The Ultimate Guide To Using Instagram to Promote Your Local Business


Instagram is the platform all about engagement. Instagram has 25% more engagement for brands from its followers than other social media platforms. Think about it. The main users of Instagram are people under the age of 35. They are interested in the visual aspect, the lifestyle photos, and the genuine, authentic brand personalities. Instagram is a platform of discovery, for learning of new products and places to go. And Instagram makes it easy with engagement being  a scroll and a double tap.

Instagram advertising catches potential customers at a completely different part of the buying cycle than Google ads. Google ads are for those who are actively searching for something. Instagram is all about inspiration and discovery. It isn't necessarily for active searching.

Ads on Instagram are nearly seamless. They match the platform and the styling of a regular post. Instagram ads distract less and don't disrupt the flow of scrolling, unlike the blatant Facebook ads.

Instagram ads and Facebook ads are run through the same platform. If you know how to run Facebook ads, you know how to run Instagram ads. This allows for the same targeted approach as Facebook ads but with less distraction to your users.

Instagram has some neat ecommerce integrations. Not every ecommerce platforms allow it yet, but Instagram created a way to tag your products from your posts. Lifestyle posts featuring your products can tag the product itself, which allows for followers to purchase your product directly in Instagram, rather than needing to link to the product page in the bio. 

General Things to Know

Set Up

The first step to Instagram is creating an account. Make sure it's a business profile - there are different settings and it allows for analytics and stats on each post. Already have a personal account that you want to turn to a business account? Don't worry, this is an easy switch in your Instagram settings. And if you want to keep your personal and business accounts separate, Instagram has made it easy to toggle between accounts - just don't forget to make sure you are on the right account before posting!

Fun Facts About Posts and Profiles 


There are five types of posts for Instagram: videos, images, image/video carousels, Instagram Storie and Instagram Live. Take advantage of each of these. Your business has a personality, and Instagram is a great platform to display it.

You can keep stories that you love or stories that were successful, or stories that scream the personality of your brand. Story highlights appear below your bio and are your favorite stories you have selected to keep.

Unfortunately, you cannot link a website directly to a photo. Most people workaround this by having their website in their bio, and captioning each photo as "link in bio."

 Hashtags can be followed similar to how you follow profiles.

Bio Bio

Use it! This is your opportunity to give the world a little blurb about your business. Say who you are, what you do, and if you're really feeling it, a few fun facts. Make sure to include links to your website and your business address.

For some people this will be their first interaction with your business, so give them everything they need to know.


Quality - Post Pretty

Part of the platform is following the "rules." It is a photo-centric platform, therefore your posts should cater to the visual aspect of Instagram. 


Instagram is essentially a platform of amateur photographers who are more than willing to judge your photos. So give them something worthy of their judgement! Post high resolution photos. You don't need to invest in a fancy camera to take great photos. Simply use what is accessible to you: your phone! It's amazing what a cell phone can do. The quality of cell phone pictures has gone up immensely in the last few years.

Take the time to edit your photos. It doesn't take long, but it can make a world of difference. Instagram has made it easy to edit photos. They have pre-made filters for your photos. Or you can custom edit your photos within the app. Again, Instagram is all about the visual aesthetic, therefore post quality, visually appealing photos. 

Be consistent in your posts. Use similar filters or edit your photos so they all have the same theme. You are creating a brand personality with each post, everything should be consistent and should come back to who your brand is at the core. 

Quantity - Post Often

The key to engaging with your audience is consistently giving them something to engage with, meaning post often!


Often can have a few definitions. For some businesses, this is posting everyday. This may mean starting with a few times each week, then increasing as you are able. Whatever it looks like, be consistent. Don't hesitate to create a posting schedule if it will help you post often. It can be easy to neglect your Instagram - putting posting at the bottom of your list of priorities. But to truly be affective, you need to be consistent. 

Post during optimal times of the day. Knowing the best times will come with posting regularly. However, posting at midnight will rarely be a good idea! Generally speaking, 3:00-4:00pm has less engagement, and Mondays and Thursdays tend to have higher engagement. Again, this will take some time and some learning. Test it out. Post a multiple times in a day to see which is getting more engagement. Learn which days give you the most engagement. 

Don't worry about posting too much - it's hard to over do it on posting. 


What - Post Authentic

Show some personality - take advantage authenticity allotted by Instagram. Stories are fantastic for this. Think of them as a little blurb of the day. They are photos or images that only last for 24 hours, then are gone, and users flip through them quickly. They are great for doing "behind the scenes" types of posts - showing the shenanigans that go on at your office that give your brand its personality.

Post experiences. Some of the most prominent brands don't even post their actual products. GoPro, for example, rarely actually posts the camera itself, the same goes for Apple. Rather, they post the experiences and adventures of its users. You will frustrate your users if you are constantly posting hard sells. The occasional hard sell is fine. But don't overdo it. 

Tell a story. Humans of New York is awesome at this. Their photos aren't necessarily the most exciting, but it's the raw, authentic stories that caption these photos that have gotten them their huge following. Humans of New York appeals to emotion, as does Toms shoes. Toms posts photos of happy children with their new shoes, as well as featuring some of the neat things their users have done while wearing their shoes. The kinds of stories that give your heart the warm and fuzzies.


Cater to your audience. Who is your ideal client/customer and what do they like? This may mean some research. The easiest research is "social listening," you may know this as "creeping." See what other Instagram profiles your followers are following. See which ones they are interacting with. You can see who your followers are interacting with simply by tapping the heart on the bottom right and swiping left (it will say "following" at the top). This will show what posts the people you follow are liking and commenting on.

Use crowdsourcing, which is simply user generated content. People love it when you acknowledge they are great. Reposting their post says they're great, and few people will decline the opportunity for others to see their post. It's an easy place to find content, especially if your creativity is running a bit short. Use someone else's! (but of course, be sure to give them credit). Feature testimonials and reviews. People think you're great. Let others know.

Post relevant content. The easiest way is to latch on to whatever holiday is closest. The seasons and holidays happen regularly, use them to your advantage. This is a great starting point. As you are more comfortable posting and are learning more about what your users like you can expand this. It's okay to post about what is trending - it's actually encouraged, so hop on that bandwagon. Post about whatever the biggest craze is and be aware of current events.

Team up with influencers if possible - with small business this may be hard. But If you have friends with huge Instagram followings it doesn't hurt to ask to feature them, or see if they will feature you.

#hashtagsareuseful #usethem 

You get thirty hashtags per post. Take advantage of them. Each hashtag has analytics that go along with it (you can find analytics on websites like webstagram). And they are simply a great way to get followers, particularly those who are interested in your business. Go ahead and use trending hashtags but make sure they pertain to your business. Pro tip, do your hashtags in a comment below the post, not in the caption. Posting hashtags in the comment is still affective, but it distracts less from the post itself.

Create your own hashtag. Use it whenever you post and encourage others to use it. Start your own trend. ENO hammocks created their own hashtag #ENOnation and use it in every post, as well as using tagged posts as crowdsourced content. 


Tag your location with each post. Tag your business's locations, tag the location if your company goes on an adventure. 

Get Creative With It



Once you have posting down, it's time to get creative with them. Contests are an excellent way to boost engagement. It incentivizes interactions, but requires little from your followers. Contests can take on several forms. It can be as simple as having your followers come up with a hashtag for a post and the best hashtag wins. Or contests can involve any combination of having followers like the post, share the post, tag a friend, and caption with a hashtag, or have them answer a question. You can even do a photo contest - easy way to get user generated content for future use!

Don't forget the incentive. It can be a product you sell, merch with your logo on it, or partner with similar organizations to create the ultimate giveaway. Or in some cases, simply giving recognition can be enough - people like to know they are awesome and love it when someone else recognizes it.  

Make Your Posts Interactive

Make your posts interactive. Spark engagement by asking questions - open ended or fill in the blank. Post a photo, have your followers caption it. Instagram stories allow for engagement, too. Stories have a feature where you can take a poll. Ask a question, have your followers give their feedback. 

Reward your Instagram followers with exclusive content and deals. Give them a sneak peak to new product lines. Announce product launches - giving them the opportunity to shop first. Offer a discount to those who show you a specific post.

A local coffee shop here in Minneapolis, Wesley Andrews, announces flash sales through their Instagram stories. These sales only last a few hours, but is a great way to spark customer interest and to get them into the store.

Having an event? Create a hashtag. You may have noticed this trend for weddings, so why not use it for other events? It connects your event goers and it's a great way to gather user generated content. 

The Almighty Explore Page


Getting on the explore page is a world of opportunity, but first you have to make it on the explore page, which is easier said than done. The easiest way to get on it is to have a huge profile with tons of followers interact with your page, which isn't exactly easy. Be bold. You may need to ask for these interactions.

Post at optimal times. This may take some time to figure out. Posts that get short bursts of likes right after being posted tend to do better, and therefore are incorporated into the explore page.

Make connections, get interactions. This means geotagging, hashtagging, tagging others in your posts, both in the description and in the photo. Use a call to action in your caption. Work to connect with your followers.

And don't forget to interact - create a genuine profile, meaning create genuine posts with genuine interactions.

Get Yourself Some Followers

Getting followers can be tricky. Start with the people you already know. Follow people you're friends with on Facebook. Follow people who are in your phone contacts list.

Follow your competitors' followers to try to get follow backs. You are in the same industry, they might be interested in what you have to post.

Follow complimenting businesses' followers. Don't be afraid to ask influencers' complimenting business profiles feature you or tag you in a post. A great example is ENO Hammocks, Bangs shoes and Thread Wallets. All three cater to the adventurer. The three partnered up for a giveaway, each featuring the other brands in their post, expanding the reach of each brand involved.

Tag your followers, influencers, the people and businesses that are actually in your posts. Geotag the locations when you go out. 

What About Local?

Optimizing Instagram for local is no small feat as there isn't a whole lot that you can do, which makes optimizing what you can that much more important. I cannot emphasize the bio enough. Take the time to carefully fill out the bio on Instagram, making sure the business name, address, and phone number is consistent with your other local listings, and include a link to your website. This is the one link you get, so use it to direct traffic to your website, or to a landing page featured in one of your Instagram posts. Incorporate keywords into your business description. Again, do anything you can to beef up this bio. It is your opportunity to tell everyone what you're all about. 

Geotag EVERY post. Especially if you have your own physical location, tag your location, and even if you don't, tag the locations. It is a subtle way to show your activity in the community and to display your brand's personality. 

Interact locally. Repost local content the pertains to your business. Be up to date on local trends and hashtags and use them in your posts. Instagram is all for you jumping on the bandwagon, especially if it will drive users to your page. Post your brand's local lifestyle and your brand out in the local community. Just be sure to differentiate your posts. No one wants to see the same thing everyday. 

Incorporate keywords into your descriptions. Google doesn't crawl Instagram, however incorporating keywords promotes brand unity across your website and social media platforms. 

Partner with other local businesses, particularly ones that compliment your business. Work together to push followers to each-others pages and increase engagement.

Engagement is key. Add a call to action in your posts. Engagement goes both ways. You need to reach out to your followers and engage with their posts. Don't be afraid to go after your local competitor's followers. These followers are low hanging fruit. Follow them and interact with them, and they will likely follow you back. 


Experiment with it. It takes some time to really get to know your followers and what they are looking for, what they engage with, and what are their habits. Its okay to try a bunch of things when posting. Stick with what is working, abandon what isn't.

Engage with your followers. Take time to respond to comments. At a minimum like the comment to acknowledge your followers (if it's just spam accounts, feel free to not acknowledge them). Like and comment on your followers' posts. Follow them back. Check out posts your business is tagged in or geotagged in. Comment on these posts, like them, and maybe even give them a followback. 

Most importantly, be authentic, post real, and post often.