Instagram just surpassed 1 billion monthly users, and the company reports that 80% of its users follow a business. But are you using your Instagram business profile to its full potential?

Strong customer relationships on Instagram are extremely valuable. A 2018 survey of 22,000 retail shoppers pointed to “trust in the brand” as a top factor in determining where to purchase. Authentic interactions on Instagram (and other social media channels) build trust and contribute to long-term loyalty.

Personal messages, frequent interactions, and a word-of-mouth engine can all strengthen your customer relationships over time. If you communicate well, Instagram can be the key to building a thriving customer network — starting with one person at a time. Here are our guidelines for building valuable customer relationships on Instagram.

Focus on Friendships, Not Follower Count

Social media marketers tend to focus on follower counts and ratios, but the truth is, having a small number of active followers who see your brand in a positive light is more valuable than having thousands who barely know who you are.

Small, personal interactions build up goodwill and, eventually, brand loyalty.

brand interactions lead to respect

Instagram makes it easy to reach out personally to your customers from your business profile. Writing personalized comments and messages will show customers that their user feedback, viewpoints, opinions, and feedback matter to your company.

Here are the most personal forms of communication on Instagram:

  • Comments
  • Direct messages
  • Mentions

“Likes” are cool, but comments are where the real conversations go down. A long string of comments on a post means that (a) you’re really good at engaging your audience or (b) something has gone terribly wrong. Hopefully, it’s the former, but even if it’s the latter, it helps to respond to every comment (where appropriate). When someone makes the effort to actively comment on your post, responding shows appreciation and signals that their voice has been heard.

Venice Beach, California, restaurant Chez Tex always responds to Instagram comments cheerfully and enthusiastically. A compliment never hurts.

chez text restaurant IG comments

DMs are the most long-form, private way to communicate on Instagram, and they’re the best way to respond to someone’s questions, comments, or problems. For complex or extremely enthusiastic feedback, a DM might be more appropriate than a comment. If you want to build business relationships or partner with an influencer, a DM is also probably the best way to reach out. Last but not least, you can respond to other people’s Instagram Stories, whether it’s to thank them for a mention, show solidarity, or brighten their day.

Mentions are shorthand for someone or something requiring your attention. Go through mentions carefully to see what your followers are saying about you. Consider why they might tag you in a post, and note who you’re being tagged with. These shout-outs can tip you off to valuable feedback, as well as consumer trends.

Although responding to individual comments might seem time-consuming, try to avoid canned responses. This isn’t your help desk or email; it’s Instagram — a place where people hang out with friends and explore interests. Use a casual tone (including emojis if you want), and write as if you’re corresponding with a friend. Your customers will respond warmly to a brand voice that sounds like a person.

Create a Positive Feedback Loop

According to one study, brands reply to only 11% of messages on social media. With customers increasingly turning to social media for customer support, it’s important to be timely and consistent in your responses to customer queries and comments. Regular contact from your Instagram business profile is an easy way to remind your customers that you exist, you are continually adding value, and you want to keep the relationship going.

A quick response time can put you a cut above competitors and delight your customers:

customers expect a faster response time than they getSource:

But you don’t have to wait for your customers to reach out to you to connect. Posting content consistently helps: A fresh feed of photos, videos, and Stories gives people reason to check your account frequently. But beyond a basic content calendar, you need to actively reach out to people.

Don’t be afraid to follow individuals, whether they’re new leads, longtime fans, or just people you find interesting. Comment on content that fits your brand values. Respond via DM to Stories from people you follow. Tag people in content they’d find interesting. Make your Instagram business profile a fountain of support and positivity, where customers can expect daily interaction.

When you establish consistent contact, you can more reliably expect responses to the content you post. For instance, if you want feedback on a new product, you can count on your network to respond enthusiastically.

Quest Nutrition, a protein-bar company, regularly posts polls and sliders in their Stories (sometimes humorously). It’s a great example of how a company checks in with followers to find out what keeps them coming back for more.

instagram stories and polls from Quest Nutrition

Instagram interactions are fun — and you may want to post and comment from your Instagram business profile all the time. But there’s a fine line between a brand staying in touch and begging for attention. Your customers don’t want to see a comment or a message from you every time they open the app. Sometimes they just want to be with their friends. So respect boundaries, don’t contact people too often, and don’t post stuff just for the sake of it.

Scale Up with a Word-of-Mouth Machine

Once you’ve nailed down personal and frequent communication from your Instagram business profile, you can start to build a word-of-mouth engine to expand your network. The more often people see their friends and family using your products, the more likely they are to trust your brand.

In a typical referral program, it’s easy to quantify the impact of one person’s efforts on sales. But in the world of social media, it’s not always so black and white. Some people may link directly to your website. Others may simply include your product in their photos and videos, gradually building up awareness over time.

If you want to set up a referral program or hire influencers and ambassadors to post about your products, then go for it! But there are other affordable ways to feed your word-of-mouth machine.

You can

  • create a “tag your friends” giveaway for your followers;
  • send surprise freebies to people who mention you in posts or Stories;
  • feature people who have mentioned or posted about your products;
  • team up with another brand you admire to create fresh content and cross-promote products;
  • ask your most enthusiastic followers to take over your account for the day, and get their friends to follow along; and
  • create content “just for fun” that people will want to share and discuss with their friends.

La Croix sparkling water reposts creative user content to its 144K followers, encouraging others to post about La Croix, too.

Instagram Photo

On Instagram, you can’t just say, “Look at me!” That won’t make people love your brand. By rewarding people who spread the word about your product, you can give back in a significant way.

Reciprocity is Everything

Customer loyalty starts with one relationship at a time. If your Instagram business profile only contains faceless brand messaging, you won’t build a particularly active customer community. When you focus on personal, consistent, mutually beneficial interactions, you’ll find Instagram to be a rewarding channel for building trust and winning customers for life.