6 Instagram Marketing Trends of 2021 For Small Businesses

Since the platform’s launch in 2010, Instagram has journeyed its way to the top and become the most profitable social media platform. About 90% of Instagram users follow at least one business, and 70% of shopping enthusiasts use Instagram for discovering products. Even though Facebook still dominates in the social media platforms space, Instagram is not far behind.

Some of the latest features of Instagram are a response to the ongoing pandemic. These features certainly fueled the increasing use of the platform by both - businesses and people. As Instagram keeps changing its algorithm, it may become hard for small businesses to keep up with it. In such a situation, knowing the Instagram marketing trends for 2021 can prove to be helpful.

Keeping this in mind, GoodFirms interviewed 261 marketing experts to identify the Instagram marketing trends for 2021.

Which Type of Instagram Posts can Increase Brand Awareness?

Everyone can market on Instagram, but marketing right on Instagram is what will make the campaign successful. Instagram, as a platform, allows users to publish posts in multiple formats. However, from the marketing perspective not all of these posts can increase brand awareness and engage the target audience. As per marketers, Instagram stories, viral giveaway posts, and product placement posts are the most effective in creating brand awareness on the platform.

Types of Posts that Increase Brand Awareness on Instagram

Giveaway Posts Increase Brand Awareness.

Everyone loves free stuff, so making people aware of a giveaway contest is not a hard thing to do. A brand will have to invest some money in things they are giving away, but the engagement in return can do wonders for a business.

As per 41.4% of marketers, viral giveaway posts help increase brand awareness on Instagram.

Here, a giveaway contest will only work if the giveaway prizes are relevant to the target audience. If that’s not the case, then a brand runs the risk of attracting followers who won’t be interested in the products/services in the long run. Such people will eventually end up unfollowing the account after the contest ends or not engage with it. The right prizes ensure that the brand attracts the desired audience and spreads awareness among the best demographic for the business.

One of the best practices while running a giveaway is to write a clear and detailed description of the contest. Make sure that the following points are covered:

  • Rules
  • Things people need to do to be eligible
  • Any restrictions on who can participate
  • Prize
  • Deadline
  • Date to announce the winner

Despite the innumerable benefits that come with organizing Instagram giveaway contests, many brands may still be reluctant to hold one. Some interesting data from Socialinsider about engagement rates of such posts may help change their mind.

  • Images: Engagement rates for giveaway image posts are 3.25% compared to 2.40% for non-giveaway posts.
  • Carousels: Engagement rates for giveaway carousel posts are 3.58% compared to 2.53% for non-giveaway posts.
  • Videos: Engagement rates for giveaway video posts are 2.34% compared to 2.09% for non-giveaway posts.

Carousel Posts Are Super Effective

It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. So, imagine the potential of multiple images. Instagram’s carousel posts are exactly that and are growing in popularity ever since their launch in early 2017.

According to the GoodFirms survey, 74.7% of marketers believe that carousel posts prove to be effective.

Are Carousel Posts Effective?

After the launch, only 3-4% of all the content on Instagram was published in carousel posts. This number jumped to 19.4% in July 2020, as per a Socialinsider report. Furthermore, as per the same report, the average engagement rate of Carousel posts exceeds that of images and videos. Carousel posts stand at 1.92%, whereas images and videos have an engagement rate of 1.74% and 1.45%, respectively.

One of the primary reasons for carousel posts to be effective is that adding multiple images in one post means a brand can communicate the message efficiently. Brands should make sure that the content is captivating enough so that the viewers don’t skip a single slide.

Furthermore, carousel posts offer brands the flexibility to experiment with different content formats in a single post. For a while, marketers have also experimented with using images and videos in a single carousel post. This was attempted because it gives the audience more variety and successfully grabbed their attention.

Stated below are some creative ways to use Instagram carousel posts:

  • Promote a new product
  • Share a before and after reveal
  • Offer personalized recommendations
  • Option to share brand stories without disrupting the carefully curated feed
  • Showcase finer details and closeup shots of the products

What is the Optimum Number of Posts & Hashtags on Instagram?

Instagram marketing is an essential part of any marketing strategy today. But that doesn’t mean that every brand is doing it right. One of the important aspects of marketing on Instagram is the frequency of posts and the right number of hashtags to increase its visibility.

As per 50.6% of marketers, a brand should ideally publish 4-6 posts in a week on Instagram.

# of Posts to Publish Per Week

A study by Union Metrics shows no relation between how much content is posted and the engagement rates on those posts. The key is not to publish frequently but to post right. An average of 4-6 posts per week means that the brand is not spamming the audience and doing it enough to keep the audience engaged.

Brands should also post at a frequency that they can maintain in the long run. For instance, if a brand starts with posting several times a day and later on it reduces to a few times a week, they will lose followers and experience a reduction in the engagement rate. Thus, maintaining consistency is crucial.

Instagram hashtags are effective in getting engagement on the posts. A post with at least one hashtag has 12.6% more engagement than the one without a hashtag. So, it is always worth it to create a hashtag strategy for more visibility. When it comes to the number of hashtags in each post, 26.4% of marketers believe that there should be more than 16 hashtags.

# of Hashtags to Use Per Post

Using relevant and targeted hashtags is one of the best ways of marketing on Instagram. It will translate to more engagement, followers, and ultimately more customers. The right hashtag will put a brand in front of its target audience even if there has been no interaction with them in the past. As the Instagram algorithm constantly changes, the following are some ways to optimize Instagram hashtags:

  • Check Instagram Hashtag Analytics
  • Try to get into “top” results for a hashtag
  • Add the branded hashtag in Instagram profile
  • Post hashtags in the first comment
  • Add hashtags to Instagram stories
  • Encourage followers to follow the branded hashtag
  • Run hashtag-based campaigns and promotions
  • Avoid using banned hashtags on Instagram

Top 6 Instagram Trends in 2021 for Small Businesses

Some of the Instagram marketing trends for 2021 are a response to the current scenario. At the same time, the demands of the users drive some. For instance, the trend of going live on Instagram is due to the “stay at home” restrictions. Other trends like Instagram reels, maintaining authenticity in campaigns, rise in influencers, Instagram shopping, and Instagram stories result from the users’ demands.

1) The Rise of Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels was introduced in 2020 as a direct competition to the famous platform TikTok. Users can create and edit short-form videos that are capped at 15 seconds each. Also, all of these clips can be strung together to make the content more meaningful and engaging. While Instagram does everything to make its new features popular, there are other reasons too for the popularity of Instagram reels in such a short time.

Audrey Truitt, a Digital Marketing Manager at Virtudesk, discusses why Reels are catching audiences’ and businesses’ attention alike. She said, “The first reason is that video content is the #1 most consumed content on social media and the Internet more broadly. The second reason is that Instagram actually revised their algorithm to favor reels when they rolled out the new feature. When your account publishes more reels, Instagram will make your account more discoverable by other users. Publishing reels every day or multiple times a week will increase engagement for your business account and expose you to new potential followers.”

As Instagram’s algorithm favors Reels, brands can leverage the same in their overall marketing strategy in multiple ways. There is one more technical detail to keep in mind while creating reels.

The VP of Marketing at Elevation, Ryan Gould, states, “Overall, Reels presents a greater opportunity for brands to find themselves on the Explore Page. As of now, Instagram is prioritizing Reels without watermarks, which can really help brands stand out considering most users repost TikToks that are already watermarked. Since this is still new, being an early adopter can help put you ahead at the moment.”

In the overcrowded world of social media, a brand’s message and ideas are what make them stand out. While images and other forms of content can be used to carve a niche, there is no denying that video content can be much more effective.

Daivat from Force by Mojio believes that Instagram Reels are the way to go. In his opinion, “The versatility of this format is part of why I think we'll see it dominate in digital marketing. Reels can be funny, silly, inspirational, educational, or just plain weird. You can establish a unique voice and persona for your brand in a way that you can't through pictures alone. While TikTok still rules the social video format, there have been concerns about the app's privacy and ethics that keep some businesses away. Instagram is the obvious alternative, and the Reels feature is perfect for companies that already have a presence on the application.” Daivat is the Director of Operations.

There is no doubt that Reels can successfully capture the audience’s attention. However, there is an additional benefit for brands in using Reels, which is creating content. Content creation, in general, is a time-consuming process and requires some additional effort to achieve perfection. But this latest Instagram feature eases that process too.

Solomon Thimothy from ClickX highlights how Reels make it easy to create content for the platform. “This feature allows businesses to curate short-form videos that fully encapsulate the brand whilst eliminating the need for meticulous editing processes. Instagram Reels shields content creators from shouldering all the editing legwork as the feature fully automates editing. Apart from that, boosting the business through Instagram Reels is a cinch to cross-posting across multiple channels. It opens more opportunities for the business to maintain engagement with audiences from all platforms,” said Solomon.

The positive experience of Tarlia Smedley from Pulse Recruitment of using Reels in the organization’s ad campaign further affirms that brands can achieve much more by incorporating Reels in their campaigns.

“Yes, I recently finished an ad campaign where I had a particularly remarkable experience. It was due to one reason: it contained IG Reels style content. I started with A/B testing, a standard video ad versus an IG Reels style video. The IG Reels ad outperformed the "normal" style ad by a massive 3.27% CTR success rate. Therefore, I based the latest ad campaign around IG Reels style content and achieved a 4.02% CTR success rate above the industry average,” said Tarlia.

Following are some suggested ways to use Instagram Reels:

  • Create how-to guides on using the brand’s products/services

  • Jump on the latest meme bandwagon and add a personal twist

  • Partner with an influencer

2) Authentic Content Continues to Win Hearts

Authenticity is a growing trend on Instagram and will most likely continue in 2021. More and more brands/influencers are seen posting less curated and filtered content to connect with their audiences. This shift from ‘perfection’ to ‘transparency’ can be considered a powerful move. A major reason for this change in approach is the target audience. For 86% of consumers, authenticity is an important factor in choosing and supporting a brand.

The CEO of CPA Prep Insights, John Ross, briefly explains what has led to this trend on Instagram and how adopting this trend is helping his organization.

“Instagram video quality is regressing and on purpose. Highly polished and heavily edited videos have become so ubiquitous that Instagram users have become somewhat immune to them. I think it is going to be raw, unpolished videos that rule the day in 2021. Instagram stories that feature uncut footage of authentic brand clips and personalities will continue to gain a ton of traction. People are looking for experiences and people they can relate to and engage with on a personal level. We use Instagram fairly heavily as part of our marketing strategy and have really leaned into this idea of featuring authenticity in an unpolished way. It seems to be really connecting with our followers and has earned us a big uptick in new audience members. Views and user engagement are both up big for us so far in 2021, so we'll continue to lean on Instagram, ” says John.

It is not a surprise that consumers expect brands to be honest. But authenticity is also a comparatively recent concept which is mainly pushed forward by the younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z consumers expect the brands to care about more than just the profits. If they don’t see a brand making efforts in that direction, they can also find one that does.

To help a brand avoid any similar situation, Jon Torres, a Digital Marketing Consultant shares some tips and briefly states why the rising demand for authenticity in all brand interactions.

In his opinion, “It makes Instagram as close to real-time human interaction as possible. And it makes sense, given we are social beings who have had to face unprecedented social limitations in recent months. And while we want the pandemic to end, it may take a while. So, we’ll continue to see live, humanized IG content do well. And it can be as simple as using a person’s voice. I prefer to post narrated videos (complete with subtitles) instead of just visual illustrations or photos that do not have a person or people in them. You can also show unfiltered behind-the-scenes clips of your team hard at work in an ongoing project. Let people see the people behind the project.”

Earlier, there was a trend of creating professional videos and using the same for marketing purposes. In that scenario, many small and medium scale businesses couldn’t compete with large organizations due to a lack of resources. However, the trend of authentic content changed that, and now everyone gets an equal opportunity to present their brand to the relevant audience.

Jessica Ayre from Text Request states some ways in which brands can create authentic content anytime and anywhere.

She says, “I advise Instagram marketers to tone down the edits and to try shooting videos from your phone in your workspace - whether it be your home office, your store, your warehouse, etcetera. People are inclined to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes, and unpolished, candid Instagram videos are a great way to grab people's attention and keep it.”

3) Instagram Live Rooms Are the New Normal

Instagram Live is among the fastest-growing Instagram trends in the past few months. One of the primary reasons for it is the worldwide lockdown that was imposed, and people went digital to socialize. Researchers believe that humans are not made to remain isolated from others for a long time. In fact, during the peak pandemic period, i.e., April 2020, there was a 70% increase in the Live views.

Assured Marketing’s Managing Director, Connor Hewson, discussed in detail the changes in this feature since its launch and how businesses can leverage it.

In Connor’s opinion, “In 2016 Instagram Live helped change how businesses and influencers could broadcast information across the platform. Capped at 1 hour since inception, the Live Streams were great but didn't offer any ability to run long detailed live videos that businesses could use for workshops or training sessions.

Now, Instagram has increased the max duration of live streams to 4 hours, meaning that businesses can tap into this and produce much more detailed and intricate content for their live broadcasts on the platform. Having this ability allows companies, especially those in B2B, to showcase their knowledge and experience to their audience properly. This for me is why I would expect Instagram Live Streaming to grow rapidly in 2021.”

Apart from helping a brand position itself as a leader in the market, there are other ways to use the Instagram Live feature from a marketing perspective. The platform also has a Live Room feature where a person can collaborate with a guest to attract a larger audience. Now, the live room feature has updated and a person can go live with up to 3 guests. It simply means brands can reach a larger audience and drive more sales.

Dino Serdar from Cinnamon Agency mentions ways to use the Live Room feature and offers some valuable insights on the same.

“It is a fantastic way to engage with followers, you will be able to create not only a broadcast but it also gives you an opportunity to interact with audiences and attract new followers and customers. With Live Rooms, Instagram gives you a unique chance to tell great stories through visual content. Also, we need to mention the potential to create micro-content from it - stories, posts, and more! I think we will all be surprised what a boom this will be. You need to be relatable! If you manage to succeed in providing quality content through Instagram Live Rooms you will be rocking 2021 because people are consuming content now more than ever due to the Pandemic,” said Dino, a Digital Marketing Specialist.

Following are some ways in which brands can use Instagram Live:

  • Go live with other Instagram accounts and creators
  • Make use of the Q & A sticker to answer questions live
  • Introduce a new product/service

4) Instagram is Making Selling on the Platform Easier

In the year 2020, Instagram furthered its initiative into becoming a bigger and better digital forefront for brands and creators. The introduction of Instagram Shop means a more streamlined way of discovering shoppable products and giving users the option to ‘browse shops,’ check out ‘editors’ picks’ and much more.

There are many more eCommerce tools that Instagram has come up with over the years, such as stories stickers, shopping from creators, Instagram checkout, and Live shopping.

The Chief Marketing Officer of Elevate Delta 8, Keeon Yazdani, mentioned how Instagram keeps up with the changing times and expected changes in a brand’s Instagram marketing tactics.

He says, “In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused many small businesses to close their doors and transition their business online. With that said, I believe Instagram will focus even more on E-commerce tools. For example, in 2017 Instagram introduced Instagram Shop. A lot has happened since then, and it is predicted more features will be rolling out in 2021. In late 2020, Instagram's Adam Mosseri announced the introduction of Shoppable Instagram Reels. This feature allows creators to tag products in reels, and if the Instagram viewer is interested in the product, they can find out more about the product directly from the reel.”

The reason brands are eager to make the most out of eCommerce tools and features on Instagram is because the customers love it too. On average, Instagram business accounts witness a 1.46% of monthly followers growth.

Susan Thompson from Topp Casino Bonus explained the reason for consumers engaging more with the Instagram shopping features.

In her opinion, “With shoppers spending more and more time on Instagram than ever before, I believe this trend has every reason to rule in 2021 or upcoming years. And with the introduction of the shoppable posts feature, it becomes even more accessible for the customer to discover a post, click on the product, and shop it right away. It allows businesses to tag products in photos, videos, and Instagram Stories and let customers buy directly from posts. It's an excellent feature for e-commerce businesses that want to keep their community on Instagram without losing them after following too many steps.” Susan is the Digital Marketing Manager.

The statement of Richard Gerrettson-Cornell, a CEO, further supports all the reasons for brands choosing to invest in Instagram’s eCommerce features with interesting statistics.

Richard from RGC Advertising said, “If a business is looking to increase its sales, there is no better digital marketing tactic to implement into an Instagram marketing campaign than Instagram Shopping. No other strategy influences users to immediately buy a business's products as Instagram Shopping does. With 70% of shopping enthusiasts using Instagram to find new items and over 130 million Instagram users interacting with at least one shopping post per month, Instagram is a valuable business method for businesses to establish a virtual shop front and e-commerce website that ultimately generates sales. The Instagram Shopping Feature allows businesses to incorporate product catalogs into their Instagram profiles. Businesses can then easily tag shoppable products into their Instagram posts and stories in the same manner as you would tag a friend.

Keep the following in mind while creating Instagram shopping posts:

  • Use short captions
  • Post relevant content
  • Leverage Instagram videos
  • Ask questions in posts
  • Use tons of emojis

5) Expect More Influencers in the Instagram Scene

Influencer marketing quickly became mainstream as brands find it one of the best ways to reach their target audience. Partnering with influencers who are reputed, trustworthy, and likable has proven to be a great strategy for marketing. Among the types of influencers, nano and micro-influencers are proving to be even more effective. A substantial number of marketers are of the opinion that nano and micro-influencers can get a high ROI for multiple industry niches.

A Chief Operating Officer at Hayden Girls, Hosea Chang, explicitly stated why consumers trust influencers and how his organization has benefited from partnering with influencers.

He said, “We have seen the growth in this form of marketing of the past couple of years, and once the pandemic hit, it skyrocketed. The influence of an actual person promoting our clothing line trumps any other form of brand advertisement. Influencers aren’t just going to accept any product to promote, because it puts their own name and influencer brand on the line. This makes people trust them. They recognize that they aren’t going to promote just any company. They’ll promote the companies they like. That added trust does wonders for customer interest and will continue to benefit businesses in 2021. Whenever we have used influencers to market a new line, we always see an increase in Instagram engagement. While we still post on our own page frequently, we cannot lie that the best results come when we have an influencer posting themselves.

The concept of influencer marketing began with brands partnering with celebrities and influencers with many followers. But that changed with time. The industry is now more eager to engage with influencers who have a niche following. Blandine from NiceDay explains this shift in the industry preferences.

In his words, “Micro" or "nano-influencing" will be a marketing trend that flourishes in 2021 and beyond. Partnerships with big-name celebrities and athletes have landed brands tremendous returns on their investments even at sky-high prices for single posts. Unfortunately, the meteoric rise of this trend has left a sour taste in the mouths of consumers. Do these influencers even like the product? Better yet, do they even use it? Lack of trust is pushing these heavy hitters to the side and putting a premium on influencers with niche followings ranging from 3,000-5,000. Consumers are attracted to big-names influencers because they come across as sincere, are significantly easier to engage with, sky-high perceived not to have a hidden agenda.” Blandine is the Founder and Creative Director.

Alina Clark, the Co-founder of CocoDoc, further amplifies the rise in demand for micro and nano influencers and suggests a way to capture the nation of the audiences.

She says, “Humanizing marketing is not really about selling. It's about getting closer to your market, relating with them on a human basis, and micro-influencers do this best. An increasing number of buyers lookout for points of attachment in brand messaging. More likely than not, this search for “humanity in a brand” will define Instagram Marketing in 2021.

People are looking out for more humane influences. They’re becoming more discerning of the authenticity factor in the marketing campaigns too. They want to feel an attachment or a resemblance to the brand. One needs only to look at how far brands like “Humans of New York” have come with simple, soul-touching, and highly relatable stories.

Micro-influencers do "authenticity-based" marketing with ease. They also have a closer attachment to the content they post and their audiences. With the current spike in value-based buying, a micro-influencer who bases marketing on their values will have a ready market for brands. Brands can also build relatability by using conversational tones and some humor in their content.This is straight out of the micro-influencing rule book. A funny Instagram story will quickly change dormant fans to buyers.”

The primary reasons for partnering with influencers and, more specifically, micro and nano influencers are quite clear. Now comes the implementation of this trend.

Keeon Yazdani, a Chief Marketing Officer, shares his experience of partnering with influencers and their strategy.

“Our company, Elevate Delta 8, uses Instagram to build brand awareness. We do so by collaborating with Influencers who meet our target audience and have a following that meets our target audience. We've found collaborating with an influencer on a giveaway post is one of the most effective ways to build brand awareness. When we collaborate with influencers we ask them to include three requirements within the caption of their post to qualify for the giveaway. These requirements are: Like the post, comment and tag 3 people, and follow the page hosting the giveaway. If the giveaway post goes well and we see an increase in traffic and leads on our website, we will create a brand partnership with the influencer. A brand partnership consists of 1-2 feed posts per month and 2-3 story posts highlighting our product,” says Keeon from Elevate Delta 8.

6) Instagram Stories Are Stronger Than Ever

Instagram stories are one of the most engaging features of the platform, with 500 million people using them every day. There are many ways to make the most out of the Stories feature by using functionalities available to everyone - starting with filters and stickers to polls and publishing shoppable posts. Brands should focus on finding creative ways to use the Stories feature and boost their engagement and sales.

The Manager of Messagely, Jeff Cooper, presents some interesting facts about the use and popularity of Instagram stories.

Jeff said, “Even though it was released four years ago, it didn't take long for it to become one of the most famous Instagram trends and to win the hearts of Instagrammers all over the world. Instagram Stories has been an especially important feature of influencer marketing, with almost eight out of ten (78%) advertisers claiming that it has had a significant effect on influencers' posts regarding their products (Tribe Dynamics, 2020). In reality, it's a common tool among influencers, with up to 88 percent of them saying they use Stories regularly. Going forward, all signs lead to Stories being one of the most common Instagram topics in 2021: 63 percent of Instagram influencers began using Stories ``much more frequently” this year.”

It is quite visible that Instagram is consistently rolling out new features to make the platform user-friendly and engaging at the same time. James Hughes, an SEO Consultant at Digital Marketing 4 Leads, stated one such feature that will make a digital marketing professional a little easier.

In his words, “ Instagram just announced that it is set to add a new feature to Stories. It will let users save unfinished Instagram Stories as drafts. This is fantastic for digital marketers. It means that the story content can be created in advance (during office hours) and then posted at the best time. No more rushing off to create a story for your client in the middle of movie night.

A Senior Content and Social Media Specialist, Sarah Vaughan, shares a tip on Instagram stories that will successfully engage the audience.

Sarah from Speak Creative says, “For small businesses, Instagram stories should be a focus for 2021. Consumers are looking for authenticity and connection. Showing them behind the scenes, unscripted footage creates connection and drives more interest than organic posts alone.

Conclusion

In 2021, creating a strong Instagram presence should be a part of every brand’s marketing strategy. It is constantly proving to be an effective platform for reaching out to the target audience. As the platform continues to evolve and keeps adding more features and functionalities, brands that have already built a following on the forum need to continue focusing on it.

A major Instagram trend is the increasing popularity and usage of Reels. Also, Instagram is becoming the ultimate digital front by adding more eCommerce-related functionalities that the brands need to reach out to more customers and grow their revenue. Live videos/rooms are becoming a staple for people who are still spending most of their time at home.

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