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.
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.
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. 🙂
So let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?
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:
So how do you make a swift exit from these scenarios? You need your very own strategy.
This means you deeply understand:
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.
“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.
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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?
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.
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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 Instagam 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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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, all on Instagram, get started with our free download: 8 Simple Growth Strategies Any Local Business Owner Can Implement TODAY.
My name is Emily Steele and I teach local business owners how to be the legends they are and build an irresistible and profitable local brand.