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3 Steps to Effectively Use Instagram Marketing to Generate Sales

You know that Instagram is a great social network for some people.
For example, it’s great for artists, models, and anyone who wants to make sure the entire world knows how cute their cat is.
But is it a worthwhile network for businesses looking to generate new sales and customers?
In a word, absolutely.
If, that is, IF you do it right.
I’m Nathan Chan, publisher of Foundr Magazine—a bootstrapped company that quickly grew into a successful business thanks in large part to the Instagram strategy you’re about to learn in this post. And over the next few minutes, I’m going to show you the right way to grow your business with Instagram.

  • Learn how to optimize your account and post compelling Instagram content that will keep your followers coming back again and again
  • Along the way, you’ll increase your exposure and generate more conversions.
  • And finally, you’ll discover a few tools you can use to measure your success and iterate your results to keep your followers (and your business) growing more and more each and every month.

I’ll dig into the details in just a moment, but first, I should give you a big-picture view of what you’re about to learn. In a nutshell, this system for growing your business through Instagram marketing consists of 3 main steps:

  • Awareness: Grow your Instagram followers with influencer marketing and user-generated content
  • Engagement: Send traffic to your website with Lead Magnets and Instagram stories
  • Conversions: Increase sales with great content and a call to action (CTA) that kindle emotion

Makes sense, right? First, you have to reach people (generate awareness), then you need to get their attention (generate engagement), and finally you have to make them a relevant offer they will love (generate conversions).
So, now that you know the big-picture strategy, let’s dig into the details of how you can achieve each of those steps and grow your own business with a smart Instagram marketing strategy.

Step 1: Get More Instagram Followers

You can’t really accomplish anything on Instagram without any followers, and that’s why Step 1 of this process is to grow your Instagram following.

This is a great way to get your name and message in front of like-minded people all at once.

It’s pretty simple, really: the more followers you have, the more potential customers you’ll be able to reach with each and every post.
Of course, not every follower is created equal. You want to make sure your new followers are a good fit for your business.
Luckily, the 2 strategies I’m about to share will naturally help you to grow a bigger follower base of people who are interested in your content.
These are the same strategies we used to increase Foundr Magazine’s Instagram followers from 0 to 10,000 in just 2 weeks and surpassed 1,000,000 within 2 years.
Graph showing Foundr Magazine’s total Instagram followers from January 2015 to October 2017
So, how did we do it?
One of the fastest (not to mention most effective) ways to grow your followers is to leverage the reach of others who already have a large following.
This is a great way to get your name and message in front of like-minded people all at once. And because you’re being recommended by an authority figure, it also comes with built-in credibility.
There are 2 ways to achieve this: with influencer marketing and user-generated content.

Getting the Most Out of Influencer Marketing

In case you haven’t heard of it, “influencer marketing” is basically the practice of asking an influencer to introduce your company to their audience.

Working with these people is one of the fastest ways to increase your exposure on Instagram.

So, what is an influencer?
For our purposes, it’s anyone with a large following. They could be any kind of public figure: an actor, a musician, a professional athlete, a politician, a business owner, the list goes on.
If they have a large audience of people who know, like, and trust them, they’re an influencer. Working with these people is one of the fastest ways to increase your exposure on Instagram.
Here are a few ways you can leverage influencers to grow your own following:

  • You can simply pay them to share your content. This is known as a “paid shout-out”
  • Instead of paying money for a shout-out, you can also pay with products. Try shipping a product to an influencer in return for a post or comment
  • You can ask them to share your content for free. In this case, your best bet is probably to offer to share some of their content in return (this is called S4S, or shout-out for shout-out)

Keep in mind, an influencer doesn’t have to be someone with worldwide appeal and millions of followers.
In fact, it often pays to reach out to “micro-influencers.” A micro-influencer is someone who has somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 followers.
And these are a great group of people to approach for a couple reasons.
For one thing, they often have a higher engagement rate with their audience than people with enormous followings. (Generally speaking, bigger audiences tend to have lower engagement.) Another benefit to working with micro-influencers is that they are usually cheaper to work with.
If you’re a new business looking to grow your audience, I would highly recommend you get started by finding and approaching micro-influencers in your niche.

Have Customers Do the Work for You

Another awesome way to boost followers and gain sales is to let your customers do the work for you—by posting user-generated content.
Sharing user-generated content is a great way to grow your following. For one thing, it helps to build social proof. People are more likely to trust content that is generated from actual customers (rather than a company). User-generated content also helps to build a vibrant community of followers—people who are more actively engaged with your content and more likely to like, comment, or share it.
So, encourage your customers to post a picture of them using your product. If the content is great, as this example for “thefrankeffect,” it can attract thousands of likes and comments.
An example of user generated Instagram content from the #thefrankeffect
Also, keep in mind that some of your customers may even be micro-influencers themselves. You definitely want to make an effort to reach out to these people!

Step 2: Engage Your Instagram Followers

OK, now we’ve talked about some of the most effective strategies for growing your Instagram followers. The next step is to start engaging those visitors—in other words, grab their attention and eventually get them to visit your website.

Stand Out With Your Bio

First impressions count, as they say. And on Instagram, you make your first impression with your bio.
I’ve noticed that many times, people will check out your bio and decide whether or not they like your company before they even view any of your posts. Which means that having a great bio could spell the difference in earning another follower and potential sale…or not.
So, here are a few tips to help you craft a killer Instagram bio:

  • Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. No rambling on and on
  • Create a direct CTA using a memorable URL
  • Highlight exactly what you do or offer
  • It never hurts to insert a playful emoji if it fits with your content. Notice the hand pointing down in the screenshot below…

The fondr Instagram bio using a CTA and the hand pointing down emoji
As you can see, our bio at Foundr gets right to the point and has a clear CTA. All in 3 short sentences.

Draw People in with Lead Offers (A.K.A. Lead Magnets)

If you’re a regular reader of DigitalMarketer’s content, you know all about Lead Magnets. Well, I’m happy to say that lead offers, a.ka. Lead Magnets, are just as effective on Instagram as they are on other platforms.
The main idea here is to offer a piece of free content that will entice people to join your mailing list and drive them through your sales funnel.
A few prime examples of effective Lead Magnets include…

  • Handouts
  • Sheets
  • Checklists
  • And templates

…that can be quickly consumed.
Remember that when you’re offering Lead Magnets, the important thing to keep in mind is that you are offering value first. So, make sure your Lead Magnet is something your audience will find useful.
Here’s an example of a Lead Magnet we offered to our Instagram audience:
An example of a Lead Magnet fondr offered to their Instagram audience
Notice how we added the link to the Lead Magnet in our bio around the same time we posted about it. This way, we can tell people to visit the link in our bio to download the offer.
Here are a few tips to help you create more effective lead offers on Instagram:

  • Create several different Lead Magnets and rotate them so your visitors don’t get bored seeing the same offer again and again
  • When promoting your lead offers, be sure to include eye-catching images or videos in your posts
  • Give your Lead Magnet posts the same look as your other posts. They should have the same format, tone, and feel
  • Always use simple and memorable URLs in your posts
  • Always make a CTA link to your bio to direct people. This is very important. Instagram does not allow link clicking inside posts (you can add them, but they won’t be clickable). But, you can still add the link URL to your post and people can type it in their browser (the shorter, the better). But, in addition to that, add the link to your bio for about 24 hours from the time you post about the Lead Magnet and then, in your post, tell people to click the link in your bio to take advantage of the offer

Super-Secret Tip

When it makes sense, you can also ask your followers to tag a friend.
This will help improve your post’s reach and get it seen by even more people. Here’s an example of one way you might word that request:
An example of an Instagram post from fondr that instructs people to tag their friends
I also recommend using emojis on a regular basis—smiley faces and thumbs up and so on. They’re more colorful than plain old text and help your comments to stand out and get a little more attention.

The Power of Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are a useful tool in adding a human touch to your brand name. They help to humanize you, so people won’t just think of you as a faceless company.
And when you’re trying to win customers online, getting people to trust and connect with you is half the battle.
So, how should you use Instagram stories? There are a couple things you can do. And 2 that I recommend are using the swipe up feature and the new feature polls.

Take Advantage of the Swipe Up Feature

The swipe up feature allows users to swipe up on your Instagram stories and go to a link you set up. Here is an example:
An Instagram story example from Lush Cosmetics that encourages people to swipe up
You can be as creative as you like here. Lush Cosmetics does a great job of drawing the user’s eye to the right spot by drawing an arrow. Follow their lead or create your own story image that will deliver your message and entice the viewer to swipe up and visit your link.
Swipe up is an awesome feature, but there’s a catch: in order to use it, you must have a business account with at least 10,000 followers. So, that’s just one more reason to use the follower-generation strategies outlined in Step 1 above to reach that threshold.

Creating Feature Polls  

Feature polls are an awesome way to encourage people to interact with you through Instagram. They also help you gain some important insights about your audience.
Here’s an example of a feature poll at work:
An example of an Instagram feature poll for plain doughnuts or ones with sprinkles
As you can see, it’s a simple poll with just 2 possible answers (in this case, do you like your donuts plain or with sprinkles?). But unlike most polls, this is delivered in a fun, visual way that encourages high engagement.
Just as with the swipe up feature, featured polls are available only to business accounts with at least 10,000 followers. But once you meet those minimum qualifications, here’s how to get started creating feature polls:

  • Create your story post, including a photo or video, and make sure it’s relevant to the poll you’re going to create
  • Add any text, filters, doodles, or emojis you want. Just remember to leave space for the actual poll
  • Click the sticker icon at the top of the story screen and choose the “poll” sticker to create your poll. Here’s what that looks like:

Click the sticker icon at the top of the story screen and choose the “poll” sticker to create your poll

  • Next, you’ll have the option to add a question. A poll box will appear along with the answers “Yes/No”
  • Type in the question you want to ask your audience within the field text. (Remember to be creative!)
  • If you want, you can customize the responses (for example, changing “Yes/No” to “Plain/Sprinkles”)
  • When your poll is complete, tap the checkmark. The poll will appear in the middle of your story, but you can move it around and resize it
  • Complete your story and add it just as you would with any other post. Visitors will see it and be able to vote on your poll question

If you have push notifications enabled, you’ll get notified when someone votes. To check out your results at any time, just open up the post analytics:
Viewing the feature poll analytics in Instagram
Interesting…I would have gone for sprinkles, myself.

Step 3: Convert More Instagram Followers into Customers

In Step 1, you learned how to grow your account’s followers. Then you got a few new strategies you can use to engage those followers and send them to your website. Now you finally get to learn what you really want to know:
How can you convert more of these followers into customers?
And to get started, the first question you need to answer is…

What Is the Best Type of Instagram Content to Generate Sales?

There’s a difference between content that gets comments and content that converts.
(RELATED: Perpetual Traffic Episode 66: Creating Content that Converts with Laura Hanly)
So, what kind of posts should you publish to generate more sales?
In general, you want to trigger an emotional reaction in the viewer.
Remember, you might have the best product in the world…but if you don’t show it in a way that brings about interest and stirs up emotions, it’s not going to sell.
So, use creative design and visually stunning imagery to elicit a response in the viewer.
When showing a physical product, lifestyle images are a great way to show your product in action—and help the visitor see themselves using your product in their own life. Here’s a good example of an Instagram ad for a water bottle:
An example of an Instagram ad for a water bottle
You can post a wide variety of content.
It can be branded or non-branded, image or text…it can even be a question you want to pose to your followers.
It really doesn’t matter what type of content you use as long as it is…

  • Exciting
  • Triggers a response
  • And gets people to delve further into your product or service

Here’s an example of a Foundr post that got almost 10,000 likes in just 4 days. This post didn’t even have an image—it just asked a simple but interesting question:
An example of a Foundr post that got almost 10,000 likes in just 4 days. This post didn’t even have an image—it just asked a simple but interesting question
This post was helped by people tagging friends to see if they could answer the question correctly.
This is also a good example of mixing up the content on your Instagram page. Use a combination of text, questions, images, and video to keep people interested.
You can also use content that you’ve curated from others (as long as you give them a shout-out). Make sure to tag them in the image so that they’ll be notified, which should increase the odds of them responding in kind.
Bear in mind, however, that at least 60% of what you post on Instagram should be your own original content.

Direct Product Links

One great way to drive traffic and conversions from Instagram marketing is to post direct links. However, you should use direct links sparingly—only do it once every 20-30 posts. Otherwise, people can get annoyed if they feel like all you’re doing is pushing your product or service.
For that same reason, you don’t want to be too blatant. Never come out and say, “Buy my product.” This will turn people away.
Instead, you want to inspire people to click through and learn more about what you offer. Here’s an example:
An Instagram post from fondr that highlights an issue that features Tim Ferriss
Notice that we don’t simply tell people to buy the product. Instead, we highlight one of the articles from the current issue to inspire people to click through and learn more.

Inspiration is the key tool for selling products this way.

Depending on what you sell, you could write about a particular feature or benefit of your product.
You could also post a compelling photo or video of the product being used with a catchy title. If people can see your product in use, that is usually much more compelling than showing a static product image.
Remember: inspiration is the key tool for selling products this way. So think about the coolest, most emotional, most visually compelling way to show your product—then craft a great-looking post around that.

How to Track Your Success on Instagram

After doing all this hard work, you’re going to want to be able to track your success. This is an essential part of the process because it’s the only way you’re going to be able to figure out what’s working for you and what isn’t.
Then you can start spending more time on the stuff that’s working (and do away with the stuff that isn’t).
Here are a few tips to help you track the success of your Instagram marketing strategy:

  • Look for big spikes in your traffic and sales. Then take a look at the Instagram posts you published around that time
  • Use tracking links to help keep track of which posts and content are working the best. You can do this with Affiliatly for instance
  • Coupon codes can also help you track down sales to a particular Instagram post
  • Tools such as Social Blade and Affiliatly have special features that can be really helpful on Instagram

Social Blade and Affiliatly: 2 Powerful Tools for Instagram  

If you’re ready to take your results to the next level, 2 tools I recommend are Social Blade and Affiliatly.
Social Blade is a great tool to help you discover the best influencers to work with. It shows you if the account of a user has been growing or not. This allows you to find out how many followers they are gaining each day.
So, how should you use this information?
If Social Blade tells you that a would-be influencer is losing followers on a daily basis, you should probably steer clear of them. But if their followers are growing rapidly, then you’d do well to hitch your wagon to that rising star.
The other tool I recommend is called Affiliatly. This is a Shopify/ecommerce tool with lots of helpful analytics. What I like to do with Affiliatly is to treat my Instagram site as an affiliate.
Then you can then use a clickable tracking link to track your visitors, earnings, and sales from Instagram. The beauty of this system is that all of your statistics are in one place, and you can use unique links to track the success of your individual lead offers.

Now Get Out There & Start Instagramming!

I hope this post has helped to give you a much clearer idea of how you can use an Instagram marketing strategy to grow your business. You now have a handful of specific strategies you can use to grow your followers, increase traffic, and publish posts with strong calls to action.
And trust me—this stuff works!
I believe that if you work hard at implementing this advice for a solid month, you can realistically gain 10,000 followers to your Instagram account. Here at Foundr, we’re at 1.3 million followers and counting, and we’re still using these exact same strategies to continue to scale our account and drive sales.
Now the rest is up to you! Get out there and start putting these strategies into action. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying the results of all your hard work.

Nathan Chan

Nathan Chan

Nathan Chan is the publisher of Foundr Magazine, a digital magazine for young, aspiring, and novice stage entrepreneurs. He has had the pleasure of interviewing rock star business leaders on what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. He also teaches a free Instagram masterclass sharing the exact steps he took to land 500K Instagram followers in under 12 months.

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