I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
Instagram Etiquette 101: Tips for Business Owners
Aaaah Instagram, the happiest place on the internet. There is so much to love about ‘the gram’ and love it we most certainly do; 1 billion monthly active users sharing 95 million posts per day can’t be wrong! From a business standpoint the ability to reach, grow and engage with an audience of potential customers or clients (for free!) makes Instagram one of the most powerful marketing tools of the 21st century.
However, with so many users and very little by way of explicit rules or guidance from Instagram itself, there is a dark side to the platform that is mildly irritating at best and absolutely heartbreaking at worst for some users.
In preparation for this post, I engaged a number of fellow online business owners to ask them about their experiences with Instagram; what they enjoy most about the platform and the online behaviours that they are less enamoured of. Below is a general consensus about that’s hot and what’s not when it comes to Instagram etiquette.
What’s hot? Our favorite Instagram etiquette tips
The number 1 reason we favour Instagram like the child who sleeps through the night is engagement. Instagram is one of the most highly-engaged social media platforms. According to Brandwatch.com engagement on Instagram is 10 times higher than on Facebook. As social creatures we get a big ol’ dose of dopamine whenever someone double taps or comments on our content.
Related: Instagram Metrics: What to Track
Engagement – including responding to comments, replying to DMs and actively seeking out other users to be social with – really is the secret sauce to Instagram success. It provides a quick and effective way to build relationships and gain trust. Accounts who take the time to engage get the goods – both in terms of followers and brand loyalty.
Creating value, not more noise
The Instagram feed is a crowded place. Post captions with nothing more to offer than “Monday… blah blah… coffee … blah blah blah” are, frankly, a waste of everyone’s time. Accounts that deliver value by entertaining, educating or engaging their followers will enjoy greater post performance and a loyal following.
Showing your face
People buy from people. And who do we buy from? People we trust! The fastest way to earn trust is to show yourself. We love seeing the person(s) behind the brand so invest in a professional photography shoot and get your smiling face, and that of your team, on the feed already! Can’t afford a branding shoot? Many photographers offer smaller headshot packages where you can get a handful stellar shots that will give you something to get started with.
Just quietly, it costs nothing to show your face on video. If you have a smartphone you can create Instagram Stories, IGTV videos or go Live in an instant; providing your audience with valuable content and the opportunity to get to know you. Even if sleepless nights have you looking like Quasimodo in the bell tower, pop on a filter, show up and serve your audience. Your followers will benefit much more from you sharing your wisdom than if you choose to hide in the shadows. Video is also fantastic for your overall Instagram account performance. Bonus!
Instagram is the perfect place to meet and develop friendships with like-minded peeps who are on a similar business journey. Help out fellow biz owners by commenting on their posts and give them a friendly shout out in your feed posts and on Stories. Share the love! #CommunityOverCompetition
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Collaborating with other brands in a professional manner
Spoiler alert: Business owners don’t want to bankroll your holiday. Even if you are an “influencer” and even if you can take great photos of their product while in Bali wearing nothing but your bikini 🍑 Making a play for free merch is simply bad manners and business owners are tired of this kind of behaviour.
If you want to collaborate with another business or brand, do your homework first; find out the best person to talk to about your ideas and approach them in a professional manner (try emailing rather than sending a DM). Put together a proposal that explains how your brands and audiences align and outlines the benefits of a collaboration for both parties. Above all, make sure you’re at least following the account before you ask for something!
Using and engaging with hashtags relevant to your niche
The days of peppering your posts with mega large hashtags are gone. Niching is the new black. Incorporate tailored, community or interest-based hashtags into your posts (and Stories) to connect with like-minded users around a specific topic, ritual or location and increase your visibility to your ideal customer or client.
Captions on videos
Some people have noisy kids. Others are sneaking in a quick Insta Stories binge at work, on public transport or in bed and some of your audience may be hearing impaired. Make it easy for people to consume and engage with your content by using captions or subtitles on videos. There are a number of apps and tools to help you do this in a flash including Clipomatic, Clips and Kapwing.
There’s nothing hotter than a well-placed apostrophe and don’t even get me started on paragraph breaks. Grrrrr. Writing for social media definitely affords permission to bend the rules however it does not give you free license to completely ignore the fundamentals of spelling and grammar altogether – especially if you’re using Instagram for business purposes.
If writing isn’t your forte, a grammatical assistant, such as Grammarly, will ensure that your “you’re” is applied correctly and that something as simple as a misplaced comma doesn’t disarm your message and leave you virtually vulnerable (see example below).
Similarly, depending on your audience, slang and abbreviations can work on the gram (#YOLO!) as long as they are commonly known. When in doubt, ditch the cool kids’ lingo in favour of effectively communicating your key message, ok Bae?
What’s not? Instagram etiquette behaviours we could do without
There are certain behaviours on Instagram that are driving users wild (and not in a good way). If you are guilty of any of the following Instagram etiquette no-no’s, it may be time to re-evaluate your social strategy. The following Instagram practices, though common, are most certainly NOT hot:
Following then unfollowing
Yuck! Fluctuating follower numbers are the virtual fly in every Instagram user’s ointment. While it is totally normal for some users to unfollow you, large daily fluctuations are typically due the follow-unfollow method whereby accounts follow a number of other users (with the objective of getting them to follow back) and then unfollow after a set period of time.
Third-party applications (“bots”) are commonly used to seek out and follow other users via hashtags or location.
Accounts who employ follow-unfollow tactics are doing themselves a huge disservice. This annoying behaviour not only risks their reputation but also their account subsistence as Instagram continues to crack down on spammy behaviour and the use of third-party automations.
Ignoring (genuine) comments
In terms of Instagram gripes, being ignored comes a close second to following-unfollowing. As mentioned above, the reason users flock to Instagram is for engagement. Commenting on a post only to be ignored conjures up the same kick-in-the-gut feelings of rejection as being picked last in the playground.
I frequently hear complaints about post engagement dropping yet many account holders fail to provide the common courtesy of responding to comments – thereby teaching their followers not to engage with their content.
Talking only about yourself or your products
There’s nothing more boring than the person at the party who only talks about themselves #yawn. Instead, put yourself in your follower’s shoes: What are they interested in? How can you provide real value, instead of simply pitching yourself or your product? Understanding who your ideal customer or client is; their wants, needs and struggles will help you to create valuable content that keeps them coming back for more.
Obsessing over followers
Spending all your time online trying to entice new followers at the expense of ignoring your existing ones does not a sound social strategy make. Yes, followers matter, to a certain extent, but focusing all of your efforts on this vanity metric comes at a cost.
A smaller engaged audience who love what you do and sing your praises to others is far more valuable than a huge apathetic following who have no idea about you and who don’t engage with your content because you ignore them.
Remember, the real value of social media is measured OFF of Instagram – in the leads you generate, the number of people on your mailing list, new clients and sales.
Helping yourself to other people’s images
Newsflash: Instagram isn’t a stock library for your personal use. Instagram’s Community Guidelines clearly state “Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share.”
As well as being a serious Instagram etiquette no-no, using someone’s image without their permission may breach their image copyright therefore it is prudent to gain written permission before proceeding to share anyone else’s content.
If permission is granted, do not crop, filter or distort the image in any way. Be sure to tag the image owner in the photo AND in the post caption plus the photographer, any featured products or other accounts involved in the image creation (ask for a list of relevant accounts to tag when you seek permission). This will ensure that you cover all bases and that everyone receives the recognition they deserve.
Blaming the algorithm for poor performance
I recently saw a business owner post in a Facebook group that she believed that the algorithm was “punishing her” because her Instagram engagement had dropped. The algorithm is, in fact, designed to help. By creating a better user experience, it ensures that users (i.e. your potential customers and clients) keep coming back to the platform and spend as much time here as possible, thereby increasing your chances of being found.
Hard truth: There are a number of factors that impact post performance and visibility including the quality of your content. It’s not Instagram’s fault if people don’t like what you’re putting out there. Instead of complaining, put on your big gal pants and review, regroup and revise what you’re sharing if it isn’t working for you.
Trying to trick the algorithm
Instagram is smart. Gaming the system by posting “This is a test” memes or participating in comment pods to garner engagement may result in a short-term win at best. Stop trying to trick the algorithm and focus instead of developing a solid content and engagement strategy instead. This will yield far more effective results in the long run and is far less annoying #justsaying.
Tagging other users completely unrelated to your post
Speaking of annoying, the fastest way to lose friends and credibility is by tagging 20 unrelated accounts in your post. This another example of gaming the system.
Personally, I immediately block all accounts using bots to post disingenuous comments on my posts because (1) They aren’t seeing my content anyway and (2) Spammy behaviour begets more spammy behaviour.
#using #hashtags #for #random #words
As well as negatively impacting your caption’s readability, random hashtags are a magnet for 3rd party follow-unfollow and auto-commenting bots. Instead, use targeted hashtags that your ideal customer or client is likely to be searching for and engaging with.
Online bullying of any kind is not cool. End of story. If you don’t have something nice to say, scroll on Susan!
The way forward
After reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that Instagram is a hub for narcissistic trolls who spend their days spamming accounts, pilfering content and demanding freebies however, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
The fact that the number of Instagram users has been steadily climbing year on year is testament to the unlimited potential this platform has to #sparkjoy and enhance our personal and professional lives.
Adhering to a few simple manners and choosing to engage in a genuine manner will create a better user experience for all. Remember that behind every handle is a real person, with real feelings and interests beyond what you’re selling. By proceeding with empathy, behaving like a decent human and creating true value (with a sprinkle of kindness) we can ensure that Instagram remains our favourite platform… until something better comes along!
Kryshla Salaris is the founder of Shall We Social and a social media coach who specialises in helping savvy business owners nail their Instagram strategy. Kryshla’s aim is to make Instagram fun and remove those icky feelings of overwhelm by breaking online marketing down into simple easy-to-apply tactics that can be implemented by even the busiest business boss.
Visit the Shall We Social blog for tips, tools and techniques to supercharge your socials and get your free Instagram Engagement Plan here. You can also connect with Kryshla on Instagram and Facebook.
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Two months ago, I left home and my young family (for 2 months) to join one of the highest regarded business accelerators in the world in a city a long way from home. A city that has the highest concentration of venture funding,