Instagram can be an effective and inexpensive tool for marketing your business. But when the algorithm that ranks and shares posts changes, you can be left wondering whether anyone is seeing your content.
Entrepreneur Melissa Camilleri isn't intimidated by algorithm changes, though – and she doesn't think other business owners should be either.
The founder of jewelry and gift company Compliment Inc., Camilleri grew her business by using Instagram to connect with customers and establish a brand. The store's Instagram account now has over 34,000 followers, and Compliment Inc. has grown to include a yearly scholarship fund, mentoring opportunities, a podcast and an online course in which Camilleri teaches other small business owners how to use Instagram.
Camilleri has been using Instagram long enough to have survived several iterations of the platform's structure and algorithm. She recommends nine strategies for using Instagram to successfully connect with customers, no matter what changes the algorithm throws your way.
1. Stay on-brand
If you are using Instagram to promote your business, everything you post should represent your brand.
"I noticed that my posts that included humor or something inspirational, which is in line with my brand voice, got the most interaction," Camilleri said of her early days on Instagram. Once she understood that pattern, she was able to plan out future content that represented her business in the same way.
Sticking to on-brand content helps customers get to know and feel connected to your business. Both the images you post and the captions you write should reflect the tone, values and mission of your business.
2. Show up consistently
One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make on Instagram is posting sporadically. Without consistent work and engagement, Camilleri warned, you won't see much traction on Instagram.
Inconsistency means customers will stop interacting with your posts. When that happens, the Instagram algorithm is less likely to show your account in followers' feeds, or your customers may stop following you.
"A good business Instagram account stands out from others through its thoughtfulness and intention," Camilleri said.
Successful users "make Instagram a priority in reaching potential new customers," she added. "They are showing up every single day to post and comment."
3. Make real connections
Interacting with other Instagram users is particularly important for businesses that need to make genuine connections with customers to see any impact on their bottom line.
Genuine connections happen when you participate in the Instagram community. This includes responding to comments that people leave, answering questions, participating in challenges, hosting giveaways and writing your own thoughtful comments on other users' pictures.
"Instagram is a social media platform," Camilleri emphasized. "The accounts [that] do the best … are the ones who are actually social and communicate with [customers]."
4. Consider your grid
The spread of photos visible on your profile page, known as your grid, is often a potential follower's introduction to your business. Because Instagram is a visual platform, the aesthetics of the grid matter. These photos should look good together and provide a visual clue to what your brand stands for. Having an inconsistent or thoughtless grid can lose you followers, while an aesthetically coherent grid encourages new people to follow your account.
"When I go to a page and it is a messy mishmash with no rhyme or reason, it ... does not encourage me to follow that account," Camilleri said. "Businesses should not just be concerned about each individual picture they are posting, but also how that picture actually looks next to all their other pictures in their grid view."
5. Embrace hashtags
Hashtags are an integral part of using Instagram, allowing you to engage in communities, participate in challenges and help new people find your account. Camilleri strongly recommended that all types of businesses use hashtags on every post.
"If you are a brick and mortar shop with a physical location ... find out what hashtags are popular in that city and in the neighborhood where your shop is," she said. "If there aren't any, get together with your neighboring businesses and create one and let people know."
You'll see better engagement if you avoid generic hashtags, which are usually one word like #coffee or #books. Instead, find multi-word hashtag communities that relate to your business or aesthetic, such as #cupsinframes or #dailydoseofpaper.
6. Reach out
Don't just wait for customers to come to you on Instagram. Actively seek them out and promote your account.
"Ask any customers you already have to connect with you on Instagram," Camilleri suggested. "Publish your Instagram handle on your business cards, put it in your email signature, include it in every newsletter, have it posted in your shop, include it in every package you send out."
You should also seek out other store owners in your neighborhood or colleagues in your industry. Being as connected as possible will put your business in front of more potential followers.
7. Be creative
Many businesses fall into a rut of posting only product shots or stock photography. But assembling a creative variety of posts can help you stand out.
"You see the accounts that infuse humor or teach their customers something new or post beautiful, inspiring pictures with thoughtful commentary doing really well and continually growing," Camilleri said.
If you feel stuck, think about the reaction you want to create when people look at your content.
"People connect with brands based on… how that brand makes them feel," Camilleri said. "How can you show your product or service in a way that evokes some sort of emotion from your followers?"
8. Identify your target customer
As with any form of business promotion, successfully using Instagram requires knowing who you are marketing to. The target customer profile that you develop for your other forms of marketing should inform your Instagram strategy as well.
"Know your customer," said Camilleri. "And then think: How can I educate them, or entertain them, or inspire them, or encourage them, or connect with them? If the pictures and captions you post strive to meet one of those objectives, you'll see your engagement on Instagram grow."
9. Expect changes
It can be tempting to anticipate the changes Instagram might make to its platform and try to figure out how to beat them. But Camilleri notes that you'll have more luck if you expect changes but don't spend too much time thinking about the algorithm.
"Change is inevitable," she said. "Just like we have the power to make the decisions in our business that will benefit our bottom line, so do the owners of Instagram."
Algorithm changes are less likely to affect your Instagram engagement if you are focused on your customers, rather than gaming the system.
"If your business can master the art of real human connection on Instagram," said Camilleri, "then you will be practically algorithmproof."
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