Nostalgic for the days when Instagram was simply a place where you posted unfiltered party photos with friends? You’re not alone in missing the era of pre-curated feeds.
But that oversimplification doesn’t give credit to how much Instagram has grown up with us to support storytelling for business in a way that seemed unfathomable a decade ago. Today, the platform holds proven power to humanize brands, create lasting connections and drive sales.
With five years of experience running Instagram accounts for global travel brands in tandem with coaching entrepreneurs to show up authentically on the app, I’m breaking down five lessons learned to help you demystify Instagram for business.
Lesson #1: Bucket Your Content
If you’ve ever felt confusion around what to post, chances are, you haven’t outlined your content buckets just yet. These six to eight categories are pillars that drive engagement and impact within your niche. Aim to make these buckets as specific as possible to create visual consistency as your audience grows; for example, a hotel bathtub versus a general hotel room shot.
When creative blocks inevitably creep up during the content planning phase, buckets help to clarify your mission and purpose on the platform, bringing you back to basics. Be sure that as a business owner, you are one of your pillars. Your story is the fabric of your company’s DNA and oftentimes, the reason that followers will be compelled to buy from you in the first place which is why it’s critical that you keep yourself woven into the storyline.
Lesson #2: Personal Stories Outperform Product Posts
With you—and your team—build out as at least one dedicated pillar of your content strategy, your community will be granted the kind of behind-the-scenes access that brand evangelists crave. Telling personal stories around your mission, day-to-day operations, and the unique magic that you bring to your business consistently outperforms posts that hard-sell a product. Ultimately, your goal is to let the story do the soft selling for you.
Depending on the nature of your business, weaving client stories into this category also presents an opportunity to deepen the narrative. If you’re a service-based organization, consider tapping into testimonials around the impact that your company was able to create for a client. If you offer a product, consider including some kind of call-to-action on your packaging asking customers to post and tag when they receive their order. Prompting the capture of this user-generated content deepens brand awareness and in turn, provides you with unique imagery to repost while showcasing gratitude for your community.
Lesson #3: It All Goes Down in the DMs
While we are often preoccupied with vanity metrics (likes and comments), it bears mentioning that the engagement that goes down indirect message is equally vital. That’s right, DMs aren’t just a place where an old Bumble match can be found sliding in to remind you they’re alive; it’s also where business relationships are built and sales ultimately convert. As a business or creator account, you should be actively checking not only your primary and general inboxes but also your requests where messages from users who you don’t follow will be filtered.
Depending on the size of your audience, replying to every single DM may seem unscalable. But like all aspects of social media marketing, this component of your workflow should be batched for optimal productivity; set aside a portion of your day solely dedicated to replying to messages. Over time, if you find that you’re receiving a high volume of DMs that warrant similar answers, cut down on your response time by creating Quick Replies with a space to customize each response.
Lesson #4: Adopt Usage of New Features Early
As marketers, we would be lying if we didn’t admit that there’s a collective sigh of exasperation each time Instagram launches a new feature. The gut reaction is often, “Really? something else to add to our plates?” But, what if we instead reframed each additional feature as an opportunity to serve our audience in a new way? Being an early adopter of these enhancements to the app not only challenges us to creatively tell our story in new ways but can also pay off when the algorithm pushes forth accounts actively testing out new features.
We’ve seen this in a measurable way with creators like @ofleatherandlace, @bsquared.social, and @rebellenutrition who’ve amassed substantial followings in recent months predominately their savvy usage of Reels. While video may not feel like an area of genius for you (did someone say perfectionist?) simply showing up and sitting in discomfort has the potential upside of gaining higher reach and being discovered by new users if you’re featured on the Explore page.
Lesson #5: Be Human and Stand for Something
It’d be simple to say that the fifth and final tip is to “be consistent.” But at this point, that should be more than obvious, so let’s instead take it to the next level and address the expectations for brands to take a stance on social issues. While it may have been possible to fly under the radar on potentially divisive subjects in pre-pandemic times, 2020 taught us that the internal conversations transpiring offline about a brand’s values need to translate to their content online. But, be sure posts aren’t performative–back your stance with action.
Whether you opt to donate a portion of your proceeds to a specific nonprofit or simply create a space for conversations around topics like equity and inclusion, your Instagram offers a unique place to speak to your values as an organization. With so many choices in the consumer marketplace, customers understand that how they spend their money matters. Make your brand the kind of place they feel good about spending their hard-earned money. And above all, ensure that your intentions align with your actions.
About the Author: A knack for storytelling and community building blossomed into Kayla Douglas’ work in marketing within the travel sector, a space perfectly aligned with her skillset and passions. In her role at New York-based luxury travel agency SmartFlyer as marketing and social media manager, Kayla is steadfast in her mission to empower the team’s ever-growing community of advisors to approach social media marketing with creativity, authenticity, and consistency. These days, Kayla calls the West Village neighborhood of New York City home, though her most beloved place to be found is nestled into the window seat of a flight, off for a new adventure. For inspiration from fellow creatives, you can subscribe to her weekly newsletter that drops every Sunday featuring interviews with powerhouse women.
About SmartFlyer: SmartFlyer is a full-service luxury travel agency built for curious travelers. Their global team specializes in creating exceptional experiences around the world through curated recommendations and continuous boots-on-the-ground research activated by decades of trusted relationships. SmartFlyer travel advisors understand that the finer details make a world of a difference when it comes to your travel arrangements, so they make it seamless to book the experiences you can’t miss–all vetted by a community of trusted experts whose tried and true recommendations span from Manhattan to Melbourne, and everywhere in between. Their consultative approach to travel planning ensures that your travel advisor gets to know you and your preferences before providing recommendations, in turn creating an itinerary built just for you whether it’s a honeymoon, multi-generational family trip, bucket list safari, or quick romantic escape. Just like no two clients are identical, no two trips are the same.
Headshot Credit: Leila Brewster Photography