The Instagram Guide: No. 2 — Posting with Confidence
Here's the TL;DR (Too Long;Didn't Read):
Starting out on Instagram can be intimidating with other users already having hundreds of thousands of followers to compare your account to. It can lead to your focusing on the number of followers and likes, instead of your own content and your own message. But before you lose focus on your vision and goals for your Instagram presence, you must remember that Instagram should only be a supplement in your company's marketing strategy, not a main outlet to attract customers or a foundation upon which your business should take root. Further, what you do outside of Instagram is what grows your following, and not what you do inside of it. Knowing that should give you more confidence on Instagram; but to take it further, you should plan your postsand be thoughtful about your captions and your posting times. Proactivity, more often than not, gives you peace-of-mind and confidence.
Here's the long version:
When you first join Instagram, you are immediately recommended top users who have large followings, consistent engagement from their community and out-of-this world photos and videos. It can be intimidating starting out, and it can quickly turn into a rat race of getting followers, likes and comments. Although there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting all of that, we must be thoughtful about how our business will reach the heights that others have attained without "selling out" and losing grip with our vision and goals.
A pitfall for amateur content creators is believing that if you have enough followers and likes, it can validate the content that you post. No matter how inconsistent, unappealing and uninteresting the posts might be, these users feel justified in their decisions because they have the numbers to back it up. The focus for their accounts, then, is producing the large numbers of followers and engagement instead of making good stuff. The problem with Instagram is it can be easily faked through services that use bots to artificially inject followers, likers and commenters to your page. Because the goal is no longer on content, users tend to face two big problems with using bot services:
1. All the followers, none of the engagement — Paying for followers is a one-time transaction. Fees may vary between services and some may be more trustworthy than others. No matter the how securely they handle your Instagram account, however, they all do the same things: inject fake accounts to your followers count. The feeling of getting a notification that you've received 100, 1000, even 10,000 followers can be exhilarating and gives you a greater sense of pride for your business. But the high immediately wears off when you post your first photo after getting all the followers. You only get 25 likes in the first hour. How is that even logical? You have 10,000 followers and only 25 likes?! Well, it's simple, most of your followers are fake.
Look at some local businesses on Instagram, check their followers number and then look at each post. Does the engagement look embarrassingly low? Do you think it matters?*
*Keep in mind that follower to engagement ratio is not 1 to 1. Check out Justin Bieber's Instagram page. He has 93 million followers and his posts generate somewhere between 1 mil to 4 mil likes. That's between 1% to 4% of his followers engaging with his posts (not counting comments and views in the case for videos); one could interpret that as bad, but in the case for Instagram, it's the norm. But what if he had that many followers and never broke beyond 500,000 likes each time? Would that be enough of a difference?
2. All the engagement, none of the money — Unlike paying for followers, getting likes and comments aren't exactly a one time deal.** You have to keep paying for each post that you publish and the bill can quickly rack up. Besides the financial aspect, you also have to deal with not knowing the lifespan of your post. Here's the deal, when you inject all the likes and comments on a post, you get them all at once; it will look like several thousand real people engaged with your post at the same second. Once the order is completed, you're back to the not having any engagement (assuming that you just started out and don't have many engagers yet). It will appear as if your post's life span is only 10 seconds. If you're tracking analytics and trying to quantify your Instagram posts (which you should) being blind to that particular statistic will keep you from knowing your most engaged followers' behaviors and habits (in terms of when they interact with your content). You end up spending more money and not being able to quantify or forecast anything.
**There may be some online services that offer monthly or annual subscriptions that not only promise to give your content consistent engagement, but also acts as your Instagram strategist. This may be appealing to many, but depending heavily on Instagram to acquire clients and business may be a risk that a small business cannot afford to take. Throughout this series, I will make reminders that
Instagram should only be a supplement in your company's marketing strategy, not a main outlet to attract customers or a foundation upon which your business should take root.
So what does this have to do with posting? I gave the two examples to ground my point that followers and engagement shouldn't be the reason you're on Instagram—or any social media platforms. If you have a great business, a product you believe in and stories to tell, your clients and customers will go to your Instagram to stay connected.
Though you may get a few new customers through it, your following will grow because of what you do outside of Instagram not inside it.
To post with confidence is to know your business's identity, the stories you want to tell and the kind of people you want to attract (you've already figured this out when you first started your company, so you have a head start). Your focus is not about the likes or the followers, its about your content. So let's focus on your content; how can you add more value to your stuff that you can be confident about when you post? I've provided three big points after my photo of Marcus Mumford's (Mumford & Sons) moody guitar solo at Music Midtown 2017.
1. Plan the right post – The key word here is plan. Brands plan their posting differently between each other, but it's clear that those who plan tend to offer more value than those who don't. Take for example this 2014 lululemon video, they posted this weeks before Father's Day, but it's their way of showing intentionality and planning:
In this case, staying ahead of the [calendar] curve gave their followers a reminder of that day. Also, their clever reinterpretations of dad's wisdom gave their customers a sense of pride and connection to the brand.
Planning isn't just about holidays, or for special days, it's about staying relevant and connected to the world. The more timely—or timeless—your posts are, the more connected and engaged your followers will be.
2. Be thoughtful about what want to say — If you walk into a coffee shop where several millennials are sitting in a circle together, you will most likely find one or two of them with their phones on one hand and their eyes staring unblinking at the ceiling. Of course, their friends won't notice because they're on their phones, too. But the person with their eyes stuck staring at the light above her head is probably thinking about a clever, punny caption to post with her coffee picture on Instagram. The amount of time it takes to come up with a perfect caption can vary from several minutes to even hours; yet, she will not settle for a boring, basic caption.
For that generation, one that I am very a part of, coming up with a caption that's engaging and funny is instinctual. We don't think about why we're thinking about coming up with a perfect caption. It's just part of what we do.
In the same vein, your business's posts should be thoughtful. One does not usually come up with a perfect thing to say on the spot. That's why it's important to plan out your posts days, even weeks, ahead of time. Planning not only gives you an idea of the subject to post but of the message to go along with it as well. Most of the time, you can't rely on just the photo or video to speak for you. If you give yourself more time to come up with a message—a caption—you will most likely have a more impactful and engaging post.
3. Schedule intentionally — Last, but certainly not the least, is knowing when to post. This third point, and the second also, should not exist without the point preceding it. If you haven't planned content to post, you don't need a caption and you certainly don't need to schedule. On the other hand, you've planned to post photos and videos with Thanksgiving as the theme, so you make a caption for everyday about thankfulness and family traditions. Then, you plan your schedule, and you know you're not going to schedule a week after the holiday, or a month before it, to post. So, again to planning, it gives you direction, and it gives meaning to your scheduling.
But what about posting on normal weeks that have normal days? This is where is knowing your followers' behavior comes into play (remember I talked about that earlier?). Instagram accounts have different audiences who behave and interact with content differently. People's schedules vary between age group, region and habit (and more!). But for a business in the US, you can make a general prediction of when your followers will interact with your posts.
These times are what I've experienced to be the most engaged by my followers. They may be different for you. I would encourage to try these out, but also try our your own times.
Mon-Thurs between 4PM - 10PM — During the week, people are busy in the morning getting ready for work, or they're at work, so it's not ideal posting in the morning. After work, however, is when people check up on their notifications and tend to log on to social media to relax and not think about work. Even though there's a 6 hour window, some hours in between may not be as great as others.
Friday between 11:30AM - 12:30PM and 10:30PM - 12 AM (Saturday) — Friday lunches are more laid back and everyone is potentially checked out for the weekend. Late night posts might be better than early evening, because people will be coming back in from a dinner date, or show, party, etc.
Saturday between 11PM - 1AM (Sunday) — I've experienced that posting during the day is ineffective because people are usually out and about on Saturday. So I typically never post on Saturday; but if you must, late night may be ideal.
Sunday between 12PM - 1 PM and 8PM - 9:30PM — Sunday brunches are a thing, right? You should take advantage of that. Additionally, most people are getting ready for the week, so posting before bedtime on Sunday could potentially be to your advantage.
I emphasize on planning and being thoughtful about your message and scheduling because it gives you a good grasp of what you're posting. You can forecast the results and move forward more confidently with your Instagram plan. Having an idea of what issues, stories or products you're going to talk about next gives you something to look forward to. Instagram then becomes an exciting tool for delivering your content—and connecting to your customer base—and not another service to dread and feel like you're adding another time-wasting obligation.
Moreover, your focus centers around your content, your message, your branding. The more you familiarize yourself with your own stuff, the more you love your brand. That's the goal isn't it? To be confident about your brand so that you can tell other people about it and so they can get excited about it with you.
Please come back next Thursday for another installment of the Instagram Guide. Next week, we'll be going over Instagram Stories!
Check out last week's article, 3 Steps to Staying Consistent!
Jave Bjorkman is the founder and director of And So We Go Productions, Inc. located in Macon, GA. He works with non-profits, agencies and businesses to tell great stories with videos and photos. This series also appears on his LinkedIn blog and reflects his 6 year experience on Instagram as an avid content creator.