The Complete Guide to Instagram Live for Business

May 05, 2020

Live from New York, it’s...your brand? You read that right, Saturday night is no longer a prerequisite for live video content. In fact, Instagram Live is booming for business. Here’s what marketers need to know:

  • An influx in usage over the last month has led more brands to take the plunge into live video.
  • Live streaming gives brands the opportunity to be authentic, lift the curtain, and engage followers behind the scenes.
  • Staying true to your brand DNA and sharing content with a strong CTA is key to drawing an audience.
  • Using Stories data and custom discount codes can help marketers measure success.

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Pressing Play on Live Video

More users are live streaming on Instagram than ever before, with a 70% increase in the US alone over the last few weeks. In a period of so much physical distance, it’s a way to connect and experience a real-time moment together. From friends to celebrities to fitness instructors and makeup artists, everyone seems to be making the leap to live—and brands are no exception. But the instantaneous nature of live video can be nerve wracking to newcomers, especially those with a unique brand identity and professional reputation to uphold. Understanding its purpose, functionality, and how to plan ahead is crucial to a solid Instagram Live strategy.

The Basics

The initial mechanics of going live are essentially the same as posting a Story. Simply tap your profile icon in the top left or swipe right to open your camera. At the bottom of the screen, scroll through the options until you reach “Live” and then tap to start. Your viewer count appears at the top of the screen, comments are below. To end your stream, tap “end” in the top right and then hit confirm. The video will disappear from the app when you’re no longer broadcasting, but you have the option to save it to your camera roll or share a replay in your Stories.

From here, brands have several features to leverage. The comments section isn’t just for viewers—you can add your own comments as you stream. You can also tap a comment and hit “pin comment” to keep it at the top of the feed for viewers to easily access. This is handy for any housekeeping or announcements that viewers tuning in mid-stream might have missed. Filter unwanted words or phrases by checking your settings, or turn comments off altogether by hitting the three dots on your screen followed by “turn off commenting.”

While live video doesn’t have the advantage of an editor, users can include images and video from their camera rolls to break up the visuals with post-production flare. You can also add filters to enhance the aesthetic value, switch camera views, answer questions, and invite other users to join you in the stream. There are even ways to fundraise for causes you care about. Yes, going live has limits, but it’s also full of creative possibilities to explore.

Creating Content with Purpose

Once you understand how it works, the next step in the process is creating killer content. Some users start livestreaming to simply have a chat with followers, but this isn’t the best approach for brands. It’s important to consider both your brand DNA and your audience. In a recent study, 80% of respondents said they would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog or in-feed social post. This is a chance to bring some of that static content to life for up to an hour.

For Fresh, going live was a new frontier, and they dove in head first. After a few experiments with influencers and the brand’s founders, they noticed a drop off of viewers when the stream wasn’t centered around a particular activity. An enticing CTA and value-focused experience has been essential to drawing an audience. It may be tempting to use Live as an advertising platform—but investing in a subtle approach and building an engaged digital community will likely see greater ROI.

In a recent conversation with Meghan Kissinger, senior manager of social media at beautyblender, we discussed how she jumped at the opportunity to deepen connections with followers through Live. The brand “immediately recognized [Instagram Live’s] impact during this time when so many people are feeling alone, and hit the ground running to build out a robust strategy.” They now offer virtual master classes with celebrity makeup artists and influencers, meditation sessions, nutrition Q&As, and more.

If you aren’t sure where to start, try these prompts from Instagram Business:

  • An update on how you’re feeling or preparing your business during this time.
  • A content series featuring your products that people are finding most useful.
  • Challenges or Q&As your fans can participate in.



The Importance of Timing

Global brands have fans all around the world. For smaller, local brands, the majority of followers are closer to home. Remember where your audience is located when it comes to choosing a time for your broadcast. Who do you want to reach in the moment and who would be better off watching the replay? Noon in New York is 9:00am in Los Angeles and 5:00pm in London, which means some of your audience is eating breakfast, some are taking their lunch breaks, and some are finishing their workdays.

The good news is: Instagram is working hard to increase functionality of live features and help brands reach more people. Their latest update allows users to watch live streams from a desktop, which means you can now cross-promote with a URL on different channels instead of driving your audience to the app. With many confined to their homes, personal desktop and laptop access is increasing, so this is an easy way to capitalize on that computer use. They’re also developing an IGTV button for seamless content transfer, expanding the potential audience even further.

Measuring Success

Investing in Instagram Live as a business can feel like taking a shot in the dark. The feature doesn’t have the same tools for measurement as in-feed posts, and the numbers disappear when your video ends. But—there’s a workaround. After you end the stream, Instagram gives you the final number of viewers which you can screenshot for your records. Next, share the replay to Stories. You’ll be able to see the number of likes and comments for 24 hours, plus the app will continue adding views based on new users watching the replay. Use this data as a starting point.

If conversions are your goal, you have to get creative. Try leveraging your link in bio by driving your audience to it during the stream. Pay attention to link clicks from before and after your CTA. Another great way to test out conversions is with a custom product discount code you only provide via Live. Exclusive offers give your audience incentive to tune in for the code and give marketers a way to understand the impact of their broadcast. It’s a win-win. And don’t forget, going live pushes your icon to the top of the app and the front of the Stories feed—a huge awareness boost from the outset.

A New Era of Authenticity for Brands

Let’s face it: the biggest risk with live video is your reputation. A lot can go wrong in real time and marketers work hard to cultivate a polished appearance on social. But in the midst of a global pandemic, people are looking beyond the surface to support brands that show their humanity. Take the time to prepare and if something unexpected happens, be honest and do your best to laugh it off with your audience. Remind them that you’re in this together and you’ll come out of this with strong, long-lasting relationships.


Header image: @samfaubert


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Haley Durkee

Content Marketing Manager at Dash Hudson.