How familiar are you with Instagram? Do you know about its features (and possibilities)? This Instagram 101 guide can help newbie social media managers and experienced ones just needing a quick refresh.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media sites for brands and users alike. Engagement rates are high, the selling potential high, and it’s an incredible platform that every social media manager and digital agency should use.

Are you getting the most out of your Instagram marketing? 

That’s an important question to answer, especially because there’s so much potential in Instagram marketing just waiting to be uncovered. You don’t want to let any of it go to waste.

In this post, we’re going to go over all the basics you need to create a strong, effective Instagram strategy for your brand.

Instagram Content Strategy

An Instagram content strategy is a well-planned map of what kinds of content you want to create, which comes with an understanding of how that content will help you achieve your specific goals for Instagram.

How to create a strong Instagram content strategy 

You need to have a content strategy that focuses on helping you achieve your goals while still resulting in an interesting, diverse calendar. Doing so keeps things interesting for your audience and ensures you’re reaching more audience members.

Start by looking at your goals, and consider how your content on Instagram can help you achieve them.

E-commerce businesses who want to drive quick sales, for example, should include shoppable content regularly in their content strategy, with tagged products that encourage mobile sales.

At the very least, you should mention products and show them in use like Ocean Hawks does here: 

You also want to consider how to increase engagement and build brand awareness and recognition while entertaining your audience. All these pieces need to work well together while they help you keep your profile full of fresh, engaging content. 

Choose content based on your strategic goals and the audience you’re targeting. Your Instagram marketing goals may include …

Brand storytelling
Sharing UGC 
Brand announcements
Shoppable products
Standard pictures of products or services
Tutorial content 
Behind-the-scenes or employee-driven content
“How It’s Made” videos 

Changing up the types of content you’re sharing can mean changing up the medium, too.

Include videos, multi-image posts, and posts with different aspect ratios. Though you want your profile to have a unified look, you’re having new and interesting content will be important.

And don’t forget to encourage conversation and monitor comments on your different channels. You can really engage with your follower

To help with this, we strongly recommend using a social media scheduling and publishing tool like Agorapulse (of course!).

You can upload your content far in advance, ensuring that you have a solid mix of diverse content and piecing together your strategy post by post. The content will all be published at the specified times, and you’ll receive detailed analytics in return to track your overall strategy, allowing you to draw insights on performance and strengthen your strategy moving forward.

find out why teams love managing their social with agorapulse

Instagram Stories 

Instagram Stories is a central part of Instagram marketing, and it’s a feature that all brands should use consistently (perhaps even daily).

Stories are short videos or images played one after another in rapid succession. They’re full-screen, vertical, and the definition of mobile-friendly that last no longer than 15-seconds. The full-screen and mobile parts are crucial because an increasing number of users are primarily on mobile. Taking up their full-screen demands their full attention, even if only for a few seconds.

Stories are also quirky, lighthearted, and fun, making heavy use of interactive stickers, GIFs, and emojis.

You can upload multiple individual slides at once, creating a more cohesive “story” that keeps users engaged and even tells a longer narrative while engaging your followers.

A feature of Instagram Stories, Instagram Live lets Instagram users stream live video to followers. (You can also participate in Instagram Live collaborations to reach even more users.)

You can see an example of Stories below from BirdyGrey, which breaks down different Oscar looks that their followers can vote on. 

Make your Stories interactive

In regards to Stories, you’ll want to leverage their native interactive features to make your content more engaging and drive off-platform results.

These include …

Interactive stickers, such mention stickers, poll stickers, question stickers, and hashtag stickers. Users can click on these to find new content, or interact with polls, questions, and more to give you instant feedback. Those stickers will keep your content more interesting because they ask users to participate. You can use interactive stickers to direct traffic to relevant accounts if you see it.

Swipe-up links, available for accounts with 10,000 followers or more and through Story Ads. These links allow you to send traffic from your Stories to an off-Instagram link of your choice, including product pages, blog posts, and even YouTube videos. Take advantage of these when applicable, but don’t have every Story lead to another site. (Save them for when you want to drive interest most.)

Shoppable Stories, which technically use stickers to tag products, creating Shoppable Stories. Users can tap on the product symbol, see the product information, and then be taken to your site to purchase. These Stories can be incredibly effective at driving sales.

Creating highlights

As you create Stories, archive your most valuable content with the Highlights feature. Doing so ensures their benefits extend beyond their 24-hour showing time and can be viewed when interested users view the Highlight on your profile.

Sort highlights into interesting categories, including showing your product in use, featuring new announcements or products, showcasing UGC, and more.

Create simple, aesthetically pleasing covers for each.

Instagram Hashtags 

Hashtags started out on Twitter, but they have really thrived on Instagram.

Hashtags become clickable topics that you can add to your post descriptions, comments, and Stories, taking users to feeds of that specific hashtag. When someone clicks on your branded hashtag, the person can see an entire feed of UGC that your customers have created for you.

Also, hashtags are searchable, so you can use them to signal-boost and help you reach new potential audience members.

Williams Sonoma did this in their post here, using the trending #NationalPizzaDay to connect with potential customers who may not have heard of them already.

Different types of Instagram hashtags

You can choose from “types” of Instagram hashtags, which all come down to how you choose to use them to connect with your audience. These include …

Industry-specific hashtags. A wedding venue might use #justsaidyes and #weddingwednesday hashtags to reach interested brides. These are important to reach your niche audience.
Location-specific hashtags. Are you a small restaurant based in Denver? If so, it makes sense to try to reach local residents. #DenverLove and #DenverEats are great hashtags to use here.
General appeal hashtags. Can’t resist a #tbt to the first time you opened the doors of your salon? Share it! Your audience will love it, and you never know who it will reach.
Timely or seasonal hashtags. Be like William Sonoma and use those seasonal, immediately-timely hashtags. They’re popular, and they’ll be trending.

Be sure to change up the hashtags you use on each post. When you do, you increase your reach. You’re reaching new audiences who are searching for various hashtags. Plus, changing hashtags will keep your content fresh.

If you need help coming up with new hashtags, check out Hashtagify and RiteTag. Both can help you generate a strong list of phrases to add to your posts to boost reach and connect with your audience.

How many hashtags should I use?

You can have up to 30 hashtags on each post. But should you? Information on exactly how many you should use s conflicting.

Some research indicates that using 10 to 12 is the sweet spot for peak reach and engagement.

Other social media practitioners swear by using the full 30 on each post, and incorporating location-based, industry-specific, and general-appeal hashtags all at once for full potential.

We typically recommend testing strategies to see what helps you because the answer varies for each brand.

Just make sure that you only use one or two hashtags in the main description to enhance it, and then use one or two lines of blank space before adding the rest. Doing so ensures people read your description all the way through, and it keeps it easy to skim.

Instagram Tagging 

On Instagram, you can tag other users in your posts, comments, and images. All you need to do is use the mention sticker in Stories or to use the “@” sign in text and you’ll be able to tag the user.

Important note: You can tag users in a post if it’s relevant to them, but you should only tag them in the actual picture if it’s portraying them or their product. You can see this in the example below.

Tagging should be used liberally and always appropriately.

Instagram has rules in place regarding tagging that you should keep in mind:

You can’t tag people in pictures that have nothing to do with them.
You can’t ask your followers to tag their friends in posts that don’t feature them. 

(Those rules often get ignored when users run an Instagram contest, but they should really adhere to tagging guidelines. Don’t be that guy. Or gal.)

You should always tag those who share UGC originally when you share it with your channel. It’s also a good idea to tag people if you’re reposting their content or if you’re talking about something they created,  such as an article they wrote, or something they’re selling.

Also, tag partners that you’re working with on relevant content, giving both of you a potential boost.

Instagram Influencers

Instagram influencers can have incredible selling power on the platform. They have an impressive reach, which can range anywhere from around 5,000-10,000 followers for “micro-influencers” to millions for more mainstream influencers. They’re a great way to connect with your audience.

Working with Instagram influencers is relatively straightforward:

You find influencers who you think would be able to connect you with your audience
Reach out them.
Hire them to promote your content.

This will cost you, though. At the absolute minimum, you have to fork over your product or service for free, but in most cases, direct payment is involved, too.

When choosing an influencer, you must take the time and do the research to choose the right ones. (That doesn’t mean that you need to choose someone with millions of followers.) If a small local restaurant wanted to get more patrons, it might reach out to a local food critic or an event planner in the area, even if they “only” had 10,000 followers. The followers would be in their target audience. If you need help finding influencers, tools like BuzzSumo can be helpful, showing you the influencer’s potential reach and impact. 

Influencer rules and guidelines

When hiring influencers on Instagram, stick to a few key guidelines and rules, such as:

Influencers should only talk about their experience with a product or service if they’ve actually used it.
Influencers need to disclose if this is a sponsored relationship. Instagram now has “paid partnership” tags, but a #sponsored hashtag is also a good touch.  Note, however, that the sponsored tag must be visible; don’t bury it in the middle of 30 hashtags.
Influencers need to be honest about their experience with the brand, product, and/or service.

IGTV (Instagram TV)

IGTV is Instagram’s attempt to go all-in on long-from, mobile-friendly vertical video. This standalone-app is also fully integrated within Instagram.

The idea is to send current followers to your IGTV “channel,” so they can spend more time watching your longer videos that don’t fit on the original platform.

Instagram Stories videos, after all, can only be 15 seconds; in-feed videos can only last one minute. Live videos can last up to an hour, that’s not quite the same, and IGTV gives all accounts 10 minutes of max video time. Some accounts are allowed for full hour-long videos. 

IGTV has had mixed success … It hasn’t quite taken off the way Instagram hoped. That being said, when used correctly, it can have great results for businesses. It’s most effective when used to supplement your Instagram business profile, and you share clips of a longer video on your Instagram profile and then drive them to IGTV to watch more.

Learn more about IGTV and how to leverage it for your business.

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Instagram is a major social media powerhouse right now, and since users are so excited to be connecting with, learning about, and purchasing from brands on the platform, you don’t want to miss out here. Take some time soon to reassess your current strategies an ensure that you’re up to date on all the best practices so that you can take advantage of everything this platform has to offer.

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