Businesses shouldn’t be shy about selling on Instagram anymore.
Recent Instagram statistics point to the fact that the platform is booming for brands right now.
And as noted in our guide to Marketing in Gen Z, younger consumers rely on Instagram to discover, research and buzz about new products.
But selling on Instagram isn’t as simple as posting product photos and calling it a marketing day.
If you want to turn your fans and followers into actual customers, you’re going to need a strategy.
In this guide, we break down the best practices of doing business on Instagram and how to get your products in front of eager shoppers.
What does selling on Instagram actually look like?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to selling your products on Instagram.
That said, some strategies make more sense than others depending on your target audience and what you’re selling.
Below we’ve highlighted real-world examples of selling on Instagram and why they work.
Product photos and promotions
No secrets or surprises here.
According to Instagram themselves, a staggering 60% of users rely on the platform to find products.
Whether you’re a retailer or ecommerce brand, publishing product photos is a no-brainer to reach your followers and digital window-shoppers alike.
This post from Alex and Ani is a straightforward example of selling on Instagram. A time-sensitive offer coupled with a stylish photo is totally fair game for brands looking to drive traffic to their stores.
Here’s another good example from Lisa Frank, which points followers to their bio link to check out their latest product line release. Product and promotional posts like these are perfect for not only driving clicks but also creating conversations around whatever you’re selling.
Meanwhile, many brands are seeing success with Instagram Stories as an avenue for social selling. Doing so allows brands to experiment with new creatives, calls-to-action and Stories-specific offers beyond their regular feed. But if you’re still building your brand following, be aware you need a 10,000 follower minimum to use this feature.
User-generated content (customer photos)
Selling on Instagram doesn’t always have to be totally in your face.
It shouldn’t be.
That’s why so many brands are making user-generated content a cornerstone of their Instagram sales strategies.
Customer photos go hand in hand with high engagement rates and let your customers serve as your best billboards. Given how eager consumers are to share product photos, scoring user-generated content is often just a matter of asking.
For example, BARTON encourages fans and followers to share their latest purchases on Instagram through their branded hashtags.
In turn, they regularly use customer photos as a means of highlighting their latest promotions with a much-needed sense of authenticity.
User-generated content allows your customers to see what your products look like in-the-wild. This also serves as a break from traditional promo posts and allows you to show your products from different angles, so to speak. For example, brands like KitchenAid supplement their commercial content with “after” shots of their customers’ creations.
During 2019, Instagram’s native shopping features underwent some major changes for e-tailers.
Your followers can use now the Instagram Shopping platform to purchase products directly from your page (denoted by the shopping bag icon).
In short, Instagram Shopping integrates with your product catalog and tags into your Instagram feed to create a seamless shopping experience.
Let’s look at an example of what the Instagram Shopping experience looks like with Bellroy.
Scrolling through the brand’s feed, a simple tap on a shopping-enabled photo highlights tagged products in that post. These posts are denoted by Instagram’s shopping bag icon in the top right corner.
After tapping on the product tagged, visitors can see additional product details and close-ups. Then, visitors can make their way to a product page directly from Instagram.
Users are also able to view all active products on a brand’s feed by tapping the Instagram Shopping icon.
Enabling shopping on Instagram is a smart move for e-tailers and brands who already have an active product catalog on Facebook. If you’re interested in activating Instagram shopping, note the guidelines to approval that must be reviewed by Instagram themselves including:
- Agreeing to the platform’s merchant agreement and commerce policies
- Having an active Instagram business account
- Having a connected Facebook Page
- Selling primarily physical products and goods
- Having a connection to a Facebook Catalog (either directly or through a third-party ecommerce service)
Shoppable Instagram tools
Beyond native Instagram shopping, there are plenty of tools out there with features focused around selling on Instagram.
For example, Outdoor Voices uses Dash Hudson’s “LikeShop.me” bio link which sends visitors to a shoppable Instagram feed. Visitors can tap through individual photos to visit the product page for any given post.
A bonus of using these types of tools includes advanced analytics and user-generated content curation. Check out Outdoor Voice’s lookbook of Instagram content. User-generated content on-site not only helps convert more visitors but also funnel customers to your social presence.
Note that not all selling on Instagram has to happen from your account.
Case in point, influencer marketing has exploded as a way for brands to get their products in front of their target audience through a more compelling and relatable manner.
The concept is simple: partner with someone with a highly engaged audience to raise awareness for your brand and potentially uncover new customers.
Influencer promotions are effective often because they don’t feel as “salesy.” Also, influencers typically have highly engaged audiences whose reach might be greater than your brand’s own account.
Forming relationships with relevant influencers is a cost-effective way to hone in your Instagram promotions on people who will realistically become customers.
Of course, many brands have found success selling through Instagram ads.
Taking advantage of creative ad types such as Stories and Carousels, such ads offer tons of flexibility and targeting options to reach customers shopping on Instagram.
What are the best practices for selling on Instagram?
As noted earlier, hammering followers with product photos and promotions isn’t exactly the best way to sell on Instagram.
Here are some key tips to consider to make your Instagram presence more sales-focused while still sticking to the platform’s best practices.
Craft compelling captions
How salesy you come across on Instagram really boils down to your captions.
Don’t want to shove offers or price points in your followers’ faces? You don’t have to! There are plenty of Instagram caption ideas that can help you inject personality into your posts without coming across as too promotional.
For example, consider how you can show off your products while asking your followers a question. Here’s a great example from Paper Mate.
Meanwhile, check out how JOAH manages to put their products front-and-center by asking for a comment.
See how that works?
Note that there’s currently quite a debate over whether or not salesy captions restrict your reach as part of the Instagram algorithm. To be safe, experiment with different call-to-action phrases if you’re looking to point followers to your bio.
And speaking of which…
Sell yourself in your bio
Your Instagram bio is valuable real estate, especially if you’re interested in sales.
After all, your bio link represents the sole avenue from your follower to your storefront if you’re not connected to Instagram Shopping.
As a result, make sure that your bio includes a combination of the following:
- A call-to-action directing followers to your shop
- A mention of your branded hashtags to encourage user-generated content
- A trackable link (think: Bitly or a shoppable Instagram tool) to monitor traffic to your storefront
Publish people-centric product photos
Instagram isn’t the place for “ordinary” product snapshots.
And on the flip side, research shows that promotional photos containing actual people perform well on social media.
Why? Because people want to see products in a real-world setting. This not only makes them more compelling but serves as social proof, showing potential buyers that you have a track record of satisfied customers.
For example, Camelbak shows off their products in the great outdoors rather than confined to photo studio or kitchen counter.
Frequently featuring photos of people, specifically user-generated content, creates a snowball effect. That is, customers will want to take their own snapshots with your product so they’ll get featured on your feed, too. This results in more engagement and reach, creating even more opportunities to win customers.
Make your product photos pop
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: creativity counts on Instagram.
This rings true if you’re trying to sell products too.
Remember that you’re fighting for your customers’ attention, especially since they’re more than likely following competing brands on Instagram.
For example, this stunning snapshot from Skullcandy doesn’t feel like a sales pitch at all. In fact, it makes us want to stop and stare.
Meanwhile, Skullcandy regularly switches up their content’s color scheme as inspiration for styles and settings for the product photos.
Here’s another awesome example from IL MAKIAGE. Although the brand has plenty of customer photos to choose from, they make sure to keep their content strategy fresh with eye-popping product shots as well.
Ask yourself: would your product photo be worth “liking” if it wasn’t trying to sell something?
You don’t need to be a master photographer to make it happen, either. Just take the time to review how to take good Instagram photos and explore creative filters and apps that can give your snapshots some pizazz.
Post more than just products!
This might seem counterintuitive, but hear us out.
Arguably one of the most important pieces of selling on Instagram is not selling.
Not all the time, anyway.
Sure, retail giants might solely post promotion content. However, if you’re an up-and-coming brand or you’re trying to grow your audience, some non-sales related content is the best way to warm up potential customers. After all, brands today are expected to show off their personalities.
Here’s an example. Suavacito regularly publishes photos about their products but also sprinkles lighthearted content like memes and dog photos throughout their feed.
These types of posts score tons of engagement and can be a gateway for new followers to discover your brand. As noted in our guide to social media for retail, it’s crucial for brands to create content for every step of the customer journey. That includes folks who are warming up to you or might not even know you yet.
As a side note, this speaks to the importance of putting together a social media content calendar. With the help of social media management tools like Sprout, you can find a balance between promotional and non-promotional content. Doing so ensures that your followers are consistently engaged with the right marketing messages day-by-day.
Monitor your sales performance via Instagram analytics
Lastly, don’t forget about your data.
So much of selling on Instagram revolves around your analytics.
For example, which product photos score the most engagement? How do your Instagram shopping posts perform versus non-promotional ones? How much of a direct ROI are you seeing from Instagram?
Sprout’s Instagram analytics can clue you in on the answers and then some. Our comprehensive reporting makes it a cinch to track your paid and organic campaigns all in one place, including those happening beyond Instagram.
With a constant pulse on your top performing posts, you can better align your sales and social strategy without second-guessing.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
What are you selling on Instagram?
Fact: consumers are more than happy to shop on Instagram.
And although brands don’t need to be subtle about selling on Instagram, sales don’t happen by accident.
Hopefully, these tips above serve as some much-needed motivation and inspiration to score sales on the platform. As long as you stick to Instagram’s best practices and keep a close eye on your analytics, you’re on the right track.
We want to hear from you, though. What’s your own experience with Instagram shopping and selling? Any success stories or struggles? Let us know in the comments below!
By: Brent Barnhart for Social Sprout