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How to Use Instagram - A Beginner's Guide to Instagram

Mary McCormick
Oct 8, 2020
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How does a company become #instafamous? After analyzing dozens of techniques from numerous big-name brands, I’ve compiled a list of Instagram strategies to help make your brand stand out. Before we get into them, though, let’s review some of Instagram’s structural terms I will be using.

Platform Structure

Instagram has two formats to post material. There is a traditional post where pictures appear on the user’s feeds. These pictures are posted permanently to your account and can be seen on your profile. Other users can see this when they search foryour account.

Instagram also has stories. These can be viewed for 24 hours and then they disappear. However, you can add stories to your Instagram highlights, and users can view stories indefinitely.

User View of the Timeline

(Source: Crackberry)

User View of an Account’s Page

This is what a profile looks like. I typed Netflix into the Instagram search bar and was able to see its account’s posts. I can see every post made since the account’s creation.

Best Practices for Businesses on Instagram

1. Post a Link to Your Website in Bio

The downside to Instagram is there’s only one link you can include in your bio. If you post a link anywhere else, like in a comment or story, you won’t be able to click on it. Since you only have one link, make that link count.

2. Refer to the Link in Bio

This is your best call to action on the platform.

3. Turn on the Instagram Shopping Feature

If you sell physical goods, users can shop directly on Instagram. Once you turn this setting on, you can add small tags that will allow the user to click and shop.

(Screenshotted from

4. Use High-Quality Videos

Instagram videos can be up to 60 seconds long, which, if viewed, allows for greater exposure of your content to users. It is important to make your video tell a story. Nutella’s Instagram video won a “best Instagram video award.” Take a minute to see what they came up with.

5. Make Your Instagram Worth Following

Nobody wants to follow an Instagram account that looks like a giant ad. Diversify your content. Warby Parker does a great job of providing diversified content to its users.  

6. Provide Content Specific to Your Target Audience

Who are you trying to attract? What will catch their attention?

DiGiorno, the frozen pizza company, uses memes to entertain its young target audience. I’ve got to say, I got a huge laugh out of this post (and a few stares from confused coworkers). It made me want to follow DiGiorno to see what else the brand comes up with. This is what your social media should do. DiGiorno continuously references pop culture (like the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix referenced below) and trending events. When marketers write content, they try to keep it evergreen. Instagram posting is short, quick and frequently updated so less emphasis is placed on ensuring content is evergreen.

Memes aren’t appropriate for every audience, so let’s take a look at how Nike diversified its Instagram. Nike’s bio, “If you have a body, you are an athlete,” targets a huge audience. The brand’s posts mostly include athlete influencers who are either professional athletes or have inspiring stories. The content tells a story, which makes people want to follow Nike. All the influencers wear Nike gear, which makes the content double as an advertisement.

Instagram content is not one-size-fits-all. What makes your brand stand out? How can you make your content entertaining and interesting to your target audience?

7. Plan Posts with a Feed-Planning App

Got an idea of what you want your feed to look like? Plan it out on a feed planning app. You can schedule dates to post, rearrange posts to see what looks best and even sync your current feed to the app. I use the app UNUM, but there are dozens of feed-planning apps to choose from.

8. Encourage Tagging and Re-post High-Quality Posts

Showcase your customers’ satisfaction. If they post using your product or service, and it’s a great picture, re-post them! They will be excited to be featured on your Instagram, and they are doing the advertising for you by promoting your company to their followers, which increases your brand’s reach.

9. Respond to Comments

By responding to your comments, it makes your company seem responsive and customer-centric.  Show your customers they are being heard.

10. Use Hashtags

Use hashtags relevant to your brand. Do research. What are industry-relevant hashtags? What are your competitors using? You can also run campaigns through hashtags to get people talking about your brand. Ray-Ban uses the hashtag #proudtobelong to showcase the different activities and lifestyles its customers enjoy. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, you’ll find over 12,000 posts, many of which are users wearing their Ray-Bans.

Ray-Ban now has the opportunity to share user-generated content. Additionally, these #proudtobelong posts extend Ray-Ban’s reach beyond its followers. Word-of-mouth marketing is crucial for consumer trust, and 92% of people trust their peers over advertising during the purchase decision-making process.

Hashtags are a way to make yourself searchable to new audiences that may be interested in your account.

Example:  Mirabel’s Marketing Manager may use the hashtag #crm (a buzzword in the digital marketing industry). Anyone who follows #crm or searches it can see the post, along with over thousands of other #crm posts. #Crm is specific to the digital marketing industry, which means that users who searched did so with purpose. #Crm has a defined target audience.

One more thing: as a business account, you’ll have access to Instagram Insights. Use these to see how many users visit your company’s Instagram from the hashtag you used.

11. Post Stories for Engagement and Feedback

With stories, you can share daily updates about your company and directly obtain follower feedback by posting questions or polls. Followers can type or choose their answer, which will help you provide content, new products or new services. Footwear brand All Birds frequently hosts Q+As in its stories, which then get added to the “Q+A” highlight for followers to checkout at any time.

12. Track Success with Analytics

See how much traffic is being driven to your website, which posts worked or didn’t, and what should be promoted. Instagram does provide its own insights. However, there are plenty of other services that provide deeper insights into your account’s performance.

Analytics are extremely important to understand what type of content your followers are looking for, but you need to be patient when it comes to seeing results. Building an Instagram following and engaging users will take time. When designing your social media, be creative and experiment in the beginning. What type of content gets the most attention?

Building your Instagram

Now that you know what to do, let’s put it into practice.

1. Creating a Profile

Set up an account with Instagram. Once you fill in the information it asks for, it will create your profile.

And… Viola! That’s it! Our profile is built. Now, let’s set it up for success.

2. Create and Plan a Mock Feed (With Post Ideas)

I used UNUM to sync our Instagram account to our UNUM account, which allows you to preview an accurate representation of what your feed will look like.

If you have a website or other social media accounts, you should create a common theme throughout your media. The theme should appeal to your target audience. For Mirabel Technologies, I am sticking with the theme of our website.

From these screenshots of our websites, I picked a few key elements that I want to feature on Instagram:

  • Shades of blue – navy and light blue
  • Modern and sleek theme
  • Pictures of Fort Lauderdale, our headquarter’s location

Look for similar key elements you want to include in your feed.

  • Key colors
  • Theme – creative, sophisticated, old school, etc.
  • Details that make your company unique – location, activities using your product or service, office culture

3. Post Ideation

First and foremost, check out what other companies are successfully doing with their social media. I suggest looking at companies in your industry and brands outside of your industry that cater to a similar target audience. What are they posting? How are they distinguishing themselves from their competitors?

For Mirabel Technologies, I picked Sprout Social and MailChimp’s Instagrams to  get some inspiration.

MailChimp has a much more colorful and cartoon-like Instagram aesthetic than I’m going for on Mirabel’s Instagram, but I like the way they have a mixture of graphics and regular pictures and videos. Plus, you can see its Instagram content matches the look and feel of its platform. Yellow, the main color of MailChimp’s logo, is predominantly featured throughout its feed.

The next account I looked at for inspiration was Sprout Social. Its feed is colorful yet professional, while still providing entertaining content.

From this, some ideas I can try on Mirabel’s Instagram account are:

  1. Posts about our content
  2. Posts about webinars we hold
  3. Posts about company culture

The Instagram World is Your Oyster

Keep in mind that what works for one brand may not work for yours, but Instagram is a forgiving platform that offers lots of room for trial and error. Now that you’ve got a better idea of Instagram’s features and the types of content you can share, it’s time to put it all into action.

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