Instagram has a bit of a reputation as a place where B2C companies like fashion, beauty, and food brands rule the roost. It’s easy to see why – a quick look through Instagram’s “trending” page will likely yield numerous fresh-faced influencers sharing aspirational lifestyle pictures, beauty tutorials, and travel snaps. But under the surface, there’s a vibrant, sizable B2B community who are using Instagram to great effect. Though statistics relating to UK businesses on Instagram are hard to come by, eMarketer predict that 75.3% of US businesses will use Instagram during 2020 (Source: Hootsuite).
B2Bs shouldn’t be so quick to overlook Instagram as a potential marketing channel. Sprout Social figures show that 67% of 19-29 year olds and 47% of 30-49 year olds use Instagram. Though this age group is the prime target of lifestyle brands, it’s also prime working age. It’s therefore likely that professionals who are in the market for your B2B product or service are using Instagram. The kinds of companies your B2B company targets may well have a business profile on Instagram too, especially if they sell to a consumer market. There’s a lot to be said for “being where your clients are”!
Additionally, Instagram is owned by Facebook, meaning it’s also party to Facebook’s incredibly powerful PPC targeting tools. And as we’ll discuss, Instagram is incredibly flexible because it features multiple different, versatile ways of sharing content.
So let’s look at 7 of Instagram’s core features and explore how SME B2Bs can use them to great effect..
Before We Start: Preparation & Strategy
No company should ever blindly jump feet-first into using a new social media channel (or any marketing avenue for that matter) without researching it fully first. Take time to explore the platform and see how its numerous content options align with the kinds of content you’re able to produce.
Survey your existing online audiences to see if they’re interested in seeing you on Instagram. Also, take a look at whether your competitors are already using the platform. Getting an idea of the current Instagram “status quo” within your industry should help you decide whether, and indeed how, to proceed.
It’s also important to establish what you want to achieve by using Instagram. Do you want to increase market share? Increase visibility? Boost sales? Grow your email subscriber list? Use SMART goals to give yourself a well-defined target to aim for so you can measure your success over time.
Before we go any further, one key consideration is the fact that Instagram is heavily smartphone-focused. People are much more likely to view Instagram content on a smartphone – a smaller, portrait-oriented screen – rather than a larger, landscape PC screen. Bear this in mind when you’re coming up with content ideas!
What Can B2B Marketers Share On Instagram?
If your B2B is service based or you don’t have a particularly visual or photogenic product, it may seem pointless and nigh-on impossible to forge a cohesive path on a platform like Instagram. But that isn’t the case at all. To explain why, let’s take a look at three B2B companies who we feel are doing a great job on Instagram: Hubspot, Zendesk, and Buffer.
Though all three are online SaaS (software-as-a-service) providers, they don’t simply share bland screenshots of their software and leave it at that. They celebrate company culture, give relevant advice, share snippets of other content, and post informative infographic-like statistical graphics. And as we get into some of Instagram’s more in-depth content types, even more opportunities rise to the surface.
1. Posts: Entry-Level Instagramming
If you’ve ever interacted with Instagram, chances are you’ve seen Instagram’s “Posts”. These are Instagram’s equivalent to a Tweet on Twitter or a Status Update on Facebook – the most basic kind of post possible through the platform. They’re usually presented in a square or rectangular format, and can take the form of still images or videos of up to 59 seconds (side note: GIFs can be converted to MP4 videos for Instagram). There can be up to 10 images and/or videos in a single post, and users can comment underneath. You can’t share text-only updates on Instagram like you can on other social platforms, they have to contain some kind of visual content – though the image itself can contain text.
With each post, you’re allowed a caption of up to 2,200 characters, giving you a chance to share a decently sized message alongside your visuals, as well as a decently sized helping of hashtags…
2. Use Hashtags for Visibility
Hashtags are the lifeblood of Instagram visibility. Instagram doesn’t have separate “groups” or “pages” like on Facebook or LinkedIn, so users label their posts, videos, live broadcasts, and Stories with appropriate hashtags, so those interested can find their content by simply searching for that hashtag.
Not only can users perform one-off searches for hashtags, they can now follow hashtags too, meaning their feeds are now populated with posts from accounts they follow and posts from hashtags they follow (without necessarily following the accounts those posts originate from). Good market research can shed light on popular hashtags in your niche that will help get your content in front of as many relevant users as possible. Hashtags can be added within a post’s caption or in the comments.
3. Use Hashtags for Listening
When you’re in business, it’s important to keep your ear to the ground as to what’s going on in your niche. In an always-connected world, situations can change in an instant. One of the best places to keep an eye out for relevant industry news is social media – and Instagram is no exception.
Whether you’re expecting a potentially earth-shattering industry announcement, peering through your digital periscope to assess the surroundings, or simply looking for content inspiration, searching Instagram hashtags can be incredibly useful. You can follow as many hashtags as you like through a single account, but be aware that others can see what hashtags you’re following – so make sure you’re not following anything unprofessional!
4. Once Upon a Time with Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories are posts that expire 24 hours after posting, and can take the form of images, videos, polls, or animations. Multiple entries posted from a single account within 24 hours get presented as a slideshow. New Stories from accounts you follow can be viewed via the circles at the top of the screen when you open your Instagram app. On an account’s page, if the user has current Stories available, you can check them out using the small circles between their bio and their posts.
The expirable nature of Stories may seem like an odd concept for B2Bs to come to terms with, but it’s actually incredibly versatile. For example, if you’re promoting a time-sensitive offer, you can link to it in a Story. Or if you want to celebrate something small but don’t want to create a permanent post for it, posting a Story is a great alternative. Alternatively, if you want to share candid, behind the scenes content but don’t want it hanging around for posterity, Stories are a great way to go.
If you take a shine to a particular Story you’ve posted, you can save it to your profile permanently as a Story Highlight. In fact many organisations use Story Highlights as a posting medium in their own right – going back to our picks from earlier, Zendesk and Buffer have some excellent Story Highlight ideas, but our favourite by far is Hubspot’s “Ask the Pros” series.
5. Go Live!
Many professionals shy away from publishing live video shot on a smartphone, with some citing concerns about production quality and appearing unprofessional. However, you don’t need the best camera on the market or an expensive lighting rig in order to go live on social media; a decent smartphone camera with a good microphone and a well-lit, professional space in which to film is enough.
Frankly, a slightly less polished look can actually work in your favour. When all around you are posting refined, aspirational visuals, presenting a less scripted, down to earth picture of your organisation is likely to resound with people who prefer a similarly unvarnished, honest approach.
There are a number of unique ideas you can achieve with live video, including celebrating staff achievements, live Q&A Sessions, sharing how things work behind the scenes, and even broadcasting other content like videos or podcasts as they’re being recorded. The resulting live videos can even be edited and presented independently as posts, stories, or videos.
Note: Much like Stories, live videos disappear from your profile after 24 hours unless you add them as Story Highlights.
6. IGTV: Instagram’s Video Platform
It may seem odd that Instagram features a separate video platform when 1-minute videos have been a staple of Instagram posts for a while now. But IGTV is a slightly different animal – videos can be up to 15 minutes in duration and are presented as portrait, upright videos to mirror the way many of us use our smartphones. When a user publishes an IGTV video, their followers will see a 1-minute preview of the video much like a normal post, but there’s a button at the bottom of the video inviting the viewer to watch the rest of the IGTV video. You can add descriptions and hashtags to IGTV videos much like you would a normal Instagram post, potentially boosting your video’s reach.
With IGTV, you can produce very similar types of content to those on other video platforms like YouTube. If you provide a visual product or service, then how-tos, product previews, and demonstrations can work well. Companies of most kinds can share “behind the scenes” videos that share insight into their production or development processes. If you are lucky enough to have a charismatic spokesperson in your midst who doesn’t mind being the face of your brand online, then “talking head” videos with that person as the star may be the way to go.
7. Join The Conversation!
With all of the different content types available, it’s easy to forget that Instagram is a social media platform – so be social! Always welcome the opportunity to engage with your audience, whether that means responding to comments, asking for feedback through Story polls, or getting involved in comment discussions on other profiles. And don’t forget about DMs! They’re a great opportunity to continue a conversation with prospects away from the noise of a comments section.
Honourable Mention: Shoppable Posts
Though the B2B usefulness of this feature is limited, It would be remiss of us to not mention it. Instagram Shopping – unofficially dubbed “Shoppable Posts” – allows you to tag specific items from your product range into image posts and Stories, effectively directing users to specific product pages enabling them to buy there and then.
At the time of writing, this feature is limited to specific countries and only to companies that primarily sell physical goods, but Instagram do “hope to expand availability to more accounts in the near future” – so watch this space!
Need help getting to grips with a new social media platform? The OLCO Design team are here to assist. Our in-house social media strategists will take you through all aspects of your social media journey, starting with goal-setting and strategy; through to defining your social media tone and style; and on to media creation and continuing your social media momentum into the future. For an informal chat about your needs, call 0330 223 1193 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.