One of the biggest developments in the past five or so years is how seriously social media is being taken as a marketing channel. Companies big and small are learning how to compete on these platforms. It seems that every week, you’ll hear of new inventive approaches for companies to connect to customers using social media.
One of the best channels for many businesses, and my personal favorite, is Instagram. Yes, people have gotten stellar results from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and so on. Each platform has their own strengths and weaknesses, but the others are for another day and another article.
Instagram is great for many reasons. You have much higher user interaction compared to all other platforms. You have a much cleaner feed (looking at you, Facebook). The ability to tell a visual story is there. However, so many businesses are not using Instagram to its full potential. This guide will help you get on the right track.
What Sort of Companies Benefit Most?
Instagram’s strengths seem most applicable to B2C businesses, but that doesn’t mean that many B2B businesses cannot leverage the platform. Even if you aren’t directly selling something to your typical follower, Instagram is still a fantastic source for inbound leads. It gives legitimacy and authority to your company’s brand to have a strong following.
For B2B companies, it really depends on the product or service you offer. If you are an accountant, then a cleverly designed content strategy (more on this later) will differentiate you from a huge pool of competition. If you’re selling bulk aluminum overseas, then maybe your efforts are better used on a more direct marketing approach.
Naturally, for B2C companies you will have a more obvious approach towards Instagram. If you’re selling t-shirts or run an online artisanal tea shop then you can probably start picturing your strategy already.
Telling a Story with Your Content
Everything done well begins with a foundation. In our case, the foundation is a well-thought-out content curation strategy. In organizing this, you’ll begin by doing research.
Your main two points to hit here will be crafting a story and having a consistent, quality flow of content. You need to take a look at what your competition is doing, determine who your target customer is (and what other accounts/brands they are following), determine what kind of content resonates the most, and how you can incorporate all of those findings within your own strategy.
Back to that artisanal tea shop. Let’s say your target audience is males and females, 25–45, living in major cities in the United States. Demographically, that is a LOT of people. So we have to narrow this down more — by interests. What other interests do your target audience members have? Maybe they like watching independent films or cycling. Start taking down all of this information and getting a narrower view of your audience.
Take a look at what influencers (“Instagram celebrities” or a variety of other terms are also used) and brands are followed by your ideal target audience members. Perhaps they also like Herschel, the bag company. Let’s take a look at their feed.
One thing that’s obvious right away is the quality of the imagery. They have a very consistent visual style, showcasing the products within the overall idea of travel and adventure.
That’s the first steps to craft your story. Herschel is able to connect with their customers on an emotional basis because of this. How can you?
The artisanal tea shop could show the tea being drank in different relaxing moments of your life. An early Sunday morning on your apartment’s balcony. By the beach with loved ones. You’ll need to have a real brainstorming session and take a look at what kind of visuals you can use to tell your story. It doesn’t have to be complicated or require high-budget photoshoots — get creative.
Once you have the ideas down, you need to figure out how you can represent everything visually. You generally don’t want the majority of the photos to be too focused on the product. Some are okay, but the rest should be telling the story more than selling your product directly. Many companies have professionals hired solely to perform the duty of content creation, but you can do it yourself. Get a decent camera, learn a little image editing, and start creating content. The more, the better. As explained later, you’ll need to have a consistent stream of quality content.
Timing and Interaction
In terms of timing, you’re much better off making a post every day or every two days rather than making three at once and having nothing for another week. You’ll lose followers quickly at that point. Determine a schedule for yourself — a very good tool is called Later (more on this below). Personally, I try to have the next week or week-and-a-half pre-scheduled. It’s very easy to post at the necessary times.
Interaction is important. Instagram is a two way street. As your following grows, you’ll have tons of DMs and comments on each post, and you’ll need to maintain communication with your followers. Show that there is a real human behind the scenes. Way too many companies screw this up and create a look and feel that is far too sterile and not relatable.
Hashtags, Captions, and Locations
Everyone jokes about hashtags but they’re important. The research you did in earlier steps will also shed a lot of light on what hashtags are being followed by your target audience. Let’s say that #teaparty is a big one. You’ll want to be using that as often as you can, alongside other related hashtags. Believe it or not, many people actually search these tags to find what they want, and you’ll have a lot more exposure.
A big note here: make sure you use the five dots trick. I made up that name, but you’ve seen it. You generate five lines with a dot each and put your hashtags after, like this:
You’ll want to put all your hashtags in that format, otherwise it looks like a spammy mess. The five dots trick will “collapse” your comment so you can’t see it unless you click on it. And you must put that in a separate comment (make a new comment right after you post).
Make your captions snappy and relevant. You don’t have to spend too much time here — but the caption helps tremendously. Don’t leave it blank.
Locations are very important to include as well. Users will find you based on location, so always add something relevant whenever possible.
This part is big, but takes a lot of time and consistent, quality posting. This is why you need a content strategy, and a posting schedule. Don’t expect too much too quickly, and don’t be tempted to buy fake followers. It’ll be obvious since your interaction rates (percentage of followers who like a post on average) will be super low.
If you’re doing everything correctly (content, timing, interaction, hashtags, etc.) then you’ll see slow (at first) but steady growth. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
This is also the area that most marketers are very impatient with. It’s very easy to fall victim to being obsessed with vanity metrics, such as your follower count. It’s better to have 100 followers who actually care about your brand, than 20,000 who don’t. Focus on quality content and you’ll have quality followers.
Following other accounts is a great way to speed things up. Find different accounts that are relevant to your target audience, and start following them, as well as liking photos. This sort of thing is time consuming, and can be automated (be careful with this) — more on this in a moment.
This is a huge part of most social marketing strategies, and for good reason. Influencers can really have their own standalone article, but I’ll go over the main points here.
They’ll be individuals with large followings (25k+) in your target niche. They might be fashion bloggers, or travelers, or just people with cool style and cool tastes. Either way, they have a following that trusts them and their recommendations.
The best approach here is to talk to influencers directly, and make sure that they’re a good fit beforehand. Oftentimes, you can have your items or services featured without paying too much (or at all), especially since this market is poorly developed and pricing a feature is difficult.
Having influencers as a part of your strategy can really help with exposure at a low cost. They’re naturally more suited to B2C company offerings. Let’s say you found a food blogger in NYC who loves tea. You talk to them, and they’re more than happy to feature your tea in exchange for some free product. Everyone wins, and you get a lot more exposure from a trusted source.
When you have the budget, a paid strategy will go a LONG way. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can use Facebook’s ultra-targeted paid ad capabilities for a campaign on Instagram. This is also something that really deserves its own article, so I’ll keep this part brief.
You can use the same target audience that you determined in the first few steps. Use a call to action, such as “Save 15% off of a holiday tea set in time for the New Year with code IG15OFF”. Always A/B test a bunch of different sets of copy and images.
The beauty here is that you have very detailed results on what ad copy/images are working, what ad copy/images aren’t, who exactly is interacting, and so on. You can start with a smaller budget and iterate your strategy until you figure out what is the best approach, then increase your spending to a comfortable level. Remember, your cost per action should be within the target level that you want to be running a profitable business. If you’re selling a service that is $5000 on average, you might end up spending $1000 in ads before a single bite, and that’s ok. Scale up or down for your specific needs.
Tools to Use
- Later — this is a scheduling tool for Instagram and offers a free tier.
- Instagress — this is an Instagram automation tool. Be careful with setting it up correctly, or you’ll have your account locked (in the worst case) or just a ton of spam interactions and spam followers.
- Focalmark — this is a great hashtag generator, mostly for photography. You can still use it for many business purposes. Bonus: it automatically does the five dots trick.
The best learning is by doing. This guide can present a brief overview of a fairly complicated topic, but the best strategy will differ for every different case. With the amount of data you’ll see, you can iterate constantly. With time, you’ll learn what works best for your particular product or service, and you’ll be able to leverage Instagram as an effective marketing tool with a great ROI. Enjoy.