Instagram Marketing Strategy: Your A-Z Guide

In an Instagram world of 1 billion users, 25+ million businesses, and 2+ million advertisers, it’s crucial to have a solid Instagram marketing strategy, if you want to build a strong presence on the platform. Otherwise, the competition would simply eat you alive.

As a brand, you want your Instagram account to reach the targeted demographic, drive ROI, and help you really grow your business.

However, to be great at Instagram means more than publishing pretty pictures. It takes a well thought-out strategy see results (let alone consistency, dedication, and, of course, time).

In this comprehensive blog post, I’ll be walking you through every stage of developing an Instagram marketing strategy for your brand: from setting your goals and KPIs, to researching your target audience, building a hashtag database, developing a great-looking feed, and more.

To exemplify, there are numerous cases from both B2C and B2B brands mentioned throughout the article.

Ready to finally get to developing a real strategy for your Instagram? Then let’s go!

Iconosquare features mentioned in this guide:

  • Hashtag Analytics
  • Community & Demographics
  • Caption Library for hashtags
  • Instagram Feed Preview

The Complete Guide to Building an
Instagram Marketing Strategy

1. Determine your Instagram goals

When planning an Instagram strategy for your business, it’s crucial that you start with a crystal clear understanding of how Instagram fits into your general marketing strategy. Depending on that, your goals — as well as your KPIs, your tone of voice, and the overall brand presence — will be different.

What is your brand all about? How do you translate that knowledge onto a platform like Instagram? And why do you think Instagram is a good channel for you to activate your brand on?

Here are some quick facts about Instagram, that can help you decide:

  • Instagram is the fastest growing platform in the history of social media. In fact, 32% of ALL Internet users are on Instagram.
  • Monthly active users: 1 billion
  • Daily active users: 500 million
  • Daily Stories users: 400 million
  • 68% of Instagram users are women
  • 59% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 29, and 33% of users are from 30 to 49 years old.
  • User-generated-content on Instagram has 4.5% HIGHER conversion rates for brands

Of course, the decision to market your business on Instagram is highly individual. What’s important to keep in mind is the bigger picture, and understanding how Instagram will help you achieve your ultimate business objectives.

In any case, you should have the answer to the following three questions:

What will Instagram allow you to do, that other platforms can’t?

Which part of your target audience is active on Instagram, and who you want to target there?

How will Instagram fall into the whole landscape of the other channels your brand uses on social media?

Once you have a good understanding of the bigger picture, clearly knowing WHY you’re on Instagram, then you can start building a strategy to succeed on the platform!

Now, Instagram goals can be very different.

For some, it is to help drive sales.

For others, an Instagram goal could lie in building brand awareness, creating a community from scratch, driving foot-traffic to a specific physical location, or building relationships with influencers.

Instagram is a highly-visual platform, so many brands are choosing the platform in order to showcase their products. For example, Bloomon, a Dutch bouquet designer service (also available multinationally), has an an outstanding Instagram feed which focuses on different flower arrangement:.

Their IGTV shows the visitors how to arrange flowers in bouquets of different sizes, while their Instagram Stories Highlights inform about the offline workshops where visitors can learn how to create flower arrangements themselves:

In other words, everything Bloomon does on Instagram pursues the same goal of inspiring customers who are interested in floristry and positions the brand as the expert in bouquet-making.

A strong goal, and a clear vision, will bring your Instagram marketing strategy together. So start there, always!

2. Select the right Instagram KPIs

Once you’re clear about what your goal is, think about how you’re going to measure the steps you’re taking towards it. In other words, think about your KPIs.

When it comes to KPIs, it’s crucial to remember that not every Instagram KPI is created equal.

Of course, there are dozens of different Instagram metrics that you can monitor, but you don’t need all of them. In fact, this is why you need to have what your ultimate Instagram goal is to be able to determine which metrics you need to be keeping an eye on, and which you can clearly ignore (for as long as your goals haven’t changed).

The Instagram metrics you monitor will always depend on your overall goal! #InstagramMarketingStrategy Click To Tweet

Say, your ultimate goal of being on Instagram is raising brand awareness. This means that the KPIs you’ll want to monitor are those focusing on reach, impressions, reach by post type, etc, rather than clicks in the bio link.

Without understanding how to read the metrics, you won’t be able to measure the effectiveness of your tactics, see if you’re reaching your goals, and ultimately estimate if your overall strategy is actually working.

Related read: 24 Instagram Metrics You Need to Know

3. Thoroughly research your audience’s Instagram habits

It’s your followers who ultimately shape and mold your whole Instagram marketing strategy. After all, they’re the ones who are engaging with your content!

That’s why you should thoroughly research your Instagram target audience.

Who are you trying to target? What kind of content does this target audience expect from you on Instagram? What hashtags do they use? Which influencers do they follow? What day of the week, and time of the day, are they most online?

That’s a lot of questions.

Answering these questions is a great way to ensure that the content you’ll be creating in the future will hit the sweet spot with your followers.

If you already have a sense of who your ideal customer is, a good idea would be to focus on those ideal customer profiles (aka “personas”). Ask your marketing team what the typical customer looks like, and “translate” that information into your Instagram strategy. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! Relying on your existing buyer persona is a great place to start. However, be aware that your Instagram target audience might be somewhat different to your typical customer that buys from you offline. That’s why it’s important to make sure it’s aligned with your demographic data from Instagram.

I previously wrote an extensive guide on how to research your Instagram audience from scratch, but to summarize, here are the most important key takeaways:

– Dig into the Insights

Go to Insights on the Instagram app and click Audience. There, you’ll be able to see the three most fundamental statistics on your followers: gender, age, and location. This is a useful insight into who’s already following you. If your ideal client is a middle-aged man, but Instagram tells you that most of your followers are post-millennial women, it’s a clear indicator you’re doing something wrong. Your overall marketing persona needs to be in agreement with the Instagram persona, don’t forget!

If you’re an Iconosquare user, you can also find this information in Analytics → Community section:

– Connect with your followers

A good place to see who’s already following and engaging with you on Instagram is, well, on Instagram.

Log into the platform and click on the list of people who have liked or commented on your latest posts. Click into their profiles, and check out what they’re posting themselves, who else they’re following (any competitors? or target hashtags?), whether they’re heavy emoji users, etc.

Another way is to send an occasional DM to a new follower and ask why they decided to follow you, and what is it that they expect to see on your account. You can DM someone who you’ve noticed is a loyal follower and has been engaging with your content on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to slide into those DMs! Here’s a simple message you can use:

“Hey! We’ve noticed you’ve been following our brand for a while, thanks so much for the love! Quick question: what kind of content would you like to see us post? We’re trying to publish the best posts out there for our followers, and really value your feedback!”

Easy. Peasy.

– Research your competitors’ followers

Another option is to spy on your direct competitors’ followers. Go to your competitors’ profiles on Instagram, and click on their followers list. You’ll see a whole list of users who follow them, so go ahead and follow the same “spying” technique described above. You can even follow your competitors’ followers and engage with them, too (this tip works well if you’re starting from absolute scratch and don’t have any followers yet). You’ll be surprised to see how many people will follow you back! But don’t go follow-for-follow on them; instead, use this information to develop a tactic to capture their attention authentically.

You can also use this tactic to see which hashtags your competitors and their followers are already using (and following). Which leads us to the next part:

4. Create a database of hashtags

Whether you like it or not, hashtags remain one of the best ways to grow on Instagram in 2019. To boost your reach rate, gain more impressions, and ultimately get more followers, you’ve got to invest time in creating a powerful database full of powerful target hashtags.

Now, what makes a good hashtag?

Three things.

Firstly, the hashtag needs to be long-tail. Despite the widespread belief, if you use super popular hashtags (e.g. #love with 1,5 billion tags), you won’t necessarily get a lot of exposure from them. Quite the opposite, as the more popular the hashtag is, the harder it is to rank for it: you’d need to have a Kim K-level of followers and engagement and get thousands of likes and comments within the very first half an hour of publishing. For most of us, this isn’t a very feasible strategy.

Alex Tooby, an Instagram marketer and influencer, suggests making sure that the hashtags you use always have less than 500K tags on them, as a rule of thumb. A good practice is also benchmarking a hashtag’s engagement rate against your own engagement rate, to make an estimation of whether or not you’d rank for the hashtag if you use it. For example, if you’re only getting about 200 likes per photo, but the hashtag you’re planning to use averages 1500 likes per photo, you’re probably not going to appear in the ‘Top’ category for it.

Top tip: If you track any hashtags with Iconosquare, go to Analytics → Hashtags overview to get a full analysis of the hashtag performance and see how many likes and comments the hashtag gets on average!

Secondly, the hashtag needs to be both related AND relevant.

Use Instagram’s own hashtag suggestion tool to discover related hashtags. Start with a broad hashtag that describes your picture (e.g. #portugal). Immediately, you’ll see a list of 50 related hashtags with their volume number displayed next to them.

While all of these hashtags are related, bear in mind that not all are relevant. If you tap on some of them, you’ll see that the content tagged isn’t a good fit for your own. For example, if you tap on #portugalfit, you’ll see lots of gym selfies, and if you’re content isn’t related to gyms, this hashtag will be the wrong content-audience fit.

So what to do?

Click inside each hashtag you find and manually check each and every one of them to see if they are a) not too popular; b) related, and c) relevant. It’s quite a lot of manual work, but look at it as “hashtag quality assurance” — it will pay off in the end!

If you want to keep your Instagram marketing strategy organized, it makes sense to document the hashtags you find and work up to creating a database.

Iconsoquare’s Caption Library, found right inside the Scheduler, is the perfect place to document your hashtags and keep them organized based on their theme, volume, etc.!

Keep your database updated! It makes sense to refresh it every month or so, add new hashtags, and get rid of those that don’t work for you.

Do note that Instagram is improving its native Insights and, according to the latest rumour, is currently testing a way to show impressions from each hashtag. Fingers crossed that the feature will be rolled out officially soon — it will be pure hashtag gold!

Related read: How to Find Instagram Hashtags (That Are Right For Your Brand)

5. Optimize your Instagram bio for your goal

Your bio is the VERY first thing people see when they land on your Instagram profile. That’s why overlooking your bio can be a big mistake!

There are some essential must-do’s when completing your bio section. It goes without saying, for instance, that you must have an avatar (and it must be identical across all other channels you’re on) and the right business category selected. But there are also three core tips that can help you reinforce your brand message and solidify your Instagram marketing strategy:

– Including a URL with a CTA

Driving traffic to your website, where you sell your products and service, is the ultimate Instagram goal for many. If you have over 10K followers, you can use the swipe-up feature in your Stories and drive traffic from there. Alternatively, you can also invest in Instagram ads, to attract eyeballs to your website this way.

But what if you haven’t reached 10K followers yet and don’t have an ads budget?

Turn to your Instagram bio! In fact, this is the smartest way to drive traffic from Instagram, because, as you’re being active on the platform, you’ll be driving traffic to your Instagram account as well. Adding a URL with a call-to-action to click on it is a way to make sure that the Instagram traffic converts into website traffic.

MyMuesli, a German muesli and porridge shop, is a great example to turn to. They placed a URL that directs not to the main website, but to a very specific product page that sells low carb goji-acai muesli. To support the URL and encourage more clicks, they put a CTA right above the link, with description and emojis:

– Including a branded hashtag

Thanks to an Instagram update in the beginning of last year, you can now turn profile user @names and #hashtags into clickable hyperlinks which make your bio much more functional. Gymshark, a fitness apparel brand, links a branded hashtag #Gymshark66 to entice people to share their Gymshark-looks. For a brand, that kills not two, but three birds with one stone: they’re able to engage the audience, build a community around the brand, and easily harvest user-generated content:

– Using Stories’ Highlights strategically

No place is better than Instagram Highlights to tell your brand story in more detail, showcase your latest products, or introduce your followers to your core offerings! Unlike regular Stories that disappear after 24 hours, Stories Highlights can stay in your bio forever, and you can keep curating and editing them over time!

Learn from Kapten & Son, an accessories brand, uses Highlights by displaying their three core product offerings: sun glasses, watches, and backpacks. As a user, you immediately get an idea of what the brand is about, and are also immediately invited to check the products out. Smart! On top of that, Kapten & Son also has the “New in” Highlight, to promote their latest arrivals:

Related read: How to Write a KNOCKOUT Instagram Bio for Business (+Tips!)

6. Develop a feed aesthetic

One of the toughests parts of an Instagram marketing strategy is solidifying your content aesthetics and the look of your entire feed. Just like the goal of any website is to make an impression good enough not to let them bounce away, the goal of your Instagram page is to attract the visitors to stay, entice them to scroll, and make them want to click that “follow” button.

Figuring out how to make all your individual photos look good beside each other is key. But if you’re not a designer, how can you make sure that your photos fit into your overall feed?

Sticking to a consistent color palette across your feed is important, as it will help all the colors to seamlessly go together and unite your feed. Because your Instagram marketing strategy is a part of an overall brand strategy, do try to connect your feed theme to your visual brand strategy. If your brand has a warm and cozy feel, it doesn’t make sense to go dark and cold on Instagram.

Related read: Creating Your Own Instagram Theme: Where To Start?

Integrating your brand colors into your posts is ultimately the easiest way to build a consistent-looking Instagram theme. Here’s a quick example from Shopify, which uses turquoise, one of its brand colors, once in every row of the feed:

Alternatively, The Lily News, a US news outlet for women, keeps a black and white theme, but still integrates splashes of brand color in the feed here and there:

If you don’t want to integrate your brand colors in the feed, there are other ways to stay consistent with your feed.

For example, fashion brand Versace rotates the style of their feed per row, meaning that the content is presented in the feed in “blocks” of rows:

Canva, an online graphic design tool, chooses to rotate their color palette throughout the feed every few rows:

It makes sense to preview the feed in advance before posting, to make sure that the images fit well together. For that, you can use Iconosquare’s Preview feature:

Whichever color palette you prefer sticking to, the rule of thumb is staying consistent about it. Another tip is to spacing out your content and rotating content types, which ultimately leads us to the next step of planning your Instagram strategy: creating a content plan.

7. Create a content plan & calendar

While social media requires you to be quick, reactive, and always-on, planning ahead is key. And yet, according to the 2019 Instagram Trends & Benchmarks Report, only 43% of marketers have a 2-week content plan, with pre-written captions, ready-to-post images, and pre-researched hashtags.

Essentially, the most crucial part of your Instagram marketing strategy is deciding WHAT to post, in order to showcase your brand, grow and engage the audience and reach your business objectives. More often than not, creation takes a huge amount of resources, so strategizing it in advance, to be able to avoid any fallouts and having to re-do things again and again.

In short, there are 7 types of content formats you can utilize in your content strategy:

  • Photos (feed posts)
  • Videos/Gifs
  • Carousels
  • Stories
  • Stories’ Highlights
  • IGTV
  • Instagram Live

Based on these post formats, there’s an infinite variety of content types that you can utilize:

  • Behind-the-scenes content
  • Branded product content
  • Lifestyle shots
  • User-Generated Content
  • Stories takeovers by influencers/collaborators
  • Contests and Giveaways
  • Quotes

When creating a content strategy for your account, you need to take into consideration all the knowledge you’ve previously collected about your target audience. After all, it’s they who ultimately dictate whether you should be posting more carousels, instead of feed posts, or UGC instead of videos. Taking a look at your analytics will also tell you which kind of content gets the most engagement and higher results!

Don’t post the same content format and type over and over again. Spread it out instead!

A good piece of advice from Kelsey Simone, a fashion and beauty vlogger with almost 1 million Instagram followers, is to first organize your content into categories, and then simply rotate them when you publish. “I categorize [my photos] into selfies, outfit pictures, product shots, and fillers. It’s a rotation. For example, if I post a selfie, I don’t want to post a selfie right after that. So I’ll post a selfie, I’ll post a product shot, an outfit picture, a filler, and I’ll keep that going”, she says.

When creating an Instagram content plan, don’t forget to diversify between different formats and types of posts! Click To Tweet

If you take a closer look at some successful Instagram accounts, you’ll see that they’re rotating their content all the time! One of the examples is Monki, a millenial-oriented fashion brand, which mixes UGC with campaign shots, product shots, quotes, and behind the scenes:

Related read: How to Create Quality Instagram Content to Engage Followers

Planning the content out in advance helps you stay consistent with your publishing schedule, but also with your theme. Here’s a beautiful feed example from an Instagram influencer Maria Astor, who not only follows the “content rotation” rule (quote, headshots, fillers, full-body shots), but also brings the whole feed together with unifying elements and overlapping the images:

The only limit is your imagination!

Final words on your Instagram marketing strategy

Now that we’ve gone through a checklist of things you need to do in order to develop a powerful strategy for your Instagram account, don’t forget to track your progress!

Tracking your content performance is essential to understanding whether your Instagram marketing strategy is actually working. How many people are you reaching on average? What’s the engagement rate? Your best-performing publishing time? Or your best-performing hashtag?

You need to be testing and experimenting with content formats, publishing times, and hashtags, to be able to accumulate enough data and extract learnings from it, in order to tweak and improve your Instagram strategy over time.

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Olga Rabo: @olgarabo Olga is a LeadGen manager at Iconosquare, based in Berlin. She’s all about creating strategies, increasing clickthrough rates, and sharing her in-depth knowledge of content and social media marketing. She’s a big travel addict, a huge Katherine Ryan fan, and her favorite time of the day is brunch.
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