03 Jan 2019

Marketers, business owners and entrepreneurs are all starting to understand that Instagram is the most powerful platform in our social media ecosystem. This isn’t a doomsday article about the Facebook privacy changes or a headline panic over Snap Chats stock prices, but Instagram has just become that important. Facebook is becoming mainly a “pay to play” platform, which is very effective for businesses, and Snap Chat followings tend to be fueled from other platforms like Instagram. Add to the fact that Instagram has copied most of its competitors features and their nearly 1 Billion users, it’s safe to say that Instagram is most important platform you can invest your resources into for 2018.

Long gone are the days where people are impressed by follower count, and that shouldn’t be your concern either. However, you should be thinking seriously about growing a real community of followers, fans and potential customers whether you run a personal account or a business account. If you are on Instagram and have come across this article, you likely have some interest in building brand or increasing sales. So how do you do it and why is it important?

Importance of growing your Instagram

Let’s skip all of the superficial reasons for growing your account. We are not here to impress aunt Karen at the summer cookout, were here to grow your business.

  1. Credibility- If you are a business owner/entrepreneur, your colleagues and potential customers are looking for some kind of social proof. Are you trying to land that big consulting gig? Trying to book your next big podcast guest? Looking for new customers for your online fashion business? Customers and clients appreciate brands that are open and accessible. If your company only has a few hundred followers, people will be weary about doing business with you. Jeff Bezos had a famous quote that read “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” and that’s what your Instagram is. It’s the story your brand is telling when you are not there in the room with your client. People trust brands that are accessible and are validated by others. It’s a psychological thought process, the same process that makes us ask the waiter what they like on the menu, or why we ask our neighbor who just did his new roof. We are terrified of making the wrong decision, it’s human nature. If you are not investing time and effort into showing your customers what your business is all about, you are costing yourself opportunities.
  2. Leverage/Perception- This is something people don’t discuss often. Everything we do comes down to leverage or to rephrase “what’s in it for me?” Let’s say you are an entrepreneur/small business looking to book guests for your new podcast or event. You may be the most interesting person in the world, but if you are reaching out to a business superstar and your account only has a few hundred followers, the odds of you booking that guest are very low. However, if you have built a loyal following of 20,000 followers, now that entrepreneur sees your podcast or event as an opportunity to grow their own brand. You are the same person, but the perception of your value exchange has changed. No matter what business you are in, you must always consider what the other person or customer is seeing and answer the question, why should they care?
  3. Control your brand- 10 years ago, we lived in a world where people Googled a brand and whatever Google said, was the end all be all. Business owners would lose sleep at night knowing that if that one angry customer left a less than stellar review, their business would suffer. Sure, you could somewhat control your brand image on your website, but a website can only tell a small part of the story and you can only gain so much trust on your website. These days, you have so many options to show consumers what your brand is all about. People are also beginning to understand that only the angry customers tend to leave bad reviews on Google/Yelp. Now, more than ever, consumers are beginning to trust what they see and what trusted influencers tell them. Instagram is the perfect place for that. Let’s say a customer left a bad review for your restaurant because they felt the steak was “undercooked.” Years ago, that may have had a negative impact on your bottom line. Now, if a customer can come to your Instagram and see hundreds of photos of well-prepared steaks that look delicious, the average person will just assume that was one bad experience and not an overall reflection of your restaurant. Let’s also say that on Wednesdays you start an Instagram story series where you record behind the scenes videos with your head chef and he takes you inside the kitchen, showing you how all steaks are prepped and cooked. Now you are in control because you peeling back the curtain and showing your potential customers your process. Finally, you invite a local food blogger in who has 15,000 active, local followers and tell them you will give them a free meal if they will give you an honest review of your restaurant. If you are running your restaurant the right way, you can see how that one negative Yelp review won’t hurt you in the long run.
  4. Sales/Conversions- This isn’t just about growing a following, it’s about making an impact on the bottom line. A following with no sales or engagement is just a nice number to tell your friends. Any professional marketer can look at an Instagram/Facebook account and tell very quickly the quality of your following. It’s not about how many, it’s about how engaged they are. Everyday I come across accounts that have 100,000 followers, but only get a few hundred likes and 1 or 2 comments on a post. On the other hand, I have seen engaged brands with only 5000 followers that receive 750+ likes and many comments because they are reaching the right people. The same can be said for your account and acquiring new customers. You should view your company or brands Instagram as a passive way to increase sales and conversions. There are specific ways to target the right people and grow your following with people that are actually interested in your product what you have to say.

Looking for a way to grow your brand quicker while also converting more sales? Consider partnering with a local influencer. In part 2 of this Instagram growth series, ill discuss specific tactics on how to grow your account and the importance of collaborations, but since were talking about sales and conversions, here is one example locally here in Columbus. Face Forward Aestheics, a beauty and cosmetics company here in Columbus has really started story telling with Instagram and collaborating with influencers to help control their brands message while driving more immediate sales. They have local bloggers in all the time to help curate more content and show potential customers how their treatments work with before/after photos, daily stories and influencer giveaways.

Recently, they did a giveaway where they gave away 50 free hair removal treatments through one of their preferred influencers, Reanna Hickman who runs a popular food/lifestyle account @columbus_foodie which boasts over 25,000 followers. To some, 50 free treatments may seem like a loss or hardship on a local business, but not a business with vision and a confident product. Think of these 50 small treatments as lead generation and brand awareness! If 50 people come in the door, that’s 50 new people that didn’t know about your business before. Let’s say that 25 of those customers come in for the free treatment and don’t purchase anything else. You may take a small loss on those customers (time/resources), but consider that 15 more customers decide that they want to also get their legs zapped as well! Those 15 customers that you were able to upsell, now cover the 25 that only came in for the free treatment. Let’s also say the other 10 decide “well I’m here already, let’s get everything taken care of.” Now you have gained 50 new fans, most likely their emails (which you can market deals/offers to forever), word of mouth awareness, social media shares and you likely turned a profit from the customers that you were able to upsell! If you are wondering if this strategy is working, simply give the influencer a promo code that they can redeem online or in-store, so you can track how many people the influencer is bringing in. This is just one example of how you can leverage an Instagram following to drive real sales and awareness for your brand.

  1. Customer Feedback– Remember the days where companies would pay thousands of dollars to hire a “test group” to give them feedback on their new product or service? Now, all of those consumers are directly connected via the internet and a large majority of those consumers are on Instagram. Looking to compare 2 new designs for your apparel brand? Wondering which slogan works better for your next charity event? Now you can ask your fans and customers directly. However, this only works if you have built up a larger loyal following via your social platforms. If you only have a few hundred followers, you may get some feedback, but the 6 people that comment/leave feedback may not be how the majority of your customers feel. The bigger you can grow your following, with loyal customers and fans, the better brand feedback you will receive when you are looking for interactions and answers.

Instagram is quickly becoming the most important platform for business owners and entrepreneurs. While Facebook still has a great place and its ad product is underpriced in most instances, it has become a “pay to play” platform. Instagram’s discovery feature and naturally “open” platform, gives you direct access to your potential customers. In part 2 of this series, we will discuss ways you can grow your accounts and ways you can align yourself with influencers to make a real difference on your business/brand.