Instagram recently turned 10. It’s hard to believe this platform has only been around for 10 years. Instagram is such a big part of so many lives, and yet still so many find it confusing and still ignore this powerful marketing platform. There are so many new features that we thought it was time to put out the Ultimate Instagram Guide for 2021. This is a BEEFY post so you may want to bookmark this so you can come back and use it as a reference.
If LinkedIn is the serious business platform for sharing articles, finding jobs, and congratulating people on their recent promotions, Instagram is the peek behind that stodgy curtain where we get to see a more relaxed side of you, and your business. We know it’s true that people buy from those they know, like, and trust, so it makes sense that Instagram is the platform that allows you to invite your audience a little closer to get to know you better, and hopefully they will like what they see.
If you have been dragging your feet on embracing this tool, or find all of its parts just too confusing, this guide will give you all the information you need to finally get moving. There is a lot of information in here so get comfy.
I’m going to break this into segments for you since there is so much to cover. Consider this a guide that you will refer back to over and over.
We will do a deep dive into the 4 types of posts that live on Instagram:
STORIES and LIVE STREAMS
Next, we will explore the 3 parts to your posts:
FREQUENCY (how often you should be posting, which is a question we get almost daily at SocialKNX.)
We’ll wrap up with the different types of content you can rotate in. You don’t want everything to be promotional and as a business owner, you certainly aren’t on Instagram to just share photos of your dogs (although if you are, be sure to drop the name of your account…I love following those accounts). By rotating in different categories or types of content you will have a well-balanced feed or collection of posts.
Let’s take a look at the 4 types of posts on Instagram:
1. Your GRID (AKA: your feed)
This is the hub, the main posts on your Instagram account. The photos here are typically a bit more staged and planned. Consider this the place for your BEST SELF to show up. Your feed is a mix of real images of you, your team, and the occasional (beautiful) stock images or graphics. A carousel post (one that has 2-10 images) can be loaded into one post and will give you more opportunities to have that post seen. If someone sees only the first photo and scrolls by, Instagram will show that post again but start on image 2 or 3 where the person stopped, so your chances are better to grab someone’s attention. Keep this in mind when loading multiple images too. Put those eye-catching images first!
2. STORIES and LIVE Streaming
Stories are those short blips that look as if it is a visual diary of someone’s day at times. If you post only one image or short video, you will see one long continuous line across the top. Each segment of your story is a dash. When I look at someone’s story and see tiny dots, it seems like a big commitment and I usually pass but if it’s great content I will click through each one. Watch your analytics to see if you are overwhelming people with too many segments here.
Stories are where a brand can be more casual, funny, authentic, and it is where you can definitely point people to your other content. Use stories to promote your latest podcast, blog post, or even your latest Instagram post (Grid post). You can also go LIVE in your stories area. When you go to add a post from your home page, you will notice several options- POST-STORY-REELS-LIVE.
Instagram recently extended the amount of time you can go LIVE from 1 hour to 4 hours. My thought is, who is watching a LIVE for 4 hours? This happened during COVID quarantine time, so I believe it was to accommodate all of the classes and events that suddenly went online. 4-hours is also the limit on Facebook LIVES so it makes sense. When you finish your Instagram LIVE, you will be asked if you want to save or download the video. This allows you to edit it or chop it into small sharable pieces for IGTV, Stories or even on your other social platforms.
Another feature that is tied to your Stories, is the highlight button. You may notice that some people have little circles under their bio. These can be categorized and created by you to save segments of your Stories that otherwise will disappear after 24-hours. You may create a button for EVENTS, LAUNCHES, TESTIMONIALS, TEAM MEMBERS, etc. After you create some Story segments you will start to see which pieces you want to tuck away in your highlight buttons. You can always go later and clean out old segments.
Use a tool like Canva to create cute buttons and brand them with your colors.
Reels is the latest roll out and it’s Instagram’s response to TikTok. With fun video effects, you can create educational or just entertaining 30-second videos. The best part of Reels, at least at the time I’m writing this post, is that Instagram is giving special treatment to these video clips as they are trying to get more people to catch on.
When you record a Reel video, it goes onto your feed with a special Reels icon. People can click on the Reels icon on your profile (under the highlight buttons) to watch more of your Reels, and better yet, if someone is watching a Reels video from someone else, Instagram will prompt them to watch more Reels (from other people) and your content is more likely to be found. [Read more on the differences between TikTok and Reels HERE]
This is your space for Long-form video. Let’s just say that this is Instagram’s response to YouTube. Anytime a video post goes over 60 seconds it will show the first 60 seconds in your feed and then have the KEEP WATCHING option that takes people to the IGTV section of your profile.
If you are creating long-form educational and informative video content, this is a great way to share it. After loading it on your feed and in your IGTV, you can make a short story to promote it. It creates a web of links crisscrossing from one area of Instagram to the others.
Now we can dive into the different parts to each post.
On your grid posts, you have lots of room to write, versus your stories, you can put some text (more like a headline) across the image or video, but let’s look at these 3 parts:
What helps you build the “know, like, and trust” factor on Instagram is your ability to connect with your followers. In your grid posts you have the opportunity to start a conversation—to share something and ask questions. This is your caption or copy.
You have a sentence and half before the READ MORE is shown, so make sure you have a strong headline or enticing first sentence. Your content can be broken into two types–CONVERSION-focused (education or informative with CTA) or CONVERSATION-focused (telling a story). You have 1,000 characters in this section.
Start your caption with one of these:
Question – “What can you do to make up income in 2021?” “Have you wondered how to build an online community from the ground up?”
Bold Statement – “Myth Buster Time:” “UNPOPULAR OPINION:” “This NEVER works!”
Cliff Hanger – “Last year I made $350K doing this one simple thing” “My business chugged along until I made this one change”
After writing your post ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Would my perfect customer find this INTERESTING or HELPFUL?
- Are you giving them a reason to take action or respond? Have you asked for a response or call to action? Never leave the conversation hanging with “Fun time with our team.” Ask a question or tell people what you want them to do next. Don’t just say “LINK IN BIO” or worse… don’t put an unclickable link in the post! No one is going to do that kind of work! Give specific instructions: “If you’d like to join our group, click the link in the bio to get started today!” Or “To see how this actually works, click the video link in my bio and be amazed!”
- Does it explain who I am or what I do?
Instagram started out as a photo editing platform with beautiful filters making even your boring backyard pics look as if it was a magical wonderland. It wasn’t until marketers got ahold of the platform that we saw the immediate decline in quality of photos.
People started posting horrific colored squares crammed with text promoting their products and services, and cringe-worthy stock images that turned Instagram into a virtual junkyard!
Images are the key on Instagram. Photos of people work best, and if they show your eyes and smiling face, you will see those get the most attention.
Look at any account that gets real engagement on Instagram, and you will notice they are filled with the person’s face or the brand’s products and users of the products up close.
I’m not saying you can’t use stock images, but make sure they are beautiful and fresh. Not the corny images of a sales team in business suits running on a track—JUST STOP THAT! [For help on finding better images, read STOP USING CRAPPY IMAGES]
We all have amazing cameras on our smartphones today so there is no excuse for not having good photos available. Get in the habit of snapping 5-10 images per week that you can use somewhere down the line on your social posts. You can load a single image or up to 10 in a carousel post. These are the posts that have dots underneath the images showing you how many you can swipe through to view.
As painful as it is, you need to take loads of photos of yourself and your team in action (drinking coffee, texting, typing at a desk, looking up at the sky or out a window in deep thought, chatting with someone). If you are stumped and don’t know what kind of images to take, download our 55+ photo shot ideas—Ultimate Photo Shot List to get you going.
Get closer than you think you should. Show the details of things- macro images on Instagram do very well. Instead of showing an item of clothing you are selling, zoom in and show us the buttons or quality stitching. Instead of your whole office, zoom in, and show us something on your desk.
We typically think of Instagram in squares. The photos that get posted on your “grid” or main profile are seen in batches of 9 squares, HOWEVER… when someone is scrolling through their newsfeed on Instagram, you can have your image show up in PORTRAIT mode (1920 x 1080 instead of 1080 x 1080). Just like posting an image to your stories, that portrait mode will take up more real estate, and hopefully grab more attention – Instagram will crop it on your grid so be sure to put your main image in the center. Since marketing is all about testing and tweaking, do some testing on this with your images and see for yourself.
Ok, you may need to sit down for this one… When it comes to frequency of posting on Instagram, daily is not necessarily the BEST for your feed (grid). I know… mind blown right there!
If you are a professional photographer, and you have thousands of beautiful images to share, you might be an exception here, but Instagram is a very visual platform, and just throwing up junk stock images or text-covered visuals is a complete waste of your time.
If you can create better images a few times a week you will have a more beautiful and well-balanced grid to represent your brand. If you have loads of great content, then go for it, but keep in mind that the Instagram algorithm favors NEW CONTENT, so it will continue to show your post for 48-hrs+/- unless you post again shortly after, then the new post will take over. We always suggest testing things in marketing, so do another test here. For a month, post each day and then the following month, post every 2-3 days. Gather some data and then make that decision for yourself.
As you plan your content, keep in mind you don’t want it to all be promotional. Most people get stuck here wondering what type of content to actually post. We have a monthly service for folks who need caption prompts that can be customized and come with fabulous images for Instagram. Check out DIYsocial for more information.
I have 8 categories listed here that we use when writing content in our DIYsocial program as well as for our clients. These should get the ideas flowing for you. At the end of this post, I have a sample content calendar that you can copy and use if you find it helpful.
Categories of Posts
- ME/TEAM – These are the nice images you either have a photographer take or you collect [download our 50+ images you need…]. They are photos of your team or yourself in different settings. People love seeing faces and these posts will generally do better than most others.
- HOME– Family, pets, cooking, sitting by the fire, etc. These posts are for you to share a little about yourself and things you enjoy doing on the weekend or evenings. You certainly don’t have to share photos of your kids or personal life, but if you can let your hair down a bit, it will draw people in.
- LIFESTYLE– Coffee, Tea, Cocktails, Food (real or stock image). You are not necessarily talking about coffee or cocktails but perhaps you are sharing something about your day, or your business. Think of these posts as if you were meeting your prospects or clients for coffee or cocktails and having a conversation.
- WORKSPACE– Flat-lay images of your desk, journals, computer or tablet, etc. Clean up that workspace and show people where the action takes place!
- PROMOTION– a clear promo post telling people how they can work with you and what you can do to help them. Promote your podcast, new product, classes or service offerings.
- BOOK or PODCAST What are you reading or listening to? Show photos of books and podcasts along with a nugget or two that you think others will find helpful or interesting.
- QUOTES– Do you have a quote that speaks to you or inspires you? Don’t fill your feed with just text, but when you have a quote or funny quip that moves you… share it with your community.
- EVENTS or TRAVEL– Whether you host events, attend events or just love to travel. These can be posts and images to share that love of learning.
Lastly, let’s talk about hashtags!
Hashtags allow people to find content they are interested in and therefore the more you use, the greater the opportunity for more people to find your content. Here are 4 tips for using hashtags on Instagram:
- Use 30 on all posts…that’s right THIRTY! The more you use, the greater the opportunity for people to find your content. If you can’t think of 30 hashtags right away, start a list and continue to add to it.
- Create a few lists and then you can copy and paste them into your posts- don’t use the same group of hashtags on each post—mix it up.
- You can place your hashtags at the end of your caption, or in the first comment. There is a reason for this inconvenient action. Hashtags are hyperlinks so if they are in your post, you may be sending people off of your post and onto other people’s content. They can still see your hashtags in the first comment but by the time they are in your comments they are either commenting or at least reading your comments.
- Pay attention to how many people are using that hashtag—If there are too few (12 people using that tag), the hashtag isn’t going to attract anyone, and if there are too many people using a hashtag (20 million), your post will be lost in the masses. Do some research and aim for hashtags between 100,000 and 2 million.
If you have survived reading this resource post, you certainly have what it takes to persevere and the stamina to stay consistent with your Instagram marketing strategy. If your head exploded halfway through this post and you need help managing it all, reach out to our team…it’s what we LOVE TO DO!
Be sure to connect with us on Instagram @SocialKNX and let us know what your biggest take away was. We’ll share your post in our stories and love you forever!