What Is Instagram Marketing? A Guide to Marketing Your Business on Instagram

What Is Instagram Marketing? A Guide to Marketing Your Business on Instagram

“Mad Men” might have made marketing trendy again a few years ago, but today’s marketing landscape is a far cry from Don Draper’s world. Any business looking to draw in new customers should be familiar with social media marketing. And if your target audience includes millennials and older Gen Zers, you’ll want to market on Instagram.

If you’re new to the Instagram marketing space, it can seem daunting—but don’t worry, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know in this guide.

What is Instagram marketing?

Instagram marketing is a form of marketing that promotes your brand, service, or products on the social media app. Instagram focuses on visual types of content, offering more creative approaches to marketing through photos, animations, videos, and other forms of visual art. When you market on Instagram, your ads can be shown to a vast audience of users to create brand awareness.

Why you should market your business or service on Instagram

Instagram is a thriving platform for business marketing. In fact, it’s home to around 1 billion active monthly users—170 million of which are located in the United States. In fact, 11% of Instagram users use the app for shopping or finding new products. This means Instagram is ripe with users who want to interact with brands and are open to making purchases. It also allows businesses to keep front and center in consumers’ minds by using engaging visuals.

How much of your marketing budget should be dedicated to social media, though? That answer will vary based on your business size, needs, and offerings. According to the February 2021 CMO Survey, businesses plan to spend the following percentages of their marketing budgets on social media over the next 12 months:

  • Business-to-business (B2B) product companies: 14.7%
  • B2B service companies: 18.3%
  • Business-to-consumer (B2C) product companies: 21.8%
  • B2C service companies: 18.7%

To put this in context, if a B2C small business focusing on products has an annual marketing budget of $50,000, $10,900 of that budget would be reserved for social media marketing on platforms like Instagram.

However, keep in mind these are average numbers, which tend to vary by sector. For instance, consumer services businesses plan to spend 28.5% of their budget on social media marketing, while the banking and financial industry will spend much less—11.7% of their marketing budget.

Common business types that market on Instagram

Although Instagram can be a great platform for many types of large or small businesses, there are a few common business types that tend to market the most on this social media platform. They include:

  • Fashion. This industry has exploded on Instagram thanks to influencers and Instagram models. Approximately half of all Instagram users follow fashion accounts, and 70% of users are likely to buy an item if it’s been recommended by an account they follow.
  • Retail. Online shopping has become increasingly popular, and many are turning to Instagram for retail therapy. A recent study found that 72% of users make buying decisions based on posts, stories, reels, and other content viewed on Instagram.
  • Lifestyle. A lifestyle brand is one that sells products or services but links them to certain appearances, market segments, or lifestyles. Although product posts beat out lifestyle content, this can be an excellent strategy for cultivating a brand and building a long-lasting audience.
  • Health and fitness. Businesses selling health and fitness gear and even nutritionists and fitness gurus all use Instagram to make money. Approximately 35% of users are interested in health or fitness, and the industry itself has exploded into a more than $100 billion industry, thanks, in part, to social media.

How to market your business on Instagram

Here are some of the best Instagram marketing tips to consider for your small business:

1. Align your goals and objectives for Instagram

You can’t get started with your Instagram marketing strategy until you fully understand what this app can provide for your business. Are you looking to grow your audience? Create an online presence? Sell directly within Instagram?

Some of these goals might go hand in hand, but it’s important to lay out exactly what you want to achieve through Instagram marketing. We recommend laying out all goals in a list and then focusing on them in order of priority.

2. Research your audience

Next, you’ll want to further your Instagram marketing strategy by finding out more about your target audience. Who’s buying your products? Who do you want to target? Does your marketing language match what your audience is interested in?

We’ve already established that most users on Instagram are millennials and older Gen Zers (roughly 18 to 34 years old). Look at the demographics of your existing customer base, then do some competitive research. Who are your top competitors marketing to?

For instance, if you’re a fitness company, you might want to look at the audiences that brands like Athleta or Lululemon and top fitness influencers like Jen Selter or Kayla Itsines cultivate.

3. Create audience personas

Once you know your target audience, it’s time to create audience personas. These are profiles that represent more specific audiences within your larger target audience. If you already have a customer base, it can be helpful to pull any existing data or interview them to get this information.

Audience personas typically include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Job title or role
  • Education
  • Interests
  • Values
  • Income
  • Behavior
  • Pain points
  • How your products or services address their pain points

You can also look at competitors’ audiences and hedge your best guesses to answer these questions. Once answered, you should begin to see themes emerge. For instance, you might find that female professionals have similar pain points or all customers between the ages of 22 and 25 buy for the same reasons.

These personas can help you market how your products or services make life easier for your desired audience, increasing the number of active users engaging with your brand on a variety of social networks, including Instagram.

4. Create an Instagram business profile

Once your research is done, you’re ready to create a business profile on Instagram.

The steps to do this include:

  1. First, sign up for an Instagram for Business account—you can (and should) link this to a Facebook business account if you have one. Choose a username (we recommend your business name or a shortened, snappy version), add your phone number or email, and then hit “Complete Signup.”
  2. Once active, go to your Instagram profile, then click on “Settings”—the gear icon—and look for “Account.” Select “Switch to a Professional Account.”
  3. Next, it will briefly run you through the features of a Professional Account. Click “Continue.”
  4. Now, select a category for your business. There are many categories available—over 100—so be as specific as possible.
  5. After choosing a category, select “Business” or “Creator” as your account type. Most businesses will choose “Business.” However, if you’re a sole proprietorship or freelancer, “Creator” may make more sense. You can also switch back if needed.
  6. Review your account information and then hit “Next.”
  7. Lastly, connect your existing Facebook Business page or create a new one.
  8. Be sure to fill out an Instagram bio and upload a business logo or image so everyone knows who you are!

5. Optimize Instagram for your users

With your new account set up, it’s time to start optimizing it for user experience. Your goal should be to create the best Instagram experience possible for users. First, make it easy for users to shop directly from your profile by adding links to your Instagram profile. You can use apps like Linktree to direct users to multiple links, such as a featured link, a homepage link, or your main store link.

Or you can use an app like Curalate—one of the most popular Instagram marketing tools—that can be linked in your bio. Once users click on your link, the app will then display a replica of all of your Instagram posts as clickable. These clickable images let you add individual links for each post image to products, blogs, and more.

It’s important to understand how your users will shop from you and make the process as easy for them as possible. Again, competitive research can be a huge time saver here.

6. Understand which Instagram content resonates with users

The Instagram app has several content styles to choose from. Here are the most common types:


Video content on Instagram grew rapidly during the pandemic, and now 70% of marketers are planning on increasing their use of video tools—either stories, video posts, reels, or IGTV.

You can create quick videos with stories, medium videos with posts and reels, and longer-form videos with Instagram’s IGTV. For instance, a recipe developer might use IGTV to post a long recipe video but create a quick teaser video post and/or story.

Product images

Carousel posts (Instagram posts with multiple images that you can swipe through) perform the best on Instagram, followed by static posts. Product posts are 43% more popular than lifestyle images and can showcase the best features of your product. Add words on screen, emojis, or stickers to spice up your content. It’s also a good idea to develop a color palette to keep your Instagram posts cohesive.

Lifestyle images

Lifestyle images showcase people or places, with products or services taking a backseat. This approach can be less salesy and more organic. Even though these Instagram posts perform at a lower rate than product posts, they can help you better develop a brand and audience. It also gives you an opportunity to build your Instagram audience’s trust by simply not promoting products.

Lifestyle images can also be a great way to share links to longer-form content. For example, Apartment Therapy shares almost 100% lifestyle posts that link to their website’s articles.


If engagement rate is what you’re after, sharing memes could be a great way to grow your follower base. In fact, meme accounts are some of the fastest-growing account types on Instagram. Memes can offer a quick laugh or smile, are low investment, and tend to be easy to create or share. They’re an easy way to get noticed on followers’ feeds.

Just be mindful of not sharing offensive or controversial memes.

7. Develop a comprehensive Instagram content strategy

To be successful on Instagram, it’s a good idea to build a thorough content strategy roadmap. This includes:

  • When to post (and how often). Setting a regular cadence is important. It can also save you time and help your customers know when to expect updates.
  • Developing Instagram content themes. Themes might include memes, trivia, product posts, lifestyle stories, advice, etc. Figure out how to break the content you want to post into cohesive themes and then plan on how often each theme should be shared.
  • Creating a style guide. This may seem nitpicky, but it’s essential, especially if others will be posting to your business Instagram. Develop a voice for your brand, rules for content (emojis—yes or no?), and capitalization guidelines. This will help your brand look more polished and professional.
  • Setting comment guidelines. How you respond to readers matters. While your style guide can help you figure out what responses look like, figuring out what’s OK to respond to and what isn’t is crucial. When you receive negative feedback—and every brand does—will you respond? Delete comments? Close comments? Ignore and move on? Set a cohesive approach that your employees understand.
  • Content quality. Establish how you define quality content. Quantity might earn you a quick boost in followers, but developing eye-catching, high-quality content will make you stand out in the long term.

8. Develop a content calendar

Organize your content into a cohesive calendar so you can schedule posts and be ready in advance. Make sure you plan to post when most of your audience is online—for instance, Later analyzed 35 million Instagram feeds and found 6 a.m. local time is the best time to post, while Saturdays and Sundays gain the most traction. You can also schedule posts so you don’t have to be available in real time.

You can view the full calendar and research to help you better set a schedule. The most important factor is to post regularly and routinely.

9. Use Instagram hashtags to further the reach of your content

Instagram hashtags allow users to find your content and can help increase traffic, grow your audience, and boost sales. Again, it’s helpful to scope out the competition and see what hashtags they’re using so you can take advantage of what’s already working.

Later found that when you use hashtags that are relevant, this marketing tactic is one of the best methods for getting discovered in 2021.

10. Write compelling Instagram captions

Don’t bore your followers. Create engaging Instagram captions that will hold their attention. This should go hand in hand with your style guide.

If you’re linking to a blog, leave them wanting more with a bit of a cliffhanger like, “You’ll never believe what happens next …” Or if you’re linking to a product, use a customer quote, witty anecdote, or compelling stat. You’ll want to keep these short and snappy.

11. Utilize Instagram Ads

Instagram Ads—digital ads displayed in Instagram feeds—are served up to every user, so if you want to increase your traffic, these ads can help. Ads can take the form of posts or videos, so decide what will work best for your brand. You can even repurpose posts or hire a graphic designer on Upwork to get more creative.

And the data doesn’t lie—50% of users on Instagram are more interested in a brand after viewing their ad.

Simply navigate to “Ad Manager”—which will take you to Facebook—to get started, then select “Create.” From there, you can upload videos, photos, and other forms of digital ads. At this time, you can also choose an objective, such as “brand awareness” or “traffic.” Your objective defines the overall goal of your ad.

Next, click “Campaign Name” to name your ad campaign. In the “Audience” section, you can create an audience profile using factors like gender, age, demographics, interests, and more.

Then, select a budget and ad schedule that determines how long your ad will run. Next, add an additional “Ad Set” name for your ad—you can also use the default name that pops in based on your campaign name.

Now, you’ll choose whether your ad will be a single or multiple image placement. You’ll then select your Instagram account and add in any remaining details, like a headline or call to action (CTA) for your viewers. Lastly, you can preview your ad before scheduling it or pushing it live.

12. Tag products within your posts

You can upload a product catalog in Instagram Shopping and then tag directly to these products in posts. You can add catalog items manually or through a supported third-party e-commerce platform like Shopify.

Then, turn on “Shopping Features” in your settings by going to “Business” > “Shopping” > “Product Catalog.” Select “Done” to connect. Now, when you upload a photo, you can tap on “Tag Products” to link specific products in your posts. This can make it easier for users to purchase items they’re interested in.

Tag Products

13. Incorporate Instagram Stories

Stories are quick ways to engage with your audience. Over 500 million users view Instagram Stories every day, and 96% of U.S. marketers plan to use Instagram Stories in their ongoing social media marketing strategy.

Stories can be videos or posts and allow you to post stickers to take polls, ask questions, and link directly to a product, video, article, or another URL. They’re more interactive and allow you to connect with potential customers on a more personal level and ask them questions about products, hold general life discussions, and more.

Instagram Stories

14. Consider using Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels is another video medium on Instagram that mirrors TikTok in some ways. Users can view a specific Instagram account’s Reels or simply navigate to the “Reels” section to view different ones. Top brands are using Reels. For example, Louis Vuitton averages 7 million views per Reel.

These 15-second videos allow you to participate in the latest viral video trends—these are constantly changing, though, so watch Reels to get a feel for what’s trending—while promoting your services or products.

15. Engage in partnerships

You can increase your brand’s exposure by forming business or influencer partnerships. This means paying another business or an influencer—preferably one with a large audience base that matches your target audience—to share your brand in their posts, Stories, or Reels, such as working with a fitness influencer to promote your workout gear.

Many businesses are already doing this. In fact, 65% of influencer marketing budgets increased in 2020, and 17% of businesses spent half of their marketing budget working with influencers. The results can be huge—89% of companies said influencer ROI is comparable or better than other marketing strategies.

16. Try giveaways and promotions

To really boost audience engagement and get new Instagram followers, you might try posting product or service giveaways or discounts on your page.

For example, you might set up entire Instagram marketing campaigns around giveaways—starting with a countdown and including featured posts on the product/services users can win. Then, you can announce the winner live on your Stories (also called Instagram Live).

17. Measure your success with analytics and performance reports

Regularly reviewing your data and metrics is key with any marketing campaign. Instagram analytics tools can help you understand how your campaigns are performing. To view Instagram Insights:

  • Navigate to the hamburger icon at the top of your profile page.
  • Go to “Insights.”

This screen offers general insights, like how many accounts you reached, how many interactions were had, and how many Instagram followers you gained or lost.

Click on any to go into more specifics:

  • Accounts reached. You can view impressions (how many times posts were seen), profile visits, website taps, and see your top-performing posts, stories, and IGTV videos. You can expand on some sections to view more. For example, profile visits and website clicks can be opened to show more data on who’s visiting your profile and website.
  • Content interactions. This explains how well your content is performing. You’ll see your post interactions, likes, comments, saves, shares, and replies for the past week. This can help you track performance week over week.
  • Total number of followers. This will show how many followers you gained or lost and offer a graph visual aid. You can see a breakdown by day, and city and country demographics are included. This can help you better understand follower count trends.

You can also view insights for specific posts or stories by navigating to the content and selecting “View Insights.” You’ll then see likes, comments, saves, profile visits, follows, and website clicks. Older story highlights can be accessed by going back to the “Recent Highlights” page—just scroll down to the “Story” section.

One interesting data piece Stories offers is “Swipe Aways,” which shows when someone skips to the next story rather than watching yours, and “Exits,” which shows when users leave your Story before it’s finished.

To view ROI on ads, navigate back to “Settings” and go to “Ads Manager.” Click on the campaign you want to view and you’ll see “Performance,” “Audience,” and “Placement” data. Click on any of these options to view how your ad performed (impressions and views), who was watching (demographics), and details based on where your ad was placed—Instagram feeds, Stories, IGTV, etc.

You can also view this data in more detail through your Facebook Ads account.


Marketing on the Instagram app is a must for any business hoping to reach audiences on a platform where sales take place every day. As online shopping trends evolve, social media platforms like Instagram are integral to your business’s marketing plan.

Use these steps to help grow your Instagram following and develop an ad strategy to promote your brand and subsequent products and services. You can also hire Instagram marketers on Upwork who can help you from start to finish.

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Author Spotlight

What Is Instagram Marketing? A Guide to Marketing Your Business on Instagram
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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