Instagram 101

What independent retailers need to know
by : 

Megy Karydes

January 11, 2016
Marketing Mondays - Instagram 101

Last week I talked about "Why Independent Retailers Need to Be on Instagram." Now that you’ve created your Instagram account, you’ll want to get familiar with some terminology so you can better understand how to engage with followers.


You’ve already created your username. You don’t need to give potential followers the full URL. Instead, let them know you’re on Instagram as @YourUserName, where "YourUserName," is, well, your username! The @ sign precedes your username. If you feel better giving them the whole URL, you would write it out where USERNAME is your Instagram username, but in this case, minus the @ sign.


Your profile is your bio and can be edited at any time. Try to keep this short and include your company’s website link, since this is one of the few places Instagram allows a live link (the other is the “location,” which we’ll cover below). To edit your profile, click on the “Edit Your Profile” option. This is also how you would add your profile photo. Whatever image you use for your profile photo is what other users will see when you post or comment on other posts.


Under the Options setting (which you can get to by clicking on that jagged wheel-looking image on the top right-hand corner), you’ll see two ways you can follow people: Find Facebook Friends and Find Contacts. Clicking on either will populate all of your Facebook friends and Contacts, and you can choose to follow them in the hopes that they’ll reciprocate. This is also where you can choose to make your account public or private, but if you’re running this account for your business, you’ll want to keep it public so anyone can find and follow you.


When you’re ready to post an image or video on Instagram, click on the square in the center at the very bottom. That will take you to your camera roll. Choose the image or video you’d like to post and then click “Next” at the top right. If you’d like to edit the photo or add filters, Instagram offers some options. Once your image is ready, click “Next” again and then add your caption. Your caption should be representative of your image and what you want your followers to see as your brand. To make it easier for potential followers to find you, add between one and three hashtags that are relevant to that image or your business (for example, if the item you posted is a Fair Trade product, add the hashtag #fairtrade).

If you’ve connected your Instagram account to other social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Swarm, Tumblr, or Flickr, you have the option to push out your post to those platforms, too. Be mindful of sharing your post on everything all the time. People follow different social media accounts for different reasons, and if you blast everything out all the time, they’ll feel it’s spammy and stop following you. Having said that, if you’re trying to build your account, it might be a good idea to push them out in the beginning so people will start realizing your have an Instagram account and follow you there. Consider pushing out every third image or so and then slowly reel back as you gain more followers.

Before you post, there are two more things to consider: tagging people and adding a location. Both will help you gain followers so be mindful of this part.


If you want to tag other Instagram accounts (which, by the way, they don’t need to follow you in order to add them), click on that section of the page and then tag the image. You’ll see a “who’s this” appear on the image, and at the very top, you'll see a search field in which you can enter and/or search an account’s name. You can add several accounts here, but, for now, let’s try one or two. As an example, let’s say you took an image of a product in your shop and it’s from Sally’s Designs. Sally’s Designs has an Instagram account. So, in the Instagram search function, enter "Sally’s Designs." Once you find the account, click on it and your image will be tagged with Sally’s Designs. Once you post your image, Sally’s Designs will receive notification that someone has tagged an image with their name AND it will appear in their “Photos of You” section of their account. Anyone who checks out that section will now see your image and might be inspired to follow you.


This is the final part of each post. Unless a photo was taken in my private home or somewhere I just don’t want people to know, I almost always use this function because it lets people know where the image was taken. It’s even more important for shops to use because Instagram's map feature lets people click on the location and find exactly where your business is located. Clicking on the maps function will even provide directions.


Another way to use tags is in the caption and when you’re commenting on other people’s posts. Similar to how it’s used in Facebook, you add the @ sign before the name and this is how you enter into dialogue with another user and how you drive engagement with your customers. As you gain more followers and, specifically, people you know in real life, you’ll want to use this feature more because this is one way to help you drive traffic to your business.

Follow and Like

You can follow accounts and other accounts can follow you (unless you have a private account, in which case you have to approve or deny their request). Once someone follows you, they’ll see images and videos you post in their News Feed (similar to how Facebook works).

When you see images you like, maybe it’s a beautiful landscape photo or an inspirational meme, double click on the image or hit the heart button. By liking other images, other followers will begin to see your account name and possibly be inspired to follow you. More engagement = more possible followers.

Blocking Accounts

Occasionally, you’ll have some spammy accounts trying to follow you (or borderline porn accounts). You really want to stay on top of these followers because people can see what accounts you follow and who follows you, and not only do you not want spam followers, it hurts your overall Instagram ranking. You have the option to block any accounts you don’t want to have access to your accounts. To do so, go to their profile, tap on the menu button (the three dots) and choose “Block User”.


Finally, to comment on another account’s post, click on the cartoon bubble right below the image, write your comment and then hit the Send button.

Independent retailers can do even more with Instagram, such as send direct messages. For those just starting out on this platform or wanting to grow their presence, these basics are important to understand.

Next week: An Instagram success story

Next week we’ll read how Nicole Bandklayder, co-founder and CMO of Bijouxx Jewels, is growing her business and seeing sales by interacting with her customers on Instagram.

Megy Karydes helps small businesses harness their marketing power. She’s also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic’s CityLab, Midwest Living magazine and Chicago Tribune, among others. Find her at