Your startup doesn’t need to be on Instagram, but it totally should.

It’s a fact, some businesses are just terrible at managing their social media.

There are currently about 2.5 billion users on social media, and by 2020 that number is expected to increase to well over 3 billion. If that alone hasn’t convinced you to pick up your tweeting game, maybe this will: between 2009 and 2016, social media spending for businesses increased by 234%. Between 2015 and 2016, it went up another 11.7% (triple what it was the year before). Yes, it’s a big deal and companies are now realizing just how much power these platforms can have.


In this series, I’ll share some quick tips on how to succeed online and how you can best leverage the internet’s most popular communication platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat) to better connect with your audience, build lasting relationships and create a strong and engaging digital brand.

If you ask anyone with a decent online presence what their most profitable social platform is, chances are they’ll say Instagram. That’s where we’ll start this series.

Your Instagram crash course

Instagram currently has over 600 million users, and each user spends on average three hours each day on the platform (you do the math.) Seriously high engagement rates (4.21%) show that Instagram actually matters to a brand’s audience. In fact, one high quality Instagram post will drive on average 50x the engagement of a Facebook post and about 120x the engagement of a follower on Twitter.

Breaking the fourth wall is totally okay

Rule # 1: Don’t be a robot. Sell your story. Instagram specifically isn’t only about racking up likes or followers, it’s also about promoting the journey of your brand and giving your audience a glimpse into who your startup is and what it’s all about. You want your audience to relate to your business. Rather than feeling the NEED to engage, you want to create an environment that makes them WANT to like, share or comment. So what do you post to be human, relevant and transparent? Here are a few examples:

  • Just hire a new staff member to your awesome team? Post about it.
  • Attending a sweet conference on behalf of you startup? Post about it.
  • Going out for a tasty team lunch? Post about it.
  • Launch a brand new service on top of what you already offer? Post about it.
  • Just publish a quality blog post on how startups should use Instagram? … You get it.

Your content should allow anyone to see what it’s like to be on your team. Lifestyle over any product or service is an easier sell. Just be sure to develop a consistent theme for all of your pictures (from style to colour palette to filter.) It’ll help you create a wholesome experience and will guarantee that your followers are genuine and engaged.

And while you’re at it, be sure to establish your own hashtag (yes, hashtags matter). If anyone wants to see what you’re all about, having a branded hashtag (like #TeamDMZ) will allow them to get a glance with one click.

Build friendships. Not leads

With Google Adwords bids skyrocketing in price, Twitter ads being completely and utterly useless and Facebook billing you for breathing on their platform, Instagram is the next best thing (and will only charge you time).

Building relationships on @Instagram, although pretty easy, is very different from what you’d normally think to do.

Follow, like, comment, repeat

The best and most cost effective way to get your brand known on Instagram is to engage as much as you can. While most businesses wait for consumers to come to them, Instagram favours those who take the first step. So get on your phone, search for the most relevant hashtag for your startup (e.g., #fintech) and get to work. I find that on average 40% of the accounts you engage with follow you back.

Re-engage. Over and over and over

Now that you have the followers and audience, you need to consistently engage and peak their interest. Make sure you’re posting high quality and relevant content between one to three times a day. As you post, you may see your audience engaging at different times. Be adaptable and change the frequency of your posts based on performance (Instagram’s built-in analytics options are a great way to gauge).

Also, make sure you’re replying within 30 minutes of someone commenting on your post. You want to reply to a user during the (short) timeframe they’re active on the platform. This keeps your metrics in the green and forces users to come back to your profile to reply (easy, but often overlooked).

Use #hashtags

We’ve all seen it… the massive wall of hashtags that looks horrendous, but gets the job done. Its purpose? To reach into as many topic buckets as possible. But try and keep the hashtags relevant to the content (e.g., #GoNorth — Google’s tech conference). You’re going to want to attach those hashtags as a separate comment after posting your picture (read: avoid looking too foolish).

Don’t know what hashtags to post? You can go retro and do some grunt work and research, but luckily technology has advanced far enough for an app to do all the work. Check out Focalmark for all your Instagram hashtag needs.

Like any relationship, building trust and loyalty takes time. And just like acting, my other true calling, social media is about reacting. Listen, engage and don’t expect users to immediately jump onto your profile. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here.

Succeeding on @Instagram means forgetting the need and creating the want.

Finally, never force your content. If you don’t know what to post or don’t think you should post something, don’t. The most successful brands are ones that act, post and engage as people — not businesses. Don’t overthink it and have fun.

Next up, Facebook!


Bonus: Get the right tools

Before you jump into the world of Instagram, here are the five tools that will make your content look and feel a lot more exciting than it may be (#nofilter is no longer cool).

VSCO: Simple, intuitive and necessary. This camera app will allow you to edit your picture in ways Instagram won’t.

Ultralight: If VSCO cam is just too mainstream for you.

Boomerang: Instagram’s own app which lets you capture your moment in a GIF format when a picture or video just won’t cut it (if it moves, it’s more interesting).

Hyperlapse: Timelapse for Instagram (everything moves faster).

Followers+: Track your accounts’ followers ratio and see who unfollows you, doesn’t follow you back or blocks you (great to gauge content types).