It’s a social media platform with over 5 million active monthly users in Australia and brands all over the world are realising the benefits of engaging with their customers on Instagram.
But what makes the perfect Instagram post?
How many times a day should you share a photo with your Instagram followers? Is there a sweet spot for when you should post and any rules of thumb for the type of image you should share?
SmartCompany asked four businesses that use Instagram for tips of the trade. Each business has a different size following: from more than 660,000 to 4000. They have also been using Instagram for different lengths of time.
But what they do have in common is a passion for growing their business through social media.
Frank Body: @frank_bod has 660,000 followers and @frankfeedback has 71,500 followers
Coffee scrub maker Frank Body built its business almost entirely off the back of Instagram.
Jess Hatzis says this was very much a deliberate decision when she and her four co-founders started the business two years ago.
Hatzis and two of her co-founders Erika Geraerts and Bree Johnson also operate a marketing agency called Willow and Blake, so when it came to launching Frank Body with co-founders Steve Rowley and Alex Boffa, they already had experience with how brands were using Instagram.
“At that time there weren’t that many people using the platform, there were more on Facebook,” Hatzis told SmartCompany.
“We knew our target market would be females aged between 16 and 24 and they were already really actively using Instagram. It’s a great visual platform, there’s not as many restrictions as Facebook and there was a real gap for a brand to jump on the platform.”
The team started off with just one Instagram account, @frank_bod, and Hatzis describes the process of launching that account as taking a “360 degrees approach”. Every piece of marketing material the business produced encouraged people to interact with the Instagram account, including flyers sent out with each packet of the body scrub that encourage customers to post selfies with the hashtag #thefrankeffect.
“We couldn’t just put up the account and hope for the best,” she says.
The approach has paid off. The @frank_bod account has more than 660,000 followers and Frank Body recorded revenue of $14 million last financial year. This year, the business is on track to more than double that figure to approximately $30 million.
The popularity of Frank Body products has also spawned the business’s second Instagram account, @frankfeedback, which is purely dedicated to customers’ before and after shots. More than 71,500 people follow that account.
Hatzis says the Frank Body team had already been considering setting up a second Instagram account as a way of guarding against putting all Frank Body’s “eggs in one basket” and potentially losing the audience if the account was ever hacked, but it was the flood of feedback customers were sending in that made the decision for them.
“People were emailing us and sending direct messages with before and after photos so we decided to set up the secondary page,” Hatzis says.
“It seemed a logical thing to do.”
As to the time of the day that works best for Instagram posts, Hatzis says there’s no hard and fast rule. But given Hatzis, Geraerts and Johnson manage the two accounts themselves, they like to use the way they use their own mobiles phones as a guide.
“People usually use social on the way to work so between 7-9am is a good time, as is lunchtime and when they are on their way home again,” she says.
“And Sunday night is really strong for e-commerce in general. We tend to stick to those key times and make sure there is three or four hours between posts.”
Having variety in the photos you post on Instagram is also essential, says Hatzis.
“We try to have a good mix of photos from our customers, real people in photos, third party content that falls within out guidelines and branded content we create ourselves,” she says.
“It’s about using our best judgement and choosing something different the next time we post.”
And like other social media platforms, Hatzis says responding to customers on Instagram is a must. In fact, Frank Body employ two people whose job is to “like”, post comments and respond to people on Instagram. While they take care of that aspect, Hatzis and her co-founders choose which customer photos they want to share.
“People like to feel part of the brand, it’s what makes them continue to engage,” she says.
Light My Fire Melbourne: @lightmyfiremelboune has 10,400 followers
Melbourne business owner Natalie Carter has just passed the coveted 10,000 mark for Instagram followers for her homemade candle business, Light My Fire Melbourne.
It is an impressive feat given Carter only started the business less than one year ago in November 2014. Light My Fire has now become “pretty much” Carter’s full-time job, along with managing her existing small photography business.
For Carter, setting up an Instagram account as soon as her business was up and running was a no-brainer.
“I’d find other markets that I would be at and look at who was following them,” Carter says of how she first started building her Instagram following.
“I’d just follow them and spend time interacting. Once I got to the market, at least a couple of those people would show up. It helped a lot.”
Carter also followed all those earlier followers back but she says once a business’s Instagram account grows to a certain size, this isn’t always necessary. In fact, she says businesses are limited to only following around 7000 people.
“People will start following you anyway,” Carter says.
But she does make an exception for followers who do purchase one of her candles.
“It’s good to keep that interaction going,” she says.
Carter usually limits herself to two posts a day, although occasionally she will post a photo of a meal she has really enjoyed as she says Instagram users that follow businesses “like seeing a bit about you as well as products”. She is adamant though on the importance of not posting too much and giving her followers the feeling that her business is “in their face”.
“That’s not what you want,” she says.
First thing in the morning and “prime time” in the evening between 7.30-8.30pm are Carter’s tips for when to post on Instagram.
“If they are anything like me, they sit down to watch telly and the phone comes out,” Carter says.
“A lot of mums go online around that time too.”
Light My Fire candles have a minimalistic design and this appears to fit well with the type of imagery Carter believes works best on Instagram.
Carter says of her best-performing shots are “a photo of the product with not too many things in the background”.
“Photos with white background tend to work the best, it’s what people are more attracted too,” she says.
Carter also steers clear of including links in her posts, with just one link in her account bio that directs users to her website.
In Carter’s experience marketing a new business, other social media platforms, particularly Facebook, are “nowhere near” as effective as Instagram.
“On Facebook, your posts are only shown to a certain number of people but on Instagram, everyone who follows you receives the post,” she says.
“There is a little bit more control; on Facebook there is no control.”
And there is the added benefit of meeting and networking with other business owner on Instagram and even collaborating on giveaways or promotions.
“It becomes a community and we all support each other,” she says.
Capi Sparkling: @capisparkling has 4118 followers
Refreshing cold drinks and appetising natural ingredients: it seems drinks maker Capi Sparkling is a brand made just for a visual platform like Instagram.
Founded in 2010 by Pitzy Folk, the former Smart50 finalist which turned over more than $3 million last year, has more than 4000 followers on Instagram and is preparing to ramp up its marketing efforts on the platform in coming months.
Capi brand manager Jordyn Evans told SmartCompany the business has positioned itself as a “premium” brand and Instagram fits hand-in-glove with this image.
“The demographic on Instagram is generally young, Gen Y, modern thinkers,” Evans says.
“Capi is a visual brand and Instagram is a platform where we can use great photos to build a reputation.”
Evans says in terms of growth, Capi’s Instagram account is outpacing its other social accounts, especially Facebook, which is further down the commercialisation path than Instagram.
“We have a following of 4000 people but we don’t have to pay for people to see our posts,” she says.
But Capi is still active on Facebook, choosing to adopt a different approach to the platforms. Instagram is all about the photos, while the businesses’s Facebook page is about sharing recipes for drinks and directing fans to the Capi website.
Like other successful brands on Instagram, Evans says Capi focuses its activity during peak commuting times – either 7-8am or 5-6pm on weekdays – and the weekend sweet spot: Sunday evenings around 5pm.
Evans says Capi takes a structured approach to its Instagram posts, posting once or twice a day and planning out a week in advance the images it will use. The brand also plans to hire a third party agency that will take care of the community management aspect of its Instagram account.
If Evans has one key piece of advice for other brands using Instagram it’s to focus on the lighting of photos.
“Lighting is key,” she says.
“If the photo is taken late at night at a restaurant, it won’t work.”
Evans takes most of the photos for Capi’s Instagram account outside to take advantage of natural light and favours simple photos of the drinks or fresh ingredients.
“It’s about making the drinks look good,” she says.
Robert Gordon: @robertgordonaustralia has 21,200 followers
Robert Gordon Australia has been making pottery since 1945 so the two years or so the family business has been on Instagram makes up just a tiny part of its history.
But in that short space of time, the Melbourne-based business has amassed more than 21,000 Instagram followers and according to design and product manager Kate Gordon, the platform is having a measureable impact on sales.
The Robert Gordon Instagram account was originally started by the company’s former graphic designer but Gordon now manages the account on a daily basis.
Like Carter, Gordon highlights the collaborative nature of Instagram, revealing it was a mention of the Robert Gordon Instagram handle by popular design blog The Design Files in February 2014 – along with a feature article about the Gordon family – that saw hundreds of new followers flock to the business’s account. Gordon sat and watched as the account’s follower numbers kept ticking over.
She usually posts once a day but admits this is not a strict schedule. Gordon also doesn’t stick to only posting at certain times, although she says Sunday afternoons can often be a good time to get people’s attention.
She says the look and feel of a particular photo will always affect the number of likes more than the time the photo is posted.
“Pretty, light and bright and airy photos will get far more likes,” Gordon says.
To achieve this aesthetic, Gordon focuses on using images with plenty of white space and will edit the lighting in the images to achieve more clarity.
But as with any rule of thumb, there is an exception: Gordon says Instagram users are also drawn to “dark and moody” shots too.
Gordon will also share posts from others, but says she is highly selective of the photos she will regram and who she follows back.
“If they are a chef or restaurant or a good customer,” she says of who she makes exceptions for.
“I also follow a lot of potters, both big and small.”
While Gordon says the business’s Instagram followers naturally love the images she posts of Robert Gordon products, she says ‘behind-the-scenes” posts or preview shots of new products ranges do particularly well on the platform.
“They love seeing the range developing, something new before others,” she says.
“It gives them a reason for following.”
And the response is instant. Gordon says the company’s agents will get calls from stockists almost immediately once a photo of a new Robert Gordon range is posted on Instagram.
“It’s that real connection between intimate selling,” she says.
“I love it as well if we are working on something new. We’ll get a response if people like it, it’s a little snippet of a test market.”
You can follow SmartCompany on Instagram @SmartCompanyAu. Tomorrow we’ll cover how best to use hashtags on Instagram.