I wanted to see how easy it was for small businesses to grow followers on Instagram without the input of a marketing resource. Aside from my role as a web designer I am a digital artist, I sell limited edition prints and commissions so for this experiment I featured my Instagram around my small business as an artist.
First lets do a quick comparison with Twitter
Statistics show that Instagram has overtaken Twitter in active users but Twitter still has far more posts shared each day (500 million tweets v. 80 million instagram images) but what do these statistics mean for me?
Both have a very similar demographic but the main difference is that Twitter is a great platform for sharing content, users can automatically post or share from other social platforms or from a blog, therefore quickly getting content into Twitter to encourage users back to your website or main marketing platform.
Instagram on the other hand is very much ‘in app’ with the user’s complete attention as they are unable to click to go to blogs, videos or outside links. Marketing campaigns must centralise around engaging audiences completely within that platform, not spring boarding them out (of course there is always ways around this) but it is quite a different approach to marketing that needs to be thought about.
Instagram is tapping into a community of very visual consumers, image quality is everything and a great place to build a brand and loyal followers. Whereas Twitter is good for sharing content and interacting quickly with customers, so much so that many large online organisations use Twitter to deal with ongoing support issues.
I already had an account with around 29 followers (pretty meagre). But if you haven’t you need to download the app onto your phone and set up an account. To aid being found I recommend both your username (known as a handle with the @ sign) and your name having reference to what you do in it. For example I set my name as Abstract Landscape Artist. You are then more likely to come up in a search of your your specialism.
Write your biography wisely and link to a relevant page on your website in the URL (web address) field. This is the only small area you have to promote what you do and direct people away from Instagram.
Then choose the amount of times you think you can feasibly post each day and get started. I went with one but three is optimal.
Your pictures need to be good. Look around there is a very ‘glossy’ magazine feel to Instagram. It is also starting to be more common to see the animated gifs or video loop images offered by new smart phones.
Friendly and kind. This is not twitter.
People are more reserved about who they follow than on other social platforms, they are much more likely to ‘like’ than give you a full resounding follow.
Etiquette seems to suggest you should have more followers than be following.
And make sure you use the hashtag (#) in each post. The only way for you to reach those outside your own following is including a hashtag they may be interested in. Think clearly about what subjects your audience would look at and make sure that your hashtag includes: about the subject, about the object, about the audience, about the business, about the location. Six hash tags is about right. if you want to set your hashtags away from your post text, you will often see people use ‘--’
This is the text for my insta-post
#hashtags #subject #location #etc
You can indeed increase your following by good old fashioned hard work.
Quite excited I surfed around on Instagram looking at people trending on hashtags similar to the ones I was using. I commented on their pictures and in return got some nice comments back, a few likes and some thank yous but not really any follows.
I checked out the ‘settings’ tab on my instagram and under ‘Find & Invite Friends’ trawled my contacts stalking anyone I had ever known - and followed - with not that much response.
Then I looked at ‘Suggested Users’ and, being a little more sensitive here, I liked or commented on their images and then followed. The response was good, better than my real friends! I got quite a few follows back and increasing likes.
So I now knew that if I made the effort to look, comment and then follow I was more likely to get people taking the time to look at me and follow, but more often it started in lots of likes. I found if I checked the ‘grammers’ that had left likes (but no follow) commented or posted on their feed, then followed them I was getting a higher rate of follow returns.
I also noticed that my activity and engagement was snowballing I was reaching wider and growing likes, comments and follows.
Next I checked how my time of day was affecting numbers.
Currently I was posting at 9pm so I tried at 7am and 12pm. The numbers were considerable; midday doubling and early morning tripling so I moved my daily post to 7am.
Small trick - I also learned to cull dead followees, those I was following who were not attentive to my path to greatness.
I did some real world research.
I went about my day asking anyone I could what they thought of Instagram and how it worked for them - there are definitely industries that thrive on Instagram and I found many people and small businesses for whom Instagram is a brilliant marketing tool bringing them many sales. These industries are generally fashion, food, lifestyle and outdoor adventure.
So what if you aren't in one of those industries?
In one word….Keywords.
#Hashtags are key but tagging just for ‘your’ industry is not a way to approach a wider audience so I started #ing the industries that worked. Adding #interiors #interiordesign #womensfitness #wheretonext and apparently blueberries and donuts do wonders for likes too, but no, even I had a limit to how low I would stoop. That said using the hashtags from popular industries definately increased likes which in turn after I had engaged, cultivated follows.
You can see a few popular hashtags in this article. https://www.postplanner.com/best-instagram-hashtags-for-businesses-by-niche-market-industry-sector/
So numbers were growing, this was great wasn't it?
Now I just focused on those liking my posts. I checked them out, liked, commented and followed. This showing of interest in them over just following increased my follows, but as this grew as did my time responding and although I discovered new, nice and interesting stuff it was taking up my time which should have been spent doing actual work.
Unlike pinterest where I surf just to find ephemera and inspiration I wasn't doing this out of enjoyment but for the benefit of my business, this is very different from using a social platform for social or personal purposes. So was the return on investment enough for the time (and therefore money) I was spending?
I was pleased, I had more than tripled my following and it was easy to see that this was a snowballing effect. As I continued posting and tagging once a day, my numbers were growing at a much quicker rate than the virtually ‘‘zero’ movement before this experiment.
There is no doubt that Instagram, and all the other social media platforms help build very successful businesses, however choose wisely, test, decide, create a strategy and importantly - stick to it. Even those that have millions of followers all say it is hard work, and just posting with the odd hashtag and sitting back and waiting will not bring you riches.
With 300 million active daily users on instagram yes that means you have a far reaching pool but it also means you have a big ocean to navigate through, with your lone voice needing to rise above other - dare I say - natives, and many millions of those are of course not interested in your line of business.
So is it worth it?
Yes and no. Social media is not a magic wand but if you choose your social media platform carefully, have a strategy and a campaign - and stick to it - it is likely to work. But sporadic posting across random platforms is less likely to help your business and more likely waste you time.
Stats on conversion rates seem to vary considerably but most say social platforms are around or below 1% with newsletters being much higher than that so finding the right platform and finding the right person (not everyone has the knack) is an expense that needs to be factored in. In the end, social marketing is no different from traditional marketing, find what suites you and stick to it, routinely making sure the return is worth the outlay.
What else is out there?
One thing is for sure that the digital landscape doesn't stand still. Do you remember Myspace and Friends Reunited? The rise of Facebook that was then threatened by Twitter and now Instagram. So it is a pretty safe bet that the next big thing will come along and I have always been under the instinct that early adopters to a platform are actually the ones that reap the benefit, they take a risk, start when the pool is small and get rewarded.
So we have Snapchat making waves with businesses already looking to market here to a very young audience, there is also Vine, and many more. Two new ‘Instagram’ style platforms to watch still in their infancy are Ello and Hyper. Both follow a similar strategy to Instagram but Ello’s manifesto is no advertising not ever. And Hyper with a voting system and anonymous ‘secret’ style posting which could be quite interesting for brands, has the backing of Vine.
Ello’s no advertising manifesto is quite interesting as if using social media purely for selling, then advertising is a quicker way to get in front of your audience and so an avenue to think about. And if it is just about selling then thinking which channel of marketing will actually get the best return on investment is incredibly important, and that may or may not be as an active social media participant.
But mainstream social media platforms are not the only form of social marketing. Currently for me my best return on investment is my newsletter - so efforts should be put to getting more subscribers here.
Aso looking at industry specific media platforms is another option. These exist for most industries, and as an example if you are a gallery, photographer, artist or interior designer there is SaatchArt or Houzz. Different audiences but they are still social media, and some of the algorithm’s within these platforms don't require you to be quite so virulent to get noticed which is another factor when looking for the right marketing balance.
These niche platforms on which you can create a following from an audience actively looking for your type of product or service, although there may be less users and less posts than the big 3, they are much more qualified leads.
Sill a social minefield?
The thought is not, should I be using Twitter or Instagram, Facebook or Linkedin, the questions is what is my marketing strategy and which platform is going to best suit my business, audience, time allowance and budget. These platforms don't work for everyone and is spreading yourself thin really going to be more beneficial than a contained effort?
There are, and always have been small factions of people that do things differently, but with the connection of social media their voice can gain traction very quickly. This cool hunting means a wave movement of users across platforms scouted out by those hipster explorers and pioneers, followed by the influencers, then mainstream and marketing bringing up the rear.
This pattern won't stop it has been going on in a social context throughout humanity but our global connection has made it a much faster and more fickle movement. Standing still as a business has never been harder with such a strong forward current as technology expands and globality contracts.
So don't just jump on the latest bandwagon as it won’t last but instead use that traditional approach of ‘which type of marketing actually works for us’. Time is money and all marketing avenues should be considered. Social media, although very much a tool in our marketing toolkit is not the free, magical, marketing machine we have perhaps been lead to believe. Research, testing and a firm strategy, with routine and continuity will stand you in good stead - and you never know you may even become an influencer not a follower.
I am a freelance Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.