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  • How Do Small Businesses and Consumers Benefit from Targeted Advertising?

    Targeted ads get a really bad rap and I’m here to clear the air. My goal is to convince you by the end of this article that we need to keep targeted ads for the sake of everyone. First I’ll start by dispelling the biggest misconception in regards to targeted ads. Then I’ll break down the different groups that benefit from targeted ads. Finally I’ll finish by going over a couple of ways to better regulate targeted ads so they don’t get out of hand and we can continue reaping the benefits. What is the most common misconception people have about targeted ads? "My phone keeps listening to my conversations and then showing me ads based on what I say I say the word Doritos and the next ad I see is for a bag of Cool Ranch" We’ve all heard this guy. Probably the biggest misconception around targeted ads is that your phone or smart home device are listening to your conversations and reporting the data to advertisers. This idea comes from the fact that these devices are technically listening to everything we say. While that is true and you can easily see where this idea came from, if you actually do some research you’ll see why this isn't an issue. Let’s first go over why the devices are always listening. These devices are listening so they can activate their virtual assistant feature. The virtual assistant is only triggered by a specific phrase, “Hey Siri”, “Ok Google”, “Alexa”, etc. Whatever the trigger phrase is, that's the only thing the smart device is listening for. If that trigger word is not spoken, the smart device will not react or record anything you say. That brings me to my next point, recording. Yes, smart devices do record what we say, but they don't record anything that's not directly said to them. They do this in order to understand your voice better. This allows them to differentiate between voices more successfully, respond to you in more appropriate ways, and provide more accurate information. Facebook and Google both have explicitly stated that microphone data is off limits to advertisers. They don't even send the recordings back to a company database. It's all stored within your device. The only time this would happen is in the event something goes wrong during an interaction with their virtual assistant, for the sole purpose of improving future interactions that you have. At which point most smart devices, such as iPhones, confirm with you first before sending any audio recording back to a company database. Hypothetically, even if our smart devices were analyzing everything we say, breaking it down, and using that to change our targeted ad experience instantly, how well would that actually work? Think about how the interactions go with smart devices now. How many times have you had to say, “Hey Siri” repeatedly in order to get a response? How many times has your Alexa device accidentally been triggered by a phrase like "a letter"? Typically anecdotal evidence has little to no validity but considering how commonly known these issues are, and all the jokes that shows like SNL, Community, and The Office have made about the many issues we have with voice commands, I think we should make an exception. In this case we’re all aware that even when talking directly to a smart device, they can still struggle to understand what we’re saying. How good do you really think these devices are at analyzing passive conversations? While there is substantial evidence of emotional manipulation with targeted ads, this kind of sci-fi level conspiracy is based on nothing but ignorance in regards to how little our everyday technology has advanced. Who benefits from targeted advertising and how? Mega Corporations & Big Businesses Yes of course those that benefit from targeted ads the most are mega corporations and big businesses. While this article might seem like pro-capitalist propaganda put out by the very corporations that benefit the most from these ads, it's not. The point of this article is to show you that everyone else benefits from targeted advertising as well as these huge companies. How these companies benefit from targeted ads in a different way than everyday small businesses, is the real question. The easiest way to explain it is with a well known example. In 2018, Facebook was caught selling user data to a marketing company named Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica then used that data to help politicians like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz advertise to Facebook users in malicious ways. The data not only influenced who they targeted, but the content they used for ad campaigns as well. They produced ads that were designed with psychological tactics used to elicit fear and anger. That’s what sets big businesses apart from everyone else. They use advertising agencies that specialize in data collection and emotional manipulation. These companies use the data purchased from Facebook to understand their target audience on an intimate level. Then they take that knowledge and use it to create the content being sent out to their audience. Them having access to these companies that use your data in malicious ways is the real issue. The big corporations themselves aren’t getting your data, they just hire companies with the data to guide their entire marketing strategy in the right direction. Google and Facebook aren't the ones using data to create psychologically manipulative ads, it's these middle man marketing firms. Small Businesses For some reason people completely gloss over all of the small businesses that are able to utilize targeted ads to market themselves and their products in a cost effective way. Any business or individual that has done any kind of advertising online knows what kind of targeting I’m referring to. You use demographic targeting so your ads get in front of the right people. The better you are at targeting your demographic, the more lead and sale conversions you see. Targeted marketing allows a small business owner with the proper knowledge to turn $10 into a sale and brand awareness. This drastically lowers the barrier of entry for advertising when you compare that to pre-internet numbers. In the 90’s your cheapest option for advertising was a local newspaper ad. This ad went out to everyone so you had no choice but to pay whatever the total reach was worth, regardless of how well your business lines up with the people reading the paper. According to The NY Times, the average cost of a one page black and white newspaper ad in 1990 was $6,224. Now you’re able to pay for advertising based on impressions, clicks, sales, and more. This means you have the ability to pay based on how well the ad does rather than the reach of the platform you’re working with. In 2022, the average CPC or cost per click on Facebook is $0.97, the average CPM or cost per impression is $7.19/1,000 impressions. Even if only 0.1% of your impressions convert to sales, you’re still making 1sale for every $7.19 you spend on advertising. That means if you spend $72 advertising to 7,000 people at a 0.1% conversion rate, you're looking at 10 sales. That’s how small businesses benefit from targeted advertising, it brings down the cost of advertising 100 fold. Less for advertising allows small businesses to thrive, no matter their situation. Consumers Here’s the one way that most people refuse to acknowledge, but consumers benefit from targeted advertising in multiple ways. People have so bought into the fear and the improper use of targeted ads that they're willing to look past their own benefit. The most obvious benefit for consumers is ad relevance. Most platforms like TikTok or YouTube have feedback options if you’re seeing the same ad repeatedly or seeing ads that don’t match your interests. That’s because the better your advertising experience is, the more valuable an ad is. The bottom line is advertisers, when they are paying per impression, don’t want their advertising budget to be wasted on the same person, the platforms don’t want their ads to perform poorly, and consumers don’t want to see the same ads over and over again. So when people complain about seeing the same ads over and over again or getting ads that make no sense for them, they’re complaining about a situation they themselves are enabling. It is a lose, lose, lose situation for everyone involved. There’s no getting around ads, you’ll have to see them in every form of media or entertainment you consume, especially the free forms like Google and Facebook. Even if we were to eliminate targeted ads altogether we would still see ads, they would just be more generic and run a lot more often. Look at cable ads for example. Anyone who’s been home sick with nothing to do or stumbled upon an SVU marathon they couldn’t resist, knows all too well that there are a lot of ads on cable and it’s the same ads during every commercial break. You’ll see the same prescription, insurance, and TV show ads 20 times while watching cable. In fact, 30% of the content you see on cable TV is ads, the other 70% being the actual content you want to see. According to a UK based study, millennials spend 8.5 hours a day consuming, creating, and interacting with content. and Gen Z is sitting at a slightly higher 10.6 hours per day. Most of us do spend more time consuming content than we do sleeping. Which is why the amount of time we spend looking at ads is important. For a targeted advertising experience that we can compare to cable TV, we studied the frequency of TikTok ads on the FYP. A member of our research team scrolled their for you page for 1 hour. In that time they saw 150 videos and 10 advertisements. Making the percentage of videos on their for you page was only 6.25%. Plus that’s not even the percentage of content that you actually watch. In some DVR or On-Demand cases you don't have to deal with any ads but in all live TV cases you're stuck waiting for the commercials to end every 15 minutes. With TikTok you not only have the ability to scroll past any ads, the TikTok algorithm also adjusts the frequency of ads automatically based on how long you've been scrolling. According to our data, what started as a 5:1 video to advertising ratio, quickly became 10:1, then 15:1. By the end of the hour our researcher was only seeing an ad after watching 25 TikTok videos. This was definitely an unexpected discovery but still a welcome one. Because TikTok is able to track how long you’ve been on the app you’re essentially able to earn less ads. Cable TV on the other hand has no tracking which is why the percentage of ad content consumed is so high. Overall consumers benefit from targeted ads for a number of reasons. Ads appear less frequently, they’re shorter in length and optional, the ads you see are more unique and relevant to you, and the variety of ads is much larger compared to "old media". There are a lot of dangers, similar to the emotional manipulation we discussed earlier, but if we are able to regulate targeted ads properly we can avoid such dangers while still reaping the rewards. How do we regulate targeted advertising properly without losing what we gain from targeted ads? Fast answer is, we don’t. Obviously any regulation we do will lower the value of the ads, which will most likely result in more ads. However, if we put minor regulations in place we can minimize the increase in frequency while still being better off than a time before targeted advertising. Manipulative Ads One of the biggest issues is manipulative advertising. Ads that prey on our emotions in order to sell goods and services. While all ads do this in some way, whether it’s nostalgia or love, it’s the bad emotions like anger and fear that when manipulated can be considered malicious. There are already regulations in place that dictate how ads are able to affect our behaviors and decisions so it isn’t anything out of the ordinary. There are also laws that protect children from certain types of advertising practices. It's the very thing that the FTC was founded on. We just need to apply these concepts to this new forms of advertising. To learn more about the different types of advertising regulations currently in place you can visit the FTC’s website. Selling Data The major issue with data collection is that the data is being sold after it's collected. Companies like Cambridge Analytica buy the information and use it to manipulate the psyche. The process of collecting the data and using it to adjust ads on your own platform isn’t the issue. Small businesses being able to target relevant people is not the issue. The transfer of data from one company to the other is the issue. Small businesses don’t receive any personal data when advertising, they just tell Google what groups of people they want to target and then Google acts as the Cambridge Analytica of the situation. They use their own data that they collected and adjust the advertising experience they provide. This type of advertising is still very profitable for advertising platforms and beneficial for consumers. If we just eliminate the ability to sell data then the root of the issue is gone. In Conclusion Targeted Advertising benefits mega corporations, small businesses, and consumers alike. What we need to worry about is the data purchasing and exchange aspect of targeted advertising. About Alex I graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors in Marketing. I then relocated to Chicago for an entry level Social Media Manager job. After about a year I got in touch with a friend from college who had a cousin named Francisco, aka the Owner of Big Picture Creatives. At the time he still worked at Fiscal Web Designs but was looking to start something of his own. After hearing about the wide range of clients he was helping, I was certainly intrigued. So I decided to partner with him and help create Big Picture. We've been doing this for a few years now and I can't imagine doing anything else. Instead of helping an old-fashioned company reply to boomers complaining on Facebook, I now get to help new small businesses every single day!

  • How Much Can Small Businesses Get Out of Social Media Ads and Digital Marketing?

    Social media can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal or a double-edged sword. It can be a great lead source or a bottomless pit that you just throw money into. Small businesses can do really well on social media and generate a lot of sales immediately. You can build an audience by showing people that you’re more than just a brand. But as a small business owner you know that you need to be strategic when considering where to allocate your assets. In this series I want to focus on content. It doesn’t matter how well you understand your target demographic, if the content is bad, advertising is going to be bad. To produce the right content, we need to answer 3 questions. Which platforms make sense for my brand and advertising strategy? What content performs well on this platform for those within my niche? What content makes the most sense for my situation? I’ll break down each question and then in the last entry I’ll go over some examples based on the work we’ve done for our clients. Which social media platforms make sense for my brand and my advertising strategy? In the first article of this series, let’s start by breaking down each platform individually. We’ll give a little bit of back story on each one, explain how they work, and what kind of users you’ll find that you can advertise to. Facebook What was once known as “Old Reliable” seems to be going the way of Sears. Like Sears, the fall from grace has everything to do with poor decision making. While this is true if you reduce both situations down to the very root, the decisions Facebook made have permanently soiled their reputation in the public eye. You can see it when looking at the number of users each year. Facebook reached their peak in 2017 and have been slowly, but steadily, losing users every year since. This is why they’ve rebranded the parent company to Meta. They recognize the permanent trust that’s been lost and are now doing everything they can to distance themselves from the very thing that allowed them to buy Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp, etc. So, who still uses Facebook? Well according to Statisa’s most recent numbers this past March, over half of Facebook’s users are age 25-54. So if your business is B2C and focused on attracting younger clients, you’ll want to steer clear of Facebook. If you have a B2B business or have products that are catered towards middle aged adults and older, you might want to consider Facebook ads. If you have a high end product Facebook might also be the place to start. Over 70% of adults in the US who make 75k or more a year, use Facebook. Final aspect of target demographics is gender. The majority are either male or female, with over 50% being women. Instagram Next platform that makes the most sense to talk about is Instagram. We briefly mentioned it when discussing Facebook. Since they’re both owned by Meta it’s fairly easy to compare the two. In 2012, Facebook bought one of its larger competitors. They did this solely out of fear. Fear of losing to Instagram, yes, but also Twitter and Google. We know this because the US House antitrust committee released emails between Zuckerberg and a former Facebook executive. Mark explicitly stated that the acquisition was fueled by fear. Regardless of why they acquired Instagram, it’s been very profitable for Facebook. In 2019 Instagram made up 31.8% of Facebook’s ad revenue. As of January 2022, Instagram’s users fall much younger than Facebook. Over 60% of their users are under the age of 35, half of that range between the ages of 18 and 24. Meaning if Facebook's audience is running a little too old, Instagram is your better option. Instagram may have a slightly higher CPC or Cost per Click, that’s because the conversion rate is slightly better on Instagram. Instagram also has higher organic brand engagement according to SocialInsider. When you look at income and gender the results are nearly identical to Facebook. So, it’s really just a question of which age group you’re trying to hit. YouTube The King of Long Form Content, YouTube is like no other platform. Most platforms have adjusted to fit our shrinking attention spans. However, YouTube has found great success in longer videos. YouTube started back in 2005 and at the time was just meant as a way for people to share videos with each other. Like a video letter. Quickly it became a place where gaming videos, vlogs, and sketch comedy, would do exceedingly well. Virality wasn’t common in the early days because it wasn’t taken seriously for a long time. Being one of the earliest social media platforms, YouTube and it’s creators weren’t seen as actual creatives. The same is still true for every platform when it’s first released. The difference is that now if a platform is still around for about a year, advertisers begin to look at creators as people that actually have something to offer. Compare that to YouTube which arguably took 8-10 years before it was actually considered to be something of value. In this second era of YouTube, they’ve shied away from short content and really incentivizes creators to post videos that are at least 10 minutes long. And your videos do better the closer they get to an hour in length. The main “incentive” really unlocks at the 10-minute mark. That’s the point at which you’re able to put mid role ads on a video. Thus, quite literally incentivizing you to make content at least 10 minutes long. We’ll talk more about the actual content later in the series, now let’s discuss YouTube’s users. As of March, YouTube has 2.8 billion monthly users, over 122 million of which are daily users. Last year YouTube brought in 8.2 billion dollars in advertising revenue. Unlike the other 2 platforms, YouTube’s user base falls more male than female. 81% of adults in the US use YouTube and the percentages get larger when you break them down by age. YouTube users tend to fall younger to middle aged. 95% of people in the US, between the ages of 18 and 29 use YouTube. That percentage dropping slightly, from 95% to 91%, when looking at 30–49-year-olds in the US. Where you really see a drop is 65 and up, only 45% of people in the US over the age of 66 use YouTube. So if your target demographic is an older crowd maybe stay away from YouTube. When looking at household income, YouTube is different in that they consistently have at least 80% of each demographic. Even down at the 30k a year range YouTube still has 83% of that demographic in their user base. Seeing that 84% of viewers bought something after seeing a brand on YouTube, it’s a great idea to target a low-income demographic if that’s the market you’re trying to reach. Even if you aren’t focused on low-income individuals, YouTube is still a wise choice if the other two criteria fit. TikTok The not so new kid on the block, TikTok is still the largest growing social media platform. It started out as a Chinese version of an app called, which was a new version of the classic, and legendary, short form content app called Vine. TikTok acquired in 2017 and merged the two apps nearly a year later. It began as an app of dancing and lip syncing, but TikTok quickly became so much more. The largest problem Vine had, the thing that caused them to shut down in 2012, was a lack of monetization. Vine was a free app that was also ad free, TikTok learned from their mistake and has managed to integrate ads in a non-intrusive way. Even when legislation was being threatened that would stop TikTok from operating in the US, TikTok still persevered and continued to grow. So, what sets TikTok apart from the rest? Well, there are 2 things. First is the ability to use copyrighted material in your content. From movie scenes to music, you’re able to post pretty much anything without receiving a copyright strike. This is one of the largest benefits TikTok has, however, until recently Twitch was relatively similar. You were able to use music and watch tv shows live on stream. But recently advertisers have pressured Twitch into taking accounts down who use copywritten content. YouTube was the same way when it first started. Every platform eventually has to crack down on copywritten content, for now let’s take advantage of the opportunity while it’s there. The second thing that sets TikTok apart is the algorithm. TikTok has the most sophisticated algorithm of any social media platform. In case you don’t know, an algorithm in this situation refers to AI that determines which videos to suggest. Essentially, it’s like a suggested items section on a much larger scale. Unlike traditional social media platforms there isn’t a home or dashboard where you catch up on friends’ posts. You don’t share other content on your personal feed. When you open up TikTok you have 2 feeds of videos, Following and fyp or for you page. There is only ever one video on your screen at a time. You don’t navigate around; you simply scroll up and down to go through the stream of videos. Both feeds seem completely random but are actually carefully curated. And while the algorithm does boost newer content, it isn’t structured in a “most recent post” fashion like every other app. The following feed is pretty self-explanatory, you follow creators, and their videos show up in this feed. But because of the way the feeds operate that doesn’t guarantee every account you follow will show up there. The more you interact with an account the more the algorithm suggests their content. Because of this a lot of people don’t even use their following feed. For the majority of those on the platform all of their time is spent scrolling the fyp. The fyp is where TikTok’s algorithm truly shines. The way TikTok suggests content is based on content that’s similar in topic and structure, and content that similar users interact with. TikTok has a community for everyone. If you like model trains, you have #TrainTok. If you like read, you have the very popular #BookTok. Other popular communities include #PlantTok, #MovieTok, #ConservativeTok, #LeftistTok, #PropertyTok, and even #BrickTok. #BrickTok is a community of brick collectors that schedule meet ups to trade famous bricks. No, I’m not making that up. If you have a niche interest, there is a TikTok community for it. And that’s because when you like a video, the algorithm groups you in with others who like that video. Since TikToks are only 30 seconds to 1 minute on average, you’re able to like a lot of videos in the hours of scrolling you do. This allows the algorithm to group people together so many times that it’s able to perfectly predict who you are and what content you’ll like. When you open the app for the very first time it obviously doesn’t know anything about you, so it just shows popular videos. As you like things it slowly learns who you are. You go from like 1 out of every 10 videos in the beginning, to liking every single video after just 30 minutes of scrolling. It’s able to pick up on things that interest you before you even know that they interest you. It uses the likes of other people similar to you, to perfectly predict what you’ll like. So why does the algorithm matter from a content creator standpoint? Since the algorithm knows every user so well, anyone is able to find their audience and go viral. Unlike other platforms there’s no need to seek out communities, they find you naturally. TikTok’s main focus is connecting likeminded people in order to create safe spaces for everyone. What would traditionally only benefit advertisers, benefits every single user. Which is why we saved TikTok for last, because no matter what your target demographic is, you should be creating TikTok content and growing an audience there. About Alex I graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors in Marketing. I then relocated to Chicago for an entry level Social Media Manager job. After about a year I got in touch with a friend from college who had a cousin named Francisco, aka the Owner of Big Picture Creatives. At the time he still worked at Fiscal Web Designs but was looking to start something of his own. After hearing about the wide range of clients he was helping, I was certainly intrigued. So I decided to partner with him and help create Big Picture. We've been doing this for a few years now and I can't imagine doing anything else. Instead of helping an old-fashioned company reply to boomers complaining on Facebook, I now get to help new small businesses every single day!

  • Instagram Basics For Your Business, Every New User Must Know 10 Things Before Promoting

    Whether you're a newcomer to Instagram or you've been trying to promote your business for a while but haven't found success, this could be exactly what you need. There's no shame in reevaluating things. Some of this may seem obvious but, just like in Basketball, you need to have your fundamentals down if you want to make the big shots. 1. Know Your Niche Before you begin growing an Instagram account, you need to be clear regarding your niche. After you understand what your account is about, you’ll know which followers have an interest in what you've got to offer. Then, produce an attractive bio with your name and what you do, and concentrate on posting quality content. Be constant. Keep in your niche. There’s no purpose in having an account about beauty then posting an image of a random cat. Use hashtags, however not those like #followforfollow; use ones relating to what you’re posting. That way you’ll attract the right individuals and not spammers. After you find solid hashtags, you'll want to stick with them. 2. Understand Your Audience You can't exclude an accurate analysis of the audience you want to connect with on Instagram if you want the platform to work for you – and most of all, you've got to find out if at the very least a slice of your target demographic is really on Instagram. Instagram is a unique platform with a significant focus on giving businesses the chance for rich, visual storytelling. Many internet professionals aren't aware that Instagram isn't solely for youths but is a nice platform for promoting that utilizes visuals. So, they don't really pay attention to this social network. We like to use a method of posting entrepreneurial pictures and videos branded with our website name and logo. This resonates well with the youth as many of them are website owners and webmasters. One viral Instagram image will get you thousands of followers and potential clients. Our Instagram strategy involves: 1. Understanding who our target demographic on Instagram is 2. Creating visuals in a manner that actually resonates with our audience 3. Boosting our posts with an advert for brand visibility 4. Monitoring, measuring and calibrating our social campaign 5. Growing our list of followers and email subscribers Understanding your audience is crucial to your campaigns and visibility, and it's the only means to make all your work from #1 well worth the effort. Ensure your feed is coherent. Those who have an interest in my art won’t care about what I had for lunch yesterday. Users enjoy feeds that select a definitive color scheme, or one thing that's recognizable like a custom background or props. Once you have identified your target demographic on Instagram, ensure the visuals you share in your feed fit for your followers and keep them engaged and curious about your future updates. Creating a series is a decent way to try this – something you already do for your blog, and it'll work on Instagram as well. 3. Leverage Your Bio, Photos, and Stories Your bio, your profile photo and the newest content in your feed, including Instagram Stories, are the first things an Instagram user will see upon loading your profile, so you better make a good impression if you'd like users to follow your channel. Every social network attracts a distinct kind of audience. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are an excellent option for bloggers that rely a ton on visual content. Sites from niches like fashion, travel, home decor, gardening, food, photography attract a ton of traffic to their website. Pay attention to your bio on Instagram, include your mission statement (your niche in which you're blogging, what kind of readers you aim to assist and why or how). You'll be able to fit all of these in only a few clear sentences. Also, keep in mind to incorporate a link to your blog in your bio. You'll be able to add some personal pictures to bond together with your readers, like photos where you utilize certain merchandise you promote, images from blogging conferences from your niche or simply friendly selfies from time to time. Be careful to not go overboard, you want followers that are attracted by the subject you write about. Make sure this isn’t a generic link to your blog’s homepage. First, your audience wouldn’t have a reason to click on the link. Second, they'd need to find their own way once they were on your blog. People's attention span on the web isn’t great, therefore we should always make it as simple as possible for them. Share the link to your latest blog post. With “” you can make this URL shorter and you’ll be able to see how many users really clicked on your link. Then, make sure you've got multiple calls to action to click on the link. The most obvious place is your profile – say something like: “click below to receive a free printable planner” – but additionally mention your link in the photos you share. For example, if you’ve shared an image of a gorgeous-looking pumpkin pie, you may write: “Would you like a bite of this pie? Then follow the link in my profile.” With this method, you will need to swap out the link in your bio a lot, however it'll be so worth it. Users will really follow the link. Even those who have been following you for a long time will have a reason to keep clicking on your links. In 2016, Instagram updated its algorithmic program to only show the photos that it deems more fascinating in the newsfeed, Usually those that got the most interaction the quickest, and within the niche or genre users largely engage with. That exposes some interesting promoting opportunities to look at on Instagram: - Leverage Boomerang videos. Videos that play backwards after playing ordinarily for a couple of seconds, a fun Instagram feature that users love - Schedule posts to go live at the most effective times of the day when your audience is most receptive - Post niche content that you just know can attract their attention - Quickly reply to comments or at the very least “like” them with a “heart” - Also, switch to a business account if you haven't already, so you'll be able to check a lot of statistics and have more accurate promoting data handy Instagram Stories, the app that allows users to post photos, videos and livestreaming events that expire only after twenty-four hours, a la Snapchat, has undergone a dizzying growth over the last year. Instagram Stories beat Snapchat in 2017 with a boom of three hundred million daily active users and its more interactive features sort of like a poll and a Swipe Up option to visit links, if you've got 10k+ followers, make it simple for users to interact with brands. Besides, Instagram users can always reply to Stories via Direct (Instagram's own messaging system). The most effective way to leverage Instagram Stories for your brand is to use it for fast polls, time-sensitive offers and news you want your followers to read inside the next twenty-four hours, and brand event livestreaming sessions like Q&A, speeches and meet-ups, and even hold webinars with different experts. Stories are vital to the frequency of your updates in your followers' newsfeed: the more users reply to your Stories or interact (e.g., vote in the poll), the more of your posts they'll see on their feed. 4. Build Relationships with Different Instagrammers Other Instagram users may or may not be your competition, however you can never go wrong by building relationships – whether or not they lead to new followers (and blog readers) or partnerships. Once you’re proud of the design of your profile, it’s time to begin growing an audience. My suggestion is to engage. Find accounts with similar interests as you, like their photos, interact with as many pictures as you can. Smaller accounts are a lot more likely to follow you if you show interest in their posts, however it’s also important to comment on larger accounts. That’s because these profiles have tons of views every minute, and if those users see your comment, you’ll probably get visits from them as well. Liking and commenting on different user’s posts is the most effective way to engage and build relationships. Show real interest, not just one-word comments. If they're really curious about engaging with you, they’ll respond to you. Ensure you reply to all of the comments on your pictures. Show you’re active and interested in your followers. Another tip is to ask questions in your post. That way you’ll encourage people to interact with your pics. And again: keep in your niche. It’s important to interact with people interested in what you’re posting. That will make you get loyal followers that like what you do. Defining your sector would also include you as a recommended user to follow for those instagrammers that begin an account within the same niche as yours. Always react to those who have commented on your picture. Actively seek out users in your niche by browsing relevant hashtags, and like and interact with their pictures. This is often what I found worked best: A. Don’t like just one picture. Visit their profile and like a minimum of 3 of their pictures. Only then will you stand out between all the other users interacting with their latest photo. B. Comments work better than likes. I always try and comment on a minimum of one picture. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and the chances are you’ll get a reply. C. Always make your comments personal. I believed I was doing great by commenting stuff like: “Oh, it’s so pretty!” Or: “Wow, that’s adorable!” Little did I know that my comments could simply be mistaken for bots. Unfortunately, Instagram is overloaded with bots. These are accounts that use generic comments and send these to every image with a specific hashtag. They say stuff like: “Nice shot! / Cool! ? / That’s awesome!” or they just comment with a smiley. The issue is, I often commented with a smiley, too! I had no clue users may mistake my comment for a bot. So what should you comment, then? Well, something specific to the content or user usually works. For example: “I really love the stripes on your skirt!” Or: “I always wanted to go to Prague, I hope to follow in your footsteps one day!” D. Ask questions. Commenting, in general, is extremely valuable, however if you actually want to connect, ask a question preceded by a compliment, if possible. Users love it when you show interest in their work, and most of them are happy to answer any questions about their post. Comments are valuable conversation starters. E. Use Facebook groups to market yourself (in a real way). There are Facebook groups that exist to promote your blog/Instagram. Make sure to not just drop your link! interact with the other members. Also, make sure you're active in different groups in your niche. I always post my Instagram photos in doodle or planner groups. When I do, I always make sure I put my Instagram handle within the corner of the picture. This keeps people from stealing my work, but it additionally imprints my handle into the minds of users in my niche. If they love your picture, they'll visit your Instagram for more. If you do all of this, you'll find yourself establishing some very nice and valuable relationships with other bloggers. It might look like hard work, but it really doesn’t need to take up an excessive amount of your time, and in the end it’s all worth it. In addition to similar instagrammers in your niche, reach out to niche or industry influencers. If you blog about similar topics and you show your value, they may want to support you and provide exposure. However, remember that influencers with thousands of followers may not interact with you at all, at least not initially and not if you aren't in the same network(s). You may indeed improve your chances with smaller accounts instead. Engage with smaller accounts, or accounts with an equal follower/following count. Instagrammers with 15K followers might reply to your comment, however it's not likely they'll visit your account, let alone follow you. They merely get too much attention to be able to keep up with all of it. Smaller accounts get fewer messages, so they're a lot more likely to notice you. Also, they're more likely to see you as an example [to follow] and thus begin following you. 5. Live Links Since Instagram doesn't permit links in posts, adding links and CTAs to graphics, infographics style, is essential. Also, make the most of your other social channels to share and repost your Instagram images and videos. You'll be able to add live links on your other channels, therefore boosting your visibility and getting additional conversions for your special content. 6. Brand Your Pictures and Videos Because Instagram is a visually orienting platform and you can't add live links to your blog content, it's vital that the pictures you add to your posts be heavily branded to be effective. In our example to the right you'll see an infographic that we put out. You'll find our social media handle on every image and our logo will pop up frequently. 7. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage Utilizing hashtags in posts on Instagram is the way you get found and make connections, but it'll work even better if you interact with other instagrammers using a similar hashtag before you post yours. However, you'll want to avoid jam-packed hashtags, just like you want to avoid high competition keywords when optimizing your blog posts for search engines. If you want users to notice you on Instagram, you can’t go without hashtags. Not only do you have to use them, you have to use them correctly. Simply adding generic hashtags like #travel, #food or #cats won’t do you any good. Those hashtags are being used so frequently, that your post will vanish into the depths of Instagram in mere seconds. You need to analyze which hashtags work well in your niche. You'll be able to do this by simply putting a hashtag in Instagram’s search bar. For example, I share tons of my doodles on my feed. If I put in #doodle in the search bar, it shows this hashtag has over thirteen million posts. Unfortunately making it completely useless. However it also shows a bunch of alternative hashtags starting with the word doodle. #doodledrawing for example, that has 9,457 posts. That’s perfect! If you’re starting out with a fresh account, I’d advise that about 50% of your hashtags have between 1,000 and 10,000 posts and the other 50% between 10,000 and 100,000. Simply finding the proper quantity of posts in a hashtag isn’t enough, though. You want to click on the hashtag to check what kind of photos others share using this hashtag. Does your style fit with this hashtag? Some results may surprise you. In my case, #doodlesofig with 43,643 posts looks perfect, however, after I click it, I see this hashtag is jam-packed with… dogs! Labradoodles to be exact. The users browsing this class would care less about my drawing being among the cute pups. So, make sure your hashtags have between 1,000 and 100,000 posts and that your photos match their content and style. Oh, and you're allowed to use up to thirty hashtags. Use them all! From 2017, hashtags do not work in comments for display in search results. They have to be placed within the caption of the post for them to be searchable and followable (yes, currently users can follow hashtags like they do accounts!). 8. Advertise with Ease You'll probably want to make money with Instagram, getting brands to advertise on your channel, and at the same time you may want to go out and locate Instagram accounts to advertise on to boost your traffic and up your branding efforts. The recommendation given in the previous points applies. You really want brands and businesses to choose you for their influencer marketing campaigns. 9. Get Active on Blogger Communities There are Facebook groups dedicated entirely to Instagram promotion. One of the largest and most active groups in this sense is Instagram Posse, a community for instagrammers to assist one another grow in engagement and follower count. As of Sept 2016, the group count is at 9,000+ members within the Beauty, Travel and Parenting niches. Instagram Posse works to users' advantage with Comment Pods to increase engagement, 30-day challenges and account critiques. The group has its own hashtags on Instagram to boost community engagement. Indeed, hashtags additionally make for on-platform communities and lots exist for bloggers: #bloggerslife, #problogging, #businessbloggers, #bloggingbootcamp and so on and so on. Be careful with the requirements and rules each community comes with. For example, Instagram Posse has rules against self-promotion, ‘follow me' requests and business solicitations. Different communities will permit some self-promotion, however you'll still need to follow the host' rules. Keep a look out for Instagram contests and linkups, too – they're great opportunities for networking. You'll be able to create groups, contests and linkups yourself. 10. Use Instagram Search Wisely Look for hashtags, influencers (often, they have a verified icon next to their names, like @businessinsider) and smaller accounts in your same niche or industry. The first result in Instagram search will always return the most active hashtag, followed by the most active accounts. It's a decent plan to start with these high profiles then narrow down to hashtags and accounts – usually coupled within the posts you'll notice – running on smaller numbers. Not to mention that your search on Instagram ought to focus on hashtags over on accounts, because hashtags are the center of Instagram' activity and where you'll notice users in your niche. About Alex I graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors in Marketing. I then relocated to Chicago for an entry level Social Media Manager job. After about a year I got in touch with a friend from college who had a cousin named Francisco, aka the Owner of Big Picture Creatives. At the time he still worked at Fiscal Web Designs but was looking to start something of his own. After hearing about the wide range of clients he was helping, I was certainly intrigued. So I decided to partner with him and help create Big Picture. We've been doing this for a few years now and I can't imagine doing anything else. Instead of helping an old-fashioned company reply to boomers complaining on Facebook, I now get to help new small businesses every single day!

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