6 ways to kickstart your business using Instagram from start-ups doing it right

At an event hosted by Instagram co-founder Mike Kreiger, Startups' learnt insider secrets on how businesses can stand out on the photo sharing app

One of the busiest social networks today, Instagram’s initial rise to popularity was astonishingly fast.

Launched in 2010 by Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, the photo sharing app gained 25,000 users in its first 24 hours. Seven years on, the platform sees 700 million users a month, and more than 400 million a day.

Today, Instagram is determined to help small businesses follow a similar path with its business tools including Business Profiles, which adds a contact button and directions to company profiles; Insights, which monitors performance and follower data; and Promote, which places company ads in ideal locations.

On Thursday 1 June, Instagram held its #WeMadeIt Entrepreneurs’ Breakfast, where Krieger hosted a panel of inspiring UK founders who are successfully using Instagram to grow their business.

Leading the panel, Krieger asserted that “there’s the ability now with Instagram to start something, and reach a global audience with what you’re doing. It’s no longer just the city that you’re in and the people that you know but now you can reach the world.”

The panellists – Hugo Taylor of luxury sunglasses brand Taylor Morris; Sophie Lee of plant delivery service Geofleur; Julius Ibrahim of social enterprise Second Shot Coffee; and Sarah Deane of scented candle company Evermore London – had plenty of business advice for utilising the social network.

Having already nailed Instagram with over 160,000 followers between them, read on for the panel’s six top tips on how best to utilise Instagram to scale your start-up…

1. Get people talking with unique hashtags

Sophie Lee of Geofleur, which has over 103,000 Instagram fans, swears by niche hashtags:

“#Geofleur is good, and then #PlantPostClub. That even gets used by other companies from around the world who are trying to get in on our thing!”

Hugo Taylor said a specific hashtag had really helped to grow his business’ Instagram following to in excess of 47,000:

“Hashtags are great way of getting people involved in what you’re doing. […] We had a thing called #LifeThroughTheLens where you took your glasses, held your phone up to it and shot something really beautiful through the lenses.

“It really encouraged people to send in pictures of them wearing the glasses, which then of course really helped to bring our following up from zero to about 10 or 15,000 when we started.”

2. Offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your business with Instagram Stories

Sarah Deane of Evermore, which boasts over 10,000 Instagram followers, advises that Instagram Stories work well for more informal content:

“It’s a really great way of being able to show off-the-cuff content. […] Where your feed is quite curated, Stories can be instant and can show behind-the-scenes, like the making process of our candles.”

With a growing audience of 6,000+ on Instagram, Second Shot Coffee’s Julius Ibrahim recommends using Stories to broadcast events:

“I think it’s great for events – you can show the whole event from beginning to end.”

3. Connect with other start-ups and small businesses on Instagram

Taylor revealed that he purchases products from other small businesses on Instagram, and vice versa:

The shoes, shirt and necklace I’m wearing, I found on Instagram – I would never encounter these in shops around my area.

“Small businesses help each other, and some direct message you and say ‘do you want to partner up?’ And suddenly you’re all in a community together, you’re all sharing content, your profiles are growing, and you’ve got new business to attract.”

Lee said that following international businesses on Instagram has helped expand her business offering:

“I follow quite a lot of American and Japanese companies on Instagram. Often we can’t get as many of the rarer plants over here, so I’m growing and sourcing stuff [that I see on Instagram from overseas].”

4. Use Instagram Insights to monitor audience engagement

Ibrahim said that monitoring Insights had helped to maximise time spent by the business on social media:

“I was very surprised, because in the beginning we always tried to make sure that we posted at 8:30am because people were on their way to work and we wanted to remind them that they might want coffee!

“But with Insights we can see that our users are always active from about8am until 1pm, so it really doesn’t matter up until that point. We can be more lax about the time that we post.”

5. Expand your Instagram network with competitions

Taylor advised organising competitions with other businesses to utilise your social media reach:

“Says a business is selling a nice beach bag or a make-up brand is selling sun cream – anything to do with sun and summer – we’ll partner with them and take a nice picture of all the different products. We then tell our followers to tell followers to re-gram or tag their friend in the picture to win it all.

“You can jump up a thousand followers, get a whole bunch of click-throughs to your website, and expand your reach [through Instagram competitions].”

6. Consider running promoted adverts

Ibrahim revealed that promoted Instagram adverts had helped him source new hires for Second Shot Coffee:  

“We use promotion a lot for our events, and we use it for recruiting as well – something where there’s a very specific timeline – as it’s important to get people to see the post as soon as possible. That’s really helpful for us.”

Similarly, Taylor also believes Instagram adverts are an invaluable marketing tool:

“We’re just beginning to start our Instagram ads, and it’s a really central part of the business. It’s about knowing your audience and knowing who you want to target.

“The hardest thing is trying to identify our customer, and then fitting that profile to where we target our ads.

“On magazine advert in the likes of Vogue or Tatler you can’t click through and buy the product. With Instagram ads, there’s a direct link to your website, and people – within a few clicks – can get the product.”

Deane said that paying for promoted ads is worth if for the website conversions:

“I have used it in the past whenever we’ve got promotions or discounts going on, and you don’t have to put a huge amount of budget into it.

“I spent about £50 which isn’t a lot, and I’ve seen quite a few click-throughs to the website.”

However, Lee suggested that online influencers can be a more effective marketing tool than Instagram ads:

“We don’t have the budget for advertising, so I find that people sharing things is more beneficial than actually paying for anything. There’s a blogger called Estée Lalonde and she bought a cactus from us and she posted it, and we got something like 20,000 followers on the back of that.

“I don’t think paid ads are necessarily better than having the right people post about it.”

For more advice and information on using Instagram as a tool for business, click here.

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