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How to Set Your Instagram Strategy 1

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to social media marketers asking their most pressing questions in advance of Social Media Marketing World. One of the most common questions is: “can you take a look at my Instagram channel and give me some suggestions?”

This is a broad, far ranging ask that requires more than a couple of minutes. It indicates a lack of strategy and execution – putting stuff up on instagram because we think we are supposed to. No fault or blame to assign, but we should pause and rethink Instagram.

So let’s take a step back and rethink our Instagram strategy together. First, this guide assumes we create for Instagram for business purposes. If you’re using it just for fun and personal use, then feel free to close this article and move to the next thing in your feed.


What’s your Instagram strategy?

This is a trick question. Instagram strategies – and all social media strategies – come in pairs.

Strategy is answering the question why. Why post on Instagram? What do we hope to achieve? Answering these questions with clear, defined, measurable goals is part one of an Instagram strategy, our strategy as marketers.

The second part is, why should someone else care? Why would they follow us, engage with us? What value do we provide? This half of strategy is more important, our audience strategy. If we can’t articulate our value, we will achieve no results.

Social media and content marketing have three potential outcomes from the perspective of our audience.

  • Entertain
  • Educate
  • Engage/Inspire/Motivate

We must do at least one of these, better if we do two; ideal if we do all three.

Examine your current Instagram content. How many of these audience objectives does your current content achieve?

If we have to choose, choose to invest more in audience strategy than marketing strategy – serve the audience first, ourselves second. Doing so ensures a sustainable program that delivers results because our audience will care about what we publish.


Strategy is the why. Tactics are the what. What will we do in support of our strategies?

  • Will we use stories?
  • Live video?
  • What cameras, what content will we provide?
  • What frequency?

We make choices based on time and resources.

How to Set Your Instagram Strategy 2

  • If we have no time and no resources, Instagram probably is not the right choice for us.
  • If we have time but few resources – money and people – we create man on the street content using smartphones and whatever is handy.
  • If we have no time but bountiful resources, we outsource. We hire people to create and post content in our behalf.
  • If we have time and resources, we create content at scale and volume. We behave like a publisher, like journalists. We treat Instagram like a profession unto itself, using every capability to generate attention, engagement, and action.

Before we make our first post, we must research our space. Using common social media monitoring tools, find out:

  • Who leads in our vertical
  • Who our audience is and what they like most
  • What content performs best, what tags, what subjects
  • When our audience is online
  • When is our audience looking most for what we share

The latter is important – use predictive analytics to determine when in the next days, weeks, or months audiences care about specific themes, then create a content calendar to match.


Once we’ve chosen what we will do – our tactical choices – we decide how we’ll do, how we will execute. We must map out

  • Frequency: how often we will post
  • Engagement: how interactive we will be
  • Regularity: what our publishing schedule will be
  • Value: how often we will ask for value versus how often we give it

The latter is important. On most social channels, the standard is 4:1. 80% of our content should give value to the audience. 20% should create value by asking our audiences to take meaningful action. Instagram, due to its highly visual nature, requires more of a 9:1 ratio. Entertain, educate, or inspire 90% of the time to create engagement.


The last part of Instagram strategy is measurement. How do we know we are achieving our goals? To measure effectively, we set up an operations funnel: attention, engagement, and action.


For measuring attention, metrics like followers or post views are perfectly fine. They are not end goals or meaningful business results on their own, but they do play a role in measuring our effectiveness. After all, if no one ever sees our content, the rest of our strategy is meaningless.


Engagement – likes, comments, and shares – are how Instagram measures whose content to feature in feeds. These engagement numbers also serve as proxies for how entertaining, educational, or inspirational our content is.


We need our audiences to take action for Instagram to drive business results. They should be swiping up on stories to our web content, clicking on links in our profiles and ads, and visiting easy to remember custom links. I strongly recommend using a link shortening service like bitly to make measurement and tracking easier and more effective. We will append our tracking codes like Google Analytics tags to our links, then shorten them with bitly to protect them against being rewritten or mangled.

If we are running ads, we will want to track our cost and performance metrics here as well.


To maximize our Instagram marketing, measure these three buckets of metrics on a daily basis. We will know over time whether our performance is improving or declining.

Measuring over time is vital; individual snapshots are largely meaningless and provide no context or indication of what we need to do differently.

For the most analytical of Instagram marketers, run a correlation matrix or a multiple regression of all the different metrics to determine what likely contributes to actions the most – then test those metrics to ascertain causality. For example, if comments correlate to action, create content that inspires more comments, then measure if actions increase.

Reboot your Instagram

Use this outline to reboot your Instagram strategy and execution. Relentless focus on what your audience wants will significantly increase the likelihood that your efforts will succeed, that you’ll meet your own Instagram marketing goals. Good luck.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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