How to Use Instagram for Local Businesses - Circle Social Inc

How to Use Instagram for Local Businesses

Using your Instagram Account to attract local business is pretty straight forward. You can use many of the same strategies that we went over How to Use Twitter for Local Businesses. It’s all about finding the right followers and using the right hashtags.

And, remember, this strategy isn’t just for small businesses, but for any business trying to segment and build a local presence.

Just a note for users new to Instagram, there is no great way to manage it from your Desktop. It can be done, but functionality is limited and cumbersome. I strongly recommend using your phone or tablet for all Instagram activity.

The first step, as always, is getting your profile right. You want the local crowd to be able to find you.

Step 1) Setting Up Your Profile

You may be aware that Instagram recently created a business account option. If you haven’t done so already, this is an extremely important first step as it will allow you to add your location and a contact link to your profile.

Here’s how to set that up:

First, click on the 3 dots in the upper left to get to Options where the red arrow is pointing in the screenshot below.

Instagram - OptionsInstagram - OptionsInstagram - Options

Then, scroll down to Switch to Business Profile

Instagram - Business AccountInstagram - Options

Just like Twitter, I can perform searches for Instagram posts by location or by the “Nearby Places” search (detailed later on). Unfortunately, you cannot also perform a keyword search to narrow down results, but you still want to be found in this way, so having your location listed correctly is paramount.

Once your business account is created you need to double check 3 things:

  • Location is entered. You’ll notice in the screenshot below that they don’t have one entered, which is because they are a worldwide distributor, not local. Instagram will geotarget your posts based on your phones location regardless of what information you enter here, but it’s still important to have your city name visible to potential followers in the area.
  • Your website address is entered correctly.
  • Your email and phone number are entered correctly. The phone won’t actually do anything as people cannot call you from Instagram, but you’ll need it to receive recovery text messages if you ever forget your password or get locked out. Your email is extremely important as this is the address all messages will go to when customers click on the Contact Me button on your business profile.

Instagram - Contact InformationInstagram - Contact Information  Instagram - Contact Information 3

Changing your location information is actually found under Contact Options.

Instagram - Contact Information 2

After clicking on Contact Options, you’ll be able to enter all information you’d like your customers to have access to. For a local business, all contact options are important, but be sure to only list ones that you actually use. Entering you location information will also help you show up in searches on Instagram for that location.

Instagram - Contact Information 1


Step 2) Finding Local Users

Location SearchInstagram - Contact Information

The easiest way to do this is to use the Search function, which is indicated by clicking on the little magnifying glass at the bottom of your phone screen. Then click on Nearby Places. Now, as you’re logging in from your phone, Nearby Places will populate based on your current geo-location assuming you have geolocation permissions on in your phone settings. So if you’re logging into your phone from another city, it’ll populate posts from that location instead.

Instagram - Nearby Places

Another way to do this is to just choose the city you’re in. When you click on Nearby Places, Instagram search will autopopulate cities nearest your location and you can choose one.

You’ll then see all posts near you in terms of how recently they’ve been posted. You can scroll through and click on the photo to then follow the user or comment on their pictures. Or you may just want to comment on photos you feel are relevant to your business. It’s up to you.

Don’t restrict yourself to city names either. Famous landmarks and other local businesses are great places to look as well. Instagram connects to Google Maps and will pull location information automatically. So if I’m at the Indianapolis Public Library, Instagram will pull that location information and prompt me to tag it in my post.

So you can find many users by doing location searches for these landmarks and local organizations. Ones that are closer to your business are even better.

One last thing, even if you haven’t been on Instagram before, your business location will still show up as a location when users post. So people may have already posted photos from your business even if you weren’t using Instagram before. So definitely don’t forget to search for yourself and see if you have fans already on the platform.

People Search

Another search feature is to look within People and then type in your city name. This will populate with all the users that have mentioned your city or have their location set to that city.

Instagram People

Just like with Twitter, if a user is local and only has a small number of other followers, you can pretty much assume they are mostly local friends as well. The frustrating thing with Instagram is that there is no way to know this unless the user puts their location in their profile. So it’s a little bit of a shot in the dark.

One more way to tell if a user you’ve clicked on is locate is to check which hashtags they are using in their photos or just see if they’ve posted any local landmarks. It can help you decide who to follow and who not to. You don’t just want to follow anyone because it can look bad if you are following too many people and a similar amount do not follow you back.

Let’s not forget competitors either. If you have a competitor in your area that already has an Instagram following, go into their profile and see who they are following and who follows them. Start interacting with these followers and try to steal them from your competition by engaging or even sending a targeted offer! Believe me, it works.

#Hashtag Search

Hashtag search is one of my preferred methods for finding local users and getting a feel for what users are interested in. Simply navigate to the Tags section of Search and type in the hashtag you’re looking for.

Instagram - Hashtag Search

Always start with your city and its nicknames. For me, I’ll type in #Indianapolis and #Indy. You immediately notice that Instagram autopopulates with many of the most commonly used hashtags. Write these down as these are the hashtags you’ll want to use in your own postings.

Now start following through on the searches for those hashtags to interact and follow people posting within them.

Those are the easiest to find. However, there will also be local hashtags that don’t include the name of your city in them and these are a bit harder to find. You’ll come across many of them over time as you follow and interact with local users.

To deliberately search them out, the best way is to go back to the local users you’ve already identified. Now go into their posts and see what hashtags they’re using. If you see certain hashtags commonly being used across local users, it’s a safe bet that hashtag is mainly used just in your area, so you can follow people using it as well.

An example of this may be a popular location or street name. For example, #MassAve & #FountainSquare are too popular ones in Indy.

Step 3) Start Posting

We’ll just cover the basics of posting related to local strategy here rather than an in-depth analysis of Instagram best practices.

Take Pictures from Around Your City

The main thing is to post local content your customers will enjoy. If you’re a pizza restaurant, don’t just take photos of your pizza in the store. Take pictures of staff or customers eating it at locations around the city.

Also, remember that not every photo needs to be a promotion. Maybe it’s just photos of you or other staff around the city. Customers these days want to see the people behind the company, so it’s important to humanize your profile in this way.

Involve Your Customers

Rather than have you or your staff take photos around the city, a fantastic idea is to encourage your customers to take pictures of themselves using your products around the city. You can incentivize them to do so by offering a discount when they come in a show you the picture. Even better, make sure you’re monitoring your profile daily and shoot them a thank you message with a special offer when you see them post.

Some customers will be social media savvy enough to tag you in any post about your organization by including your username preceded by the @ symbol like @mycompanyname. Many customers won’t though, but if you’re monitoring local postings by doing regular searches, you may come across them anyway.


Another great way to involve your customers is through contests. Give them a regular challenge each week where you encourage them to take some picture of themselves using your product or service. One winner can be chosen each week out of all who entered. Contests are fun because everyone loves to win prizes and it gets your customers promoting your business for you for free!

You could also do a like and share contest where followers are encouraged to tag a friend of theirs on Instagram that they think may like your business in order to be entered in a drawing to win a prize.

Contests where followers have to share with a friend or take their own pictures are much better than contests where followers are just asked to like your photo. Liking is easy and you probably get numerous likes per post anyway. There is no way to determine if someone liked your post because of the contest or just because they like the post. It’s just not as valuable of  method for your business.

Cross Promote with Other Businesses

Do you have other businesses around you that are already on Instagram? Do a cross promotion where you share one of their pictures and then they share one of yours. This is a wonderful method that I’ve used to grow followings quickly.

Just make sure the businesses you cross promote with are related to yours. Otherwise, followers may be more annoyed than interested.


Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post (Update July 26th, 2017: Instagram has updated its algorithm and now frowns upon what they call “hashtag spamming”. Hashtags should now be limited to between 6-10 and must be relevant. Additionally, posting hashtags in the comments or using the “dot down” method now also incur algorithmic penalties). If you’re a pizza restaurant, you may be tempted to use hashtags like #pizza and #food. However, these are unlikely to do anything for you as users across the world will see them. It’s not bad to include them, but just realize that you may start gaining followers from around the world who will never order from your business.

Much more important are the local hashtags you’ve identified through your research above. Now don’t just include every local hashtag. If a local hashtag is #FountainSquareIndy and your business is all the way on the other side of town, people may get annoyed that you’re posting in that hashtag.

It’s ok to do once in a while to get your business name out to different places, but you definitely don’t want to be including irrelevant hashtags on a regular basis.

Include Offline Calls-to-Action

If you have a brick and mortar store, make sure you have information up highlighting that you have an Instagram account and ask customers to follow you. Offer an incentive for first time followers as well.

You definitely want a hashtag for your business as well. Don’t put a lot of thought into this. Usually #nameofbusiness is the best as it’s very straightforward and memorable. Let customers know that’s your hashtag by including it on signs around the store, in advertisements, and even on product packaging or receipts.

Get Started

That’s all you need to do to get started. Using the simple strategies above, I’ve grown accounts from 0 to over 500 followers in 2 months and with less than 1 hour per week spent on Instagram. If you’re posting good pictures, using hashtags appropriately, and engaging with other users, it’s easy to grow fast without a whole lot of time.

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About the Author

Nick Jaworski is the Chief Growth Officer of Circle Social Inc. Seeing a real need for innovative, ethical recovery center marketing and growth, he launched Circle Social to help the best addiction treatment centers connect with people who needed their help the most. He is also the proud father of the most beautiful girl in the world. You can most often find him sharing thoughts on digital marketing and cracking jokes on Twitter or Snapchat as @NBJaworski.

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