“Instagram?! Isn’t that for young people, food bloggers and people wanting to share holiday photos? Why would a professional writer of words, such as myself, even bother with it?”
Ahhhh, we hear you, dear copywriter…
But it might be time to stick your head out of that writing cave, get some fresh air and catch up with the times.
First up, Instagram is home to over 1 BILLION (yup, with a capital B) active users, 55% of which are aged 25-55.
Second, it’s no longer just home to pictures of people’s bento box lunches or sweaty vacations (there’s now plenty of fitspo, ASMR, and memes!).
In fact, the business community on Instagram is thriving. And depending on who your ideal client is, there’s a good chance Insta is the perfect way to connect with them.
(It’s also a great place to find people who are great at the visual side of things, but struggle with words…)
But there are also a lot of moving parts to Instagram. Your feed, captions, stories, hashtags, algorithms, DMs, tagging, following, unfollowing, your profile, highlights and oh my god does it ever end?!
That’s why we’re here—with your foolproof guide to rocking it on Insta (even if you’ve never used a hashtag in your life #wegotyourback).
Step 1: Know Thy Brand
Look, we’re just gonna give it to you straight here:
Social media is just an amplifier.
And unless you understand what you want your brand to represent and the community you want to cultivate, you’re not going to be able to keep it consistent on Instagram.
This means deeply understanding your brand’s tone and voice (you nail this for all your clients—your turn now!), your style (dig up that color palette—or create one) and knowing your readers.
So before you start obsessing over hashtags, here’s what you’d be best to get clear on:
- What is your brand personality? What does your brand voice sound like?
- What does that look like visually? Have 2-3 brand colors, 1-2 fonts, pick 1 photo filter and stick to it. And if in doubt, KEEP IT SIMPLE, as it’s easier to make it look profesh.
- What are your key messages? This helps define what you’re going to post about.
- Who is your target audience?
- What are your values, quirks and genuine interests? You’re allowed to be a human, too! If there are things that your loved ones say are SO you, keep that in mind—that’s a piece of your personality waiting to shine.
- Beginner: Open up a Google Doc or a grab a notebook, and start brainstorming points under all of the above! Open up a new Google Doc or grab a notebook, and start brainstorming points under these questions – they’ll be super handy to come back to, anytime you’re stuck for content.
- Intermediate: Put together a survey for your friends, family and social media followers—so they can do the heavy lifting to help inform what you want to communicate. Questions like these will help: what would you love for me to teach you? How have I helped you in the past? What would you say my superpowers are? What do you think I could talk your ear off about all day?
- Expert: Create a mini social media brand messaging guide for yourself! Treat yourself like a client, and carve our 1-2 days (or a weekend) to getting total clarity on how you want to show up on the platform to take things to the next level. Stalk your “competitors” that you know are killing it, and take note of which posts are getting the most engagement (and why). Evaluate your calls to actions, and make ‘em more creative than “tap the link in bio”.
Step 2: Lock down the Insta FUNdamentals
(Send all complaints re: bad wordplay to Ami)
There’s some parts of showing up as your business on Instagram that a lot of copywriters think might be optional… And we wanna debunk ‘em all.
Get ready to DO ALL THE THINGS!
A. Yes, you should switch your profile to a “business” one
Having a business profile on Instagram is exactly like creating a Facebook Page for your business. Except, this one’s way easier to use and the insights are way more helpful—because with the right approach, you can maximize it to ensure your posts disappear into the feed vortex of the 9 photos your best friend decided to post all at once from their wedding in Hawaii or that food influencer’s multiple snaps of the snazzy new restaurant they’re dining at.
Why you should do it: You’ll get handy analytics like seeing what times of the day and week your followers are most engaged, which content leads to more clicks through to your website or profile and make it easier for your followers to get in touch with you. More info here.
Source: The Copywriter Club Instagram
B. Yes, aesthetics matter….
… Even if you’re all about having an “authentic” feed. If you want to show up on Instagram like a business, don’t do it in your sweatpants. Much like any brand representation, being mindful of how your feed mirrors your brand can make all the difference—your Instagram feed is basically your homepage. And if you wouldn’t put poorly filtered photos of your dinner in 2016 on your website’s homepage, it probably shouldn’t be on your feed.
That doesn’t mean you should be yourself—it just means that you should consider weaving in elements of your visual brand (like your brand colors and fonts) and keep the grid structure of your feed in mind when posting.
Case in point: The Copywriter Club Instagram account pre-aesthetic-makeover (ugh, a bit of a mess)……and after Ami started helping them get it in order here (much better). Who would you trust, follow and listen to more? Yep. That would be the dino-loving folks in the second screen grab.
If you’re showing up on social media to look like a professional with personality, you can definitely have both—but whether you like it or not, the first impression matters. The way our feed looked before seems more like two copywriters messing around with beanies who didn’t understand what lighting was. Now, it communicates what we’re about, gives us a consistent theme to follow (so our followers know what to expect and look forward to—also important) and still retains our fun, easygoing vibe.
We recommend: Signing up for apps like Later and Planoly to plan out your aesthetic in advance. Bonus: you can save your frequently used hashtags and create captions with honest-to-goodness line breaks (seriously Instagram, when are you gonna get with the paragraph game??) when you post using them, too.
C. Yes, even your copy needs a “style”
So, you’ve got the look and feel of your Instagram grid down—great. The next step? Establishing a distinctive style in the copy you create for each caption. Is your brand witty, direct and to the point? Short, snappy captions are your thing—stick to it (re: Ami).
If you love to incorporate detailed storytelling with a casual, talk-to-me feel—long captions with breathing room, in lowercase, is your vibe (re: Zafira).Test out what feels right and natural to you, and stay committed. If you wouldn’t send an email to your list with a brand new Mailchimp template every week… You shouldn’t be all over the place with how you write copy for your captions. Because, also, you’re a copywriter. It’s your place to turn up.
We love this guide to writing Instagram captions that connect, convert and communicate with your audience—with the ever-evolving Instagram algorithm in mind.
D. Yes, you should humblebrag about why you rock
Don’t be afraid to bring those awesome client testimonials into your feed and your Instagram stories! If people don’t understand a) what you do or b) who you work with—you’re only doing yourself and potential clients a disservice.
You can get creative by using Instagram stories to upload screenshots of client feedback rolling into your inbox, like copywriter Rose Womelsdorf does often…
Creating custom graphics, like Zafira…
Or using it to position a brand new offer, like Kirsty Fanton…And the extra-good reasons why stacking your social proof matters?
- It reminds cold leads why they should work with you. After updating her story highlights under “client love” in one night, Zafira bombarded her Instagram stories with client feedback that turned into cold leads showing up in her inbox. (“Oh yes, THAT’S why I wanted to work with you!” ← every single one) 3 new clients were signed, two weeks later.
- It helps you own your awesome, authentically. Creating a dedicated space to share your wins in a public arena – whether it’s in a post or a story—helps you capture even the smallest pieces of feedback (like a comment on a Google Doc), and show that you’re consistently doing good work. It keeps you top of mind for prospects that are following you and makes you feel amazing in the process.
- It mirrors what your prospects might be thinking or needing. Testimonials have a way of showcasing apprehension or fear before working with you, and then go on to prove what you did to overcome that. If you can keep serving up your prospects’ biggest fears of hiring a copywriter together with the amazing results they’d achieve by doing so on the insta-platter, you’re warming them up to the idea.
E. No, you do NOT need to post ALL THE TIME
Waaaay back in the olden days (2016), Instagram showed followers content chronologically… which meant posting 3 times a day increased your reach and followers and all those other good things.
And then all hell broke loose when insta got too busy and introduced… the Dreaded Algorithm *dun dun dunnnn*.
It was like the digital world had ended, because suddenly you needed to post content that people actually wanted to engage with (insane, right?).
But it was actually a game changer.
Thanks to the algorithm, you can now post 2-3 times a week (to your feed) and get results, instead of pushing out 21 posts per week.
The theory behind this is that the Dreaded Algorithm (which Ami adores and refers to as The Algy) decides which of your recent posts to show to your followers. And by posting every few days, you’re giving each one more time to be served up.
And if you don’t even have time to create 2 Instagram posts a week, then you probably don’t need to use it to generate leads (why are you reading this again?).
F. Yes, your bio matters (duh)
You’ve got 150 characters to tell ‘em what you do and get ‘em to stick around. So make it count.
As a legit word nerd, we shouldn’t have to tell you to end it with a CTA. The Insta Overlords allow you to have ONE link in your profile, and it sits directly under your bio—so use your last line to entice clicks.
Another frequently missed opportunity is the name field. Chances are you signed up and chucked your name in there, right? I mean, that’s the logical thing to do…
But the name field is actually searchable. Which means if someone searches “copywriting”, you increase your chances of showing up if you’ve used that word in the name field.
- Beginner: Switch your personal profile to a business one, if you haven’t already! And for a little while, just soak up all those sweet new analytics—and plan your next two posts for times/days where your audience is most present on Instagram. You’ll find this in the “Audience” section under “Insights” on your profile. Ahh, numbers. Once you switch to a business profile, you just can’t go back.
- Intermediate: Post a testimonial of some kind to your account—whether it’s a screenshot from a glowing email you received or a graphic you make on Canva to display blush-worthy-words in a post for your feed! Start communicating why you rock in at least one way, so your audience can cheer you on.
- Expert: Time to rejig your bios and your captions—take cues from our tips to update your bio and maximize it to start getting discovered more easily. Think about your caption style, and if you don’t have one—now is the time to evaluate how you can take it to the next level for more consistency.
Step 3: Start Gettin’ Social
(Find Besties + Woo Clients)
When it comes to social media, being social is… kinda the whole point.
(For us introverts, this is our space to shine. Talking to all the people and sounding smart, in our PJ’s! #yesplease)
That’s why the Instagram algorithm prioritizes content that gets more engagement (AKA comments, likes, saves, shares).
Here’s what we know works to drive engagement in a strategic way, so you can create more conversation and expand your reach beyond all those Facebook friends from high school who recently joined Instagram…
Use hashtags to increase the number of eyeballs on your content
Instagram allows you to have up to 30 hashtags on your post. You can pop them at the bottom of your caption, or chuck them in the first comment immediately after posting.
When researching hashtags, look for ones that your target audience is likely to use. You want hashtags that see some action (i.e. it’s not just you + 1 other rando posting under it), but not so big that they move too fast to have any impact.
Here’s how that looks in action:
- Say your ideal client is a creative entrepreneur—click the search icon (the magnifying glass) and type “creative” into the search bar.
- Click “tags” and start perusing the list of hashtags for anything that makes sense (e.g. #creativeboss).
- Click on that hashtag and have a look at what’s posted under it—are there less than 1 million posts? But more than, say, 10K? And are your ideal clients posting under it too? If the answer is yes, you’re onto a winner.
- While you’re in that screen, check the Related tags at the top (they don’t show up under every hashtag)—this can be a great way to easily find other relevant hashtags to use.
Word to the wise: stay away from generic hashtags—they’re full of bots (so you’ll end up with weird “nice shot!” comments that make no sense). And if you use apps like Later to plan your content, you’ll see how frequently certain hashtags have been used, and which ones to choose instead—so that your content isn’t disappearing into the hashtag.Check out their ultimate guide to using Instagram hashtags in 2019 here.
Finally, organize your hashtags into groups and switch them up with each post. Instagram isn’t keen on people spamming their users and will knock you down a peg if you use the exact same tags in every post. Keep it fresh, y’all!
Talk to people
Seems simple, right? But it’s amazing how many people forget to do this. And if you’re one of those drop-your-post-and-run kinda ‘grammers, you’re not gonna get far.
People hire people they know, like and trust. And they can’t do that if you’re never there.
It’s this easy…
Interact with accounts you enjoy (and companies you’d love to work with).
Leave comments, like their posts, respond to their stories. We’ve both picked up multiple clients from doing nothing more than sending a quick response to a story, or leaving a comment that was totally unrelated to working together!
Be human, offer value and expect nothing in return—you’re building communities as you go, and connecting with your people. On its own, that’s gold.
Ooh, and that’s the perfect transition to what we wanna cover next…
This is how Instagram knows your content is worth showing to more people.
Luckily, there are a few sneaky smart ways to encourage users to interact with your account AND win over the Instagram algorithm…
- Always have a CTA at the end of your post and ask people to reply in the comments (and respond to them when they do!).
- Try out longer captions. These will take a user longer to read, which means more time interacting with your post… And if they click the “read more” button, that’s another win in the eyes of Instagram.
- Use carousel posts. When a user has to swipe across, that’s interacting and taking up more time.
- Get creative with stories. Use the question, slider and poll stickers in your stories to encourage interaction!
How to work your stories
Instagram stories are a true gift to anyone who feels the pressure to create consistent feed content but wants to share what they have to say. And it works—70% of Instagram users check their stories before they hop into their feed. And the more your stories get watched, the more likely that it’ll pop up before anyone else’s and your feed content will show up higher on your followers’ scroll loop.
If you haven’t tried them out yet, read this guide to Instagram stories for a step-by-step, feature-by-feature, play-by-play guide to learning and mastering how to use them effectively.
And if you get the general idea, here are some easy-peasy ways to milk Instagram stories for all that 70% they’re worth:
- Cross-promote every new post in your stories. Hit the paper plane icon on your post to easily “send” your post to your stories.
- Save stories as highlights. These appear in your profile and can be used like a top-tier version of your website—a way to share more about you, what you offer, client love and your process.
- Show your face (*gasp*). If you’re not front-camera-facing shy, get your face on your stories to talk about what you’re working on, events you’re going to, new stuff you’re launching, copy advice and more. It’s like cheating at networking—you get to talk to all the people, without leaving the house. Copywriters and marketing pros we LOVE who do this especially well are Blair Badenhop, Jasmine Star and Rick Mulready.
- Beginner: Hashtag research time! Use free tools like Later to start pulling together a list of hashtags that are relevant to your ideal client, your industry and community. Choose hashtags that aren’t at the top of the list—i.e. choosing a variation over the most popular one. Your posts are more likely to be found if you choose a hashtag that’s been used 20,000 times instead of 2,000,000 times. Avoid the vortex at all costs!
- Intermediate: Commit to commenting, liking and engaging with posts from fellow copywriters and ideal clients for at least 5 minutes every other day. You can also save posts to a “Collection” on Instagram, which is handy to track all the potential clients you want to keep an eye on! Pulling all those accounts into one space is helpful for when you have some downtime and want to check in on them to engage more.
- Expert: You might have got your grid strategy down, so your next logical step is mastering Instagram stories! Experiment with sharing something new on your story 2-3 times a week—and possibly have the video facing YOU. Your face. Yes.
… And that’s a wrap!
We can convince you as much as we can…
But ultimately, we believe Instagram is a good fit for you if:
- The platform feels natural. If penning statuses on LinkedIn or creating content on Facebook comes easy, but Instagram feels clunky, don’t spread yourself thin. Commit to at least one platform that feels right, and go all in.
- You’re a visual person*. If words like “aesthetic”, “color palette” and sharing photographs make you say HELL YES, you’ll thrive in the Instasphere.
- Your clients hang out on Instagram. It doesn’t take a monumental amount of effort to start striking up conversations, building community and keeping an eye on what your target industry is up to if Instagram is their go-to platform. If you know your dream clients use it well, you should be on too—if only to spy :)
*Saw the words “visual person” and started hyperventilating?
Breathe—it’s okay. If you don’t dig aesthetics, not *all* hope is lost! We recommend consistency above all else—whether it’s in your visuals or your content. If creating a sweet grid gives you the night sweats, you can bring other talents to the Insta-table instead:
- Show up on your Instagram stories. Tons of people on Instagram post way more their stories than their feed, because it feels more natural—and it’s way less pressure (thanks to the 24-hour lifespan it will have) than a *gasp* permanent post. If trying to come up with a sweet caption and a photo to go along with it all the time is sucking all your creative energy, hop over to your Instagram stories more often to share things like copy advice, what you’re working on, topics you want to chat about with your audience (so they reply to your stories) and real parts of your day – like your kids being cute, your pet stirring up trouble or events you’re going to. It’s your corner to be authentic, and it helps that the watch time on Instagram stories is up 80% year after year—which means more people are tapping through their Instagram Stories before they visit their feed (or giving them both equal attention). Utilize it!
- Connect with your community. Like we mentioned before, this is your platform to start conversations (and lightly stalk your dream clients). Even if you’re not posting to your own feed often, you can still show up by commenting, liking and sharing posts from others to your Instagram stories. Be present by supporting your people, and engaging with them naturally.
- Be yourself (on the reg). Ultimately, Instagram might not be the platform of choice for everyone (we’d rather you stick to one social media platform and show up there all the time)—but if you’re committed to making it work without overthinking it, don’t be afraid to post what you think resonates with you and your brand values—that matter most. Even if your feed isn’t filtered, what you have to say matters! So go ahead, post away—just be consistent about it. We all experiment with a *right* approach in the beginning with any platform, and Instagram is no different.
See you on the ‘gram?
Ami Williamson is the slightly evil brains behind Damn Write, where she specialises (because she’s Australian and spells it properly) in brand strategy and website copy. You should probably follow her on Insta and say hi… or just lurk in the background like a creeper (it’s ok, we all do it).
Zafira Rajan is a wellness copywriter who specializes in brand messaging and launch copy. You should follow her on Instagram and hop on her digital beanbag for regular brain spurts in your inbox and storytelling that’s raw, real and vulnerable.