When you are a small business, successful marketing can make all the difference to your success. However, a large marketing budget can never be an immediate priority for your limited investment funds. Fortunately, social media has democratised the marketing world to a certain degree. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have opened an opportunity to reach a highly targeted audience with instance marketing hits.
Of all the social media sites, Instagram is the baby brother of the giants like Facebook and Twitter. There are only about 700 million active users on Instagram, compared to the billions on Facebook. However, Instagram users are far more engaged and far more likely to see your posts. Therefore, it might seem counterintuitive to focus on the smaller site, but it will likely result in better outcomes for your small business, with consistent activity and engagement on your part.
Social media selected: Instagram is your site of choice; now, you need to apply the best strategies to gain and grow a loyal and organic group of followers. But how?
Create a business profile
As a small business owner, you may feel you are the face of your company. Therefore, it might seem a good idea to promote your business via your personal Instagram account. Although convenient, this sends an inconsistent brand message to your customers. Everything you read here will stress the importance of a consistent brand. Therefore, you cannot mix your business posts amongst your holiday snaps and hope for any success.
Consequently, you should set up an optimised business account. What does 'optimised' mean? It requires you to make conscious choices that will support the brand of your business. Your biography, your profile picture, your link to your website – all need to be perfectly honed to represent the brand. The profile picture will also need to look recognisable when shrunk to a thumbnail, which will sit alongside your posts.
Once your profile is set up, you should then commit to be an active member of the Instagram community. You need to be following those customers who are firmly in your space, responding to their posts and generally using your likes to signal your presence. Don’t over follow people, as this will be perceived as black hat behaviour by the site. Be selective and choose those customers who would love to engage with you on Instagram.
Select professional images
First, image posts are far more successful than those dominated by text. Our brain can process visuals 6000 times faster than writing, and we take 90% of all our information from images. As your posts will only stay for moments in the conscious gaze of the user, you need to use this speed to grab and retain attention.
Instagram no longer renders your images as a simple square - allowing more flexibility with different orientations / image sizes. However, you can choose to change the size of the pixels of the image in a package before uploading to Instagram if you want them to display as you intended.
What to include in your pictures is again part of the consistency of your brand. You do not want to hard sell on Instagram. No one wants to be that used car salesmen online. Instead, you want to suggest a connection between your products and the aspirational lifestyle of the user. Choose a setting, the product and the seasonal context wisely. Look to the big brands who use spring, summer, autumn and winter effectively, as well as the more significant holidays of Christmas, Easter and maybe even Bonfire Night and Hallowe'en.
Instagram is all about engagement. You need to encourage people to interact with your content. Therefore, a well thought out caption or quirky question can do a lot to encourage people to comment or click on the like button.
Instagram stories, live video and IG TV
More important than individual images that sit on the feed of your customer and slowly fall out of relevancy are the stories you can create. Instagram stories only last on the site for 24 hours but for the whole of this time they sit at the top of your follower’s feeds. After 24 hours they will disappear from the site but by this time your content will be seen and engaged with by your audience, keeping your profile up front and in focus, and ahead of your competitors.
You can be a lot more informal in these stories, providing behind the scenes access and insights into a day in your life. The point is to engage further with your audience through photos and videos, making use of the set of interactive tools to enhance this content including adding music, text and more that provides the chance to say something unique about your brand.
You can also appear different by offering live video or using IG TV options. If you have a live action marketing event happening, why not send this live over the social media universe using the live video options available on the site.
Use hashtags wisely
The other key tool at your disposal, to widen the opportunity for where your images may appear and be seen by a relevant audience, is the hashtag. You have the option to select up to 30 hashtags. Realistically, using all the hashtags available to you may create a cluttered and unreadable post. In either case, it is wise to be more targeted than using very generic hashtags. Advice differs, but generally, it is felt that around five hashtags will have the most impact. It will allow your post to find the people you hope to target while creating a coherent brand message to your customer.
It is a good idea to research the hashtags that will make the most impact to your business. Often it is best to choose those with a following of under 1million otherwise you're competing with many other images. This takes some work; however, there is analytics on the site that will help you connect to your target demographic. In addition, you could also create a personal hashtag, using a particular tag that you can use each time and encourage others to help drive this up the relevancy charts. Making connections with other businesses can assist you in improving the strength of this personal hashtag.
Post consistently and to a schedule
Consistency is essential. You can use common sense to discover the best time to post. You can think about your target audience, consider when they have a moment to browse – at the water cooler, at a service station taking a break, during a lunch break – and choose to post then. If you discover that most of your consumers will be browsing during a 5pm commute on the train, then you should consistently post at this time.
You don’t have to rely entirely on your common sense. You should also access the analytics to guide your understanding of your target market behaviour. Some tools can help you to post regularly without having to remember and without having to spend time each day doing this marketing project. Apps such as Tailwind and Viral tag will allow you to schedule posts to most social media sites. These will allow you to schedule a week or a month’s posts in advance. Not only do the apps help to save you time, but they also help you to create a strategy of promotion that can keep the consistency of your brand in place too.
Run competitions and exclusive flash sales
Your hope for your 1000 users is that they will feel a part of your business community. A sense of belonging is a powerful means of inspiring lifelong loyalty. Remember, it is easier to retain a customer than it is to win a new one. Therefore, helping your Instagram users to feel special can be a smart way of inspiring this sense of belonging, by interacting with them but also considering opportunities to run a competition or flash sales that are only available to those who follow you. It could be a code for a free coffee at lunch or a hint that your flash sale will start an hour before it begins.
A final point – but one quite crucial to your reputation – is guidance on doing the right thing on Instagram. It is not good practice to take and share images that are not yours without giving suitable credit to that person. If you are a business, it is good practice to ask permission to repost an item and you should certainly credit the original source in your comment as well as tagging the image. People will be glad to give you this permission – but credit needs to be given where credit is due.
The short takeaway
There are ways to garner a large follower number without going through this process. However, although the amount would be significant, it is questionable whether the people are genuine "followers" or relevant to your brand. By using the organic methods noted above, you attract those people who are genuinely interested in your products and services. The ultimate approach you will need to take is a consistent and professional one. No matter how cosy and personal Instagram feels, you are presenting your brand, and this should be done with the highest level of care.