How to use Instagram for business

Facebook's Messenger API now supports Instagram, which means businesses can manage customer conversations that start from their profile, Shops and Stories

By Jesse Martin, Content Marketing Associate

Published October 19, 2020
Last updated November 5, 2020

Over the past few years, popular messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Messenger have opened their APIs to enterprise businesses, allowing them to carry out customer conversations at scale — but until now, Instagram has been left out of the conversation.

Instagram has changed the way customers form relationships with brands. Instagram is mostly seen as a medium for consuming media, creating content, shopping or, on the business side of things, a funky marketing tool. Messaging is not often part of the conversation, but it's a huge part of the experience.

For businesses with heavy Millennial and Gen Z (2000 & later) customer bases, Instagram is crucial. And yet the features that make shopping, sharing and chatting easy for Instagram users are usually only discussed in the context of smaller retailers, restaurants and lifestyle brands. That’s about to change.

The Messenger API with support for Instagram, now available through select partners, is a tool that will help businesses conduct conversations at scale — and the implications of this are huge.

How Instagram for business worked without the API

Consider the fact that until now, Nike, the most followed brand on Instagram, could not respond to your DMs. Despite a prolific presence on social media, messaging on Instagram wasn’t feasible for a brand that big.

SMBs traditionally managed their conversations using the Instagram Direct inbox (directly in the app or browser) or through the Facebook Business Suite’s unified inbox, which displayed Instagram DMs alongside Facebook Messenger conversations. This may also have called for a dedicated support role, separate from conversations happening on other channels, such as WhatsApp, email or voice. Otherwise, businesses who could not manage high volumes of messages would have to abandon messaging on Instagram altogether.

Facebook has a two-tiered strategy when it comes to business messaging. One for SMBs — which birthed tools like the Facebook Business Suite and the WhatsApp Business app, making it possible for small businesses to track customer comments and conversations with light analytics and low overhead; and a separate strategy for enterprise businesses — say hello to the Facebook Business, WhatsApp Business and Messenger APIs.

What is an API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. In the world of business messaging, APIs allow enterprise businesses to do more with their customer conversations. They can be turned into support tickets, used as a source for data, and be integrated into their own CRM software. It also means companies can have multiple agents balancing a greater number of conversations while leveraging tools like chatbots. All this is at the forefront of modern customer experience, but until now, Instagram has mostly steered clear of the API pie.

Keeping Instagram business conversations together

Keeping conversations separate poses a problem: customer conversations are a valuable source of insight. When Instagram behaviour and messages are understood in the full context of the customer’s relationship with the brand, the brand can benefit by providing better service through leveraging that data. And since Instagram’s solution also does not allow for automation, agents can’t deflect queries to the correct inbox or deflect frequently asked questions.

In October 2020, Facebook finally started making good on its promise to integrate the backends of Instagram Direct and Messenger, making it possible to send messages to users across both platforms. Over the past couple of years, Instagram has released a flurry of e-commerce features, such as Shop and Checkout, so brands can easily sell products in the app. The success of WhatsApp’s Business API, which was released in 2018, had people feeling it was only a matter of time before Instagram joined the business messaging fold.

Messaging has clearly worked for SMBs on Instagram. With users already primed to research, shop, and comment, they are already forming relationships with brands. A scalable messaging solution — one that does not require a separate inbox or separate agents — for bigger brands and companies has been the only missing piece of the puzzle.

The Instagram business messaging solution

The Messenger API for Instagram is designed with these problems in mind. It addresses the issues that larger companies have been struggling with, allowing them to manage customer conversations and offer support in conversations started on Instagram. As with its WhatsApp and Messenger-focused predecessors, the API will make it possible for enterprise clients and brands already using Instagram to manage high volumes of conversations.

The Messenger API for Instagram allows larger companies to enhance their business presence on Instagram while offering better support and managing customer conversations at scale.

Instagram’s messaging has some pretty cool, rich features that businesses have not been able to use fully until now — whether this means offering more personal touches with emoji reactions, or threading conversations for clarity. The door is also open to more complex conversational use cases, which can include chatbots and data capture. Most important, the Messenger API for Instagram makes it possible for businesses to manage conversations initiated by people from profiles, Shops and Stories.

The Messenger API for Instagram makes it possible to start conversations with brands from various points in their Instagram presence

Courtesy of Instagram

Starting conversations with Instagram features

Stories

  • Ephemeral visual content at the top of the user's feed. Users with 10,000 followers and Instagram Business Profiles can use the popular “swipe-up” function to open an in-app browser window.
  • DM me sticker allows users to pop straight into your inbox. A variation on this allows Story creators to create small group messages.
  • Send to DM allows users to share and DM Story content to their friends. Invaluable example of “dark social” sharing opportunities for brands.

Reels

  • Like Tik Tok, Reels are bites of video content that can be set to music, with sophisticated video editing features and effects.
  • Reels can be commented on, and the Send to DM call-to-action allows users to share Reels in their DMs.

Posts

  • Photos and videos that appear on the grid, timeline, and Explore feed.
  • Brands can promote products with tags.
  • Users can comment on posts, and use the Send to DM CTA to share with friends.

IGTV

Long form video content — users can comment on IGTV posts and use the Send to DM CTA to share with friends.

Instagram Live

Instagram’s live streaming feature, which users and brands can use to broadcast live video to their followers.

  • Live comment feed allows brands to engage with followers
  • Send to DM CTA allows users to share Live streams with their friends

Sponsored Posts

Paid posts that appear on users’ feeds. Sponsored posts can be commented on, and contain inline CTAs which direct users to web pages, and straight to the DMs.

What businesses using Instagram means for conversational commerce

Instagram’s scalable messaging solution goes far beyond support. It’s part of the changing face of conversational commerce. Rather than imagining conversational commerce as converting leads in chat, or using live chat while online shopping, or even establishing a brand presence in messaging apps (a great start, but arguably not enough!), it can be better understood as part of the greater customer relationship.

What is conversational commerce?

Conversational commerce is how messaging interacts with e-commerce. Customers wish to ask questions, conduct research, and get support — and according to research by Facebook, 75% of these shoppers actually make a purchase.

When it comes to online shopping, Instagram has changed the game. YouTube creators make video hauls showing products they have bought on Instagram, suggesting novelty; but mainstream brands have caught that train too. Features like Checkout and shoppable tags bring shopping straight to the app experience.

Millennial-loved brands like Outdoor Voices and Glossier are truly Instagram-first, but before the Messenger API, scaling meant they basically outgrew their inboxes.

Instagram users — especially those who shop — offer plenty of insight into the brands they interact with, whether by bookmarking posts, tagging brands, sharing branded content, or sliding into their DMs. Now bigger brands can finally offer messaging as part of a holistic customer experience. 81% of Instagram users are already doing research on products and services in-app — how might this change now they can actually chat with the big brands they’re interested in?

Insta DMs are the newest customer support channel

Facebook's Messenger API now supports Instagram, which means brands can finally have conversations with their customers begun on Instagram. With Zendesk, agents can respond to DMs as part of their normal ticket queue. There's a lot to be excited about.