Instagram is Facebook’s next Facebook. I’ve been including this statement in all my keynotes and broadcasts for the past 18 months and it seems never more true than now. This year has been a challenging one for Facebook in many ways, and Instagram may well be the ‘life raft’ Facebook needs to ensure continued growth of the family of apps.


When Facebook first bought Instagram back in April 2012 for an astounding $1 billion, the young photo-sharing app only had 30 million users, 13 employees and zero revenue.


Now, Instagram recently announced its first 1 billion monthly active users milestone. The company has over 700 employees and has an estimated worth of over $100 billion. Instagram will bring in close to $8 billion in ad revenue according to eMarketer.


From a business standpoint, there are 25 million business profiles and 2 million advertisers.


The good news for small business owners looking to optimize Instagram is there’s still plenty of time for you to master the art of standing out on this fun, visual platform with a generally younger demographic.


Make Sure You Have A Business Instagram Profile


First, in order to maximize the best features for business use on Instagram, it’s important you have a business account, not a personal profile. If you currently have a personal profile, you can easily switch that profile to business in your settings. Or, consider setting up a second Instagram account, if appropriate. Keep in mind it does take work to maintain even one account so make sure you have the resources and time to manage a second account.


Optimize Your Bio, Including Hashtags and Links


Your bio comprises up to 150 characters and is the only area where you can add clickable links. You can also include clickable @ mentions to related accounts and relevant clickable hashtags. Plus, with your business account, you can now add a call to action such as ‘Call,’ ‘Email,’ or ‘Directions.’


Ideas for using links in your Instagram bio include sending visitors to a webpage, to a YouTube video, to a contest, or a free download.


To get more out of your main website link, consider a service such as

Linktree or these alternatives. This allows you to create one link that pops up with a nice list of clickable links. Here you might add a lead generation giveaway, special offer, FAQs, etc.


Publish Visually Compelling Posts


This is going to be your most important step. Instagram has always been a highly visual platform. It was designed for sharing photos and videos and has been a real boon to professional and amateur photographers around the world.


You can simply use your mobile phone and good lighting to take quality photos and video clips. Then publish in the square format. Although Instagram now lets you publish in portrait or landscape mode on your main feed, the square format photos and videos still perform best. Instagram makes it very easy to publish in square format, pulling any photo or video from your camera roll.


Ideally, use a specific color theme for your posts and be consistent in order to communicate the right aesthetics for your brand.


Enhance your photos and videos with apps such as Instagram-owned Layout, Boomerang or Hyperlapse. See more great app suggestions from Instagram.


Or, use free stock images from the likes of Pixabay or Pexels, and make striking visuals using apps such as Canva or Adobe Spark.


Also, use the Search & Explore feature to find all manner of curated content that might be relevant to you. Proactively seek accounts that spark ideas for your own posts. Plus, follow and engage with accounts that may be relevant to you. This feature is also a great place to discover a variety of hashtags you might use in your own posts.


Include Plenty of Relevant Hashtags


Instagram allows you to include up to 30 hashtags per post. Some experts recommend only including 3-7 in the main post description and more in the first comment. However, other studies show maximizing up to 30 hashtags in the description performs just as well. The main point to keep in mind is relevance.


For example, let’s say you are a hair salon and you use the hashtag #hairtrends in your post about a funky new style, that’s totally relevant. If people find you by clicking through on the #hairtrends hashtag, they’d be happy to see your post and hopefully engage with you and follow your account. But, if you’re a drycleaner and you use the same #hairtrends hashtag on a post with tips on stain removal, that would be a total disconnect and people would quickly move on.


Save Time with Planning and Scheduling Tools


For planning and scheduling your Instagram posts, consider helpful apps such as Later, PlannThat, Schedugram, Planoly or AgoraPulse. The latter also helps you to manage your community engagement across all social channels.


How often should you publish content? It depends. At minimum, strive for one really good post on your wall per week then increase to 3-5 per week. It’s better to have less content that really resonates with your followers and gets great engagement, vs. pushing out too much content that hardly gets any reach, visibility or engagement. You’ll need to experiment to find the right cadence for your audience.


Embrace Instagram Stories


I wrote about the power of Instagram Stories in July. Since then, Instagram Stories has grown another 100 million daily active users to 400 million. Keep in mind that both Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, and Chris Cox, Facebook’s CPO, are saying that consumption of content in the Stories format is set to surpass consumption of content in the feed format. This goes for both Instagram and Facebook.


Savvy small business owners and entrepreneurs would do well to publish one to three pieces of micro content in the Story format every 24 hours. For inspiration, check out what social media management platform Buffer is doing with their weekly trivia contest in Stories.


Experiment with Advertising on Instagram


The best types of ads I’m seeing on Instagram are either photo or video ads in the main feed that blend in with the content from people I follow, plus creative Story ads. There’s a large overlap between Instagram and Facebook ad formats. And the good news is that you can place an ad on Instagram using Facebook Ads Manager. 


For creative 15-second Story video ads, try using a platform such as where you can easily create top-quality, professional videos in minutes.


Also, begin to consume more Story content yourself as a user – just to study what catches your eye and which advertisers are getting it right.


Examples for Inspiration


Want to see Instagram done right? Check out a few of my favorite accounts for ideas:


If Instagram is still new to your marketing mix, pick one area in these recommendations and pace yourself. But, no matter what, to really stand out on Instagram, keep in mind striking visuals win every time! 



     Read next:

               Power of Instagram Stories

               Is Facebook Still the King of Social Media?

               The Small Business Owner's Guide to Social Media



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

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