how I learned to better understand Instagram as a marketing tool

If you’ve been hanging out with me for the past six months or so, you’ll know that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how and where I show up online in my business. I created this lovely guide (’social media therapy in a box’, as one person called it), reflected on and tweaked my content marketing strategy, and generally had loads of conversations with other small business owners about social media and using Instagram as a marketing tool in particular. One of the big questions remains: how do you decide where to show up, share and sell? Where do you market? 

using Instagram as a marketing tool in my business
(and why it didn’t work like I wanted it to)

I couldn’t resist digging into this a little deeper, and the following is a run-down of some of the things I’ve come across. I’ll focus in particular on using Instagram as a marketing tool (and what didn’t work for me about this).

The most important thing you need to know: you do not need to be on all channels. It’s your business, and it needs to serve you. Marketing on a channel because you think you should and feeling miserable about it serves no one (you might as well find a 9-to-5 job ;-)).

I’ve been seeing a lot of people putting a lot of energy into one channel: Instagram. For the longest time, that was me too. I vividly remember having a conversation with a friend very early on in my business, and she told me to get an Instagram account for my business. At that point, I hadn’t even signed a client, or hosted my first workshop yet. From that moment on, I started using Instagram as my main marketing tool.

A couple of years on, and it’s become very clear to me why Instagram often felt like a mismatch with my business goals. 

It’s not Instagram’s fault—it’s mine (and no, it’s not because I wasn’t doing it ‘right’).

I love what Instagram has given me: there’s a community of people on there that I love to engage with, and I will go on the app specifically to see what they’re up to. I love cheering on my business buddies’ new projects, or checking in with my favourite yoga teachers. 

But business-wise, Instagram hasn’t always delivered like I wanted it to. And I’ve reconsidered the way in which I use Instagram as a marketing tool in my small business.

Ever since getting really clear on my marketing strategy, and especially my marketing ecosystem, the role of Instagram in my business has been to share and connect. It used to be important in driving people to my newsletter—at least in theory. 

case studies: what worked + what didn’t on Instagram

#1: In February and March 2021 I launched my social media guide for small business owners. I announced the pre-sale on Instagram, and asked people to sign up to my newsletter to get the special pre-sale link and discount. What really worked for me is using the community feature of Instagram, but I had to be pro-active about it. Rather than post and wait for it to happen, I contacted about a dozen other small business owners and asked them to share my post. Every single one of them did + I ended up growing my newsletter list, and selling a decent number of guides. The same time happened when I ran my grow with energy challenge. The effect of my posts themselves wasn’t huge (negligent, in fact), until I asked other people to share. 

#2: growing my newsletter using Instagram. I regularly share about my newsletter on Instagram. I share upcoming topics + quotes, testimonials and tips that have appeared in previous newsletters. Every now and again I post a question-box to stories asking people to add their email address so I can add them to the newsletter. While I’ve no doubt had some success with this—the growth of my newsletter for much of 2020 was down solely to Instagram—it’s agonisingly slow. And ineffectual.

The difference between these two approaches is community. It’s using the community of people that I’d created on Instagram (which, if you look at my follower numbers, you’ll see is not large at all) in order to make sales + get people on my newsletter list. 
At the same time, this shows the problem of Instagram in my business for a long time. I was using it as if my posts alone would be enough to get newsletter subscribers and sales. But that’s not what the app is about. 

What I expected, was that people would leave the app briefly to sign up to my newsletter. Or to buy my guide. But that’s not what Instagram is build for.

If Instagram were build for helping its users access things outside of Instagram, it would make links a whole lot easier and more organic. It would make swipe-up available to people with less than 10k followers. It would allow clickable links in captions. 

Or, as Aimee of the lovely Studio Cotton put it a while back in an Instagram Story: 

Screenshot of Studio Cotton IG stories: difference between using Instagram and Pinterest as marketing tools.

This last point ties in with something I’ve heard from lots of people, including a couple of friends. They mentioned how even though they hadn’t actively done much with Pinterest for more than six months, most of the click-throughs to their blogs come from Pinterest. They are surprised that pretty much none of them came from Instagram. 

Now, I know that this is not surprising at all. Whereas Pinterest is designed to have you click through, IG isn’t. IG wants you to linger. And while Pinterest wants that too, they want you to create valuable content that allows people to learn + engage. And then pin it to their own boards, of course.

So, now what? Read more about it in the next post: 3 questions to help you choose a marketing platform!


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