Updated: Oct 19, 2020
About four years ago, I started my own hand embroidery business, MCreativeJ. Like most small business owners, I use social media, i.e. Instagram, to market my art to a growing fan base. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past few years:
1. People Don’t Like Being Sold To Instagrammers, and people in general, do not like being sold to. We get enough BUY NOW! TOO GOOD TO MISS! LOW PRICES! spam advertisements throughout the day and you don’t want your photos or account lumped into that. Plus, no one is going to follow an account that is constantly trying to sell them something. Instead, people follow and buy from people they like, know, and trust. Popular accounts are likable, relatable, and honest.
2. Not All Photos Are Good Photos One of the main reasons Instagram is great for small businesses is because it is image-centric. And while it is an easy way to showcase products, not all images should be shared. Your account should be a curated photo display of likable and shareworthy photos. By Instagram standards, this means well-lit, not overly filtered, beautiful photos. I often use the app A Color Story to edit my photos. For consistency between my photos, I use the same filter and adjust the color curve, saturation, and shadows to help my photos look their best. Beautiful photos get likes.
When selling your products, consumers also want to see them in use. This is why lifestyle photos and photos with props are so relatable and shareworthy. A flat lay, your image with other items, is a great way to showcase your product.
3. Great Captions Make Connections
After your photo, image captions are one of the best ways to connect with your audience and build your following. While not all users will read your photo caption, it is important to have something that shows off your personality and helps you stand out from others selling similar products. I’ve found that the most relatable captions are playful phrases I would say in real life, or short questions. If you wouldn’t actually say it, don’t post it. People can tell when you’re fishing for comments, being fake, or trying too hard.
Shorter captions are also more likely to be read than longer ones. Instagram only shows the first two lines of a caption. If you’re asking your followers something, it’s much less likely they’ll see your question if it’s hidden at the bottom of a text block.
4. Reply to Comments
When instagrammers take the time to leave a comment (that isn’t spam) on your photo, it’s important to reply to them. Not only does this grow connections between you and that user, it also emphasizes that you are a real person making and creating these beautiful products and not some robot. The more you can relate to your followers, the more engaged they will be, and the more they will feel a connection with your brand and products.
5. Follow Accounts Similar to Yours By following well-known accounts with similar products to yours, you can grow your fan base and draw inspiration for posts. When I comment on posts from accounts that I follow, my account is them shared with that account’s followers. Also, when their followers comment on photos, it is a great way to find other instagrammers who are interested in products similar to yours. Another reason to follow accounts similar to yours is to draw inspiration on ways to share your products. Just don't be a copycat.
6. Keep Up Your Hashtag Game
Whether you like hashtags or not, they are an important part of getting your photos found on Instagram. Instagram allows you to post up to 30 hashtags a post. This is why it is important to create a curated list of the hashtags that best fit your products. Generic hashtags such as #art are great, but can be overly used and your photo might get lost among all the other #art tagged posts. Instead, use a hashtag that is more specific and relates to your product. For my hand embroidery, that means hashtags such as #bontaicalembroidery, #dmcthreads, #stitchery, #crafttherainbow, and #makersgonnamake. These hashtags are more specific to my products and well known, but not so overly used so that my photo will get lost in the thousands of photos posted daily.
7. Tag, Tag, Tag
Tag your photos! This is something so many people forget. I regularly tag the craft stores I shop at, embroidery thread and hoop makers, and local craft markets I’m attending in my posts. This is an additional way to get your photo found and shared. Because you can only use up to 30 hashtags, tagging an account in your photo (caption or the actual photo) acts as an extra search term.
Tagging your photos also makes it easier for these brands, markets, and events to find and share your work. Unless you make it really easy for the people you’re tagging to find you, they’re probably not going to share your work. Tagged photos show up in an account’s tagged photos and in the discovery section—double the places for your photo to be found.
8. Share It In Your Stories
Stories are another great way to gain engagement. While your Instagram photo feed should be a curated gallery of photos, your Instagram Story is a great way to showcase personality, behind the scenes, sneak peaks, and anything else that's engaging to your followers. Stories are discoverable, because you can add hashtags (up to 10), locations, and tag other accounts.
While stories only last for 24 hours, they can also be saved in highlights on your profile for followers to view later, making them something that can live on and continue to engage and grow your following.
9. Vital Stats Your profile is the place to pack all of your brand’s vital information. At a minimum it should include:
- Photo: No one likes anonymous accounts–they’re kind of creepy. Bring your profile to life with a photo. This could be of you, your logo, or your product.
- Brand name: If your username isn’t your brand name, it’s important to make sure followers and potential followers know who you are.
- Shop or website link: Instagram only lets you include one link in your profile bio. This should take followers directly to more information about you. There are new applications out that turn your profile link into multiple links. I currently use Linktree because with it I can create a landing page of clickable links that can go to multiple places, link my website, shop, newsletter, blog, etc. Later has a similar feature that allows you to add links to individual photos and when you click your profile link followers can shop your photos.
- Brief description: Again, this is the place to add personality to your page or provide pertinent information about your business. I currently have a 3 word description in my profile and then use the rest of the space to share my upcoming events with my followers.
10. Scheduling Posts Saves Time Like everyone else, I lead a busy life. MCreativeJ is not my full-time gig, so I use the app Later to schedule my posts. The free Later app allows you to schedule posts at any time during the day. By scheduling posts, I can take photos and write captions when I have time and set them up to post at a later date. There are plenty of scheduling apps out there, so find the one that works best for you.
Remember, Instagram is a tool to help you market your products. It won’t magically grow your following overnight or sell all your products for you in a day. By curating great photos, interacting with others, and showcasing your brand's personality you will expose your products to more potential buyers and grow your fan base over time.