“But like, how many followers do you have?” – And, are you using Instagram for marketing to convert them into paying customers?
In the marketing world, there’s often a heavy emphasis on metrics such as social followers. The bigger the better, right?
However, what does the size of a business’ Instagram following really mean for a brand and its bottom line?
Think about it. Follower count has historically been referred to as a vanity metric by some critics. After all, it’s relatively easy for brands to purchase social followers and engagement to artificially boost their count if they really want to boast big numbers.
Whether your business has 100 or 100,000 followers is irrelevant if those followers aren’t willing to engage with your message and eventually turn into paying customers down the road.
Now, that’s not to say that you should treat your followers as if they were data points. Quite the contrary, actually. Your followers represent living, breathing people who ideally want to hear what you have to say.
It’s more important than ever that brands treat their audience with a human touch. Therefore, using Instagram for marketing should be about building long-term relationships through smart content versus trying to make a quick buck. That being said, any social media channel represents a balancing act between building a following and seeing an ROI our efforts.
No, we shouldn’t always look at social media in terms of dollars and cents.
But yes, businesses should look at the big picture in terms of converting their followers into customers.
From Fanatic Followers into Hungry Customers
The ultimate goal of any ecommerce brand using Instagram for marketing should be to amass a following that’s willing to spend.
Here’s the deal, though: more brands are using Instagram for marketing than ever before.
Nearly three-quarters of today’s brands are looking to ramp up their Instagram marketing in the next year. Many of those same brands are beefing up their social budgets by the billions (with over $30 billion spent worldwide in 2016).
Plus, with the launch of Instagram Stories’ ad functionality, it’s clear that the platform is still evolving. There are still plenty of opportunities for brands to come up with new forms of content to engage their followings.
The writing is on the wall: the competition for your followers’ attention is only going to grow more and more fierce over time.
How do you break through the noise?
It all comes down to strategy.
For starters, you should set some sort of goal to better hone in on how you’ll approach the platform.
If the ultimate goal of your Instagram presence is to increase sales, your images, descriptions and hashtags will likely be product-driven (think: deals, launches and exclusives). On the flip side, you may decide to focus less on sales and more on brand awareness. In that case, you should focus on imagery, storytelling and engagement.
Either strategy is totally fine, granted you’re measuring the metrics related to your goals such as traffic back to your site or hashtag mentions, respectively. These metrics will directly influence your content strategy, just as Google Analytics would on a traditional blog.
Thankfully, Instagram has its own analytics platform for businesses in the form of Instagram Insights (second video).
Thanks to Insights, brands can tailor their posts to be more relevant to their followers in terms of the following:
- Which of your posts receive the most impressions and comments
- The reach of your brand’s most popular posts
- The demographics of your followers (age and location) and what times they’re most active
This knowledge is invaluable to brands using Instragram for marketing. In fact, these metrics could potentially make or break your content strategy on Instagram.
So many brands make the mistake of blasting content into the void (think: with no regard for timing, reach, or optimization) for the sake of “putting themselves out there.”
Remember: Instagram is not your blog, nor is it Twitter or a clone of any of the other top social networks. The photo-sharing platform plays by different rules regarding what your followers expect. For example, consider the following:
Instagram is a hotbed for visual content, which is ideal for showing off your products and converting modern buyers
The platform is unique for its emphasis on user-generated content and potentially free advertising on behalf of your followers (think: hashtags and re-grams)
Instagram users are generally more willing to spend versus users on social platforms where direct advertising is a bit more taboo
Chasing a positive ROI while using Instagram for marketing is the bane of many marketers.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, it may very well be easier than ever to drive sales via Instagram, granted you know how to make your followers tick and eventually funnel them back to your site’s sales pages.
The name of the game is standing out from the crowd while also giving your followers exactly what they want.
So, where do you begin?
Don’t Start Blasting Deals from Day One
Without a doubt, one of the biggest mistakes that brands make with any social network, but especially when using Instagram for marketing, is turning their social presence into a giant big sales pitch.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Coupling every post with dozens of hashtags and overly-salesy language will not only turn off your current followers but also hinder your ability to attract new ones.
Rather than annoy your followers to no end, remember that social media represents a conversation. You want to be heard, sure; however, so do your followers.
There’s a time and place for running offers and deals. That doesn’t mean constantly shoving offers into the faces of your prospects, though.
Here’s how you avoid killing your Instagram following before it has time to flourish:
- Don’t solely rely on “buy now” product posts or present yourself as a shameless self-promoter
- Choose your language and hashtags carefully
- Before you post anything, pause and ask yourself: is this what my followers really want to see?
Let’s look at an example of what a proper promotional post looks like:
Zevia knows exactly what they’re doing when it comes to marketing their zero calorie soda via Instagram. Combining a positive marketing message with a call to action for followers to tag themselves in a photo as entry to a giveaway, their Instagram strategy is a perfect storm of promotional content.
Eye-catching colors and imagery? Check.
Promoting the creation of user generated content? Check.
Including real people versus product photos to sell themselves? Check.
Using Instagram for marketing doesn’t have to be rocket science. Likewise, Zevia’s feed proves that you don’t necessarily need the sexiest product on the planet to get a reaction out of your followers.
Truth be told, a subtle, “less-is-more” approach to promotion is the best course of action for budding brands and established veterans alike.
Selling with Subtlety
Nobody hits the “Follow” button so they can be bashed over the head with offers and deals. People do, however, engage with sales-related content on Instagram when it’s targeted and subtle.
In short, Instagram is not the place for an aggressive sales strategy.
At the same time, it’s a fantastic avenue for promoting products and services.
Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? The key to using Instagram for marketing is to seamlessly integrate your products into your feed without interrupting your followers.
There are multiple avenues to encouraging your followers to buy that are somewhat beneath the surface. For starters, consider any of the following as fair game:
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to sell your feed to your followers it to ensure that your product pages are just a click away. Integrating a shoppable Instagram feed represents the best of both worlds and you show off your products in action minus the spammy sales language.
Check out how Un Paso Más Barcelona employs their shoppable as a standalone destination from their Instagram page:
Another way to do it is integrating an Instagram shoppable feed on-site. Here’s how Lagos does it:
Integrating a shoppable feed provides a straightforward means of funneling users to make purchases while simultaneously keeping them engaged with your content. Plus, selling via pictures is much less obtrusive than a traditional product page.
Giveaways and Contests
Freebies are a surefire way to generate buzz around any given brand. Just as an ecommerce blog may give away a free report to encourage email sign-ups, contests and giveaways can help build up your follower base and present your brand as a friendly resource.
Giveaways in particular represent a fantastic way to encourage evangelists as you offer something in value for little more than a follow-back. Many brands using Instagram for marketing offer exclusive promotions as means of growing their follower count.
Invite Them On-Site
Driving traffic from Instagram to your store is an absolute no-brainer. That being said, many brands fail to appropriate leverage their description snippets as means of linking to particular products. You don’t need a dozen hashtags and links to make it happen, though. When it doubt, keep it simple.
Think of Instagram as a sort of lead magnet; however, remember that you need to make sure you’re driving your traffic to the right places on-site (think: not always your home page).
The key to monetizing your Instagram is creating content unique to the platform. Whether through Instagram-exclusive promotions or UGC, experimentation will help you understand which types of content perform best with your base (note: Instagram Insights will clue you in as well). By promoting your most successful posts, you can refine your content strategy over time and increase your ROI as a result.
Killer Content Never Hurts
Instagram is somewhat of a unicorn when it comes to content.
It’s all about imagery.
Sure, hashtags and descriptions can go a long way when it comes to encouraging your followers to take action.
But it’s the pictures that drive them to click, comment and follow.
The more your followers engage with your content, the more likely that they are to buy.
The key is piquing the interest of your followers at a glance and giving them a reason to check out your photos. Whether you’re selling high-end fashion or coffee beans, bear in mind the best practices of Instagram photos.
Use real people in your photos to create an emotional connection.
Try to take your snapshots in creative settings versus boring your followers to tears.
What do these practices look like in action? Well, there’s a reason why H&M has over 18 million followers:
Does this mean that all hope is lost if you don’t have professional models at your disposal?
Of course not.
As noted earlier, promoting and curating user-generated content is key to making that ever-so-crucial emotional connection with your followers. Check out how Au Revoir Cinderella relies on UGC to show off their sunglasses while still ticking the boxes of what makes a “perfect” photo:
For most brands using Instagram for marketing, the platform is tailor-made for the best-of-the-best in terms of visual content. Converting customers via Instagram isn’t all about directly making sales, but also building social proof (think: UGC, hashtags and testimonials) through imagery.
And guess what? Visual content and conversions go hand in hand.
Give Them Reasons to Follow You
Finally, the elephant in the room.
How do you cultivate a following that actually wants to buy from you?
Followers are a dime-a-dozen, after all: it’s engaged customers that we really want.
If you feel like using Instagram for marketing is merely dumping your company photos and hitting “post,” I’ve got some bad news.
Beyond creating the sort of content that your followers actually want to see (high definition photos, personalized content and so on), what else can you do to encourage that your following grows rather than stagnates?
Show Them Some Love – Shout outs and re-grams can go a long way when connecting with potential customers. Hashtags are the easiest way to measure engagement and spot UGC in the wild. (Use Photoslurp to find, curate, ask media rights and publish user-generated content in your ecommerce site. Learn more here)
Exclusive Content – Given the saturation of content in today’s increasingly social landscape, you’re constantly fighting for your followers’ attention. Remember that exclusivity is a powerful marketing tool: consider making your giveaways, contests or promotions Instagram-exclusive to incentivize followers.
Be Consistent – No matter what you post, consistency is key to keeping up a following. While the verdict may still be out on how often you should post on Instagram, strive to update your feed at least daily.
Answer Questions On Time – Don’t be a business that leaves its followers hanging. On Instagram, timing is everything: by replying to your followers as swiftly as possible, you show that you’re attentive and willing to have a conversation. While this may seem like no big deal to many brands using Instagram for marketing, attentiveness can have a lasting impact on your followers.
Switch It Up – There are so many types of visual content out there. Beyond product photos and selfies, consider how infographics, memes and video can also be leveraged via Instagram. If you have a creative bone in your body, the sky’s the limit.
For example, check out how Lorna Jane uses inspirational content to break up action shots of their activewear:
Chances are your follower are on the hunt for more than just deals.
They want a connection. They want to see your personality shine. They want something different.
If you want to convert customers through Instagram, you need to treat it as its own network and not parrot what you’re doing on other social sites. Sure, implement marketing messages and language that’s working elsewhere but remember that using Instagram for marketing is its own beast.
Final Takeaways When Using Instagram for Marketing
Converting customers via social rarely happens overnight.
Oftentimes it takes trial and error in order to achieve your first social sale, let alone see a truly impressive ROI. Even so, there’s absolutely no doubt that Instagram can help convert followers into customers by…
- Showing off your products in action and providing incentives for followers to buy
- Building social proof and brand awareness through user-generated content
- Giving followers an avenue to make purchases and eventually leading them to your store using Shoppable Instagram.
Instagram isn’t necessarily an enigma when it comes to generating leads. After all, just about any social platform is fair game for growing your customer base. Regardless, Instagram is unique in terms of its emphasis on visual content and UGC.
Turning followers into customers requires patience alongside a steady stream of carefully crafted and curated content. If you haven’t already begun introducing offers and deals via Instagram, consider how you can slowly integrate them into your feed.
What do you consider to be the cornerstones of a solid Instagram marketing strategy? What brands do you feel are killing it right now in terms of promoting products via Instagram? Let us know in the comments below.