The human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it decodes text. It’s no wonder then why Instagram – the highly visual, slightly smaller cousin to Facebook – has seen a virtual explosion of users since its inception in 2010, and why engagement is generally higher than on other platforms. Today, Instagram is home to over 800 million monthly active users, 200 million of which visit at least one brand profile every day.
But with over 900 images uploaded to Instagram every second, the visual content merchants post on the platform needs to be engaging and compelling with a solid call-to-action, or they will fail to stand out from the roughly 25 million other brands seeking to make an impact using social media. Needless to say, Instagram is a competitive field, and everyone wants to win.
The good news is that Instagram’s distinctly visual format makes it the perfect place for branded content – beautiful visuals that come across naturally and feel less intrusive than they would on other platforms. Instagram followers have proven themselves brand-loyal and receptive to brand messaging. The platform also has a knack for adaptation. Instagram continues to reinvent itself as the social media scene changes, which bodes well for sustained user growth.
From there, they can move on to using their Instagram account strategically to earn loyal followers and customers.
Anatomy of a Bio
Let’s start with the basics of what’s actually included in an Instagram bio:
- Name – In this case, the merchant’s business or brand name. (Tip: Merchants get up to 30 characters for this space. They can use that to include an important keyword they think might help new users find them [i.e. hair, salon, restaurant, food].)
- Username – This is your merchant’s @ handle and part of their profile URL (instagram.com/username). It is their Instagram identity. (Tip: Using a consistent handle across social media channels makes it easier for followers and potential customers to find your merchants.)
- Website – The only place on Instagram where users can post a clickable link. It can be changed as often as merchants like, but generally, they’ll likely want to use this space for their website’s main landing page or booking site.
- Category – Business profiles have the luxury of categorizing themselves so that users can easily see what merchants do. (Note: This field only appears on the mobile view, but since most people access Instagram via a mobile device, it’s good to utilize this space.)
- Contact Info – Business profiles also have the option of including contact buttons on their profile (also only visible on a mobile device) that allow users to call, email, or get directions to a merchant’s business directly from Instagram.
- Call-to-Action Buttons – This allows followers to take action, like booking a table or scheduling an appointment, directly from a merchant’s Instagram bio.
- Verified Badge – This is the blue check mark that appears next to a merchant’s Instagram handle on some accounts. It helps users avoid imposter accounts and lets them know that the account they’re viewing is authentic. That being said, getting verified by Instagram isn’t all that easy and, for smaller brands, probably isn’t all that necessary either.
- Bio – Finally, there’s the actual text aspect of an account’s bio. Instagram allows up to 150 characters for merchants to explain who they are and what they do. Merchants should infuse as much personality as possible into those 150 characters. This is the first impression they make on potential followers and customers.
There are a thousand ways to write an Instagram bio and if writing, especially short-form writing, isn’t in your merchant’s wheelhouse, this can seem a lot scarier than it needs to be.
Writing for Instagram
A merchant’s Instagram profile should be inviting and inspire users to follow them. That starts with their bio but figuring out what to say can be daunting. After all, how does a brand convey everything that they are in 150 characters or less?
For starters, a merchant’s bio (and everything they post on the platform) should be dripping with personality. Merchants should consider the things that make them unique – Are they local? Do they support sustainability? – and put those characteristics at the forefront of their bio and profile.
The Insta bio is a merchant’s playground. They can include just text, or they can get creative and experiment with hashtags, emojis, custom fonts, and special characters.
Instagram captions should follow suit, adding context and personality, showing off your merchant’s brand, entertaining the audience and/or enticing them to act. While Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters for captions, including emojis and up to 30 hashtags, more is not necessarily better.
Just like with any piece of digital content, Instagram captions should be well-written, easy to follow, and speak to the audience. The goal is engagement – always.
Photography for Instagram
Instagram is an almost entirely visual platform; therefore, it is important for merchants to optimize their visual content to fit the parameters of the platform. Regardless of what size or format photos are uploaded in, they will be displayed as squares in the account’s feed.
Tip: It is nearly impossible to hide bad content, so merchants will want to make sure they are using high-quality and high-resolution images. Recommended sizes for square images are 1080 x 1080px, landscape images should be 1080 x 566px, and portrait images should be 1350 x 1080px.
Just because merchants need quality content doesn’t mean they need to hire a photography or rush out and buy a fancy professional camera setup. The image quality coming off smartphones these days is incredible and actually rivals thousand-dollar cameras. Merchants can use these tips to take Instagram-worthy photos with their smartphone:
- Follow the rule of thirds (i.e. placing the subject slightly off center to create a more eye-catching photo)
- Focus on a single subject
- Leave room for negative space
- Experiment with different shooting perspectives/angles
- Symmetrical shapes and patterns are naturally pleasing to the human eye
- Natural lighting is the best lighting
- When in doubt, edit it out (Bonus Tip: There are a ton of free editing tools for smartphones so merchants can get just the right look. But bad content is bad content and no amount of photoshopping will fix bad content.)
Merchants will also want to establish a look on Instagram, which can mean using the same color palate or filter across all content, creating a sense of visual consistency. Visual consistency makes your merchant’s brand instantly recognizable and sets them apart from the onslaught of other content on the platform.
See and Be Seen
While engagement is still the name of the game on Instagram, maybe more so than on any other social media platform, the way in which users engage and how active they are is different and must be treated as such. Merchants should set clearly defined goals, which they can measure against two categories of metrics: vanity metrics (i.e. likes, comments, shares, followers), which will tell merchants how well their content is reaching their target audience and help measure presence against competitors on the platform; and business metrics (i.e. reach, engagement, traffic, lead generation, and revenue generation), which help merchants track and understand how their presence on Instagram is impacting their business. These metrics can be accessed via free insights available through Instagram business accounts.
Merchants know by now, after following along with our series, that content is king. Beyond creating compelling content of their own, they should explore the option of utilizing user-generated content. After all, nothing speaks to followers more than seeing people just like them in the spotlight.
Tip: Make sure any user-generated content used matches the overall look and feel of the merchant’s account. This includes fitting in with the visual consistency the merchant has created on their feed and ensuring that the images or video used appear to be high-quality.
Bonus Tip: Always – always! – make sure to get permission from the original poster to use their content. While Instagram is an open web forum and, therefore, the rules on utilizing other users’ content are laxer, it’s good form to ask permission before snagging someone else’s content. More often than not, followers are more than happy to share.
Interactive branded hashtags like Red Bull’s #itgivesyouwings or Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke help merchants find user-generated content they may want to repost on their own feed. It also allows users to view other posts related to a merchant’s brand and is essentially free advertising that exposes their brand to their followers’ network.
Finally, merchants may want to consider influencer advertising as part of their marketing budget. Influencers are people who have already established a voice and an engaged audience, and they’re people potential customers trust. Influencer campaigns can range from one-off posts to long-term relationships that can vastly increase your merchant’s brand exposure and potential revenue.
Video is the future of marketing. Roughly 85% of all internet users in the U.S. watch online video content on any of their devices and the demand for video content is rising, with more than 54% of consumers wanting more video content from brands they support. Statistics also show that video marketing generates more qualified leads than other forms of advertising and generates more engagement.
Luckily for merchants, Instagram also allows for videos, but only up to one minute in length. Research actually suggests that shorter videos have a bigger impact, with videos 30 seconds or less being the ideal timeframe for this platform.
For this reason, merchants need to be creative with how they utilize video content on Instagram. Cue Boomerang and Hyperlapse. Boomerang is an in-app function that takes a three-second clip of video and plays it forwards and backwards. Hyperlapse allows users to condense videos that don’t fit within Instagram’s one-minute timeframe into shorter, post-able content.
Instagram Stories are another great way to connect with followers in a less polished, more authentic way. Stories also allow merchants to generate more content without overposting on their main feed (there is such a thing as too much content). Stories disappear after 24 hours, a nifty feature they borrowed from Snapchat. Instagram Stories are great for behind-the-scenes sneak peaks into the real-life world of your merchant’s business.
Instagram also offers other video features including Instagram Live and IGTV. The video possibilities are endless!
The Platform Merchants Need
With the move to visual content picking up pace, merchants can’t afford not to utilize every tool available to them, including Instagram’s highly visual platform. Instagram holds the key to better user engagement and higher conversion rates.
While Instagram may seem straight forward and simplistic – it is a picture-sharing platform, after all – Instagram has a lot of moving parts and a variety of ways to reach and connect with users that all work together to increase a merchant’s chances of success. With this guide, we hope some of the inner workings of the popular platform have been decoded and have been made easier to understand.