Whether your business is closed during the pandemic, adapting to the times, or preparing to reopen, engaging your audience on Instagram is critical to staying in tune with your customers. And if you focus on new ways to market your brand, you could acquire more followers and new customers.

Business Insider spoke to entrepreneurs and first-time founders to find out what apps, tools, and guidelines they recommend to master Instagram marketing and gain followers.

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The top 10 Instagram apps to download

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There are a number of extra apps that can help to create, edit, and plan your photos and videos more effectively. Apps like Planoly and Preview help schedule posts ahead of time, while apps like Lightroom and VSCO edit photos to look professional and vibrant.

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Partner with influencers for under $50K

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Courtesy of Amra and Elma Beganovich

Business Insider spoke to influencer marketing expert Elma Beganovich on how to navigate the industry. She gave us tips on the five types of influencers, how much they cost, and getting loyal customers to build your network.

Beganovich suggested starting small don't go after celebrities and macro-influencers until you've established your brand and following.

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Work with 'micro-influencers' to hype your products and boost annual sales

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Courtesy of Casely

The millennial cofounders of phone-case startup Casely started their Instagram account three months before launching any products. This gave them a chance to gain followers, build relationships with influencers, and get feedback on their designs.

Casely made just over $10 million in sales in 2019 and currently has 109,000 followers on Instagram.

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Start a hype squad of loyal customers to test products, post on Instagram, and drive retail traffic

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Courtesy of LIVELY

Trendy lingerie startup LIVELY has 100,000 customer ambassadors who market its bras and underwear on social media. Ambassadors have helped the brand develop new products, gain followers on Instagram, and drive foot traffic to retail locations.

CEO and founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant, said the brand started this network by first finding out what women want from their lingerie.

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Stay in touch with customers during the pandemic

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Courtesy of The Bronx Night Market

The founders of The Bronx Night Market weren't able to open their monthly food festival this spring, but they continue to engage their followers on social media. Its Instagram page is full of "food porn," starring melted cheese, saucy meat, and gooey chocolate.

Cofounder Marco Shalma said it's important for brands to be ahead of the curve. "If you're following a trend, you're too late," he said.

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Set yourself up to return to business as 'usual'

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Courtesy of Deidre Mathis

Although Deidre Mathis had to close her hostel during the pandemic, she's using the time to work on her business and engage with her followers.

"If a business is not thinking about how they're going to share their message about how they bounce back from coronavirus, then I don't know what they're doing," Mathis said.

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