How To Get Started On Instagram

Answering common Instagram queries: what to post, when, how often and more

Credit: Georgia de Lotz / Unsplash

Working as Digital Marketing Lead at a creative agency with many charity and start up clients, I get a lot of questions on how to get started on Instagram. Unlike large corporations, usually these organisations don’t have someone on the team who is a communications, marketing, or social media specialist.

A quick disclaimer before we get started on some FAQs: I don’t work for Instagram and I don’t have any insider knowledge, this is information purely from my own experience building up profiles on Instagram.

Should I set up Instagram for my business?

If you’re just starting a business or organisation, or even looking to build a personal presence on social media, then my best advice is to pick just one channel and become great at it.

The most important thing in building your profile is consistency, and trying to build profiles across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn etc all at once is a recipe for you getting overwhelmed and missing posts. So, instead of setting up three channels at once, set up one — you can always expand this later once you’re more comfortable.

In terms of which channel you should use, it largely depends on your audience. Who are you trying to reach with your social media, and where do they hang out? If you’re looking to offer career advice to professionals, LinkedIn is probably a good option for you. If you’re an illustrator and want to build up your client base by demonstrating your work, then you should opt for a visual platform like Instagram or Pinterest (or something even more niche like Behance, a portfolio site for graphic designers). Simply put, choose the channel that best fits your content and audience.

How often should I post on Instagram?

There isn’t a magic number of posts that will give you the best levels of engagement on your posts (regardless of what you might read!) so the number of posts per day or week will be different for everyone.

However, there are a couple of key things to consider:

  • Consistency: I mentioned this previously, but the most important thing when you’re starting a profile is consistency. This means that instead of focusing on the optimum number of posts per weeks in terms of your audience or Instagram’s algorithms, you should focus on your own time. If you can commit to consistently posting once per day then go for it. But, is that isn’t realistic for you and you know you wouldn’t be able to keep it up long term, then opt for every other day or every three days instead.
  • Regularity: the Instagram algorithm does favour regularity, meaning that if you post regularly on your profile then your posts are more likely to be displayed in your followers’ feed, and therefore you’re likely to get more comments and likes. Therefore, although consistency should always come first, do try to commit to posting every three days at the minimum.

Generally speaking, with Instagram the maximum you want to post is once per day. But if that seems like it’s going to be unmanageable for you, then go for once every two or three days instead. It’s much better to pick a realistic amount that you know you’ll be able to stick to consistently.

What time of day should I post on Instagram?

The best time of day to post on Instagram will differ depending on your audience. For instance, if you’re targeting teenagers then you need to be aware that they’re likely at school or college during the day and so may be on their phones less. If you’re focused on first-time parents, you might find that the middle of the night or early morning is actually a great time to post as they’re awake soothing their new-born baby at these times. If you have an international market it becomes slightly more complex, and it might be worth looking for times of day where most locations will be awake.

When you’re first setting your profile up, the best thing to do is to test out a few different times of day with your posts and look at the engagement on your posts to determine which the best time(s) for you are. Note that there will also be variances across different days of the week, so you might want to run a new test every week for consistency. The first week, for instance, you might post daily at 10 am. Then week 2 move to the evening and post at 3 pm. The third week you might opt for lunchtime instead.

If you set your Instagram account up as a business profile then you can remove the manual aspect of this data analysis. A business profile has access to an ‘insights’ section which will show you instantly which days of the week, and which times of day are performing well for you.

Screenshot from Instagram insights

In my experience, evening is usually a good time of day to post on Instagram, between 7pm and 9pm. If I think of my own habits, this makes sense, as this evening downtime is probably the time of day I regularly browse social media — beyond quick procrastination scrolling sessions during work hours.

What’s the deal with using other people’s images?

You can’t share or repost images from other accounts within Instagram itself — unlike retweeting on Twitter or sharing on Facebook. However, there are lots of apps out there that will allow you to do this. Simply search ‘repost Instagram’ in your phone’s app store or Google play. Most of these will have a symbol on them that show that you’re reposting someone else’s content. It’s also best practice to credit that account within the caption when you repost with wording like ‘This photo is a repost from @…’

If you’re selling a product or service then reposting from other people can be a really effective way of sharing customer reviews of your product. Otherwise, though, you should generally be wary of posting too much content that is simply reposted from someone else. You want to aim to be adding value to your followers’ feeds.

If you think you’ll be struggling for content then you can also look at free photo site. One of my favourites is Unsplash, but you can find lots from a quick google search. They’ll specify whether the photos are free to share commercially and if they are (as with all Unsplash photos) then there’s no need to credit the photographer when you post — although you might want to anyway for the sake of transparency on your profile. Again, I would limit the amount that you use stock photos, though. Nowadays photos like those on Unsplash are all over Instagram, and you’ll start to see them as soon as you start using them yourself. So, if you’re going to use these photos make sure you’re adding value to them with an interesting message in your caption.

Instead of sharing stock photos or reposts, it might be worth taking a few weeks before you start your Instagram account to build up a bank of photos or graphic images (Canva is your best friend for designing posts such as quotations etc). That way, you know you have great, original content to share.

What tone of voice should I use on my Instagram?

The tone of voice that you use on you Instagram profile will largely depend on your brand and your audience. If you’re starting a personal Instagram profile, then focus on being honest and authentic. Try to represent the real-life you online in the best way that you can. This is how people will start to connect with you, if they can see the person behind the profile.

However, if you’re setting up a profile for your brand or business then you may want to adopt a tone of voice which fits with your overall brand identity and personality.

One commonly used example is Innocent, makes of healthy drinks and smoothies. Across all of their social media accounts and wider marketing channels (websites, advertising, even their product design) they take a very tongue in cheek tone of voice, and the Innocent Instagram is no different.

Their bio within their profile, for instance, reads: ‘We make healthy drinks. Please buy them so we don’t get fired’. The images that they share and their captions reflect this brand. They also regularly share behind-the-scenes content from their offices and about the people who work for the brand, reflecting the wider culture of Innocent.

When you’re starting out, the best thing to do is browse through Instagram accounts and find a few which resonate with you in terms of voice and style, that you think would work with your audience too. You might want to focus on accounts within your particular industry too.

How can I increase my Instagram followers fast?

This is known in the marketing world as growth-hacking, and there are a few proven techniques if you want to build up a following on your new Instagram profile quickly.

  • Engage with the followers who comment on your posts. Instagram’s algorithm rewards engagement and conversation on the platform, so try to make a habit of replying to the comments on your post.
  • Like and comment on posts from other accounts on Instagram — similar to the above point.
  • Follow unfollow. If you want to boost your following quickly, the best way to do this is to follow lots of other Instagram accounts. Focus on users who follow accounts similar to your own brand as they’re more likely to be interested in your own content. You’ll notice that you get a notification telling you to stop following accounts if you follow too many too quickly — this is because Instagram is aware of this hack and trying to minimise it, as well as to combat bots on the platform.
  • Use a few key hashtags on your posts. Hashtags will help users who aren’t already following your account to find your posts, and therefore increase the reach and engagement of your posts. This may be trial and error in the beginning as you try different hashtags to see which work best for your posts — take a look at accounts that are similar to yours and see what hashtags they use regularly.
  • Use Instagram stories alongside your main posts to increase the regularity of your posts. These can be much less polished than your main posts, and so take less time, but it’s a feature which is becoming more and more commonly used, so worth exploring. My advice would be, though, to focus on being consistent on your main profile first, and then add in stories once you’re confident with posting on Instagram.

It’s worth noting here that if you’re looking to build a business or a personal brand on Instagram, then you need followers who will eventually convert to be customers who love your product or service, or value your contribution. You need to win these people’s trust, and that isn’t likely to happen quickly or immediately. These tips might be good as quick ways to boost your following, but they aren’t good advice for long-term sustainability on Instagram. Long-term, you want to be focusing on finding followers who really resonate with your message. There will be less of these, but they’ll be worth countless times more to you and your brand.

These are just a few of the most frequent questions I’m asked about how to get started with Instagram. If you have any questions that I haven’t answered here please ask away in the comments!