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social media, strategy

Instagram for Business 101: The Ultimate Guide

The Instagram Algorithm in 2019

According to 2019 Instagram Tweets:

What shows up first in your feed is determined by what posts and accounts you engage with the most, as well as other contributing factors such as the timeliness of posts, how often you use Instagram, how many people you follow, etc.”

The Tweet continues,

“…we never hide posts from people you’re following – if you keep scrolling, you will see them all. Again, your feed is personalized to you and evolves over time based on how you use Instagram.”

It is a myth that Instagram’s algorithm favors stories over posts. It is also a myth that Instagram’s algorithm favors video over photos.

HOWEVER, Instagram may prioritize videos, stories, or Instagram Live if it believes that users prefer them.

Hashtags and location tags can help your post appear in more search results. Furthermore, Instagram does not favor users or businesses. What’s more, it doesn’t down-rank people for posting frequently. However, people may un-follow you if you overshare.

All in all, the most important activity to enhance your business’ exposure on Instagram is to get engagement. And that means generating great content that your followers want. More on that after a review of Instagram’s basic features.

hashtagInstagram Basics

What the #Hash is a Hashtag?

A hashtag is a word (or words) preceded by a hash (#) symbol, previously known as the pound symbol or number symbol. Phrases do not include spaces, and may or may not have initial caps. These hashtags can be seen as identifiers—like an indexing tool that describes your post and others with similar themes.

On Instagram, you can use up to 30 hashtags. Expert opinions vary on whether you should use all 30. Many do with good results. It’s available. And since it can be used to search terms, may help your post to get found. In one study, however, SproutSocial found the optimal number of hashtags in an Instagram post was nine.

Business Application of Hashtags

Research hashtags that describe your post, your brand, and your company by going to the search window and typing sample hashtags. Small businesses and those just getting started with Instagram should aim for hashtags that have search volumes from about 2,000 to 75,000.

Why? On the one hand, you won’t get as much attention if few (<2000) use a hashtag. On the other hand, the algorithm will likely favor larger, more established brands for the extremely popular hashtags (>75,000).

Features and Differences Between an Instagram Post, Instagram Story, and Instagram Live

Instagram uses posts, stories, and live video. Each has its own unique features.

Instagram Posts or Feed Features

  • Launched in October 2010
  • Original Instagram content
  • Partial screen
  • Photos and videos with captions
  • Can apply multiple effects to photos and videos
  • Photos appear in your 3-column grid
  • Can tag users and location
  • Can share to Facebook, Twitter or Tumbler
  • Videos can be 3 to 60 seconds

Instagram Stories Features

  • New in August 2016
  • Full screen
  • Multiple photos and videos appear in a slideshow format
  • Ephemeral—stories disappear within 24 hours unless you save a story to your archives or save it as a highlight
  • Can tag Instagram users
  • Archives isn’t visible unless you reshare it or directly message someone
  • Videos can be in only 15 second increments
  • Usually involves shorter posts of 5 to 15 words, or so
  • Photos and videos do not appear in 3-column grid
  • Can add music and special effects like boomerang (forward and rewind segments), focus (background blur), superzoom (focuses and plays dramatic music) and more

Instagram Live Features

  • New in August 2016
  • Followers informed if you go live
  • Ephemeral—video disappears at end of broadcast unless you share a replay of it
  • No titling available for video

IGTV Features

Business Applications of Instagram

Instagram Posts

Instagram posts are great for any images or videos you want to share with your prospects or customers. Make sure to use high-quality, well-thought out images. Because these will appear in your grid, you’ll also want to showcase your brand look and feel.

Instagram Stories

Why in the world would a business want to spend time, effort, and budget to pay for stories that will disappear in 24 hours? First, stories are growing in popularity and more Instagram users are turning to them. Second, a study from Hootsuite showed that story ads got more clicks (while post ads had a less expensive cost per acquisition).

Third, and perhaps surprising to many traditional marketers, there are times when stories are most useful. These might include:

  • Flash sales
  • Today’s promotions or discounts
  • One-time events
  • Behind-the-scenes look
  • Sneak peek into new product innovation
  • Customer preference poll
  • Spontaneous interviews

Instagram Live

Instagram Live has business applications as well. These might include:

  • Hosting an event
  • Q&A or AMA (Ask Me Anything)
  • Contests or bets on an outcome
  • Video blogging (Vlogging) live
  • Webinar