Article

How to use Instagram for business: A step-by-step guide

From creating an account to leveraging the latest features, here’s everything you need to know about using Instagram for business.

By Jesse Martin, Staff Writer

Published October 19, 2020
Last updated December 13, 2021

First, Instagram changed the face of social media. Then it changed how we shop. More than ever, businesses are deploying Instagram-first retail and marketing strategies. Now it’s time for the same brands to go all in on customer support.

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 1.3 billion users worldwide. Given its popularity, Instagram has also become a valuable place for companies to connect with customers.

Approximately 90 percent of users follow a business account, and many businesses are taking advantage of the opportunity to engage with buyers on the platform—in fact, there are more than 200 million Instagram business accounts. 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.

Why use Instagram for business?

Over the past couple of years, Instagram has released a flurry of ecommerce features such as Shop and Checkout, allowing companies to easily sell products in the app. As users shop and comment on product photos, they form relationships with brands on Instagram. With the introduction of the Messenger API for Instagram, businesses can strengthen those connections by offering quick, personal customer service directly through the app.

What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. In the world of business messaging, APIs allow 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 companies to have agents managing multiple conversations at once while leveraging tools like chatbots and automation.

Instagram is an ecommerce powerhouse and a social media marketing platform. It’s part of the changing face of conversational commerce—the intersection of messaging and ecommerce. Rather than imagining conversational commerce as converting leads in chat, using live chat while online shopping, or establishing a brand presence in messaging apps, it can be better understood as part of the overall customer experience.

How the Instagram for Business Messenger API helps companies support, scale, and sell

The Messenger API for Instagram empowers companies to build relationships and create engaging interactions throughout the customer journey while driving loyalty via conversational commerce.

The Messenger API:

  • Allows businesses 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 to 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 who don’t want to form a patchwork of solutions themselves.
  • Supports Instagram Direct Messages, which means companies can further 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.

Offering support on Instagram is just as important as selling on the platform. Thanks to the Messenger API, support staff can answer questions, help customers troubleshoot, and send knowledge base articles through Instagram Direct Messages. Agents can also take advantage of some pretty cool, rich features to deliver an excellent customer service experience—whether this looks like offering more personal touches with emoji reactions or threading conversations for clarity.

Messenger allows businesses to enhance their presence on Instagram, manage customer conversations at scale, and offer a better customer experience.

The door is open to more complex conversational use cases, too, which can include AI-powered chatbots and data capture. Indeed, 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, from the Shops tab, or from a call-to-action in a Story.

The Messenger API for Instagram makes it possible to start conversations with brands from various points in their instagram presence

Courtesy of Instagram

How to use Instagram for business

As Instagram continues to add new business-specific features, there are various ways to leverage the platform to better serve customers. To help you get started, we’re sharing tips, ideas, and examples from brands that are knocking it out of the park on Instagram.

1. Create your Instagram 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 on Instagram.

As a recognizable brand or business, you’ll also want to go through the process to verify your Instagram profile. Verification gives customers peace of mind that they’re interacting with a legitimate company and helps prevent scams. To start the verification process, 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.

2. Complete your profile

Once you’ve created your profile, you’ll need to fill out the different sections. This will make it easier for customers to find your business, understand what you do, and engage with you.

Bio
Your Instagram bio—located at the top of your profile, near your profile picture and follower count—is key to introducing people to your brand and enticing them to follow you. You only have 150 characters in this section, so it’s important to use them wisely.

To make your bio particularly helpful for customers, consider sharing your business and/or customer service hours, so they know when to expect a response from your team if they reach out.

Link
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.

Contact
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—and the customer profiles—in the Instagram app via Direct Messages, your agents have the same visibility into your customers’ data and history as they would if they came from another channel, like email.

3. Use Instagram’s content types to connect with customers

Instagram for business connect

Over 78 percent of consumers say that personalized content increases their purchase intent. Each of Instagram’s unique content formats is a touchpoint for customers, whether it’s for marketing and brand awareness or sales and support.

Stories

Instagram Stories stay up for just 24 hours (unless you add them to your Highlights section) and appear right at the top of users’ feeds, helping 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. Verified brands 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 increasing opportunities to cross-sell.

Many businesses use Instagram Stories to respond to common customer inquiries and share important updates.

Reels

Similar to TikTok, Instagram Reels are bite-sized videos that can be set to music, with video editing features and 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 via their DMs.

Businesses can use Reels to create short videos that answer customers’ questions and help them get the most out of a product or service. The fine jewelry brand Chupi commonly uses Reels to share product drops, and responds to customer queries in the comment section.

IGTV

IGTV is a feature that allows you to make long-form videos. Like other types of content on Instagram, users can comment on your IGTV posts. Your followers can also 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.

Live

Instagram Live gives you the opportunity to broadcast and engage with customers in real-time.

Live comment feeds enable businesses to interact with followers during the broadcast. And users can also share live streams with their friends via DMs. Plus, companies can save their Instagram Live sessions to IGTV for later viewing.

Brands may use Instagram Live to answer questions, perform demonstrations, or make important announcements. Meta (formerly known as Facebook) regularly features retailers who use livestreaming to engage in Live Shopping.

4. Track what people say about your brand

Instagram for business track

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, roughly half of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one negative experience, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report.

To ensure nothing falls through the cracks, a social listening tool can help businesses efficiently track and manage mentions, hashtags, keywords, and more across Instagram. Then, your team can follow up and wow both new and existing customers with quick replies and great service.

Chupi, which leverages Zendesk’s robust internal tagging system to catalogue particular groups of customers, explains: “When we launch a new range, we have customers that we know will be interested. We can reach out to them in advance and say ‘Just to let you know, we’re launching our new collection. We can put you on the list straight away.’ ”

5. Move customer support inquiries to DMs

Instagram makes it really 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, 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.

Direct messages can also integrate with support platforms like Zendesk for organized tracking and ticket management. Integrating DMs into your existing workflow is a game-changer for support teams. Before the Messenger API, scaling meant outgrowing your inbox as more and more messages came in. Now, it’s feasible to manage multiple conversations across Instagram and other platforms simultaneously; it’s also easier to work cohesively with other agents.

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 platforms):

  • BoxyCharm saw a 66-percent decrease in first-response time and a 100-percent resolution of private social media tickets.
  • Chupi raised €1 million in customer care–based sales.

6. Set clear response-time expectations

Instagram for business time

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.

7. Be transparent and authentic

Ninety percent of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support. Make sure you’re staying true to your brand and being ethical when posting 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. You generally don’t want to hide negative comments or leave customer questions unanswered.

8. Leverage chatbots

Instagram for business human touch

When experiencing an influx of customer inquiries, it’s helpful to automate responses via chatbots to save time for your agents. Automated responses can be used to 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 not to forget the human touch. Your Instagram followers are connecting with you in the same inbox they use to chat with family and friends, so they also want the option to talk to human agents when they reach out to you.

Businesses can deliver seamless hand-offs with 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 full context. This saves the customer from repeating themselves or switching to another support channel while enabling the agent to provide better, more personalized service.

Enhance CX with Instagram and Zendesk

Whether you’re Instagram-first or new to the game, the photo-sharing-turned-ecommerce app is promising grounds for growing businesses. 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 to manage Instagram DMs at scale, create positive customer experiences, and lean into the power of conversational commerce. 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.

The message matters

Want more customers to slide into your DMs? Learn messaging best practices to connect with your buyers.