Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. LinkedIn. Phew. You could spend all day on social media, but you’ve got a small business to run. Nevertheless, social media can be a powerful marketing tool. The key: finding the one or two outlets that reach and engage your target market. If you’re in a very visual industry – food, fashion, travel, sports – you’ll want to consider Instagram.
If you’re not familiar with Instagram, you’re probably over 40 years old. It’s widely popular, owned by Facebook, and enables users to post pictures, add hashtags, and quickly share posts with other social media networks.
Part of Instagram’s appeal is it’s visual and really easy to use. You’ve got your phone with you; just snap a shot and post. Another advantage: currently, there are no separate business pages or fan pages, unlike Facebook. That means you can interact with more people, free. Keep your account “public,” and you’ll have the same type of account as Kim Kardashian, though, I suspect, with many fewer followers.
“Social media is something you have to do. If you’re not doing it, you get left behind,” says Seth Hill, former pro-snowboarder turned action sports videographer and film maker. Hill was 18th in the world in slopestyle snowboarding (the kind with those sky-high tricks) when he broke his back. Miraculously surviving, he reinvented himself while staying in the world of action sports. Instagram has been instrumental in enabling Hill to maintain and expand his fan base, helping him launch his new career and attract sponsors and clients, such as Monster Energy Drink.
To start on Instagram, pull out your phone, download the Instagram app, sign up, take a picture of something related to your small business. Add a hashtag. Post. You’re on Instagram.
But there’s a lot more to small business success on Instagram than that. Here’s how you’ll find success:
** Find a niche. Instagram users are passionate, typically more passionate than other social media participants. But only if you have a clearly identified interest. Avoid general topics – food, sports, fashion. Instead, focus on a niche: vegan, marathon running, maternity clothes.
** Use hashtags. “People search with hashtags,” says Hill. Hashtags help people find you. Use #maternityclothes or #veganrecipes. When you’re first starting, use hashtags to find influencers to follow. You’ll stay abreast of your market and industry, and many people will often follow you back, helping you build a following.
** Interact with influencers. On Instagram, users are very involved with people they follow. If you have “influencers” who love your products or services, leverage their reach and impact. For example, when Demarché Labs, a skincare company that makes an “instant facelift” mask, teamed up two popular lifestyle blogs, Pink Peonies and Hello Fashion Blog, Demarché saw an almost immediate 50 percent jump in sales at the beauty chain Sephora.
** Time your posts. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed to doing well on Instagram is timing,” says Hill. “It doesn’t really matter what the photo is. If I hit it at the right time, I get more likes. I could post exactly the same photo at different times of the week and get 75 likes or 150.” Seth tends to post before 9am on weekdays, when people are checking their phones before they go to work.
** Post regularly. “Post at least once a day to build a following,” advises Hill. “That shows you’re always active. You don’t necessarily have to be posting what you’re doing at that very moment. You can post a pic from another day. It doesn’t have to always be live.”
** Keep it interesting and on topic. When followers visit your account, they see your six most recent pictures. “Rotate those pictures to keep them interesting,” said Hill. “If three of those are of my girlfriend, people won’t follow.”
** Use video. “Video does really well,” says Hill. According to Instagram, users’ video consumption has increased by 40 percent in the past six months. The site recently increased its video length limit from 15 seconds to one minute.
** Don’t get too hung up numbers. “If I post a photo that is more brand-oriented, like a snowboard or outfit from one of my sponsors, that gets fewer likes. But it’s definitely being seen,” says Seth. “It gets the same number of eyes. It shows up in my followers’ feeds.”
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 13, 2016