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A Small Business Guide to Instagram Stories

Instagram has quickly become one of the most important social media platforms for small business owners. With more than 1 billion active users each month, Instagram provides a tremendous opportunity for businesses looking to reach a new, relevant audience.

While you do have the option to create static posts on Instagram, one of the fun features that started on the platform (and has since expanded into Facebook) is stories. While a post is displayed in your followers’ feeds and remains on your profile forever, a story is ephemeral—it only lasts for 24 hours.

Some business owners are at a loss for how best to use stories. What type of content should you share there? When do you choose a story over a regular post? And how do you get the greatest reach for the content you do share in stories?

Here, I’ll walk you through best practices when it comes to using Instagram stories for your small business.

Supplement Your Posts

The biggest question for a lot of small business owners is determining what belongs in a story versus a traditional post. It’s best to remember that posts are forever. So, the type of content that you share in a post should be totally in-line with your brand. Plus, it should provide long-term value for anyone who views it, whether that’s today or two years from now.

Let’s say you own a bakery. Among other things (like culture posts, which give viewers a real look at the behind-the-scenes of your business), it makes sense to share edited photos of the finished baked goods in your posts. Sharing that content in posts gets prospects’ mouths watering and lets them know the kind of baked goods to expect if they stop by your shop.

In the story, though, you can be a little more irreverent. Show the work that went into getting the picture-perfect post, where your apron is covered in flour and your kids are running around the shop in the background. Or take pictures throughout the baking process, showing the step-by-step creation in stories and revealing the final product in a post.

Stories are also a great way to advertise short-term offers. Let’s say you own a retail store and have big sales coming up for Black Friday. Rather than clogging up your posts with advertisements for the sale, consider creating one post announcing the sale, to serve as anchor content for your stories, and then get into the details about what will be on sale in stories.

Use a Mix of Photos and Video

You can post either photos or videos in stories. While it’s often easier to capture a still image, it’s a good idea to share a mix of both types of content.

Sharing content regularly on stories is a great way to stay top-of-mind with your followers. The way that stories are displayed on Instagram means that people will often scroll through the stories of everyone they follow all at once. And because the queue of stories is at the top of the Instagram app, if you’re regularly producing stories, your business is often greeting viewers every time they log in. So if sharing still images in stories makes it possible for you to share a steadier stream of content there, then that’s a good way to go.

But video does have the ability to create an even deeper, more personal connection with your audience. It really brings what’s happening in your business to life, and it boosts those know, like, and trust factors, that make up the early stages of the marketing hourglass. So consider incorporating video into your stories as many times per week as you can.

Utilize Stickers Wisely

Once you create your content—be it video or photo—to share on stories, you can dress things up with stickers. Some of the stickers are gifs and images that are fun ways to add visual interest to your posts.

Other stickers, though, can serve a greater purpose in spreading the word about your business. You can include hashtag stickers on posts, which can open your content up to a broader audience. By including hashtags, your content becomes discoverable by any Instagram users who have searched for or follow that hashtag. If you’re strategic about the hashtags you use, you can gain new followers in the process.

You can also create your own hashtag to promote a specific event or product within your business. For example, if you’re throwing a conference, featuring industry experts and great speakers, consider creating a hashtag for the event. You can use the hashtag in the lead-up to the event to spread the word about tickets. You can use it during the event to share live content from the stage and behind-the-scenes interviews with speakers. And you can use it after the event to share meaningful recaps and continue to get even more life out of the content you captured on the event day.

Location stickers are critical for businesses that have brick and mortar locations. These stickers allow you to tag your business by name. Then when someone clicks on the location sticker, all other posts where your business was tagged with your location will appear. This means that anyone clicking the sticker will not only see your content, but also user-generated content from others who have visited your business.

Finally, there are mention stickers, which allow you to tag another business or person in your story. Mentioning influencers on relevant content might catch their eye and get them to re-share your story.

Get People Talking

Instagram stories shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Instead, they’re an opportunity to engage your followers in a real dialogue.

That’s where some other stories features come in. It’s possible for you to create polls through Instagram stories. You can ask viewers to select which product they like best out a handful of options. Maybe you start a contest to name your newest product, which you’re about to announce. Or perhaps you create a poll asking viewers what their biggest questions are about your area of expertise.

People love taking quick, fun polls online, and this is often a great first step in engaging your audience. From there, you want to take the results and broaden the conversation. For example, if you asked about favorite products, create a video post where you share which product won out and demonstrate some of the best features of the winning item.

If you created a naming contest, announce the winner in a video. Then, share some photos of them stopping by your store to pick up their prize. Or, if you asked viewers to submit questions, use them to create a live Instagram video where you answer these questions and any that come in in real-time.

Take Advantage of the Highlights Feature

Instagram stories only last for 24 hours, but there is a way to preserve them forever on your profile. While this won’t be appropriate for all stories, for those with meatier content or information that is relevant long-term, it makes sense to save them as highlights.

The highlights feature appears below your profile picture and above your regular Instagram posts. You can create categories for your highlights, which allows viewers to easily find the type of content they’re looking for (see this example of stories highlights on SEMrush’s Instagram page below).

As you can see, they created highlights for a number of industry awards events that they host. Plus, they saved information about topics that are relevant to their audience, like voice search. Saving these stories in highlights allows them to continue to share the content with new visitors after the 24-hour window has passed.

Create Ads Alongside Organic Content

Running Instagram story ads is a great way to supplement the organic content you create on the platform. The rules of the game here are much the same as they are with advertising on other social media platforms.

Begin by setting one clear, measurable goal for each ad. From there, you can hone in on the best audience for that ad. Then, create content that will resonate with those people and drive that one conversion goal. And once your campaign is up and running, track results. That allows you to understand what’s working, what didn’t go as planned, and how you can improve next time.

Instagram stories are a unique way to stay top-of-mind with your audience and generate content that gets people talking. When you follow these best practices for creating stories, you set your business up for success on Instagram.

Here’s a great primer on Instagram Audience targeting from TuffGrowth.

If you liked this post, check out our Small Business Guide to Social Media.

4 Instagram Lead Generation – The Ultimate Guide

Coffee InstaDog InstaBreakfast InstaInstagram is not just for images of coffee, fluffy dogs, and your breakfast.

Though it is awesome for all of those, it has the highest user/brand interaction rate, 1.53% of the 150 million users in 2013 to be precise, significantly higher than Facebook’s measly 0.10%, as shown by Neil Patel’s infographic here.

I think it is safe to say that if your business is not leveraging the world fastest growing social media platform for lead generation, then you are leaving money on the table.

Though do not fear, in this ultimate guide to Instagram lead generation, I am going to share ALL of the best tactics that some of Instagram’s most powerful accounts are leveraging right now.

However, before we get stuck into specific strategies, I must first introduce a fundamental concept: the difference between owned and non-owned marketing lists.

You do not own the communication channel used to market to your Instagram/Twitter followers, Facebook Likers or LinkedIn Connections, if any of those respective platforms close down, you lose your list.

Therefore, any online marketer worth their salt should spend a significant amount of time attempting to move his audience from their non-owned, social lists onto their owned lists, in this case: email list.

Thus, the rest of this post is focussed on generating leads on your owned, email list through Instagram.

1. Targeting

Before embarking on any lead generation campaign, you must answer, in my opinion, the most important question in marketing.

Who is your Ideal Lead?

And more specifically:

  • What do they do in their spare time?
  • What are their goals and values?
  • What do they read/watch/listen to?
  • Where do they go on holiday?

It is crucial that you have a very clear picture of whom you will be targeting with your Instagram campaign for two reasons:

  1. It will make it MUCH easier to find these people on the platform
  2. You will make sales when the reach the bottom of your funnel

Only when a comprehensive profile of your Ideal Lead is created, can we move on to the next stage of the process.

2. Optimization

When your Ideal Lead lands on your Instagram profile they MUST immediately be able to tell:

  • That it is you
  • What they stand to gain by looking at your profile

We can achieve this through consistent branding, a benefit driven description and a compelling call to action.

BRANDING

Your Instagram handle, photo and feel of content must speak directly to your Ideal Lead, admittedly, your handle (company name) and photo (logo/headshot) are have most probably already been defined (Aside: I would ensure these are consistent across all of your social media profiles).

Which leaves your content, we will discuss in the promotion section below.

However an Instagram post would not be complete without mention of what is in my opinion the best example of social media marketing at this current time:

DanB Insta

Can you see the congruence between profile name, image, and content?

BENEFIT DRIVEN DESCRIPTION & COMPELLING CALL TO ACTION

Your Ideal Lead does not care about you and your business, they care about themselves and the outcomes you have them achieve and/or problems you can help them solve.

And that is exactly what we are going to do.

The majority of business social media profile descriptions abide by the following formula:

“Hello, we are X, and we do Y.”

As discussed above, your Ideal Lead does not care about you or what you do, they care about what you can do for them.

I would propose we combine the vital information about your business with a benefit driven description and compelling call to action, just as Foundrmag do:

Foundr Insta

Now, I do not want to go into detail on your customer journey but to craft a benefit driven description and compelling call to action you need to understand exactly what problem your are solving/outcome you are achieving for your customer. Then you must take a small yet high-value part of the solution and offer it in exchange for an email address on a SPECIFIC landing page (more on this in the Tracking section later).

This landing page is then linked below your description, in an easy to remember fashion, note how Foundrmag use the URL extension “free” as a reminder for their Ideal Lead and the pointing fingers that I have found to increase click through rate.

Your description must clearly outline the benefit that your Ideal Lead will experience from a click on the link and subsequently obtaining access to your solution in exchange for their email address.

3. Promotion

We have our Ideal Lead profiled; we have our profile optimized for lead generation, now all we need is traffic…

CONTENT

What types images/videos does your Ideal Customer want to consume?

Do they have aspirations related to business, travel, relationships, money or nature?

This is what you need to be posting, at least once per day. Though regardless of your posting schedule, consistency is crucial, as your audience will start to expect your content in a certain schedule, you do not want to disappoint.

And as for the filter argument, let’s keep it simple; here are the top 10 most popular, according to Populargram:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Valencia
  3. Earlybird
  4. X-Pro II
  5. Amaro
  6. Rise
  7. Hudson
  8. Lo-fi
  9. Hefe
  10. Sierra

Wordswag and Canva can be used for editing images, adding text and Instagram’s Layout app to create multi-images.

Hyperlapse can be used to create time-lapse videos, see examples of how business can use these effectively here.

Protein World is a great example of an account with strong, consistent branding and regular high-quality content:

Protein Insta

Once your content type has been decided, it is time to research hashtags.

Search Instagram for keywords relating to the solution you provide for your Ideal Lead and note and hashtags that have over 1,000 images and record.

The TagsForLikes app can store custom hashtag lists and also provide hashtag inspiration. Built up a list of 25-30 core hashtags  (this is the Instagram hashtag limit per image) and save in the TagsForLikes app (this can also provide hashtag inspiration) for easy access.

When posting an image, include any other account in your image (more on this later), a short description and 2-3 image specific hashtags then add the rest of your more solution specific hashtags in the first comment below the image.

It is also important to track the time of each post and measure the number of likes/comments it receives and then optimizing your posting times to maximize engagement.

And finally, like every blog post.

Every Instagram image must have a call to action whether it be:

  • “Double tap if you agree.”
  • “(Question relevant to image and Ideal Lead)?”
  • “Tag a friend who needs to see this.”

All three of these will lead to more engagement and potential exposure for your Instagram account and offer.

USER GENERATED CONTENT

Getting your users/Ideal Leads/existing customers is an excellent method to increase lead generation on Instagram. Depending on your brand, your customers may volunteer to send in content to your account for no cost and then go on to share it with their friends, who also fit the profile of your Ideal Lead.

The growth of sTitch Leggings Instagram profile has mainly been driven by user generated content (FULL DISCLOSURE – I am a co-founder of sTitch):

sTitch Leggings Insta

SHARE FOR SHARE

The Share For Share strategy for gaining Instagram traffic will see your account agree with another account that has a similar audience, and you take it in turns to mention each other, thus increasing your exposure to new potential Ideal Leads.

Though at the start of your profiles life cycle it may not be possible to obtain Share For Share partners, in which case some account may mention you in exchange for your product/service or cold hard cash. Pixlee is a great tool for finding influencers of your Ideal Lead.

LIKING/COMMENTING/FOLLOWING

The cheapest and most widely used strategy for growing Instagram traffic is through liking, commenting and following your potential Ideal Leads.

Remember the hashtags you determined for your content above?

These are exactly the same hashtags that can be searched to find your Ideal Leads.

I would recommend that for 20-30 minutes each day you/someone in your team, searching those hashtags most relevant to your Ideal Lead and like the majority of those images/videos and commenting on those that you have something genuine to say. For those people that you comment on, I would also recommend following and liking their top three pictures. You will find that some these individuals will follow/like you back.

Tools such as Crowdfire can be used to identify influencers or your Ideal Lead and even competitors followers to target.

While following your Ideal Leads, it is important to take your follower/following ratio into account, you don’t want this getting out of control. Ideally you can keep your ratio at least 1:0.5 and if you find your following count raising too high, I would recommend unfollowing to return the balance.

NETWORKING

When out and about with people that have an Instagram, I would highly encourage to take pictures and share while mentioning the person that you are with.

The more you do this, the more people will reciprocate and mention you back, leading to more exposure.

CONTESTS

Giving away stuff on social media is nothing new.

But it still works, so you could consider investing in some prizes that your Ideal Lead would potentially wish to claim and then either request people to tag a friend in the image to enter or even pay other Instagram accounts to run the competition with potential Ideal Leads following your account to enter.

Neil Patel utilized this technique and discussed in more detail here.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 6.14.59 AM

Right…

You now understand your Ideal Lead, have optimized your profile and have now started to drive traffic to your profile and should be experiencing clicks on your profile link leading to your landing page.

4. Tracking

Of course.

Expanding effort upon any marketing strategy is futile if you are not able to track results and compare to the resources (time and money) invested to calculate an ROI, here are the key metrics that MUST be tracked and optimized over time:

Landing Page Clicks: How many clicks does your profile experience?

Landing Page Conversion: What is the conversion rate on your landing page?

Lifetime Customer Value (From Instagram): What is the lifetime value of a customer obtained through Instagram?

Customer Acquisition Cost (From Instagram): How much does it cost to acquire a customer through Instagram?

Ok…

There we have it, the ultimate guide to Instagram lead generation.

The next to you reach for your phone to snap your croissant and latte, remember that your Ideal Lead is out there searching for you, it’s now up to you to find them.

Tom Hunt is the Founder of Virtual Valley, a platform that connects Entrepreneurs and Rockstar Virtual Assistants with the mission of giving Entrepreneurs back 10 million hours of their time by 2020. Tom writes about how to grow your remote business on the Virtual Valley Blog, you can also follow him on Instagram here: @tomhuntio.

7 Popular Web Apps That Can Change The Way You Do Business

In yesterday’s post I outlined the road map for building a total web presence even though you’re short on time. Today I want to share an eBook I wrote that reveals how and why I use certain tools to get some of the online work I do, done.

There should be something for everyone in this free eBook – The Productivity Handbook: 7 Popular Web Apps That Can Change The Way You Do BusinessGo get your copy here and don’t be afraid to share with friends!

In this guide I explain how and why I use:

  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • StumbleUpon
  • GMail
  • Pinterest
  • Delicious
  • Instagram

9 5 Ways to Use Social Media and Your Online Presence to Drive People Offline

No matter what your business sells, how it sells it or how and where people buy you it, people are going online to find it, pure and simple. That’s as true for those one of kind hand made earrings as it is for the spa and auto repair shop in their neighborhood.

Explore The Bruce via Flickr

And, it’s increasingly true for the local insurance provider, landscaper, plumber, attorney and tax professional.

So, what does this mean for the local small business? You’ve got to start thinking about your online presence as a central tool for driving people offline and into your store, sales presentation, meeting, demonstration, appointment or evaluation.

Below are five ways to think about your online activity as an offline opportunity generator.

1) Online calls to action

When people do find and visit your site make it easy for them to use your website to get a free pass, coupon or trial product.

Enable tools like click to call or chat from Olark, so they can get in touch right now and get their burning questions asked

Put a tool like GenBook on your site they can find a time and schedule appointment without needing to call.

Make sure that you have turn by turn directions and links to maps so they can find your business and even send the directions to their smart phone.

2) O2O advertising

Most people run ads to get people buy, what if you thought about your online advertising as a way to simple drive people offline – O2O?

Create local campaigns using Google Adwords that drive people to your website to take advantage of the calls to action, such a the free pass or coupon, that I discussed in the previous point.

Make sure that your Google Places page is complete and compelling and consider the coupon and advertising options available for this tool.

Look into Facebook targeted ads for your calls to action. You can target local Facebook folks all the way down to targeting fans of your competitors.

To make your O2O advertising even more effective create local landing pages for each campaign or even neighborhood you are targeting.

3) Networked networking

Offline networking is still a great way to create and build potential relationships, but you can really amplify this tactic when you add some simple online tactics to your networking efforts.

When you connect offline with a prospect at say a Chamber event, move to also connect online and watch how much faster you can build a relationship.

Employ Social CRM tools like Rapportive or Nimble so you can easily connect the social profiles of anyone you meet to their record. This will make it much easier to learn how to connect.

Look at tools like MeetUp that make it easy to create offline events and gatherings using an online marketing system.

4) Local social groups

Most social networks give you the ability to create groups. Some organizations have had tremendous success by creating and facilitating local, special interest groups on networks like LinkedIn.

The key here is to think “interest group” and not something that’s clearly a promotional tool for your business. If you can create an industry group or some other niche topic that allows your customers to explore and expand an interest they have, you’ve hit on a formula that’s very potent.

5) Online and on the go

Increasingly, our prospects are not only online they are mobile while doing so. There are some very creative ways to take advantage of this fact and drive people with great buying intent offline.

First off make sure you claim your location on sites like Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. This way you can enhance the details and make sure people using geo location services can check in at the right place.

Create and test an offer on a service like Foursquare that can help highlight your business when someone checks in at another nearby business.

Look into the group coupon tools like Groupon, Google Offers or Living Social, but make sure you’re ready to capture the leads these programs produce in a way that allows you to turn a low profit sale into a long term customer.

Think about ways to create check-in games that you could use as part of a promotion. Get a group of strategic partners to participate and offers special deals for people that have checked in at a number of your partners on Foursquare of that take a photo of their purchases at a number of partners and posted it to Twitter or Instagram.

As you can see, the way you can employ this kind of thinking is limited only to your imagination, but there’s no denying the importance and effectiveness of this strategy.

3 Free Handbook: 7 Apps That Will Change The Way You Do Marketing

The Productivity Handbook by John JantschThere’s always more to do than time to do it these days. That’s why I love discovering new tools and apps that help me get it all done.

I also love to share what I find and so I teamed up with Hubspot to write The Productivity Handbook: 7 Apps That Will Change The Way You Do Marketing.

(Yes, Hubspot asks for some information from you, but trust me, the how to use and why to use info included in this eBook will be worth it to you. If you’ve read anything I write you know I give away practical advice only.)

You’ll learn how these exciting, new tools can help you:

  • Brainstorm ideas for fast content creation using Evernote
  • Easily share large files across multiple devices using Dropbox
  • Generate more traffic to your website using StumbleUpon
  • Tell your story and share photos using Instagram and Pinterest

Download your eBook here

24 How to Use Instagram to Tell and Sell Your Marketing Story

Marketing is about telling stories and few things tell a story faster than a picture. In fact, images are growing faster than any other form of shared content online due in large part to the tremendous growth of camera equipped smart phones.

Facebook is the world’s largest photo sharing site, but others sites such as Pinterest and, the popular iPhone app, Instagram have also attracted large followings based primarily on the ease of photo sharing.

Reclaimed rock quarry in Curritiba Brazil from my Instagram feed

Instagram is a photo-sharing site that’s a bit of a Flickr meets Twitter. iPhone users download the Instagram app and then share images after applying a range of effects and filters.

Other Instagram users can “like” and comment on images and follow users to view their images in their own feed. Users can also easily post the images they upload to Instagram on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr if they choose.

As with many social networks, personal use has spawned most of the growth. With heavy adoption however, businesses are now starting to take note of ways to use the Instagram tools and network to promote their business.

Naturally image heavy businesses such as hair salons, graphic designers, and remodelers have obvious uses for the photo sharing site, but any business can find ways to use the network and the growing set of tools supporting it to supplement their marketing efforts.

Below is a list of some Instagram applications that can help turn Instagram into a marketing tool for your business.

iDarkroom – This isn’t really an Instagram related tool, but it’s a great tool to use to enhance your images before you upload them to Instagram

Webstagram – This tool helps you search, sort, tag, follow and comment on photos shared by other users. One of the ways to make Instagram pay off is to build a following and part of that is done by finding and following relevant users and adding your comments to their images.

Instagram is a simple tool and lacks many of these basic tools so Webstragram makes using Instagram much easier.

Postagram – This might be my favorite application. Postagram allows you to turn any Instagram image into a postcard with the push of a button. Then Postgram sends your postcard for less than dollar. Think about how you could send product images to customers or showcase a project you’re working.

What if you took client images at an event and turned them into personal postcards? This little tool could produce tons of good will and buzz in the right hands.

Printstagram – This tool takes your Instagram images and allows you to turn them into posters, mini prints, and mini books.

Again, I’m thinking of some pretty cool ways to create project and client story books and present them as visual reminders of the relationship.

StickyGram – This app takes your custom Instrgram shots and turns them into magnets. It’s like having your own little promotional products creator right in your phone, but potentially much cooler.

Think about the artistic and relevant community shots, event shots, and product shots you could turn into a library of giveaways.

Canvas Pop – If you want to take up a notch Canvas Pop will take your Instagram images and print them on canvas frames.

Think about the artsy ways you could showcase your work, your staff or your customers with this tool.

4 Weekend Favs August Six

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week.

I don’t go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a favorite for the week from Flickr.

Image Karen Eliot via Flickr

Good stuff I found this week:
Qwerly – tool that lets you mine the social data of your leads and customers and add this data to make your email and marketing materials more personal

Postagram – this iPhone and Android app lets you instantly create and send high quality postcards based on your Instagram or Facebook photos. Imagine visiting a client and then sending a thank you card with an image from their office.

What’s New with Google+ – Official Google blog featuring updates, release notes and announcements for the increasingly popular Google+ platform