Introduction: How to Promote Your Business on Instagram

About: Hi! I'm a slightly feral mountain hermit that likes to be helpful. I do community management at Instructables & Tinkercad. 🙌 Want to hear me chat about making? Search "CLAMP Podcast" on YouTube or your favorit…

This year, I decided I wanted to get back into my hand embroidery business, making jiggy, and really grow a following on Instagram. At the beginning of this year (2016), I had about 350 followers on Instagram. As of this writing, I have a little over 1,800 followers. That's a huge difference in six months! (Added: as of 7/22/16 I have almost 3,000 followers! dang.) [And now, as of 9/22/17 I have 10,000 followers!! WHOOEE!!]

I've also seen an increase in views, custom order requests, and orders while using Instagram to promote my Esty shop. :D

Instagram is honestly one of the best ways to promote your business, especially if you sell handmade goods! People love shopping from Instagram, and I find that users on Instagram are more likely to leave the app and go somewhere else as opposed to Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. On those social media platforms, it can sometimes feel like you're screaming into a black hole.

Because Instagram is so visual, it's really the best way market your products entirely for free! You can show your products in action, show process shots of making them, or share close up images that really get into the details.

In this instructable I'll share the ways that I've been promoting and marketing my Etsy shop via Instagram, and give you lots of helpful tips to get your branded Instagram feed up and running!

P.S. Need help setting up an Etsy or Handmade @ Amazon shop? Check out my instructables!

How to Apply and Sell With Handmade at Amazon

How to Start Selling on Etsy

Step 1: How to Set Up Your Instagram Account

I actually turned my personal account into a business focused one, but it is best for most folks to create a new account. You can manage multiple accounts on the Instagram app, so it's super easy to make a second account!

Here are some things to consider when setting up your account.

Choose the Right Username

Your username should match your business name. It should be very obvious what your business is called. I get many hits on my Etsy shop from people typing "making jiggy" into google, so make sure it's easy for people to find you!

Write a Useful Bio

Your bio should tell people who you are and what you do. I've also included a link to my embroidery instructable, since I get so many questions about how to embroider. (Keep in mind that any links added here will not be clickable, so keep them simple!)

If you'd like to format your bio, write the text in the note app on your phone and add line breaks. When you copy and paste the text into your bio, the line breaks should remain so it will look a little cleaner!

Add a Link to Your Shop

Last but not least, add a link to your shop! You can also swap out this link from time to time if there are other sites you want to direct people to, but having your shop here is your best bet.

Step 2: How to Take Photos for Instagram

I've included some of my more recent photos to give you an idea of the variety you can post! Check my Instagram feed for more ideas! These were all taken with my iPhone and edited with A Color Story.

Great photos are incredibly important to the success of your Instagram feed! This is not a place where quantity is better than quality - you want to only post photos that are fantastic for the most engagement from your audience. I try to post one photo everyday, but sometimes I'll post 2 or 3 if I'm making something pretty.

If you're having problems with photo quality, please check out my "How to Take Great Photos with Your iPhone" instructable. (It's also useful for those of you with Android phones!) You can also check out my "Basic Photo Editing" instructable - it has some tips for taking better photos!

While I do post some photos taken with a DSLR, the great majority of my photos are taken with my iPhone 6 and edited with the A Color Story app. (Right now it's available for iPhone, and coming soon for Android)

Your Instagram feed should have a cohesive look. Try to style and edit your photos so they all look slightly similar. Some accounts do this by shooting on a light or dark background consistently, and some use different sheets of bright colored paper as background to make their feed pop. I tend to stick to white and cream backgrounds, though sometimes I'll mix it up and use a bright colored background. :)

But most importantly: make sure your photos are bright, sharp and colorful so people are drawn to look at them!

Photo Ideas:

  • Products just listed in your shop.
  • Products that have been marked down or put on sale.
  • Close ups of your products - for me, this is often a shot of embroidered flowers or vines because they're so pretty.
  • "Lifestyle" shots of your products in use. If you make jewelry, clothing or accessories, style them on a person and take photos. If you make home and sporting goods products, take photos of them being used!
  • Work in progress photos. I post loads of these! People really enjoy seeing the process and that the item is being made by a real person. :)
  • Flat lays! A flat lay is when you arrange items on a flat surface and take a photo from above. It's like a still life painting for Instagram! I take many these photos as well, often of my tools or a current project.
  • Your workspace. I take photos of my worktable, by embroidery drying rack, anything that looks pretty at the moment.
  • Yourself. I don't do this as often because I find it pretty stressful! But it's nice to pop in from time to time and introduce yourself. :)

Step 3: How to Find the Best Time to Post on Instagram

When I first started this mission, I decided to track my posts manually. (I've since moved to Iconosquare Pro, which is shown in the photos above.)

Manually Tracking Your Engagement

For each post I made, I wrote down:

  • the time and day of the week
  • the number of comments received (recorded the day after the post)
  • the number of likes received (recorded the day after the post)

This is a fantastic free way to see what days and times during the week are the best, but a little tedious. I used this process for a couple weeks and I really believe this is what helped me get that first 1,000 followers!

But doing this, you find out when your audience is the most active so you can make sure your posts are getting as much engagement as they can.

You can also use this method to determine if some of your photos might have flopped and weren't very well received. If this happens, don't beat yourself up! Not every photo is a winner. Try to learn from it and steer away from posting photos like that in the future.

Using Third Party Apps and Software to Track Your Instragram Engagement

There are quite a few apps that integrate with Instagram and allow you to interact with it in different ways. I looked into many of them, but so many offered ways to pay for followers, likes or comments and looked generally shady. (Also: don't buy followers. It won't help you because those accounts will not interact with your content like real followers!) Or they focus only on follows and unfollows, and I wanted something more than that!

Another seller (@magnolia.threads) told me about Iconosquare Pro, and I decided to go for it! For $30 a year, you get access to all kinds of stats and important information about your Instagram account. It can help you decide when to post, help you keep track of which comments you've seen, and even help with running contests. :D

Step 4: How to Use Hashtags

Hashtags (#) are one of the major ways you'll reach new customers and followers on Instagram. I felt odd using them at first, but they are incredibly helpful when it comes to getting new folks to see your work! On many other platforms, using too many hashtags can actually lower your engagement from the community, but on Instagram it raises it!

Users can browse Instagram in three ways: by browsing their main feed, checking the explore feed, or looking at hashtag feeds. The third one is your gateway to being found!

While you can use apps and websites to try to find the best hashtags, it works much better to do the research yourself! On the next step I'll explain how to find new and exciting hashtags to use. On this step, I'll explain how I use hashtags and also what I avoid doing.

Hashtag Basics:

  • You can use 30 hashtags per post on Instagram. While you don't need to use all of them, it's good to know where you'll have to stop! I use tons of hashtags.
  • Hashtags perform best when they are relevant to your product, brand or customer base. They should also contain photos similar to yours.
  • Using extremely vague hashtags like #fun #happy or #life is fairly useless - chances are they'll do nothing but bring you spam bots that tell you how to get free followers.
  • Don't use hashtags that aren't relevant to your feed. Say it's Easter and you're posting a photo that has nothing to do with Easter whatsoever - don't tag it with Easter hashtags! The people browsing the Easter feed are not likely to click because you are not what they were wanting to see. And you're wasting a hashtag to get thrown into a sea of Easter content that no one is likely to find you in.
  • Don't post your hashtags in the photo caption! This clutters it up and makes it look like a mess. Instead, post a photo with a normal caption and then leave a comment on the photo and put the hashtags there.
  • For easiest use, make a list of basic hashtags that consistently apply to your products so that you can copy and paste the hashtags instead of writing it out every time. If you have multiple products, make multiple hashtag lists. (For example, I have different lists for regular embroidery, floral embroidery, sewing, drawing/illustration, and works in progress.) I use the notes on my phone to do this.
  • Mix up the hashtags you use from time to time. I have about 10 hashtags that I always use, but beyond that, I'm always looking for new and trending hashtags to swap into the rotation. If you use the same hashtags all the time you'll be missing out on traffic for new ones. :)
  • Make up your own hashtags that feature your shop name when necessary! Say you're doing a giveaway, or maybe you sell patterns and want folks to show off their finished creations. Come up with something for folks to share things under. For example, I use: #makingjiggygiveaway and #makingjiggypatterns. I also tend to tag things #makingjiggy just because it makes a pretty feed of my work.
  • Look out for "trending" hashtags! You can often find these by looking at the explore feed. A trending hashtag may be all sorts of things, but is often linked to something happening that day, like #bestfriendsday, #donutday, #earthday2016, #wipwednesday, #throwbackthursday. If you have something to link to whatever trending hashtag you find, post it up. :D
  • You want a mix of small and large hashtags. For example, I use #embroidery which has over 2 million photos in its feed - also #bordado, #broderie, and #borduurwerk, which are essentially the embroidery feed in different languages. But I also use #modernembroidery, #contemporaryembroidery, #floralembroidery, and #hoopart that allow me to end up in smaller and more specific hashtag feeds.

Step 5: How to Find Hashtags

So we've talked a little about what to look for in a hashtag, but how do you find ones to fit your products?

The best way to do this is to first find a hashtag that vaguely describes your product - for me this would be #embroidery.

Go to Instagram and type #embroidery and see what shows up. In each hashtag feed with enough content, there's a "top posts" section. Click through these images and make note of the hashtags they use.

Are there any that sound relevant to you? If so, click through and have a look at the feed. Are there photos that resemble yours in there? If it feels like a good fit, write the hashtag down along with the number of photos in that hashtag feed.

Continue clicking through to new hashtags and vetting their feeds to see if they may be good for you. :D

I am always, always looking for new hashtags. Anytime I find a fantastic new hashtag, I check its feed to see if they are any others I'd like to start using in the top posts. It's a good habit to get into!

Step 6: How to Get Involved in the Community

A friendly reminder: it's okay to be competitive, but it's better to be involved in the community! You will get better long term gains in engagement if you're active and well-liked in the community. :D

Find Your People

I really only participate in the embroidery and cross stitch communities, but I have made so many friends and networked my butt off this year! It's been a lot of fun seeing all the gorgeous work other stitchers are putting out. It's also wonderful for inspiration! Try to find a community of people that things similar to you and get involved. You'll all end up commenting on each other's posts which will gives increased exposure for everyone. Win-win.

Through talking to other sellers on Instagram, I eventually joined a Facebook group called Insta-Branding for Creatives. I really recommend joining it! It's a great place to ask for feedback or if you're confused about anything. Everyone has been really helpful so far, and I'd love to see it be more active!

Liking and Commenting

Liking and commenting is something I do every day - commenting often leads to new followers, but liking is just for the sake of it. :D Comment and compliment other folks on their awesome stuff! Reply to comments on your own posts. Like things to show you care about what other people are doing and making.

Likes and comments often find their way back to you if you do this enough.


Following is something I am more rigid about. I only follow folks that create things I truly enjoy so that I can keep my Instagram feed beautiful and peaceful. I don't want to see 8,000 selfies, "inspirational" quotes, or feeds full of pink, white and gold "boss lady" stock images. Instagram is my happy place. :D

I do not participate in follow for follow to gain followers and highly recommend you do the same because it is the worst. I get followed by 5-10 accounts a day that immediately unfollow the next day and it annoys the hell out of me. Don't be one of those people! (Plus, I can't imagine how annoying it is to stay on top constantly following and unfollowing people.)

Participate in #followfriday and Other Prompts

Something you'll see quite often is other members on Instagram posting images that ask the reader to take some sort of action! #followfriday is one of the most common of these and the one I participate in most often.

Essentially, anytime you see someone posting an image asking for a comment that looks fun to you, go for it!

You can also post your own #followfriday post on your feed - I like to recognize stitchers I've been stalking throughout the week. :D

Step 7: How to Run Giveaways and Contests on Instagram

I've done this twice now and it's been fun both times! It's fairly easy to do, and a way to bring in new followers. :D

When you run a giveaway or contest on Instagram, you generally post a photo of the item you're giving away with the rules of the giveaway in the text. These can run for various amounts of time, but as far as I've seen 2-3 days should be the max. Post the giveaway at a time when you get a ton of engagement.

The three standard rules are:

  • follow this account
  • like this post
  • leave a comment

You can also ask people to tag a friend in the comments for an entry, or repost your photo and use a special hashtag for an entry.

Most people are not willing to repost a photo to their feed, but I have found that people are super willing to tag their friends in the comments! That means even more folks will see the post. :)

Make sure to also let people know when you'll be announcing the winner!

I've included screenshots above and links here and here to the giveaways so you can have a look.