If you’re looking to grow your e-commerce store, you need to be on Instagram.
While most marketers are constantly debating the merits of being on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the answer is clear for online sellers—Instagram is the best choice.
The platform is visually focused and is practically built for showcasing attractive products, clothing, and accessories. If you’re selling physical products, look no further.
Even better, the platform keeps growing. Instagram’s engagement continues to grow compared to other social platforms and its users are more likely to buy on the network.
Best of all? It’s free to set up an account, and getting started is easy if you know the right steps.
Today, we’ll cover just about everything you need to know to get started with Instagram for your e-commerce store. You’ll learn how to set up an account from scratch, present an appealing image, and start selling from day one.
Let’s jump in!
Planning Your Strategy
Before we start, we need to figure out where we’re headed. So before you launch an Instagram campaign for your e-commerce brand, decide what you want that brand to look like.
To begin, plan out your goals and objectives. And don’t make them too ambiguous or intangible—Instagram users are buyers. If you only focus on engagement and interaction, you’re missing out on real profit.
According to recent research, 72% of Instagram users report making a purchase decision based on something they saw on the site.
Because of this strong impact on buying behavior, don’t be afraid to focus your efforts on immediate purchases and revenue.
Next, you’ll want to develop an understanding of your buyer persona and competitive landscape. Understand what other types of accounts your ideal buyers are following and where you can stand apart. Study those competitor’s posts to understand what content types are popular and which could use some improvement.
Finally, you’ll want to create a style guide for your account. When you’re just starting, it might seem obvious how the brand should be presented. But things can get very murky once others are all working on the same account.
To prevent issues down the road, create a basic guide for how to run your Instagram feed. Include general guidelines on tone, voice, style, and branding.
Planning these factors out in advance might not seem like the most exciting part of setting up an Instagram account, but they’re key to getting things ready before you launch.
Setting Up Your Account
If you’re going to jump into Instagram successfully, you need to give a great first impression from the outset.
Just like your personal Facebook page should have a simple profile picture and your real name and interests, your Instagram brand profile shouldn’t be deceptive or confusing. Make it clear what your brand is, what it stands for, and how it’s represented.
A great way to do this is by making your Instagram handle your company name and the profile image your brand’s logo.
Nike is a great example of a profile done right.
With Instagram, you can’t include lots of links, so decide carefully how you want to “spend” your single clickable bio link.
Depending on your brand, you might want to include the URL to your homepage like Nike does, or rotate the link depending on seasonal specialties, new offers, or other updates.
You can also include branded hashtags, links to other Instagram profiles, and story highlights that stay pinned to the top of your profile.
A great example of a well-done brand bio comes from the sample in the guidelines themselves.
Once you have the basics set up, you’re ready to start building a following.
But if you want to start selling through Instagram—which we’ll cover in a later section—you’ll want to add products you have for sale.
The first step to set this up is actually to set up a Facebook Business Page. Since Facebook owns Instagram, much of the functionality of the platform comes from Facebook’s features.
So if you don’t already have a Facebook Business Page, go ahead and set one up now. (If you already have a Facebook page for your business, you can skip this step and start creating a catalog.)
You’ll want to select “Business or Brand,” then click “Get Started.”
Enter the name and details of your business.
There are lots of features you can add to your page, but the most important for creating an Instagram store is setting up a Facebook Catalog.
To do this, go to the Facebook Catalog Manager. You’ll want to create a new “E-commerce” product catalog.
On the next screen, you can choose between uploading products or connecting to your existing e-commerce software.
If you’re already using a platform like Shopify, connecting to it will save you a lot of time.
Finally, name your catalog.
Confirm the catalog creation and you’re ready to start importing products.
At the top menu bar, you’ll want to click “Products.”
Now, click “Add Products.”
At this point, the process depends entirely on how you’re going to import what you have to sell, whether that’s with a premade list, data feed, or Facebook Pixel. j(And the process is also different if you selected to connect with an e-commerce platform.)
As you load products, however, you’ll want to present them in the best light possible. This is the time to show off with on-brand photography, product titles and labels, and any details you’d like to add.
Once you’ve created the catalog, all you need to do is link it to your Instagram account to start selling. We’ll cover exact steps for making that happen in a little bit.
Maximizing Your Reach
As you start to share on Instagram, you’ll quickly notice that you don’t get 100% engagement with every post—or even close.
The reason is simple: Instagram is designed to prioritize the most engaging content, and they make their money from paid ads. There’s very little reason for the social media company to promote business posts for free.
That said, there are a few strategies (both free and paid) you can use to get more engagement for what you share.
First, you can master the algorithm by sharing engaging content at the right time. Research published in 2018 has shown that the ideal time to publish on Instagram is at 2 am or 5 pm.
Those times are effective probably because people are most likely to either check their phones in the morning right after they wake up or once they get home after work.
Another way to boost your reach is to start indicating to Instagram that you’re able to engage with followers. The more engagement your current posts get, the more exposure the algorithm will give future posts.
While most people expect a brand response within just a few hours, the average is closer to a full workday. If you’re able to respond within hours, you can set yourself apart from competitors.
Finally, you can spend money to boost a post. This works similarly to Facebook’s Boost Post feature. You’ll spend a small amount of money—it can be as little as $10 or so—to get more exposure for your brand.
While boosting posts doesn’t make sense for every brand on Instagram, it has a special appeal to e-commerce users.
That’s because Instagram has a huge influence on buying behavior. According to one set of data, Instagram outranks every other social media platform in terms of its influence on shopping habits.
It’s worth testing a few boosted posts to see if it brings in enough sales to make the extra spend worth it for your bottom line.
Building out The Perfect Feed for Selling
Now, let’s explore exactly how to design your feed to sell products.
Of course, you should follow Instagram’s guidelines for Shopping, which provide details on how to connect products to your account and sell them through your posts.
But in this section, we’ll cover the more specific details for selling success beyond the vanilla guidelines.
Anatomy of a Perfect E-Commerce Post
If you want to sell an e-commerce product through Instagram, you’ll need to maximize the options Instagram offers. Every pixel can—and should—be used to promote the product you’re selling.
So first up, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the best image resolution for Instagram: 1080 x 1080 pixels.
It’s up to you what to put in the photo, but it’s a good idea to focus on a product itself or a person using the product. If you’re promoting a lifestyle, you can also include more generic pictures even if they don’t have your product in them.
For example, a bathing suit company might post pictures of beautiful beaches around the world. This strategy is fine in moderation, just understand these images probably won’t lead to many direct sales.
A great way to transform your Instagram posts into direct promotions is to tag products in the image itself. This makes it easy for users to buy directly.
When it comes to the caption, you have 2,200 characters—nearly eight times as long as Twitter’s 280 character limit. It’s probably not a good idea to cram your caption limit full of text, but don’t be afraid to go longer if needed to keep users engaged.
How to Use Video for Selling
Images are great, but for maximum engagement with your e-commerce brand consider including video. Instagram has two main types of video: standard and live.
With standard videos, you can invest more time in production quality and getting great photography. Don’t make it like a commercial, though—keep it natural-looking so users don’t scroll past.
Also, don’t count on sound. While it’s a different platform, research shows that 85% of Facebook’s videos are watched without sound. It’s a good guess that Instagram has a similar percentage.
Use captions or just communicate visually through moving product photography.
Next up is live video. With this option, you don’t need to focus as much on production quality since the video will stream live. But don’t just turn on the camera and hope for something to happen. You need to have a plan for the video, including what products you’ll cover, what your call to action will be, and how you’ll keep users engaged for the entire stream.
Some common strategies for e-commerce live videos include workshops like teaching (featuring your products), behind-the-scenes news, information on new releases, and Q&A sessions.
Stories: The Secret Weapon for E-Commerce
If you’re promoting on Instagram, you’ve likely been frustrated with the lack of URLs allowed on the platform. Selling can be hard when people need to click on the link in your bio (especially when you’re limited to just one).
That’s where Instagram Stories provide a lot of value for e-commerce marketers. Stickers provide extra information in stories, including location and hashtags. In late 2018, Instagram released a new type of sticker just for e-commerce brands—shoppable stickers for Instagram stories.
These allow users to click on a product tagged in the story to go immediately to the shopping page and buy the product featured. It’s one of the fastest ways for brands to display their products front and center and drive real-world purchases from online views and engagement.
If you’re in e-commerce, you can’t afford not to be on Instagram. The platform is booming and some of the biggest winners right now are e-commerce brands. To make Instagram work for you, create an effective strategy. Decide your goals for the platform and tie them in with your broader marketing objectives.
Next, start off with the basics. Set up your account properly and put the focus on your products and store. Develop a plan to reach as many prospects as possible, and create incentives for them to become customers.
Finally, help your store succeed by promoting it through Instagram’s most effective techniques. Use beautiful photography, engaging video, and powerful stories to generate interest in your product.
If you want to find a market of buyers excited about what you’re selling in your e-commerce store, Instagram is what you’ve been waiting for.
About the Author
Emil Kristensen is the CMO and co-founder of Sleeknote: a company that helps e-commerce brands engage their site visitors—without hurting the user experience.