Two years ago, I wrote a column on how small businesses could best use Instagram to grow their businesses. Geez, does that seem a long time ago now. Social media changes faster than Beyoncé changes outfits. There’s a lot you need to catch up on if you want to take advantage of the benefits of Instagram for growing your small business.

Since I wrote that column, Instagram has launched a number of tools that make it easier to grab and keep potential customers’ attention. So it’s time you learned some new social media tricks.

“What I appreciate about social media, like Instagram, is that it’s a platform to tell your story,” says Marcus Samuelsson, the Michelin star-rated chef, restaurant owner, and host of the PBS show No Passport Required. “It opens the door for more and diverse voices to be seen and heard. That’s why as a small business owner in Harlem, I use it as a medium to reflect all the different people who make the restaurant hum—front and back of house—and all of our guests from the church ladies on Sunday to the Latin dancers on Tuesday night.” Samuelsson uses Instagram not only to tell his story but to showcase his food, with great results.

View this post on Instagram

Still wondering what’s for dinner? Come by @marcusbpnewark and we’ll take care of it. #newark #newjersey #marcusbp #dinner #delicious

A post shared by Marcus Samuelsson (@marcuscooks) on

Sure, it takes time to build an Instagram following, but generally, these tips can help boost both your following and engagement:
  1. Ask people to follow you. Like I’m doing now. I’ve just recently launched on Instagram, so please follow @RhondaAbrams.
  2. Use Instagram Stories. Stories appear at the top of a follower’s feed. You can post pictures, videos, text, polls, ask questions, add music, and more. While Stories disappear in 24 hours, they get attention. If you have over 10,000 followers, you can add a link. One of the best ways to use Stories is to give people an unstaged behind-the-scene glimpse into your business. This takes some of the pressure off if you feel you can’t post until you have the “perfect” image.
  3. Try Instagram Live. Instagram Live lets you engage directly with your followers in real time. Click on “Live” in your Stories screen and start your video. Followers will be notified you’re on, and when they join, they can type in comments and questions for you to respond to. If you set a regular time to go live, your audience will know when they can catch you there.
  4. Check out IGTV. Instagram Live videos disappear after 24 hours—IGTV does not. Think of IGTV as YouTube for Instagram, just record a video and upload it. You can add links to drive traffic to your website.
  5. Create Carousel Posts. You can now post up to 10 pics at one time, including short videos, keeping your followers engaged with your account longer, swiping left to see what’s next. Longer engagement means a better chance to turn a follower into a customer.
  6. Get Insights. Instagram now gives you greater insight into your followers, so you can use this info to tailor future posts and improve your performance

Don’t worry about being perfect on Instagram. Just start. Sure, you’d love even a fraction of the 119 million followers that Kim Kardashian has, but keep in mind Instagram isn’t just for celebrities who have staff and photographers to manage their posts.

“We’re in the middle of rebranding our stores,” said Rick Piazza, who runs—along with his brothers John and Gary—a local, family-owned grocery, Piazza’s Fine Foods in Palo Alto and San Mateo, California. “The grocery business has changed not just since our dad started out, but even in just the last five years. So has our customer.” So Piazza just launched an Instagram feed @Piazzasfinefoods to reach millennials.

For inspiration for your own Instagram feed, check out some of the following:

@girlwithcurves – Tanesha Awasthi – founder of www.girlwithcurves.com who has used Instagram to connect with her market

@ameliakyoga – Amelia K. Barnes – yoga clothes, mixes inspiration with product to keep followers motivated and engaged

@lifewithoutplastic – Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha – husband & wife small business that gained significant following through Instagram

@ronfinleyhq – Ron Finley – gardener, reaching people through Instagram to help his project serving communities by teaching people to grow their own food

@vancityreynolds – Ryan Reynolds – actor who uses humor to engage his IG followers

@natgeo – National Geographic – a beautiful Instagram with outstanding photos


Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2018

This article originally ran in USA Today on November 7, 2018