Instagram is now over 10 years old and, although for many it is still only an entertaining platform to see or post photos of cats and lattes, for freelancers, content creators, and businesses in the US and around the world, it is an important tool for attracting, connecting, and selling to avid consumers scrolling down their social feeds.
Fast forward a decade and, in 2021, no current enterprise goes without having a business account to try and capture the attention of a slice of the 1 billion monthly users on Instagram. The colourful social platform itself started to create several ways to monetise in 2012, after being bought by Facebook. For years, not every business using Instagram had the same success. However, as a social media designed for mobile right from the start, Instagram anticipated that, in the 21st century, our relationships with our phones would outlast many relationships in real life – the and platform hasn’t reached its full business potential just yet.
So, amongst all that glossy imagery, stickers, and over-filtered stories, are people making money on Instagram?
From hobby to business
“I created my Instagram account in April 2020, during the lockdown. I initially created the account as a hobby, and it has slowly progressed into a small side business. As a digital artist who primarily creates empowering illustrations, but also draws portraits and book covers, I use Etsy to sell my prints, and recently I have been successfully using my Instagram to drive traffic to my shop.”
Sara Tadayyon – Entrepreneur and digital artist at @plumandcoco
Build a community that cares about your brand
“I’ve been making money as an influencer on Instagram for over a year by selling other people’s products through sponsorships. The biggest challenge when starting out is finding a clear voice for your brand or product, as well as convincing people to follow and engage with your content. Some factors that can attract people are your page being pleasing to the eye, your caption offering tips or information about a certain aspect of life, or the product being cute/novelty. Essentially, you want to create a profile where people want to follow so they don’t miss the next launch.
If someone wants to sell a product or service on Instagram, they need to think about how they will keep people coming back to the store. People like to buy from brands and other people that they like. As a customer, they want to feel as though they matter. Responding to comments and DMs are very important for cultivating that relationship with your consumers.”
Mandalynn Carlson – Actress and content creator
Plan great content rather than sales
“I sell re-finished furniture and thrift items. Instagram is an incredible resource for my business, allowing me to connect with many wonderful customers and friends. However, keeping up with an Instaram Business is not as simple as you might think – it takes a lot of time and careful branding. The biggest challenge is to make sure that you have a consistent stream of content to post and share, either on your newsfeed or through your stories. People also like to know the person behind the business. They want to know the real you. By understanding who you are and what they are supporting, people feel good about connecting and finding fun new things in your shop.”
Amber Eberly – Business Development & Marketing Coordinator at www.adonisbluedesigns.com
Likes and comments are valuable leads
“Often people blindly open an account with the idea of selling their product or service, yet they are lacking a clear and concise strategy, short-term goals, and roadmap. Each of these is crucial for successfully navigating your long-term goals…
I have successfully operated a business account selling clothing and accessories for four years. Based on these experiences, I believe the most important thing to consider before getting started is understanding how to generate sales. The most effective approach to understanding this is through competition research. See what actions they implement to generate sales on Instagram and treat each like or comment as a potential sales lead. Although it might feel good to simply have engagement, leveraging this engagement is how you will achieve sales. Treat Instagram as a customer funnel and track engagement to determine your warmest leads, and then act on these leads.”
Patrick Accomando – Sales and Marketing Specialist at www.shopekzo.com
Too much work, too few results
“As a business owner active on every social media, including Instagram, I am very disappointed with the recent results when compared to what these results used to be in the past. I miss the organic times of the past. Nowadays, the biggest challenge for someone thinking of selling a product or service on Instagram is the amount of time you will be dedicated to only achieve minimal results. From over 5,000 interactions, you may find one, and only one, lead. A single lead doesn’t match my expectations. I often feel that I am mostly giving content for free to Instagram instead of actually getting sales leads from there. From my perspective, this point applies to all social media apps today. They are absurdly unregulated.”
Agustin Caceres – Founder at LEGroup Industries
Quality images help sales
“Instagram is one of our top sales channels, as our business became popular thanks to social media. We started selling our handcrafted jewellery and wooden decorations in 2014 on a platform that later was blocked by our government in 2017. As we needed to find a new sales channel and Instagram was very popular in Ukraine, we thought that it would be a great idea to use it. Our account grew very fast because we invested time in making the best content we could.
Instagram is a visual platform and great photos can boost your sales potential. People won’t buy a product if your images do not look amazing or original. Make your content stand out and avoid looking just like any other eCommerce store. One way to stand out is by using creative photos, backgrounds, and artistic descriptions.”
Yuriy Kochut – Co-founder at handcrafted jewellery and wooden furniture brand Kochut.
Make it easy to buy from you
“The biggest challenge to selling on a social platform like Instagram is that it needs to be simple, streamlined, and easy. If someone clicks on your link and it doesn’t work, you’ve lost them. Most of the time they won’t keep trying. In fact, generally, they won’t even tell you it’s not working – they’ll just move on. You have to make their buying experience as smooth and painless as possible.
I sell my branded hats exclusively on Instagram and they have done very well since launching. The beauty of Instagram is that having an engaged community/following means you have a captive audience of potential customers who have already invested some time in you/what you do.”
Christina Cay – Content creator at motherhood blog www.cmonmama.com
And just before I go….
Here are the five basic things you have to get right if you ever want your business to make any money on Instagram:
1. Make the most of your Bio
Whether you are a business just starting out on Instagram or an experienced one, your Bio is your prime space. Basically, it is your clickable digital business card. Hashtags are welcome, too.
2. Have a reasonable content ratio
Don’t spam your followers daily with posts pushing your latest product. Instead, create an 80/20 ratio of balancing commercial posts and valuable evergreen content that helps others.
3. Be authentic
Using oversaturated stock images or copying content from others won’t take you far. Never forget that the best posts are the ones unique to your brand.
4. Use all tools available
Besides the over a decade old feed (Instagram was launched in 2010), take advantage of the latest tools and content formats, such as stories, highlights, IGTV, and most recently Instagram Reels.
5. Respect people’s time
We all have hundreds of social media profiles to check. So, make sure that you have clear captions for your content. Being clear and assertive in a very noisy digital world is a trait that people appreciate.
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