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With over 1 billion users, Instagram is just too big for businesses (even small ones) to ignore. The image-sharing platform, owned by Facebook, is a vital channel for connecting with customers, building engagement, and showing people who you are and what you offer.



Here are five strategies to turn your Instagram account into a winning marketing channel.


1.    Make Every Image Count


Every image your small business puts on Instagram should matter. All your pictures should be well-lit, carefully composed, and match the branding and style of your business. Think of your feed as a kind of informal, ever-growing catalog, filled with product pictures and mood-setting scenes. Most important, the contents of that catalog should always cater to the interests of the people who follow your account and see its content.


“The difference between a business account that just posts for the sake of sharing, and an account that makes an impact is that they know what clients want to see,” says Sue B. Zimmerman, an Instagram business coach.


Sue points to The Dry Bar, a salon chain, as one company that’s getting it right. The company’s feed contains just a hint of snark, plenty of fresh flowers and touches of the brand’s signature yellow.


“They use their Instagram feed to reflect their brand values and what makes them unique in their niche,” she says.


Related Reading: How To Sell Your Products On Instagram: A Step-by-Step Guide for Businesses


2.    Build Conversations in the Comments Threads


It’s images that will attract attention and build engagement, but Instagram isn’t all about pictures. The comment threads on your posts also allow businesses to interact with customers in the same way that a store assistant builds a relationship with a brick-and-mortar visitor.


“Your comments should advance the conversation or add a new perspective that keeps the comment thread active,” says Sue.


That means doing more than picking an emoji. It means going into detail and really thinking about what you want to say as you add new information.


3.    Take Your Time and Watch Your Stats


There are no overnight successes on Instagram, at least not for businesses that focus on real followers and engagement. A following in the thousands takes time to generate, and much of that time should be spent figuring out what kind of content your followers respond to most.


“Be patient and analyze your Instagram insights,” says Sue. “Then you’ll never have to guess the kind of content that your followers will want to see.”


Create a content calendar, track the results of each post that you create, and make more of the images that generate the most shares, likes, and comments.


4.    Hit the Hashtags Hard


Building a following on Instagram means first being found on Instagram. It means helping people who are interested in the kinds of images that you’re sharing to find them easily. Instagram can’t search the pictures themselves, but it can search the text around the image, especially the hashtags.


“I think a lot of businesses, especially when they’re starting out, underestimate how valuable hashtags are for discovery and growth,” says Sue.


Know which hashtags are always relevant for your industry and your field. Keep track of the hashtags that are currently popular. And make sure that you include a number of tags with your posts so that people looking for those hashtags can find you.


5.    Treat Stories as Your Own Personal TV Channel


Much of Instagram marketing is built on individual images that give followers snapshots of your business—carefully curated and photographed snapshots, but snapshots nonetheless. Instagram’s Stories knit those snapchats together to create a single narrative. You could link a series of images to show the creation of a product, the delivery of a service from door-to-door, or the stages in a make-over, for example.


Sue compares Stories to having your own TV channel, a place where you can broadcast whatever you want that’s relevant to your audience. She also recommends using IGTV, Instagram’s newer video-sharing application.


“Since Instagram decided to integrate IGTV into the feed, brands and businesses are seeing a huge surge in the number of people watching their IGTV content,” she says.


So as you’re building your business with Instagram, choose your images carefully; talk to your followers; take your time; use the hashtags; and don’t be afraid to use Stories and IGTV to stay ahead of the game.


About Joel Comm


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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.


Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.


Web: or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Joel Comm to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Joel Comm is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Joel Comm. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

While many small business owners may understand the benefits of influencer marketing, the challenge is finding the right influencers with which to partner.



It’s easy to look at a social media profile and be impressed by the number of followers the person has, or the beautiful aesthetic they created on their feed.


However, just because a profile looks like it’s a great fit for your brand, you don’t know for certain without checking thoroughly. This is why carrying out your own research and taking the time to build a relationship with influencers before making an investment is so important.


Taking the time to vet influencers will help you:


  • Increase the likelihood of positive ROI
  • Limit reputation damage
  • Reduce overall costs


I’ve outlined a few tactics that will help you to select the best influencers for your business and program.


Partner with content creators


Not all influencers are created equal. One group of influencers tends to focus on driving the numbers: building a large community with an extensive reach. Others focus on the creation of content. With the latter, community growth has come through followers’ appreciation for their dedication to becoming an expert at their craft.


Both types of influencers have value, but in different ways. An influencer will take your product/service and show their affiliation, hoping their audience will then go on to buy based on their endorsements.


Content creators tend to be more selective in who they choose to work with because of their dedication to maintaining the authenticity of their brand. Content creators bring additional value in the quality of content, as well as the loyal audience they have built in their follower base.


Creators tend to be much more involved in creating a collaborative partnership and using their skills to showcase the value of your product through their own content creation.


By focusing on collaborating with content creators who have built a highly engaged audience, your investment brings in influence and the creative skill to highlight your products and/or services in the best possible way.


Carry out extensive research


As great as the rise and benefits of influencer marketing has become, there is a downside. There are a number of accounts who have purchased fake likes, followers and engagement to appear influential when, in fact, they are not. Naturally, they don’t have any real influence over their community, therefore, investing in them can be very costly with no return to be made.


This means you need to carry out extensive research as part of the vetting process. It starts with studying their audience.


Here are a few key things to look out for:


Audience Authenticity


Look at their followers and following. Are the individuals real? Click through and pay close attention to the content and engagement of the influencer's followers. It should be very easy to tell who is real and who is not. Look for potential bot activity and fake followers. If a significant number of followers appear to be fake, this lets you know this influencer is not a good fit for your business.


Audience Demographics


Influence is the ability to alter behavior or change opinion. This is only valuable to you as a small business owner if it’s influencing the right people, i.e. your ideal target audience. Without the right audience fit it’s unlikely that, even with a strong influencer behind you, that you will be able to convert to sales.


An influencer will know their audience and they will easily be able to share this information with you. However, it’s important you take the time to research and verify this yourself. Take the time to manually go through the influencer’s account, paying particular attention to who is engaging most.


Don’t compromise on ‘good enough.’ It has to be natural for your brand, for the influencer, and for their audience. This is key in driving up your return on investment.


Level of Engagement and Sentiment


When looking at the engagement of an influencer, you don’t just want to focus on quantity. Pay close attention to quality. Are followers initiating conversations with the influencer? How excited are followers when they reply? Are they interested in taking advice and following the influencer’s behavior? Are the same people commenting on every post?


More importantly, is the influencer replying to comments and using them as a means to keep the conversation going? This will let you know how much the influencer is invested in their community and building strong relationships with them. 


If you are going to invest in someone to represent your brand, you want to know they care.


Organic vs. Sponsored Engagement


Paying close attention to the engagement an influencer receives provides a good general indication of how influential an account is. The real indicator is when you take a look at their individual posts. Specifically, focus on the engagement of their organic posts vs. sponsored posts.


It’s very easy to tell. If an influencer is following the correct guidelines, their post will say sponsored and typically include #ad. Plus, Facebook has the special “Branded Content” tag used in both organic posts and in ads. Instagram is rolling this feature out to more accounts. If you come across content that is clearly sponsored but isn’t clearly labelled, this is a big indication that this influencer is not a good fit.


You want to know that people are very engaged in the person behind the account and that content will generally perform as well whether it is organic or sponsored. If you see a significant drop in engagement on sponsored posts, this may be an indication that the influencer’s audience is not receptive towards their offers.


There are a number of tools that can help you with this process. For example, Social Bakers, Buzzsumo and BrandWatch are all popular options. These should be used to support your manual research.


Build a relationship with the Influencer first


Influencer marketing is collaborative. It requires both parties to be aligned and working towards a shared common goal. You want the collaboration to be fun. The influencer should feel like a natural extension of your team.


Take the time to get on a call or video chat a few times before committing to working together. Look for brand voice alignment. Determine if their beliefs and core values match yours.


Ideally, you want to be in a situation where you would each promote one another regardless of a paid agreement being in place.


Understand the Influencer’s past experience


Once you’ve established an influencer to be a good fit for your business, reach out and ask about the influencer’s experience. Having proof of past results is more valuable than looking at vanity metrics. It will show you the real ROI of working with them. Having achieved measured results for other clients eliminates the risk of your campaign not working.


The influencer’s past brand collaborations will help you cross check the quality of the influencer’s audience, skill level and their ability to execute your campaign.


Set clear expectations up front


One of the most challenging steps with influencer marketing is managing the relationship and managing expectations. This applies to both parties. It’s likely you have different ways of working. You need to ensure you both understand one another and collaborate to define the process you’ll both commit to executing.


Part of building a relationship early on will help with this. Do they turn up on time for meetings? Are they sticking to the same key messages? Do they speak with clarity and confidence? Do they bring creative ideas to the table that are win:win? Do you have clear expectations they have shared up front with you?


The level of professionalism that the influencer brings to the table will provide the confidence they will be able to execute on their promise.


Disclosure Regulations


As mentioned above, it’s critical the influencer you choose to partner with is aware of, and adheres to, the disclosure regulations of their jurisdiction. You have to protect your business. Find more information on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines here.


Taking these steps before proceeding with an agreement with an influencer can help protect your brand and ensure you are building long-term collaborative partnerships with mutual gains. Take your time. Be selective. Follow a clear process and start building your business today with the right influencers in your corner.




About Mari Smith



Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing and social media. She is a Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Forbes recently described Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” She is a recognized Facebook Partner; Facebook headhunted and hired Mari to lead the Boost Your Business series of live events across the US. Mari is an in-demand speaker, and travels the world to keynote and train at major events.


Her digital marketing agency provides professional speaking, training and consulting services on Facebook and Instagram marketing best practices for Fortune 500 companies, brands, SMBs and direct sales organizations. Mari is also an expert webinar and live video broadcast host, and she serves as Brand Ambassador for numerous leading global companies.


Web: Mari Smith  or Twitter: @MariSmith


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Mari Smith to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Mari Smith is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Mari Smith. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

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