An active social media presence is at the crux of any successful business.
If you're not present on at least two of the many free platforms available, the only question your potential customers will ask is ‘why not?'
We're now living in a time where, if you're not seen hanging out with the cool kids on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like; you arouse suspicion and fade into the background; overshadowed by your much more socially active competitors.
Facebook is a fabulous platform to get your brand into the public arena and make sales in the process. You can upload content, it points directly to your website, and most the adult population have an account to give you great reach.
But Instagram isn't so simple.
While Instagram stories and Instagram Live are allowing increased real-time contact with your favourite brands, the lack of direct links to your site and the fact that you can only upload images still leaves the platform with restrictions from a sales perspective.
Which begs the question, why are businesses, in their droves, bothering at all?
McDonald's with its 2.1 million followers, Samsung with its 3.1 million followers and Jeep with its 2.1 million followers must all be doing something right. So, what is it? How are these big companies using Instagram to make sales and build their business; and how can you do the same?
Here's everything you need to know to make sure you're taking your piece of the Instagram pie.
Optimize your account for business.
I'm sorry to say that your reputation probably doesn't yet proceed you like the big players in the game so if you're just starting out you need to make sure your profile is optimized so that it's easy for people to find you. Use a recognisable picture for your profile picture (I recommend your logo), create a catchy and enticing company bio, and add your website address.
Your bio is the only place on your Instagram page that has a clickable link so don't miss this one opportunity to help people find your website.
Use good quality images.
Instagram is a visual platform, and there's nothing worse than low-quality, grainy images. If you post poor quality photos, you will give the impression that your brand is low-budget too.
Always stay on brand.
Every post you upload needs to have a copy of your logo, any writing must be in a uniform font that's consistent with your theme, and your style of content must talk in your companies tone of voice. Instagram is one of the most effective platforms for building your brand, so it's vital that you don't miss an opportunity to remind your audience exactly who you are. Programs such as Canva allow you to upload your logo and text across the top of images to create visuals that are unique to you.
If you deviate from your brand, for example if you’ve always talked to stay-at-home mums and then you start talking in a corporate tone, you risk confusing your existing followers and they’ll take their likes and comments elsewhere!
Promote your other social accounts.
If you’re present on Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat too, promote your profiles through Instagram. There is such a wide variety of social media choice that if an infrequent Instagram user spots a post that they like, giving them alternative ways to follow you will help gain their attention through their chosen mediums. An information post (created in Canva or another free design app), will give viewers the option to follow you in their preferred style.
Hashtags are the only way that people who don't know they're looking for you can find you on Instagram! You can have a maximum of 30 per post (add them to the first comment rather than in your caption to avoid clunky-looking descriptions which puts viewers off). Put yourself in the shoes of your buyer persona and use hashtags that they'll use to find you. You can also get inspiration from sites such as Hashtagify
You can make your own hashtag and encourage your audience to use it when they're talking to you, but try not to be too long or ambiguous, or it becomes a useless exercise.
Not only should you use hashtags to help users to search for you, but you should also do your own regular hashtag searches. Searching for the tags that you’ve used will allow you to see what others are posting and this transparency is essential if you want to stay ahead of the Instagram game.
Create a variety of popular content.
Now comes the hard part! You need to create the right mix of content that is informative, engaging, relationship-building AND appeals to your target market. If you can get this balance correct, your content then becomes shareable which will help you extend your reach even further. If creativity isn't your strong point, a freelance social media strategist will be able to create a stream of content for your audience.
Post videos, memes, inspirational quotes and sales content pointing to your website. If you get a good reaction from a post, don’t fall into the trap of posting that type of content every time. You’ll bore your audience very quickly and lost their interest altogether. Always keep them guessing and use hashtags to draw in new followers with every post that you upload.
The only way to build a strong relationship with your followers is to post regularly and consistently. How often, and when, depends on the needs of your market which analysis of data will help you identify. Once you have a schedule, you need to commit to adhering to it.
Give your audience what they want.
While you might want to post creative images which tickle your fancy, Instagram isn’t about the content you want! Your followers might want to see day-to-day images of how you operate or raw footage of a day in your life, so this is what you should give them. Analysis of your insights will provide you with this information.
Engage with others in your niche.
It’s important that you engage not only with your followers, but also with others in your niche. Follow the competition, like their posts, comment on their updates and create engagement with them. You can even create content with the intention that they will share it. Once their followers get to know your name and become familiar with you, the chances of them following you will also increase. And you know they have an interest in your product so what better way to tap into an existing warm market.
I don’t condone copying content that already exists, but sharing (as long as you give credit to the original creator) is a great way to make friends with those who can help your growth.
One of the best ways to appeal to the emotions of your audience is to use images that generate eye-contact. If you want someone to feel happy then use a happy image, or if you want them to feel sad (in the case of a non-profit campaign) then use a sad image. This WILL make them take action.
Avoid a hard sell.
Instagram users aren't on Instagram for a sales pitch; they're there to be entertained. They like the visual stimulation that the platform gives them without having to think too much. Promote discounts and promotions but avoid selling to people directly.
Respond to comments and tags.
When users talk to you by using hashtags or commenting on your posts; you must always respond! This interaction is critical to building strong relationships which will help to promote your brand and unanswered comments are no different to unanswered emails and phone calls that aren't returned.
Point to the link in the profile.
As I said earlier, there is only one place that your followers can link to your site directly, and it's imperative that you utlize this as much as possible. You can change this link to point to sales pages, blog posts and your contact page so after every post, make sure it's consistent with your current message.
While it might seem like buying followers is the only option to growing your Instagram following and build your business, don't risk it! Having a large following with little engagement makes you look insincere, you risk spamming your authentic followers, and you will achieve nothing more than damaging your brand.
Put these steps into place and watch your following grow authentically which will lead to more sales which will help you build your business.