live on Instagram, just one of the ways brands are engaging  and selling on the social platform
PHOTO: Hans Vivek

With over 1 billion active users and a growing user base, Instagram is considered one of the best social sales tools in 2020 and beyond.

But how can brands get started on the social media site? Below we'll explore the reasons why your brand might be a good fit for Instagram as well as share tips to help you increase user engagement and sales opportunities on the platform.

Instagram Usage and Ecommerce Stats

Instagram presents plenty of sales opportunities. It boasts:

  • 1 billion monthly active users.
  • 71% of the billion Instagram users are under the age of 35 (Statista, 2019).
  • Over 500 million accounts use Instagram Stories every day (Instagram).
  • One third of the most viewed Instagram stories are from businesses.
  • 90% of accounts follow at least one business on Instagram.
  • 71% of US businesses use Instagram. Seven out of 10 hashtags on Instagram are branded (Mention, 2018).
  • Over 80% of Instagram users discover new products/services on the platform.
  • After seeing a product/service on Instagram, 79% search for more information, 37% visit the retail store and 46% make a purchase.
  • Instagram helps 80% of users make purchase decisions (Facebook, 2019).
  • Instagram engagement increased by 29% for brands between October 2017 and May 2018 (Socialbakers, 2018).
  • Brands can generate over 4 times more interactions on Instagram compared to Facebook.

10 Instagram Ecommerce Tips

1.Take care of your content. There is no rule for how often you should post to Instagram. However, good quality and consistency are key. To help maintain high standards and engagement, consider automating the process with a scheduling app.

2. Take care of your photos. Too many product photos in your feed may appear too salesy. Too many similar photos posted one after another may not make a good impression, either. So get creative.

For instance, you can show the lifestyle and culture around your products. You can also build emotional connection with your target audience, e.g. by posting behind-the-scenes photos of your products (as seen in the example below) or by sharing exclusive footage/photos from live events.

instagram connecting with customers

3. Take care of your hashtags. Use hashtags relevant to your products as a search-optimization technique. However, although each post can include up to 30 hashtags, it’s not necessarily “the more the better.” Engagement decreases for posts with six or more hashtags so using five or fewer is the way to go.

There are three types of hashtags: geotags (include a city or locale), branded tags (specific to your product, name or slogan) and niche tags (super focused with fewer searches). You can add bulky tags, such as geotags and niche tags, in the first comment of your post.

instagram hashtags

4. Optimize your company’s name. If you try searching for “tools” on Instagram, you’ll get tool-related results/accounts. For this reason, it’s worth including the word “tools” in the company's profile if it isn't already in the name. Since names are a searchable field on Instagram, you should optimize your company’s name and add keywords to your name and bio.

5. Share user-generated content. To leverage social proof with Instagram, many businesses share user-generated content on the platform by asking customers for product reviews or sharing photos/videos featuring real buyers using products (with branded hashtags). Then businesses can reshare such posts on their profiles and mention their customers.

Sharing user-generated content helps build a community, expand reach, establish trust for the brand and improve customer loyalty. Additionally, posting content created by users helps to cultivate an approachable, down-to-earth and human brand image.

6. Consider your customers and prospects. According to an Iconosquare study, 65% of customers said they would be honored if a brand liked their post. Further, 70% of Instagram users had entered a photo contest or competition at some point. So don’t hesitate to like your customers' posts, run contests and give away exclusive coupons.

7. Recruit influencers. Consumers will trust an individual’s recommendation over yours so engage influencers to help you spread the good word about your products. Instagram is considered one of the most, if not the most, important social media channel for influencer marketing.

8. Stay efficient. Consistent content publication at the time of day Instagram users are most active matter. However, managing all Instagram publications in-app can be problematic, especially if your audience is most active outside your working hours. Further, regularly logging into your Instagram account may take up a lot of your time.

To increase efficiency, consider using social media marketing automation tools to preload and schedule content in advance. To engage with your followers and respond to comments, don’t wait for new notifications to pop up. Rather, create a system and allocate a specific time or times to respond to your audience.

9. Measure your Instagram ecommerce success. Check how your Instagram posts and Stories are performing. Access to Instagram Analytics gives you data about impressions, reach per post, purchases, information about your demographic or the type of content your audience likes the most.

This will give you an indication of what types of posts and products are popular with your audience, what is worth promoting more often and what kind of inventory is worth stocking up on. The data about when users are most active (which days of the week/what time) will help you choose the optimal time for scheduling your posts.

10. Consider an omnichannel sales strategy for social media. To better connect with your customer base, consider optimizing each platform to best serve its users. Then integrate all of your platforms into a single, seamless approach.

For example, if you receive plenty of customer enquiries via Twitter, optimize your Twitter strategy to respond to enquiries. If your followers use your Facebook Page to learn more about your business, focus more on educational and engaging content. If people tend to purchase your products on Instagram, optimize your Instagram business profile to sell.

Related Article: How Instagram Is Shaping Ecommerce Marketing for 2019

Instagram Shop

Instagram Shops allow ecommerce sellers to integrate their product catalogs with their Instagram profiles. Products can be promoted directly to Instagram users through posts, Stories, in the Explore tab and in a special Shop tab on their profiles.

An Instagram Shop removes friction from the purchasing process. It’s easier for shoppers to browse catalogs, check prices or learn more about specific products. They can shop products and proceed to payment without leaving Instagram.

Sellers must demonstrate they’re trustworthy, which includes maintaining an authentic, established presence and a sufficient follower base.

Setting up Instagram ecommerce storefronts requires checking your eligibility and ensuring:

  • Your business complies with Instagram’s commerce policies.
  • Your business is located in a supported market and sells physical goods.
  • Your Instagram account is set up as a business account and is linked to your Facebook business page.

Then you’ll have to get your Facebook shopping catalog synched with your Instagram business profile. The next steps involve signing up for Instagram Shopping and tagging your products.

In terms of security, to provide shoppers peace of mind, purchases made through Instagram checkout are protected by Purchase Protection Policies. Shoppers can report products or business profiles that they think may violate these policies.

Purchases are protected when, for instance, items haven’t been received, they’re damaged or significantly different than described or sellers are not following their stated refund policy.

If the seller doesn’t resolve the issue with a purchase, shoppers can submit a claim to Instagram.

Related Article: What Do Businesses Need in an Ecommerce Platform Today?

How Instagram Checkout Works

Today your customers want a simpler route to their favorite products. However, many ecommerce purchase journeys are too complex, relying on redirects from one platform to another and/or requiring multiple steps.

Instagram Checkout addresses the problem of a long and slow redirecting process that makes many shoppers exit the window before reaching the checkout. Instead, purchasing takes a few clicks, making the shopping experience faster and more seamless. With fewer steps and improved UX, the likelihood that more customers will buy increases.

In 2020, Sephora announced it was opening up an Instagram checkout through a digital storefront. The feature allows shoppers to search for products, add to a shopping bag and checkout within the native Instagram app.

Sephora has around 20 million Instagram followers and sells more than 80 brands on Instagram checkout. People can buy products directly from its stories or feed. The timing of implementing Instagram Checkout was particularly good as the coronavirus pandemic has made consumers cautious about returning to physical stores, especially beauty stores.

1 Billion Active Users and Counting

On Instagram, businesses can engage their satisfied customers, position their products in a real-world setting, improve customer loyalty and increase sales as a result.

With 1 billion active users and a third of all users have bought a product they discovered on the platform, the role of Instagram as a social selling tool is clearly growing.