If you’re a small business, Instagram’s a great place to play. It has huge market share. It consistently ages upwards and downwards into older demographics and younger demographics. If you’re advertising on Facebook, you can advertise on Instagram—and maybe you already are, without even knowing it! (More on that later.)

Instagram has grown and changed so much in the last year—it’s a topic I dug into during a recent Digital Drop-In webinar. The biggest update is one that’s not as noticeable right off the bat. It’s about the algorithm. Like Twitter, Instagram used to be a chronological platform where you’d go on and look at posts and everything that you’d see would be ordered by when it was posted. In late 2015, Instagram workshopped an algorithm, and they launched it to one percent of users last year. It’s prioritized on what people like and is based on engagement. Today, it’s this way for everybody. So now the posts that you like and spend time looking at end up being the content you see at the top of your feed.

So how do you use the new algorithm to help your business on Instagram?

User-Generated Content

One of the big things is tapping into user-generated content. In other words, sourcing content from people in your network, from people you know, or those who are in your space or industry. Ask if you can use their content by posting it and tagging them in it. This creates community engagement and creates more touch points. The users whose content you share will be more likely to reference your page in their future posts.


Aside from YouTube, Instagram is the most active playground for digital influencers. Influencers are people who create content in your industry and, when they talk about you to their fans, they can validate your product or service. Many successful e-commerce businesses have charted their growth on the backs of Instagram influencers alone. Here’s how to start getting active in the influencer space on Instagram.

  • Research accounts in your industry. No matter what you sell or promote, you can probably find accounts belonging to other businesses, industry personalities, or photography aggregators with engaged audiences that would be interested in what you have to offer. Research hashtags in your industry, or check out the Instagram accounts of people and businesses you are already aware of in your field. Start leaving positive comments on recent photos. Then send a direct message and ask if the account does promotions for other businesses (or send an email if they have an email address listed in their account info).
  • From here you can craft a partner promotion. You could send them a product and have the influencer post a photo of it or do a review. Or, you might pay a flat fee to host a 24-hour contest promoting your product on their account with an ask that their fans follow your account to enter. The possibilities are broad; let the influencer tell you what kind of partner content they like to create. Be sure to hold the influencer accountable to whatever agreement you come to, and track results to see if the promotion was worth it. Voila! You’ve done your first influencer promotion!

Strong Hashtag Strategy

To stay on top of the algorithm you also need a strong hashtag strategy. Hashtags are like small communities, and a way for people to find and connect to the communities they want to keep up with. As a best practice, you want to use core branding hashtags in your main post, and then use industry relevant hashtags (26 is the max) in your top comment. Find relevant hashtags by searching similar businesses and checking out the hashtags they’re using.

Stories & Live

Another big roll out in the last year was Stories, which was a direct competitor to Snapchat and its content. Stories last for 24 hours, and can showcase bits of content throughout the day. A great way for businesses to use Stories is to go behind the scenes. You can show your operations or your company culture, take a tour of your office, introduce people in your industry, etc. Stories make it possible to share a little slice of life from your brand’s point of view and are a great place to experiment. Because they go away and don’t live on your Timeline, you can create content that allows users to take a peek into your business, with special content that can include teasers, special offers, or event previews. Now you can put links in your Stories as well, which is huge, because up until this point, you could only have one link and it was in your profile.

Instagram Live happens within Stories. Just like Facebook Live, it allows you to start a livestream of what you’re doing in the moment. The best aspect of it is that It push notifies your followers, which is huge. This alert immediately lets people know that you’re on so they can join the conversation. This is a great way to “beat” the algorithm!

Live is a great place to do a workshop, Q&A, events, or tutorial, especially if you have a product that is hands on. This feature encourages dialogue. People watching can chime into the chat box under the video.

Instagram Takeover

A takeover is where you have an influencer use your Instagram account to share an experience from their lens. For example, if you have products in the sports industry and you found somebody who is going on an epic mountain bike ride, you can give them account access so they can post photos or a Story on your account. This is a great way for businesses and brands to collaborate and cross-promote content, and increase reach on either end.


In the past, Instagram has felt like this place where only photographers and content creators could play, and businesses are second rung. But this has shifted a bit. Now, if you have a Facebook fan page (and administrative access) and an Instagram account for the same business, you can now tie them together and convert your Instagram to a business account. This means easier access to customers and fans.

There are a couple subtle changes and a couple deep changes. On the surface, things look the same, but on your business profile, you can additionally include:

  • Call-to-action (contact us, click here, learn more, etc.)
  • Email
  • Call
  • Directions (integration with Maps)

Last May, Instagram announced the launch of its tools for business users, including analytics. Now, any business users have on-platform analytics right in the app, so you can see how many people your posts are reaching, what time of day, and demographics—all of which are super helpful, and helps you advertise better because you can make more data-driven decisions. And speaking of advertising, last year Instagram advertisements launched and were deployed through Facebook’s ad manager in Placement Options. They’re still accessible through the ad manager, but now you have the ability to turn Instagram posts into ads directly from the Instagram app itself. Be aware that you may be running ads on both platforms without knowing it—check in Placement Options to see if Instagram is clicked “on.”

In closing, if you are a business and you haven’t switched over to a business profile on Instagram yet, you’ll want to do that stat so that you can get all of the cutting-edge features that you’ll need to succeed on the platform. There are no drawbacks, so have fun!