Maybe Social Media and especially Instagram isn’t for you.
“Whenever you find yourself
on the side of the majority,
it is time to pause and reflect.”
In 2016 I went to a wedding photography conference in New York to attend an awesome workshop about finding your style and voice. One of the messages that stood out was about how following everyone on Instagram was hurting your business. Just a short background: During that time there was a trend of doing really light and airy wedding pictures. So whenever you were searching for wedding inspirations light and airy wedding pics came up.
Needlessly to say, wedding photographer at that time who took light and airy wedding pictures had a hard time standing out. Why I bring that up? Because this couple had a very simple rule on Instagram: Don’t do what everybody is doing. People have a tendency to do what everybody else is doing. You have to find your own way.
Which brings me back to Mark Twain. Because I found myself on the side of the majority when it comes to using social media for one’s business.
Expectations when you “get social”.
When I started my business as a wedding photographer I fell into the trap of “as a photographer, I have to have an outstanding Instagram account”. I was pretty sure that I needed a Facebook page. That I needed to post. And that blogging would be mandatory to reach my future clients. Back in 2016 that was the way everybody was doing it. So who was I to do something different than the mass?
Now three years later, after I did a deep dive into Social Media, and with all these amazing algorithm changes since then, I am pretty convinced that if you are a SME you need to use Social Media in a different way. A perfect example of this is Instagram and the current influencer hype.
Instagram and the influencer hype.
When it comes to Instagram I have a very strong love-hate relationship with the platform. When it came out in 2010 Instagram was super interesting. Suddenly you had a tool to present yourself and your 08/15-standard-life. In the way you wanted. With filters. And you actually had people that engaged with you. That followed YOU because YOU appeared interesting to them.
Instagram was all about people and how they presented themselves. It gave people a safe internet space to show bits and parts of their everyday life, interact with each other and use their iPhone cameras for good.
Two years later Instagram got bought by Facebook. 2016 you could get a business account. After that, there were plenty of algorithm changes and an immense amount of uploaded content each day. The YOU behind an account got less important. Until now. When influencer started to hit the scene as a new way for companies to get in touch with potential clients. Which brings us to today and why I – as an entrepreneur – find Instagram incredibly difficult these days.
As a business owner and photographer Instagram can do many different things for me. But it also brings up a lot of questions. Do I use it for exposure? Do I want more follower? Should I be more personable on the platform? How am I attracting the right customers for my brand and interact with them?
Instagram brings up a lot of questions for me. And probably for a lot of other SME-owners too.
“A tale of flowering fortunes” or the story of being an institution of influence.
The past months my Instagram and Facebook accounts were overflooded by ads promoting a very strange service: Online courses for gaining follower and start to work as an influencer. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when people ask me about my opinion or want a suggestion but. An Influencer? Me? Really. I am a lot of things with my business degree and background in process development and marketing for an automotive company. I’ve worked as a photographer, wrote for a newspaper and hosted radio shows. But a life as an influencer? That seems…interesting.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I got all these interesting yet not fitting ads as a result of me reading through every available resource on the topic of Social Media in the world wide web. Cookies and a wide net of “Who knows who” (Instagram-wise) made it possible to determine that I had an interest in growing my number of Instagram followers.
So a question popped into my head: “Is Instagram really a platform for companies or is everybody just displaying themselves and getting validated by a bunch of followers?”
And the press goes “boom”.
Are you reading digital marketing magazines? I am a huge fan of the German W&V which is for marketing in general. In June 2018 they wrote a really good piece about Influencer Marketing. If you want to read up on Influencer Marketing try the W&V archive.
In 2018 the whole topic of Influencer Marketing just exploded. Agencies were founded for the sole purpose of matching Influencer and companies. More influencer-brand-collabs started, Influencer were invited to important German talk shows. All in all: It was a good year for Influencer Marketing. And Influencer Marketing had become a synonym for Social Media marketing.
But Influencer marketing is just one angle that businesses can explore when they try to use Social Media as a marketing channel. For years now it has been a very common practice that Social Media personalities cooperate with businesses to either talk favorable about a brand or a product. Nothing new there. Aside from the fact that as of 2018 the promotion of a product or service has to be labeled as – drumroll – ad. Wow.
Professional left and right swiping.
The whole business of having an influencer influence other people into buying your product or service is kind of strange for me. Not that I don’t understand the concept: There is a person that has a huge following. The followers trust the opinion of this person and therefore also take his or her praise of a product for granted. If this person is – let’s say – super into hiking in the alps and inspires his or her followers to go hiking than it is a good fit for an outdoor brand. Understood. It’s a fit, a match, it’s not for the masses. Swipe right.
But when I was researching potential influencers for a project I was really surprised by what I found. Humans in all forms that did one thing: Post picture after picture of themselves, with the same pose and an almost exact caption. With over 4.000 followers. The gods must be crazy. Do you remember in the good old days when we had 2d paper dolls with cloth and changed them every once in a while? The doll was always in the same pose – of course – only the dress changed. On Instagram, it appears to be the same. So does this Influencer type really helps businesses to reach their target? And also:
Wait. Why am I here?
As I mentioned earlier, when I was getting into the whole Social Media game it was to get in touch with potential clients, directly. I wanted to showcase my work, offer some insights and that was that. Maybe put up an ad. In early 2016 to get visibility on Instagram wasn’t as difficult as it is now. Although with content planning and good hashtag research you can still have a very decent reach. Buttoday the vibes felt differently.
Coming from a platform for humans who wanted to display their everyday life, Instagram became a platform for people (and businesses) to showcase their highlight reel of life. A platform for people engineering their life and promoting themselves. So what can businesses make of that?
Social Media, Instagram and the wave of “too much” (is never enough).
So, just to show you what you are dealing with on Instagram, here are some numbers that Louise M put together: On average 95 million images are uploaded every day. Which is more than people living in Germany (around 83 million in 2017). True, compared to the 7 billion people living on earth, it’s just a small number, but it’s still a lot. Instagram has over 1 billion active users and more than 25 million business accounts. High numbers.
So you probably guessed it: It is noisy on Instagram. A lot of content, even more accounts. And don’t get me started on bots and fake accounts. Oh, and did I mention the infamous follow-unfollow-method? So what can a business do – aside from spending money on ads – to get attention in an overcrowded space?
Nothing happens for the sole purpose of happening.
The first rule of life: Don’t do it just for the sake of doing it. Or in a desperate attempt to become an influencer. Especially when you start out as a freelancer or if you’re the face of your company, you might think that it is important for you to have a high number of followers. It is not. It’s not about you. As you might have read on other websites talking about Social Media marketing: You are not doing it for yourself. You are on a Social Media platform to serve your customer.
And it doesn’t matter if it is someone who already bought from you, is going to buy from you or in the process of making a buying decision. The content you create and put out there should have the aim to serve your customers. Yes, serving can mean that you inform them about a sale or discount that you are offering. But more often it means to help them get knowledge, be inspired or solve a problem.
Be the troubleshooter for the problem they weren’t aware of trying to fix. Educate them about your services and products. Not because you want to sell but simply to empower your followers. And inspire them. Unrelated to your product but valuable for your brand perception. And stop using Instagram as a promotional superboard.
The new ratio of 3:1
Which brings me to the next thing. I recently stumbled across the podcast “Rock your Wedding Biz“, a podcast with the perfect mixture of business advice and insights on how to have a flourishing wedding business. In episode 13 they were talking about “5 Secrets to Social Media Success” and my biggest aha-moment came when they explained the new ratio of 3:1. People/followers/ your online crowd expect/s you to give three times (give as in “offer them something of value” which can be some inspiration, advice or insights they never knew they needed, new information and insights and so on) before they give back or may be ready to buy.
For me, it makes total sense. I hate getting cold calls. Before I buy something I want to be sure that I am making the right buying decision. I want to get to know a company does it right. So in order to do that I need to build trust.
When I canceled my phone contract the phone company was calling me out of the blue. Without asking me if it was the right time for me to talk about me reconsidering my cancellation. Without even asking if it is the right time to talk about this matter. I felt pretty overwhelmed. And told them I would like to think about that, inform myself and talk with them in 2 months when I had more time.
What did they do? They agreed to call me in November. And then called again. But not in November. The next week. And the week after that. Every. Single. Day. Instead of listening to what I wanted as a customer they ambushed me and were just in my face with their offer.
The result? I blocked them on my phone. And got a more expensive phone contract with another company.
How do you feel about being screamed at?
The same goes for being on Social Media as a company. It is loud out there. Everybody is already screaming at you as a customer. Here’s an ad. Here’s a new offer. Have you seen this beautiful new picture? And at some point, all the images start to blur into one image. Social Media is noisy.
It kind of reminds me of having an argument. As soon as one person starts to raise their voice, the other person is doing it too. But how do you feel when someone is trying to win an argument just with the volume of their voice instead of listening to you and take your opinion into consideration? Do you feel like you trust the person with the loudest voice?
So here is what you can take away for your Social Media strategy: You can decide how you want to grow your audience. You can either give them content they enjoy and value, as in “being relevant” or you can try to be louder with your ads then your competitors, as in “spending more money on ad space”.
Ask yourself one question:
If you would be an ideal client for someone else’s product: How would you like them to approach you?
Can Instagram work for your SME?
Probably. And it depends. Not all Social Media platforms are relevant to every business. Unless you are one of the big players but even then: Focus is key. The world is noisy today and if you want to reach your ideal clients identify where they hang out – digitally. You found that they are on Instagram? Then go ahead and serve them with the content they would like to see. Attract them – not with cheap sales tactics but with relevant content.
Is Instagram success happening overnight? If you are defining “success” as having an engaged and loyal follower base that turns into a loyal customer group then the answer is “no”. As I said: It is noisy and loud on Instagram. 95 million images are posted every day. On average. And the tendency is that this number is increasing. So you are in this with a lot of other people that want their content to be seen. Take your time, make a content plan that relates to your ideal client and remember the 3:1-ratio: Serve, serve, get.
My biggest takeaway from three years of “Instagramming”
After three years on Instagram, I learned that my account is not made for the masses. For a very simple reason: I don’t talk to everybody but rather to a clear and defined group of people. To name one criterion: My target group is women in the business world, who are business owners. That leaves out a lot of people.
Don’t take this the wrong way: If people are following my account that like the content and find it helpful that is amazing. But I can’t serve the big three (inspiration, education, information) if I don’t know to whom I am talking. And for me, it is more important to come up with the right and perfectly fitted content for a small group of people then it is to post non-specific content for the masses.
Don’t get sucked into the bubble.
One of the social media marketing trends is to move away from “mega influencers” to micro-influencer (with a follower base of 1.000 to 10.000 people). Which makes sense as this group seems to be more in touch with their followers. And what is even more important: Usually they post about one or two very specific topics. So they are the experts on this topic. As in: If I am planning a hiking trip in South Tyrol, who posts more relevant content for me? The wanderer that is here and there and everywhere? Or the person that has done several hikes in the Dolomites, the person that knows what kind of problems arise during such a trip and that know how to solve them. Who am I trusting more?
The other important question is: Why are you in this game? Are you on Social Media or on Instagram to get some sort of social approval for your brand? Or do you want to reach your target group? Is it an opportunity for you to do product placement or are you simply presenting your company as a good place to work?
Unless you have answered this question your way around Social Media will be like a ship on the ocean without a destination. As there is no use in a Social Media profile with more than 10.000 followers for the sake of just having it.
In a noisy, loud and highly competitive environment, the first step should always be defining your goal. Clarify the question of what you are aiming for. And then ask yourself if you are on the right platform. As it is more important than ever to have a perfect fit between target group, business, and your specified business goal.