You’re sitting in the doctor’s office. Everything’s grey scale and bad art and the magazines in front of you are rippling from curling edges - most likely from germs. Since you’re a human being in 2016, you look to your phone for entertainment.
What do you click on? When you go down “the social media hole” where do you go? For me, it’s undoubtedly Instagram.
With over 300 million active monthly users and the highest engagement of any social media, I’m not alone. Instagram is a platform we love. Twitter feels like a place for business, Facebook is going stale and Snapchat feels immature - but Instagram is beautiful, clean, interesting and engaging.
Which is why it can be a great platform for business. In this post, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about Instagram to launch and grow your own business account and how to leverage it to grow your online course.
Is Instagram Right For You?
Before we even start talking about how to launch your new social media platform, take a step back and really think about whether or not Instagram is right for you and your brand.
I did a little research “why Instagram is a bad idea” and was shocked to only find Jeff Bullas’ facetious posts that basically says start an Instagram. The bottom line is that growing your email is a much higher leverage activity.
Your email list has 3X times the conversion rates of social media, gives you direct access to your customers and has been proven time and time again to change businesses consistently in a way the social media hasn’t.
So, when you’re sitting down to start a course or build a business, first think about the ROI on your time - your most precious asset. Likely, building your list or building your course is more important than building an Instagram account.
Strange start to a post on Instagram - right?
Here’s where I believe it’s smart to start thinking Instagram as a course creator
- You already have an email list & course
- You’re looking to expand your brand & you have the (wo)man power to do it
- Your content is visual and your audience hangs out on Instagram
- You feel there are opportunities you’re missing out on due to Instagram
- You’re targeting millennials
There’s no doubt Instagram is popular, just check out the graphic below from Fast Company.
If you’ve got your bases covered and are running into the issues above now is the time. Get pumped because Instagram is fun.
Normally I hate when blogs give “strategy” advice - it feels so fluffy. Like, “what would you do if you had no fears” or “set goals” with no action plans. Fluff is for pillows and this is the Teachable Blog.
Let’s get into it with our 4 Part Strategy.
First, what is your goal? Get specific. Do you want to increase top-funnel efforts and spread the word about your product? Drive people to a certain landing page? Grow your brand by a certain number? Set it. Write it down.
This will help you make decisions when it comes to design and copy.
The key to your design is to remember it’s an extension of your existing brand. I’d look at the palate you’re already using and start to incorporate them into your Instagram.
Pick 2-3 colors that you want repeating in all posts. This will add a cohesive look to your feed. It will also give you guidelines to work with as you create posts in the future.
Check out how Mary Seng of HappilyGrey did it:
Choose a few select filters you plan to use. Nothing looks tackier or like a bad Photography project than 10 different filters side by side on your Insta page. Choose 1-2 to repeatedly use, or none at all.
Check out how Stella Maria Baer uses the Fade Filter:
Create categories of images. When thinking of images, you want to get an idea of the 3-4 types of images you want to post. While I’ll get into specifics later, think of your goal and what kinds of images would help achieve it.
Check out how Nicole of Treasure Tromp does it:
For example: Here at Teachable, we wanted our Instagram to show off our beautiful technology, connect our course creators and show the benefits of creating a course while providing a link to join us during ongoing promotions.
We anticipate sharing images of your courses (use #myteachablecourse when posting your course sales page - I cannot wait to see the images!), images of lifestyle businesses (a benefit of courses), inspirational quotes, course tips and images of our promotion. Each category will have its own hashtag.
Your tone of voice should also come across as an extension of your brand. Whatever voice you’re using in your newsletters and blog posts is the same tone you should use when writing your captions.
Of course, Instagram has an emphasis on brevity. Try to keep things short, sweet and to the point.
The other thing you should start picking when it comes to copy are hashtags. For each of the type of images you choose from above, what’s a coordinating hashtag?
For us, we want all Teachable schools to use #myteachablecourse. But we’ll also be introducing hashtags for each promotion and other big activities.
One of my favorite Instagram handles is Food52, who often asks users to submit their own food pics using various hashtags like #F52grams.
One big reason to start Instagram is to reach influencers that have a large Instagram presence. In fact, this is one big reason we started ours here at Teachable - there were too many amazing people wanting to talk about launching their Instagram and how they built their biz doing it, so we caved. #peerpressure
Be smart about how you connect online. Create a list of 10-15 (or more!) influencers in your space. Pick 10 you want to prioritize and start working with. Follow their feed. Leave comments. Check out what hashtags they're using and integrate them into your own.
In the words of SmallTalkSocial, “...After you have spent the time building a beautiful home for your brand to reside in Insta-land, you have to go out + start knocking on the doors of your "neighbors" (potential clients) + introducing yourself. Create a relationship by being genuinely interested in others + then invite them over to see what YOU do. If you build it, they may come... but if you build it + then spend time honestly engaging with your target market + peers, they will come + they will STAY."
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. As you setup your account there’s a checklist of things you need to have ready to go.
- Make Your Profile Public: I understand having a private personal account, but when it comes to your biz exposure is a must. This seems obvious, but it’s a common mistake to set a biz profile as private - especially when you’re just getting started with your business and your personal and public lives seem to constantly overlap.
Even if your brand is just your name, consider creating dual accounts: one personal, one business focused. It allows you to share as many photos of your cats as you want without hurting the quality and consistency of your brand (unless of course your brand is about cats and the by all means…)
- Get Your Bio Right: Your Instagram bio is just 150 characters long. It’s basically the “elevator pitch” for your business. Don’t make this hard on yourself. If your Insta is only supporting your course - name your handle your course name and your bio the subtitle. If you’re building a brand, your brand name is your handle name and your tag line your subtitle. Boom. Done.
- Your one link: One of the biggest benefits of Instagram is that you can drive traffic from your handle to the 1 link in your bio. Yes, just 1. You can’t put a different link in each post (sucks), but instead you’ve got one link in your bio at the top. Make it work for you.
Think about what property will most effectively get people to share their email address. As I said earlier, your email is the backbone of your biz. Does your course sales page have a welcome mat - send traffic there. Do you have a webinar coming up - perfect. New content upgrade on the blog that looks great - include it on your Instagram.
I love how Caitlin Bacher does this.
- Strategy around your launch: Take a breath, if you don’t want to have a launch strategy, that’s totally fine. It probably won’t hurt you. BUT! You do have the opportunity to blow this out of the park.
If your launch is important to you, reach out to 10 people who would be willing to mention your new Instagram handle on the day it goes live.
Write other social around your new platform. Tweet, Facebook and blog about starting your Instagram and show people where they can add you, what hashtag to use and why. Here's a great article on how Glossier launched.
So for instance, if you want to be constantly inspired to create a course (or take yours to the next level), get first access to promotions and share what you’ve created with other online instructors.
Follow us @TeachableHQ and use #myteachablecourse to share your school’s sales page.
(I seriously cannot wait to see this hashtag blow up!)
Posting & Growing
Ok, now what? It’s easy to be addicted to the thrill of the launch and then grumble about the work that goes into maintaining a new extension of your brand. DON’T BE THIS PERSON.
I absolutely LOVED this do & don’t guide by Jamie Delaine Watson. It’s spot on. I’ve synthesized and expanded on her points below.
How Often to Post
You’ll want to post about 1-2 times per day. Space this out. Track when posts are getting the most views when you launch and coordinate your posting around the natural times people visit your handle. Get consistent about it.
Don’t post three pictures in a row and don’t treat this like Twitter and post 7 times per day. You’ll annoy your audience, create more work for yourself and unless your engagement is high on ALL SEVEN of those posts, Instagram will penalize you. #algorithms
Instagram is picture first so beautiful images are CRUCIAL. I think this might be the most important tip in this article: post images your audience wants to see. Instagram is in our pockets and most engaged with because we like it. Bottom line.
The human eye is attracted to images over words and Instagram lights up all the buttons, images, connections, commenting but if you’re not sharing things people want to see, they’re going to unsubscribe.
I also recommend using Canva to create posts like this:
Or WordSwag, which has the PR crowd all abuzz because it’s so dang easy. It works best for creating posts that are word-centric.
Remember: As you continue to post think about the look of each individual post, but also the overall look of your feed.
As Jamie said, “Try to vary the composition of photos posted. For example, share an image with lots of negative space next to an image where the subject fills the frame. It allows “breathing room” for the look of your feed. (The two examples below are from the feeds of J.Crew and Anthropologie.)”
Melyssa Griffin does this beautifully:
Notice how it's easy to pick up on the group/categories Melyssa posts around: there are quotes, personal picture, and puppies. Everything is clean and the colors all match. It's perfection.
A writer by nature, you didn’t think I was going to leave out the writing section, did ja?!
Ask for engagement. Directly ask people to share using hashtags, to add you or to check you out in different spaces.
Follow up by engaging with your followers. Jamie says, ““If somebody takes the time to comment, take the time to comment back! I love using Iconosquare.com for this if there are a ton of comments. It’s easier to type on the computer than my phone!”
I 100% agree.
Hide Your Hashtags You can essentially make sure no one sees your hashtags on mobile (where most of Instagram usage happens) by creating lines of periods and your hashtags at the bottoms.
It looks like this:
And this on mobile:
Share your location. Jamie pointed out something I would have totally forgotten. “Tag the location of your photo to provide your account extra exposure. (But be safe – don’t tag your home or office.)”
Go Behind-the-Scenes: Tons of companies have made their instagram valuable by showing what’s happening behind the scenes. Take fashion week for instance. While the manicured models walk the runway, Instagram and Snapchat show us what’s going on behind the curtain.
I love this and your followers will too. Especially because we as course creators are just hard working people with laptops - share yourself with your students. Show them who’s creating their course.
Rather than just posting randomly on Instagram, you can coordinate programs that generate excitement and help build up other business activities (**cough cough** your course launch).
Say you have a course launch coming up. As you grow your email list with various lead magnets, you can change the link in your bio to link to this new content. Some suggest changing the link in the bio to every new blog post your write - not a bad idea.
Create images that generate excitement for this free content and use the same hashtags on Instagram as you are on Twitter.
Maybe you’re hosting a webinar? The custom images create for the slides can be reused on Twitter and resized for Instagram.
Instagram is perfect for promoting giveaways, webinars, new blog posts. You name it. And while Instagram accounts aren’t always known for new lead generation, your most engaged users are hanging out here so the conversion rates tend to be high.
In fact, Instagram has a business blog where you can read case studies of how top-profile brand use it in their own promo strategies.
Grow Hack it
This might be the only time I use “grow hack” non sarcastically.
There are three big things you can do to amplify your reach and grow faster, easier.
The first is to automate your posts. Don’t worry about getting online 2x a day every day. Use programs like Latergram.me to automate your posting.
If you want to quickly add and unadd followers (a hacky but effective growth method), use Crowdfire.
This is a strategy Foundr Magazine used when they gained 10K followers in 1 month and now have 754K followers.
Foundr says, "Crowdfire shows you which users you follow, but don’t follow you back. This allows you to quickly unfollow those who are uninterested in what you do. We got a paid account for $9.99 a month, which unlocked the ability for us to hide which users we had followed and then unfollowed in the past, preventing us from following the same person twice.
Keep in mind due to Instagram restrictions, you are only allowed to perform 400 actions a day (an action either being a follow or unfollow). So make sure you max out the number of actions you perform every single day. We got into the routine of three days of copying followers, and then one day of unfollowing.”
You can also buy “shoutouts” - or pay companies to mention you. If you’ve got a budget and really want to focus on Instagram, it’s one strategy to help you grow.
HOWEVER, Instagram just went through The Great Update of 2016 - it was madness, chaos, a bunch of bloggers got their panties in a bunch - but it’s not such a bad thing.
Our very own Morgan Timm wrote about it saying, “The algorithm update isn't going to hurt the small blogger. Uh-uh girl, not to worry. Chances are that you’re going to come out ahead. You see, this update is all about engagement. And smaller bloggers tend to have higher engagement rates. If you only have 600 followers chances are that means you haven’t fallen into the allure of tactics like loop giveaways to grow your following.”
One of the best ways to get inspiration for your account is to look at what other industry leaders are doing. I happily followed dozens of biz Instagram accounts when we decided to launch our own - but the content is so good I don’t even mind.
I would choose to follow these accounts. Here’s what I’m into:
We want to see what you’re doing! If you have an Instagram account, share a picture of our course sales page using #myteachablecourse @TeachableHQ and we’ll repost.