As a social media keynote speaker I do a lot of public speaking on social media, and one of the most common messages that I give is that every company needs a visual voice. This is especially true on purely visual social networks such as Instagram.
We understand what voice means. When your mom calls you on the phone, you pick up and hear her voice and you know who it is. And that’s what businesses should aspire to do with the visual content they share on social media.
Customers should begin to build a relationship with your visuals and become familiar with the look and feel of your content. So when they see your posts they don’t think “Hey, what is this doing in my feed?!” Instead they say “This feels familiar to me! This is coming from someone I know and trust.” In doing so, you will undoubtedly build a stronger community and create Instagram posts that get more likes.
That sounds fantastic, but how in the world do you actually do it? How do you as a business owner or a marketing director begin to craft the visual voice of your business? Here are 7 ways to get started:
1.) Represent your brand in creative ways
If you run a brick and mortar business, figuring out what visuals will represent your business probably won’t be an issue. You have plenty of things right in front of you: the products sitting on your shelves, the smiling faces behind the cash register, or your store itself.
Likewise, even if you don’t run a brick and mortar store but you sell a physical product online, you have a lot to work with. Think about pictures of your goods ready to get shipped out or happy employees packaging product.
The challenge comes when you don’t have visuals conveniently placed in front of you. What if you offer a service? What if you sell digital products? What if there is no physical representation of your business?
Actually once you get creative it can be really easy. Remember the goal is to simply express the essence of your brand in a visual way.
So ask yourself, “what is my brand?” What are the thoughts and feelings you want customers to associate with your business? When someone hears your name, what ideas do you want to pop into their head? Answer these questions and it will make it much easier to craft your visual voice.
Do you want your brand to convey happiness and joy? Take pictures of employees having fun at work, or children playing at a company picnic. This is just an example of how you can convey the essence of your business in creative ways.
2) Don’t post blatant ads
If you have been using social media for your business for awhile, you probably remember the time when Facebook’s EdgeRank strongly favored displaying images in the newsfeed. Readers of Maximize Social Business should already know this, but Facebook Edgerank (whether they call it that now is in question, but the existence of a similar algorithm is not) is an algorithm that Facebook uses to decide how valuable a piece of content is, and therefore what it should show you in your news feed.
The algorithm takes into account thousands of factors such as likes, comments, and shares. The idea in its simplest is that if other people are engaging with a post it means they likes it, and chances are you would like it too. On the other hand if a post was getting no engagement, it probably isn’t very valuable and Facebook wouldn’t bother putting it in your feed.
Instagram doesn’t have an algorithm like EdgeRank. It simply shows you all of the most recent content from everyone you follow. As a business owner, this is a double edged sword.
It’s great because you don’t have to compete for the attention of the audience you’ve already built. Facebook can be frustrating because your posts are often seen by only a few percent of your audience. No such frustrations in Instagram.
But if you take advantage of this and get complacent, it can turn around and bite you.
You see, nobody wants to see blatant ads in their Instagram feed. Even if there are no penalties for doing so, it’s just not a great practice.
So a good rule of thumb is: “If you wouldn’t post it on other sites, why would you post it on Instagram?” Stay true to your brand and resist the temptation to blatantly advertise. This is why Facebook won’t show your visual post in an advertisement if it contains more than 20% text. That might be a good rule of thumb as to what might be considered a blatant advertisement by your audience.
3) Find ways to engage organically
I heard a great case study sometime ago about a boutique clothing store in Georgia called The Red Dress that I still share when I speak on visual social.
Rather than simply take pictures of their clothes hanging on the rack, they did something really smart. They got local college students to actually model the clothes in the pictures.
So when potential customers looked at their Facebook or Pinterest page, they didn’t just see advertisements saying “Buy these clothes!” Instead they saw images that looked like the same thing they would see their friends post: people their own age smiling, having fun, and hanging out.
Of course the difference was that these particular students looked incredibly fashionable, and the posts made the viewer wish they were more fashionable too.
The key here is that the social content looked completely organic. It wasn’t forced or artificial. It looked effortless and discreet.
That should be your goal with your Instagram posts as well. Get your point across – which of course means promoting your business – but do it in subtle ways that feel natural and consistent.
4) Don’t try to be perfect
There’s the famous quote “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Which means sometimes we can get so fixated on making our work be perfect that we never actually release it, thereby depriving the world of our good work.
The same idea is true on Instagram.
Sometimes businesses try to create the perfect Instagram post. They hire someone to manage the account, they choose the most beautiful stock photography or even hire a photographer, they spend hours crafting the perfect “brand message”… and what is the result? Posts that feel artificial and impersonal.
Think about the pictures that your friends take. How often are they blurry or off-centered? Maybe they’re quickly snapped with bad lighting?
When it comes to posting on Instagram you can use this to your advantage. Make sure that what you say is valuable, but don’t worry too much about how you say it. If your pictures feel less than perfect, that only means they’ll fit in and feel authentic. This will help potential customers feel like your company is real and relatable, rather some giant impersonal corporation, because you’re speaking the same language.
Interestingly enough, new businesses are emerging to help businesses create images that will perform well on Instagram. Click that link to read about a company doing just that and my take on it.
5) Resist the low-hanging fruit
I admit, this is kind of a pet peeve of mine: the quote image.
If you follow more than 50 people on Instagram I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your feed is inundated with quote images.
Do you know why companies use quote images? It’s simple. They’re super easy to make and people like them! They work…until they don’t.
What happens when your quote images get lost in the feed, completely indistinguishable from every other business that posts quote images? Maybe people like your quotes, but they blend in with everyone else and they don’t actually help you establish a relationship with potential customers. They do nothing to reinforce your brand. They are a mere transient and fleeting image – much like those images that everyone used to post on Facebook as a tactical way of improving their Edgerank. There is no tactical advantage of doing so on Instagram.
What I suggest is taking a step back and starting at the beginning. Ask yourself “What are we trying to say?” And then ask yourself if there is a better way to say it.
Are you trying to make your followers feel inspired? Maybe you can take a great picture with your phone, and then put the quote in the description. Or maybe you can even get quotes from your own employees that truly represent your brand.
The point is don’t use quote images as an automatic fall back. Put in a little extra thought and effort to differentiate your brand if you intend on using them as part of your visual voice.
6) Know why you’re using Instagram
Right now many people feel like there is an “Instagram boom.” Businesses are flocking to the platform. But before you get swept up in the stampede, ask yourself “Are my customers even on Instagram?”
The whole goal of social media marketing is to go where your target market is spending time. So it’s absolutely critical that you know your demographic and know that they’re on Instagram. If not – that’s totally fine. Double down on Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter or wherever they are.
But if your customers are on Instagram, make sure your actions are congruent with your desired outcomes. For example, are you trying to generate leads? Then you’re probably going to want to put a link to a landing page in the bio, and in the descriptions of your pictures write “click the link in the bio for more.”
Or maybe you just want to increase brand awareness. Maybe you just want to have fun meeting and interacting with potential customers. This will give you the freedom to not be so “salesy” and just enjoy the interaction.
No matter what Instagram benefits for business you aspire to achieve, don’t do anything on Instagram because someone said you have to. Make sure you’re doing everything for a reason and that it’s consistent with your business’s goals – otherwise you’re simply wasting your time.
7. Use a flexible frequency schedule
Many businesses get caught up in social media “rules.” They think you have to post a certain number of times per day to achieve maximum success.
In my opinion, if you don’t have anything valuable to say, don’t say anything at all!
If your business is putting on a big event and you have lots of exciting things to photograph and share, by all means post it! But if it’s just a mundane week at the office and there’s nothing to share, don’t feel obligated to fabricate something.
Remember, that doesn’t mean you can’t engage on other people’s posts all the time. In fact that’s a great way to meet people who could become partners or collaborators or customers. But don’t dilute your company’s visual voice because an infographic said you MUST post twice a day.
The 3 most important things to remember
Everything I’ve said so far – and actually anything you hear anyone else say about Instagram – is not set in stone. Social media is always evolving, and therefore best practices for businesses to stand out on social media are constantly evolving too.
Just keep these three things in mind: experiment, provide value, and measure your activities. If you can have fun as well while doing so, even better!
If you can succeed in doing those things, everything else will work itself out and you will also organically grow your Instagram followers. Don’t go for the jugular and try to make the hard sale all the time. Engage with potential customers and let the essence and personality of your business shine through in your visual voice. Try new things, help people, and enjoy yourself.
If you’d like to hear more on this topic, listen to my podcast episode below where I dive even further into detail (feel free to subscribe to all episodes in your favorite player using the links below the player).
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Have you tried new things on Instagram that have paid big dividends? Have you developed unique techniques for crafting your visual voice? Please share with us in the comments. Let’s help each other take our businesses to the next level on social!