Remember the days when Instagram was nothing more than the trendy new kid on the social media block? How the times have changed.

The mammoth of a platform now has over 800 million monthly users and is growing steadily with no end in sight.

Whereas Instagram was once an app where trailblazers shared their favourite photos and personal memories, it has quickly blown up to become one of the most lucrative online marketplaces in the world (the app is projected to generate $6.8 billion in mobile ad revenue in 2018).

Instagram is unique because it offers a gateway into the hearts and wallets of one of the world’s hardest to reach generations — millennials. While millennials are known to be tough to reach and influence through traditional advertising mediums (cable TV, for example), a whopping 59 percent of 18-29 year-olds use Instagram. This newfound cultural phenomenon has given brands everywhere a new way to reach potential buyers.

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Furthermore, 80 percent of Instagram users follow at least one brand on the platform. So, not only are loads of people using the app, but they’re also welcoming brands directly into their content feed. It’s something that arguably hasn’t been seen on this scale since the advent of TV.

There has never been a better time to take advantage of Instagram as a sales tool, especially if you run an e-commerce store. As 14 percent of users are likely to make a purchase right on the platform, it is clear why Instagram continues to prove to be so lucrative for e-commerce brands.

So, where do you start? How do you kickstart your Instagram sales funnel? Following the six tactics below should set you off on the right foot.

Use Instagram Ad Placements

Instagram ads have proved to be incredibly useful for businesses and organizations of all types and sizes. Because of the way Instagram’s content stream functions, ad placements seamlessly slip into the feed of your audience and appear to be just another post from someone they’re following. Once they take a second look at the ad, they will usually realize that it’s a paid placement.

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The good thing about Instagram, though, is that no one seems to care — audiences don’t mind seeing ads on the platform nearly as much as they do on other apps and media channels. Since they are mostly non-intrusive and are highly targeted simplistic pieces of content, audiences generally aren’t bothered by them.

If you are able to keep your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) low and see a clear profit by using ads, keep doing what you’re doing. Continue to up your budget and scale your campaign to find continued success.

Whether or not you choose to use Instagram stories or placements in the main feed for your ads, the general guidelines for your posts will be the same. Primarily, ensure that your ads are designed well and match up with your audience’s tastes. They should be minimalistic and slip into the feed/stories as well as possible. Remember, Instagram is a photography app — make sure your ads fit the ethos of the platform!

Turn Your Bio into a Call to Action

Your profile’s bio is your prime real estate. We’re talking the penthouse of Instagram here.

Using this space to create a compelling call-to-action is one of the first things you should do on Instagram. As the app doesn’t have a lot of other space for text or links throughout its interface, you really need to get creative and use what you have to the best of your ability.

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We recommend ensuring the text in your bio supports the CTA at the end of it — none of this space should go to waste. The good thing about this form of CTA is that you can directly update your bio whenever you need to, say if you have a new product line or promotion you would like to drive traffic to.

For most accounts (accounts with under 10,000 followers), this is the only opportunity you will have to link your customers somewhere — make sure you make good use of it! There are some paid tools like Link in Profile that allow you to have multiple links in your profile.

Engage Your Customers Using User-Generated Content

Ask yourself: why do people use Instagram in the first place?

If you understand that the vast majority of people use the app with the intention of gaining a sizeable following, you’ve got the right idea.

Knowing this, you need to take advantage of it. The best way to do so is to encourage users to post their own photos of them using your product or service and tag your account or use a hashtag to get involved. Using this tactic, you are able to create an online community centred around your business.

Reposting these user-generated photos on your feed will further entice your audience to get involved and keep trying to get featured. Doing this drives continuous engagement and increases your brand’s visibility. Spivo, an Ottawa-based selfie stick manufacturer, does an incredible job of this:

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Use Influencers to Your Advantage — Get Collaborating!

Influencer marketing has become extremely lucrative, both for influencers themselves and for the brands using them. An estimated $1 billion is spent annually on Instagram influencer marketing, so it’s no wonder why international corporations are paying thousands and even millions of dollars a year for the service.

Influencers vary from local food bloggers all the way to the likes of Beyoncé, who can earn more than $1 million per post. While A-list celebrities earn vast amounts by promoting products, the average sponsored post costs more around $300 — a much more reasonable figure for smaller companies.

Even though there are relatively tight restrictions regarding sponsored content transparency, the legions of followers amassed by these Insta-stars welcome their recommendations and product endorsements.

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By using the right strategy, you too can take advantage of this loyalty and leverage the influencer’s network to drive your own business’s conversions. Since your audience (the influencer’s followers) will see these placements as coming from a place of trust in the hands of their influencer, your ads won’t even seem like real ads to them.

Now that we’ve sung the praises of influencer marketing, let’s talk about how to stay vigilant.

Just because they have plenty of followers or charge a lot doesn’t mean they will be a good fit for your particular brand or product. Nothing is guaranteed with influencer marketing.

The main thing you need to look out for is fake followers. Social Blade is a useful tool which lets you peek into their Instagram Analytics profile — just enter their username to get started. If they have a legitimate following, their follower graph should show a steady increase. Fake followers usually show up as peaks and steady declines. Beware of bought followers — these are all but useless!

Real Followers:

Instagram Real Followers

Fake Followers:

Instagram Fake Followers

If you’re unsure, reach out and ask them for a media kit or details regarding their demographics. Remember, influencers with higher followers cost more. Smaller accounts have modest yet loyal followings with high engagement rates — sometimes these accounts will work much better with your efforts.

Use Links in Instagram Stories

While being a highly useful feature, being able to post links/CTAs to your Instagram story is a right reserved for accounts with more than 10,000 followers.

Instagram Stories is a fun tool that allows users to post images and videos that disappear after a day. This is perfect for posts that while pertinent, don’t belong in your feed permanently. As stories are a quick-hitting feature, users have 10 or fewer seconds to decide whether or not to act on your CTA — this excites the users and gives them a rush when they click through to the destination.

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Using hashtags in your stories is a way to compound your efforts and give new people a chance to find your story and access the CTA. You are even able to hide them by making them match the background — use the photo match tool beside the colour swatch.

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When using hashtags, make sure to do your research and pinpoint which ones will gain you the most business. While targeting niche hashtags may seem pointless due to the smaller search volumes, you will be much more likely to find a paying customer than by targeting a broad keyword. If you want to use a more popular hashtag, try not to aim for those with search volumes past 500,000 users.

Turn Posts into Purchases with Shopify Integration

Engaged followings and streamlined, product-friendly feeds have naturally turned Instagram into a highly functional sales channel for Shopify users. This has lead to the development of shoppable Instagram posts.

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This new feature allows merchants to tag products directly in their posts, allowing users to enter into the purchasing process straight from the app. Using hashtags as you usually would and leveraging your Instagram reputation allows you to showcase your products directly to people all over the world.

In order to use this feature, you must have the Facebook channel installed in your Shopify store, have an approved Facebook shop, have an Instagram Business account, and operate your business in a supported country.

Let’s Wrap it Up

Your main takeaway in reviewing these tactics should be that Instagram now offers so much more than it used to for businesses — it’s no longer simply a social media platform; it’s a goldmine for e-commerce merchants (and is being continually optimized for success).

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The tactics we reviewed today are all proven ways to optimize your Instagram sales funnel. By implementing some or all of them as a part of a larger cohesive strategy, you can expect to see increased brand loyalty and conversions as a result.

Whether you plan on using simple, free methods or large-scale tactics, ensuring that your efforts align with your brand identity and your customer’s wants and needs will solidify your place in the market and guarantee your sustained success on Instagram.

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Connor was born and raised in Ottawa where he went to Algonquin College for Advertising and Marketing Communications Management. He now manages the Content Department here at seoplus+.