16 Mistakes To Avoid When Selling On Instagram

Giovanni Lee
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When it comes to selling on Instagram, there's a lot more to it than posting visually-appealing graphics. There are many common mistakes that digital marketers can make when their eCommerce business starts to grow on Instagram.

When things are looking good with more followers and more sales, most businesses tend to invest more money into Instagram marketing. They spend more money on ads, they spend more time creating content, and expend more energy to get more followers.

Selling on Instagram seems to be working wonders for their business. But then they get stuck wondering, How do I acquire more qualified leads?

Sure, you can get more paid traffic by spending more money on ads. But unless you’re acquiring visitors that vote with their wallets, you’re burning away valuable resources.

With over one billion users on Instagram, there are many ways to maximize sales through your business account and successfully utilize Instagram advertising.

Using copywriters to write your Instagram posts is an effective way to get your prospects' attention. Yes, even on Instagram, copywriting skills can help you create engaging and persuasive content.

By employing copywriters, you’re ensuring that every part of your Instagram content entices your target audience to read your message. Consequently, when they more clearly understand you're offer, they're more likely to take action and purchase from you. With such a massive user base, you don't want to miss out on any potential opportunities on Instagram.

That’s why you want to make sure that you’re not making any mistakes that could potentially hinder your sales on Instagram. Below are 16 big mistakes to avoid when selling on Instagram:

1. Selling on Instagram Using Ice-Cold Headlines

Most businesses don’t realize how powerful a headline can be when used correctly.

Instead of using an ice-cold headline as most people do, you want to use a blazing-hot headline. A headline that leaves your audience so hot and bothered to read what you’re selling. Get them fired up so they don't want to miss out, and feel like they have to keep reading.

First, you start by using a compelling hook. A great hook tells the great idea your headline tries to communicate. Let’s say you’re selling a $4,700 educational course, and you're trying to come up with a headline. Ask yourself, why is the course worth that much money?

To answer the above question, give reasons that involve different persuasion techniques. These techniques can relate to exclusivity, proof of potential value, paywall, and more. For example:

  • Exclusivity: This course is “only available” for XYZ members.

  • Proof of potential value: This course generated eCommerce retail businesses with more than $39.7 billion in sales.

  • Paywall: People have paid over $9,750 just to get their hands on this special course.

Secondly, you use a unique mechanism that makes your brand stand out through differentiation. What’s so unique about your product? There are many cheaper options, so why should people buy from you? Is there something extraordinary that no one else has?

Lastly, you tie it all together with a sub-heading that tells the prospect how they can benefit from what you’re selling. How can your audience achieve similar results? What’s in it for them? And why they should bother reading your offer any further?

To sum it up, you’re selling on Instagram with a post’s headline like this one:

Introducing the New and Proven “Insider's Digital Marketing Tactics” (Unique Mechanism) That Generated eCommerce Retail Businesses With More Than $39.7 Billion In Sales (Big Hook).

And How You Can Use The Same Techniques On Your eCommerce Businesses Through Your Landing Pages, Emails, and Social Media (Tying It All Together with a sub-heading.)

2. Posting Photos and Videos Without People in Them

No, no… I’m not referring to cruel, savage third-rate content. I’m talking about low-quality graphics and videos that don’t involve people.

You see, on Instagram, your visual content means everything.

Your prospects judge your brand based on the quality of your photos and videos. Why? Because your content speaks about the quality and credibility of what you’re selling.

Having poor quality content doesn’t only make you look unprofessional, but it also makes buyers difficult to trust you. (You can check the sizes to upload your quality Instagram posts here.)

Did you know that posts with real people drive more engagement?

Image posts with people’s faces give 32% more engagement as opposed to posts without anyone. While video posts drive 38% more engagement than image posts (and 2.1 times more comments)!

So, besides having professional-looking content, involve people in your posts. It makes your brand look more authentic and relatable. These people can be your company members or customers. The reason is that most people – if not all – trust recommendations from individuals rather than brands. (That’s including you as a brand!)

Remember: You’re selling on Instagram. You want your prospects to be confident about what you’re selling. Whenever they can think of you as a solution to their problem, they’ll buy from you immediately.

3. Another Terrible Ho-Hum Description

Here, it’s about the caption – the description you write before posting on Instagram.

Most people try to sell on Instagram by writing a short one-line description. They mistakenly believe that a photo or a video will get people to buy. Even worse, some businesses don’t write any caption at all. And other times, they only put a smiley face emoji and they literally don't write anything.

Writing a good description in your Instagram posts is vital to get your message across. It gives your prospects more clarity about what you’re selling and why they should choose you over your competitors.

When you’re writing a description, come up with key takeaways for your readers to bring home. Don’t try to creep them out by attempting a hard sell. Instead, take your time to write a more extended, valuable caption.

You see, a good description comes from good copywriting – it’s 80% research and 20% writing.

You can create a compelling caption for all your Instagram posts with these seven simple steps:

  1. Define your ideal customer.

  2. Make an offer they can’t refuse.

  3. List out each feature and benefit of what you’re selling on Instagram.

  4. A catchy headline to grab the attention of your prospects.

  5. Drop skepticism with pre-emptive credibility.

  6. Sell by using comparison and contrast.

  7. Selling on Instagram using a clear call-to-action.

4. Using Wrong or Forbidden Hashtags

How can someone even use hashtags incorrectly? First of all, not using any hashtags on your Instagram posts is one of the biggest mistakes.

But you don’t want to use too many hashtags either. It makes your posts look spammy. And when you have too many hashtags, your posts likely become irrelevant. So you always want to stick with your niche.

Using the correct, relevant hashtags allows you to reach the qualified prospects that buy from you – your true followers.

And, don’t you know that putting your hashtags too small doesn’t allow Instagram to read your hashtags at all?

A big common mistake that marketers use is placing very tiny hashtags on Instagram stories. They’re trying to hide the hashtags from story posts when, in reality, they’re wasting their effort.

So, to maintain the aesthetic of your Instagram stories, hide your hashtags behind stickers or GIF. Or, you can also blend the hashtags with the background colour.

And, most importantly, beware of using the “forbidden hashtags.” These refer to banned hashtags – Instagram landmines that you absolutely should run away from!

Using banned hashtags will get your posts hidden without getting any reach. Repeated use of banned hashtags will eventually get you shadowbanned, or your account penalized.

A symptom of shadowban is when you feel like your posts are receiving lower engagement. They are not searchable, or they don’t appear in any of the categorized hashtags at all.

So, don’t forget to use hashtags in every post. Always stick with your niche, avoid using tiny hashtags, and get up-to-date information on banned hashtags.

5. Being Too Pushy

Do you make this mistake where all your Instagram content is all about “sell, sell, sell… and SELL.”?

Instagram is a social platform where you communicate through visuals. It’s a place where people socialize, get motivational content, peek at celebrity lifestyles, and educate themselves on products they've never tried. But, most importantly, they’re looking for entertainment.

People hate it when you’re trying to sell them something. When selling on Instagram, being too pushy or too salesy can backfire – losing followers and potential prospects.

Do you remember the time when someone stops you on the street trying to sell you something? You quickly ignore and walk away from them.

To avoid being pushy, let your prospect close themselves by selling as if you’re not selling.

For example, you can post fun videos about your employees while using your product – indirectly closing your prospect. You can use storytelling copywriting techniques to post inspiring Instagram stories while utilizing the swipe-up function. Or, you can post a message that tells about what your brand stands for to build rapport.

6. Ignoring the Power of Instagram Stories

Many businesses don’t realize how powerful Instagram stories are when it comes to selling on Instagram.

It is perhaps the best feature that allows your prospect to buy due to it’s “swipe-up” function. The function gives less resistance to find out more about your brand. It acts as a call-to-action that directs viewers to your profile, or other links such as your landing page.

According to Facebook, 62% of people are more interested in a brand after seeing it on Instagram stories. That’s more than half of over a billion users!

To create Instagram stories, you can use photos or videos.

Don’t miss out on using Instagram story ads when selling on Instagram. It’s an effective way to interact with your ideal customers to get more sales.

Pro-tip: Provide texts to summarize what you’re trying to say in the stories. Instagrammers are impatient, so tell them quickly whether your content is worth their time.

7. Your Message is Not Easily Digestible

Have you ever seen a post written like an essay?

That could lead to a long-term disaster when you’re selling on Instagram. Looking at a long essay on Instagram causes most people to choke. They can’t help but immediately swipe – next!

A common mistake most eCommerce marketers make is that they’re not making their content easily digestible. Making messages easier for your prospects to read is crucial to get them to care about reading your offer.

To do this, break every single part of your text messages on Instagram into small chunks. Leave a blank space between them to make it convenient to distinguish from one paragraph to another.

A general rule is to cut your messages into paragraphs with three lines at most in each section.

8. Buying a Ton of Fake Followers

Are you having a hard time growing your 10,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000 Instagram followers?

Quite frankly, buying fake Instagram followers can be very tempting. And many businesses do it.

But then… what happened? It’s a trap.

Any Instagrammer can spot a business profile with fake followers very quickly. Not only it tarnishes your brand’s reputation, but you also risk losing long-term customers. Surely, you want to avoid fakers at all costs when selling on Instagram.

Imagine a business account that you’re following goes from 1,000 to 100,000 followers overnight. And when you check again, their recent posts only have around 20 likes and 10 comments. It only screams, “What a fake!?” Yes, it really is that obvious when you've bought a ton of fake followers.

Having fake followers makes your prospects see you as untrustworthy.

And why do you get followers that don’t even buy from you? What you truly want are genuine followers with a real community. They are your raving fans that like you, engage actively, and buy from you. And it takes effort – from creating meaningful content to using copywriting to increase engagement and influence.

Also, using fake followers can get you shadowbanned. There isn’t much to do about it. And you’ll likely have no choice but to start with a new account. It’s a waste of resources. So, stay away from fake followers if you don’t want to kill your brand.

9. Failing to Use Retargeting

Don’t you think it’s better to use Facebook to run your Instagram Ads? Yes, of course!

Facebook has a user information bank that helps average Joes create highly-targeted ads, which makes selling on Instagram easier.

But, most people are underutilizing retargeting ads. By retargeting, you want to target prospects who have engaged with your Instagram ads. People who took any form of action on your ads are showing interest. It means that they are likely your ideal customers.

When you’re selling on Instagram, you can use retargeting on the following audience:

  • Everyone Who Engaged With Your Page

  • People Who Visited Your Page

  • People Who Engaged With Any Post or Ad

  • People Who Clicked on Any Call-to-Action Button on Your Page

  • People Who Sent a Message to Your Page

  • People Who Saved Your Page or Any Post

10. “I Don’t Want to Follow My Customers”

Big mistake!

A good thing about Instagram is that you get to know who’s buying what you’re selling. You know immediately by looking at the “follower” tab – your fans. So when they decide to follow you, follow them back.

Following your customers is a way of listening.

It helps you discover your true fans and influencers that can open you to new business opportunities. By following them, you collect valuable information to make better products and services.

When you can pinpoint their problems and challenges, providing solutions to get them into a buying mode becomes effortless. So listen to your customers.

“There is only one boss. The customer.” – Sam Walton

11. No Professional Online Store

There’s nothing wrong with using Instagram Shop. It’s convenient, and you don’t have to use a website.

But, that’s where the problem lies.

Without owning a website (or selling on eCommerce stores like Amazon or AliExpress), you’re missing out on potential opportunities. Why?

Because having a website or other associated eCommerce stores allows you to build trust with your potential customers. You can do this by showing your testimonials, product reviews, and a kick-ass “about us” page.

Not only that, you can let them browse the different offers you have and see the available stocks. You can provide them with various payment options. And you can allow them to register and opt-in to receive your sales emails!

Lastly, with online stores, you can make Instagram ads that direct them to your landing pages and checkouts.

By providing convenience and transparency about what you’re selling, you’re eliminating hesitancy.

12. No Emojis and No Fun

Yes, emojis can be distracting and childish . . . But using emojis in moderation encourages more engagement on Instagram.

When used correctly, the more emojis you use gives you a higher level of engagement. When you can interact more with your target customers, you’re cutting their resistance to buy from you.

Selling on Instagram using emojis – in captions or visuals – helps evoke a positive vibe between you and your prospects.

Your brand could also appear to be more social and friendly. Think about it, isn’t it easier to do business with someone you like?

13. Do You Make These Tagging Mistakes In Your Stories?

Many times, people don’t bother tagging anyone they mention in their Instagram stories. And you wouldn’t want to follow this behaviour, especially when you’re selling on Instagram.

If you’re mentioning someone – influencer or celebrity – in your story, tag them! Tag them in each story that you post, especially if you’re hoping them to repost you. Why?

It’s because people cannot repost your Instagram stories unless you “tag” them. And make sure you put the tags in each part of the stories. This way, they can repost the complete story that you want them to share with their followers.

14. Narcissism Equals Zero Engagement

Are you letting your ego play in your Instagram content? Probably not, because you’re not like those people.

Those people: have you ever seen those businesses with posts that scream “me, me, me, and ME.”? All they do is talk about their brand, how great they are, and how they have the best product – nobody cares! No wonder they’re having a hard time selling on Instagram.

Confirm yourself not infected by their narcissism by looking at your Instagram profile. Look at your bio, your last nine posts, and your highlights – do you focus on your prospects, or yourself?

Having a high-engagement post allows you to win over Instagram’s algorithmshowing prospects the most engaging posts first! So make sure you’re speaking with your ideal customers and tell them how you can overcome their challenges.

You can boost engagement by using:

  • Carousel posts so they can spend more time swiping across your post for higher interaction.

  • Call-to-action to leave a comment or a “heart” on your posts. It’s okay if you can’t reply to every single comment. By looking at some of your responses, they’ll appreciate the effort you give to interact with them.

  • Instagram stories with questions and quizzes for more engagement and excitement!

15. Inadvertently Violating Instagram's Rules and Policies

It’s common to be unaware of Instagram’s community guidelines.

Posting “inappropriate” content can get anyone shadowbanned or the account deleted. Instagram doesn’t care if you’re doing it intentionally or innocently. If you’re selling on Instagram, the above situation is like getting dumped by your love without knowing why.

To prevent yourself from experiencing the “whhhyyyy??” moments, watch out for:

  • Sexually suggestive content: It goes from bikini photos (e.g. modelling agency or selling intimate apparel) to cosplay images. And, it also includes nudity on children – regardless of age – especially if you’re selling baby-related products or services. Even if you're selling baby swimwear.

  • “Fake news” content: Never spread misinformation or making bold unrealistic claims to sell your products or services.

  • Depression-related content: It includes self-harm, eating disorders, and suicidal content. Even if you’re trying to convey a positive message, make sure your visuals and texts don’t contain negativity. Remember, Instagram loves a positive and family-friendly environment.

  • Disturbing content: It goes from portraying violence, shocking, to repulsive content.

Protect your business account by checking Instagram terms and guidelines.

16. A Poorly-Written Bio

Yes, your Instagram bio. It’s the description under your name, which lets you do an elevator pitch with only 150 characters.

When you’re selling on Instagram, consider providing a crystal clear bio. A good bio resonates with your ideal customer. Simply tell them who you are and what you offer.

Putting a call-to-action in your bio is a must when selling on Instagram. Because it prompts your prospects to visit your landing page or other links you provide. And consider using a pointing finger or arrow emoji to urge your audience to tap your call-to-action.

When you’re writing your bio, ask yourself, “Do I speak their language?”. Are you using jargon or slang that your ideal customers use? Do they see that you understand their problems and that you have the solution to those problems?

You only have 5 seconds to get their attention before they check your offer and tap the “follow” button.


In summary, selling on Instagram isn’t all that difficult, if you don't make the above mistakes. Sometimes, however, it can be very tricky, especially if you’re trying to grow your business. And it may be time-consuming when you have to test many different things that are best for your business.

Everyone wants to make sure that every resource invested in their Instagram ads bring them qualified leads that buy.

The best way to do this is by hiring copywriters who specialize in social media.

Social media copywriters can help you craft compliant yet lucrative posts and ads for your Instagram. Professionals working with you on your Instagram strategy will save time and money when it comes to getting results.

If you’re ready to take your Instagram business to the next level, inquire about our social media copywriting services.

Giovanni Lee

Giovanni Lee is a copywriter and marketing strategist. He’s on a lifelong mission in supporting business “heroes” with revenue-generating copy to help them make significant impacts on the world. He loves writing educational, technological, and game-related content. When he’s not writing, he gets nerdy doing concept arts and storytelling in a parallel universe.

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