How to use Instagram for business: A beginner’s guide
Instagram is more than just a social network—it’s a powerful tool for building deeper connections with customers. Here’s how to use Instagram for business success.
Published October 19, 2020
Last updated March 23, 2022
Since its 2010 launch, Instagram has made a big name for itself. What started as a simple photo-sharing app has grown into a top social media platform with more than 1.4 billion users worldwide.
Given its popularity, many businesses regularly engage with buyers on the platform. There are more than 200 million Instagram business accounts, and approximately 90 percent of Instagram users follow a business account.
Approximately 90% of Instagram users follow a business account.
But for companies to find success and build strong customer relationships on Instagram, they need to create a well-rounded experience that blends marketing, ecommerce, and support.
In this beginner’s guide to Instagram for business, we’ll cover:
- Why you should use Instagram for business
- How the Messenger API helps companies support and sell to customers
- 9 tips to help you use Instagram for business
Why use Instagram for business?
Over the past couple of years, Instagram has released many ecommerce features—such as Shop and Checkout—allowing companies to easily sell products in the app.
The platform is part of the changing face of conversational commerce: the intersection of messaging and ecommerce. Customers can conveniently find and purchase products they need, and businesses can get information from the buyer—all within the app. Brands can also personalize their communication based on Instagram insights, moving customers through the sales funnel faster.
Offering support on Instagram is just as important as selling on the platform. Thanks to the Messenger API for Instagram, support staff can answer questions and send helpful resources through Instagram Direct Messages (more on that below).
Offering support on Instagram is just as important as selling on the platform.
For companies looking to increase customer engagement and retention, Instagram is one of the best communication apps for providing great service. Instagram’s business features empower customers to connect with brands at multiple touchpoints—whether it’s shooting a DM directly from a verified business profile, the Shops tab, or a call-to-action in a Story.
What is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. In the world of business messaging, an API allows enterprises to do more with their customer conversations. They can be turned into support tickets, be used as a source for data, and be integrated into CRM and customer support software. This enables agents to manage multiple conversations at once while leveraging tools like chatbots and automation.
How the Instagram for Business Messenger API helps companies support and sell to customers
With the Messenger API for Instagram, businesses can offer quick, personal customer service directly through the app.
The Messenger API:
- Empowers companies to direct message (DM) customers on Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp and to provide support via their preferred ticketing system. If you’re a Zendesk user, that means you can connect your Instagram business account to Zendesk and manage conversations on Instagram alongside all your other support channels.
- Makes it possible to build enterprise software on top of Facebook’s business capabilities. This API is what CX champions like Zendesk use to create customer service solutions on top of Instagram, which saves time for businesses that don’t want to form a patchwork of solutions themselves.
- Allows businesses to leverage Facebook’s ecommerce and messaging capabilities across other market segments and regions—anywhere in the world—when a customer starts a conversation with them on Instagram.
Messenger enables businesses to enhance their presence on Instagram, manage customer conversations at scale, and offer a better customer experience.
9 tips to help teams use Instagram for business
Not sure how to use Instagram or where to start? We’ve got you covered with basic setup instructions, Instagram for business tips, and examples from brands that are excelling on the platform.
Set up your Instagram business account
To start using Instagram for business, you first have to set up an Instagram business profile. Business accounts have access to an expanded bio section, advertising options, tracking insights, and other features that will help you connect with your target audience more efficiently.
If you don’t already use Instagram, you can create an account by connecting an existing Facebook page (Facebook owns Instagram, so there’s some crossover). Or, you can create a new login specific to Instagram.
Once the account is set up, it’s simple to upgrade from a personal account to a business account. Go to Settings in the mobile app, then Account, and click on Switch to Professional Account. You’ll see an option to choose between Creator and Business to help categorize your account. Choose Business, and voilà—you can start posting content on Instagram.
You’ll also want to verify your Instagram profile to minimize scams and show customers that they’re interacting with a legitimate company. Go to Settings, tap Account, and then select Request Verification. You’ll need to submit some information about your business. Verification can take up to 30 days.
Complete your profile
After you create your profile, you’ll need to fill out the different sections. This information will help customers find your business, understand what you do, and engage with you.
Your Instagram bio—located at the top of your profile, near your profile picture and follower count—is key to introducing people to your company and enticing them to follow you. Think of your bio as your home page, except you only have 150 characters to draw people in. Use these characters wisely.
Include a short description of what your business does to catch the attention of new customers and help them evaluate you at a glance. You can also use your description to set the tone of voice for your brand, whether it’s playful or educational.
Udacity combines all these elements to create a powerful bio. The company’s profile picture features the same logo as its website and other social media pages. And Udacity lists its industry and describes what it does in one sentence.
Include relevant keywords in your bio to optimize it for search, too. For example, Vinti Trunk tops the list for the #sustainableclothing hashtag, making it easy for new audiences and existing customers to locate the clothing brand’s profile.
You should also consider sharing your business and/or customer service hours in your bio, so customers know when they can contact you.
Instagram allows you to share only one clickable link in your bio. You can get around that by using a free link-tree tool to share multiple links. When visitors click the link in your profile, it opens up to another landing page where they can navigate to other URLs—such as your About Us page, Contact Us page, or help center.
Add contact information to your Instagram profile so buyers can reach you without having to switch between apps or channels. This creates an easy, seamless experience not only for your customers but also for your agents. By keeping the conversations in the Instagram app, your agents have the same visibility into your customers’ data and history as they would if they came from another channel, like email.
Include more than one contact button to help your customers get in touch with you faster, too. Many businesses use only the Message button, which lets customers start a conversation via DM. But you can go a step further and link a call-to-action button to your phone number and email address.
Use Instagram content types to connect with users
Each of Instagram’s unique content formats is a touchpoint for customers, whether it’s for marketing and brand awareness or sales and support.
Instagram Stories are vertical videos and photos that appear at the top of the app instead of in the main feed. They stay up for just 24 hours (unless you add them to your Highlights section) but can help you get in front of customers quickly.
Stories have many unique features—including polls, quizzes, music, gifs, and a question box—that allow you to share content in fun and engaging ways. You can also use link stickers (formerly the Swipe Up feature) to send customers to important web pages and resources. Plus, followers have the option to message you directly from a Story, making it easy for them to connect with you and buy from you.
Most businesses use Instagram Stories to respond to customer inquiries and share important updates. But Stories can also be used to gather customer feedback: Ask your followers what they think about your company or products by using interactive features like question stickers or quizzes. Or, repost photos of happy customers or videos of creative hacks customers come up with on your Stories.
You can even turn your Stories into self-service resources by addressing FAQs and saving them as Highlights so they can be accessed at any time. For example, Chupi customers can learn about payment plans when they view the jewelry brand’s Stories.
Similar to TikTok, Instagram Reels are bite-sized videos that can be set to music and enhanced with effects.
Customers can comment on your Reels or click over to your profile to connect with you. The Send to DM call-to-action button allows users to share Reels with their friends.
Businesses can use Reels to create short videos that answer common questions and help customers get the most out of a product or service. You can even reply to your customers’ comments with another Reel that clarifies your message. Chupi, for example, commonly uses Reels to promote new products and respond to customers.
IGTV is a feature that allows you to make long-form videos. Your followers can comment on your IGTV posts and use the Send to DM button to share the content with their friends.
While Reels are short and snappy, IGTV videos can be up to 15 minutes when uploaded from a mobile device or 60 minutes when uploaded from the web. That means businesses can create longer tutorials and product demonstrations, do extended Q&As, and share how-to videos or customer testimonials.
Instagram Live lets you broadcast and engage with customers in real-time.
Live comment feeds enable businesses to interact with followers during the broadcast. And users can share live streams with their friends via DMs. Companies can save their Instagram Live sessions to IGTV for later viewing, too.
Brands may use Instagram Live to answer questions, perform demonstrations, or make important announcements. Meta (formerly known as Facebook) regularly features retailers who use live streaming to engage in Live Shopping.
Track what people say about your brand
Great customer service on Instagram—and any of the other social networks for that matter—is more than monitoring comments and mentions. It requires proactive social listening.
As your Instagram following grows, you might receive more comments and messages than you can handle. But you don’t want to leave customers hanging—they’re quick to call out companies or jump to a competitor after a bad service experience. In fact, 61 percent of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one negative experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.
A social listening tool like Buffer or Hootsuite can help businesses efficiently track and manage mentions, hashtags, keywords, and more across Instagram. Your team can follow up and impress both new and existing buyers with quick replies and great customer service.
Move customer support inquiries to DMs
Instagram makes it convenient for customers to DM brands right away, but occasionally, customers will leave support-related comments on a public-facing post first. If the situation is going to take more than a few sentences to resolve or requires sharing sensitive information, it’s best to move the conversation off of the public feed and into private DMs.
In most cases, you should publicly acknowledge the comment first and request that the customer send you a DM with additional details. This lets the customer and other followers know that you’re not ignoring the comment. Plus, you’ll be able to get more information without customers sharing personal data publicly in the comments.
Integrate direct messages with customer service software like Zendesk for organized tracking and ticket management. This will allow your support team to manage multiple conversations on Instagram and other channels simultaneously. As a result, problems get solved quickly, and more customers get the help they need.
Since partnering with Zendesk to handle customer support on Instagram (and other social media platforms):
Set clear response time expectations
According to the Sprout Social Index, 40 percent of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of reaching out on social media. But agents aren’t always on the clock, so customers can’t get replies 24/7.
To avoid frustration and disappointment, it’s a good idea to set response expectations upfront when customers reach out for help on Instagram. Through Zendesk, you can program automatic responses to DMs that note your average response time, customer service hours, or alternative ways of contacting you.
As your team works through the problem, let the customer know when you anticipate the issue will be resolved and when you’ll be following up with them.
Be transparent and authentic
Ninety percent of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support. So, make sure you’re staying true to your brand when posting content on Instagram and interacting with customers.
Authentic customer service on Instagram often starts with your team and how they engage with buyers. Treat customers like people because they are—always use kind, casual language to come across as more personable, empathetic, and real.
Addressing issues publicly and owning up to mistakes also helps build trust with your audience. Generally, you don’t want to hide negative comments or leave customer questions unanswered.
When experiencing an influx of customer inquiries, it’s helpful to automate responses via chatbots to save time for your agents. Automated responses can communicate business hours and wait times, answer FAQs, resolve basic issues, or even send leads to sales and marketing. A bot can serve as a simple helper built with a DIY decision tree or as a highly specialized, task-specific powerhouse built on sophisticated AI.
While automation increases productivity and allows businesses to serve more customers, it’s important to maintain a human touch. Your Instagram followers are connecting with you in the same app they use to chat with family and friends, so they also want the option to talk to human agents when they contact you.
Businesses can deliver seamless hand-offs with software like Zendesk. When conversations are transferred from a bot to an agent, the conversation thread and customer profile are preserved. No information is lost, so the agent has all the context they need to provide personalized service, and the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.
Create a customer support strategy
To deliver a positive and memorable customer service experience on Instagram, you need a strategy that guides agents’ interactions with your followers.
Train team members on your customer service voice so they know how to respond to comments and DMs. A consistent and authentic voice helps build a positive impression of your company. To ensure all support agents are on the same page, create a document that outlines your brand’s personality, phrases or words to use (and avoid), and examples of how you want to sound to customers.
Establish an engagement protocol, too. How should your agents handle angry customers? What types of conversations must be moved to a private channel? What messages will you respond to immediately?
You should also update your Instagram Highlights regularly to keep them fresh and helpful. You may announce new products or services, answer recent customer questions, promote revamped articles, and so on. For example, if your business adds a product feature, you can create a new Story that tells your followers about it and how to use it.
Finally, make sure there’s a plan in place for major unforeseen events, like a product failure. In these types of situations, you must be proactive. Pause all automated posts if you use a scheduling tool; keep an eye on brand mentions to gauge social sentiment; delete offensive or inappropriate comments from your Instagram feed. Once you’ve properly assessed the situation, admit fault, explain what happened, and apologize.
Enhance CX with Instagram and Zendesk
Whether you’re an Instagram pro or new to the game, the app enables businesses to nurture customers. Companies that offer support on Instagram are harnessing the power of customer data, increasing sales, and lowering time to resolution in support tickets.
Businesses can use Zendesk’s messaging platform to manage Instagram DMs at scale and create positive customer experiences. Instagram and Zendesk make it easy for companies to make the most of their conversations—thanks to the Messenger API, a fully unified agent workspace, and a host of great tools to transform the customer journey.