an engaging, professional social media presence is crucial for small businesses looking to make a lasting impact on potential customers. Learning to master the most popular platforms can bring you whole new audiences you never knew were out there, and marketing your business consistently over a range of social networks is crucial to building a professional-looking brand.

Instagram has emerged as the number one social network for brand engagement, with its visual-first nature putting it way ahead of Facebook and Twitter. It is now the second most popular social network in the world with one billion users as of June this year, and it is also the fastest-growing of them all – no wonder there are over 25 million business profiles on Instagram. That might sound like an overwhelming amount of competition, but by following these four simple tips to look professional on Instagram, you can make your small business stand out from the crowd.

Step #1: Curate your content

It should go without saying, but to get a response from potential customers on Instagram, you need to publish interesting and engaging content. Posting strong content should be the very first step of any business strategy when it comes to social media. But with Instagram, the overall aesthetic of your profile is vital, taking time to lay out your posts in an attractive way can really make people stop and take notice of your brand. Being creative with your grid layout and choosing a consistent theme and color scheme for your page are two simple but incredibly effective ways to get your profile looking super professional in no time.

Filters may seem like a relatively prehistoric concept on Instagram compared to some of its shiny new features, but settling on a single filter to apply to all your posts will give you that all-important consistency. In fact, 60% of companies use the same filter for every post, with marketers recognizing the importance of creating a consistent and professional brand identity that is instantly recognizable to users.

Step #2: Post regularly and plan ahead

Remember: it’s highly unlikely you’ll hit that winning formula right away and achieve viral success overnight. Building a following takes time, thought and plenty of planning. You need to be in it for the long run, so committing to posting once a day is a good start for any business looking to establish a professional presence on Instagram.

The general consensus is that posting once or twice a day to Instagram is optimal for businesses looking to make a lasting impression, so commit to a posting schedule that fulfills this goal to become a professional content-producing operation.

But don’t overcomplicate things! If you’re a small business or a start-up, dedicating all your time to curating the perfect Instagram account to the detriment of your day job will do you no good. Balancing your time is crucial in business, so make sure you develop a content plan which delivers a professional strategy that doesn’t take up all of your precious time.

Step #3: Use Instagram’s range of features

Instagram stores image courtesy of Marco Verch

Now you’re versed in the basics of posting consistently on Instagram, I’ve got some news for you – static feeds of photos and videos are so 2016.

Innovative features such as Instagram Stores, Instagram Live, and most recently Instagram TV, have provided alternative platforms within Instagram for business to share their products. Making best use of these features to advertise what you do is crucial to making your business look professional on Instagram.

Indeed, savvy brands can use these features not just to maintain an engaging social presence, but also to provide genuine value to their audiences. Video conveys information in a convenient and digestible format, making it perfect for educating audiences.

For example, let’s say you own an electronics store that sells a variety of gadgets. While a portion of your customers will be tech-savvy, a significant number of them will be relatively clueless about what your products are and how they work.

But by creating long-form IG videos, you can educate your potential customers about your product in a way that they can understand, on a platform they are active on daily. In turn, you position your brand as a professional source of genuine value and authority — and that’s money in the bank when it comes to your business.

Now don’t get me wrong – posting to your main feed is essential to success as this will usually be users’ first impression of your business – but to look truly innovative you should be looking at these other features too. Instagram Stories have been one of the social network’s main success stories (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Launched in August 2016, this feature has become very popular, very quickly; the number of daily active users of Instagram Stories surged from 20% of monthly users in October 2016 to 60% in September 2017.

As of June this year, there were 400 million active daily users. In short, users have grown to expect varied content – and Stories in particular – to complement your regular activity. Post a wide range of content and you’ll be well on your way to Instagram success.

Step#4: Engage with the user base

It’s an age-old business adage that will always ring true – make your customers feel important. And this is just as relevant to digital marketing as it is in any other walk of life. Thankfully, Instagram makes it easy for businesses to engage with followers by providing a range of means by which you can reach out to your audience. Simply taking the time to like posts, respond to comments and deal with complaints politely is a quick way to make your customer relations operation look professional, and there’s loads more you can do.

Make your posts interactive by using hashtags to put your posts in front of a whole new audience or engage your local followers by making use of Instagram’s geotag feature. Make sure to utilize all of Instagram’s user engagement features to give your business a professional look over the whole platform.

And don’t forget to make use user-generated content (UGC), which should also be a key part of your strategy for making your business look authentic and professional on Instagram.
Adweek suggests encouraging user engagement by asking followers to create content for a chance to win a giveaway, or by simply re-posting relevant content from would-be customers.

Innovative approaches to UGC and user engagement will give your business’ Instagram presence that professional edge.

Instagram has become a marketers’ paradise and there is an abundance of opportunities for small business to make a big impression on the social network’s billion-and-growing user base. Establishing a professional and engaging brand on Instagram is the first step towards cultivating a following on a platform where for small businesses, the sky’s the limit.

Kayleigh Alexandra is a passionate writer and entrepreneur from Micro Startups. Here, she shares knowledge and insight into the world of solo enterprises and startups. Whether it’s marketing tips or design hacks, there’s sure to be something for you.

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