18 ideas for small businesses to try on Instagram (Social Buzz column)
October 16, 2018
If the question I'm asked the most when speaking with business owners is "Should I really be on Instagram?" then the follow-up to that is almost always "What should I post?"
In August, I shared five reasons why your small business should be on Instagram, but I'd be leaving you hanging if I didn't share a few content ideas you can experiment with on the visuals-first platform.
These 18 ideas are intended for small businesses with a presence on Instagram, intending to target the platform's main audience, which is 34 years old and younger. Every idea requires a thoughtful visual presentation that will grab a user's attention in Instagram's news feed or search results.
1. Feature your product in a stylized photo, especially if it's new or a limited-edition item (these can get seasonal, too!)
2. Show an interesting way to use your product
3. Announce sales or promotions you're having
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4. Share inspirational images or quotes that would resonate for your target audience
5. Celebrate your company's milestones or even general holidays
6. Share customer photos or videos (i.e. the coveted user-generated content, which may take some initial encouragement on your part)
7. Hold contests or giveaways (just be clear on how followers can win and if the contest or giveaway is through Instagram only)
8. Post an image related to a trending hashtag (just make sure it makes sense for your business as well)
9. Find and post "throwback" images related to your brand
10. Show the human faces behind your brand (by appreciating them, interviewing them, showing off company culture or how your own employees use the products you sell)
11. Share behind-the-scenes moments, whether it's production-related or when you're putting on an event (the possibilities are endless)
12. Tout any events you're attending, participating in or hosting
13. Post multiple photos of your products and ask followers which they like best (great for engagement)
14. Share DIY project ideas featuring your products (this can be via a multiple-image post, an image collage or a video)
15. Show off your expertise in your industry (Get asked the same questions over and over? Time to answer them!)
16. Connect with influencers and work with them to raise your brand's credibility
17. Share the ideas and values your brand stands for
18. Play with memes
All of these ideas won't go very far if you don't embrace these best practices.
Start using Instagram Stories, which is a feature that enables you to stitch together multiple vertical images and videos into a "story" that disappears after 24 hours. Small businesses have been slow to adopt the feature, but don't be afraid to dive in! The best inspiration for this feature comes from following similar brands that are using it and see what Stories they're posting.
Keep an eye on comments because social media is a two-way conversation. Don't get publishing tunnel vision. Building an audience on Instagram requires more than posting great content; followers expect to interact with you. Whether you use a social media management tool or the Instagram app itself, never ignore a comment.
Hashtags are a thing. If you want to reach a wider audience and appear in Instagram searches, hashtags are a non-negotiable. A hashtag could be made specifically for your own company's branding, but Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags in a post. So, it's important to do your research and use what will help you get discovered for the type of content you're sharing. A free tool that can help you research the best hashtags for you is Websta. It shows what's most popular now but also allows you to easily check the popularity of any hashtag you can think of.
When in doubt, post more videos. Videos are the gold standard of social media engagement these days. Instagram limits video length to 60 seconds, so keep it short and sweet.
Regram engaging posts on your own account. While Instagram recently enabled users to share others' posts in their own Instagram Stories, there is no traditional sharing function on Instagram like what you're used to on Facebook or like retweeting on Twitter. There are two ways you can "Regram." You can either do so manually by taking a screenshot and crediting the original poster by tagging them in the post, or you can use the Repost app, which has a bit more automatic functionality.
Don't be afraid of Instagram ads. Depending on your company's social media goals, advertising on the platform might be worth trying. It's affordable and easy to do, especially if you already have a Facebook Advertising account (since Facebook owns Instagram, there's a bit of fluidity between the two). Just be aware of using Instagram-optimized content as opposed to Facebook-specific content that might not transfer well because of how it would be displayed in the Instagram feed.
Your competitor's followers are ripe for the picking. The best thing about the users who follow your competitor(s) is they're already interested in your niche or industry. Also, they're easy to find by going to your competitor's account and clicking "followers."
All in all, Instagram may feel like a foreign, frivolous platform to the uninitiated, but just know that it only requires time, practice, consistency and a thought-out strategy to be successful … just like anything else.
Caren Roblin is Director of Content at Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes the Northern Nevada Business View. Reach her at