Read our other articles in this series, The Top Social Commerce Trends Small Businesses Should Watch in 2022 and How to Convert Social Media Followers into Paying Customers. 🛍️
Instagram may no longer be the new kid on the block, but it continues to be one of the most popular social media platforms around. At least 1.22 billion people use Instagram each month, a population larger than most countries!
While Instagram is a mainstay within the marketing toolkit for many ecommerce brands, actually selling products through the Instagram platform continues to be a developing area.
As social commerce flourishes, brands have never had more opportunities to stand out from the crowd and increase conversions — if they know how to do Instagram selling right.
In this guide, we’re going to explore step by step how brands can sell effectively using Instagram’s broad suite of selling features and functionalities.
Instagram in 2022: The age of social commerce 🤳
Instagram is an enormously popular social media platform, with over 150 million users in the United States. Moreover, 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business or brand account on the platform. But it’s become far more than just a place to share pretty photos and inspirational quotes.
Faced with growing competition from the likes of TikTok and Clubhouse, Instagram has been moving steadily towards a social commerce model. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, famously announced in June 2021 that “we’re no longer a photo-sharing app.”
Over the past few years, Instagram has rolled out a suite of new features to help brands sell directly to followers, including:
- Shoppable posts
- Product stickers for Stories and Reels
- Instagram checkout
- A “Shop” tab on your main feed.
With Instagram fast becoming an irreplaceable selling platform for eCommerce brands, now is the time to begin refining your Instagram selling strategy to increase conversions and foster repeat purchasing behavior.
The benefits of selling on IG 💸
Let’s start by exploring the advantages of selling on Instagram.
Instagram users enjoy connecting with products and brands
There’s a common view that social media users dislike advertising and sponsored content, seeing platforms more as a place to connect with friends. But with its focus on compelling visuals and snappy captions, Instagram has morphed into something of a shared space for consumers and brands. It’s a crossroads where both sets of users can create and share content that appeals to their followers.
The result? Consumers enjoy discovering and connecting with new brands and products that fit their interests. According to a Facebook survey, 83% of consumers use Instagram to discover new products or services, while 80% say they use Instagram to make final purchasing decisions.
In sum, Instagram has become a powerful engine for product and brand discovery in the age of online shopping — and a place where consumers exhibit high levels of purchasing intent.
Instagram’s reach is growing
Many popular social media platforms have reached a point where their rapid growth has started to taper off, thanks to reaching a saturation point in many countries. Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat faced either stagnation or a decline in growth during 2021. Facebook is the platform with the biggest decline in daily use, going from an average of 39 minutes in 2017 to 33 minutes in 2021.
By contrast, Instagram is showing some of the biggest projections for growth in the coming years. Daily usage is holding steady at 28 minutes per day, while Instagram users are forecast to reach almost 120.3 million monthly users by 2023.
With more consumers (and therefore brands) set to flock to Instagram in the coming years, now is a great time to optimize your Instagram selling strategy and experiment with new ways to increase conversions.
Gaining access to a diverse user base
Instagram has developed a reputation as a solidly millennial social media platform. But its user base is more diverse than many brands realize.
As of February 2021, 18-29 year-olds make up the largest proportion of U.S. adults using the platform at 71%, followed by 30-49 year-olds at 48%, and 50-64 year olds at 29%. Even retirees are getting in on the action, with 13% of over 65s using Instagram:
All this to say that Instagram is home to a broad range of demographics and interests, which makes it an important marketing and selling tool for a variety of brands. Even if your business is targeting outside of the 18-29 age group that dominates the platform, you can still build a strong Instagram selling strategy that nurtures your followers into purchasing.
How to sell on Instagram (a step-by-step guide)
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of Instagram selling, let’s look at the practical steps on how to do it.
1. Set up an Instagram Business account
First off, make sure that your brand has an Instagram Business account. This is essential to open your own Instagram Store and get access to more detailed analytics about follower activity.
To switch your regular Instagram account to a business account, follow these steps:
- Go into the menu in the top right corner of your Instagram profile.
- Go Setting > Account > Switch to Professional Account > Business
- Fill out all of the details e.g. your business category and contact information
- Hit Done to save.
Now that you’ve made the switch, make sure that the rest of your profile is optimized for selling on Instagram. This includes:
- Having a full bio. Instagram limits profile bios to 150 characters, but you can still make it pack a punch. Be sure to communicate what your brand sells and give your visitors a sense of your brand’s personality and attitude. Quotes and emojis are a great way to liven up your bio!
- Choosing the right profile picture. Your profile picture is an important part of your Instagram presence; it’s one of the first things a potential customer will see when they visit your profile. Using an image of your logo is a good idea to help build familiarity with your brand identity.
2. Activate Instagram shopping on your account
While it’s possible to sell on Instagram via product photography and directing customers to your ecommerce store, there are far more options available to you. Instagram launched its Instagram Shopping feature in 2019 to offer brands a full-fledged social commerce solution, where customers can make purchases entirely within the app.
By setting up your very own Instagram Shop, you can sell much more effectively through gaining access to tools like product tagging and curated collections. Best of all, you can take advantage of impulse purchasing behaviors by enabling shoppers to make purchases in just a few clicks.
To set up an Instagram Shop, you need:
- An Instagram Business account
- A physical product catalog
- A location that supports the feature (full list here)
- Linked Instagram and Facebook accounts.
You can set up your Instagram Shop by going into Settings > Business > Set Up Instagram Shopping.
3. Create a consistent brand identity
Aesthetics are everything on Instagram. The most compelling and high-quality content on the platform almost always comes from businesses that have made an effort to create a cohesive style throughout their feed. From day one, your brand needs to establish a clear visual identity so that followers can instantly recognize your content.
If content is posted on the fly without any strong brand guidelines, this can result in a cluttered, confusing feed that makes it difficult for consumers to get a sense of what your brand stands for. If they don’t understand your brand’s story, they’re very unlikely to purchase.
Below is a great example from Monday Haircare. Their feed boasts a wide range of content types, from memes and user-generated content to product photography. Yet their signature pink is widely used throughout their feed, creating a pleasant experience for followers to scroll through and immersive themselves in the brand’s storytelling:
4. Select which products you want to feature
While you may want to turn Instagram into a key sales channel, it’s still important to showcase some variety in the content you’re posting.
An overly salesy approach that keeps pushing promotions or product releases to your followers can be off-putting, especially if you aren’t putting effort into brand storytelling. Be sure to mix up product photography with other content, such as behind-the-scenes posts, user-generated content or references to popular culture.
It’s also important to consider that your feed doesn’t have to feature every product you sell online. Products in the apparel, beauty, and wellness categories typically perform very well on Instagram because they have strong visual appeal. If you sell across multiple categories, a good approach is to spotlight your most Instagram-friendly product collections to keep from overwhelming potential customers.
Fashion brand Aritizia has carefully curated a range of collections that feature at the top of their Instagram store to create a clutter-free shopping experience:
5. Take advantage of Stories and Reels
Stories and Reels are two of the most powerful forms of content on Instagram. But there can be some confusion over how these formats differ from each other - and how to use them effectively.
Let’s do a quick comparison:
As you can see, Stories and Reels each come with a mixture of pros and cons. Instagram stories help brands to channel a more authentic, real-time marketing strategy, while the editing capabilities of Reels are well-suited to more polished brand content that features prominently in your feed.
Most importantly, both Stories and Reels can be turned into shoppable content. Product tags can be added to Reels and Stories to drive followers to your Instagram Shop, while Stories also allow brands to include link stickers to either your eCommerce website or other content. By using a combination of these formats, you can keep your followers engaged and informed about your latest offerings.
6. Build social proof via user-generated content
Shopping online can be a nerve-racking process for customers. When you’re buying products sight unseen, it’s important to do your due diligence. How? By seeing what existing customers have to say.
One of the reasons why social media has become such a popular channel for product and brand research is because platforms are full of testimonials in the form of user-generated content (UGC). On Instagram, it’s easy for would-be customers to look up your brand’s hashtag or comments on your posts to find unfiltered opinions. In fact, 53% of consumers see reviews as the most important factor in the online shopping experience.
By leveraging user-generated content as a part of Instagram campaigns and giveaways, you can build a steady supply of social proof that your brand is worth supporting.
You can increase the amount of UGC associated with your brand by hosting regular giveaways that require followers to tag you in a photo or video, rewarding the most compelling and creative entries with a discount or freebie.
7. Partner with influencers
Partnering with influencers was once seen as a bit of a gimmick in the early days of Instagram. But it’s grown into a credible marketing strategy that offers strong ROI. In fact, the ROI of influencer marketing campaigns can be 11 times that of banner ads.
Influencer marketing is when a brand partners with a personl with a sizeable social media presence to promote a product or service. In effect, they’re a kind of brand ambassador that can help you get in front of the right audience.
Why do consumers listen to influencers? Because they’ve built themselves into a trusted voice within a specific niche. By giving authentic and informed advice, consumers are far more likely to follow their recommendations than traditional advertising.
When scouting for potential influencers, don’t limit your judgments just to follower counts. Studies show that nano-influencers (less than 5000 followers) and micro-influencers (less than 20,000 followers) see some of the highest engagement rates because their content tends to revolve around very specific interests. Best of all, they’re also more cost-effective to partner with!
8. Explore an Instagram advertising strategy
Organic reach on social media platforms certainly isn’t what it was. As more brands have crowded into this space, this means more competition for user attention. Currently, Instagram’s organic reach sits at about 9.4%.
In other words, if your account has 20,000 followers, less than 2000 can be expected to see any post you create. It’s easy to see why many brands struggle to find sustainable growth.
Investing in Instagram advertising is the best way to increase your brand’s exposure while also optimizing for cost. By sponsoring your content, you can choose a specific objective (i.e. increasing conversions), set up detailed audience targeting, and choose from a range of CTAs. Ad formats on Instagram include:
Bonus: Extra tips to drive sales on Instagram
Update your Instagram URL
One downside of Instagram is that brands cannot include external links in their feed posts (an effort by the platform to keep as many users scrolling as possible). Your Instagram profile only has room for one link, so you need to make it count.
You can change this link as many times as you like, so it makes sense to make your bio a dynamic place where followers can be directed to your latest product collection, marketing campaign, or interview. Don’t forget to tell your followers to check the link in your bio!
Sephora places a link to its Instagram Shop in its bio, allowing customers to explore the latest product collections right from their profile:
Maximize cross-selling opportunities
The art of any Instagram selling strategy isn’t just great photography; it’s showcasing how a product can complement other offerings in your catalog.
When a product is featured on its own, it can be hard for shoppers to visualize its applications. An image showing a dress on a hanger isn’t anywhere near as powerful as a picture of a model styling it with a cute clutch bag and a pair of heels. These kinds of cross-selling efforts spark your customers’ imagination and help to boost average order value.
Roots put together a special Instagram collection for Valentine’s Day which is entirely shoppable via product tags in their flat lay photos, boosting the odds of followers buying more than one item:
Consider hosting live shopping streams
Livestream shopping has grown increasingly popular in the West after years of being used mostly by Chinese brands. Instagram launched its very own live shopping feature in 2020 in an effort to gain a share of this lucrative market. According to Coresight Research, U.S. livestream shopping market is expected to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021, and $25 billion by 2023.
Livestreams are a powerful video format that enables brands to promote new products, host tutorials, engage with customers, and/or collaborate with influencers and creators. It’s well worth adding a livestream to your content roster every couple of months to foster brand engagement and boost sales.
Instagram collaborated with a range of brands and influencers to launch shoppable livestreams during the 2021 holiday season, including Urban Outfitters and Sephora, in an effort to stimulate more sales activity on the app.
Consider offering Instagram-only deals
If you want to build up selling activity on the platform, it’s important to consider Instagram as its own sales and marketing channel, and not just a reproduction of your online store.
There needs to be a clear incentive for your customers to shop via Instagram, or many followers are unlikely to engage. Offering perks that are only available to followers, such as unique product bundles, promotions, or early access to new collections is a great way to increase the value proposition of your Instagram shop. Make sure to promote these specials through your other channels to drive traffic towards your feed!
Temporary tattoo brand Tattly offered its Instagram followers a free shipping code to celebrate Pride month:
As Instagram continues its transition from content sharing to social commerce, we can expect to see more tools and features introduced that further streamline the shopping experience for customers.
We can expect Instagram Shopping to become more mainstream, so the brands who move quickly to optimize their Instagram selling strategy will benefit the most from this shift towards increasingly digital brand interactions.