Neil Patel

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How to Build an E-commerce Brand Using Instagram When You Have No Followers


instagram branding without followers

There’s a ton of advice out there about how to use Instagram as an effective online marketing tool.

But if you’re brand new to the platform or you can’t seem to drum up a following in the first place, you might feel overwhelmed.

According to data from SelfStartR, Instagram has become the top platform for brands to engage with followers that are willing to buy.

On Facebook, only 32% of users engage with brands on a regular basis. When it comes to Instagram, on the other hand, 68% of users regularly engage with brands.

That’s more than double the opportunity.

If you’ve just created an account or are posting but can’t seem to gain an audience, have no fear. There are some actionable steps you can take to build up your page and gain followers.

Here’s how to build an e-commerce brand using Instagram when you have no followers.

Why Instagram is the ultimate e-commerce tool

Instagram is one of the most aesthetically pleasing platforms on the web. Its existence revolves around imagery.

Great visual design has made it a great place for photographers, models, and artists to share their creativity.

This also makes it a great place to share your business, upload product photos, connect with engaged followers, and boost your ROI.

According to Statista, Instagram ad revenue is expected to hit a whopping $7 billion in 2018.

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That’s almost a $5 billion jump from 2016.

And Instagram is just getting warmed up. It’s already making huge waves in comparison to Facebook.

Since 2012, Facebook has seen a 63% decrease in organic marketing reach, while Instagram has seen a 115% increase in the same amount of time.

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So how can you make the best of the platform? Especially if you’re just getting started or you have no followers?

The first step is to include links to your store on your page.

Include links to your store

You should already be posting photos and following relevant accounts on Instagram. If you haven’t done that yet, what are you waiting for?

But what else should you do if you just joined the platform or you don’t have a significant following?

Link back to your website. It might sound simple, but it’s a tactic that is very easily overlooked.

Posting fun images is great, but you need a strategy that connects your Instagram efforts to your actual e-commerce store. That’s the whole reason you’re marketing on Instagram, right?

If you don’t have an end goal that you’re working toward when it comes to your Instagram activity, you aren’t going to be able to use it to build a brand successfully.

Street Easy lets people know that they have a link in their bio by simply adding the hashtag #LinkInBio to their posts.

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However, the brand doesn’t just have any regular old link in their bio. They have a link created with the tool.

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When you click on the link, you’re taken to Street Easy’s page on the Link In Bio platform. Users can tap on previous images for more information.

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For example, their latest post features information on photographer Olena Hassell.

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You can use a tool like Link In Bio or just simply include the link to your regular shop.

If you want to take things a step further, create an Instagram landing page made specifically with users of the platform in mind.

An Instagram landing page is a web page that may contain videos, testimonials, or some sort of offer that influences visitors to convert.

This landing page should be optimized for mobile users since most Instagram users access the platform via the mobile app.

Create Instagram landing pages based on your current campaigns and change out your bio link to reflect your goals.

For example, if you’re currently running a sale, create an Instagram landing page about the sale that contains all of your currently discounted products.

Or if you’re running a contest, which we’ll talk more about later, create a mobile-friendly landing page and add that to your bio until the contest is over.

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It also helps to add a CTA before your link. Say something short, simple, and engaging like “Shop our page now!” or “Shop our feed:”

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You need to create a branded hashtag if you don’t have one already. A branded tag can create tons of interest surrounding your brand (and make it easy for your to find user-generated posts).

Create a branded hashtag (and use it, of course)

The main reason that you joined Instagram is probably to get the word out about your brand and your products, especially if you’re an e-commerce brand.

But what if your customers are already talking about you on Instagram, but you don’t know about it just yet?

Search for the hashtag of your brand’s name to find pre-existing user-generated content.

For example, when you search the tag “#topshop,” there are millions of photo results.

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That means that there are millions of photos generated by Topshop customers that the brand didn’t have to ask anyone for.

But another great way to keep track of your customers’ photo posts is to create an official brand hashtag.

You can simply use your business name, an existing slogan, or some other creative phrase.

Then, let your customers know what the tag is by adding it to your bio and encouraging followers to use it in their posts.

Topshop uses the official branded tag #TopshopStyle.

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The brand lets people know that if they share their photos using the tag, they could be featured on the Topshop Instagram page, which has millions of followers.

User-generated images don’t just give your brand more exposure, they also give other Instagram users exposure so that they can gain more followers, too. It’s a win-win situation.

You should also add these tags to your images to repeatedly remind your followers about it.

Then, when you want to find some customer photos to regram on your page, just head to your branded hashtag to find them all in one place.

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Now, you’ve got an archive of all of the posts related to your brand that you (or any other Instagram user) can browse whenever they want.

If you do decide to repost customer photos, then be sure to tag the user who took the image. Don’t forget to give credit where it’s due.

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Another way to build your brand when you have no followers is to steal Instagram followers from your competition.

Steal followers from your competitors

Your competitors have already done a ton of the heavy lifting and collected a huge base of engaged followers.

You can use this to your advantage.

All you have to do to find and attract your own following is to head to your the Instagram profiles of your competitors and steal the audience.

You should already have a pretty good idea of who your closest competitors are. But if you don’t, try using a tool like Webstagram to find some popular accounts in your industry.

Search for keywords and hashtags that relate to your brand to get started. The top accounts relating to that keyword should appear.

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To view a similar account, just click on it. You can also search for keywords right in the Instagram app instead.

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If you decide that it’s pretty close to your brand, go ahead and follow the account.

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Once you do that, Instagram should bring up accounts related to the one that you just followed.

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Following these accounts will lead you to more and more competitors. Keep going down the rabbit hole until you’ve followed several brands similar to yours.

Following them not only helps you steal their audience, but it also helps you keep an eye on exactly what they’re posting.

So how can you actually steal followers from the competition? Engage with them.

Follow individual users that are commenting on competitors’ pages. Like their photos, comment on them, or send them a direct message letting them know about your store.

Make them notice you. Tell them a little bit about your brand and why they might like it.

It also helps to post sponsored images or product reviews when you can.

Post sponsored images and product reviews

If you actually want to make a huge impact on Instagram, you need for larger accounts in your industry to expose their audience to your brand.

How can you do that?

Find some influencers and large accounts in your niche. If you’re a beauty company, for example, reach out to some beauty bloggers and ask them for a product post.

Remember the competitors that you just followed? Try and round up a list of influencers who are working with those brands.

Chances are, they just might be interested in working with you, too. Search through competitors’ feeds for sponsored posts featuring influencers.

Then, head to these users’ pages. Look for accounts with a large following and an email address in their profile.

If a user puts an email address on their profile, it typically means that they’re interested in sharing sponsored posts.

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Email or DM these accounts and ask what their usual pricing is for sponsored posts. Try and establish a relationship with these users.

If they’re willing to work with your competitor, they would probably be willing to work with you.

Then, make a simple spreadsheet comparing each accounts number of followers, cost per post, CPM, average likes per post, and followers divided by the average likes per post.

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Pick the account(s) with the biggest payoff and lowest price.

If you’re selling an original or unique product, it may be better to ask for a review instead of a product post.

Send influencers some of your products for free in exchange for a photo or video review post talking about their experience with your brand.

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If you want to give some other products away for free, consider running an Instagram contest.

Consider running a contest

Instagram contests aren’t only great for engaging with your existing followers. They can help you gain new ones.

Common contests include “link this photo to enter” giveaways. However, these kinds of contests don’t necessarily attract people toward your brand.

They will only bring in people who want free stuff and are willing to like your images to get it.

Instead, get users to upload Instagram photos about your brand or simply follow your page.

If you ask users to post content, be sure to share a branded hashtag that you want to use for the contest.

Announce your contest with an Instagram post. Be sure to include the rules in the description section so that people will know how to enter.

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If you need some help coming up with contest ideas, try out a tool like Woobox.

The tool helps brands of all types and sizes create social media contests that can drive sales, increase followers, and collect leads.

The tool is used and trusted by four million brands, including notable companies like Spotify, American Airlines, and the NFL.

This contest tool can help you build forms, landing pages, and Instagram posts for every piece of content you might need relating to your contest.

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Be sure to disclose the “prize” that you’re planning to giveaway when announcing your contest to followers.

It may be best to offer some of your own products for free instead of something not related to your niche or brand, like a free iPad.

Otherwise, people may only follow you for the chance to get a free iPad rather than their interest in your e-commerce brand and industry.

If you offer exclusive sales to those following you, more people will commit to following your page.

Offer sales in photos and use the Instagram sales app

Most people use Instagram to search through and view photos.

If you save exclusive offers and promotions for the description/caption, followers might scroll right past it.

That’s why you should offer promotions right in the photos themselves. Overlay details of your promotions in images like this post from Kate’s Lab.

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The post simply announces a 30% off sale.

You can overlay text to your images just like this one with a tool like Canva or Pixlr in minutes.

You should also install an Instagram sales app that you can sync to Instagram to make it easier to sell different products of all sizes and colors.

One well-known sales app is

All that users have to do to buy your products is sign up for the tool, integrate it with Instagram, like your image, and receive the shoppable products from the post in their inbox.

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Like2Buy and Soldsie are two other similar platforms.

These tools allow stores to sell on Instagram through their posts or bio, just like

It’s hard to navigate from an Instagram post to product pages.

Users have to head to your brand’s homepage, search through tons of different product categories, and just pray that they find what they saw in your post.

These tools take that pain away. But so can simply making your Instagram shoppable.

This will direct followers straight to a place where they can make purchases right from your photos, all without ever having to exit out of the Instagram app.

On shoppable posts, users can tap to view product names and pricing of the products in your images.

Then, they can just tap to read a product description and make their selection and final purchase.

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If you create a shoppable gallery, users will be able to see the number of likes on each image, tagged products, customer ratings, and the total number of purchases for the last month.

Then, you can add this link to your bio so that users can view an enhanced view of your feed with shoppable images only.

You can easily build a gallery with Yotpo’s Shoppable solution. All you have to do is paste the link to your Instagram shop right into your bio.

Yotpo will generate a shoppable, enhanced feed for you automatically by pulling the product information from your tagged products on Instagram.

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If you want more followers, then you should integrate your Instagram feed with your website.

Add your Instagram feed to your site

If you want to promote your Instagram page to gain more followers, what better place to do it than your own website?

You’re already making efforts to drive traffic, convert leads, and engage with an audience on your site. Take advantage of that by adding a live Instagram feed to your homepage.

You can find Instagram feed footers from tons of sites online, like Studio Press.

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All you have to do is copy, paste and embed the code for the feed to add it to your site.

That way, you’ll maximize the number of people who engage with your page on Instagram by letting your customers know you’re active there.

If you want to gain followers in a pinch, just run some Instagram ads.

For quick results, run ads

Instagram ads might seem complicated, but they’re not.

If you’ve ever run ads on Facebook, running ads on Instagram isn’t much different. Or any more expensive.

You can even target the same audiences you’re already pushing ads to on Facebook on Instagram by linking your Instagram profile with your Facebook page.

Next, head over to Ads Manager. Click on the “+Create Campaign” button.

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Then, select your campaign objective. For more followers, you might want to run a Brand Awareness, Reach, Traffic, or Engagement campaign.

Next, create your ad set and define who you want your ads to reach.

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You can also target custom audiences that you may have created in the past.

The next step is to select ad placements. Choose “Instagram” under Platforms. Note that you can run feed ads, stories ads, or both.

Next, select your budget and schedule. It’s best to start out low and increase your budget if your post performs well.

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Never set your budget above a price that’s outside of your brand’s reach. There’s no guarantee that the payoff from an ad campaign will always outweigh the cost.


If you don’t have a huge Instagram following, using the platform might seem pointless.

But if you can rack up some followers, you’ll see the biggest brand-building results with Instagram in comparison to other platforms, like Facebook.

Instagram users engage with brands on a regular basis. And they like it.

To build an e-commerce brand on Instagram when you have no followers, you need to first understand why Instagram is the best e-commerce tool.

Since 2016, Instagram ad revenue has increased by $5 billion. And it’s only up from here.

To build your brand, you’ll need to include links to your store within your bio. This can be a link to a landing page or a specific sale promotion page.

Change out the URL as needed when you’re running different promotions. Add a CTA with it, too.

Next, create a branded hashtag and use it to generate and find customer photos. Then, repost those and credit the original photographer. This provides quick, easy, and free social proof.

You might even already have user-generated content on Instagram that someone has posted in the past. Search for your company’s name on the platform.

Your competitors already have an engaged following. Why not leverage it by “stealing” followers from your competitors?

Post sponsored images and product reviews on your page. Reach out to influencers who you can pay for product posts or receive reviews from.

When they post about your brand to their followers, you’re bound to gain a few.

Consider running a contest to drum up interest in your brand. You can make one of the rules to enter the contest “follow this page.”

Offer sales information in photos by using a tool like Canva or Pixlr. Make posts shoppable and tag products so that users can buy right from the app.

Add a live feed of your Instagram posts to your website. That way, your customers will follow you.

For quick results, you can always run feed or stories ads using Ads Manager. Set a budget that works best for you and adjust it accordingly.

What brand-building tactics do you use on Instagram?

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