Instagram Tips and Hacks: 8 Ideas for Small Business

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Instagram is a powerful social media marketing tool for small businesses in Canada and around the world. If you want to use it to drive reach and increase conversions, we’ve got the Instagram tips you need.

Instagram has over 300 million active monthly users, who are sharing an average of 70 million photos per day. Its engagement rate is 58 times higher than Facebook and 120 times higher than Twitter. And, tellingly, 85% of top brands have adopted Instagram into their social media strategy.

Here are our favourite Instagram tips that will help you level-up your social posts.

Optimize all of your posts

Good content holds it value; learning How to Succeed in Content Marketing will help old posts keeps their value. All posts should be optimized for your current social media marketing goals. Instagram now allows all posts to be edited in the app (not yet available on the desktop browser site), so review them to make sure each and every caption is on point!

Did you know that social media plays a role in your search ranking? Check out Everything You Need to Know About Social Media SEO!

Hashtags are the key to discovery and audience-building. If your older images don’t contain important or relevant hashtags, go back and edit the captions to include them.


Tip #1

Place hashtags in the first comment, not the caption. This is a common social media best practice for marketers. It makes your posts look less sales-y and spammy because the hashtags aren’t visible in the home feed, but are still there to provide value.

Just make sure you post the comment quickly, before one of your followers comments. Having a prepared hashtag list ready to copy/paste is helpful.

Hack #1

Adding hashtags to old posts can result in new engagement on them – and new followers! If you originally added hashtags as a comment, unfortunately you can’t edit those. The best way around it in that case is to delete the comment and edit the image caption to include the hashtags.

Hashtags: growth vs. targeted

Specific hashtags like #vancouverwebdesign help your posts get discovered by a narrowly targeted audience looking for that kind of content on Instagram, whereas generic ones like #webdesign reach a broader audience.

With a specific hashtag, perhaps less people are using it or searching for it, but the ones who are would be the people you most want to reach. With a generic or broad hashtag, more people are searching for that topic, but more people are also posting about it so there is more noise with which to compete.

Thankfully you can have up to 30 hashtags per post, so experiment and use all 30 opportunities. A combination of specific and broad hashtags is a great way to build your audience.

Tip #2

I’ve found less success with popular hashtags like #vancouver and #vancitybuzz. They are so overused that your post will be lost in moments. I don’t find value in using them.

Tip #3

I’ve learned that shortened hashtags are not always more popular or successful. I thought that #smallbiz, the short form of #smallbusiness, would be the one to use (as per Twitter, where characters are limited). It turns out that #smallbusiness is the clear winner on Instagram.

Tip #4

Hashtags aren’t about you, they are about your target audience, so leverage hashtags for business. Put yourself in their shoes: What would they be browsing for on Instagram? Use hashtags that someone looking for your content would search, not just the ones you like best.

For example, part of what we do at Forge and Smith is custom web development. But #webdevelopment is more often used on Instagram by web developers, rather than by people looking for a new website. And fellow web developers are not our target audience!

Review your grid

Create powerful visual content and make sure all of your imagery is on-brand. Review the image grid to ensure that your images work together when someone views your collection, and consider removing any images that don’t fit the aesthetic.

Twelve images will typically fit on a screen when someone is viewing your profile. Below is a twelve-grid that I particularly like for our brand. The images are on brand, and work together well. I use this example as inspiration, and revisit it when I’m planning which images to post and what filters to use to maintain our consistent feel.

example of Forge and Smith Instagram Grid of 12 images

Our strategy for Instagram is to show behind the scenes, fun posts of the business using bright images and incorporating our brand blue in at least every third image. Other brands and personalities have a fine-tuned style and filter set that makes their images work well together (as shown in the example below from @carakuulei)

Example of Instagram Grid from @Carakuulei

Hack #2

If you’re considering deleting an image that doesn’t fit your grid, first edit the caption and try some new hashtags, then wait a couple of days. You may gain some additional engagement and followers before you delete it.

Have a strategy

Start by doing some brand strategy work, or reviewing your existing strategy. Then consider how much image content you can produce. Who will provide it? Can you consistently manage a photo once a day, two to three times a week, or can you only manage once a week?

Having a dedicated person responsible for taking and posting your imagery will ensure that you provide consistent, quality content for your audience — which is what keeps them coming back for more.

If you can’t manage a high-quality and relevant image at least once a week, Instagram might not be the right platform for your business. Learn some Social Media Time Saving Tips because posting less frequently makes it difficult to gain traction and build an audience, and at that point you have to evaluate why you are posting and how Instagram is meeting your marketing goals.

At Forge and Smith we consistently post one to three times a week, and never more than once per day. This is sustainable for our resources, and doesn’t overload our audience. Some audiences would happily consume more content; for example, if you have a constant source of stunning scenery or hilarious animal imagery.

Creating a content calendar and a posting schedule will help you make sure you’re living up to your audience’s expectations.

If you have a special event, or a week or month where you have a lot of image content – fight the urge to break your schedule (like posting several times that day during the event). Instead, save those images on file and use them in the coming months for when you hit a dry spell.

Experiment and use analytics to find out what your audience wants! For one week, we posted twice per day. We did gain some new followers, but we also lost some engaged followers who were not into seeing more from us.

The new followers we gained would have probably found us eventually, but gaining back those unfollowers is unlikely.

Tip #5

Use #throwbackthursday (#tbt) to stretch out your stored content but still remain genuine.


Analyze your assumptions

Always evaluate your Instagram strategy – your image types and style, your captions, your hashtags, and even your posting schedule – so that your business evolves with your audience’s wants and needs.

Instagram doesn’t have a built-in analytics tool, but there are some third-party options available with varying degrees of insight. As a result, Instagram can often be a lot of guesswork for small business marketers.

It’s easy to make assumptions about what is driving traffic, why certain content is more popular than others, and what your audience wants to see. There are plenty of articles that will tell you which are the best times to post for Instagram, but take these with a grain of salt because they aren’t specific to your audience. Maybe your target audience works graveyard shifts and is awake at odd hours!

Tip #6

“Imitation before innovation” is a good approach. Research your competitors, and gather data on what they are doing that is successful. Use that information to inform what might work for your business, and then build upon that and start generating fresh ideas.


Remember that Instagram, like every social media network, should be a piece of your overall marketing strategy that works for your business goals. Joining social media just to be present on it is putting the cart way before the horse, so keep your social media strategy simple and tweet us any of your own Instagram tips and hacks!