Eeeee! We’re talking Instagram today! Are you as obsessed as I am? Cause like, I.AM.OBSESSED. I’m always blown away by how many insanely talented people there are. Seriously, you.guys.are.awesome.
I also think we can all agree when this platform came along we never saw it turning into this insane powerhouse (read: time drain. rabbit hole plunge. #selfienation…) it is today.
But luckily for those of us with a small business, it has become a huge marketing tool that can expand your audience, connect with customers at a personal level and tell your story in a meaningful and natural way. (Plus it’s fun!)
However, it can also become a (kind of ugly) place of advertising spam and self-promotion.
But wait… you said this was a marketing tool. If I’m going to spend time on this, I want it to PROMOTE my business.
YES. I want you to promote your business!
But I want you to do it by promoting a lifestyle, by resonating with your core customer and inspiring them in their day to day life like a friend would… A really amazingly talented friend who just so happens to sell things.
So let’s look at some Instagram marketing mistakes you might be making. And how to fix them.
(they’re easy to fix – promise!)
1. Only using hashtags that highlight your shop, not your target customer
This is one I actually see a lot, so I decided to call it out right away! I love and support the use of popular group or movement hashtags, but are those connecting you to your ideal customer?
While it’s really important to have other businesses supporting you (not to mention you’ll make some great connections and potential business buddies), but ultimately we need to be concerned about your efforts converting to your bottom line.
Hashtags shouldn’t describe your product or be used like Etsy tags – instead, use them to describe your customers’ lifestyle + interests.
Fix: Add relevant hashtags that your customer would search, in addition to the community/popular based hashtags.
Your customer is likely not searching for #communityovercompetition (one of my favorites), but they may be looking for #jewelrystacks. Or to really connect, think back to your ideal customer profile. If you sell cat toys, #crazycatlady or #catladyproblems are more likely hashtags your customers would be familiar with and potentially searching than #etsyshopowner, because that focuses more on you + your shop and less on them + their interests.
See this post on How to Find the Best Hashtags for Your Business (plus 70+ hashtag ideas) or jump straight to the Hashtag Discovery Workbook.
2. Posting sporadically or taking long (unannounced) breaks
Ohh I was so guilty of this when I started my former lifestyle blog (and then again just a few months back – you can read how I bounce back from an Instagram break here).
Here one day – gone the next five. It’s frustrating when you fall in instalove with someone and then they just stop showing up.
Your followers (potential customers!) want to understand what to expect from you and know they can count on you. There are a ton of new shops that pop up every day, especially online; so its not uncommon to hear of a shop one day, and have it be gone the next.
Make a commitment to stand apart and be consistent. If you’re posting randomly a few times a week and then take a break for two weeks, they’ll probably lose interest or may even think your shop closed. Yikes.
Fix: Create a social media strategy and go in with a plan.
Start with identifying your vision for your feed – you can check out How to Create a Cohesive Instagram Feed + Background Ideas for less than $25 if you need some help getting started. I know it sounds a little insane to have a “strategy” for posting pictures, but a beautiful feed that stands out and tells a story does matter.
It can also make things easier for you (*ears perk up*).
One of the reasons I love having an actual strategy is you know what to post and what not to. Took a great picture of a gorgeous building like I do almost daily? That’s great, but it’s not going on my “white with occasional light color backgrounds with minimal subject matter and lots of white space” insta feed.
I actually created a system to roughly plan my Instagram 90 days in advance. 90 DAYS. And no, I’m not crazy! It’s really possible when you have a plan.
3. Posting poorly lit/blurry shop or product photos.
Blurry photos give off the vibe that you don’t care for your shop; and I KNOW YOU DO. But unfortunately in today’s heavy visual world, It sends a less than favorable impression. No one wants to shop in a cluttered, dark place – in person or online!
Fix: Clean + bright!
“Bright” doesn’t mean your feed has to be white backgrounds if that doesn’t align with your brand, but it should be clean, clear and well lit. Take the time to set up focused product collections and take advantage of natural light.
Instead of taking a shot of your entire store, focus in on clear categories or product vignettes that tell a story; sometimes less is more in communicating a ‘feeling’ through visuals.
You want to help the customer feel like the product is already theirs, in their own home or space, and that’s best created when experiencing small moments – like they would in person. Negative space is really your friend here, don’t cram every nook and cranny of the photo with something to look at.
Editing apps to consider: Snapseed, Afterlight, Pic Tap Go, or A Color Story
Need new inspiration for your Instagram photos? Check out this post with 18 photo ideas and real IG inspiration from other shop owners!
4. Using text heavy sale or promotional graphics.
This one may be controversial, but unless you have very cohesive, branded collateral that fits your overall feed and look – don’t create text-heavy graphics showcasing your upcoming promotions. After all, Instagram is a very visual platform and as it turns out, we are highly visual human beings – 93% of our communication is basically non-verbal!
Some of your followers may have started following you for inspiration or your style, and throwing in a poorly branded graphic hurts your relationship with them.
Fix: Use creative imagery or branded collateral that is consistent for your overall feed.
Creative Imagery – Create a story with your post and let your caption do the talking. If you’re having a crazy sale on necklaces, arrange an amazing shot of your best sellers with a great background and call out your message in the copy. Or use those necklaces to spell out “sale” in a fun creative way – I saw this once with a floral arrangement spelling out “SALE” and it was gorgeous, plus as you glanced through their feed, it didn’t stick out like a sore (ugly) thumb.
@sistergoldenshop does AMAZING floral work and I’m so obsessed with how they celebrated their one year with this post!
@bonniejoymarie also has an adorable image for celebrating her reaching a big 13k milestone, plus a discount!
Branded Collateral – Take creative product images that leave white space to place your promotional message in a consistent, brand-right font. Or consider investing in styled stock photography that aligns with your brand to keep the promotional posts cohesive so customers come to know this is a sale message I should pay attention to.
If you need to communicate something through a graphic, I recommend creating some brand images for a more consistent look. I love these options: clean instagram bundle | fashion social media pack | fashion social media pack2
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5. Not utilizing a branded hashtag to engage with your customers.
Creating a branded hashtag helps followers become customers which then become raving lunatic fans (the good kind).
Why? Because they get a chance to show off how they interact with your product. It creates a sense of community as an extension of your store and we want to feel that sense of connection. It also helps you see who is loving your product and what they love! After all, as Scott Cook said “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
Plus, you can take it a step further by asking those that have a beautiful (on-brand, cohesive with your feed) image if you can re-gram and share on your page. According to a study by Iconosquare, 65% of users said they’d be flattered if a brand liked their photo – which helps foster that sense of community + connection to your customers AND cuts down on a post you need to create. The ultimate win-win.
Fix: Create a hashtag – easy, yay!
Your hashtag could be your shop’s name, a phrase or feeling that goes with it – really anything that makes sense for your store and your customers. Do you encourage people to go out and explore? Are you a feminine girly girl shop that embraces all things pink? Be creative and have some fun with it.
Check if it exists already (using the search bar – type in your hashtag idea) and if nothing comes up, claim it as “yours” by adding to your profile, share a few posts that speak to it in the caption and encourage your followers to participate.
As it grows, it can also be a great idea to add that # feed into your shop page or blog for others to explore your products from another (ie. not yours) perspective. West Elm does an awesome job of showcasing product images that happy customers take and share with them on Instagram.
6. Launching your Instagram account without “inventory”.
You know when you come across an amazing image on Instagram (#trulyshameful), you like it and then click their profile to check them out…. and then, eh – it’s their 2nd post. What are they really about?
Chances are you’ll move on without following since you don’t have much to go off of. And that becomes a wasted opportunity as they likely found it by clicking through a comment, hashtag searches or creeping around on others profiles.
Don’t give them an easy escape – create a place for them to connect with you from the moment you get your first visitor.
Fix: Build up your feed to start telling your story before you announce and actively promote your presence.
You don’t necessarily need to make it private, but I do highly recommend not actively calling attention to it or interacting with others until you create your story of what you offer for the space.
Afterall, you wouldn’t open your shop and then buy the inventory, right? I recommend a minimum of 6-9 images so the grid on their phone looks complete when viewing your full profile.
7. No link in profile.
Ultimately, all the followers in the world won’t mean anything unless they’re driving business. Don’t get caught up in the numbers – your bottom line is the real end game.
Fix: Add a link to your profile. This is the ONLY place Instagram allows clickable links so take advantage!
Check out this post for a tool that allows you to create a shoppable Instagram page!
Or at least add a link that’s trackable by creating a custom landing page for Instagram or using a shortlink. Currently, any traffic from Instagram will show up in your Google Analytics as a direct referral, instead of social traffic, so you won’t be able to track your conversions. Check out Caitlin’s post “How to Track Instagram Referral in Google Analytics” for more ideas.
8. Using your homepage or blog landing page as your main link.
Typically we’re told to put our main website or shop link, makes sense right? But I actually encourage you to be specific. Choice overload is a very real thing, so when confronted with your entire homepage and all.the.options. they may just bail since they were just looking for that one dress you posted about.
Remember, people are almost exclusively browsing Instagram on their phones so it’s important to keep it easy for them and direct them to one specific place.
Not sending your traffic to a specific URL is by no means the worst mistake you could make.
In fact, it probably works out in most cases that those clicking through are interested enough to want to explore your site and check out what you have to offer. However, it doesn’t incite action or a reason to go visit – and that is the missed opportunity. We’re all busy!
Help me find the very best of your blog/shop or help me find the post/item you referenced in your most recent caption.
Fix: Include a link to a specific page that relates to your current imagery.
You have the opportunity to drive window shoppers to the exact content you want, so show off! Pick a popular blog post that converts viewers to current or seasonal product by providing styling tips or a vendor interview; or create a page that welcomes Instagram viewers and shows shop favorites or sale product.
This can also be a great way to recycle past blog content by pulling from old posts or switch up once a week depending on your focus and posting schedule.
Learn how to convert your Instagram traffic into sales and visitors in one click.
9. Not responding to comments.
A little bit of my social butterfly dies every time I see this. I know you’re super busy, but this is so important to attend to, it is “social” media after all. While we all want to think we’re strangers hiding behind computer screens, the reality is it feels like you ignore me right to my face when I take the time to leave a thoughtful comment or ask a question and get not so much as a fist pound emoji in return (which I actually love)
Not actually getting enough comments? Try these two tips.
Fix: Set aside 15 mins a day to respond to comments.
See? I’m not saying 30 minute response times, but make it a habit to check at least once a day – follow up with thank you’s, answers to questions and general chatting with followers!
As you grow, it may not be as practical to respond to every comment, but do make it a commitment. Plus, comments seriously help with boosting your engagement rate! And with the new Instagram algorithm, a high engagement rate is an absolute necessity if you’re going to break through and come out on top.
[bctt tweet=”If you’re going to participate on a platform – be an active, engaging member, not a drive-by poster. @theshopfiles” via=”no”]
10. Posting only promotional product shots.
I can’t even tell you how many accounts I come across that look like this – product shot, poorly lit product shot, supplies, AMAZING PHOTO, product shot, product shot, blurry home shot.
Fix: Brainstorm other aspects of your business that you can share and weave those in throughout your feed.
You can also reduce the promotional look, while still keeping your products the main focus, by taking lifestyle shots. Again, this goes back to creating more natural vignettes – bring the item out to play in the real world for your customers to relate to, show how you incorporate it into your life and mix with non-shop elements.
Start by gathering some inspiration from this post on new ways to showoff your goods!
11. Posting too much of the same or repeating images.
Similar to above, but this often happens when the subject matter is the same + shot in the same way over and over.
Fix: Identify what captures your eye and edit, edit, edit.
Scroll quickly through your feed and the feed of 3-5 accounts you admire – what images stand out to you? What’s capturing your attention as you quickly flip through during your daily thumb calisthenics?
Identify 3-5 themes you can rotate throughout your account. For example, it could be lifestyle-product shots, behind the scenes creating, #girlboss activities, your shop dog and flowers. Or something a little less basic (sorry I’m a basic betch)
Take the (free) Find Your Feed challenge to walk you through how to identify those themes, determine your own color palette, and create your own 9-grid template to follow.
12. Not taking advantage of geo-tagging.
If you’re a small business, working out of your home, I of course don’t recommend sharing that location. But it can be a powerful addition and an easy add, plus – Adweek shows posts that use geotags get 79% more engagement.
Fix: Share locations from your favorite spots!
Tag your city, favorite coffee shop, or walks in the park. Customers love getting a peek behind the scenes at your life – we’re creeps like that 😉
(So seriously – do not tag your home)
13. Setting your account to private
I almost didn’t add this, but I keep coming across creatives, makers, shop owners, etc etc etc!!! that have their accounts set to private. I definitely understand the need to keep personal information out of the public eye and certainly don’t expect you to put yourself or your family in an uncomfortable situation (it bears repeating – do not tag your home, we’re all creeps!!).
I also know creating and maintaining an active business Instagram account is hard work, so I can’t necessarily blame you for not jumping in on the double account party either. However, I would encourage you to consider the missed opportunities. I know I’m never interested to click through to a shop if I can’t view your account… and you’d have to write one hell of a bio to make me request your viewing permission my majesty….. (don’t hate me, been re-watching one too many GOT episodes in anticipation)
Fix: Adjust your personal account to your comfort level or create a new business-only account.
Personally (ha ha..ha), I feel cutting all personal ties is a little easier because I still want to post those silly nights out and family pics and I don’t need all of you to see me 3 mojitos deep, let’s take this slow. So my advice would be to make a clean break and create a business only account, but still be YOU! Just a slightly cleaned up version that focuses on “your brand”, which likely encompasses you plus your coffee + lipstick addiction; instead of just “you”, which likely focuses on your tv and sweats addiction. Actually wait….
Setting Shop Goals: What’s one tweak you can make to your Instagram account today plus 2 goals for the next month? Share on Instagram and Twitter using #theshopsquad!
Connect with me on Instagram @theshopfiles and share your handle below so I can check you out!
My tweak: Add a 3rd theme element to my common photos (from point #11)
Two Goals: post 5 photos a week + reach 1,500 followers by end of year
Found this post helpful? Grab your free guide to writing “Captions that Convert” below, plus 30 prompts!
My evening that was originally going to be me catching up on The Walking Dead in the sweats you mentioned just became me falling down a rabbit hole of trying to read every single one of your posts and taking pages of notes. SO happy I stumbled upon a link to one of your articles on Pinterest, they are so helpful, cannot wait to start implementing these strategies!
Hi Allie! omgosh we JUST started watching The Walking Dead last week, already finished season 2 I’m completely hooked!! (+ would totally not survive if in that situation lol, I’ve come to terms with that).
Thank you so so much for your comment – it was the best thing to wake up to! I’m beyond excited you found these posts useful and can’t wait to see more on your business!
(I saw your earrings were featured on the Mindy Project! ON MINDY. *jaw drop* I’m a little obsessed with her…That show is freaking hilarious)
I love your posts about Instagram!! I’m not a business owner or blogger but I just love the idea of a personal brand and cohesive Instagram feed! Something about it just makes me go “ahhhh.” Would love a little feedback on my Instagram 🙂
Thanks so much – I totally know the feeling…as I’ve gotten more involved with the business side suddenly my personal accounts looking a little sad in comparison lol. Your vibe is really fun + playful (lots of dogs which I love!), so I think working on similar lighting would help the overall feel, without you having to compromise on what you post – since it is just for personal fun afterall! Most of its really light, so the few darker ones throw it off a bit. But I definitely wouldn’t overthink it too much if its for fun!
where do you suggest we put the specific link to a product if in our bio we have our homepage?
Thanks for this post!
Hey Phoebe! I actually recommend placing that specific link in your bio, instead of the generic homepage. Giving a specific destination with a call to action will result in more clicks than a generic homepage link you don’t often address. Then either way they’ll get to your site if they want to look around more. But as you’re mentioning specifics, using that link makes it easier to click and find *exactly* what you’re talking about. Especially since most Instagram traffic is mobile and typically those users are looking for info quickly and easily. Hope that helps!
I can’t get enough of your posts and fantastic information! And I love the way you approach this all in a very real way, ya feeling me? Like yes. We all binge watch Netflix! Disgusting – but universal! I will be keeping up with you and listening! Thanks so much ???? And maybe just 2 more of these !!
aw thanks so much Allison, that means a lot!
glad you found these posts helpful…what are you currently working on in your business? and currently watching on netflix? 🙂
Super helpful, super easy to read, super need to DO ALL OF THIS. I’m such a social media nube, and it’s very unfortunate that I’m responsible for the Instagram account belonging to the coffee roaster my husband and I own. Werkin’ on that. @MountaineerCoffee is so many pictures of our fresh roasted coffee, sticky baby fingers, and my pet duck, Seth. Maybe a personal account is a good idea….
I love this post! It’s so helpful as I’m attempting to making my own instagram aesthetic. Instagram is a hard platform to master but I’m definitely going to use these tips to hopefully get better!
Hey Victoria! woohooo glad you found it helpful + thanks for leaving a comment!
I agree it’s been a difficult one and I think I’m even coming up on a “shift” in changing the aesthetic and direction of my feed. I love your pictures which have the rich but slightly de-saturated hues (like the ones from currently your sixth post in, blue bag + blue shoes through the pic of you smiling in a cream tank on a small path for example. maybe not the look you’re going for, but those images really stood out to me!
good luck finding your insta-groove 🙂
Just stumbled across your blog and I can’t stop reading! I’ve been trying to think of ways to help grow our new business and I’m loving all of your strategies. Would love to see if you have any tips for our shop page @fineanddandypins
yayy thanks so much Breanna!
shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with a little background on your goals for the shop! I’m on vacation now, but will be back next week!
So happy I’ve found this page 🙌🏼 Recently set up my insta account in the hope to progress to a blog and then maybe shop!! I’m an avid crafter, photographer writer anything that means I get to play with pretty things and avoid any manual labour and by that I mean mostly house work 🙈 I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong after reading this so any feedback would be appreciated! The one positive I’ve found is after all my ‘talk’ of progressing with my instafeed/blog/shop obsession is that having the page active is making me accountable and I am finding time instead of excuses! Now to make it an all round success…🙏🏼 @by_the_beach_house
I found this page through Pinterest and cant believe how much info there is. I can not wait to get back to this tomorrow, sad I found it so late tonight! I have a lot of work to do Thank you!
I know so many people who take big long breaks from posting to Instagram and then complain about a drop in engagement – couldn’t agree more with what you shared in this blog!