I get a lot of questions about Instagram, and whether an organization or an individual needs a professional Instagram account.

Everyone has to make that determination for themselves based on their business and their marketing goals, and most importantly whether their clients/customers are using that social channel, (I believe it’s better to have fewer social media accounts and do them well than to be on every platform). Just because a social media platform exists doesn’t mean that you have to utilize it – sometimes it’s smarter not to.

If the answer is yes, here are some ideas on how to use Instagram for building your brand and business.

If you build it they will come, right? Not necessarily.

Regardless of the industry in which you are trying to attract followers, when it comes to Instagram (as well as every other social media platform), you have to post content that speaks to your target audience on a consistent basis, find your unique niche, and use hashtags and attractive and relevant imagery to accompany your posts. And also be patient, as social media success takes time, is organic and isn’t achieved overnight. It will take time to build a strong following, so it’s important to not get discouraged or frustrated at first.

That being said, you always want to create content with your ideal client/buyer in mind – so client-centric/focused content/stories.

In order to do that, a great place to start is to create buyer personas. I suggest doing this especially for Instagram, because I feel like a lot of companies and individuals create Instagram accounts without having a clear purpose. They get very hung up on finding the right imagery and hashtags, but forget the importance of who they’re trying to reach, and having clear goals for your target audience is essential for social media success on every platform.

Buyer personas help you understand your customers (and prospective customers) better. This makes it easier for you to tailor your content, messaging, product development and services to meet the specific needs, behaviors and concerns of your target audience.

Buyer personas can be created through research, surveys and interviews — all with a mix of clients, prospects and those outside your contact database who might align with your target audience. You can create buyer personas by answering the following questions about your ideal client/consumer (this is by no means an exhaustive list – feel free to add your own questions and delete some!)

  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • How do you learn about new information for your job?
  • What publications or blogs do you read?
  • What associations and social networks do you participate in?
  • Describe your personal demographics (if possible, ask their age, whether they’re married and if they have children.)
  • Describe your educational background. What level of education did you complete, which schools did you attend, and what did you study?
  • Describe your career path. How did you end up where you are today?
  • How do you prefer to interact with vendors (e.g. email, phone, in person)?
  • Do you use the internet to research vendors or products? If yes, how do you search for information?
  • Describe a recent purchase. Why did you consider a purchase, what was the evaluation process, and how did you decide to purchase that product or service?
  • What other accounts do you follow on Instagram?

I know this seems like a lot of work but if you don’t take the time to figure out to whom you’re marketing, you won’t know for whom you are creating content and what kind of content to create to effectively reach them. Then you’re left with a social media account that has no strategy. You can have the most beautiful images and great copy, but without a clear strategy or a laser focused approach on who you’re trying to reach, your efforts won’t be as effective as they could be.

When it comes to your Instagram account, you should map out your goals, create images, create an editorial calendar with a schedule of posts (and map out what you will repurpose and when) and most importantly, you should be YOU.

What does it mean to be you? It means to develop your personal brand and ensure you weave that into all of your Instagram posts.  You should be original and unique and do research to ensure you can carve out a niche that is different than others in the crowded Instagram universe.

When I say personal brand, I also mean that companies can and also infuse this into their social media presence. Every company and organization is unique in its own way. And Instagram really does enable you to capture that through photos and captions. I like to think of Instagram as a more informal way to look at corporations, if you’re using a business account. You can infuse company employees into your strategy as well by featuring them. Instagram can be an incredibly powerful way to showcase company culture, recruiting initiatives, and pro bono and diversity programs. Think of it as a peek behind the curtain.

Please also remember that one size doesn’t fit all when you’re writing content for social media. So if you’re going to be repurposing content from another platform (which you should be) such as LinkedIn, remember that you have to adjust the imagery and language too. Instagram is a more informal platform than LinkedIn.

Also the image sizes are not the same from platform to platform so you need to resize the image that you use for Instagram to a square shape. Please take the time to do this because it will make a big difference in how your company is perceived to the public.

You should also use the right hashtags – conduct research by looking at similar accounts and posts. Make sure to use a lot of hashtags for the most visibility for your posts – you can use up to 30 hashtags per Instagram post and you should (but put them at the end of the post and skip a line after the text of your post so they don’t look like spam).

A large part of success on Instagram is based on the images that you use to accompany your content. At the very least your images need to be correctly sized for Instagram, you can find the correct sizes to use by a simple Google search, and you can make custom (and right-sized) graphics very easily with using my favorite graphic design tool for non-graphic designers, canva.com. You can also easily repurpose headshots and other stock images that you already have. Unsplash is a great website to obtain free already licensed stock imagery on relevant topics that fit your posts if budget is an issue.

Creating content on every social platform should be less about promoting your business and more about meeting your client’s/customer’s needs. Always think show versus tell and always aim to be helpful.

When it comes to content on Instagram (and social media in general), remember that your clients and prospects are not always searching for answers, but when you provide solutions for them, you are identifying a problem they didn’t even know they had – that makes you the expert and gives you the ability to showcase your insights, perspective and knowledge. Plus the visuals on Instagram can really capture your audience’s attention and bring your posts to life.

One of the frustrations that I have with Instagram is that you cannot insert a link in each post. You can put a main link in your Instagram bio, so please make sure that you do have a web link there, but you can’t give people a link to click on each post. There are several ways to get around this, including what a lot of food bloggers and shopping websites do. So professional service firms can take inspiration from there, and create a link tree. If you look at Williams Sonoma and US Weekly’s Instagram accounts, you’ll see what I mean. They have one URL in their LinkedIn bio that connects to many stories. Here are two tools to help you do it:

  • Linktree, which allows for a text-based menu popup from the link in your bio. Linktree has strong analytics for social media administrators.
  • The Shop Grid feature on Buffer is another option. Shop Grid is more visually appealing than Linktree. It pulls up a grid that emulates your feed where you can click on images to go to a specific site.

I don’t see many law firms utilizing these tools, so this would be a smart way to set yourself apart and make it easy for the client/customer to easily find out more about your content/firm.

Building a strong following on Instagram takes time but if you are focused (you should never have to pay for fake followers as some people do) and stick to your strategy, you should see results in a few months. All it takes is creating tailored content that puts your audience first, never overtly sells and includes  vibrant images and the right hashtags (which requires you to do some research). You will gain the trust of your audience and become seen as a subject-matter expert and your followers will likely eventually hire you or buy your products.

Always remember that your level of advance planning determines your level of social media success – I can’t stress enough the importance of creating an editorial calendar and strategically planning your social posts ahead of time.

Happy Instagram content creating!