Who loves Instagram?
Instagram is the social media platform of choice for many makers, artists and designers running a small business.
It's a great place to have meaningful, one on one relationships with your customers.
And most importantly, it's proven to bring you sales.
I mean, that's why you keep posting on Instagram, right?
You're convinced it's helpful for your business.
But you're wanting to grow your following and reach more people.
How do you do that?
Lots of makers follow Instagram feature accounts for a chance to get their products featured.
Hold on a sec.
What's an Instagram feature account?
An Instagram feature account is an Instagram account that features products from shops.
Instagram feature accounts generally have a large following. I've seen them range between several thousand followers to over tens of thousands of followers.
You typically fill in a form, pay a nominal fee and have your feature scheduled in advance.
Sometimes, you're required to share a “I'm going to be featured” post on your own account. (This is a means for the feature account to reach more makers and make more money.)
Sometimes, there are packages and extra fees for doing giveaways since you would get more traction from running a contest.
You've seen them before. You probably already follow a few feature accounts!
Why makers love feature accounts
Feature accounts seem awesome because they have large followings and they put the spotlight on your shop and product.
It's advertising on Instagram, without going through the nitty gritty of setting up Instagram ads via Facebook's confusing interface.
You get your shop in front of thousands of potential customers who might buy your products.
You also hope that you'll get new followers and new fans of your work.
So you think feature accounts are an awesome thing, and you sign up for your first one.
You eagerly wait for the moment your post goes live.
As your post gets published, you keep checking your phone for notifications.
A few hours go by…
Where's the flood of new followers, comments and likes?
Where's the “cha ching” ringing off your phone, calling your attention to that sale you made?
It seems awfully quiet.
What went wrong?
Paid vs Free feature accounts
First, I want to talk through the differences between paid and free feature accounts.
Yup, not all Instagram feature accounts require a payment for you to be featured.
Sometimes, all you need is to use the feature account's exclusive hashtag to be put in the drawing for a possible feature.
If you get lucky, the feature account owner will choose your post and repost in on their account.
All for free.
This is how I primarily run my Instagram account for @creativehiveco:
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I actively scour my favorite Instagram hashtags (including mine #makersbiz) in search of awesome shops and products to feature.
I don't get paid to do it.
But the reason I'm doing it is to build a community around Creative Hive and more importantly, to honor other small business owners.
I respect, admire and appreciate your work.
As a result, I'm very picky with who I choose to feature. I try to keep a balance between all the different mediums of craft. Great photos have precedence.
Paid feature accounts on the other hand, feature shops that have the budget to pay them. They go where the money's at.
As long as you can pay for it and follow their guidelines for submission, you're golden.
Barrier to entry is not so high and there's rarely a jurying process.
What does this tell you about the overall quality of the paid Instagram feature account?
Why most paid feature accounts don't work
Notice that you, as a maker, are attracted to several feature accounts.
You hope to one day have the funds to be featured!
Imagine for a second how many other makers like you feel that same way.
Many paid feature accounts attract followers who are people just like you – other makers, artists, designers and shop owners.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
It's likely that the product you create is targeted at “regular people” who aren't shop owners. Unless you have a very specific product designed for shop owners.
Who is your ideal customer?
Is it the fashion conscious, 32 year old, bagel and cheese loving, suburbian mom of two who works at your local credit union?
Or is it other business owners trying to make sales?
Yes, it's true that you could have a small segment of your audience in the small business owner circle.
But in broad terms, it's highly unlikely.
Instagram feature accounts attract other makers who want to be featured. A majority of their followers are made up of other shop owners.
Getting your products featured in front of the wrong audience will do nothing for your brand.
You see, there are right and wrong ways to do marketing.
This is one of the wrong ways.
What you should do instead
You realize how difficult it is to build a following on Instagram.
Yet, there are profiles that grow to thousands of followers with relative ease.
While there are effective methods for growing that actually do work, unfortunately there are still some ways to grow an account with fake followers.
If you have a few dollars, you can buy several thousand fake followers that artificially boost your Instagram presence.
If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't question it an account with lots of followers.
How can you tell a fake following vs a real one?
Check the overall interaction and engagement levels of the existing posts on the feature account.
As a general rule, a 3-5% engagement level is healthy.
So if you find an feature account that has 20,000 followers, but only 100 likes on average per post (that's less than 1% engagement), that's a sign that you probably won't get great results working with them.
Granted, not all low engagement accounts are fake accounts. But it makes me question the legitimacy of the followers.
Where are your right customers?
Always be thinking about where your right customers are hanging out at.
Ask yourself if the Instagram feature account has an audience of people who are like your right customers.
If you choose to work with a feature account, do it for the right reasons.
Think outside the box
Ultimately, what you should do instead is look for large influencer accounts outside of your circle.
Go beyond your current network of Instagram accounts you follow just because you love connecting with other business owners.
The best Instagram influencers to work with are the ones who:
- don't ask for payment because that means they aren't driven by the sale
- actively show photos of them using products they love
- have a great, loyal following with high engagement levels
These people are most likely not hanging out in the handmade circles you're currently in.
Look for athletes, chefs, musicians, TV personalities, YouTube personalities, bloggers, politicians, models, stylists, authors and actors.
You're much more likely to get new followers and sales if you're strategic with who you work with.
You can read more about how I got 10,000 new followers in less than a year here working with influencers.
So the next time you hand over your hard earned cash for a paid Instagram feature, ask yourself these questions.
Think outside of your niche and look for Instagram influencers who fit your ideal customer profile.
And remember to always be thinking about where your right customers are hanging out at!