Thinking about launching an Instagram marketing initiative for your company?
You’ve come to the right place.
With over 600 million users on the platform, Instagram has become a place where many businesses have decided to build a presence.
In this Instagram marketing case study, I’ll go over how we gained 11,060 targeted followers, 933,000 impressions, and increased website traffic from Instagram by over 300% in 7 months for an eCommerce company called sixthreezero Bicycle Company.
Let’s jump in!
Instagram Marketing for eCommerce
Many brands in the e-Commerce industry have been wildly successful using social media to build audiences and sell products.
And Jonathan Long, VIP contributor at Entrepreneur, states that BI Intelligence predicts m-commerce (electronic commerce conducted on mobile phones) will reach 45% of the total U.S. eCommerce market by 2020.
As the number of people who are regularly shopping from their mobile devices continues to grow, so does the opportunity for e-Commerce companies to market successfully on Instagram.Find out why Instagram has become the go-to #SocialMedia platform for #eCommerce companies: Click To Tweet
In order to capitalize on this opportunity, sixthreezero, a beach cruiser bike brand, sought out our help in pushing their brand forward on Instagram.
And while they were successful at growing a nice-sized audience of over 20K followers, and getting a lot of post engagement on the platform in the early days, making the time to post consistently and measure the results of their efforts went on the backburner as the company became busy with other priorities. Also, at the time, Instagram wasn’t proving a reliable source of website traffic, so they naturally shifted focus away from social media.
Then came the infamous addition of an Instagram algorithm in June of 2016, which effectively made it much more difficult for brands to see the same kind of engagement and growth results that they were achieving previously.
The stakes had risen, and by September of 2016, this brand had let their Instagram activity fade away into nothing.
However, it is now Fall 2017, and the sixthreezero Instagram account has never been more alive.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The change didn’t happen without some help, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
There was a lot of strategy and planning that went into growing the account by 39%, increasing website traffic from Instagram to the sixthreezero website by over 300%, and garnering a total of 77,659 total engagements (even with the shutdown of automated tools like Instagress and Massplanner) in seven months.
Here’s the story of how Vulpine Interactive was able to turn an existing, unmanaged account into a strong company asset.
How to Market Your Brand on Instagram
“Brands are getting more engagement on Instagram than any other social platform. It creates brand awareness that leads more people to your business, events and products.” – Peg Fitzpatrick, Instagram Expert.
When we were first brought on to assist sixthreezero with social media marketing, it was clear that Instagram was going to be a heavy focus for us.
We knew that one of the best ways to showcase a brand with a lot of stellar visual content would be on the Instagram platform, and the company already had a decent following, so we allocated a large amount of our budget in that direction from the start.One of the best ways to showcase a brand with stellar visual content is on Instagram. Click To Tweet
Our client stressed in our kickoff meeting that differentiating this brand from competitors (and especially their sister company, Beachbikes) was one of the most important goals for the brand on social media.
After doing a brief competitive analysis of industry competitors and an audit of the sixthreezero and sister company accounts, we found that the content going out on both the sixthreezero and Beachbikes account was practically the same (a serious problem if you are trying to make one brand different than the other).
The content was heavily beach focused, highly sexualized, and appeared to be geared towards generation Z and young millennials.
Our client explained that he wanted the sixthreezero brand to be “better than the beach.”
This brand was about adventure and the life journey, not about laying around drinking mojitos and soaking up the sun.
He also noted that the main buyers of their bikes were actually women in their 40s and 50s, not millennials or Gen Z’ers (gasp!).
Overall, the breakdown of our Instagram marketing goals (which ultimately informed our strategy) for sixthreezero looked like this:
- MAIN GOAL #1: Build a Strong, Differentiated Brand
- MAIN GOAL #2: Drive More Traffic to the Website
- MAIN GOAL #3: Maintain High Levels of Engagement
- MAIN GOAL #4: Account Growth
From here, we knew we needed to take a closer look at the client’s Instagram platform and website analytics to formulate a plan for achieving these goals.
After looking at that platform analytics for the sixthreezero account, our suspicions were confirmed: most of the followers of the account were male, in the age 18-24 range.
Unfortunately, we already knew that this audience wasn’t the primary buyer of their product, and were most likely following the account because of the skimpy bathing suit adorned women being featured post after post.
We believed that these young men were not likely to ever become brand advocates or customers, which was probably one of the reasons why traffic from Instagram was so low considering the number of followers they had on the account.
As a social media agency, we typically don’t produce key visual content in-house, but we do inform content strategy and work with the images post-production. So in our plan, we recommended that sixthreezero began producing visual content to gear more towards their most ideal customer by testing images of models about 5-7 years older.
We also emphasized the importance of creating content that wasn’t situated near the beach, but rather in more urban settings in order to attain that longed for brand strength and recognition as being a brand for adventure seekers.
As a proposed solution to the problem of brand recognition, posting at a peak platform frequency (2x per day for Instagram) on a regular basis was also part of the plan.
Pro Tip: Increasing posting frequency to a level that is acceptable on a particular platform is a widely used tactic to increase all kinds of social metrics including engagement, followers, website traffic (link clicks) and impressions.
Marketing Strategy Formulation
As for account growth and engagement, our strategy included a breakdown of several tactics.
Some of those tactics included:
- Researching our industry influencers and engaging with them and their followings in order to bring new followers to our account.
- Searching out and sharing user-generated content.
- Commenting and engaging with people who use our hashtags and adding them to a list so we know who our most engaged followers (and customers) are. Also, finding those users’ accounts and following them / engaging with them on other social platforms.
- Studying the current brand voice and personality and crafting kick-ass headlines and descriptions that represent the brand in the best way possible.
- Image editing and retouching to match the brand personality
- Creating partnerships with industry influencers or similar accounts where we work together to share each other’s content with our own audiences and tag their account (also known as “share for share” or S4S).
- Researching various hashtags (their usage and relevance) and using different combinations of image-relevant tags posted in the first comment of every post to increase reach.
- Running “best time to post” reports using our own internal tools and scheduling posts to match our “highest engagement” timeslots.
- Monitoring and responding to comments and direct messages
Other items that weren’t in our original strategy, but that got added along the way:
- Searching out and sharing lifestyle content to help elevate our brand and drive top of funnel awareness for our account
- Content planning: we decided after a few months of working with this account that we wanted to test a posting strategy where every third image would be of a specific content type – either user-generated content, Lifestyle Images or In-House Campaign or Product images.
We defined our metrics for this strategy as:
- # of Impressions per month
- # of total followers gained
- Average # of likes, comments, tags per post
- Total # of engagements per month
- Total # of website visitors from our Instagram campaign
- # of new followers that are within our target demographic
While this wasn’t clearly stated as the main metric in our strategy, the number of posts published per month was also a big evaluator for our services performed.
Maintaining a high level of posting drives all of the other metrics up, so making sure that we were on schedule every week was of huge importance.Posting frequently and consistently on #SocialMedia drives all of the other metrics up. Click To Tweet
Over the seven months that we worked on the sixthreezero Instagram account, we grew by 11,060 followers, published 366 posts, which got a total of 933,000 impressions and 77,659 engagements.
We used a combination of people and technology to enhance the growth of this account.
As part of our process, we dug into the industry and weeded through a ton of information to find the influencer accounts our audience was most interested in.
These accounts aren’t always direct or even industry competitors, but are related to our target audience in one way or another. This technique allowed us to hone in on the followers of those accounts where we executed our strategy of follow / unfollow (in the beginning), and targeted engaging (liking and commenting on the photos of those followers in order to generate attention for ourselves).
The steady level of engagement with other accounts and the consistent posting is one of the ways we were able to grow by an average of 1,580 followers per month.
This graph shows the total number of engagements that have happened on the account since it was first launched back in December of 2014. You can see that the total number of engagements was fairly low in comparison to when we took over in January of 2017.
The correlation between the number of posts published and the total number of engagements is extremely strong, so our ability to maintain a consistent posting frequency is a huge contributor to the level of engagement we’ve seen.
Cumulative Media Posted:
It is worth noting that when you increase posting frequency, sometimes average engagement per post goes down. We did see a slight decrease in the number of engagements per post, especially after Instagress was shut down in April, but as a whole, total engagements were far greater after we took over.
After we began managing the account, we set up a system for tracking our traffic from Instagram to make sure we were capturing as much data as possible.
Previously, the only Instagram data available in Google Analytics came through as Social or Referral. As Instagram expert Jenn Herman states, “Google Analytics can’t accurately track Instagram traffic when users visit your website from your mobile Instagram account,” which is a big problem for measuring the effectiveness of your Instagram strategy.Having a tracking link w/ UTM parameters in your Instagram bio is a best practice. Click To Tweet
As a best practice, we always use our own campaign tracking with UTM parameters, so our website traffic data is more accurate.
The above graph compares the same time period for the last 3 consecutive years:
- The year the account was started (Dec. 1, 2014 – Nov. 30, 2015)
- The second year of the account’s existence (Dec. 1, 2015 – Nov. 30, 2016)
- The year we started (Dec. 1, 2016 -Aug. 31, 2017) – please note that we started in January 2017, but this graph takes December 2016 into account. For the record, a total of 31 sessions were driven from Instagram prior to our work on the account. Also, we did not complete a full year, only 7 months.
In the time we worked on the account, we can track over 300% more traffic back to the sixthreezero website than the previous year.
In-House Campaign Photos
Our recommendation of shifting the content towards an older audience was received with mixed feelings. The team at sixthreezero took our advice into consideration and did some new photoshoots during our active months using models who were a bit older and more athletic in their attire. That being said, we were still limited in our content stores to previous photoshoot images and ended up using content that was created before we began collaborating.
However, we were able to pick and choose photos that we thought were the most “on brand” from those photoshoots, and we did some work in editing them to create a more unified, “adventure-driven” look.
We came up with a handful of image effects / filters and began applying them regularly so the feed would begin to feel a little bit less beachy, and a little more spirited. Our goal was to increase the contrast and brightness of the photos and add touches of whimsy to make the feed stand out.
We did our best to steer away beach scenes and focus on pictures that showed the essence of “a journey taking place.”
We tested adding the company logo to the photos, and later decided to remove it to make the feed have a more uniform feel.
We also decided to line up the photos in an “every third photo” theme. This picture shows column 1 as our In-House campaign shots, column 2 as Lifestyle photos, and column 3 as User Generated Content:
As part of our work for sixthreezero, we routinely searched for people using our branded hashtag and sharing photos of themselves with their bikes across all of social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook).
We created a backlog of 285 user-generated content photos and added these photos into our regular posting schedule with tags to the accounts who originally shared them in order to give them credit and foster engagement and brand advocacy. We also created lists around these users and made sure to follow them across our other social channels so we could continue our relationship building efforts.Sharing #UGC and tagging the creator is a good way to identify and thank your brand advocates. Click To Tweet
Another area where we focused our energy was in curating the perfect combination of stock photography to enhance the look and feel of our feed.
All of the lifestyle images were hand-selected by our Creative Director based on the guidelines laid out in the branding strategy.
“Your brand voice is paramount to the audience you attract! It can be whatever tone, style, and personality you choose – but it must authentically match your real life brand.” – Jenn Herman, Instagram Expert.
Over the course of our work with sixthreezero, we took care to emulate the brand voice in every photo to the best of our ability. The voice of this brand for social media was decided as:
- Upbeat / Spunky
We trained everyone on our team in copywriting and the brand guidelines for this brand so that we could effectively manage the workload of posting 30+ posts per week.
Here’s an example of a post we did in April 2017:
While shifting the content strategy to align with the desired brand guidelines was a bit of a challenge considering we were provided mostly the same style of images as were being published before we started, we were able to demonstrate results in the right direction.
When we began, the company had followers heavily based in the 18-24-year-old range.
Currently, the account follower base has shifted to skew more heavily in the 25-34 range, which is great. The account still maintains a mostly male following, but that is still likely due to the visual content being heavily female focused.
Note: Sales numbers have been withheld for privacy purposes.
“Why use social media? Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin
The basics of Instagram marketing seem simple enough: post engaging content, gain attention, use it to grow website visitors and sales.
Unfortunately, it really isn’t that simple.
It takes a combination of business strategy, creativity, analytics, and execution to build and strengthen a brand on any platform, but especially on Instagram.It takes biz strategy, creativity, analytics, & execution to build a brand on #Instagram. Click To Tweet
In order to sustain growth and engagement, and have a meaningful connection with an audience, you need to tell a story. And that story needs to be developed using tools, team, budget, content, etc.
It’s a consistent and deliberate process, not a shot in the dark.
You also need to have patience, and a little bit of “belief” to pursue a marketing strategy that doesn’t have a clear and immediate payoff. But over time, results compound, and you will reap the rewards.
There’s no such thing as “dabbling” in building a brand on Instagram. Doing “a little” is far worse than doing nothing, as it just wastes time. Only start when you’re ready to go all-in on Instagram.
If you’re thinking about taking your business Instagram strategy to the next level, send us a message, we’re always happy to chat.
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