5 Ways to Use Instagram For Small Business Owners

September 29, 2015
Pooja Dhuldhoya

Instagram has become the network of choice for individuals that prefer the visual content and discussion of Facebook, without the random news feed picks and claustrophobic advertisements. The end result is a network where driving traffic or sales is harder, but driving engagement is easier. Companies of all sizes are moving to Instagram for just this reason – it is a place to share personality without the expectation of typical brand behavior. Below is our five step guide on how to optimize Instagram for a newly established eCommerce business.

1. The Organic Photo Rule

Instagram is almost completely a visual platform, which means you need to convey a 1,000 words in a single image. Users appreciate the art of photography and reward beautiful images with high levels of engagement. You don’t need to be an experienced photographer or even hire a professional photographer to get Instagram worthy photos. Instead, get familiar with the visual aesthetics that are popular within your industry.  For instance, if you’re in the natural foods industry, check out established competitors like Whole Foods and mimic similar aesthetic choices. These aesthetics might include: brightness levels, the way images are curated and styled, and even types of filters used.

It might seem tempting to cover your images in heavy filters, but this can easily look overdone and unnatural. Your Instagram viewers are looking for authentic images that honestly convey your products looks and features. Below is a chart created by Track Maven, correlating filter type with level of engagement, and shows that no-filter, Mayfair and Inkwell drove the most interaction:

Instagram Filters

Your images should be raw and relatable. Images that look like ads perform significantly worse than images that have an authentic feel. The goal is to produce highly conceptualized yet effortless images. Not having a big budget might actually work to your advantage, as it ignites more creativity. Gather a group of friends and find interesting locations to do an impromptu photoshoot. Behind the scenes and meet the team images also perform well as it gives your followers an insider view. Note, straight product shots are good in moderation, but should not make up a majority of your account.

A good rule of thumb is to produce high resolution photos and to maintain account consistency. It’s not just about how a single image looks, but how the images flow collectively.

2. Rules for Engagement

It can feel intimidating building an account from the ground up with zero followers. In an impulsive attempt to grow the number of followers, some businesses go on an untargeted add spree. This means, a starting account will go into an established competitors account and start adding all followers until Instagram disables the add function for an hour. This method will yield about 10% conversion, of which a majority are spam and business accounts. This might be the fastest way to grow numbers, but in the end the audience won't reflect real potential customers. The best way to add quality, active followers is by going into a competitor's account and targeting users who have either liked or commented on a photo. This way you know the users you’re adding are active and engaged in content that is similar to yours.

Once you’ve targeted which followers you want to attract, there are a few ways engage them. Richard Lazazzera of Shopify, ran an experiment where he started with 100 of his competitors followers. With each additional 100 follows, he employed a different strategy, and the results were:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + like: 22% followback
  • Follow+ like + comment: 34% follow back

This demonstrates the importance of quality engagement. Writing a sincere comment will not only motivate the user to follow back, but will also build the groundwork for a strong brand relationship. Once you’ve converted users into followers, you need to maintain the same level of engagement by continuing to like and comment on new photos and by responding to their comments. Fewer followers that are active and engaged are worth a whole lot more than a large number of empty followers.

3. The Power of Hashtags

Instagram does not allow the use of hyperlinks, which has created a very hashtag centric platform. Think of hashtags as keywords. The more relevant the hashtag, the more targeted results you’ll achieve. For example, if you have a sustainable apparel company, use hashtags like: #SustainableFashion #SustainableApparel #WomensSustainableFashion. These hashtags may not be as popular as #Fashion but the odds of someone searching those tags and being interested in your products are a lot higher. In addition, searching through relevant hashtags is a great way to find new users to add and connect with. Keep an eye out for new hashtag trends, and participate in as many as you can to stay relevant. Here is a list of top Instagram hashtags.

4. Useful Add-On Apps

There are a number of Instagram add-on apps that can enhance your Instagram value. Here we’ve identified a few that have proven themselves useful.

Crowdfire is an audience management tool that provides useful insights on your followers. It allows you to find inactive users and non-followers and gives you the ability to delete them. It suggests relevant users for you to follow. Additionally, it allows you to track how your social media updates are affecting your follower stats. These insights allow you to make actionable solutions to improve the quality of your followers, and better understand how they are responding to your content.

Another useful add-on is RepostWhiz, which is a video and image reposting tool. It eliminates the need for sreenshotting, cropping and reloading images to your Instagram feed. This tool allows your to repost directly from a users account, and instantly credits the source of the original image while maintaining image quality. This is a handy tool to have for when your brand grows and you want to start sharing customer generated images.

Lastly, VSCOcam is a great photo editing tool to have in your arsenal. It offers enhanced photo editing options, allowing for more visual control. You can adjust saturation, contrast, skin tone, in addition to a number of other features. It also offers a number of quality preset filters that are less heavy handed than Instagram. As we mentioned before, users appreciate more authentic and raw images, and VSCOcam allows you the ability to subtly enhance your images without going overboard.

5. Build a Community

There are many players involved in creating an Instagram community. The goal is to unite  followers under a brand; one that represents a single value, mission or lifestyle. Creating a unified community starts with your own internal content, but should eventually expand to external support. You want to connect with other influential accounts that are willing to champion your brand. For example, if you have an organic beauty product line, you want to find accounts that are built on reviewing and sharing new organic products with their followers. In the early stages, you can start by reaching out to these accounts and introducing your products in hopes that they are compelled enough to order and review.

Often times more influential accounts will ask for a trade, which means you provide them with product in exchange for a blog post or social media mention. This is called a sponsored post, and the terms can vary from person to person. The more premier accounts will ask for compensation, at which point you need to assess the return on your investment. Ask these accounts for their analytics, see how many hits their blog gets a month, percentage of followers that are active, and percentage of followers that are engaged. If you decide to go forward with a paid sponsored post, make sure you track the investment by having a distinct promo code for each sponsor.


Launching and managing an Instagram account can be time consuming and challenging. The experts at Brave One Agency can manage your social media needs and ensure your brand is being well represented, while delivering quality engagement. Call today for a free, no-hassle consultation 1-844-4BRAVE1.

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