Instagram Marketing Strategy: How to Launch or Revise One in 17 Steps

A 17-Step Plan to Launch (or Revise) Your Instagram Marketing Strategy

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Why does every business need an Instagram marketing strategy today? Not only is Instagram a social media network that marketers can’t afford to overlook anymore, being the second largest social network with over 1 billion users, the time has come to make it an integral part of every business’s marketing strategy, even B2B companies that have neglected to engage with its users. Simply put, those 1 billion people present huge marketing opportunities to businesses. According to Instagram Advertiser statistics , users are engaging with brands on the network in exactly the way that marketers want:

  • 50% of Instagrammers follow a business
  • 60% have learned about products and services through Instagram
  • 75% have taken an action, like visiting websites or looking at products after seeing posts

While Instagram is not for every industry, there is one which has been very successful: Ecommerce.

Why Instagram Marketing is Key to Ecommerce Marketing

A decade ago, Instagram was a place for young adults to hop on and share heavily-filtered images with their friends and family. Since that time, Instagram has grown to be a truly massive marketing platform, boasting people and businesses from all walks of life. Small boutiques can use Instagram, as can billion-dollar companies and influencers, and regardless of their size, they are able to interact with and directly reach their customer bases. For this reason alone, Instagram marketing is absolutely vital to e-commerce marketing and provides one of the easiest ways to deliver marketing materials to audiences. 

E-commerce is commerce conducted entirely online, which can limit some of the ways you can properly market your business. The scale of e-commerce is often much smaller than standard business models, as well, which can further limit your marketing abilities. Instagram posts provide a perfect way to create audience-fueled content that shows off who you are, what your business is all about, and how your products can most effectively be used. 

In your marketing, quality content should be your primary focus; even if you post multiple times each day and engage heartily with all of your followers, that will eventually grow tired and uninteresting if you are not producing high-quality content. From using a branded hashtag to encourage growth and engagement, to offering clickable links to a well-thought-out and well-designed site, to creating individual posts that use the best possible images and text, your followers might come for frequency of posting or influencer marketing, but will stay for the quality. 

Understanding The Instagram Algorithm (background info needed for success)

Simply leaping into Instagram posts does not mean that you will immediately know how to create compelling content that improves your value and your interaction with your audience.

To effectively utilize Instagram marketing, you must understand how the Instagram algorithm works, and how you can use it to your advantage. While Instagram feeds used to be simple enough, showing posts according to the time they were posted, as the platform grew, its algorithm grew more complicated than the time of day posts are created.

Today, the exact algorithm associated with Instagram and e-commerce veers away from chronological posts and focuses far more on consistently using a popular hashtag, interacting and engaging with followers, and creating content that is considered relevant in your industry or niche–all of which can be boosted or hampered by the period of time during which content is posted. 

To make sure that your posts are seen more frequently and your marketing reaches as far as you need it to, there are several important things to keep in mind, including the amount of interaction you and your followers engage in, the relevance of your posts in your niche (including using a relevant hashtag), and how similar your content is to the posts of people who are currently following you. Adhering to these basic strategies offer a great start to getting your e-commerce Instagram marketing account up and running. As a business owner, it is part of your job to evaluate how you can reach a wider audience by creating a marketing budget and social media strategy.

If you’re looking to improve your visual identity AND get more value from social media, here are 17 steps to help you launch or revise an Instagram marketing strategy:

Step 1: Define your objectives and make a plan for your Instagram marketing strategy

Define your objectives and make a plan for your Instagram marketing strategy

Just like with any social network, the first thing you need to do to get your Instagram presence off the ground is to sit down and draft a plan for branding and content themes. Don’t start publishing photos just yet. Your social media results will only ever be as good as the strategy behind your effort, so put in the legwork to reap greater rewards down the road.

First, decide on your goals. Are you looking to:

  • Promote products?
  • Build brand awareness?
  • Engage fans?
  • Grow your audience?
  • Get new customers?
  • Build relationships with influencers?

Ideally, your Instagram marketing strategy will achieve all of these things, but you’ll need to know what’s most important so you can align your image choice and publication strategy. If you want to promote products, you need to share pictures of the items that you sell. If you want to grow your audience, you need to share pictures that will grab people’s attention and make them interested in learning more about your business, and consider how you might combine collecting an email address with your marketing efforts.

Determining your goals will also help you decide what types of images are most appropriate for your strategy (professional photos, candid pictures, videos, memes), and how often you’re going to share each type.

Next, you will need to establish the visual identity you want to create on Instagram, your own unique “visual voice.” It should align with your existing branding, so customers will instantly recognize the images you share as yours. If your visual identity is artistic, you might want to go with bold black and white images and play with tools to better edit your Instagram photos . For something softer and relaxing, stick to paler color schemes and apply muted filters. If you want something energizing, mix a clean white space with bright pops of color.

In other words, however tempting it might be with the plethora of Instagram apps that exist out there, don’t go crazy with filters and photo editing. Make guidelines for your content and be consistent with the pictures you share to effectively maintain follower growth and create organic posts.Note: If you’re looking for a primer on social media strategy in general, make sure you pick up my Maximize Your Social book.

Note: If you’re looking for a primer on social media strategy in general, make sure you pick up my Maximize Your Social book.

Step 2: Audit Your Competitors (content, hashtags, followers, engagement)

Audit Your Competitors (content, hashtags, followers, engagement)

While it may seem strange, you should take time and devote some energy to looking into your competitors and evaluating what it is that they do with their own marketing efforts, and how their techniques might be applied to your own business. Evaluate the hashtag/s your competitors are using, the type of content they are creating each week, who their followers are, and what their followers are most likely to engage with. If, for instance, your e-commerce business offers crystal bracelets and earrings, and a competitor selling the same product consistently uses the hashtag “#crystalbraceletsforemfreduction,” make sure you begin including that hashtag in your own marketing efforts and posts. 

Your audits can be as simple or as involved as you prefer. You can keep track of your competitors’ content, hashtags, follower numbers, the times per day that they post, and engagement habits via an excel sheet, or you can simply view your competitors’ Instagram accounts on a regular basis and keep yourself familiar with what they are up to and how you can employ their best business practices. 

If you are unsure of yourself when it comes to marketing, you can glean marketing tips and developing marketing goals based on your competitors’ content plan and content performance, while maintaining a commitment to generating original posts. 

Step 3: Set Up Your Instagram Business Profile (bio, link in bio)

 Set Up Your Instagram Business Profile (bio, link in bio)

When you set up your instagram, make sure you are setting up a business account, rather than a personal one. Although you will not be penalized for using a personal account as a business, business accounts are able to link to products and other sites, include contact information and links, advertise the posts you put up on Instagram, and receive insights about your posts, your Instagram stories, and your followers, including engagement rates. Having these tools at your fingertips is essential to use Instagram marketing effectively, because it allows you to evaluate where you’ve gone wrong, where you require further improvement, and where your posts are performing as you’d hoped. 

Sorting through your Instagram insights allows you to sort through reactions and views to your Instagram Stories, evaluate the types of content that garner the most shares, comments, and likes, and helps you weed out potential customers from people who are simply hopping onto their social media platforms for a quick cruise-through, rather than engaging with or committing to purchasing from a brand or business. This can be a simple first step, as it does not require you to have a single piece of content or a target demographic. If you are stuck, consider making this one of your first steps. 

Step 4: Determine Your Instagram Content and Brand Style

Determine Your Instagram Content and Brand Style

The types of content you create will greatly inform everything that you do, and will even determine how you use Instagram Stories and other features associated with the platform.

To effectively use Instagram to construct user-generated content to market your materials, improve engagement rates, and connect with your audience, you must determine what type of content you will create, and how your brand will be styled. Although your every post does not have to look identical, you should make sure that your Instagram Stories, posts, and Instagram live streams all adhere to the same basic formula and appearance. 

Content and style will vary from one brand to the next, and creating guides for your content plan will help direct your steps for your brand and maintain a consistent appearance. Make sure that every piece of content and branding plans fall within your budget, and are geared toward raising engagement rates, solidifying the appearance of your brand, and helping your company along. To make this easier, you can create specific templates for your brand and modify them according to your needs. From your product launch to your weekly factoid post, make sure there is some consistency for your existing and potential followers on Instagram.

Step 5: Create a schedule

Create a schedule

The next step is to settle on a posting schedule. How often are you going to publish content as part of your Instagram marketing strategy? Again, you need to be consistent to be successful with social media like Instagram. Avoid dumping a bunch of pictures online all at once, and then going weeks or months between updates. You need to have a regular presence on your followers’ Instagram feeds to stay top-of-mind and achieve any marketing results.

What can you realistically commit to? One photo a week? Two per week? One every day? I recommend to all of my clients to publish consistently at a minimum of once a week and only increase the frequency once they have a several-week stockpile of images or they are achieving great engagement as a percentage of their followers.

Create a schedule based on your strategy, and stick to it. Perhaps that means alternating product pictures and candid shots of customers, with memes and videos every fourth share.

If you have a bunch of great pictures stockpiled for Instagram, great. Resist the temptation to publish them all at once. Spread them out over the course of weeks, months, or even a year to get the most mileage out of them. Get some tools to help you manage content distribution. AgoraPulse and Tailwind are a couple of social media post scheduling software apps that can help you stay on top of your account with minimal day-to-day management.

Step 6: Do some hashtag research

Do some hashtag research

If you want to grow your Instagram presence, it is an absolute Instagram best practice to use hashtags. A study by Simply Measured found that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag get 12.6 percent more engagement than those without any.

Results like this prove why hashtags are so important for building a successful social media campaign on any network. The difficult part is finding the right hashtags. You need something that is going to get your images in front of more members of your target audience.

A couple of approaches to zeroing in on the right hashtags for Instagram include:

  • Looking at what your competitors are doing
  • Looking at what your customers are using
  • Looking at what influencers are posting
  • Looking up keywords related to your business to discover similar keywords that are trending

You can also try hashtag research tools to find related terms that can help you get in front of your customers.

Step 7: Publish pictures

Publish pictures

The next step is to actually publish a picture on your Instagram account. Follow the guidelines you set up in your Instagram marketing strategy to determine which kind of image you should use, how to filter it, and which hashtags to use.

Don’t worry about followers just yet. It’s a good idea to have some content on your Instagram account before you start following people. Otherwise, they might look at your account and think it’s spam. You will get more followers if you have something published first. In fact, I recommend you have at least 6 to 9 – if not 10 – images on your account before you start following others so that it shows you are actually active on Instagram.

Step 8: Leverage Instagram Stories

Leverage Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are extremely important in improving engagement rates, making your brand seem more approachable and personable, and encouraging your audience to come back for more. Instagram Stories are used to create Instagram insights and Instagram analytics for this reason; the way that you engage with your followers via your Instagram can play an important role in how consistently your followers engage with your brand, and how relatable your content appears. Instagram Stories can be used to show your followers the behind-the-scenes of your business and brand just as easily as it can be used to show your followers where and how to purchase your products or services. The swipe-up feature on Instagram Stories is extremely helpful for e-commerce store owners. 

Through Instagram Stories, you can offer guides, product photos, and “day in the life” moments with yourself or your employees. Instagram stories can be used to repost photos you’ve been tagged or mentioned in, direct followers to all new posts you create, and present a kind and engaging face for your customers to interact with. 

Step 9: Experiment with Instagram Reels

Experiment with Instagram Reels

Instagram reels are relatively new to the social platform, but have become immensely popular. In a vein similar to TikTok videos, Instagram reels allow you to create content that adheres to a specific format or challenge, in order to engage with other brands, companies, and influencers in your industry. Instagram reels are a great way to encourage active users to engage with your brand, and provides a zero-budget way to create entertaining videos for your audience to consume and enjoy. While they may not show up in Instagram analytics in quite the same way as Stories, they can be an incredible way to have fun with your marketing approach, show off your willingness to engage with followers and trends, and have a good time while promoting your brand. 

Instagram reels offer visual content that is more engaging and appealing than a simple post. If you have used carousel posts as part of your marketing strategy, think of reels as the video version of carousel posts, in which you are able to deliver multiple shots in a single video and create these fun little videos to share with your followers from time to time.

Step 10: Don’t forget to follow your fans

Don't forget to follow your fans

Although it’s not necessarily the fastest way to grow your audience, it’s smart to follow your customers as well as employees. These people are already your fans. They already know you and support you. They will like your pictures and leave comments, providing genuine engagement as you build a larger following online.

Most companies look outside for influencers to jump start engagement, but it’s always smartest to start with those who have the greatest brand affinity for your business!

Step 11: Proactively follow people in your target audience

Proactively follow people in your target audience

Next, follow some of the people who you want to follow you: Members of your target audience and influencers in your industry. This might include other companies in your space that you admire, experts in the field, or anyone else with a large following. The best part? This simple practice does not cut into your daily budget! 

Why do this when your Instagram marketing strategy goal is to build a following – not be a part of someone else’s? It’s a good practice. It’s networking. You need to follow other accounts to gain followers. It’s also an opportunity to get into the same social media circles as people who might be in your target audience, so you can get on their radars and connect later on.

This is social media, after all, made for businesses and not people. Those businesses that engage more like people would will do better, hit their marketing goals, and improve their engagement metrics.

Step 12: Proactively engage with people

Proactively engage with people

That brings us to the next point: Engagement. Any successful Instagrammer will tell you that in order to grow your following, you need to interact with other people. Like a few photos every day and comment on other people’s pictures and videos regularly.

Do this to people you follow as well as others you don’t know (you might find them through hashtag searches or Instagram’s discover function). It’s a way to get on more people’s radars. If someone sees that you’re liking their pictures and leaving genuine comments, they might check out your profile and follow you back. Immediately, this means you’re growing your audience. Ultimately, it could turn into more customers.

Step 13: Celebrate your fans

Celebrate your fans

Even as your Instagram following grows, don’t forget about your most loyal fans. Share photos from events to give a behind-the-scenes look at your business. Post pictures of customers and tag them. Consider reposting photos from fans that are aligned with your content strategy. These little shout outs will keep fans feeling connected to your brand as you expand.

Step 14: Publish User-Generated Content from Your Fans

Publish User-Generated Content from Your Fans

The visual content aspect of Instagram as a social platform is part of what makes it so appealing. Although your captions certainly matter as part of your branding, it is the sight of your regular posts and stories that truly drives your marketing plan and engagement rates. One way to improve your engagement and boost your visibility among your followers is to publish user-generated content from your fans and followers. From posts detailing a follower’s experience with your products, to fan-generated content created for a giveaway, letting your followers know that you see and hear them can be a valuable way to improve your audience’s perception of you, and expand your reach. 

User-generated content will vary, and not all content can be reposted. Stories, for instance, cannot be reposted, while carousel posts can be reposted easily. You can even link to a blog post in your business account’s swipe-up feature. Publishing user-generated content from your fans can do wonders for your scores in your analytics tools and is an important part of the content strategy for virtually every e-commerce platform. 

Step 15: Engage with Nano and Micro-Influencers and Build an Instagram Influencer Marketing Program

Engage with Nano and Micro-Influencers and Build an Instagram Influencer Marketing Program

Although having a hashtag strategy and definitive brand is important, most e-commerce marketing efforts are not complete without some type of influencer marketing effort. Nano and micro influencers can help get your brand name out there, from a name and face that people trust, which helps your brand reach more people and potentially increase traffic and engagement rates. Posting at optimal times is important, but engaging with influencers in real time can be even more vital to developing a winning marketing strategy, and welcoming new followers (and potentially new customers) to your platform. 

If you are gearing up to reach out to influencers to promote your brand, consider setting up a dedicated program for your brand or business. Most influencers want to know what they are getting into up front, whether that means knowing the type of post they are expected to create, the number of mentions they are expected to deliver, or even the type of Instagram Stories content they are expected to provide, and knowing what you’d like from your relationships with influencers will ease this process. You can look over other brands’ standard practices with influencers or develop your own unique strategy, but make sure you create some consistency in your influencer expectations.

Step 16: Utilize Paid Social to supplement the organic growth of your Instagram marketing strategy

Utilize Paid Social to supplement the organic growth of your Instagram marketing strategy

If you want to give your Instagram account a boost, consider promoting your pictures through paid Instagram ads that show up in the feeds of your target audience. Social media has become pay-to-play for most social networks, and even though Instagram still provides relatively high organic Instagram engagement, at some point you might find that you must promote your content to see the results you expect.

It’s true that promotions usually provide an immediate boost to social media results. To make those results stick, it’s important that paid content appeals to the specific audience you’re targeting and provides enough reason for them to follow you after seeing it.

Step 17: Check your stats and optimize your Instagram marketing strategy using PDCA

Check your stats and optimize your Instagram marketing strategy using PDCA

Even though you’re just kicking off a new Instagram marketing strategy and it will take some time to gain traction, it’s critical that you keep track of stats like:

  • Number of Followers
  • Number of Likes per picture
  • Number of Comments per picture
  • Volume of website traffic generated from Instagram
  • Leads generated from Instagram
  • Amount of sales generated from Instagram

After you have published enough posts to collect a healthy amount of data, take a step back and compare the results with the content you published. Look for patterns between the images you published, the captions you used, and the results you gained.

Do videos get more likes? Do you gain followers after posting a picture of your events? Are bright pictures more popular than black and whites? Do certain posts generate more website traffic, leads, and sales than others?

With this information, you can hone your Instagram marketing strategy and zero in on the approach that will generate the best results on Instagram. As your audience grows, so should the success you see from your social media marketing efforts.

Need more advice? Check out my video below!

YouTube video

Hero photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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  1. I am still weak in instagram marketing. hope these tips will help me to start with.

  2. Hi Neal,

    Thanks for sharing this informative & detailed step by step Instagram Marketing Strategy. I am definitely gonna use these strategies & also will never forgot to follow my fans as well.

    Keep up the good Work….Keep sharing…

  3. Great content, Neal!

    Loved how you incorporated basic yet lesser known instagram marketing tactics with more advanced techniques into this simple 10 steps guide. It is true that people do focus on facebook marketing only rather than exploring more techniques to it than that could do best for them.
    Many thanks for the essential takeaways!

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