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The Ultimate Guide to Instagram for Small E-commerce Brands

Michael Burke
at SelfMade
Oct 15, 2018

Instagram has some new features that make selling your products easier than ever.

Instagram is a better place than ever for gaining customers. These are some of the best practices for small e-commerce brands to find success and generate more sales on Instagram.

Instagram’s journey over the past year has been nothing if not a constant evolution. With the changes to its algorithm, the expansion of Stories and the release of shoppable media, it’s evident that Instagram’s ambition is to become the most interactive and engaging social platform on the web.

That being said, if you were to ask a marketer this time last year what they thought of Instagram, they would have probably labeled it the “brand builder” of social networks – a great tool for building an audience, but lacking the features to generate leads or drive substantial web traffic.

All of that changed earlier this year when Instagram released its biggest game-changer for e-commerce brands to date: shoppable posts. The release of shoppable posts has now afforded e-commerce companies the luxury of tagging products within an individual image, allowing the user to tap a product, bringing them straight to the Add to Cart section on the seller’s site. It seems that “shop via link in bio” will soon be a thing of the past.


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Though adding shopping tags to your Instagram posts is an exciting concept, it isn’t as simple as just clicking a button. To be eligible for shoppable media, you must meet these criteria:

  • You have downloaded the most up-to-date version of the Instagram app.
  • You are registered as a business profile on Instagram.
  • Your business sells physical goods and complies with Instagram’s merchant agreement and commerce policies.
  • You are an admin on a business Facebook page or a business manager account.
  • Your business profile is connected to a Facebook catalog.

So you’ve ticked all these boxes – now what? Well, below we’ve listed our ultimate guide to Instagram for small e-commerce businesses, including five tips to set your business up for success on the platform.

1. Create great content.

This might sound like an obvious one, but analyzing what type of content has previously done well on your feed, then producing higher-quality, HD versions of that content is the first step to success. Consistently posting high-resolution images will give your feed that crisp and professional look needed to make you stand out among your competitors. (Take a look at how Vans executes this.) Our advice: hire a part-time photographer/editor so you not only have a large backlog of content, but all your photos are of the highest quality.

2. Experiment with influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing isn’t a fit for every brand, but if you think it might work for you, do some research on micro-influencers who operate in your industry. You’re probably wondering, “Why micro?” Well, micro-influencers will likely mean that you reach smaller audiences, but those audiences will be much more targeted. (See how this watch brand does it.)

Earlier this year, the Association of National Advertisers surveyed 158 brands, finding that 75 percent use influencer marketing. Of those that said they use it, 43 percent planned to increase budgets for it in the coming year. Among the brands surveyed that were not using influencers, 19 percent said it would be part of their marketing strategy in the coming 12 months.

3. Research and use optimized hashtags.

When you’re a small brand starting out on Instagram, getting that initial traction can be the most frustrating part. Many brands come to us looking for an answer to this problem. The answer we give them is always the same: to feature on Instagram’s Explore page as often as possible. But how do you do that? By using and engaging with the most optimized hashtags within your community. For instance, if you sell watches, niche hashtags such as #watchfam, #wristlove, #watchesofinstagram and #watchaddict could be the key to getting your content on the Explore page as often as possible. (Check out how Bed Bath & Beyond utilizes its hashtags for optimum exposure.)

4. Make your product-oriented posts shoppable.

If you’ve met the criteria to be eligible for shoppable posts, you can begin tagging. When you tag a product, the user can tap the image for more information. If they tap the image again, it takes them straight to the Add to Cart section on your site so they can make a purchase. For more information on how to do this, click here.

Although a feature like shoppable posts may be exciting, you shouldn’t overload your audience with product-focused posts. A good rule of thumb for product shots is about 40-50 percent of your posts every two weeks. Two brands that are killing it in shoppable posts are Gap and Glossier – check out both their feeds to see how they strike a balance between shoppable and other styles of content.

5. Turn existing Instagram posts into ads.

So you’re getting the hang of optimizing your Instagram from an organic standpoint, but what if you want to allocate some budget for paid advertising? Good news – you can now turn existing Instagram posts into ads. Previously, the only way you could run a paid ad on an organic post was through the Promote button. Instagram changed this over the summer, now letting you turn existing organic Instagram posts into ads within Power Editor and Ads Manager.

You may be wondering why this is such a big deal. Well, one of the trickiest things about running ads is choosing creative content that you think will perform well from a click-thru perspective. Seeing what has already performed well will make the decision-making process much easier for small brands that want to run ads and convert more customers. Our advice: start small and allocate a certain portion of your budget to paid advertising. Once you figure out a formula that works for you, it can be a very sustainable way to grow your sales.

These are five ways to set yourself up for success on Instagram if you’re an e-com business, but there are numerous other features and functions you can try to make your business stand out on the platform. These include finding your voice on Stories, testing out Instagram Live and even creating more long-form content on IGTV.

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Michael Burke
I'm currently a Brand Manager at SelfMade, one of New York City's fastest growing social startups, where I help e-commerce brands build an incredible brand on Instagram, and generate revenue through the platform. When I'm not helping e-com brands scale their businesses through Instagram, I'm contributing content to Entrepreneur, Irish Tech News, and running my Instagram account @talkshowents, which happens to have more than 27,000 followers. This year, I was also lucky enough to be listed as one of the 30 under 30 most influential people in marketing, advertising, and social media by The Sociable.