Instagram, the headache of many designers and goldmine of influencers, those who understand how it works make a fair amount of money thanks to it, whether from their personal posts or by selling products.
So why do so many designers still think that building a huge Instagram following is something that is not real, and if it is done in a short period of time, then it is due to fake followers?
I think the problem comes from perceptions that most people have when it comes to social media. Everyone understands its value for the brand, but only a few really get it, how to make it happen with Instagram.
Perception #1: it’s too complicated
First of all, it’s not about Instagram. When it comes to your communication strategy or posting strategy, selecting and creating content, images, etc, I find many brands start by looking at clean, perfect Instagram accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers and comparing them to their own account, which has no inspirational or clear visual story yet. Comparing yourself with others is always a negative process, it’s damaging for your brain, motivation and negates any goodwill that you need to have to create a perfect audience.
I would recommend that you do your benchmarking first, find inspirational accounts, note what they do well: frequency of posting, style, communication approach, etc. Based on your research, do your homework: build your own ideal mood board, not live yet, but with supports such as Pinterest or Powerpoint, whatever tool you find it easy to create with and drag and drop powerful images. Just imagine what your story could look like. You will see how passionate and obsessed you become about this visual creation process. Like creating your collections, there’s such a thing as being completely ‘in your story’ and discovering which visuals you could create and share.
Once your benchmarking is done, put it aside, and start – what is most important for any brand – to study your audience. Note down the top three audiences you want to target. Out of these three, which one do you want to target first? Start thinking about which accounts they might follow, how strong their commitment is to those accounts and what gets their pulse racing: where they comment, react, and what they say. You will spend some time micro-learning all these aspects but without this knowledge, you can forget about gaining true, committed followers.
And please don’t neglect Instagram, because it looks “complicated”. In most cases, emerging brands are just selling with each message they put out to their followers. There’s no sense in selling on Instagram. Just think about people who go there. They go there because they want to be inspired, they are permanently on the hunt for better ideas, joyful pictures, and great tips. Put yourself in their shoes: would you buy just because you’ve read a post about a new discount or collection that you need to check out on the website? Keep this kind of message for your sponsored advertising, instead prioritize talking about things that can connect you with your audience through going deeper into your story, telling about your values, sharing your creation process, etc… Think of this relationship that you try to build as a soap story, start a message, finish it with next posts, ask questions, make them react, invite them to share, engage them with your solutions and questioning. There are so many things that you can share from your daily life and connect it to your visuals so people will follow because your story has become theirs. Just don’t sell. It’s annoying when your favorite brand or designer pushes you to buy each time they post something.
Everything should be about them, how relevant is it for them, how clear is what you are trying to build for them? Where can you find more of that audience and which accounts or influencers do they follow? It’s not a one-shot process, but once you engage the right people with your brand, the impact on your business will be stronger than you can imagine. Just be consistent with your actions and post regularly, one hour a day is completely feasible to engage your audience.
There might be many brands and accounts that your audience follow, but take it as a chance to learn, don’t be someone who thinks that it is overcrowded. It is not. In fact, bringing your personality and your brand image to your communication is much more important than a lean, “deja vu” image. Nobody wants to follow look-a-like accounts, we are all in search of inspirational content, the one that is different from other voices. Just by creating this experience with your brand makes you unique.
Perception #2: the followers don’t buy
Well, they do. Promotional messages are one of the reasons why people disengage with the brand. 46% will unfollow your account because of this according to SproutSocial. But on the other side, if you don’t sell enough, you don’t get any sales. Instagram has clear value compared to other social media, which is brand building through inspirational visuals. This is more than sales, this is a long term vision strategy. You should be very strategic about your Instagram account and activity as a whole. As a brand plans its expansion, plan your posting and storytelling in advance, months ahead, what you will say? how? how will you balance the storytelling and selling? Use Instagram as a real connection you have with your audience and get feedback on their needs. Co-create with them, involve them in your creative process and build your products with them.
The results will speak for themselves. Take for example the 5th, this Australian watch brand achieved its first 70k followers before officially launching its brand! Then, once they did it, they launched a sale, and sold $100k worth of stock in one day! Out of stock. For the next 25 days, they interact with people and build the next collection of products. Once they’re ready, they sell for five days! This balance works perfectly for them. The brand broke $0,5M in sales in one day and sold for $10M the first year after launch.
Building the right audience is the first crucial step to start long before the brand is launched. Inspire, amuse, give relevant information about what you do. The day you’re ready to launch, create a specific link to the page where you sell, it could be a landing page or page with a product on your website, anything, but this should be accessible in one-click. There’s no sense of sending them to your home page when you are selling.
Use stories as a tool to get noticed and promote your sale. Because they are at the top, stories will bring you lots of visitors in 24 hours and will help to build momentum.
You can also post life stories showcasing your product and help your customers to project the product onto themselves.
Being on Instagram is such a big advantage that many emerging brands use it to sell. Just make sure that your links are updated and people get the same content as on your last post.
If you have some budget you can put in place paid ads to promote your best-selling products. It should be season-based, hot items that are relevant to people now. By doing this, you can double your followers and sell directly without bothering your feed. Remember your feed supports your brand story, stories and ads sell what you do.
Creating ads makes more sense when you’ve done your research and know your audience and the products they want. If this is not the case, don’t go for ads, create strong ties with your audience first, understand them, get their feedback, then go for ads.
Perception #3: the content is expensive and time-consuming to create
Creating content shouldn’t be a story of one day or “need to post something” because you need to post. Days fly and the week is over, dealing with production, collection creation, and other business issues, it’s easy to forget about Instagram and so you still haven’t posted anything.
Content creation is just like any other part of your business. It should be planned and completely aligned to your brand strategy and be a repeated action. Take your time, schedule in a day or week for content planning and get all your content planned in advance.
Try to mix stories featuring your product and some inspirational images related to your brand values as well as some pictures of influencers wearing your product. You can actually plan each day and allocate a type of communication. For example, usually, Mondays and Fridays are the best days to inspire a working mood or an end of the week mood. You can demonstrate how your brand can play its role on these days in your customers’ daily lives or you can use some inspirational phrases to make them laugh or get inspired for the week/weekend. Thursday evening is all about going out, so an afterwork party or concert could provide the backdrop for your brand, think about featuring inspirational looks and designs for the evening or a smart look.
So, depending on your audience, you can build your own publishing board months ahead so that you can keep track of performance versus the goals you’re trying to achieve. According to your market feedback plan your next three-months ahead and adjust the content. You’ll perfect your craft with time and know exactly what content works and aim to make most of your content look alike.
Take this work seriously, your attitude counts for a lot. You can be cool and look accessible for your audience, while behind the scenes you are really working hard to find the perfect match between what your audience wants and what you promote.
Take the example of LPA, an LA brand that hit $5m of sales after its first year. The idea behind the brand is simple: being real women in real clothes. The brand only sells on Instagram and uses close to reality content and a galaxy of influencers.
As for content creation, bootstrapping is a good choice. Try to capture as many shots as possible featuring your products in various situations on various people. It shouldn’t be a magazine shoot. People don’t necessarily relate to those unreal, retouched pictures. Depending on your audience, once again everything is about them, try to feature your product in such a way that builds connections with them. Your pictures could be created in advance, with several months of image stock ahead of you and this should be part of your publishing plan. You can use normal people or bloggers during your shoots, in exchange for their services, engage and promote them with at least a post about them and their blogs. Don’t use extensive retouching, Instagram filters are fair enough and many phones now offer their own filters that you can adopt too.
Remember, success does not come on its own. It should be prepared for and will be a result of long-lasting constant work that someday will pay off. In most cases, you should count a minimum of six to seven months of daily publishing before you’ll have built a real engagement with your audience. But it will pay off, don’t be surprised when brands sell for $5m in one year with such a strong engagement, and only from Instagram. It really is something you should focus on, constantly publishing relevant content.
Perception #4: Only big brands can afford this, I can’t do it on my own
I think this part summarizes best everything I told you before. With a clear vision, constant work – at least one hour a day – you can totally manage Instagram. At the beginning, it will require your full attention, maybe a week or month to plan everything, do some research, find your identity, start preparing content. Then once you’ve done all this profound work, your daily interactions with instagram will decrease to a minimum. You can also hire an assistant to accomplish the daily work, or use an application that allows you to automate the process, but don’t use interns or assistants at the strategy definition stage. Without putting a minimum of your personality and reflections on your brand inspirations, it will not work. Assistants are great for daily posting, checking performance and pulling together reports.
If you have a budget, you can also hire an agency to help you out with this. Big brands play on a whole different level, their business goals are much broader and budgets are higher, and they don’t always know how to engage with the audience on social media, so they will hire an agency for that.
As a small, start-up brand you have the advantage of being able to create intimate, unique relationships, getting feedback from your audience and building product with them.
Consider, ORO from Los Angeles. This brand made millions in only two years of existence and exclusively on Instagram. The founder of the brand has really identified their secret formula of gaining more than 500k followers in record time: “In everything we do, we’re helping the customer IMAGINE. We want them to imagine being the man in every picture. To imagine us being their stylist. To imagine, ‘That could be me wearing those clothes.’ We’re not so much curating content as curating imagination”.
Try to curate the imagination of your potential customer. What would they look like?
And focus. Use one channel to promote and give it all your energy and attention, at least at the beginning.
To summarize everything from the beginning, this is how you should build your momentum on Instagram:
- Identify your audience and know them better than they think
- Find out where they go and build your audience based on that media
- Find accounts playing on your field, list what they do and how
- Based on all this information create your go-to-market tools: inspirational moodboard, strategic planning for posting, required content (respect the order, don’t do things randomly).
- Schedule a week or two where you can focus and deliver all those tools
- Hire an assistant or dedicate one hour a day to post, comment, follow, track the performance.
- Publish daily and track results.
- Adjust your content every two or three months according to the feedback loop you are getting.
From the strategic point of view, use Instagram as a serious marketing tool:
- For 100% branding and creating your brand
- To engage your audience and co-create with them
- Give, give, give, take. Once a while sell on Instagram, but don’t do it with each post
- Remember it’s your free branding tool: beforehand brands paid for expensive commercials, now it’s free to create and consolidate on your brand image.
- Inspiration will come with work and deep understanding of your audience’s desires.
- Don’t neglect your audience perception, check once in a while with life clients what they think about your instagram feed. Take onboard all points of view and work on them until it is perfect.
- Use influencers and the inspirational media that your audience goes to, to leverage your brand growth. Get real followers through them.
- Test & try. Remember brands are not born one day, it’s a hard daily workload to animate and recruit the right audience. But, choosing the right influencer can get you lots of followers and sales crushing in just one day. That means that the audience likes your content and your story as well.
- Don’t take Instagram for granted. If you have a systematic, strategic approach, you can make millions out of it. Just make sure that your product and storytelling resonates with your audience. Focusing on the needs of your top three target audiences, and choosing one at launch, can really help you to find that magic formula that works for you, growing your followers, bringing likes and comments and moreover, providing sales.
- Number of REAL followers counts. Think of examples of brands who did it the first day of the launch just because they were focusing on growing their audiences up to 50k – 70k before selling any product first of all. You can compare it with a blog building process. First you write and inspire, grow your content, make it onto Google’s first page, than you sell to the audience what you have and because they are already engaged with you and trust you, the day you launch your product, they are ready to buy.
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