Six free Instagram apps that help small businesses compete

A billion people a month are actively using Instagram now as the platform’s extraordinary growth has continued to steamroller through 2018.

It’s long past the point where businesses have realised what a huge opportunity for audience it is, with millions of brands embracing the photo-sharing phenomena.

But that means it’s increasingly crowded and standing out takes time, effort and no shortage of creativity.

Luckily, there are literally hundreds of apps out there designed to take the strain off.

Here’s six of the best of them: time-saving apps that will make your content sing and don’t require award-winning photography or creativity on tap.

Instagram free apps blog

For collages


Collages are an easy win for bringing variety to your content and popping our of your followers’ feeds.

They are a pain to create though if you’re doing it manually.

Layout is one of Instagram’s own and does exactly what it says on the tin. That is to say, it ‘lays out’ your pictures into collages.

Layout for Instagram

It’s on this list for its simplicity. It’ll move up to nine pictures into a collage – images from your library or you can shoot from within the app.

There are editing tools, including filters, and then it’s simply a case of uploading.

For scheduling


This is strictly a guide to free apps, given it’s aimed at growing businesses who’ll be keeping an eye on every spare penny.

But that said, if you want to control your posting from desktop, know your audience intimately and be immersed in hashtag strategy, then you’re going to need to pay for it.

If you can spare the money for a subscription then go for one of:

  • Buffer
  • Tailwind
  • Later

Or one of the many of similar subscription-based tools that are just a Google away. I tend to favour Later, but people tell me good things about Tailwind.

This is a guide for free apps though and having tested a fair few for scheduling – normally the most pressing need – I’m a big fan of Apphi. The video below is of me using it for my dog’s Insta.

It’s mobile-based, so if you’ve got your heart set on scheduling from your laptop then sadly it won’t go that far. Nor will it send your content into other platforms, Hootsuite-style (it’s probably not a great idea to do that anyway).

It is extremely easy to use however. If you’re anything like me and tend to find an hour to schedule a load of posts en masse then you’ll find Apphi heaven-sent.

It has all of Instagram’s features – features et al, expect it’ll ask you for a schedule at the point of posting.

Its home screen handily displays all of the posts you’ve got scheduled, and you can use it for multiple accounts (handy if you’re running a personal and business account, for instance).

But that’s not even the best part. The handy ‘saved captions’ option that pops up when you’re writing your caption is brilliant for storing your core sets of hashtags, rather than copying and pasting from your Notes.

For Stories


Unfold is beautifully simple. It’s not about having a million filters, stickers and text options to lob at your Stories.

Instead, it majors on sets of lovely clean templates that put the emphasis on your images and videos. The templates make clever use of white space to make sure your Story differentiates from the noise.

Using Unfold for Instagram

My favourite feature is the ability to pop both pictures and videos onto the same canvas – including being able to layer them on top of one another. Clever, eh?

You end up publishing Stories with slick production qualities at a fraction of the time and cost.

One caveat – the really sexy templates must be bought, but there’s a solid range to play with in the free categories.

I can recommend spending a few pounds to get the full set – it’ll go a long way if Stories are a big part of your marketing. Which they should be.

For Filters


So good it feels like you’re cheating. VCSO has an array of filters superior to Instagram’s in-app options plus a suite of editing tools.

VSCO for Instagram

The apps’ biggest bonus is how easy it is to use, and how quickly you can make your pictures that extra few degrees of beautiful.

It is its own social media network in its own right – as well as exporting the pictures to Instagram once you’ve tweaked them they will publish on VCSO itself. You can follow people directly on the app in the same style as Instagram.

For analytics

Instagram insights

This isn’t technically an app but the native Insights feature contained with Instagram itself. I’ve included it because it’s generally overlooked.

You’ll need to make sure you’re set up as a business account to get access to Insights – if you’re set up as a personal account you can convert it.

Once you’re in click on the graph symbol from you’re profile and you’ll the kind of information you’re used to getting over on Facebook Insights.

There’s the typical audience info like gender, age and location breakdown – all useful stuff when it comes to thinking about how to tailor your content.

Then there’s reach. Unlike Facebook, Instagram doesn’t display reach stats under your Stories, so this is useful for tracking how successful your posts are.

If you’ve spotted a trend of likes on your posts generally going up or down, you should be able to prove your hunch with your reach stats.

There are four other features to watch:

Stories. Insights this lets you see stats from the past two weeks, so after they disappear you can compare how successful your different Stories tactics are – and watch when people drop out and how many replies you earned.

Website clicks. If you’re driving people to a site, it pays to keep an eye on this – particularly if you’re driving via your content and need to monitor what’s working.

Follower info. Insights tells you when your followers are on Instagram (see bottom of below image). So post at those times!

Instagram Insights

Saved photos. This is gold – basically a count of how many people are saving your pictures. People saving your content is probably the greatest compliment you can be paid on Insta.

For knowing your followers

Followers for Instagram

Insights will take you so far when it comes to evaluating your performance but Followers for Instagram shows you the valuable lessons about your audience that you’d otherwise miss.

It tracks accounts that have unfollowed you and accounts that haven’t followed you back, which have some basic obvious benefits when developing your audience, certainly in the early stages.

It’ll also recommend accounts to follow based on similar accounts you already follow. Now, Instagram does this itself to an extent, but this app does it with far more depth.

These tools might seem simple but by putting the data to use you can see what types of people are turning away from you. Hopefully you can use it to start to figure out why, and get back to building your audience.

If you’re looking for an app that’s simply going to get you followers, they are out there too. But there are many, many reasons why its better to build your following the old-fashioned way.

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