How to Use Instagram for Local Businesses

How to Use Instagram for Local Businesses

Instagram is a fantastic place for brands to promote themselves and to connect with new and existing customers. Although many local and small business owners know that Instagram is a powerful marketing tool, they often run into roadblocks when it comes to using this platform.

The main concerns associated with marketing a local or small business on Instagram are:

  • time and budget constraints;
  • questions about what to share;
  • confusion about how often to post; and
  • not knowing how to attract an audience.

Here we’re going to break all the information down for you into easy, manageable steps so you can get to grips with Instagram! 

Don’t think Instagram is a good fit for your or your client’s local business? Think again! While it isn’t for everyone, many brands have found fun and creative ways to connect with local customers on this social app.

Plumbers, electricians, tutors, and even trucking companies have found innovative ways to engage their audiences on Instagram. What’s more, this is a platform that many potential customers are already familiar with and are regularly spending time on. So what are you waiting for?

Why Local Brands Need to Be on Instagram

With more than a billion active accounts and 500 million daily users, Instagram isn’t a platform you want to ignore.

It’s no longer just for filtered selfies and thirst traps—it attracts a variety of users from all over the world. According to a recent Hootsuite study, 90% of Instagram users follow brands and businesses, and 81% will use the platform to research a product or service.

Still not convinced? Instagram is the fourth most used app, overtaken only by sister apps Facebook, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Also, even though Instagram is primarily an app, its desktop site is the sixth most-visited website globally.

While these are global numbers, you can see how beneficial this exposure can be to a local brand, even if it’s only capturing a small portion of the total user base.

Building Trust and Brand Awareness

Users like interacting with local brands on social media for a variety of reasons, but mostly this simply boils down to the “know, like, trust” factor.

People are increasingly intentional with where they spend their hard earned dollars, and they want to know the brands they work with—especially for service providers that they’re inviting into their homes.

Giving your client’s brand a personality, engaging with their audience, and sharing helpful and relevant content can increase their know, like, and trust factor by leaps and bounds!

As you can see in the example post below, sharing concise information along with the image is an easy way to increase awareness and boost sales. This kind of informative and relevant information helps to encourage users to take the desired action. 

Instagram Image

Source: Instagram

Moving away from the more touchy-feely aspects of social media, Instagram will also assist in furthering your client’s brand messaging.

Users are already on social media for a significant portion of their day, so why not meet them where they are?

Earn their trust and their business by getting to know them and letting them get to know the brand. In doing so, you’ll earn loyal customers who sing your client’s praises on the very platforms you met them on.

Personal referrals and recommendations are far more valuable than any advertising you can do, so why not create that positive environment for your client’s brand and local community?

Instagram for (Local) Business

Clients often ask if they should leave their brand page set up as a standard account, or if they should use a business account. We always recommend taking advantage of Instagram’s business account options.

With a business account, you have better access to analytics and the added credibility of being recognized as a business by the platform. With every opportunity to increase your credibility online, you’re also enhancing the trust factor with your users.

Setting up your client’s Instagram profile as a business account is fairly simple:

  1. Go to ‘Settings’ and select ‘Account’
  2. At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see an option to ‘Switch to Professional Account’
  3. Click continue and follow the prompts
  4. Choose the company’s category
  5. Select ‘Business Account’
  6. Review the contact information
  7. Link to the company Facebook page (if relevant)
  8. Finish setting up the profile
  9. Start posting!

How to Optimize Instagram Profiles for a Local Business

You’ve got the account built out, now how do you make sure you’re laying a foundation for success?

There are a few things that you can do to optimize your client’s Instagram profile. This will help to give it a boost, both with your local audience and in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Username

When it comes to the username, the easier you can make things on your users (and search engines) the better.

Try to keep the username the same across various platforms if possible. For example, at Sterling Sky, most of our social handles are SterlingSkyInc. This makes it easier for users to find and identify us, and provides that consistency that Google loves.

If you can have your display name the same as the name on your Google Business Profile and on your website, even better!

Location Information

As with your username, any available location information you can add into your profile should match your website and Google profiles as closely as possible.

Be consistent with spelling or abbreviating things like Street/St or Road/Rd, and always use dashes in phone numbers for consistency.

Bio

While you want brand messaging to be consistent across your profiles, you can modify your language in each bio based on the platform and audience. In each instance, determine who your audience is and craft your bio to that audience.

Business Account

As mentioned above, you’ll want to make sure that the Instagram profile is set up as a business account in order to get the maximum benefit from it.

Laying out Your Local Business Instagram Strategy

Before you share your first post, you should lay out a strategy. Without a strategy, your posts aren’t going to work for you. If your posts aren’t working for you, what’s the point?

To avoid spinning your wheels, you’ll want to address a few key elements:

Who are you/they?

Developing and maintaining a consistent brand voice is critical for building trust. Regardless of who is crafting a post or response, it should always feel like your audience is engaging with the same person from start to finish.

Decide who you want the brand to be online, and maintain tone, vocabulary, and personality throughout your Instagram interactions.

What’s the main goal of the account?

Without clear and concise goals, you’re really just throwing things at the wall and hoping they’ll stick.

Do you want to attract new business partners? Connect with potential customers? Sell products? Book appointments? Increase brand awareness? Make people laugh? Laying out three main goals and sticking to them will help drive your strategy forwards and keep you on task as you create content.

It helps to have one main long-term goal and a combination of smaller short-term goals that can rotate based on internal and external factors.

Who do you want to attract?

Often, when we ask customers this question, their immediate answer is “everyone!” I’ll stop you right now and let you know that this is an impossible goal. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’re going to appeal to no-one.

When you’re thinking about your ideal customer, it can be helpful to create a few different personas. This will make it easier to visualize who you’re trying to reach. Consider the following questions:

  • What is their budget?
  • How do they live?
  • What do they look like?
  • Do they have a family?
  • Do they have pets?

All of these questions can help you zero in on your ideal customer and help you to craft great content that will appeal to them.

What are you trying to sell?

Determine how you’ll measure your conversions, and craft content that assists with that goal. Increasing brand awareness and selling retail products is going to look very different for most brands.

Remember, Instagram is a highly visual platform, so you want to literally show potential customers what you can do for them.

How will you measure success?

This is a step that many don’t consider before jumping into the world of social media for brands. If you don’t have a way to clearly define success, how will you measure it? The goals we mentioned above are key elements in determining if a campaign has been successful.

Some brands like to use vanity metrics, like follower numbers and like counts. I’m not a fan of this strategy, as likes and followers can easily be bought, and some less scrupulous marketing consultants and companies will do this to inflate the appearance of their efforts. Yes, followers matter, but they should not be the main driver of all of your decisions.

Business account users will have access to various analytics that they can use to shape their ongoing strategy and for reporting:

Instagram Insights

Engagement and conversions are the two metrics we tend to look at in order to determine the success of a campaign.

However, a massive follower count means nothing if these people aren’t interacting with your brand or following through to the checkout.

Remember, we’re working to build that know, like, and trust factor, and you can’t do that with fake fans.

How much time and/or budget do you have available for Instagram?

Consistency is key on platforms like Instagram. Knowing how much time you have to create and share content, and engage with followers, will allow you to determine your strategy.

This will inform how often you post, how in-depth your campaigns can be, and how much effort you can put into the platform.

If you don’t have time to complete these actions effectively yourself, then determine your budget and hire an employee, consultant, or agency to undertake the work.

How will you maintain brand identity?

Once you’ve determined your voice, goals, desired audience, what you’re selling, how you’ll measure your success, and what your budget is, it’s time for the fun stuff!

Create visuals that are in line with the strategy you’ve laid out with the aforementioned questions, and add descriptions that are easily readable with a clear call to action.

Keep in mind that the more recognizable your style is, the better. You can achieve this by adding a logo or overlay to your photos, using consistent colors, hashtags, and lingo.

Posting consistently in this way will help you to create content that your audience can easily recognize, which helps to build trust in your brand. (Are you sick of me saying that yet? Sorry, not sorry. Trust is key in local business success—both online and off!)

What a Local Business Should Be Posting on Instagram

The most common question we get from clients is “What should we post about?”.

Oftentimes, they feel that their service-based business may be boring, or they don’t have an opportunity for great images that will wow their audience. Your clients don’t have to own a boutique or restaurant to earn attention on Instagram. People want to get to know the brand, so why not let them?

One of the simplest ways to lay out a solid posting strategy for a local business is to pick two or three main content categories. Choose those categories based on your social media and overall brand goals. Some categories that work well for most brands include:

  • General brand information
  • Specials or promotions
  • Community events
  • Entertaining or ‘just for fun’ posts
  • Shares from partner brands or other local businesses

Typically, we advise that one in every three to five posts has a direct call to action for the brand, such as the post below:

Call To Action

Source: Instagram

If you’re asking people to buy something, provide some value to them in between your asks to keep them coming back for more.

A word of advice: Don’t discount that seemingly ‘fluff’ content. Memes and entertaining posts will boost engagement, ensuring your brand-specific content reaches a larger audience.

Stories, Posts, and Reels. Oh My!

The various posting options for Instagram can be overwhelming, but once you find a good groove with your audience, this will help you segment and target your content to those who want to see it most.

Currently, Instagram offers four options for posting: posts, stories, reels, and videos.

Posts

Posts are the in-feed content which is first presented to users when they open the app. Once shared, they remain on your profile permanently—in the order you posted them—unless you choose to delete them. 

Brightlocal Instagram Posts

Stories

Stories are located on your profile or on a follower’s main feed in circles at the top of the screen. These clips can be up to ten seconds long, and there are currently no limits as to how many you can post.

Stories appear on your page for 24 hours and then disappear. If you want them to stay longer, you can save a story as a Story Highlight, which will pin the clips to the top of your profile permanently.

Instagram Stories

Reels

Reels are best described as Instagram’s answer to TikTok. They’re short video clips that play on repeat. As with TikTok, you can add music, captions, and visual effects to video clips directly within the app.

Instagram Reels

Video

Earlier this year, Instagram changed how users can create and share video content. Previously, shorter videos could be posted to the feed, and longer videos were posted through IGTV. All video content is now available in one place—Instagram Videos—which can be up to one hour long. 

Instagram Videos can now be found on a user’s profile in the ‘video’ tab. 

 

Insta Igtv Video

Nuts and Bolts: Instagram Best Practices

While every brand is different, the following are a few tried and true best practices that we’ve found to be successful, regardless of industry or location.

Plan Ahead 

Create a content calendar, and use it!

Fill in important dates and events as soon as you’re aware of them so you can add in content leading up to those dates.

Plan posting around holidays, community events, and the seasonality of your client’s business.

Ensure campaigns have enough lead time to get people’s attention and buy-in. This also gives you ample time to proofread and edit copy as needed.

Leave room for last minute or ad-hoc posts, of course, but a good plan is key to your success on Instagram.

Images

As spontaneous as Instagram may appear, most brands do not snap a quick photo and send a post out to the world. Have a library of photos and brand images to choose from when creating content.

If you’re using your content calendar effectively, then you have time to get images for upcoming posts that you may not have in your library.

No Walls of Text

Break up blocks of text with emojis or bullet points to keep it easily scannable and visually appealing. Try to stay short and to the point. You don’t have much time to get or keep a user’s attention.

Hashtag Library

Know which hashtags deliver for your client’s industry and location. Some of this requires testing and tweaking, but you can get a good idea of what’s working by searching for related posts in your client’s industry and location.

It’s a good idea to keep a library to pull from so you aren’t continually reinventing the wheel. Also, ensure you only use relevant hashtags specific to the post in question.

To make your posts more visually appealing, separate written content from the hashtags, like in the example post below, to avoid the dreaded wall of text:

Hashtags Instagram

Source: Instagram

You should also be careful to avoid banned hashtags. An easy way to see if a hashtag is banned is to search the hashtag on Instagram and see what comes up.

If you see the ‘posts hidden’ message, you’ll know that it’s banned and you can stop using it.

Emojis 

Posts with emojis tend to perform well, likely because they break up text and make it easily scannable. They can be used to help show the topic, sentiment, and mood of a post.

Be sure not to overuse emojis, as it can make your content appear juvenile or immature.

You should also avoid unprofessional emojis or those that have inappropriate connotations.

Influencers

Many brands look at mega-influencers and instantly believe they don’t have the budget and move on. Fortunately, micro-influencers work well for local brands, often even better than celebrities.

Find someone who has a great reach within the community, and find a way to get them to share your content or product offerings. Complimentary services or products and great customer service can go a long way with local influencers.

Share the Love

Do you want people to comment on your posts? Extend the olive branch and do the same for them!

Comment on posts from local businesses and community members, share their content, or share a photo of your client’s team using their product. These are all relatively easy, inexpensive ways to create some goodwill within your client’s community.

Have Fun

None of this is worth it if your client isn’t enjoying the process. It’s obvious when brands have a presence somewhere just because they have to. Don’t be that profile.

Location, Location, Location!

Instagram has check-in and location tagging options available. Depending on the nature of the local business you’re promoting, you may want to spend some time deciding how you want to utilize location tagging.

Like hashtags, Instagram location tags make posts and stories searchable by users. Using location tags can be a powerful tactic for brands, especially in more densely populated areas, or locations with popular landmarks.

Instagram users can search for location tags to find posts from specific areas: 

Instagram Location Tagging

Source: Instagram

While a business that services clients at their homes may not want a check-in option, and instead should encourage customers to tag them in a post.

A retail location, however, can utilize location tagging to let customers know where they’re located and boost engagement with those closer to them.

And Remember…

Instagram should complement your overall local marketing strategy—it is not a replacement for search engine optimisation (SEO).

You’ll always have more success on social media if you’ve got a comprehensive local marketing strategy in place, including a well-optimized website.

Erin Jones
About the author
Erin has been working in digital marketing since 2005 and has specialized in social media and brand reputation since 2010. She is proud to be a member of the Sterling Sky Dream Team™, working with local businesses throughout North America to help them succeed online. Erin is passionate about community and loves assisting brands in finding their place, both virtually and locally.

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