How to Use Instagram to Promote Your Products

Written By , content strategist at Shopify:

Are you using social media to reach new customers?

Have you tried using Instagram?

Instagram boasts 15 times more engagement than Facebook, Twitter or Google+. What was once a simple photo sharing app is now a key sales channel.

In this article you’ll discover how to use Instagram to gain brand recognition and reach new customers. 

promote products on instagram

Establish a Large Community Base

Thirteen percent of Internet users have Instagram accounts and more than half of the world’s top 100 brands are on Instagram. Your customers (and potential customers) are probably there as well.

Below I share a few ways you can find or attract those people and add them to your existing fan base.

1. Include Audience-Specific Hashtags

Hashtags are a way to group ideas, concepts or conversations. They make it easy for people to find others who are posting about topics they’re interested in.

By including the appropriate hashtags in your updates, you can effectively reach new people interested in your products. The key is to use hashtags that not only describe your photos and business, but are also actively searched for and used on Instagram.

sockingbehavior instagram imageHashtags help people find you on Instagram.

To find the most relevant hashtags for your updates, you can use a free online service like Iconosquare or Websta. These tools provide a list of popular hashtags based on your keywords.

hashtag search resultsDo a quick search to find the most popular hashtags related to your product or service.

Use those lists to come up with the top 10-20 hashtags that relate to your business, brand and products and put them in a note on your smartphone. That way you can refer to them no matter where you’re posting from.

2. Apply the Right Filters

Most people don’t think about how Instagram filters affect engagement—we just use what we think looks good and post away. It turns out the filter you use may influence overall interaction.

TrackMaven recently published a study that found photos with the Mayfair filter, no filter or the Inkwell filter ended up with more likes and comments.

trackmaven resultsImages with either the Mayfair filter or no filter receive the most engagement.

Of course, everyone’s audience is slightly different. I suggest experimenting with various filters and using an Instagram management tool to help you see which one is most popular with your community.

3. Post at Peak Times

As with all social networks, knowing when your community is most likely to engage helps you choose the most effective time to post. IconoSquare has an optimization report that identifies the best times for you to update based on your previous posting history and engagement.

The report shows black circles representing the times you’re currently posting and light-gray circles representing the level of interaction those posts receive. The biggest light-gray circles represent the best times for you to post based on your followers’ engagement.

engagement metricsKeep track of when followers are most active and post at those times.

The example above is taken from the Shopify Instagram account. You can see that the best posting times in this particular case are Friday at 9pm and Monday at 9am, surprisingly.

4. Engage With Competitors’ Followers

Anyone following your competitor’s Instagram account is someone you want to talk to. You want to tell them about your (better) site, product or service, right?

Those users have already shown an interest in your product simply by following your competitor’s account. Finding and interacting with them increases both your number of followers and qualified leads.

There are several tools that can help you find your competitors’ followers. For example, use JustUnfollow to search for your competitors’ Instagram accounts by name and it gives you a list of everyone who follows them. With that list in hand, start engaging with your new potential customers—follow them and like or comment on one of their photos.

5. Work With Popular Instagrammers

One of the most effective ways to grow your Instagram community is to ask a heavy-hitter in your niche to feature your product. Unlike the previous tactics, this one usually has an advertising cost associated with it—either payment or sending products for review—but the results can be dramatic.

yumboxlunchWorking with big-time Instagrammers gives your account a boost.

Yumbox paid a well-known food blogger and Instagrammer to post a photo of a food-filled Yumbox and a link back to the Yumbox Instagram account. That single post doubled the company’s Instagram following and spiked traffic to the their website.

To find the largest accounts in your niche, use Instagram’s search function and type in keywords, hashtags and company names. When you find and follow a large account, Instagram will give you a list of similar users you can follow.

When you’re ready to connect with someone, check his or her account profile. In most cases you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether an account accepts sponsored posts or product reviews. Many people include a note that says they’re willing to work with brands (e.g., “For business inquiries, please email…”).

popular instagram accounts

If users don’t explicitly say they work with brands, email them and ask if they do featured reviews or sponsored posts and what their policies are for each option.

The cost of sponsored posts or featured reviews depends on a variety of factors like niche and audience size. In general, the cost is relatively low compared to other online advertising options and these partnerships usually result in increased engagement.

Convert Followers Into Customers

Instagram’s engagement rate is one of the best of all social networks. Its image-centric nature lends itself to showcasing and selling products.

When you’ve established a large targeted audience and gained trust and loyalty, it’s time to convert browsers to buyers. Here are three ways you can get started.

1. Emphasize Scarcity

Scarcity relates to supply and demand—the less there is of something, the more people want it. Retailers and marketers regularly practice this principle by suggesting that products or discounted prices will only last for a limited time.

Fox & Fawn, a New York retailer of vintage clothes, uses an ingenious method of increasing engagement and sales with the scarcity tactic.

popular instagram accountsScarcity is an effective way to convert followers into customers.

The store regularly posts several images per day showing their current inventory. Since items are vintage, there is usually a limited stock. When followers see something they like, they have to leave a comment to reserve the item. Then the user calls in with their credit card information and Instagram name to complete the purchase.

Beverly Hames of Fox & Fawn says that 20-40% of daily sales now come from their Instagram audience.

2. Spotlight New Products

Your Instagram profile is a prime channel for direct marketing and a perfect way to show off your new products.

Packer Shoes has established a healthy Instagram audience of 54,000 followers and regularly highlights new and exclusive products to drive more sales.

How effective has this tactic been for Packer Shoes? Owner Michael Packer says, “We can literally put something up on Instagram and not two seconds later, the phone is ringing off the hook.”

3. Highlight Social Proof

Social proof is a powerful psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect the correct behavior for a given situation. For example, if your friends or family recommend a product, you’re more likely to choose that product over another.

Nearly 63% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has some form of social proof like product ratings and reviews. Product reviews are 12 times more trusted than product descriptions from manufacturers.

Online retailer BlackMilk does an exceptional job of providing social proof byencouraging customers to post photos on Instagram using specific hashtags. BlackMilk pulls those photos into their website so customers can see how popular a product is.

One particular pair of leggings in their store has over 160 pages of user-generated pictures. When someone visits the website, those pictures are strong visual social proof that encourages them to purchase the product.

user shots of leggingsSocial proof can be the difference between browsing and buying.

BlackMilk founder Cameron Parker had this to say about the company’s Instagram social proof efforts:

“[Customers are] really proud of showing off their individuality of how they style them, and stuff like that. So it wasn’t the models that were selling our products—it was the hundreds of pages of selfies from girls around the world, different shapes and sizes.”

Over to You

Be deliberate about how you gather your audience and present your products on Instagram. The result will be a targeted advertising channel that provides a healthy stream of revenue.