The Beginner’s Guide to Instagram Marketing

Illustration of three characters interacting with the Instagram logo, as a metaphor for how to make Instagram work for you and your business.

As far as social media marketing channels go, Instagram has been a major power player for quite a while. This is particularly true for ecommerce businesses, which get access to a visual-focused platform with enthusiastic followers and high engagement.

In the past few years, Instagram has grown and evolved at a rate similar to Facebook, quickly adopting new features (including Instagram Stories and Instagram Reels) and becoming even more valuable to merchants and users alike.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Instagram marketing, including how to optimize your profile, how to create eye-catching Instagram content, how to get more results with both feed and Stories content, and how to implement the perfect Instagram marketing strategy.

Why use Instagram for marketing?

Instagram is a staple of many small businesses’ marketing campaigns, and for good reason. It has a large and diverse audience of over one billion monthly active Instagram users and 500 million daily Instagram Stories users who are happy to engage with brands, resulting in high engagement overall.

instagram user count

Research and case studies have clearly demonstrated the benefits of an Instagram marketing strategy, finding that it translates directly into sales and leads.

In general, Instagram users are more than happy to follow brands on Instagram, where they are actively discovering and purchasing products on their Instagram feed.

Instagram shopping specific features have made the biggest impact for both brands and shoppers because they essentially close the gap between product discovery and purchase on the app.

It’s also worth noting that Instagram continues to invest in helping ecommerce brands and stores turn engagement into sales. For example, Instagram ads, when done correctly, often see excellent results and offer high engagement.

Shopping on Instagram streamlines the Instagram sales process. Business profiles with over 10,000 Instagram followers can add Swipe Up links to Instagram Stories to drive traffic directly to their site, something that was otherwise difficult to do on the platform.

Instagram keeps expanding, making it more valuable to merchants and ecommerce businesses, especially if they have products with a strong visual appeal.

The best part? The Instagram algorithm shows your content to users based on their interests and behaviors in the app. This makes it easier for you to reach Instagram users who’ll likely engage with your brand, and get more results from your Instagram marketing efforts.

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How to create an Instagram business account

To start using Instagram for marketing, you’ll need an Instagram Business account or an Instagram Creator account. If you already have a personal Instagram account, you’ll just need to switch to an Instagram business profile in the Instagram app.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to your profile and tap the hamburger icon () in the upper right corner.
  2. Tap Settings.
    • Some accounts will have a Switch to Professional Account option here. If you don’t, continue with the following steps.
    1. Tap Account.
    2. Tap Switch to Professional Account, then Continue.
    3. Select a Category for your business, then tap Done.
    4. Tap Business and follow the prompts.

    After setting up your account you'll want to add an Instagram bio and contact details, which we'll cover in the following section.

    If you want to verify your Instagram account, read Want To Get Verified On Instagram? Here's How The Process Works.

    The best Instagram marketing tips

    Use the following tips to build your Instagram marketing strategy and set your brand up for success.

    Optimize your Instagram profile

    To get started with marketing your business on social media, you’ll first need to handle the basics of setting up your Instagram account.

    You need to fill out your contact information, have a keyword-optimized description (don’t forget emojis!), and choose a profile picture that’s easily identifiable, like a logo.

    This is a great start. But to get the most out of your Instagram marketing strategy, you’re going to want to take your Instagram account to the next level. Here’s how.

    • Clickable hashtags. These can now be added to your profile description by entering # and then the desired phrase, just as you would on an Instagram post. Focusing on your branded hashtag can help you build a community around your business and find content others are creating about you. Furthermore, including popular and relevant hashtags can be an easy way to add additional visibility to your Instagram content without a significant amount of additional work.
    • Clickable profile links. There are several options for how to use this. One way is to set up a “link in bio” page using a tool like Linkpop or Linketree so you can curate and display your products and online store using just one link. You can now also add clickable links to other user profiles in your own Instagram bio. If you have a second profile for a sister company, you can use a clickable link to direct traffic there. If you’re hosting a contest with another merchant, link to them when discussing the contest in your bio. You can also use this feature to send people to your personal profile if that fits with your branding.
    • Story Highlights. We’ll talk more about Story Highlights a few sections down, but this relatively new feature lets you add “expired” Stories to different featured categories, which will be listed above your Instagram feed on your profile. This helps your profile look fleshed out and lets you showcase certain key Instagram content, like user-generated content or posts, that highlight your brand’s story.
    • View Shop button. If you choose to turn on Instagram Shopping on your profile, you can also place a call-to-action button that sends followers to your in-app store.

    Here’s an example from Fashion Nova that combines all three of these features into a well-optimized Instagram bio and profile.

    optimized instagram bio example

    Create your content strategy

    Instagram has one of the most active user bases across all social media platforms, with 63% of Instagram users logging in at least once a day. They also spend an average of 28 minutes on the app.

    If you want to get results with Instagram marketing, you need to know what types of posts perform best. Does your audience like Instagram Stories most? Or do they prefer standard Instagram photos?

    While every demographic is different, there’s fortunately been a lot of data compiled that can give us some insight on where to start.

    Instagram users enjoy a broad range of post types, including promotional posts, motivational quotes, product photos, DIY or tutorial content, and images shared from other users (i.e., user-generated content). That said, users want to see diversity; they’ll get bored or annoyed if you just use one type of Instagram post for too long.

    As a small business owner, don't be afraid to own the low production value. If you're making your products in the messy basement, that can actually be endearing to an audience.

    Instagram videos can share more information with users, making them valuable. Still, if you’re going to use video on Instagram, be sure keep it short, even on IGTV. Instagram users are predominantly mobile users, and they aren’t likely to stick around for more than 10 to 15 seconds at a time.

    Of course, many of the world’s most creative brands and artists are pushing the limits of Instagram Stories. Keep an eye on how your competition is using Instagram marketing to generate inspiration.

    In many ways, the aesthetic of the images and videos are a lot more important. Instagram is, after all, a visual-centric platform. Here’s what we know about the content that performs best on Instagram:

    • Lighter images perform better than darker ones.
    • More background or white space is preferred.
    • Images with blue-dominant colors perform over red-dominant colors, and images with a single dominant color perform better than those with multiple colors.
    • Images that feature contrasting textures tend to generate more likes.
    • Writing creative and engaging Instagram captions that supplement your content can help improve visibility. You can use Instagram captions to direct your audience to your website or a blog post, or even enter a contest.

    From product carousels to interactive content like Reels, there are many ways to engage with an Instagram audience and spice up your followers’ feeds. It just takes a little know-how.

    Ultimately, you should have an experimental mindset when it comes to your Instagram marketing. Not every video or image is going to be a hit. But by testing different types of content and Instagram Stories, you can find the type of content that works for your audience. 


    Use Instagram hashtags

    Hashtags started on Twitter, and while they never took off on Facebook, the use of relevant hashtags are a staple of effective Instagram marketing. By adding text after the # symbol in an Instagram caption, bio, or Story, you can turn any word or phrase into a clickable topic.

    hashtag example

    When users click a hashtag on Instagram, they’ll see a collection of all the public posts using that hashtag. Perhaps even more significant, users can now follow Instagram hashtags that interest them. This provides them with a stream of content, even if they don’t follow a specific Instagram profile. Hashtags are a great way for users to find quality content they’re interested in—and for merchants to expand the reach of their content.

    Types of hashtags you should be using

    In order to fully expand your reach and get the most results from your Instagram marketing, you need to be using the right types of Instagram hashtags.

    There are six key types of hashtags that are crucial for ecommerce businesses to incorporate into their Instagram profile:

    1. Branded hashtags. Most brands will (and should) have a unique branded hashtag. They’ll attach this to each post, place it in their profile, and encourage other users to attach it to any posts in which they’re sharing user-generated content. It can include your brand name, but it doesn’t have to. Examples include Fashion Nova’s #NovaBabe hashtag.
    2. Contest hashtags. These hashtags are a type of branded hashtag created for a specific contest. They are often used to identify contest entries for photo-submission contests and to generate contest awareness overall. In addition to the main branded hashtag contest, you should also incorporate general contest hashtags like #instacontest and #giveaway. Contest hashtags are also a great way to get your audience to create user generated content.
    3. General appeal hashtags. There are certain hashtags that are popular among large, diverse audiences. These can help you get significant reach on your Instagram posts, because they’re more likely to be sought out. A few common examples include #nofilter, #antiques, #ilovemyjob, and #puppylove.
    4. Niche-specific hashtags.Each industry will have phrases and keywords that are relevant only to their target audience. These hashtags won’t get you the same reach as general-appeal hashtags, but they will generate more relevant traffic. For instance, if you’re selling jewelry inspired by the Harry Potter series, you may want to include the hashtag #harrypotterjewelry in addition to the more general #harrypotter.
    5. Timely hashtags. Current events and seasonal holidays can also make great hashtags, especially when you factor in selling-focused holidays, like Valentine’s Day or Christmas. People are likely to be searching for content that’s relevant right now, so take advantage of a few #valentineformyvalentine and #stockingstuffer hashtags. While it may be tempting to use hashtags on your Instagram ads, this is currently not an effective Instagram marketing tactic.
    6. Entertaining hashtags. These won’t help you with reach, but they will serve to entertain your audience and help you establish your brand voice. They’re meant purely to be funny or clever, and that’s it. Examples could include #iknowitstooearlyforchristmasstuff and #thisiswhyweallhatemonday. In many cases, entertaining hashtags might be grouped together, one after another, to tell a story, like #toobad #itshereanyway. This type of hashtag is great to really build a strong connection with your target audience.

    For best results, research each of these Instagram hashtags, and use combinations of different types for your posts. This will strengthen your branding while helping you reach the largest and most relevant audience possible. We’ve put together a list of the most popular Instagram hashtags to help you get started.

    Hashtag best practices

    Hashtag usage is one of the most significant factors that will determine your success on Instagram, but as with any social media marketing tactic, they can be tricky to execute properly Here are some best practices to help you maximize your reach and results:

    • List your branded hashtag on your profile. There’s no better place to promote your own hashtags than your brand’s Instagram business profile.
    • Use a limited amount of hashtags. While the official limit is 30 hashtags, studies have found that somewhere between eight and 11 hashtags per post is the sweet spot, especially if you diversify the types of hashtags. That said, the Instagram algorithm is constantly changing, so be sure to keep up to date on the latest best practices from time to time.
    • Switch up your hashtags. Don’t use the same hashtags on every post. Create groups of hashtags you can cycle through for different Instagram posts. Not only will this increase your visibility to different audiences, it can also keep your account from being flagged as spammy by Instagram.
    • Take time to explore each hashtag. This can help you discover new hashtags to target, and ensure that you don’t accidentally use a banned hashtag or jump in on a topic without knowing what it means.

      Read more: How To Sell on Instagram (A 2022 Step by Step Guide)

      Publish Instagram Stories

      Instagram Stories started out as an add-on feature borrowed from Snapchat: a way to share short-lived photos and videos with your followers that disappear in 24 hours. On average, brand Stories have a 86% completion rate, a great number by any standard.

      Instagram Stories have developed into an essential part of any Instagram marketing strategy. Stories led to Story ads, and Instagram has also added Highlights so Stories can live on forever. Here are some Instagram marketing tips you can use to get results from Instagram Stories.

      1. Share Instagram content created by your audience

      You can use Instagram Stories to showcase user-generated content, which is always a crowd pleaser and will help you get more Instagram followers. People love to see that you care enough about them and their content to feature it on a brand’s social media account. It also saves you from having to create the content yourself and acts as powerful social proof.

      Instagram Story example

      2. Acquire Instagram content from your audience

      Instagram Stories can also help you obtain user-generated content in several different ways. For instance, you can add calls to action for users to share pictures of their latest purchase, or use poll stickers to get feedback and generate immediate social proof.

      using IG story stickers

      3. Be authentic

      Instagram Stories are quirkier than feed content, so it’s a great place to showcase your fun side and get creative with Instagram marketing. Use images and videos to tell your brand’s story, throwing in some behind-the-scenes content when possible. In general, brands that are authentic do well on social media.

      IG story example

      4. Go live

      Instagram Live lets you broadcast live right from your Instagram app, and allows followers to engage in real time. You can host Q&As, talk about a specific topic, or interview a featured guest or influencer. Once the livestream is over, you can set it to play with the rest of your Instagram Stories. Use Instagram Live to give followers a behind-the-scenes look at your brand and business.

      instagram live example

      For a deeper look at what Stories can do for your business, check out How to Use Instagram Stories for Marketing. Once you’re familiar with the basics, get inspired with 10 creative tips, tricks, and ideas for making standout Instagram Stories.

      Turn Instagram Stories into Highlights

      Originally, Instagram Stories disappeared after 24 hours, just like the Snapchat feature they were emulating. However, recognizing that this hampered ROI on that content, Instagram added the ability to keep Instagram Stories alive with Highlights.

      Highlights live on profile pages, and you can add Stories after their 24 hours of glory have passed. You can create multiple Highlights for maximum effect, using one for user-generated content (“What You’ve Said”), one for brand storytelling (“About Us”), and one for events (“Conference 2021”). This helps users find content they’re looking for when they first come to your profile, which can help them get to know you and trust you a little faster.

      To add Highlights to your profile, click on the icon with the black + above your gallery in your Instagram app.

      adding stories to highlights step 1

      You’ll need to name your Highlight and select the Stories you want to add to it. You can edit them at any time.

      adding stories to highlights step 2


      Set up an Instagram shop

      In addition to adding a link to your store in your Instagram bio, you can use Instagram Shopping to create an online shopping experience directly in your Instagram posts. Businesses can set up an Instagram shop complete with product detail pages, collections, and transaction support. Plus, product tags and product stickers let users tap on a product in a post or story, get more information, and head to the site to purchase it.instagram shop example

      Once you set up an Instagram shop, you can take advantage of ecommerce features, including:

      • Shoppable posts
      • Shoppable Stories
      • Influencer tagging
      • In-app checkout
      • Explore Shop

      Shopify helps merchants incorporate this seamless shopping experience, enabling brands to tag products in posts and Stories, and potential customers to purchase them without leaving the platform.

      This option isn’t just extremely convenient for users, increasing the likelihood they’ll actually convert: it also solves Instagram’s biggest marketing challenge of attaching links to a post that would make it easy for users to click and buy.

      To make the deal even sweeter, it’s easy to set up the Instagram sales channel for your Shopify store. 

      Start selling your products on Instagram

      Shopify comes with powerful tools that help you list, promote and sell products on Facebook and Instagram. Create product collections, showcase your brand and products, and make sales on Facebook and Instagram from one place.

      Start selling on Instagram

      Merchants also have the option to embed an Instagram gallery directly on their site or even a blog post, creating a full integration where you can show your Instagram feed and Instagram posts. This can encourage users to visit your Instagram, where they’ll see social proof and rave reviews, and be encouraged to purchase more through product tags.

      instagram gallery example

      Setting up on-site Instagram galleries is simple and fast, thanks to Shopify Apps like Instafeed and shoppable Instagram galleries.

      Run an Instagram contest on your Instagram profile

      Contests are a particularly popular Instagram strategy, and for good reason. They can yield great results because everyone loves the chance to win something.

      Instagram contest rules

      Before you get started on your Instagram contest, it’s a good idea to do a quick refresher course on Instagram’s contest rules:

      • Don’t imply that Instagram is affiliated with the contest in any way.
      • Don’t ask users to tag themselves or others in pictures they aren’t in.
      • Follow local laws and requirements, including restrictions about age, eligibility, or prize offerings.
      • Clearly state the rules for entering and participating.

      Types of Instagram contests

      There are numerous types of contests you can run on your Instagram profile. Each offers its own unique benefits, and many merchants will overlap different contest concepts for maximized results and ROI. Get creative and run contests using a mix of Instagram posts and Instagram Stories to see what works.

      Here are a few different ways to run contests on your Instagram business profile.

      • Tag a friend in the comments. This is designed to have your new followers draw in friends who may be interested in your business. It’s not for every brand, but it’s easy for users and requires little effort. It will also give you a huge bump in engagement. Tag a friend is a tried-and-true marketing tactic used across social media. 
      • Follow us. While it's frequently just one part of contest participation on Instagram, generating new followers is often the main goal for merchants. A one-time comment isn’t bad, after all, but long-term following is better.
      • Leave a comment. These contests may take the form of caption contests or simply asking users to leave their opinion or share their experience. These contests are exceptionally easy to track, and because the barrier to entry is low, you’re likely to get plenty of participation.
      • Photo contests. While they’re the most demanding of users’ time, these contests also yield the highest rewards (and require the most appealing prizes). Photo contests ask users to submit an original photo or video, either natively attached to a contest hashtag or through contest software. They provide the most valuable user-generated content, which you can then use on your own profile later.

      Contest software: Should you use it?

      Before you get started on your contest, you should decide whether or not you want to use contest software, which has both pros and cons.

      Contest software will cost extra money (typically somewhere around $30 to $50 per month) and takes more time to put together, due to the need for landing pages. This often means your contest won’t “live” natively on Instagram. Users also can’t comment directly on a post to enter: they’ll need to click on the link in your profile and engage there.

      That said, there are big advantages to using contest software. It’s significantly easier to track participants and entries, making it much simpler to choose a winner. Some contest software can even choose a random winner for you. You can also get excellent analytics, often in real time, to see how your contest is measuring up to goals.

      Finally, there’s more flexibility when using contest software. Do you want to add a voting component to the contest? Now you can. You can also obtain actual lead information, like users’ phone numbers or email addresses, thanks to the secure contest landing page. This gives you real, quantifiable lead information that can be used to nurture leads or retarget them with ads later.

      If you decide contest software is right for you, try these services:

      Read more: Instagram Tools: 21 Essential Apps for Growing Your Following

      Use Instagram automation

      Facebook opened up the Messenger API for Instagram in June 2021 to make it possible for brands to use Instagram to create automated messaging. As we’ve discussed so far, Instagram has come a long way from being just a photo-sharing app. It’s a place where people discover and connect with brands.

      Ninety percent of people on Instagram today follow at least one business, and messaging is a part of it. Whether it’s a direct message, a mention, or a Story reply, interacting with brands is appealing to customers and important for your business.

      Instagram Automation by ManyChat is a tool that can help manage conversations from one place. Brands that use it can interact with potential customers across different entry points like Instagram feed, Stories, mentions, and DMs to follow up with people and respond to sales leads, all in one place.

      One popular automation feature is the Story Mention Trigger. When a user tags your Instagram business profile in a Story, you can automatically follow up with them in an Instagram DM. This makes customers feel valued, leads to higher retention rates, and helps you make money on Instagram.

      manychat instagram automation tool

      Learn more by reading How OlimpiaHome Boosted Leads by 30% Using Instagram Automation.

      Use Instagram Reels

      Instagram’s big 2020 release was the introduction of Reels. Reels are 10- to 60-second videos in vertical format. They can be posted to your Instagram feed and have the chance to show up on the Explore page, where they could be seen by thousands of potential customers in your target audience.

      Reels offer a unique opportunity to get your brand in front of an audience that isn’t following you yet. The more engaging your Reels are, the more likely the algorithm will show it to a wider group of people in their Instagram feed. This can help you grow more quickly on Instagram compared to traditional formats like feed posts or Stories. Reels should absolutely be a part of your Instagram marketing plan.

      Reels are also a fun and personal way to get your audience to know you. It can be an opportunity to show off your personality and get creative. In general, people don’t expect overstyled or professionally produced content when watching Reels. Here you can use Instagram reels to connect with your audience in an easy and low-effort way.

      Ecommerce brands can use Reels to:

      • Show product how-tos
      • Inspire viewers
      • Show behind-the-scene content
      • Launch product teasers
      • Curate user-generated content

      The possibilities are endless. The best part? Reels take you five minutes to set up.

      For more tips on using Reels, read How to Create and Use Instagram Reels for Your Store.

      Work with Instagram influencers

      An Instagram influencer is a user who has a reputation around a specific niche on Instagram. Think of them as brand ambassadors for your business.

      Instagram influencers have built highly engaged audiences that trust what they promote and will share your product with their audience in exchange for free products, experiences, or money.

      instagram influencer tiers

      A recent report by HypeAuditor found that, on average, you will get $4.87 in earned media value for each dollar you pay for influencer promotion on Instagram, which means you can get more return on investment from influencer marketing campaigns than traditional advertising.

      Reaching out to influencers is really important for every new up-and-coming business that somebody wants to create. We realized really early on that micro-influencers were such an awesome way to create potential customers.

      Influencers come in many different follower counts, from nano-influencers (between 1,000 and 10,000 followers) to mega-influencers (over one million followers). You can find influencers charging from $25 per post all the way up to six figures. It depends on your budget. Even if you don't have a large amount to spend on Instagram marketing, you can generally find an influencer or two to test out for just a few hundred dollars.

      Find influencers to drive sales with Shopify Collabs

      Shopify Collabs makes it easy to partner with creators, promote your products, reach new customers, grow your sales, and track affiliate campaign performance all from Shopify admin.

      Discover Shopify Collabs

      Learn how to set up your first Instagram influencer campaign by reading How to Find and Work With Instagram Influencers.

      Use Instagram ads

      Did you know that one-third of people buy directly from Instagram ads? Nearly eight in 10 of these shoppers have purchased from brands they are not even familiar with on the platform.

      Instagram offers many types of shoppable ads that allow your target audience to buy right in the app. It also offers creators and entrepreneurs:

      • Scalable pricing
      • Easy to use self-service ad creation
      • Refined audience targeting
      • Detailed reporting

      Much like Facebook ads, getting started with Instagram is easy. Set up your first ad today by reading How to Sell on Instagram: An Instagram Ads 2022 Guide.

      Social media strategy and planning templates

      Ready to get started with your social media strategy? These free, customizable templates give you tools to plan and execute a strategy that connects you with your target audience while keeping your content calendar organized.

      Instagram analytics tools

      When it comes to Instagram marketing, you’ll want to track your marketing strategy and results to see what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately, the platform has its own Instagram analytics tools that can give you an abundance of information about your performance. Note that analytics are available only for Instagram for business and can also be connected to your Facebook business page.

      To access your analytics, go to your profile page and then click on the graph symbol in the top right-hand corner.

      Under your Instagram Insights, you’ll be able to see important performance metrics like:

      • Total number of profile visits
      • Total number of website clicks
      • Total reach (the number of unique accounts who saw your posts)
      • Total impressions (the total number of times your posts were viewed)
      • The performance of every post, including engagement and impressions
      • Total number of views on your Stories

        instagram insights example

        You'll also be able to see key information about your audience, including:

        • Number of followers and recent growth trends
        • Gender and age breakdown
        • Where your followers live
        • Follower activity, broken down into days and times, which can help you determine peak posting times

        With Instagram Insights, you can see how your impressions, reach, and engagement are increasing or decreasing month to month, and how those stats hold up against a growing or shrinking follower count.

        By comparing this information against top performing posts and analyzing their performance, you can detect trends and patterns that will help you make the marketing of your Instagram profile more effective.

        In early 2021, Instagram also released Professional Dashboard for creators and businesses to track performance, discover different sales and marketing tools, and access educational materials curated by Instagram.

        instagram professional dashboard
        Source: Instagram

        Build a complete Instagram marketing strategy

        Instagram is a must-use social media platform that ecommerce businesses and marketers should add to their marketing roster if they haven’t already. You can use Instagram to drive sales, build loyalty, and create a world-class customer experience.

        Embrace Instagram fully by diving into its many features, posting different types of content regularly, and engaging with your audience. You may even be surprised by how quickly you see results come pouring in.

        Illustration by Eugenia Mello


        Instagram marketing FAQ

        What is Instagram marketing?

        Instagram marketing refers to using Instagram to grow brand awareness and launch new products. Instagram allows creators and entrepreneurs to build their brands, personally connect with followers, and grow organically.

        How do I start Instagram marketing?

        To get started with Instagram marketing, you’ll need to set up an Instagram Business account or Instagram Creator account. Begin by setting up a personal account, then follow the instructions above to create your business profile.

        How do I promote my business on Instagram?

        • Use hashtags for discoverability
        • Launch giveaways and contests
        • Respond to messages and comments with automation
        • Publish Reels and Stories
        • Work with Instagram influencers
        • Launch Instagram ads

        What is the best way to use Instagram for marketing?

        With shoppable Stories, Instagram shops, and in-app checkout, you can build an entire sales funnel on Instagram. Look for ways to keep people interacting with your brand on Instagram, then prompt them with deals and shoppable posts to encourage sales.