Instagram has more than half a billion users, so it is chock full of compelling visual content that engages users day in and day out.
It’s a great tool to leverage your brand and appeal to customers — and it’s being used more and more for small, local, and “boring” businesses as a way to grow and engage with customers.
However, Instagram can be a tricky platform. Its cultivated aesthetics and ad options, if used the wrong way, are just a waste of your time and energy.
We see a lot of repeat mistakes by small brands on Instagram that end up costing them. So we’re here to share some of these common mistakes we see all too often.
Whether you’re a serial poster, afraid of hashtags, or just trying to figure out how best to engage directly with your customers on social, here’s how to avoid mistakes and get the most out of Instagram.
1. Focusing Too Much on Advertising Products
Too many companies adopt a “machine gun” approach to Instagram, firing round after round of product snapshots. Sharing too many products in your feed probably means you’re not presenting a lively and interactive brand.
Key Food Bay Ridge definitely falls into this trap. The grocer’s Instagram presence is filled with stock images of food, bland sales notifications, and spammy “#Follow4Follow” call to actions.
If your audience wanted to see a product catalog, they’d go to your website. They’re just going to keep scrolling if they see a stock inventory picture on their feed.
What to Do Instead
Use Instagram to cultivate an authentic and engaging brand that includes your audience more directly. Focus on building loyalty instead of blasting your followers with products and promotions.
You can use customer/buyer personas to hone in on what types of content draws the most people to your brand. Buyer personas are characters that represent the main groups of your customers, built on research and interviews.
- They help you understand your audience and understand why people follow you on Instagram — are they looking for product inspiration or just like the spirit of your brand?
- They can give you ideas for content and ads that will work with your audience.
- They can help you figure out who to target your ads to, and who to follow and engage with on Instagram.
2. Having an Inconsistent Voice
Many brands with less experience on social media come across as trying way too hard. We’ve all seen what this looks like: too many memes, hashtag abuse, posting for the sake of it, and worse.
Consider Manhattan Portage’s Instagram. The brand has a great product and features it well with great lifestyle shots of people using and enjoying their bags. But the occasional out-of-context photo of beaches and flowers are confusing and seem like filler.
Your followers expect to find information and inspiration about your brand when they follow you on Twitter. Blast them with one too many ‘inspirational’ pictures, and they’ll quickly find their way to the unfollow button.
What to Do Instead
Great brands work hard to develop a consistent “voice.” It helps your business and marketing align, and ensures that your content consistently appeals to your customers. To achieve that consider doing the following:
- Listen to customer feedback — what Instagram posts are the most liked and commented on? Are those comments full of emojis or in full sentences? Did your “joke” from last week go over well?
- Outline the voice and tone of your brand as part of your overall strategy and make sure everyone working your social media is tuned into that voice.
- Use your Instagram to bring your customers behind the scenes and show them the passion and dedication that go into your business.
3. Ignoring Lead Generation Opportunities
Instagram is a great tool to grow your brand recognition and following, but it should also be generating business. Use Instagram Lead Ads to offer something to your audience in return for their details, which you can use to reach out to them at a later point.
Lead generation is a great goal for your Instagram strategy when direct sales are not a good bet. This might be the case when you’re selling something intangible of if your product involves a long sales cycle.
Stats on Instagram lead generation ads aren’t available yet, but if Facebook is any indication, you can expect a substantial return on investment like, Mazda who got 5X the number of leads at 85% lower cost per lead when they switched to lead gen ads on Facebook.
If you’re not tapping into lead gen ads, you’re not going to get any of those returns.
What to Do Instead
To get started with lead ads on Instagram, follow the basic steps:
- Think about the audience you want to reach with your ad — the built-in filters allow you to reach a targeted group of people.
- Don’t forget that Instagram is a visual platform where ads appear as part of users’ feeds. Make sure your ad uses good quality graphics that are compelling, but don’t scream “product placement!”
- Offer something of value in exchange for getting access to their personal details.
4. Not Utilizing Paid Ads
If you’re not utilizing paid ads, you’re missing an opportunity to wow certain customers. With paid ads, you can choose to target to only those that would find a given ad relevant. So, if you’re having a one day only sale, you might only target people within 15 miles the day of the sale.
A great example of where targeting could be helpful is this post from retailer Primark. It loses its oomph when it has to include pricing and geographic info. They could have targeted the specific countries where this product is available, instead of teasing an item only available in five countries to their entire audience.
What to Do Instead
Use paid advertising to narrow down the focus of your promotional activity. Target only those customers who are likely to respond to your ads.
If you do want to draw attention to a particular product that’s part of a larger composition, consider using Instagram’s new shoppable tagging options, which puts sales information in-photo. This reduces the clutter on your post, allowing your image captions to be more descriptive and less salesy.
5. Posting Infrequently
Striking the right balance between becoming a regular presence and overposting is difficult. You want to engage customers and stay on their mind, but not seem spammy or overwhelming. You don’t want to post the same boring picture every day, but you also don’t want to put up random posts that don’t fit with your image.
That can lead to infrequent posting, because figuring out how to hit the sweet spot for posting just enough of the right things can seem overwhelming.
Muji’s USA account provides a coherent and consistent presence in newsfeeds, offering snapshots of the tranquility and organization that the homeware, stationery, and clothing retailer affords.
Posts focus on textural compositions that are aesthetically pleasing. Product posts do feature call-to-actions regarding sales, but it doesn’t appear forceful.
What to Do Instead
Achieving great performance on Instagram is all about striking the right balance — don’t be afraid to test things out and find what works for your business.
A few things that can help you in finding that balance:
- Develop a content calendar for your Instagram feed with a schedule for when you’ll be posting.
- Give yourself an overview of your scheduled content by categorizing what you’ll be posting each day — product highlight, “behind the scenes,” etc. This will help you keep product placements spread out.
- Try playing around with days, times, and content. For example, you can try sharing one product picture with a discount offer during work hours and one on the weekend to see what gets more engagement.
6. Not Engaging With the Audience
Another common mistake is for brands to adopt a “fire and forget” attitude towards their Instagram feeds. Don’t take your audience as passive consumers of your brand, but rather as active participants that need to be engaged.
Make sure you engage your followers by generously giving out follows, likes, and comments. Adopting an “ivory tower” approach won’t make your brand sound professional. Reaching out to your followers is a great way to build goodwill towards your brand.
What to Do Instead
Set aside time to regularly check your posts, respond to comments, and follow back engaged customers. It doesn’t have to be every day — a couple of times a week will do the trick.
A great example comes from Fab Cup, a coffee shop in New York, which promotes engagement by featuring neighborhood regulars and events, as well as informing customers of schedule and menu changes. This positions the brand as a neighborhood fixture, without coming across as salesy.
Don’t stop there, though. You can even consider creating your own hashtag and suggest that your customers use it to document their experiences with your products. Not only does this strengthen brand engagement, it can also serve to document your business’s growth and as a source of customer feedback.
7. Not Doing A/B Testing
Many small brands don’t even consider A/B testing because they don’t plan on running any big Instagram campaigns. However, even smaller campaigns can give you valuable information about what types of content appeals most to your audience.
A/B testing may sound hard, but it doesn’t have to be. At the most basic level, it’s the practice of showing your audience 2 or more versions of the same ad with small differences between each version — in the copy or images used — and observing which one leads to a better performance for the ad.
A/B testing is easy to run when you only have a few campaigns/ads you want to test, but once you scale up your effort, you might find it hard to do it manually. Ad management platforms like AdEspresso simplify testing out the best strategies for your brand. These tools allow you to quickly create, deploy, and test large numbers of variations of ads so that you can quickly identify the best ones.
What to Do Instead
Get started with a few simple experiments — you can dig deeper once you’re more comfortable doing A/B testing. Some easy things to get you started are:
- Start out by testing something small, like your captions or CTA button.
- When you feel more comfortable, swap out images, or even change the landing page your ad leads to.
- Test the target audience that sees your ad: the country/city where they live, age groups, relationship status, etc.
Now Is The Best Time to Build Your Instagram Footprint
There won’t be a better time to invest in building your Instagram presence. The network already boosts a large number of engaged users, while there isn’t too much marketing noise.
In addition, Instagram offers a particularly good opportunity for those brands that rely on a personal approach to woo customers — like most local and small businesses.
Growing your business on Instagram seems intimidating, but once you know how to avoid the most common pitfalls, you have some very powerful tools to build a loyal group of followers for your brand.