If you’re a handmade business looking to level up your Instagram marketing, start growing your followers, and actually make sales, read this post. I’m going to share with you why just posting photos after photos is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Instagram, and the secret strategies you should be using instead.
Instagram is a really popular platform for marketing your handmade business. It’s visually-driven, which is great for us handmade business owners because everything we do is visual.
52% of Instagram users are female and the largest age category are 18-24 year olds. 3 out of every 4 people aged 18-24 use Instagram and roughly 1 out of every 2 people ages 25-49 use it too.
It’s not really true that only teenagers use the platform. I’ve worked with a lot of small business owners, and chances are your ideal customer is within this demographic. If your customer is there, it would be a good idea for you to be there too.
Why You Shouldn't ONLY Use Instagram
If you use it correctly, Instagram can convert into some sales for your business. I’ve gotten sales from there and so have my students who have taken my training. Before we get into the details about how to make Instagram work for you, I want to tell you why relying on Instagram 100% is not a great strategy for your business.
It’s a great component of your marketing strategy, but it shouldn’t be all of it.
First of all, you don’t control your list of followers, Facebook (who owns Instagram) does. That means that if the service decides your account has violated the terms of service, it can shut down your account and you’ll lose that audience.
Or, if in a few years, Instagram is out of fashion, then you have absolutely no way to transfer that audience to the newest platform.
This puts it in a category completely apart from traditional digital marketing techniques like your website and your email newsletter.
It’s an inherent problem with all social media platforms.
I always tell business owners that if you’re serious, you need a website and an email list. These are avenues that YOU control.
You can email customers on your email list any time you want, for as long as you want, and no one can take that away from you because it’s an asset you own. And if you want to switch email services, you can export those users to the new service. This is a serious difference that you should definitely keep in mind.
The second reason Instagram (and any other social media platform) isn’t all that, is the algorithm. The algorithm is the black box computer program that decides what content you see and what content you don’t.
Now, I don’t think the algorithm is all bad, but it’s necessary. I mean, most users follow hundreds or thousands of accounts.
What would your feed look like if you saw every post from every account? You’d be totally overwhelmed. Even if you sat down for 24 hours straight scrolling through your newsfeed, you wouldn’t be able to get ahead of all the content and posts that people are publishing every second.
The algorithm is part of ensuring users get the best experience and it shows them the best content that they think they’ll enjoy most and that experience is personalized and unique to every user.
Well, that’s great for the user, however, as a business, this means that you’re getting a very low ROI (return on investment) for your energy. The average post is seen by about 1-3% of your followers. If you’re strategic about how you encourage engagement with your followers, you can increase that percent so more of your followers see your posts, but I want you to compare this with an open rate of 30-40% for an email, which are normal benchmark numbers, and you’re talking about really small reach and visibility on Instagram.
Thirdly, and I’ll make this the last one because I could go on forever about why you shouldn’t spend too much time on social media, is that the conversion percentages are pretty low on Instagram.
Conversion is how many people, upon seeing your post, take an action. As shop owners, we want people to buy our stuff, right? So we’re looking for purchase conversions.
Instagram was designed for browsing, looking at pretty pictures and chatting with friends. That’s what drives the algorithm. It’s not inherently a shopping platform.
Think about how a typical person would go about making a purchase. They see your post, and unless you have Instagram shopping set up, they need to go to your profile, click on the link in your profile, leave the platform and then get to your site, find the item you posted about, add that item to their cart and check out.
Do you see how this buying process is super long?
There are so many steps involved in just making one sale. This whole process doesn’t get completed most of the time.
You could get 100 people coming to your site and if one person buys, that’s considered a good and healthy conversion rate. So you need a lot of traffic from Instagram to make meaningful sales. Which means, you’re not likely to get a ton of sales from the platform unless you’re strategic.
So let’s talk about the strategy, ok?
When you think about Instagram, the first thing people think of is creating content, usually about posting a pretty picture and a caption.
Let’s make that the first place we start, even though, as you’ll find out, that’s a very small part of what it takes to be successful.
When you post good quality, engaging content, then more people will like it, which means that your content will be shown to more people by the algorithm. Which increases your organic reach, which is awesome!
You’ll want to check out my video for content ideas and what to post, but I’ll give you some quick basics now.
Post What Your Audience is Interested In
It sounds obvious, but you need to post content that your audience is interested in. It may not be content that you're most interested in, and it may not even be content that is working for other businesses.
For example, if your audience follows you for your nature-inspired, pastel aesthetic, then posting a vivid, rainbow urban artwork isn’t going to be popular, even if it’s a trend going viral for other artists.
The only way to know what your audience connects with is to do a bit of experimentation and keep track of what’s working by looking at your insights, which are available to any business account (which you should set up if you haven’t already).
You want to take note of any post that gets more engagement than usual, whether it’s likes, comments or reach, and do more of that. Look for a common thread and keep refining what’s working.
Use Strategic Hashtags
When you’re posting, you’ll want to include hashtags on your posts so that you can be discovered by those interested in your niche.
It takes a bit of work to find a group of hashtags that work for you, but start by putting yourself in your ideal customers' shoes and think about what THEY’RE posting on Instagram, and what hashtags they might be using.
For example, if you make handmade bookmarks, then your ideal customer is probably into reading books. Think about what book lovers like to do. They like to post pictures of their favorite books, or the books they’re currently reading. Then ask yourself, what kinds of hashtags might they be using?
Once you find those hashtags, pay attention to the other hashtags your ideal customers’ posts are using and the hashtags that are recommended by Instagram in your search. You want to find hashtags that aren’t too popular because otherwise there’s too much competition to get your posts seen, but you also don’t want hashtags that are too small which means no one is using them, and no one is going to see your post when it shows up in that hashtag’s feed.
After a bit of work, you’ll find a collection that’s diverse in hashtag sizes, and most importantly, that your ideal customers use.
I don’t recommend using generic hashtag lists that sites and bloggers out there give you, because it’s most likely you’ll start attracting non-buyers and other people who are makers like you, and most of the time those people aren’t your customers.
Now, Instagram has expanded its features over the years. Not only is there the ability to post regular posts, but now you can add stories which is content that’s only visible for 24 hours, and then there’s video and direct messaging.
People use Instagram for entertainment and content, which means that as a small business, this is your opportunity to give it to them! You’ll want to look at my Instagram stories video for tips about how to use Instagram stories effectively.
It’s a great tool that allows you to connect in an authentic way with your audience and because stories appear outside of the feed, your content will be seen by a different segment of your audience, which means more reach for your account.
In short, to be successful at content creation, you need to post great content that connects with your audience, regularly. It starts there, but that’s only a small part of the strategy.
The common mistake I see with people on Instagram is they spend 80% of their time creating and posting content.
You can just keep posting and posting, but if that’s all you do, you’re not going to get anywhere and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when you don’t see your followers, engagement and sales go up.
The truth is that posting is only a small part of the story. The reason it’s called ‘social’ media is that you’re supposed to be social!
Engagement is what sets social media apart from traditional marketing, like your newsletter or like media outreach.
Engagement is an umbrella term for the actions of liking, commenting, tapping on your post, saving it or sending you a direct message. I’m going to walk you through 3 important components of engagement for a successful account, which is likes or comments, search and outreach.
Likes & Comments
Let’s start by talking about likes and comments, which are a crucial part of your strategy.
The algorithm likes to see that your account is interacting with other accounts. When you do so, you do much better than if you just post and then leave the app.
If someone comments on your post, you’ll want to reply, even if it’s just a simple “thank you” response or an emoji, which takes you 3 seconds to do. Not only is that good customer service, but it’s the start of building relationships.
But if all you’re doing is replying to comments on your posts, you’re not doing enough. To be truly successful, you need to use likes and comments as a form of outreach.
That means that you should be liking and commenting on posts that show up in your feed.
For every 5 likes or 3 comments you leave, you’ll get about 1 follower in return.
The other person will get a notification that you just liked or commented on your post. This person will be thinking ‘hey, someone commented on my photo, let me go look at their page’. If they like what they see on your account, they’ll follow you.
When you do this, it not only grows your following but it also increases the likelihood of your audience to see your posts.
When someone interacts with you or visits your profile, then the algorithm will show them your content more often.
Searching Out Leads
Now to take that one step further for maximum efficacy, you need to go beyond your own account and your own feed and search for your potential ideal customers on Instagram and like and comment on posts that aren’t already in your feed.
You need to be actively seeking out those new accounts that might be your ideal customer.
How do you do this? Start by search the hashtags that we talked about earlier, except instead of just using them for your posts, use them as a way of finding new people.
Follow the rabbit hole of recommended posts and accounts for just a bit to find new accounts that fit your niche. Then continue liking and commenting.
You can also think about larger brands than you who attract your ideal customer, but ideally who don’t sell exactly the same thing as you. Like maybe you sell bohemian style art and wall decor. Seek out larger brands that sell bohemian clothing and interact with their followers and the people who engage with their account.
It’s like if you move to a new town… you’re not going to meet anyone if you don’t go outside and start meeting people, right? Sure, one or two nice people may come to your door, but the real work is on you.
Reaching Out with Intent
Great, so now you’re planning on finding new accounts and regularly engaging by liking and commenting. That’s all great. Now I want you to go the final step, and that’s reaching out with intent.
- Who do you want to follow you?
- Are there influencers or publishers that you’d love to connect with?
- Are there retail shops you’d love to carry your products?
- Are there key shoppers that you’d love to be your customers?
Target them and start engaging.
This can be anything from simply following, liking or commenting on their posts to sending them a direct message in an authentic way and connecting that way.
You want to interact with your ideal customers who don’t already follow you, and ‘introduce yourself’ with a few comments and a percentage of those people you interact with, will likely begin to follow you.
If they don’t, they may not be your ideal customer, anyway!
Instagram is a great place to get started with influencer marketing because the contact mechanism is built-in.
In the olden days, you’d have to ask for an influencer’s marketing kit with their follower numbers and a portfolio of previous work they’ve done.
Now, right on Instagram, you have their follower numbers and a portfolio of work! It’s so transparent. And you’re just one button click away from sending them a message or an email.
Consider reaching out to other Instagram influencer accounts if they’re a really good fit, and ask them to feature you in exchange for a free product.
I have a whole other video that talks about doing that and I’ll link that here.
So, post great content that connects with your audience, engage via comments, active search, and purposeful outreach. Then watch your account grow and your conversion rates improve over time.