I’ve used Instagram daily since 2010 to share pictures of food I’ve cooked, videos of bike tricks, and design work I’m proud of. I’ve helped clients with their social strategy and always thought I had good intuition in that area. I also thought I was pretty good at Instagram. Until I was the client.
Last fall, my wife, Laura, and I started @graberdoodle, an Instagram account to sell pet portraits. We quickly found that improving our Instagram presence directly impacted sales. Our first post was on November 5. By Christmas, I was making three to four portraits a week. Here is what we learned along the way.
I’ve always treated my social media account like a fridge. Whatever I’m proud of at the moment gets slapped up there with a magnet, no rhyme or reason. When we first started the @graberdoodle account, that’s what we did. When we finished a portrait, we posted it to the gallery. Then we noticed two things. One, the more consistently we posted, the more commissions we got. And two, specific posts generated more interest than others.
Our audience likes knowing there are real people on the other side of the account. So we started sharing work-in-progress videos in our stories right before sharing the final portrait to our gallery. This increased engagement with our gallery posts and drove more sales. Then, we built a catalog of portraits so we could post at least three times a week. We now share photos of the pets we are currently drawing on Monday and the finished drawings later in the week.
Think of your account as a TV channel. It’s your job to plan the programming. There can’t be a gap in programming, and what you show has to make sense at a given time of day and day of the week. Be consistent, and you’ll build trust and stay top of the feed (and, therefore, top of mind).
There’s a massive amount of information on Instagram. The algorithm feeds us content based on our interests. Understanding your target audience helps inform what you post, which allows the algorithm to deliver your posts to the right people. The more specific, the better.
If you define your audience as 28-year-old women, you’re competing with thousands of accounts for attention. But if your audience is 28-year-old women in Kentucky who enjoy knitting succulents, you’ve just carved out an excellent niche audience. Ours is a 25 – 35-year-old childless professionals in Lexington who take their pets to the Woodland Art Fair.
To create a helpful audience profile, go beyond basic demographics. Consider their hobbies, life experiences, and values.
You’ve spent time with someone who only talks about themselves. They don’t ask you any questions. When you speak, they’re chomping at the bit to talk about themselves. Again. That’s how most people use Instagram.
But to do good business on Instagram, you have to make it a dialogue. What you’re sharing should have a perspective and invite interaction. You can do this in three ways: find something to talk about that isn’t you, invite people to talk about themselves, and have one-on-one conversations.
On @graberdoodle, we balance talking about ourselves by teaming up with the Lexington Humane Society. We regularly make portraits of their long-term animals and give them away to the family who adopts the animal. We’re still sharing our work, but in a way that allows us to have a conversation that’s not about us.
There are a couple of ways we engage in dialogue. We use our stories to poll people and ask questions. Then, we follow and engage with similar accounts. We tag people in useful content, participate in other challenges, and message them about fun things they’re doing. This keeps us relevant in their feed and introduces our account to their audience.
We also have conversations with people in our dm’s. It’s great for meeting people (and answering specific business questions), but it’s also essential to our reach. More than the number of followers, likes, or comments, direct messages have the most impact on reach. Conversations tell the algorithm to show your posts to similar people.
We’re in the business of making and selling pet portraits. I make all of the portraits myself, but that’s only part of the work. I also plan programming for our account, make the content, take and edit photos and videos, and write captions. And I’m only half of the team. Laura spends just as much time, if not more, cultivating the community on @graberdoodle, talking to new people about what we do, asking them about themselves, and making sure we’re top of mind.
But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Instagram is always evolving, always updating its algorithm. You’ll never know everything there is to know about how to run an Instagram business account. The best thing you can do is to start.