Today I am seriously pulling back the curtain and showing you the REAL behind the scenes of our Instagram strategy that has produced a relevant following of friends who are in our target market. Before I begin and give you all the juicy details, let me explain this one key concept very clearly:
You do NOT need thousands upon thousands of followers to be successful on Instagram. Say it out loud to yourself. Now say it again. Now believe it. In fact, many accounts with droves of followers may have a nice fat fancy number next to their name, but many of those followers are not made up of actual target customers. Popularity does NOT equal success. Success is defined individually and not by how cool you are in the Instagram clique 😉
Okay so now that we got that out of the way let me explain what the goal of my Instagram strategy is: To grow a relevant community of followers who are engaged in what we are doing as a brand and who relate to my life as an entrepreneur, wife, mom, friend, and mega-color/glitter/confetti/coffee/wine lover. Why? Because I offer services specifically for creative industry entrepreneurs. Because I value balance and having a life and am a firm believer in intentionally running your business and not letting your business run you. Because I have always been a fun-loving gal and don’t think we all have to take ourselves so seriously on social media!
So today I am not here to teach you tips, tricks and magic spells to wake up to tens of thousands of followers. I am here to show you step by step how I grew my Instagram following from just under 600 to over 2500 in 10 months before launching MMC, to now over 4800 (6 more months) with a majority being fellow creatives who I would actually market my products and services to, and more importantly, who I genuinely enjoy engaging, learning and growing with daily! This strategy is NOT for curated accounts or curated blogs (meaning they get their content from others i.e. Style Me Pretty, Inspired by This, etc) . Building that kind of following is a whole other ball game! This strategy is for creative small business owners. This strategy will help you grow your Instagram in a way that is intentionally authentic to your brand, your mission and your heart!
Define Your Why.
This is the first and most important step you can take to get serious about your Instagram strategy. You need a clearly defined purpose behind your efforts on Instagram (and in every business effort, really). This way you can determine each and every time you post if the image and message is relevant to your brand, your biz mission and your Instagram strategy. If it isn’t… Skip it.
Define Your Visual Instagram Posting Style (Color + Frame).
If you have an established visual brand identity, your posting style should line up with your brand aesthetic and color palette. This will ensure that when your clients visit your site, your Instagram will blend seamlessly with your website. This simple yet effective shift in your Instagram posting will instantly make you look like you have your stuff together and increase brand recognition.
If you do not have an established brand or launched business, but are taking my advice from this post on How to Launch Big, you still need to determine a posting style and be consistent. Remember, creating buzz before you hit publish on a brand or new biz launch is HUGE in your marketing strategy. Go ahead and start posting in your upcoming brand palette (or a general direction of what you know you want if you haven’t completed the design as a whole) to start getting the word out that something great is coming!
Regardless of where you are in your business, beyond color, picking a specific way to frame your Instagram photos is a biggie. Your feed as a whole is just as important as each individual photo. The goal is to create a feed that flows. Having some vertical floating images, some squares, some floating horizontal, and heavens to betsy you throw in some circles or whatever else you can come up with… no. Stop this now. Right now, pick a frame that you will use every. single. time. This will instantly clean up your feed and make it easy on the eyes to digest what you are putting out! Consistent framing with a defined color story is the magic mix of a branded Instagram feed!
I started this step just around 600 followers. I haphazardly posted whatever I thought of and had no real strategy prior to this time. This was 10 months before I actually launched the re-brand of what is Megan Martin Creative. 10 months! I knew early on what our color palette would be, so I used this as my starting point to make an intentional shift in my posting strategy. I also chose to go back to the ‘ole full square frame that Instagram was founded on.
Begin Posting with Those Visual Guidelines… Only!
I know some people think this is crazy and boring, but you won’t find a big brand who doesn’t follow this method.
This is how you foster brand recognition. It is also important that your tone of voice and general messages line up with your business mission so that your words strongly convey your business values. ***Don’t be salesy at ALL during this phase.*** Sounds backwards, but you need to establish a relationship and trust before you try to start selling to your community. Pitching sales right off the bat doesn’t form a connection and turns most people off. Take this time to really hone in on your styling and capturing and image editing skills. And don’t stress about using a fancy camera. You can create a beautiful feed with just your phone (that was the point of Instagram from the start, so just go for it!). Check out this post on Taking Better Phone Images and my fave editing app for iPhones that is SO easy to use.
If you need a little visual help to see how your feed begins to take shape so that it will flow, there is a new app out called Planogr.am. You can use their drag and drop software to see how your feed will look with your upcoming posts. So awesome!
It was during this time that I really took up an interest in the quality and composition of my images. There were a few periods of trial and error, but I got into a groove and haven’t turned back. I use the same exact color story, the same exact lighting conditions, the same exact editing steps and the same exact framing to this day. It allows me to create tons of posts quickly. At first you will just have to spend the time finding your style, but after you hit that sweet spot it will become second nature and you will be able to whip up a pretty pic in no time!
Post Post and more Posting.
Keep that visual aesthetic strong and grow a feed that a potential “follower” can easily scroll through and see consistency. This is key! You can have a one off amazing image, but if I click on your feed and the rest doesn’t measure up, I won’t be enticed to follow you.
This step is all about building up a bulk of images to show that you have thought this thing through. I do not think you need to delete your entire history of Instagram to be 100% brand perfect. People evolve. Brands evolve. Perfection is for the birds. And I personally love to be able to scroll down to the way way back and see how a fellow friend has grown both personally and professionally. That is just my opinion, but I think you will be okay if you show that you were once a mere human before you got serious about your Instagram strategy 😉
Disclaimer: When I started my Instagram account, I wasn’t anywhere even close to being a biz owner. I was dating Jeremy, in my early 20’s and only got the account to have a giant laugh with our group of friends when everyone shared embarrassing photos! So I did go back and delete anything like that and photos that just made no sense whatsoever ha! You can still scroll way down and see the shift from my old posting because I like to keep it real.
Start Artfully Selling.
Once you have a good amount of posts that really conveys your brand mission and aesthetic, start using that to build sales! But very subtly. Not with sales pitchy words plastered all over your images, but beautifully brand specific images that draw the reader in to actually read the words you have to say. Don’t sell your products or services on every single image. Use a good mix of behind the scenes snaps, styled images of what you have to offer, real people shots and etc.
If you are a boutique or strictly product based biz, you will most likely be posting your products much more than the average creative. This is OK. But to keep it from feeling like advertisement hour, I would suggest asking your customers to tag you in their shots so you can share (with permission) cute snaps that blend well with you visual posting style. Don’t be afraid to jump in the frame and let your audience get to know you though!
Sometimes I sell our products styled in images. Sometimes I sell my services by snapping a BTS of what I am up to. Sometimes I just post pretty things I’m working on and purposely don’t say anything about my business. Remember my Instagram purpose is partly about community so a little bit of my real life and thoughts works. Not every business has this same purpose and that is okay. If you are questioning how much of real world life to share on your feed, I would say first determine if your account is brand specific or strictly personal. If it is brand specific and going to be used as a marketing tool for your biz, then you need to go back to the business mission to help you make this decision.
Engage as Much as You Can.
You know, be social! This step can get hard once your following starts to really grow. I don’t think you have to reply to each and every comment (like ones that just say, “Nice!” or “Love it”), but try to reply to the ones that actually seem to engage in what you said or when they are asking questions.
I have never once used the strategy of liking ten photos in someone’s feed or commenting on three posts in one sitting or any other follow techniques that are floating around. I choose to follow those that I do because they are dear friends, or because they are dynamite artists that inspire me, or I am truly interested in their products and services, or their words speak to my heart. And I don’t have time to hunt for followers with these two little girls I am chasing after 24/7. I am just happy to engage with the sweet friends that are already apart of my community and treasure them!
Use Appropriate Hashtags That Your Target Clients Are On.
Like them or hate them, finding hashtags that associate with your brand and business is crucial for targeted IG growth. And I am not talking about get famous ones like #followme or #tagforlikes. You need to take the time to find where your customers are. What hashtags are they using?
If you are a calligrapher, you might think you should use #calligraphy, but that isn’t where your target market is. That is where other calligraphers are! Let’s say you are a calligrapher from Alabama who specializes in Southern style weddings. So your target market is made up of Southern brides and other wedding vendors in the South. You should be using hashtags that they are using. Hashtags like #southernweddings and #alabamaweddings have a much higher chance of getting your work in front of potential followers who would actually be a paying customer or very likely to refer you to one!
I try to focus on using hashtags that have less than 500k images as a rule of thumb. Tags that have over this amount will drown out your image quickly. Try to not be too generic in your hashtags. Example: #wedding has over 47 million images. That won’t do anything for you but add to your list of hashtags. I also typically try to cap any hashtags to around 10 tops, and I do so in the first comment after my initial post to not clutter my message with a ton of tags. It is partially a personal thing and partially due to the fact that I often share my IG posts to other social mediums like Facebook and Twitter and don’t want a bunch of hashtags going to those.
I don’t have thousands upon thousands of followers, but as my husband says, it comes down to “The rule of 100.” It is better to have 100 truly engaged followers who are excited about your brand than 18K followers who never say a word or aren’t interested in you and what you have to say!
I hope this very real strategy can be beneficial in your own efforts on Instagram! Tag me @meganmartincreative and tell me what you learned!
Photography by Sarahdipity Photos