's Layout application.
An image of a yacht-sail curtain being posted on Instagram stories, with emojis overlaid.

3. Plan ahead

Although you definitely want to use Instagram to share spontaneous day-to-day moments, it’s good to be planning for content and campaigns in advance. Think about upcoming events that are meaningful to your audience. They could be holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, or major events like Glastonbury Festival and the World Cup. Also consider your own milestones, such as new product launches, special offers and announcements.

Really, you want a social media strategy to work from, with a calendar of events and a rough plan for posting throughout the year. This’ll help make sure you’re making the most of your opportunities, and it’ll keep you posting regularly, which is one of the most important ways to build and maintain your following. As you go along, you can use the data from Insights to help refine your plan and steer your strategy.

4. Use hashtags right

Hashtags have become a uniform way to categorise content on many social media platforms. On Instagram, they help users discover pictures and profiles that they’re interested in. That’s why it’s important you only use hashtags that are relevant to your brand, industry, audience and particular posts. Here are some simple guidelines to follow when writing hashtags:

  • keep them relevant;
  • use the right number of tags (according to a study by TrackMaven, posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement);
  • and check out what hashtags your competitors and influential people in the industry are using.

A tool we sometimes use is Hashtagify, a free website where you can search hashtag terms and get all sorts of information on them, including popularity and similar hashtags in use.

5. Be sociable

Instagram is also a valuable opportunity to engage with your audience. By responding to comments you can build a strong relationship with your followers and the wider Instagram community.

A study conducted by the Internet Advertising Bureau found that 90% of us would recommend a brand to friends after interacting with it on social media. So get out there and start some conversations: it’s called social media for a reason.

6. Get regramming

Just as you might retweet on Twitter and share someone’s post on Facebook, ‘regramming’ an Instagram image or video is a great way to promote user-, influencer- or partner-generated content. Often, you’ll attract their followers to your account, expanding your audience. Just be sure you get the permission of whoever owns the content, and credit them in the caption. Also be mindful of your aesthetic, and only regram posts that match your account style.

There are two main ways to regram an Instagram post. You can do it manually by snapping a screenshot and then cropping the photo; the problem with this is that you can only regram images. The other way is to use Repost for Instagram, a free app that lets you copy Instagram images and videos and upload them onto your account. It adds a little tag to the photo with the original user’s handle, and copies over their caption along with a link to their account.

A screenshot of the Repost to Instagram app.
An Instagram illustration of a woman about to be reposted to Instagram.
An illustration of a woman in the Instagram app.

7. Run fun campaigns

While regular posts will be your bread and butter, you’ll pull in higher impressions and engagement when you run larger campaigns that encourage your audience to participate in some way. Competitions using a branded hashtag, influencer takeovers and cross-platforms campaigns are all good tactics to create buzz and attract new followers. 

8. Pay for promotion

Instagram ads are a great way to grow your audience and drive traffic to your website and other social media channels. With your business account you have the option to promote your posts so they reach a larger audience. If one of your posts is performing particularly well, a little paid boost might be worthwhile.

It’s also possible to run ads seamlessly across Facebook and Instagram, saving you time and allowing you to increase the reach of your ads in a cost-effective way. Check out our guide on creating successful Facebook Ads for some useful tips and tactics.

Now that you know the basics, you’ll be building up your following and creating a strong Instagram feed. Remember, though, that change doesn’t happen overnight. Keep posting and adjust your strategy based on your audience’s reception and over time you’ll start to see your efforts pay off.