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2020 has been a year full of surprises, with the biggest surprise casting a brighter spotlight on social media. That surprise — a pandemic that turned the year and the world upside down — has created newfound urgency for a strong online presence and monetization strategy.
Prior to the pandemic, for many established mid-sized and large businesses, an engaged social media audience was more so a “nice-to-have” rather than a “have-to-have.” Now, businesses that once relied almost exclusively on traditional marketing and in-person business have had to massively pivot to survive.
If you are a business owner or marketer working with a business that is new to social media, one of the best platforms to focus on is Instagram. Why? When leveraged properly, it is one of the best social media platforms to grow organically.
The first key to success is creativity and consistency
Creativity will always be the name of the game on any social media platform, but it's especially relevant Instagram. If you can’t think outside the box and take five minutes to do something different, you may as well forget about trying. That’s not to say that you have to resort to extreme measures like videoing your team members cartwheeling from a rooftop in your brand colors (although I think there’d be a lot of people who would love to view that), but there has to be more to it than posting a one-line statement about how great your business is followed by a litany of endless unrelated hashtags.
On the other hand, consistency is crucial. Unless you’re established, posting once a week won’t cut it. Neither will posting three times a day for a month only to take a month off and jump back on once Christmas rolls around.
If you can commit to applying creativity and consistency to your marketing, then these three organic strategies will bring you the visibility that will last beyond the pandemic:
Stories are powerful, particularly stories that hit the key emotions that can drive buying decisions. Stories that are human, on-brand and connect to your customer’s journey will win,every time. On Instagram, this content can be both in-feed and in stories. If well-written, this type of content can attract visitors to your product or service, engage their emotions and get them doing exactly what you want — without being spammy. An example of a story-driven post is starting with the origin story of the company founder or talking about the company's growth and how the customers are chiefly responsible for that growth. An accompanied carousel image showing the growth journey will make the post pop and increase engagement.
Without great stories, the next two strategies will fall flat.
With Instagram Reels rolling out and giving TikTok some additional competition, the emphasis this year has been squarely on video. Short video, long video and live video, it’s all #winning in my book.
Video, in general, engages at a higher rate, and for good reason. People like movement, and Instagram has become a new form of TV. Content creators and businesses often overthink how to approach video, but it all relates to storytelling. As long as there is a motive behind content and it’s creative, it will engage.
Instagram Live can double as an influencer outreach platform
Instagram Lives can be spontaneous and also planned. Ideally, you leverage both approaches, but if you're intimidated by the prospect of getting on camera, planning ahead is ideal. If you run a business that could benefit from influencer marketing, utilizing Lives to spearhead real, engaging conversations with Instagram influencers or thought leaders on planned topics will inspire your audience while also building authority.
Instagram stories can give an inside look into your business
Although your Instagram feed should ideally have a level of curation to maintain a brand aesthetic, stories can be more impromptu. Use stories as an opportunity to show off your company story and behind-the-scenes activity. Run a fashion line and just received a deluge of orders? Show off your team packing up the orders while sharing a bit about their day. During the pandemic, people seek more human contact and authenticity than ever before, so keep it real with your audience in stories.
Targeted hashtag engagement
The pandemic has not curtailed marketers and businesses seeking to fast track their followings with spammy and unsafe growth methods. If you're running an actual business that requires your audience to convert into customers, buying followers is never the answer. Fake followers are merely a vanity plate, and the fake appeal will wear off in seconds when you see zero comments on your posts and four likes. Instead, focus on targeted hashtags, both in your posts and in your interactions, and you'll begin to see results.
For example, imagine you’re a San Diego-based business like mine, and your business is a restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood. Assume people, both locals and visitors alike, want to find a restaurant like yours in San Diego, and specifically in this neighborhood. Utilize hashtags that serve as indicators of your location, i.e, #hillcrestcoffee and #sandiegocoffeeshop. This sounds obvious, but there are many businesses that default to generic, un-targeted hashtags thinking they will get discovered by their ideal customer. Likewise, begin tapping into hashtags by searching for people using hashtags that may connect to your ideal customer. For example, #sandiegofoodie. People using this hashtag likely live in San Diego and love eating out. Begin engaging with their posts, leaving comments and asking questions. Even choose to follow certain accounts. This is a form of “targeted engagement” and does not constitute a “mass follow unfollow action.” Organic engagement is a strategy that won’t ever die, as it requires actually talking to people that fit your customer avatar versus resorting to desperate methods like buying followers.
The pandemic and its aftereffects are not going away before the end of this year. Likely the issues that businesses are experiencing now will continue. By adopting strategies that work and maintaining creativity and consistency, however, you can set yourself up for long term success that will last even beyond 2021.