For many small business owners, there’s no question that they should be building a presence on Instagram.
They sign up for an account and set up their profile, but then they hit a hurdle: What exactly should you post?
If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone.
Generating a steady stream of content can be a struggle on Instagram and IGTV, especially when research from Buffer suggests that you should post at least 1.5 times per day (or three times over a two-day period).
The good news, though, is that there are plenty of different ways to approach Instagram to keep your feed fresh and your followers engaged.
In this post, we’re going to look at what you can post on Instagram and. ideas and examples that you can adapt for your own business. We'll also look at how to create a posting schedule to bring your Instagram strategy to life, and even some ideas on how to make money on Instagram by promoting your products.
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Determining your Instagram content mix
With higher engagement rates than other popular platforms, and an algorithm that favors posts that can organically garner audience interaction, good content really does come first on Instagram. And that’s a huge opportunity for businesses that can produce it.
Instagram also offers a lot of potential as a platform to create and nurture relationships with your target audience, along with features to convert them into customers.
Because of this, it’s important to have a mix of different types of content that will appeal to users at different stages of the customer journey. For example:
- Inspirational quotes can get new users to comment on your posts and follow your account.
- Product tags and stickers can convert followers who are ready to buy now.
- Behind-the-scenes videos can encourage repeat purchases and support from loyal customers.
So keep in mind how each post idea can contribute to your social media goals (engagement, sales, etc.) as we examine them below.
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1. Show off with product posts
Pictures and videos of your products will likely be one of the easiest (and most expected) places to start on Instagram. Sharing content featuring your products in all their glory will, of course, help you drive sales and promote your business on Instagram.
These posts can focus on your products alone or feature them as part of a lifestyle photo or in a flat lay shot with complementary products. There's plenty of room to get creative.
These product posts, however, need to be executed properly to avoid coming across as spammy. They need to feature rich, interesting captions instead of just the product name and a few hashtags.
Instead, you can consider treating the post like an opportunity to pitch the product, discussing features and benefits or highlighting what makes it special.
Vaja Cases does this well with their captions in their post below.
You can also create product posts that focus more on conveying a feeling: a mood, association, or sentiment that you want people to think of when they see your brand name.
Okabashi, for example, has great product posts that associate a relaxed and zen feeling with their flip flops:
2. Convert customers with product tags
Product tags and stickers are unique formats for posts and Instagram Stories, respectively, that enable direct purchases through Instagram.
Users can click on product tags, for example, to get more information about a product, like its name or price. If they click again, they’ll be taken to a screen where they can make a purchase.
Product tags make it easier and more convenient for users to purchase immediately on mobile, increasing the likelihood that they will follow through. You might consider using product tags when you're running a sale or offering a discount.
Instagram recently released product stickers for Instagram Stories, which let users click on the sticker in order to view product information and then decide whether to buy.
3. Take followers behind-the-scenes
Followers love behind-the-scenes content. It creates transparency that allows followers to feel like they’re getting to know the “real you” behind the brand. This builds trust, and it’s a refreshing change of pace after a stream of product images.
Another nice bonus? Behind the scenes content doesn’t need to be nearly as polished as some of your other images. Because of this, some brands (including Allbirds, pictured below) prefer to keep their behind-the-scenes content exclusively to their Stories. Check out these 10 creative ideas for Instagram Stories to make your behind the scenes stories stand out.
4. Go live!
Live video is another type of post that can help you build customer relationships quickly. It feels authentic, and users can interact with you in real time (followers will get notified when you go live).
You can answer questions, show behind-the-scenes content, or feature new products. You can also post the live to your Stories after, giving you additional content with plenty of social proof.
For best results with your live video, you should:
- Announce it in advance so that followers know to tune in
- Have a plan and practice before you go on
- Give your audience at least 30 seconds to join by incorporating a preamble before you start
- Try to be in an area with good lighting and little to no background noise
5. Repost user-generated content
User-generated content is some of the most persuasive content you can use, and your followers love to see it on your Instagram. It shows that you’re engaged with your community, which can earn you good will and more UGC at the same time.
UGC can easily be shared to your page in order to promote your brand in a subtle but highly effective way. Anatomie does this well on their profile, featuring plenty of posts like the one below to show their clothing worn in beautiful, exciting places around the world.
Encourage UGC by letting users know what you want to see and by giving them a hashtag they can attach to their image. Search for this hashtag and ask for permission to share relevant posts on your profile.
6. Give your employees the spotlight
Content that focuses on (or, even better, is created by) employees is a great option for Instagram. This is another way to show users the human side of your brand, making it easier for them to form an emotional connection to you and trust you more.
Need some inspiration? JM&Sons share pictures of their main crafters working behind the scenes, discussing their next project.
This not only makes them relatable but emphasizes the hand-crafted aspect of their brand, reminding potential customers that their furniture wasn’t just churned out by a machine.
7. Announce new products/business milestones
Here's a concept that’s simple but effective: Announce new products or new business updates on Instagram with an interesting visual.
This gives you more content to share on the platform and also encourages users to follow you because everyone wants to feel like they’re in the know about a brand they love.
Pop Chart Lab (in the example below) regularly launches new prints, and Instagram is another channel for them to keep their audience informed.
Alternatively, you can share business/personal milestones, such as making your 1000th order or becoming a new parent.
8. Run an Instagram contest/giveaway
Want to get a lot of engagement quickly and generate excitement around your brand? Contests and giveaways are the way to go.
Contests will get people talking about your brand, and they can often yield strong social proof or user-generated content, if not both all at once.
For best results, offer a prize that’s most relevant to your target audience, even if the general population wouldn’t be that interested. After all, anyone would comment for a free iPhone, but it’s more important to get engagement and entries from users who could actually become customers.
The example above from LEIF does it right by offering a great prize (partnering with similar businesses), making it easy to enter through their Instagram bio link, and quickly flagging the contest with GIVEAWAY at the beginning of the post.
Learn how to run your own contest in How to Grow Your Business With Giveaways and Contests.
9. Seize the moment with seasonal posts
Customers love to get into the holiday spirit. It doesn’t matter whether that holiday is a major one like Thanksgiving or an unofficial one like National Dog Day.
Take advantage of this by creating seasonal posts that are timely and immediately relevant. Posts about summer vacations, winter weather, and even a specific meteor shower can work in addition to the obvious holidays, too.
Luggage Guy’s post below demonstrates how well this can work, reminding users that there’s only so many days left of summer and asking how they’ll spend it.
There’s one thing to always be mindful of with seasonal posts: the hashtags. One of the biggest advantages of seasonal posts is that the hashtags are directly relevant right now, meaning more users are more likely to seek them out. Fill your post’s description with plenty of timely, holiday, and seasonal hashtags for best results.
Not sure how to implement this? National Ice Cream Day posts could benefit from hashtags like #nationalicecreamday, #iscreamyouscreamweallscreamforicecream, and #sweetstobeattheheat.
Thanksgiving posts could incorporate #thanksgiving, #turkeyday, #fall #autumnweather #harvestseason, #holidayseason, #almostblackfriday, and more.
10. Encourage followers to tag a friend
The tag-a-friend approach is sometimes used in tandem with contest posts, but they can exist on their own, too.
These posts will encourage followers to “tag a friend” in the comments who they think would genuinely like the product or who might relate to the subject of your post. An incentive may be offered (as in the case of a contest, shown in the example from Mahabis below), but it’s not a necessity.
This strategy will earn you a lot of social proof and it can introduce new users to your brand. That being said, you want to use this sparingly or you’ll risk looking like you’re just spamming Instagram for followers. Try to think of creative ways to encourage users to tag their friends.
11. Inspire followers with a quote
Inspirational quotes are kind of like the feel-good cheesy movies we all love. There’s so much negativity online, after all, sometimes we just need to see something positive and motivational.
This also creates positive associations between your followers and your brand, which is always a plus.
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to inspirational quotes. You need to make the image visually appealing, like in the example above from gypsy05.
Do this using dynamic colors and layouts. You can use tools like Canva to help you create these images quickly. And don’t forget to credit the quote to the person who originally said it.
12. Produce fun videos to share
Many brands don’t use enough video on their social media channels in general, but they’re especially lacking in video on Instagram.
Video is important in today’s current social setting, and using more of it in your feed will help you stand out. What types of videos you create are up to you; you can share product videos, brand storytelling videos, vlogs, or Q&As.
This may become even more important after the release of IGTV, which is an extension of Instagram that will allow users to create videos up to an hour long (versus 60 seconds with a standard video post).
You can find some free tools for creating your own videos in How to Make Your Own Online Videos (In 30 Minutes or Less).
13. Share your community involvement
One of the quickest ways to establish trust and loyalty in your audience is to post content showing involvement with your community.
A lot of Shopify businesses are online-only (though there are plenty that are not). Community, therefore, can have a loose definition in this case.
If you happen to have a home base and/or a storefront in a certain location, you can focus on your local community.
For businesses in certain industries, they may focus on their industry community (like gamers or tech lovers). And others still may interpret this to mean benefiting the global community overall by taking part in a fundraiser or charity event.
Some brands, like Kutoa Bars, actually make this a central part of their mission statement so it comes up a good bit on Instagram. They actively work to reduce world hunger, and their posts reminding users of that get a ton of engagement.
This isn’t surprising because it makes followers feel good about supporting the brand, and it reminds them that by buying a delicious snack for themselves they can do good elsewhere, too.
14. Cover an event
Instagram is a great place to showcase your involvement in any sort of event. You can post content from before, during, and after the event to create more hype. This can be an event that your business is hosting, or one that you’ve been invited to attend.
Xterra boards, for example, posted the following image about their involvement in races they participated in at Mission Beach. This was a great way to show that they’re prominent in the community and involved with it, making them more relatable to their target audience and earning them credibility all at once.
15. Partner with influencers for content
If you want to help your brand garner some extra credibility and attention quickly, influencer marketing is a good way to go.
Chaos is a luxury lifestyle brand, and they use social media influencers to add some credibility to their name. The post below features and tags an influencer with more than 40,000 followers.
Big name influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers aren’t necessary. In fact, it will actually be better in most cases for Shopify merchants to reach out to smaller micro-influencers.
These influencers may only have tens of thousands of followers, but they’ll be trusted by their audience. They’re also likely to be more open to working with small businesses, and more affordable if they agree.
16. Cross-promote with other brands
Cross-promotions with other merchants can be intentional and planned, or they can be quick shout outs. Whether you’re establishing a partnership or just mentioning them in a post, this can build valuable relationships and show customers that you’re invested in the community.
Community can be in industry, a local community, or something else entirely. If you sell yoga clothes, you can team up with a merchant who sells your favorite mats.
Or, if you’ve got a local presence like GREATS, you can give a quick shoutout to a nearby bakery who is running a special. Even online customers who live far away will appreciate the gesture, especially since it gives you a feeling of togetherness from supporting small businesses.
17. Ask questions and provide answers
If you’re looking for another way to offer value to your followers, you can’t go wrong with a Q&A. Answering customer questions on Instagram will encourage more people to follow you (especially if there’s a chance for you to answer their own questions).
You can have Q&As written out in a text-based image, having one question and answer to a post. Remember that the character limit for Instagram captions is 2,200 characters, so you can actually squeeze quite a bit of writing into your post, if you want to.
Instagram even released a Questions Sticker that you can use to solicit answers from your audience and share your response as a photo or video.
Video can be an especially efficient way to answer questions. You can share it after it’s recorded or film it live. Choosing Instagram Live can even let followers ask you questions in real-time, which can drive up responses significantly.
18. Solicit comments/content with a prompt
Within this post we’ve discussed how effective user-generated content can be. Now we’ll take a look at how exactly you can encourage that.
One of the best ways to get more UGC on a certain platform is to create a post designed to motivate users to contribute and share. This may involve leading by example and sharing a story before asking users to share their own. In other cases, it may be as simple as posing a simple question and asking for other users to comment.
Either way, let users know to upload their photo and tag it with a branded hashtag. This way, you’ll be able to find the content more easily and re-share it. Let users know they have a chance to be featured on your feed, too. While no one would say no to a prize, for plenty of users the share alone is a great incentive.
DripDrop uses this strategy on Instagram, encouraging users to share recipes containing their products and to upload the pictures to Instagram.
19. Provide video tutorials
Video tutorials have the distinct advantage of being immediately valuable and actionable to your target audience.
Even a thirty second video showing them how to use, care for, or set up your product will go a long way. Your customers will be happy to see this content, and if you can show how easy your products are to use or how valuable they are, you might be able to make some sales too.
Cheap Cookie Cutters understands this concept with video tutorials (some of which come from users) that promote their products. These videos are short but show how you can take their cookie cutters and create decorated, iced masterpieces.
20. Get them swiping with carousel posts
Carousel posts allow users (and brands!) to upload multiple images or videos into a single post. Users can scroll through to see separate media on each slide.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot you can do with this post format. Options include:
- Multiple ways to use a single product
- Multiple different related products, each with their own product tags
- A series of pictures taken during an event
- A step-by-step product tutorial
In the example below, Sage Brush Coffee has three different slides that showcase different gift packs for Mother’s day. These products are all related, but because they’re different, it increases the likelihood that more people will find something to buy when they view it.
Whether you're looking for a Cold Brew system, a simple French Press, or a stylish on-the-go Hydroflask, we have got mothers day in the bag! Each Mothers Day Gift Pack comes with 12 oz of delicious Sagebrush Coffee. Let us take care of Mothers day this year so you can spend all your energy on making her day absolutely perfect! 💖 *Click the link in our bio to purchase! . . . #sagebrushcoffee #mothersday #mothersdaygift #coffee #hydroflask #frenchpress #toddycoldbrew
How to create an Instagram content calendar
We just threw a lot of post types at you, which can feel overwhelming.
But in diversifying your Instagram posts, you can maintain a well-rounded profile, which users will respond to more enthusiastically.
Keeping track of all of this, however, can be a difficult. That's why we recommend creating a social media content calendar, preferably using social media scheduling software that lets you:
- Post to Instagram from your computer (which makes it easier to create, edit, and manage your media)
- Schedule posts in advance so they automatically go out
- Upload and organize your media to maintain a backlog of content
Later is a free scheduling tool (for up to 30 posts a month) that you can use to get started. It even has a drag-and-drop feature that lets you easily move content around.
This lets you map out in advance what will be posted when so that you can not only plan your content accordingly, but make sure that your different post types are all mixed up for best results.
Alternatively, you can use Hootsuite to schedule Instagram content if you're building a presence on several social media channels at once.
Consistency in voice, diversity in content
If you’re feeling stumped, take a look at the different posts on our list and ask yourself which types of content you’re not using yet and why. After all, the best Instagram profiles are those that manage to mix it up. This keeps your profile from feeling too one-note or overly promotional.
Ultimately, you're posting content to get more Instagram followers and build brand recognition, but it's important not to get lost posting anything for exposure. Your goal should be to have your brand to be consistent on the platform, but your content and individual posts diversified to keep your followers interested. A balanced content calendar and plenty of different ideas is a good place to start.