I'll admit it.
I came late to the Instagram party.
You post pictures?
And you can't share them?
Although my understanding was a little rudimentary at first, once I saw the way it could showcase products and connect with customers who weren't necessarily on Facebook or Twitter, I was hooked.
At its most basic, Instagram is all about pretty pictures and finding creative ways to show off your world. But beyond that, like all social media, it is about building community around shared interests and passions. But instead of using words, you use images.
Instagram, and the expectation of beautiful product photos, is changing the way businesses present their products and also changing the way they talk about products. If a picture is worth a thousand words, which words do you still need to use? That is where informative, helpful captions come into play.
Let’s assume you’ve already set up your Instagram account, and it has the same name as your business. Why? To make is easier to find you! If your business’ name is already claimed, you may need to get a little creative, but try to stay as close to your actual business name as possible so customers can find you.
You’ll want to completely fill out your profile and add a link to your main website. The link in your profile is the only place links work on Instagram. In captions, on photos, or in comments, they are just text and not clickable.
Let's also assume you are already planning on watermarking your photos in some way (I like the Phonto app, but there are others), and you already know that Instagram is designed to be used from your smart phone/tablet and know there isn't much you can do with it on an actual computer.
How to use Instagram for Business
Instagram for businesses works on three levels. Each are equally important.
The first level is the ability to showcase your products in beautiful, fun, and engaging ways. Sure, you can hold your product up and take a picture. Or you can lay it on the floor and take a picture. Or prop it up against a decent background. But what if you could use your photo to show how amazing and wonderful your product is? The right lighting, a good angle, and some basic props can really make even a simple product shine!
If you need inspiration, search for magazines and social media accounts that are within your niche. Don’t copy (because that would be rude), but pay attention to how they are using light, props, angles, and textures to create interesting photos.
If you’ve never taken photographs designed to be seen by customers and the general public, it can be a little intimidating when you start! I really like this article about how to take better photos. Also, don’t be afraid to get close up, you might sell something that has gorgeous detail – show it off!
Once you take the photo and you are happy with it, it is time to think about the caption. If you are selling a product, I like the idea of listing the price within the caption. Why? One of the drawbacks of Instagram is that you can’t link directly to a product page, so there is no easy way for a user to learn more about a specific product in a photo. So why not give them all the information they need in the caption?
The second level is discovery via hashtags. The correct use of hashtags is crucial for viability and growing a following. If you aren’t clear on the purpose and use of hashtags, think of them like a giant filing system. Everything image using a specific hashtag gets “filed” in that drawer. Pretty easy, right?
There are a few things to keep in mind:
Singular vs. plural hashtags – There is a difference, so make sure you are using the one you intended.
Misspelling – If you misspell a hashtag it gets filed all by itself (or sent to live on the Island of Misfit Hashtags).
Volume – There are some hashtags that are wildly popular and everyone uses them. Which means you can use them (preferably during peak hours so you get more views), but it also means the competition is fierce and your photos will have a harder time standing out. On the other hand, there are some hashtags that have low volume. Which means you might be using a hashtag no one is looking at or even one that one user has used 2,000 times over four years.
Keep these in mind as you research hashtags. You are looking for a mix of hashtags that includes both semi-popular and very specific (but widely used) hashtags. If you are a local business, use your city as a hashtag. If your location is in an established neighborhood, use that as a hashtag.
If, for example, I was a book seller in Portland, I would want to use hashtags like:
#Portland (3,959,925 posts)
#pdx (2,561,982 posts)
#bookstore (487,390 posts)
#amreading (103, 280 posts)
As well as using the author and the name of the book as a hashtag. I'd also spend some time looking for Portland and book-related hashtags with under 10,000 posts.
You might think that something like #pdxbooks or #booksinportland would be a popular hashtag, but it isn’t. In this case, it might make sense it use those hashtags anyway because after 20-30 posts, you’ll be the dominant account using that hashtag – which can be great for branding, future contests, or gaining the interest of book lovers in Portland.
How many hashtags is too many? Everyone has a different opinion. I’ve seen articles that suggest posts with three hashtags get the best interaction, but I think you also have to take into account the size of the social media following. An established brand can use fewer hashtags because their reach and client base is already established.
On the other hand, 25 hashtags always looks excessive and in many cases it is overkill.
I like the balance of 7-15 hashtags, depending on what serves the photo and the audience the best. Experiment and see what works best for you.
The third level is community, or making friends. If you are simply posting image after image and not engaging your audience, then you are broadcasting instead of being social.
This is social media, which means this is your chance to interact with new people. That doesn’t mean being salesy and pushy. It means being a genuine human being and making friends.
You can do that by responding to comments left on your posts. You can use hashtags to find others who are interested in the same things you are interested in. You can use it to connect with other complimentary businesses and support each other.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to using Instagram for business because there are always specific nuances and unique things to think about that apply only to your business, but I hope this has been helpful!
Do you really need photos for your blog and social media posts? No.
Do photos make your blog and social media posts more effective and engaging? Absolutely.
So, you need photos. But where do you find photos you can use?
The answer is not “from anywhere on the internet I can right click and save.” Don’t do that!
Ok, let’s be more specific.
You need photos, but where can you find photos you can legally use?
This list only includes places that offer:
*100% free photos - you don’t pay when you download them and you don’t pay when you use them.
*They are attribution free - you don’t have to give credit to the photographer or website.
1. Death to the Stock Photo - This is a neat service that delivers a pack of 10 free images, all focused on a central theme, to your inbox each month.
I look forward to each 10 pack as if it is opening a present. They also get extra points for offering diverse photos (and it can be frustratingly difficult to find stock photos featuring humans that aren’t both white and male).
2. Unsplash - Unsplash will also send 10 photos to your inbox every 10 days.
3. Picjumbo - I purchased a premium pack of 600 photos for $14.99 a few months ago because I really like their photos and downloading them one by one takes a long time!
4. Pexels - When you sign up for their newsletter, you receive 40 free photos, but you don’t have to sign up to download single photos from the website.
5. Pixabay - Pixabay also has illustrations, vectors, and videos in addition to photos.
6. Stocksnap.io - This site is part of Snappa, Canva’s latest rival.
7. Splitshire - This is an ad-heavy site, which is understandable since they are giving away free photos. Just be aware of when you are clicking on a photo to download vs. an ad.
8. Life of Pix
So what do you do once you’ve gone on a photo downloading spree?
Organize them! Trust me! Having 300 stock photos to choose from is wonderful, but not if you can’t find the one you want because it is buried somewhere on your computer.
This is how I do it:
I have a folder on my desktop called “Stock photos” – the name isn’t creative, but that is on purpose. I used to call the folder “to use later.” Which was accurate, but I could never remember what I’d called the folder.
Within that folder, I have sub-folders such as:
Bodies of water
Sitting at a desk
Of course, my mental filing system might not match yours. But however you organize your photos, make it memorable to you.
Almost all of the sites mentioned have newsletters you can join to receive updates and get free images delivered to your inbox. This might be the fastest, easiest way to not only grow your collection, but also to remember to go back to the different sites!
Facebook reach (or lack of reach) is one of the most frustrating aspects of Facebook for most
small businesses. In January, Facebook will be changing its algorithm (again). This change
will focus on limiting overly promotional posts.
What is a small business owner supposed to do?
Some are abandoning Facebook. I don't think it is necessarily the best option. And, as I said last
May, Facebook shouldn't be your only social media platform.
First, let's look at what Facebook considers an "interaction"
What do all of those things have in common? They require your readers to interact with your post in some way.
A sales pitch or series of promotional posts that do nothing to engage your audience don't help to build your audience, so why post them?
Instead, focus on providing information your audience wants to see. Bring back the "social" in social media. Share relevant information, have a conversation, and get to know your audience.
Your audience are your fans - they liked your page because they wanted to stay in touch with your business - its your job to post something worth reading and sharing. Not sure what your audience wants? Experiment, make notes, and experiment again.
How do you find content to share with your fans?
1) Google alerts - You tell Google alerts what kind of information you are looking for and it sends an email (or two) to your inbox when those subjects come up.
2) Create your own images - I'm more than a little bit in love with Canva right now. I'm not a graphic designer, but Canva gives me the tools to at least create attractive images (including the one shown in this blog post)
3) Write a blog - Sometimes you need to create the information you need to share. Of course, as an SEO person, I'll always be in favor of blogging for the SEO benefits.
4) Industry news - look for respected industry sources for news, trends, and information to share.
5) Share content from other Facebook pages - I'm a big fan of supporting complimentary businesses. Small businesses should be supporting each other whenever possible.
Part one, Introduction - click here
Part two, Title and Description tags - click here
Part three, Keywords and H1 tags - click here
Part four, Images - click here
Part six, Wrapping it All Up - click here
Social Media sharing
Whether you love it or hate it, social media can be a great way for artists to be seen by new eyes.
But you need to do a little work to make your website preview look beautiful when it is shared.
Right now, Facebook's "Open Graph" or "og" tags are the best method available. After installing "og tags" you will be able to choose which image is shared from a page as well as what the title and description look like.
Pinterest, like Etsy and YouTube requires its own post, so I won't go into it here.
Your name and contact information is on EVERY page of your website, right? Either at the top of the bottom and easy to find?
A modern looking website
OK, so your best friend designed your site back in 2009 and it would hurt her feelings if you changed it.
The problem is that a site that looked "fresh" a couple of years ago now looks dated and clunky. When someone finds you online, and wants to buy something from you, it is in your best interests to make sure your website makes you look respectable and professional. This falls under "first impressions," and if you don't make a good one, your new potential clients will go somewhere else.
Not everyone has a burning desire to use a blog. But if you do, it is a great way to provide Google with fresh content (Google says "yum, yum" to fresh content) and connect with your audience. Stumped about what you might write about?
Sally could write about:
Depending on how often Sally wants to blog, the above list could be as much as six months' worth of topics. There is a lot I could say on SEO for blogging (and I'll probably get to that in a future post), but for now I'll just say it is one of the best ways to get noticed and utilize different keywords that might attract someone to your site.
List your prices
Don't make someone work to find out how much your amazing creation costs.
Flash/Splash pages and music that plays automatically
No. Just no.
Spelling and grammar check
Yes. Always yes.
Next - Wrapping it All Up
At one point, Facebook seemed to be the perfect solution for small businesses. You could reach customers on a platform they were already engaged with and interact with them in a new way. Even better - it gave you a chance to show some personality in a way that didn't require writing blog posts. It was faster, easier, and streamlined!
Over time, Facebook has refined its algorithms, and business pages have seen their organic reach (this is the views their followers see without a company paying to "boost" a post) nosedive. It is frustrating to know that only 78 of your 1000 followers saw the picture of your new inventory item or announcement of new hours.
Should you boost Facebook posts?
If you have 500 followers and a 10% organic reach (people who see your posts naturally, without any boosting), then only 50 fans of your page have the opportunity to see what you post. These are people who, in theory, WANT to see what you share - but they don't. Facebook doesn't show it to them. Of course, your posts should always be engaging and interesting for your customers. You don't want to read boring Facebook posts, so why would they?
You could always boost your posts – that is, pay Facebook to show your posts to more people. But advertising works best with repetition - most people will need to see your name or post several times in order to remember it, let alone act on it. Depending on your budget, it may or may not be possible. If you do pay to boost posts, do it in a way that allows you to track your customers' response. Use a coupon code, giveaway or contest so you can see how many responses come directly from Facebook rather than the general public.
Should you abandon Facebook?
No. Don’t do that! A Facebook page is still a great way to communicate with customers and give them a feel for what your business is about. Think of it as a modern, interactive yellow pages or secondary webpage. When someone searches for your business name online, your Facebook page will appear. Which is why keeping your Facebook posting schedule and details up-to-date is important.
But at the end of the day, relying on Facebook as your only social media platform isn't enough. Sure, it has millions and millions of users, but limiting yourself to Facebook means that you are limiting yourself and your business. There are other social media platforms - some of which may be a better option for your business. Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, mailing lists, and blogs are just a few of the ways to connect with customers directly.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.