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Everything You Need to Know About Instagram: For Local Business Owners

On Small Business Saturday, I watched my old coworkers, my best friends, and favorite local business owners posting the local brands they were supporting. I saw their Instagram Guides popping up in Stories, I witnessed business owners going Live to talk about the local brands their followers could also shop in their district, and I held my finger on dozens of Stories where people listed out local brands on their very own shopping wish list.

Users are getting savvy with the Gram and are ready to elevate the experiences they love to their 100 to 5,000 local followers.

The features Instagram has continued to release over the last few years are making Instagram the very best place to get visibility quickly, build an audience of raving fans, and consistently generate revenue.

And yet…

We continue to see local business owners are still only posting to the Grid and consuming Stories.

Their approach to Instagram is what worked five years ago, not what’s working today.

If you’re ready to debunk some myths on the Gram and set yourself up to effectively use IG for your local brand, you’re in the right place.

MYTHS ABOUT INSTAGRAM

1. You need 10,000 followers to be successful.

Followers do not equal revenue. Can it increase your revenue? YES. Is it “the thing” you need to obsess over? No. Stop showing up on Instagram and de-valuing yourself or your business because you don’t have as many followers as others.

We can tell you first-hand that many of our clients and our students are running very successful businesses with less than 1,000 Instagram followers. Don’t let it become your obsession.

2. You need a complex content calendar with the perfect cocktail of content.

Yes you need a strategy. Yes you need to be consistent. What you don’t need? This formulaic approach to posting. For example, we see a lot of people saying “yes, I post to my Instagram three times a week, do Stories twice a week, and go Live every other week on Tuesday’s.”

The best thing I can compare it to is this: You get a gym membership and EVERY time you go you do the exact same thing, without ever seeing what’s working. You don’t see where you can focus more energy to get stronger biceps or where you’re losing weight because you’re following a blanket plan not customized for your goals.

Or how about this… You know that going to Group exercise classes would help you with cardio but you’re intimidated to be around people so “in shape” (IGTV / Stories) and you see lots of people making new friends which you think would be great but you keep to yourself (not commenting on Stories or using DMs). You see new moms grabbing their kids and overhear them saying “see you at the wine bar!” (taking it off Instagram and into sales).

You see the potential of the gym… but you keep to what you’ve always done because that’s what someone told you to do.

Doing things to check them off a list isn’t what will get you results. No need for a complex content calendar or perfect mix of Instagram content, you need yourself a personalized Instagram strategy. More on that soon.

3. The likes and comments you get are how to quantify your value.

When it comes to measuring success on Instagram, it’s more important for you to think about the impact of your post and what it’s creating. Similar to follower count, these are vanity metrics and don’t mean your business is going to be successful. If your post does get a lot of likes and comments, it likely means your followers are into THAT type of content or THAT type of message. That plays into your strategy and how you show up.

For example, have you ever noticed that when a photo of you or a story you tell tends to get way more traction than a generic photo of your service/product? Yep, it definitely takes more time, but if Instagram is where you want to grow your sales, it’s completely worth your time.

Ok now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the shifts you can make today on Instagram as a local business owner. First and foremost, you’re in a local community full of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands or millions of residents). 

These are real people who crave connection.

They come to Instagram to explore, pass time, see what their friends are up to, avoid work responsibilities… and our hope is that three things happen: they visit your account, stick around to see what you’re all about, and make a decision to visit you or buy from you. :) 

Visit, Decide, Buy.

So let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?

THE STRATEGY

At every Instagram Masterclass we host, we ask our attendees what they’re struggling with the most on the app. Almost everyone says strategy. They don’t have it and aren’t sure how to create it. It’s the number one problem we see outside of having a mindset that “Instagram won’t work for me because [insert false belief or excuse].” There are three scenarios we see most often when it comes to strategy:

    1. It’s outsourced and not questioned: A freelancer, intern or ad agency is completely in charge of a local brand’s Instagram account and the only thing they do is create beautiful images for the Grid and post a few stories a month when a promotion is coming up. Like we mentioned in the myths, this is a “fine” approach, but it won’t drive the results you desire. Someone who’s handling your brand on Instagram is likely not doing the things you as the business owner could be doing consistently for that visit, decide, buy process. It doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong, it means that you have an opportunity to strategize better… together versus dumping the responsibility onto one person without ever opening the app. Sorry, I’m just not going to let you get away from disengaging from the app.
    2. It’s a mix of what a dozen or so others are doing that seems cool or effective: You recently saw another local bakery host a pop-up with a coffee roaster that brought in a line out the door and tons of user-generated content. You decide to hop on the bandwagon and host your own pop-up but it results in very few visitors. What went wrong? You imitated the outcome of their strategy without knowing the strategy + plan itself. You didn’t see the emails, Facebook event, constant communication in DMs, and social media posts that contributed to the success of that event. What works for one brand might not always work for others. Even more accurate is that the pop-up or giveaway or sale that you saw another brand try might work for you too, but will require a custom strategy that’s tailored to your business model, audience, and resources. One size does not fit all.
    3. It’s completely and utterly outdated and being tuned out by followers and visitors: No one likes to be irrelevant but sometimes it’s time to dish out some tough love. Gone are the days where mediocre photos and generic captions could suffice for keeping your brand active on Instagram. You don’t have to have a perfect feed of professional shots but clear images and good lighting? Yes, it’s a must. If your brand has been recycling the same content for years and done little to spice things up or insert a more personalized, human voice, your audience is likely tuning out. Which means all that effort you spent creating content is not only wasting away, it might also be hindering your brand.

So how do you make a swift exit from these scenarios? You need your very own strategy.

This means you deeply understand:

  • Your ideal, most amazing customer
  • Your offer and why people buy it
  • Why people don’t buy it, where the resistance is
  • What makes your brand different in general, but more specifically in your local market
  • Why people come back again and again
  • Who refers people to you and how/where that happens
  • Your sales funnel for social media 

When you understand those things, the way in which you show up on Instagram will allow you to speak to that “one” person versus your whole community.

It will help you connect your offer and brand experience to the right people in a way that makes people feel like “yes FINALLY someone who can help me with this.”

Ultimately, knowing the process in which YOU attract people and convert them to buyers and then long-term raving fans and referrers is what you build, refine, and implement over and over again. When you start implementing your own strategy you can look at the data to help you see what’s working and what’s not. And then you shift. You don’t get angry and say “IT’S NOT WORKING, INSTAGRAM SUCKS,” you simply observe, get curious, and pivot.

Here’s an example of what we noticed as we were implementing our own Instagram Strategy for Love Local. We were spending a LOT of time talking about email marketing. It’s a strategy that, like Instagram, does a great job of building trust, converting customers, and generating repeat business. Plain and simple, when it’s done right, it works.

People were responding a little bit, some were opting into our free mini course, but in general I wasn’t seeing a huge increase in audience engagement, products purchased or downloaded, or other goals met we had with this specific sales funnel strategy using email marketing.

However, when we started talking about Instagram, it’s as if our people were like “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? THIS IS WHAT WE WANTED!” Our engagement skyrocketed. People were enrolling in our Masterclass, going to all of our posts we wrote, and watching our videos. Turns out our audience’s pain point is Instagram, not email marketing. So we pivoted our content and sales strategy to effectively support our community.

Pay attention to your audience, especially those who have already purchased from you.

You’re in business to solve THEIR problems, not put something together because you think they need it. Because maybe they’re not ready or maybe that other product or service or event is ACTUALLY what they want. Trust me, I know it’s a little heartbreaking. But if you’re in it for the long-game, you’ll never regret understanding your audience and how to best serve them.

LET THE DATA + THE PEOPLE GUIDE YOU

“How do I know what people like or want?!” Instagram data is plentiful. There are a LOT of ways to see if your Instagram strategy is working. Let’s cover some of the most important.

  1. Grid Post Analytics: Go to your most recent Instagram Grid post. If you’re a business, you’ll be able to click that phrase on your image, “View Insights”. There you can see how many likes, comments, shares, and saves your post received (in that order). Below you can see how many people visited your profile after seeing your post and how many people your post reached (most of the time this is how many people saw it in their feeds). All of this data can help you see what resonated with your audience and what’s best left behind.
     
     
     
     
    View this post on Instagram
     
     
     
     

    A post shared by Love Local (@love.local)

    For example, this post we put on our feed was shared 3 times and saved 16 times. That data alone shows us that our audience likes when we post thought provoking content. So that might mean we start incorporating more of that into our feed. Maybe that post you created on five plants to start indoors this winter was saved and shared 10+ times. Are there other educational tidbits you could start sharing?
  2. Story Analytics: Now head to your most recent Story. Swipe up and you'll likely see the number of people who’ve viewed your story. Click to the left on the graph bars where your data on that Story lives. Here you’ll see what people did after viewing your Story, whether they replied or visited your profile. If your Story sharing your dinner receives 5 replies asking you for the recipe, consider throwing in a Story sharing your food every once in a while. Here, we wouldn’t say you necessarily need to stop doing Stories on a topic that isn’t getting any replies (people may love it, they just aren’t replying!) but this data can still help you make decisions about what you share on your Stories, especially when the responses are rolling in. 
  3. Story Questions + Polls: So if they aren’t replying naturally, how do you encourage it? Use those stickers! Instagram has created features like polls, questions, and quizzes to help you gauge the opinions of your followers. Wondering if your audience would rather have 25% off their total order or buy one product and get another one 50% off? Ask them in a poll! Create a question sticker your audience can reply to telling you the number one thing they wish you offered. All of these options are tools Instagram has provided to you to help you effectively understand your audience. Use them!
  4. Follower Growth: Did you post something that everyone loved? If your grid posts are getting shared frequently, you’re likely going to grow your followership. We’ll dive into that in the “visit” section of this post, but you can look at follower growth and aim to understand why someone popped over and followed you. Guess what? You can even ask the people who followed you! Greet the newbies, thank them for joining your community, and ask what brought them there.
  5. Link Clicks: Since you can only have one link in your Instagram bio most business owners turn to a platform like LinkTree (it’s free!) to house their links. Here you can place multiple destinations so that when people click on this link, they have options of how to interact with you whether it’s visiting your website or going straight to your appointment booking page. In LinkTree you can see how many people clicked your links which is interesting to know but the real juicy stuff comes into play with the Pro version where you can take a peek at which links in particular people are clicking. Let’s say you have two events coming up and you house links to both in your LinkTree. If one is seeing a drastically different number of clicks, that’s good for you to know. You’ll start to be able to know your audience better and create content you’ll be more confident they’ll click on.
  6. Actual Sales: Unless you’re selling directly on Instagram, your sales aren’t happening on the app. Your Instagram leads are leading to appointment bookings, inquiries, store visitors, products sold. These are where the conversions are. It’s likely not possible to know every single one but it’s essential that you or your teammates are ASKING every single inquiry outside of your DMs where they came from. This information helps you better strategize where to spend your energy and your time.

HOW TO ATTRACT NEW VISITORS 

If you’ve got a strategy in place and understand how to measure its impact, it’s time to understand what’s working on Instagram right now to attract new visitors.

Create a Profile People Can Explore

Don’t just slap up the bare minimum in your Instagram profile, make it strong. Think of it as a mini website because that’s exactly how new visitors are treating it. Shape up your bio with words that reflect your core offering and your brand voice. Make sure your profile photo is centered and clear. Utilize Instagram highlights to showcase different aspects of your brand like your team, your offerings, your behind-the-scenes, and more. Create an inviting feed that regularly varies its content. It’s not all graphics or the same sandwich styled 15 different ways. Change it up and your audience will be more likely to regularly engage with you.

Make Shareworthy Content

One way to attract new followers? Make content that your current followers want to share with their friends. Whether it’s a drool worthy shot of your latest home design or a series of graphics explaining a stretch to relieve neck tension, create content that inspires, makes someone laugh, adds value or educates.

 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Love Local (@love.local)

Spotlight Others

We are always recommending you turn the spotlight to others. Instagram is one of the best social media platforms to build community and that starts with you. Next time you meet up with a local business owner, snap a selfie, tag their brand, and caption it with something you admire about them. See a business neighbor with a new promotion? Reshare their post to your Instagram Story. Open the app every day thinking about how you can uplift the accounts you scroll through. This isn’t the reason to elevate others but we often find that when you start sharing the love for your community others will too and often that love comes right back to your brand, with new visitors wanting to engage with a brand that cares about its city and the people who call it home.

Encourage Others to Post About Your Brand Experience

Though it’s becoming more and more common to slip out your phone and take a photo when you’re visiting a business, it doesn’t always feel natural. Make sure your customers and visitors know you’re completely okay with them posting their experiences with your brand on social media. In fact, make it easy for them. Place a little sign near one of your displays giving your Instagram handle and encouraging people to tag your brand. Remind people to take a photo of their food next time they’re in your restaurant on an Instagram post. Another way to encourage people to post is to reshare those that do. If someone tags your brand on Instagram Stories or in a grid post, reshare it and add something like “thanks for stopping in xyz!” or “love the way you incorporated this candle into your desk decor!” That little extra touch is noticed and can go a long way with your current and potential customers.

Collaborate

Collaboration. One of our favorite words at Love Local. Collaborating on Instagram is one of the best ways to attract new visitors and build up great relationships with fellow business owners. There are so many different ways to collaborate from giveaways to co-hosting an IG Live, you really can’t go wrong! Just make sure you align well with the business you choose as a collaborator and that each party knows what’s expected of them to make the partnership run smoothly.

Reels

Reels are a fairly new addition to Instagram this year and seen as the platform’s answer to Tik Tok. These videos are limited to 30 seconds long and can be all one shot or several videos spliced into one Reel. While they can take some time to learn, once you get the hang of it, it’s an innovative and highly effective way to reach new followers. Instagram is rewarding those who create Reels by showing them in front of more people resulting in higher engagements for your brand.  The possibilities for Reels as a local business owner are nearly endless! Are you a local wedding boutique? Share a Reel with the 5 newest dresses you’ve gotten in stock. A local photographer? Share 3 or 4 poses that people can strike in their photos. People are looking to you as an expert in your industry, show them why you are one!

AFTER THEY VISIT & DECIDE TO STICK AROUND

When someone new comes to your profile, thinks you’re kind of cool and gives you a follow, it’s time to implement your “marry me” strategy. I’m basically just talking about the know, like, trust process. Put simply, the know has happened at this part of the process.

Your new follower has likely stalked you as much as they could by reviewing all your Instagram Highlights, current stories, and skimmed through your Grid posts to see what you’re all about. Some may have quickly gotten a glimpse of your feed and said HELL YES without the investigation, but certainly others made a conscious decision with their follow.

In the Marry Me Journey, consider this the part where you ask the person on a date. This is where you start a DM convo with them! Ask them where they’re from and what brought them to your profile. Imagine someone coming to your page similarly to that of you walking into a coffee shop for the first time. If no one greeted you wouldn’t it feel a little odd? Be welcoming! It takes 15 seconds and makes a great first impression.

After you’ve looked at the data and started crafting your own strategy, it’s time to start creating content that reflects your audience’s interests. Whether it’s a deeper dive into the ingredients you use to craft your Mediterranean menu or a personal post about the hardest part of owning your own local business, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a unique perspective to share, your audience likely wants to hear it.

Then start utilizing Instagram Stories to build up trust and connections with your audience. Invite them into your day, where you go to grab a morning coffee, the podcast you listen to on your afternoon walk, how you like to unwind for the day. You don’t have to do ten IG Stories every day but if you’ve got something you think your audience would be interested in seeing, share it on Stories! These go away after 24 hours (unless you stick them into a highlight) so feel free to experiment here.

WOO 'EM TO THE PURCHASE 

If your ideal customers are following you and you happen to be creating content that resonates and connects with them, they will likely become buyers.

Hop in their DM$

Now this doesn’t mean you’re hopping in there to sell. I’m sure you’ve been the victim of a “I think I have the perfect xyz for you,” DM before and it almost always leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Instead go to your customers’ DMs to add value or connect with them. See a customer posting about a new cat adoption? Ask them what names they’re considering! A customer recently celebrated an anniversary? Congratulate them through a DM. 

These don’t have to be lengthy or super deep. As long as you make the effort to connect with your audience and show them you care about them beyond their ability to purchase, you’ll start to make some new connections. Now those connections could turn into buyers or referrers down the line, but they might not. That’s okay. A kind note in a DM is never a waste of time.

Keep Up With Your Customer

As you continue to get to know your customers through DMs, in-person interactions and messages, you’ll begin to learn more about them. You’ll learn what motivates them, what products or services they’re most interested in, what their pain points are. All of these observations can be documented in your ideal customer avatar to even more accurately pinpoint that person. The better you understand who your ideal customer is, the more you can strategize your content to talk directly to them and concentrate your efforts on where those people are most likely to be.

CUSTOMERS FOR LIFE

One of the biggest mistakes I see local business owners make is they get so wrapped up in “I need new customers, I need sales,” that they stop investing in their current base of customers because that transaction is complete.

But someone who already says yes to you (and had a great experience of course) is likely to say yes again AND refer their network to you.

Don’t stop investing in your customers after the sale. In fact, I propose the opposite. Create a follow-up process using Instagram for what happens post-purchase. Whether you DM a quick voice note thanking them for their business two days post-purchase or you start strategically elevating them in your Stories, have a strategy here that you can rinse and repeat.

Please, please, please take time to thank your customers for sharing content about you, for elevating your brand, for putting you in their IG Guide. I can’t say this enough, I rarely see this happening and it’s the lowest hanging fruit of anything in here. Because I’ve shared hundreds if not thousands of posts about local brands over the last decade, I can tell you with certainty that most of them never thank me.

And I’m *not* in it for the thank you, but it’s something I’ve observed over time. When people take time out of their busy lives to put your brand in front of their audience, show appreciation. It’s what’s creating visibility, audience growth, and sales because you get to borrow the trust they have created with their community.

It’s so much more than hitting that “share” button when you’re tagged in an IG Story. Sure, yes, SHARE that post, but then thank them in their DMs for tagging you and telling their community about you.

LET'S WRAP IT UP

When you invest in your community, your community invests in you. When you take the time to actively engage with others, they’ll be much more likely to want to connect with you. People notice the difference between brands who market at their audience and those who market with their audience.

You can treat Instagram as a personal billboard for your promotions, but it won’t drive growth. People don’t go there to scroll through a sea of sales. Humans go to Instagram for education, inspiration, value, and connection.

If you want Instagram to move the needle for your local brand, it needs to become a place your brand goes to have a relational experience rather than a transactional one. No more posting and ghosting. It’s time to meaningfully interact with the people you see liking, commenting, replying, and following.

Instagram is a land of opportunity for those who choose to engage.

If you’re ready to create your own strategy, attract the dream customers you desire, and keep them coming back for more, get started with our FREE training right HERE.

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