One of the things we like best about Instagram? While huge corporations have millions of marketing advantages at their disposal- including, yes, Instagram- the huge social media giant gives small businesses a platform, too. And that’s rare. Think about Twitter and Facebook, the original social media staples. Sure, they’re large platforms that reach wide audiences and offer features geared toward event promotion. But let’s face it, small businesses tend to get lost in a sea of bigger ones on Twitter and Facebook. These platforms are simply not designed to help a small business reach a massive audience. But Instagram is.
What’s different about Instagram, you ask? We think the distinguishing factor is that it’s ideal for experiential marketing, which is currently one of the hottest marketing trends (if not the hottest marketing trend for small businesses. With its highly visual design and variety of filters that lend a professional-looking aesthetic to even iPhone pictures, Instagram uses images to evoke emotions. That’s hardly a breakthrough strategy, but it’s one that works. Human beings are visual creatures. By capturing the eye of the beholder, one garners a spotlight under which to showcase much more than beauty. Here’s how you can use it to give your small business a big boost...and give your brand a powerful voice.
Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
Using Instagram to promote small businesses is about so much more than creating a trademark aesthetic- although that’s an important part of expressing your brand’s persona in front of a massive audience. At its crux, experiential marketing is about genuinely connecting to others. Instagram gives brands and influencers a unique platform on which to do exactly that. Tweets on Twitter are limited to less than 300 characters. Facebook statuses are often lost in a complicated algorithm based on perceived interests gleaned from massive, varied content. But on Instagram, promoting a small business has very little to do with its algorithm (which, by the way, is less faulty than Facebook’s, showing users posts that are based on more specific information).
Because it came up, let’s get the problematic algorithm discussion over with as quickly (and thoroughly) as possible. Yes, the algorithm has changed, which means that Instagram posts are less visible to your followers than they used to be. However, there are ways to completely get around this, and grow your following swiftly and successfully.
Firstly, the posts users see aren’t just based on the people they follow. The content users see is also based on who and what they like. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to actively, consistently interact with your followers and target audience. When you interact with others, they interact with you, which has the happy effect of personalizing your audience to a degree. Even more importantly, this means that the more likes and comments a post has, the more visible it becomes. The mechanism puts the emphasis on the quality of posts, not the quantity of them, aligning it with the principles behind experiential marketing. Data and research consistently shows that millennials prefer quality experiences over material possessions (read: quantity). Therefore, your Instagram posts should be both visually interesting and personally engaging.
These days, people are much more likely to buy a product or use a service provided by a brand whose values are aligned with their own. This gives small businesses a potent advantage, especially when it comes to storytelling on Instagram...which brings us to our next big point.
Tell the Story of Your Brand (Literally)
● Storytelling is one of the most powerful (and Instagrammable) marketing tools you have at your disposal. The framework of storytelling as a marketing strategy is simple. When telling your story on Instagram, ask yourself these questions in order:
● Who am I, and what do I do? (I.e., what kind of brand are you and what services do you provide?
● What inspired me to start my small business? (Everyone’s story is unique and inspiring, even if it seems small or generic to you. We’ll get more into that in a moment).
● What do I stand for? (What are your values? Which practices and attitudes are most important to your brand? For example, do you care passionately about the environment, and if so, are you committed to using sustainable products and services?)
● What do I do better or uniquely from other similar brands? (You don’t necessarily have to use the word “better”; in fact, it’s often more effective to demonstrate how you’re different from other brands like yours, and let your viewers come to their own conclusions about why you do it better).
Storytelling is a versatile marketing strategy because you can use it in conversation or in writing. But it can be even more effective in writing (er, typing) because you have the time to think about your words before putting them down. Think about your target audience as you tell your story on Instagram. What are their needs, interests, and preferences- and how does your business satisfy them? What is unique about the way your business satisfies them?
What are your core values in life, and how does your business reflect them? What values do you share with your audience? Share this information in a way that relates to your followers/target audience.
Obviously, we can’t have a discussion about storytelling without mentioning Instagram stories! In case you’ve been living in a cardboard box, Instagram allows you to combine multiple pictures and videos to create a “story” that users can click on under your bio. The concept is pretty similar to SnapChat stories. Instagram stories are quite literally compatible with experiential marketing, which is one of the reasons it’s made such a big splash across industries.
Be Genuine and Express Yourself Authentically
It’s literally a hashtag (#authenticity). Many brands take that advice literally and try to mimic or imitate the way the majority of their followers write or speak. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, borrowing the lingo or even the tone of other people’s posts won’t come across as genuine. And once you don’t seem genuine, people automatically lose interest, sometimes without even realizing it.
On the other hand, you don’t want to express yourself in a way that sounds like another language to your followers. What to do if relating to your audience doesn’t always come naturally to you? You can adapt. Use certain lingo or tones that you’re not used to only when it really fits. For example, if you’re not well-versed in droll sarcasm but your followers are, emphasize the irony in your funny stories. (At least some of your posts should have at least dry humor, even if your brand’s persona is generally dramatic or serious). People don’t just like to laugh, they need to laugh throughout the day.
Or for a different example, let’s say you’re an influencer whose main focus is some specific area of self-improvement. (Popular examples include inclusive beauty and fashion brands, life coaches who help clients build self-esteem or maintain a healthy, holistic healthy lifestyle, ect.). Whether you’ve been at it for a while or are just starting out, you’ll notice that these kinds of influencers’ posts are high energy with a lot of emphasis on self-motivation. (Admittedly, some of these profiles are also heavy on cliches, which we recommend avoiding at all costs unless they come naturally to you). It’s natural to be a little nervous about scoring low on the momentum factor, but there’s good news.
The truth is, there’s no specific way to engage with your Instagram audience. If you’re not a Type A, high-voltage personality, don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Instead, emit your own energy. You do this just by focusing on the things you really do care about, and genuinely sharing your reality. Although you may not know it at the beginning, you have something unique and special to offer. Your thought processes and interactions create new, interesting perspectives that are uniquely yours.
Some people worry that their posts will come off as generic or uninspired. Others fear the opposite- that their experiences and perspectives are so unique that no one will be able to relate. But today’s market is broader and more diverse than ever. There is an audience for just about every spectrum of every niche. Take intersectional feminism for an Instagrammable example. Thousands upon thousands of influencers use feminism as one of their trademarks. It’s easy to wonder how in the world they distinguish themselves at all. But although there are the cringeworthy accounts that seem to spit out mass-produced cliches to stay current with trends, most influencers are unique in many ways.
Still using the example of feminism, we all know there are countless degrees and expressions of it. Some influencers may call themselves “radical feminists”; they might focus intricately on how preconceived gender roles are manufactured by society, and can be ultimately harmful. Others carve out a niche of feminism that comes naturally to them, such as body positivity. Again, this is just one example of thousands. The main idea is this: The more authentically you express yourself on a consistent basis, the more solid your niche becomes. This is how we attract large and specific audiences. Believe it or not, there’s really a whole world out there that cares what you have to say- if you catch your attention in the first place. And the way you catch their attention to interact genuinely, without caring what people think. Ironic, isn’t it?
Many people try to emulate this attitude on Instagram, but really they’re obsessed with how many followers they get, and whether they’re successful. We get that. It’s normal to want to be successful, and to be anxious about it. Just don’t let that get in the way of getting your sincere message across. Once you start interacting with people who share your interests, who are passionate about the same things, it comes surprisingly naturally.
Aside from that, everyone has a unique voice that is all their own. When you share and interact genuinely, your essence shines through. That’s just the way it works. If you’re not sure, take a cursory scroll through your feed to see how many people exclaim things like, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” or “You just get me, even though we’ve never met in person”. The Instagram influencers who get comments like this everyday are the ones who’ve truly mastered the trade.
Link Your Social Media Accounts and Website
Although this post focuses specifically on Instagram, you should be using all the major social media platforms, if not more. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are an absolute must. Tumblr and WordPress are great homes for a company or related blog, if you have one. (See our many previous blog posts about social media marketing to find out why they’re all equally important). Make sure your Instagram account is linked to all of your other accounts for maximum exposure. Also, Instagram has a feature that allows your new posts to be published to all of your other accounts instantly.
Always add your website in your bio. Speaking of bios, yours should include a snapshot of information about who you are and what you do. Remember, it’s the first thing viewers see when they visit your profile. Feel free to add your own personal touch to your bio- if you’re quirky and weird, let your freak flag fly. Be yourself!
Use Hashtags to Your Maximum Advantage
Yeah, we said it. The use of hashtags in all your posts may seem obvious, but it’s actually one of the best marketing strategies at your disposal. When users click on a specific hashtag, Instagram shows all of the posts with that hashtag. For those of you who don’t tech-savviness on your side, this means using hashtags makes it much easier for users to “randomly” stumble across your profile. Aside from that, Instagram has an option to follow hashtags users like and want to see more of. Many users follow hashtags, including major influencers with massive followings.
If you look through the profiles of people in your industry and their followers, you’ll quickly notice the most popular hashtags for people in your niche. Use them under every post, and create your own as well. Make it something catchy and unique that people will associate with your brand only. After a while, your hashtag will become your trademark on Instagram.
To find out which hashtags are the most popular (i.e., the most frequently searched for), just use Instagram reporting tools. This way, you can track the hashtags that get the most engagement over time.
Interact with Other Influencers in Your Niche
This is a huge one! Although it may seem daunting to make contact with an influencer who has thousands of followers, it’s not in vain. Even if the influencer doesn’t notice or respond to your comment under their post, some of their followers will- especially if you regularly comment under the same influencer’s posts. What you’re really doing is connecting with a community of people who share interests, and many influencers do respond to and even communicate often with loyal followers. By interacting in this way, you’re joining in global conversations that are relevant to your business. It builds your following and your brand.
After consistently interacting on Instagram for some time, contact an influencer to sample your product or give your company a mention on their page. A piece of advice? Instagram influencers with massive followings are worth reaching out to- don’t get us wrong. But sometimes they are so inundated by messages and requests for sponsorship or partnership, your message could be lost in a sea of others. So if your first choice is an influencer with a huge following, go for it- but also reach out to influencers with moderate followings. In the Instagram world, “moderate” followings are still big and influential enough to launch a small business into a big success. Again, what we love most about Instagram is that it gives users the ability to reach mass and niche audiences without spending money. But it’s a part of the digital revolution that small businesses can’t afford to miss out on!