These 3 Small Businesses Are Rocking Instagram (And How You Can Too)

I’ll admit it… I’m a casual Instagrammer. For me, it’s mostly pictures of our dog, gym and motorcycles.

However, I’m seeing a really interesting social dynamic developing there, which presents a great opportunity for the right kind of small business to connect with customers and grow their brand.

Aside from running a couple contest campaigns, I haven’t had much of a chance to use it in the marketing mix for most of my clients. So I reached out to a few Instagram rockstars for some tips and advice. I asked why they chose Instagram to be one of their marketing channels; do they consider it to be a success; and what are some techniques they use. Here’s what they said.

Outdoor Lifestyle with Camp Brand Goods

camp brand goods instagram small business

When I started planning this article, I asked on Twitter for Instagram Rockstars to connect with. Within a minute or two suggestions started rolling in for Camp Brand Goods. Here’s what Leslie McNeilly had to say about their business and Instagram. – eb

Camp Brand Goods is completely inspired by our outdoor lifestyle. We can really paint a full picture of what we’re all about by posting photos of our road trips, hiking & fishing trips. I can see how other businesses would really get a lot out of Twitter, but for our brand a photo is a much more powerful marketing tool. Besides… on a personal level, it seems like everyone I know is now using Instagram!

Our Instagram is a work in progress. We’ve seen impressive growth over the last several months. Instagram is our purest form of social media interaction with our customers in the sense that it’s less about the product than it is about sharing good times. We tend to post an even mix of scenery shots and product shots. Sometimes we get lucky and strike out in both categories. A large chunk of our followers don’t own any of our products yet but often times I will notice a new follower making a purchase several weeks after they start following us. Because our Instagram isn’t super sales driven, it’s opened up a lot of relationships with other Instagram users. It’s based on our lifestyle so people are excited to share our Instagram feed with their followers.

Our approach is not that unusual. We created our own hashtag (#keepitwild) and we award a t-shirt weekly to an Instagram user who is caught keeping it wild. We’ve seen our hashtag being used in conjunction with a slew of others like #campvibes, #wildsights, and #greatnorthcollective, to name a few, so I don’t even know how many people associate it with Camp Brand Goods at this point, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s all just for fun and for creating a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts.

We’ve done some collaborations with other Instagrammers – for example, the guy who just shot our Winter Lookbook (@marvinchagler aka Mike Seehagel, who is INSANELY talented) we met after he won the #keepitwild contest in the fall. We’ve also called on a few Instagram friends to create photo essays for our online journal called Good Company. We try not to take ourselves or Instagram too seriously, leaving lots of time for jokes.

Leslie McNeilly — Camp Brand Goods.

Forget Facebook. Instagram #honey instead

sweet pure honey instagram small business

I met Stella Sehn at an economic development conference in Medicine Hat in 2012. She built her business up by herself, from literally nothing, and now has customers all over the world. In fact, she is the featured guest on the second episode of the 26k podcast: “From poverty to a honey empire – story of Sweet Pure Honey”. So maybe give that a listen as well. – eb

Facebook started pissing me off. All the ads, sponsored posts, girls, etc… I also noticed my posts were not being seen as much. It was not effective as a business tool any longer. Combined, I still had over 1000 likes so I could not just leave it altogether as people still contact me via Facebook.

So on to Instagram. It was coming up on my twitter feed a lot, and most importantly it was free. I knew this could would be a great visual representation of me and my business… and in a chronological order! Plus, I was getting more of my content online. I post most of my Instagram photos to twitter and Facebook, so now I’m hitting all 3.

I am still new to Instagram but I feel a greater connection to people when looking at photos rather than reading posts. It is sooo easy and quick to keep up to date with daily activities if you are a personal brand. With one search entire world comes up on your phone. I often just look at others Instagrammers all over the world to see what is out there, visually. Those that interest me, I follow. I also keep track of who is looking at my photos. Eventually, you figure out which hashtags bring new followers, so that is part of the formula for sure.

To keep things unique, I take photos in groups of 3 so when a new follower goes to check out our story, it has a running theme. If they follow me because I used the hashtag #honey, I better have some honey pics as well!

I’m also into music, so I show bands and art. I like that Instagram allows me to be a brand, but also to show my life and lifestyle. Anyone who wants to follow, can.

Another fun thing I am doing is going back to the beginning and taking a screen shot of my Instagram page so it will have like 9 pics. I hash tag all the pics so new followers who do not want to scroll all the way down to my beginning will always have a glimpse of where I came from. Plus it is way to get plenty of hash-tags in and still have a common theme :)

Stella Sehn – Sweet Pure Honey.

Instagram Jedi Master – Lori Andrews

lori andrews instagram small business

Aside from the marketing angle, the underlying reason I got this interested in Instagram was a conversation I had with Dax Justin, who is an identity designer and a friend. Out of nowhere, he started posting these incredible Instagram photos and getting a ton of likes and comments. I told him about the idea for this article and he immediately put in touch with Lori Andrews, whom he calls his “Instagram Jedi Master”. -eb

I got invited to join Instagram from Flickr friends fairly early on as a fun new app. Like most of my online pursuits I don’t think marketing first, but rather I consider if the app seems relevant to me. Previous to Instagram I was a bit of a film and digital snob who considered filters a rather unsophisticated response to lack of in-camera skills. Never mind that though… as I quickly succumbed to the lure of the filter. Actually I filter most of my commercial work now a bit! At the time I joined, Instagram was not yet a proven app but now has become so prevalent that even my parents have accounts now. I happily early-adopt new photography and social media venues whenever presented. Sometimes they don’t go anywhere, sometimes they take off.

I consider my Instagram activity to be a success for several reasons. First and foremost is the fact that I am able to share my work with a wide audience on a daily basis with little effort. My Instagram is one part lifestyle blog and 3 parts photography blog. I might put more effort into my images than the average user (an hours worth of shooting and editing is not unheard of) but for the most part I feel free to create and display a variety of lifestyle images to my followers and I don’t take myself too seriously.

My follower numbers grew rather rapidly early on, but I have never really “tried” to grow that in any contrived way. It’s fun and I would likely stop the moment it wasn’t. Interestingly, just by presenting myself and my work in this relaxed manner, I have a following that surprises me. Many of my interior and photography clients in the past couple of years have hired me because as they said “they like my instagram headless photos”, or simply – “they like my Instagram”. I rarely ask my clients who referred me, so the simple fact that this is often the opening statement is testimonial to the marketing appeal of the medium.

Instagram techniques hey? This question always leaves me flummoxed. Well, I am a photographer and I prefer well lit interesting images that have both my personal stamp and appeal to my followers. I assume my followers are mostly like minded individuals who are also interested in well crafted images and awesome lifestyle trends.

I don’t hashtag, I don’t do collaborations because this is my personal take on my personal world. If I had any advice for aspiring Instagramers it would start with: just be yourself. Don’t chase followers. Just like chasing friends, this rarely works out. Authenticity and a genuine love of the social media relationships is how you grow your circles. It’s about them as much as you. As an early adopter of social media through sites like Flickr so many years ago, I quickly realized the friendships you make by interacting online are in fact just as real as the ones you already have in your city. Interaction is the key. It’s not about me, it’s about how we relate to each other really.

Lori Andrews – The Original 10 Cent.

My Instagram Journey

We loaded up and went out in our winter boots, gloves and coats – driving for about 45 minutes to a place called Bragg Creek. I even busted out the DSLR to take some shots. This is serious business, Instagramming.

We spent the day hunting for good lighting, interesting subjects and cool natural backdrops. I learned more about Instagram hashtags, contests and guest-editor campaigns, while we snapped away. At one point, Dax was literally dangling off a branch just skimming the surface of a glacier-fed river below to get this shot.

That evening, I went back to my profile and cleaned up my feed (read: deleted old, totally crappy photos) so it would better represent me and my brand. I also spent some time studying Instagram specific hashtags and looking for people with similar interests (mostly art, nature and motorcycles). Just last night, I posted some photos of sumi-e paintings I made for a friend and connected with a few new, interesting people. A win in my books. Maybe you could do the same, and see where it takes you.

I’m still figuring it out, and things are sure to change but I hope this article was helpful in giving you some ideas on how to get started on your Instagram rockstar journey :)

– ernest.

cover photo by: John Biehler

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