Link to the final project: Chloe Marie Artistry’s Instagram
“With the Facebook ship all but sunk, businesses are now on the lookout for a platform where they can actually be seen and heard.”
(Ivan Adriel, 2015, p. 1)
For the past 3 years, I have been attempting to run a small photography business. In those 3 years, I have been struggling to engage with my potential clients over Facebook as the social media giant continuously makes my audience harder to reach through algorithm tweaks and paywalls. When I first started my business, a lot of my traffic was driven through Facebook; now, I’d be lucky to even get 10% of my audience viewing my content, let alone engaging with it.
I was faced with a problem: adapt to change, or fail.
I did not want to go down on that sinking Facebook ship – so I began looking for new ways to engage with an audience and be seen and heard. A few Google searches later netted me recommendations of turning to Instagram – article headlines all but screaming “if you have a small business, why don’t you have an Instagram?”. When my future Sister-In-Law told me she’d found her wedding photographer by searching the hashtags of her venue, the decision was made.
“Among the different social media platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Instagram was found to be the most effective tool for reaching customers and marketing a business. Instagram was basically designed for mobile phones, and since smart‐ phones help to connect people to social media on the move, it makes it easier for a business to reach its customers wherever they are, which explains why more than 50 % of businesses use Instagram to market their products and services.” (Alkhowaiter, 2016, pg. 3)
Creating the account was simple – photography and imagery is very easy to look at. As it was what my business centered around, I had initially thought that the content would speak for itself. However, as with many other small business owners – I encountered a small problem. My work was not without strings attached – it was being used as a promotional tool and portfolio. Instead of my account saying “look at this lovely work I am doing” like it would if I had uploaded my nature and landscape images, it was actually saying “this is my portfolio and this is my work. Please hire me”.
One of the biggest issues that small businesses face when curating an Instagram account is creating content that doesn’t look like it’s primary purpose is to sell something. Australians in particular have a dislike for being marketed to – generally speaking, they know what they want and where to get it. With this in mind, it can be daunting to even begin thinking about putting business-specific content up publically, much less hold on to hope that people will see and interact with that content. While not quite as challenging for me, given my content matter, I still needed to develop methods to avoid broadcasting myself as “seller first, quality content later”.
“It is evident, that the beginning is always the most difficult. Most of the time is wasted on the development and promotion of your account and not to its maintenance.
The most common mistake of the entrepreneur is that he thinks his product or service is too boring to be in Instagram and so on. In order to maintain an interesting blog with a quality visual content, you do not have to be an expensive restaurant or an eminent boutique with a big budget. Instagram is a large living community uniting artists of all stripes, from housewives knitting caps to Channel and Bentley. Each account is unique, and the content is based on the specifics of the brand.” (Garifova, 2016, p. 6)
Initially, my project was going to be a bit of a ‘throw-away’ account as I was unsure whether or not I was allowed to experiment with my business social media due to commitments elsewhere. The premise was that I would test Instagram “hacks” and new methods of creating reach on a basic account, starting fresh, without any followers with content I already had an abundance of. I settled on flowers with pseudo-inspirational quotes and aimed to post daily. I would be testing all the methods, old and new, that were brought up in blogs, articles, and even clickbait sites.
However, I felt this, ultimately, was a waste of time for my final goal – to curate an Instagram for small business. The perfect way was just to jump straight into the deep end and test small business reach with a small business account – that way I would be able to use the ‘analytics’ tools and actually analyse what methods were effective for reach, and by the time I had it down to a science, I would have a content-filled and curated Instagram account full of images and ready to go.
“Know your consumers. Get the key person that will enable you to connect more of the like minded consumers on Instagram. Being a new brand and starting with zero followers, you cannot randomly add followers therefore, you have to start slow and build your reputation from there. It might be hard to get your first 1000 followers therefore it is imperative for the business owners to be consistent and at the same time do their homework diligently in identifying the key Instagrammer that able to make his or her business known to the public” (Latiffa et al. 2015, p. 18)
The ‘other obligations’ that I thought were stopping me from using my business social media turned out to be nothing. I restarted with my blank, renamed personal account and next to no knowledge of how Instagram worked – other than needing to upload from a mobile phone and a small hashtag hack that was taught to me from a free social media business conference (which turned out to be one of those hour-long seminars where they then try to sell you a $1200 paid course at the end).
Throughout the course of learning the ins-and-outs of Instagram I changed my approach a few times. To begin with, I found that only being able to upload from mobile was a huge challenge for me, as all of my work was done on the computer and of very high quality and resolution. Transferring these images to my mobile would not only very quickly fill up my mobile space, but would also more than likely result in some sort of compression and drop in quality.
‘Vanilla’ Instagram does not allow desktop uploads, however there were some very dodgy-looking workarounds. I at first attempted the ‘hack’ where you could use Google Chrome’s ‘view page source’ feature, which included options to ‘change’ the device you were ‘viewing’ on, and swap to a mobile view; however this method no longer seems to work. I found a Google Chrome extension simply called “Instagram for Desktop”. While the information on how to use it was just as vague as the reviews, I gave it a try despite some hesitance.
It seemed to do essentially what I needed it to do, however the interface was very clunky. The basic premise of the extension seemed to be that it was running the Instagram app on an online ‘virtual machine’ using a smartphone’s OS. However, there are some tools in Instagram that only work when you tilt your device, and there was no option to do so with the extension, which was quite limiting to what I could accomplish. Regardless, with a bit of exploring and learning the difference between uploading to stories and uploading to my wall, I was able to begin producing content.
Instagram’s layout is very simple – a square grid based layout for the images, in rows of 3, which go down the page for however many uploads there are. With this in mind, I chose to curate my images in rows of 3, by subject and photoshoot. To ‘celebrate the launch’ of the Instagram I chose 6 cake-smash images that I thought were cute. I used simple hashtags identifying the subject, the colours, and the location, which were posted in the description of the image.
At the beginning of October I experienced an issue that would leave me unable to post on any social media for almost 2 weeks. After this event, I had the opportunity to curate a seminar for class and prepare an activity that would assist us with our projects. This is where the majority of my feedback came from.
The idea for my seminar would be an experiment on hashtags and human recognition. The activity was simple: display 4 images and ask the class to write down 10 hashtags they themselves would use on this image. The images were varied; a 1-year old in a high chair (used as one of the previous cake-smash images), a dramatic stormy weather shot of a couple after their wedding on a beach, a breastfeeding mum smiling at the camera, and a cosplay of Poison Ivy.
From looking over the results and data of this activity, I found two surprising results: firstly, there was a lot of overlap between common hashtags that I wouldn’t have expected to be used, and secondly, the use of instagram-unique hashtags. While the first was something I was hoping to see would happen (although not to such degree as it had occurred), the second finding actually opened up an entire avenue of possible reach that I previously had not considered.
Doing some more research into these insta-unique hashtags (such as #instababy, #instadaily, #instalove, to name a few) I was able to find some websites that had recommended, related, and trending tags associated with any keyword I entered. These then became a valuable tool in the next interation of the project – refining keyword and hashtag usage to build a relevant audience.
A new curatorial plan was created to work with this new keyword method. As a family-focussed and small wedding photographer, my product was selling keepsakes for your milestones. Milestones then became a key focus of what would follow – a journey through life, from baby, toddler, couples, maternity, and weddings. The Instagram would continue to follow that cycle of 3 images in a row and now had a direction to follow. The only thing left was to experiment with was placement of the hashtags – whether being in the comments or the description was far more effective.
Over the next two weeks I posted 3 images at once every few days, making sure to change up the placement of the Hashtags. I discovered that when I chose the right hashtags for the image, the best placement was indeed in the comments, as a lot of the more recent online articles had claimed. I was also at a loss for why some images that I deemed cute, funny or amusing were not getting as many likes as some I thought were boring, but had similar subject matter. After analysing these carefully I discovered that there seems to be a trend towards more positive and smiling imagery rather than quiter and tender moments. I also noticed a huge spike in likes for ‘decor’ images, particularly with the wedding photos I had uploaded.
The wedding and couple photos seemed to be the most popular by far, however I am yet to determine whether it is the quality of the content, the poor use of hashtags, the lack of audience early on, or if Instagram trends more towards couple and bridal photography. I also noticed a spike in follows immediately after uploading an image, mostly from other photographers or vendors that were related to the subject matter of what I had uploaded – for example, events coordinators and limo companies had even commented on a couple of the wedding photos in particular.
However, with the mass amount of followers, my follower count almost seemed stagnant at times. After a few days of not uploading an image, the count had dropped by almost the same amount it had risen. It seemed that one of my biggest challenges was retaining the audience as I had attracted quite a lot of follow-unfollow accounts. Other limitations included irregularity of uploading impacting on what I called the ‘absorption rate’ of the content – or rather, the amount of genuine interactions from genuine followers an image received.
Going forward, I feel there are some changes I can make to my approach. Scheduling regularly is one of the biggest personal challenges that I face, which can be overcome by sitting down at the beginning of the month, and picking my images to be uploaded every few days throughout the month so that they are set and ready to go. I have yet to experiment with an automatic scheduler – I am somewhat skeptical of how impersonal it feels, althought it will be an avenue worth exploring if only for a week.
An example of the folder layout and handpicked images.
Additionally, I would like to address the challenge of retaining follower count. I will be looking for vendors related to my most recent uploads to follow them and hopefully receive a follow back, and heavily promote my instagram cross-platform on Facebook through my business page.
Towards the end of the next six months, should I address these challenges successfully, I predict there will be a significant increase in the reach and follower count of the Instagram account, and with it, the amount of interactions with my images should also rise. My next goal is to reach the 500 follower milestone with an average of 80-100 interactions per post, and maintain that number for quite some time before moving on to the next milestone.
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