Building community is at the heart of any great Instagram business strategy.
Whether you sell kitchenware, mid century modern furniture, accessories, or jewelry, there’s a group of people on Instagram who crave connection with your products. But using Instagram for business is challenging and ever-evolving, and can be daunting if you don’t know where to start.
That’s why we chatted with four entrepreneurs whose primary platform is Instagram, to learn more about how to be successful on this behemoth of a social media platform.
📌Guide to Instagram for Business
- Meet the experts
- How to set up an Instagram for business account
- How to build an Instagram for business strategy
- Step 1: Decide how you’ll show up live, on video, in stories, and on posts
- Step 2: Define the types of content you plan to share in your feed
- Step 3: Choose the type of content you’ll share via Stories
- Step 4: Determine how you’ll work with influencers
- Step 5: Identify a posting cadence
- Step 6: Staff the channel
- Step 7: Use the power of chat to close sales
- Step 8: Use Instagram as a sales channel
- Step 9: Set up an analytics infrastructure
Meet the experts
All of our experts use Instagram as a main marketing or sales channel for their stores. Because of this, they’ve developed strategies, learnings, and wisdom for how to run a successful—and lucrative—Instagram account for business.
Jaquory Lundsford, Guest House
Jaquory co-founded and runs Guest House, a vintage furniture and home décor shop, with his partner, Jordan. He’s also a photographer and the creative director for Carro, a cross-store sales channel Shopify app that lets participating Shopify stores sell each other’s products.
Megan Mensink, Folklor
Megan is the founder of Folklor, a vintage fine jewelry shop with an eye toward sustainability and heirloom-worthy pieces.
Shelly Horst, Room Shop
Shelly founded Room Shop, a brand that curates vintage pieces and creates bright and playful accessories.
Madison Snider, Fewer Finer
Madison founded Fewer Finer, a jewelry brand that curates vintage items alongside a signature collection of 14-karat gold and diamond pieces meant for everyday wear.
How to set up an Instagram for business account
Before we dive into the strategy side of things, you’ll need to set up a business account on Instagram. Business accounts unlock additional features like analytics that don’t come with a personal Instagram account.
- Join Instagram. Visit Instagram.com on a desktop device or download the Instagram app via the App Store on mobile.
- Decide what you’d like your Instagram handle to be. This is the @ name that’s associated with your account. It’s best if your handle is as close to your shop’s name as possible so people can easily search and recognize it. If your shop’s name is already taken, consider adding a clarifying word or a character like an _. For example, if your shop name is Bear’s Wares and that’s already taken, try something like @bears_wares or @bearswaresandmugs.
- Now that you have a personal account set up, you can switch it over to business. Navigate to your profile (fill out your Instagram bio), where you’ll find three horizontal lines in the top right hand corner. Then, select Settings. If you see Switch to Professional Account, select that. If not, select Account. Now, Switch to Professional Account and click Continue. Select the category your business belongs in and confirm. Next, select Business and choose whether you’d like to add contact info or skip that step. If you don’t need to add a Facebook account, X out to complete the transformation.
💥 Expand your reach: How to Get More Followers on Instagram: 17 Ways to Grow Your Audience
How to build an Instagram for business strategy
“Consistency over time equals trust.” It’s a simple equation, but one that’s often hard to execute. If your followers know what to expect from you and when, and you meet that expectation, it creates excitement and can start to build a relationship between that follower and your brand.
Guest House operates its Instagram strategy on the basis of that idea. “The two pillars that we work off of are cadence and consistency,” says Jaquory.
Aside from a consistent cadence, the foundation of a strong Instagram for business strategy lies in forming and building an online community. We’ll explore both of these ideas further below.
📌More tips for starting up: A Beginner’s Guide to Instagram Marketing
1. Decide how you’ll show up live, on video, in stories, and on posts
Instagram has several different ways you can post.
Go live and stream in real time. Field comments and questions from followers as they come in, and engage directly with your community.
Share longer videos, or keep things short and snappy with Reels. And of course, engage your followers with posts in your feed or via Stories.
No matter which combination you choose, how you show up on Instagram will contribute to the overall perception of your brand.
By being transparent, you can form far deeper connections with your community.
Instagram is a vibrant platform ripe for facilitating conversations, connections, and interactions with your followers. Posting doesn’t need to be a one-sided action. Instagram provides an opportunity to form a community around your brand.
“I really believe that the more people who get people together, our personal lives will be more meaningful and fulfilled. … There’s a lot of potential for businesses that have engaged people to grow faster or grow in a more ethical way or grow in a more informed way,” Bailey said.
As you decide where you’ll post content on Instagram, consider how you’ll show up, too.
“By being transparent, you can form far deeper connections with your community,” says Megan of Folklor.
2. Define the types of content you plan to share in your feed
Your Instagram account consists of a few different entities, but Instagram Stories and the Instagram feed are the biggest ones. First, identify the different content categories you’ll share on your Instagram feed, the always-available catalog of content people see any time they click on your profile.
The uniqueness of each person and brand is what makes them interesting.
Generally, brands opt for a curated, beautiful feed and save less-produced content for Stories. But, what you decide to do should reflect your overall business goals and the look and feel of your brand. As Madison of Fewer Finer told us, “Don’t try to be like anyone else or get caught up in how you should be doing it. The uniqueness of each person and brand is what makes them interesting.”
Still, identifying the types of content you’d like to share will help you create a more balanced mix in the feed.
Your Instagram posts in the feed are great places to showcase what your products look like and what you sell. This will clue new, potential customers in on what they can actually purchase from you. For example, Folklor sells one-of-a-kind vintage pieces and showcases recent finds on its Instagram profile.
User generated content
Letting your users show off your products for you creates trust among your audience. Happy customers beget happy customers. Room Shop calls its customers “roomies” and did a recent roundup of favorite customer photos on its Instagram feed.
Photos are one thing, words another. If a customer writes a review or messages you directly to let you know they had experience, ask them if you can share their comments publicly. This is another trust-building tactic that can help new people feel comfortable (and excited) to make a purchase from you. Fewer Finer disperses this type of content throughout its feed.
Lifestyle is a broad category and can mean a ton of different things. If your brand is based in Southern California, for example, and that location is baked into its ethos, you might share views of palm trees on the way to your morning beach walk. Or, like Guest House did below, you might share snaps of people using your products to live their lives. This is completely up to you and how you’d like to interpret lifestyle content for your brand.
Inspirational photos don’t need to be photos you’ve taken. With permission from the owner, these images might be on-brand styles you love, images from nature that inspire you, or colors, designs, textiles, ceramics, art, etc., that you feel relate to your brand’s aesthetic. For example, Guest House shared a dining room that feels really on brand for it, and tagged the account that owns the photo.
Behind the scenes/day-in-the-life
Some folks enjoy seeing how the magic happens or what a real day in the life of an entrepreneur feels like. Consider sharing images of how you make your products, or what a normal day looks like for you. Room Shop shared a video below of the process that goes into making a bow-covered head scarf.
Have you collaborated with another brand to produce a new product? Sharing these unique collaborations on your Instagram feed can drive hype and buzz. Fewer Finer recently put out a collaboration with Mally K. Goldman that sold out in a matter of hours!
3. Choose the type of content you’ll share via Stories
With a 24-hour expiration date, Instagram Stories are immediate and fleeting. Since their beginning, they’ve evolved to serve many different functions for brands.
A few different Story ideas include:
- Takeovers. Give an influencer, brand partner, collaborator, or member of your team the reins for the day. They’ll have control of your Instagram account and can post their unique takes, happenings that day, or how they use your products in real life.
- Polls. How are your followers feeling? What do they want to see more of? What do they like or dislike? What questions do they have about your product or your brand? Polls are a prime opportunity to ask engaged followers their opinion. This feedback can help you better show up on Instagram and can help drive what kinds of content you create and even what types of products or inventory you produce or curate. Use a multiple choice format or leave things open ended.
- New inventory drops. Get people excited about new inventory by showcasing it on Stories. Some brands give the option to DM to purchase within the app, others direct folks to the website. There are many different ways to create buzz about new product drops. For example, brands like Guest House and Folklor that are constantly acquiring new vintage treasures do weekly product drops.
- Day-in-the-life. As an entrepreneur, what are you up to every day? What goes on behind the scenes? Usually, your followers would love to know. Stories are a great place to capture that.
- Ask me anything. Give people the opportunity toask any questions on their minds, which can clue you into more general trends for product or brand-related questions, and the kinds of content they’d like to see more of.
- Advertising sales and promotions. Do an exclusive sale just for your Instagram followers to increase engagement, or use it as a channelto promote a wider sale.
- Highlights. Bookmark Stories as guides, an FAQ section, to list our shop hours, policies, etc.
For Guest House, Instagram Stories outperform posts in the feed. While feed posts engage 500 to 700 people overall, its Stories typically engage at 1,000 to 1,500.
As you begin your journey on Instagram, your analytics dashboard will help determine what performs best for you.
Aside from the types of things you’ll share via Stories, consider:
- Will content be polished and produced or more organic?
- Will you share any facets of your personal life or stick to brand-related content only?
- Will you be the face of your brand or keep it faceless?
From the beginning, Megan at Folklor didn’t respond well to the perfectly curated, “everything’s great” type of content. She knew that she wanted Folklor’s Instagram to be a space where people felt like she was a friend, and where they could learn what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur.
“I was always very transparent with my community, and it was always a really safe space, so people feel like they’re not alone,” Megan says.
Guest House takes a different approach, letting the brand speak for itself on Instagram. “Our brand is rather faceless and more based around a style and aesthetic,” says Jaquory.
💭 Consider: What kind of presence on Instagram Stories is on brand for you?
4. Determine how you’ll work with influencers
Working with influencers can increase your reach, help members of your target audience find you, build credibility for your brand, and ultimately help you make more sales. The cost of working with influencers depends on how big of a following they have.
If you’re just getting started, you can target influencers based on tier. But our experts recommend working with influencers who are already engaged with your brand. They might currently follow you, like your posts, or have purchased something from you in the past.
“Initially, looking at your community and leveraging the people in your community and even micro-influencers can be super impactful. That’s how I started. And then I just reached out and I said, ‘I love what you’re doing. I would love to partner. I can’t financially pay for an influencer, but I would love to gift you something,’” says Megan.
Shelly, founder of Room Shop, feels similarly. “A lot of times I find influencers when they have bought something and posted about it, and that’s a very fortunate, lucky position that we're in,” she says.
“People trust their influencers more than they trust magazines anymore. So we’ve had some really successful influencer gifting that’s translated into nice sales,” Shelly told us.
“Our overall strategy with influencers is very much to focus on working with people who love our brand. … We look for an organic fit of people who are inspired by us, and it’s typically only meant for gifting,” says Jaquory.
📣 Learn more: How to Find and Work With Instagram Influencers in 2021
5. Identify a posting cadence
Is Instagram the main channel for your business? The way you answer that question will help determine how active you are. For example, if you plan to use Instagram as a main marketing channel, your cadence will look a lot different than if you primarily lean on email marketing or SMS.
🧠 Consider: Will you use a tool like Sprout Social or Buffer to schedule your posts for you, or will you or your social media manager post directly to the platform?
Rest assured: depending on what’s right for you and your brand, you don’t have to post on Instagram multiple times per day, every day to be successful. That works for some businesses, but it doesn’t work for all of them, because every business, from its model to the products it sells to its brand to its target audience, is different.
Both Folklor and Guest House found that doing weekly drops of fresh vintage finds works well for them.
Megan has used trial and error to figure out the posting schedule that works best for Folklor. “I have this equation of what I have to do, what types of content I have to shoot, and what has to be released. And then it just works for me. I always follow that cadence,” she says.
📗 Further reading: How Often Should Your Business Post on Instagram?
The key to being successful is not necessarily how often you post and where, but that you’re consistent. Like we noted before, and like Jaquory of Guest House advocates, cadence and consistency are key to a successful Instagram strategy.
It’s really important to remember that while Instagram can be a great sales channel, that isn’t its only purpose. Building an engaged and active community should still be your number one priority.
Aside from how much you post, our experts recommend shooting a ton of content any time you have models in house or are doing a photoshoot, so you can use that content over time. “If I have a model coming, I’ll get a ton of content that day. Our studio has really amazing natural light, so on days that have really beautiful lighting, I'll throw a backdrop down and do flats and try to load up my camera roll,” says Shelly.
📸 Pro tip: Our experts recommend shooting photos exclusively on your iPhone rather than on a professional camera. The image quality is great and it speeds things up when you need a quick post, want to edit something, or are identifying favorite shots from a shoot day.
6. Staff the channel
Will you hire someone to run your Instagram channel for you, ask an existing employee to run your account, or will you do everything yourself?
Thinking through how you’ll staff the channel will help you determine your strategy early on, based on the amount of time you can commit each week. For example, if you run the account yourself, will you have someone take over when you need to unplug for a few days?
7. Use the power of chat to close sales
At this point, you likely have a plan for how you’ll post content on Stories, your feed, and for videos and Reels. But Instagram isn’t a one-sided channel. Part of the benefit of being active on Instagram is the conversations you get to have with potential customers. For some businesses, sales happen directly in direct messages, for others it’s the beginning of the sales process, and for some it builds trust and community.
Regardless of what role customer communication plays for your business on Instagram, our experts agree that it can be a main driver of conversion.
Jaquory notes that Guest House gets at least 20 individual conversations in DMs per day on Instagram. He and his partner respond to direct messages and have conversations as much as possible. Understanding the value of your customer and encouraging these conversations is key, he says.
For many businesses, these conversations have a direct impact on sales. “When I’m chatting with someone, we get probably a 30% conversion rate,” Shelly told us. “If someone’s popping in to ask a question, they’re really serious about potentially buying something, and like that they’re actually speaking with a real human on the other end of the website.”
Those conversations can get difficult to manage over time, especially if you’re selling directly through direct messages and your shop is picking up in popularity. That was the case for Room Shop before Shelly signed up for a Shopify store. “It really was a lot to manage,” she says, “and it made my life a lot easier and more streamlined to just have all of that information in one place where people could check out, and I didn’t have to have anything to do with it except to make the listing and make it public, and then tell people it was there.”
Ready to create your business? Start your free trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Shopify Inbox makes converting messages into sales even easier. 70% of Shopify Inbox conversations are with customers making a purchasing decision.
Shopify Inbox is a free messaging channel that lets you connect with customers from your online store on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. You’ll then be able to chat with your customers directly from Inbox and keep all of your conversations in one streamlined place so you can close sales faster. Plus, it's connected to your Shopify store so you have the product and inventory information you need on hand without having to switch apps to close a sale.
If you have a Shopify store, you can add Inbox as a sales channel for your online store, Facebook messenger, and Instagram.
Inbox is especially helpful if you prefer to send customers to check out on your website rather than by sending them a link to Venmo, PayPal, or another payment vendor directly. Send over a link to the product they’re interested in with just a tap. Ensure coveted items are still in stock with Shopify’s inventory management. That’s how Folklor handles its communication with customers—and it’s a key part of the ethos of the brand.
“I want it to feel like sustainability is something that’s very core, one of the fundamental beliefs of the brand. And so I believe that you have to be thoughtful about your purchase and you have to really think about it. I would never want someone to feel rushed. I do send them to the website to make all their purchases, but the sale starts in DMs for sure,” says Megan.
✨ Turn chats into checkouts with Shopify Inbox
70% of Inbox conversations are with customers making a purchase decision. Use Inbox—a free messaging app that connects to your online store and social media—to chat with shoppers and close more sales.Add Shopify Inbox
8. Use Instagram as a sales channel
Instagram has evolved into a major sales channel for many businesses. And customers can now shop posts and check out all within the platform. Adding shoppable posts to the feed has been extremely effective for Room Shop, with tagged photos outperforming photos that lack links to featured products. For Shopify customers, setting up this functionality is simple—just link your Shopify store to the Instagram sales channel and make sure you’ve set up a Meta for Business page.
Selling on Instagram has other benefits besides the immediacy of seeing something you like and purchasing it within the same platform. Instagram lets Megan recreate the in-store experience without a physical location.
“Instagram has given me the ability to do that in a way, because I can send a video of me talking and wearing a necklace and they can see it in the light,” she says. “And it’s just a different aspect to seeing something online on a product page. I think people respond to it and they like that. And they like being able to talk to someone and have that interaction.”
Instagram can be both a marketing tool and an extension of your online store. It gives customers the opportunity to engage with you and your brand in a different way and lets people see your products in a different context. It also creates the opportunity to meet customers where they are rather than spending critical cash to acquire them elsewhere.
💰 Learn more: The 7 Best Ways to Make Money on Instagram
9. Set up an analytics infrastructure
Understanding how your Instagram account is performing will help you iterate on your strategy over time. For example, if you see that Reels get high engagement for you, you might double down on those. Or, if you notice that posts in the feed struggle to perform but Stories drive engagement, you could use that information to devote more time to Stories. Though trial and error for your business will also be important, digging into the data as you experiment will help you make more insight-based decisions.
If you’re working solely within Instagram, you can find all of your analytics in the Insights section of your account, available right on your profile. If you’ve chosen to work with a social media tool like Sprout Social or Buffer, these tools provide their own analytics sections so you can dive into the data.
Instagram is always evolving, and so should your strategy
The Instagram algorithm is ever evolving. And as your business grows, your strategy on Instagram will continue to change. Try different techniques, ask your followers for feedback, and listen to their opinions.
They’ll be able to tell you what they want to see more of, ask questions they have about your products or your business, and let you know what works or doesn’t work for them. Your followers and fans are your biggest and best source of qualitative feedback.
These folks make up the basis of your brand’s Instagram community. As you build relationships with the curious, the skeptical, the past customers, and the life-long fans, you’ll build a home of people who can connect over a mutual affinity for your brand.