A man I greatly admire once taught me that the key to success is to give without expectation. Now this principle applies to many parts of life, any part in which you share something with others, really, and it's especially true with social media.
It's also the reason why stores which give out samples are more appealing to most consumers, but that's info for another article. To be successful on social media, and on Instagram in particular, this ideology of giving is particularly relevant. But before we continue in this chocolate marketing series, there are a few principles to be aware of. You can read about the basics of chocolate marketing on social media in Part 1 of this series.
Then you can get into learning specifically about Instagram in Part 2. Finally, in Part 3, learn how to create content that's not only an extension of your brand or personality, but which feels like a present. Instagram is all about feeding the soul & entertaining others through their eyes, so becoming visually appealing is your first order of business. Then once you have their attention, it's time to reel them in.
It's all about catching & keeping your audience's attention.
Interaction is Key
A fundamental principle of social media is this: interacting with your audience is the best way to build an engaged community. Let me say it again: interacting with your audience is the best way to build an engaged community.
No matter whether you have thirty followers or thirty thousand, encourage comments & likes, then reciprocate. Give, interact, and ask as little as possible in return. Think of your Instagram as a garden, wherein you plant the seeds and cultivate them, giving them love and attention in the hope that one day they'll bear fruit. You don't look at a tomato vine a month after it's planted and wonder why it's not covered in ripe tomatoes, do you?
Always give without expectation. Even when you have a cool new project or pursuit, share it because it's news rather than asking for a re-share or a buy. If you're sharing beautiful & interesting things, and interacting with those of others, then people will ask you how they can help. The next principle of Instagram is to remember that the platform could disappear tomorrow.
The engagement (interaction) with your content dictates its reach (how many people see it), but organic (natural) reach has been lowering for some time now. Instagram wants you to pay to boost posts, and I don't blame them. Their platform is the one giving you the attention. They own the land on which you've planted your garden, and every once in awhile they'd like you to pay for your table at the farmers' market. Maybe that got a little too meta just now, but the bottom line is that social media is free advertising, and as gardeners, we pay with our time.
But if you're putting out great content on there, even if Instagram disappears tomorrow, you'll still retain that reputation and interpretation which people had of your brand. They'll remember your Instagram and seek you out on other platforms, because there is always another place that the attention goes.
At first it was the town crier, then newspapers, then radio & television, eventually shifting more towards social media platforms via the internet. Yet there was no such platform before on which you could connect with potential customers for free. Before social media, your customers had little perception of what you stood for as a brand or who was behind the company, beyond the very polished bites you put out to try to draw them in.
You could pay for a billboard or put out an ad in the newspaper, but even then you had limited reach and zero reciprocation from your audience. Those who saw the billboard or ad certainly didn't think of themselves as such, either, but the people who click "follow" on your profile certainly do. They feel involved, and you want to make sure they stay that way.
Liking content is simple, but powerful. You just double tap the photo or click the heart icon, and scroll on to the next one. This most basic form of interaction on Instagram is a way of showing both the platform that you're an active user and the people that you follow that you're interested in their lives. Quite simply, it builds brand awareness. Likes get your name in front of people's faces, but in a relatively non-committal and non-reciprocatory context.
So be consistent. Likes from you tell people that you like that content, but likes to your content are just as important for your brand, because those likes tell Instagram that your content is good and should be seen by more people. The sooner after it's posted that people like your photos, the more of your followers will be shown the photos when they log on. When looking to get more likes on your photo, the key is posting at the optimal time for your account.
Similar to "likes," comments build brand awareness. However, comments build up your reputation on a much more lasting scale, as comments are immediately visible when you tap on a photo. Your words leave a footprint and give anyone who sees them an impression of you. Comments allow you to contribute to conversations in a meaningful way, support others, and build relationships with customers and others in the industry. So take advantage of this power and leave only helpful, supportive, and inquisitive comments— anything too generic, unless it's a personal friend, seems super spammy (think "this is great" or "so cool"). I delete these comments because they look bad, and you as a brand should never leave them on others' photos.
However on your own photos, comments act sort of like super likes, further pushing your content up people's newsfeeds.
There are so many ways to use direct messages to ruin your brand's reputation. You could send too many and be marked as a spam account (and therefore blocked), you could ruin any positive images of your company by sending messages that ask for something while giving nothing, or you could simply send lots of messages to the wrong people. On the other hand, direct messaging can also be used as a way to connect with not only others in your industry, but also with influencers and writers who may be interested in collaborating with you or promoting your products.
I encourage you to think carefully about whom you message, and consider what value you can offer them before you even think about asking them for anything. Consider these messages like postcards; you don't want to be the one that people throw immediately into the recycling bin.
The Follow/Unfollow Game
This is an annoying game played by many, if not most, of the people trying to grow their Instagram accounts. I abhor it.
Basically the people who do this follow someone, & a day, week, or month later, they unfollow that person. I don't do this, and basically skim over the people who follow me on any given day, look at the profiles of those who look chocolate-related, and if (and only if) I like their content or know them personally, then I'll follow back. These days I actually assume that eventually more than half the people who follow me will eventually unfollow, especially those who have a personal website of some kind that they're trying to promote. These days there are many apps that will automatically do this follow/unfollow action on your behalf.
I cannot emphasize enough how much this will hurt your reputation as a business, because nothing ruins one's brand faster than making someone feel special right before they note that you're apparently no longer interested, and have unfollowed. A much better strategy to get someone to maaaaybe take a look at your profile is to like several of their pictures and leave a comment, if you genuinely like it. Don't follow them unless you really want to. I do this liking and commenting strategy, and it works much better for your reputation, and doesn't mislead people into thinking your interested. It's much more time consuming, but it gets many people to check out your profile who otherwise might not have know you existed.
The main way that people build up their profiles on Instagram is to use relevant hashtags. By typing "#__________" under your post and filling in the blank space with a hashtag, then repeating the process up to 30 times, you're basically telling your potential audience what your content is about. This is important because the only other ways that people could find your pictures is through: a location tag or the Explore Page (or Instagram stories, if you're using them). Yet if you're adding your location, then it's easy enough to also drop one or two hashtags. And getting on the Explore Page is all about engagement with your content, which nobody is seeing if you're not using hashtags. Do you see where I'm going with this?
My entire first year on Instagram, I used zero hashtags. The second year, I used a few on each picture. But the third year I used all of the 30 allotted hashtags and watched my engagement soar. This was by no means my only way of getting the word out, but if I took a look at my analytics I would see right away how many people found my content through hashtags. Now that we've established the importance of using hashtags, let's check out some of the hashtags you need to be using to up your chocolate marketing game on Instagram.
- Chocolate, in every language around the world: chocolate, 초콜릿, チョコレート, 巧克力, schokolade, cioccolato, chocolat, ciocolată
- Craft chocolate-related terms: #BeanToBar #CraftChocolate #CacaoLove #Cacao #Cacau #Cocoa #OriginNameCacao #OriginNameChocolate
- Location tags: #YourCity #YourCountry #YourCountryChocolate #YourCityChocolate #ShopName
- Eye-catching food photos: #FoodPorn #ForkYeah #BuzzFeast #Foodie #FoodPhotography
- Potentially relevant large tags (more than a million posts): #ChocolateTruffles #Chocoholic #Bonbons #Organic #VeganEats #Travel #먹스타 ("foodstagram")
- Potentially relevant small tags (fewer than a million posts): #FoodScience #Fermentation #ChocolateMaking #Chocolatier #EatMe
If you're searching some of these hashtags, you'll note a list of related hashtag searches people tend to make. Explore those related hashtags and see if people are posting things similar to your content. Consider incorporating these into your 30 hashtags, especially if you're not sure how to finish using your allotment.
If this is just all too overwhelming for now, simply pick 5 bigger hashtags and add them to your next few pictures (add them to older pictures WON"T help or make them suddenly appear like new again). Check the analytics from your account— you did claim your business account, didn't you?— and see which pictures got the most views from those hashtags. Build up from there, noting when the most highly engaging photos were posted.
The Best Time to Post
There's unfortunately no simple answer to this question; the optimal time to post varies per account. This is because your audience in particular with vary, usually based on where: you're from, your product is distributed, your readers are located, and what language you write captions in. It's vital to look at the analytics of your account to see where people are mostly from, and post at night or around lunchtime in those time zones. Instagram used to offer an hour-by-hour look into when your followers had been online in the last week, but now they offer analytics in three-hour blocks and day by day.
When deciding on the best time to post, think of who you're creating for and when they're most likely to see it. Is yours a community of foodies based in New York, most likely to be scrolling Instagram on their lunch break? Are they India-based chocolate makers and cacao farmers who check their phones first thing in the morning and then not at all the rest of the day? Posting when most of your followers are online is important because immediate engagement tells Instagram that your content is interesting, so they'll show it to more people (both your followers and people on the "Explore Page"). Basically, it helps more people find your profile, allowing you to build a community.
For example, take a photo of your new favorite product, taken artfully & just overall attractive. If that same photo is posted at two different times and in the first instance just 20 users are online and in the second 200 users are online, which has more potential to propel your content to others' eyes? Personally, if more than 25% of the people who see any one of my photos like it, I know I've got a serious winner, while 20%+ is considered a win, but everyone is different.
If you don't yet have much of an audience, then consider your ideal audience and post with consideration to potential bumps in engagement from three big regions: the Americas, Europe/Africa, Oceania/Asia (China). Know where your (ideal) audience is based, and plan for the audience you want by posting and engaging while they're online. Remember to block robots accounts (bots) when they follow you, if you notice them.
When you're starting out, just remember that the content is not for you: it's for them.
7 Key Takeaways on Engagement
- Follower numbers aren't near as important as reach and engagement. If you have 1000 followers and only 230 of them see the content you put out on your main feed, it's because it wasn't interesting or relevant to your audience. Always think of the when you're putting something out on IG. Every post should reach at least a third of your followers, because it should be relevant.
- Initial engagement is the most important for your post, especially the first 10-15 minutes, so stay online and engage with others' content in this time.
- If you don't respond to every single comment and DM you're getting, then you're doing something wrong.
- Engage with content put out by the people you're following; you chose to follow them for a reason.
- Use targeted hashtags as a way of making your profile discoverable and searchable.
- To build an Instagram following & community, like and comment on photos from people who aren't following you; otherwise they'll never know you're there. It's sort of like putting your Instagram handle on your business cards (which you should). Giveaways are another great way to initially build a following, and you can get entrants & followers by sharing the giveaway on other social media platforms or connecting with a relevant local influencer or running an Instagram ad (we'll get into this more in Part 5).
- Social media is for your followers, not you.
Instagram offers up a bevy of extra features which I'd encourage you to take full advantage of, but it's absolutely your prerogative to use just the main feed. You can still manage to shine, either way, and connect with your community and audience in a way that shows how much you appreciate them.
If you found this article helpful, please pin it so that others can, too!
What is one thing you learned from this article that you're now going to go apply to your own account?