To many small business owners, social media is an attractive but baffling marketing tool. They know social media could drive interest and sales, but might not know how to expand their strategy beyond just posting on common networks. Retail companies, especially those in the luxury and niche markets, can profit greatly from the smart use of image-based platforms like Instagram. But many small business owners are using Instagram in all the wrong ways: posting blurry or irrelevant photos, ignoring fans, or being too fearful to openly encourage sales. So the question becomes, “How do I sell items on Instagram?”
If you want to build a profitable Instagram presence for your small business, here are 5 basics you have to keep in mind:
1. Be an expert
No posting pictures of what you ate for breakfast or the cool cloud formation outside. Stick to taking creative pictures of your product, behind-the-scenes shots of production, or unique ways people are using your items. Enthusiasts and potential customers follow experts with focused, quality content.
2. Post frequently
There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time that elapses between your posts and the strength of your relationship with fans. Post at least once a day to keep your audience engaged.
Effective marketing and making sales requires relationships! If someone comments, be sure to comment back. Friendliness and personal connection, more than anything, is what will turn your fans into customers.
Use relevant hash tags to find users who are interested in your niche (i.e. for a boutique fashion co., #fashion #dailylook #mensfashion #womensfashion are major – for cigars you’d look at #cigar #cigars #cigaraficionado, etc). Try to like at least 20-30 photos a day from a few of the relevant tags. Why? Each like drops a notification from your brand on a users’ phone. Try it and watch your follower count grow much faster.
5. Make the ask
Some social media managers would tell you to stick to the “soft sell.” This is bad advice. A hard ask can be effective and even flattering to a user, provided there is a pre-existing relationship. Once you have built a large, enaged audience and are getting between 50-200 likes per photo, start dropping selling language in every fourth or fifth photo. The key is to be creative! One highly successful strategy is to make product recommendations to your most engaged fans by using the @ mention function. Who wouldn’t like a personalized recommendation from an expert?
Now let’s make it concrete. Here are some examples of Instagram done right.
These guys do a fantastic job creating a solid Instagram community that has very high interaction rates and actively asks to buy:
Ash Fine Cigars
Ash Fine Cigars is a cigar shop in Hoboken I did some consulting work with last year. We had a lot of success a) posting every day, and b) making recommendations to our customers.
Rogue Ales is based in Oregon (my home state) and has something of a cult following. Their attention to their community has created a very engaged audience that loves to fawn over their products.
The 5 basics outlined above work with any company that is selling an attractive product and can be used in industries from cigars and spirits to fashion and even auto.
Do you have a winning method for making sales on platforms like Instagram? Tell us about it in the comments below! You can also check out a few my other guides to social media for small and mid-sized businesses:
Everyone knows IPCPR is one of the largest cigar events of the year in the United States. Thousands of cigar brands, retailers, bloggers, and other enthusiasts descend to smoke and purchase the newest blends from the hottest brands. Any high-energy, well-publicized event like IPCPR presents a great opportunity for companies willing to leverage social media to get exposure to tens of thousands of cigar smokers on social media.
So who were the top performers at IPCPR this year? The results are below. But first a note: these results are not comprehensive. They do not cover all cigar brands at IPCPR (that would be impossible), nor do they cover all social media platforms. I limited my statistical analysis to the previous 7 days of tweeting activity on Twitter because its open environment allows me to get the most detailed information. Yes, it is one platform among many, but the stats sill tell a solid story. Nonetheless, I have also included a some anecdotal analysis because there were some brands who made some spectacular plays on other networks like Facebook (i.g. Alec Bradley sends first cigars into space). If you’re wondering why I didn’t include more brands (even big ones), it is because this kind of research takes a lot of work and I was looking for representative samples.
Rankings are based on total number of company mentions during the week of IPCPR.
Drew Estate dominated social media this year, with Rocky Patel and Alec Bradley coming in second and third. We’ll go into the how and why’s of it in a minute. But quickly I should explain that the “Total company mentions” column on the right is not the sum of “hashtag mentions” and “ipcpr mentions” – it includes more tweets, like those that @ mention the company, use slang terms for the company, etc. Thus it is the most comprehensive metric, and the one which judged rankings.
How did Drew Estate do it?
Drew Estate crushed it this year for a few reasons:
Drew Estate made a concerted effort to draw their customers into the IPCPR experience using an IPCPR hashtag.
Drew Estate posted across multiple platforms – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, achieving a maximum reach across platform audiences. They were also smart in posting content across platforms (i.e. their Facebook page is full of their YouTube interviews).
Company employees were active on social and responded/thanked users who submitted posts with #DEipcpr.
Drew Estate did a fantastic job and all cigar companies could learn a thing or two on how to engage customers and increase brand loyalty.
Honorable mention: Alec Bradley
Alec Bradley didn’t have nearly as much social momentum during IPCPR 2013, but they deserve an honorable mention here for the sheer creativity of their marketing approach. While in Vegas, they made history by launching the first cigars into space. Yeah. The post had 11 shares, over a hundred likes, and a lot of comments. I estimate this post had a viral reach in the tens of thousands, and will be posted around the internet for a long time to come.
Way to go Alec Bradley!
What about Rocky Patel?
I’m a big fan of Rocky Patel cigars – great flavor, incredibly consistent construction, awesome pricing too. Their performance on social this year, however, wasn’t so much the result of the company having a solid social media strategy. A cursory glance around their networks revealed that they didn’t put a lot of effort into getting people involved this year, indicating they were riding on existing brand excitement.
Rocky Patel vs Alec Bradley
If you want to see what a bad approach to social media looks like, just take a look at the Rocky Patel Facebook page as compared to a brand like Alec Bradley. Here is the Rocky Patel Facebook page:
Note that there is no visual content, very little interaction from page fans, and it really ends up just being a feed for events. The page is visually unappealing and doesn’t represent the brand well at all. It is, in short, really boring. Whoever is managing their page needs to correct course if they want to get any value from their Facebook page – right now it is a waste.
Now take a look at Alec Bradley’s stream. They have roughly the same amount of page fans, but look how their rate of interaction is literally 50x that of Rocky Patel’s page:
The lesson? Be creative, use visual content, and try to act like you care about your Facebook fans enough to give them good content!
Congratulations to Drew Estate and Alec Bradley for putting on a stellar performance with social media at this year’s IPCPR!
Want to learn how to kick ass and make money with social media? Take a look at our most recent guides:
In our last post, we looked at how to use Facebook to increase brand awareness and communicate with your fans and customers. In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at how to use Instagram to connect with current and potential customers and drive sales.
First, a few basics on Instagram that should shape your strategy. Instagram is unique in that it is entirely image based. This makes it extremely valuable for enticing other Instagram users to purchase your product. This also means that Instagram is not the platform you want to use to make basic announcements about your business, unless you have marketing images appropriate to Instagram.
So now let’s talk about how to get your Instagram account set up!
We’ll start our how-to with the most important tips you need to know to set up and, just as important, launch your Instagram presence. From there we’ll look at a few tips for quickly building a large following of relevant users (i.e. potential customers). Then we’ll look at the part you’re excited about: how to make money on Instagram. Just remember: each step below is important.
It goes without saying that your username should ideally be the name of your company. This will help your customers and fans find you easily. Aside from that, follow these basic guidelines:
Important: skip the “find friends” screens that will pop up immediately after creating your account. This comes later.
Your “bio” section should include a brief description of your company, and if possible either your marketing slogan or the handles for your Twitter and other social accounts.
Be sure to add your website to the “website” field.
In your account settings, connect your Instagram account to your Twitter feed unless you plan on posting images separately on Twitter (better, but takes a lot more time).
Upload at least eight or nine photos creative captions to your account. Please: make your photos good. Bad photos count against your brand, not for it.
Now that your profile is set up, it is time to launch. Go into your options menu and tap “find friends.” From there, hit “Facebook friends.” You’ll be prompted to connect your Facebook account to you Instagram profile. Do it.
Now you’ll see a screen with a list of all of your Facebook friends on Instagram. Hit the “Follow All” button. This will act as a notification for all of your friends on Instagram to check out your account, and since you’ve already posted content, they will likely hit the “Follow” button back!
But we can boost your initial following even more. Here are some ideas:
Go back to the “find friends” screen, and add friends from your phone contact list. Hit the “follow all” button again.
Announce on your other social networks that you have launched your Instagram presence. Be sure to include your best photo in the post so people have an immediate understanding of the value of your content.
Use any company email lists to send an email blast to your current customers and contacts. If you go this route, be sure that your email is polished and professional. After all, if your email isn’t visually appealing, why would anyone want to follow you on Instagram?
Immediately following your launch, you will notice a big bump in your follower count as your friends and fans connect with your account. This is good, but it is only the beginning!
Here are a few best practices to remember that will help you build your Instagram audience:
Post at least once a day. Two or even three times if possible, while maintaining relevant content.
Use hash tags. Hash tags group photos from different users under similar interests, and will help other users find you. A few common cigar related hashtags are: #cigar, #cigars, #cigaraficionado, #cigarsociety, #cigarian. There are many, many more.
Like photos under hash tags like #cigars. Every time you like someone’s photo, they get a notification. Many times, getting a like will pique a person’s interest, and they will often follow you after visiting your profile. This is one of the fastest ways to grow a profile.
Link your Instagram account to your Facebook and Twitter profiles. This will cross polinate your social media followings.
If someone comments on one of your photos, RESPOND! The users who comment on your photos are the most likely to become your next loyal customers. Don’t shut them out or they’ll lose interest and go somewhere else.
If you’ve done this well, you should end up with something like this (another account I built):
Ok, so you’ve followed the steps above and you have yourself a solid Instagram account running. Now you might be wondering, “How do I sell my product on Instagram?” It’s pretty easy and just takes a bit more work.
Take badass pictures. Nothing is more attractive to a customer than a picture of your product on an exotic beach, on top of a skyscraper, with a famous celebrity, or in any other unique situation. If your pictures are blurry or just plain unenticing, don’t expect anyone to want to purchase your product.
Reach out to your commentors. After a week or two, you’ll notice that other Instagram users are commenting on your photos. If users are interested enough to interact with you – they’re probably interested enough or almost interested enough to buy your product. Start keeping a list of the individuals who comment on your photos. When you have a solid list of 10-15 names, start tagging them in your photos or mentioning them in the comments below your next shot. Here’s a good example of how this works (see below).
Recommend cigars to your Instagram followers. Imagine you have a personalized retail experience online, where a professional is reaching out to you and recommending a product. How likely are you to take the recommendation? Statistically, the answer is “very likely.” Try posting a picture of a cigar, and recommending the cigar to a few of your followers using the @ mention.
Post your crazy awesome deals. You must run sales at some point or another, right? Well, it’s likely that one or all of your sales is worth a mention on social media. Next time you run a cigar sale, take a picture of the cigars that are on sale and drop a caption using non-salesy language. Avoid “x cigar is on sale today. hooray.” and go with something like “Do you love the Fuente Opus X?! Well get your ass down to the shop because they’re half off!” (admittedly, this would be a truly sick deal, but it’s just an example).
Here’s an example from a client I was managing on recommendations/tagging:
Keep in mind, these are only ways to get direct sales on Instagram (where someone says, “yes, I will buy that). Social is powerful, however, in that it leads to many indirect sales by heightening the exposure of your brand in general (more visibility, trust, yada yada).
So there you have it. An awesome guide on how to use Instagram to look badass, be badass, and sell lots of cigars (or anything else, honestly). Pretty simple right? The key here is to be creative and actually interact with your audience. After all, it’s called social media for a reason!
In our next post, we’ll look at strategies for using Google+ effectively and giving your company an exposure boost.
In the first post in this series, we looked at why social media should be an important part of your marketing strategy, as well as a few of the (bad) reasons that so many cigar companies have ignored utilizing social media to engage their customers and boost sales.
In this post, we’ll look at a few of the important platforms to utilize, as well as some basic principles for use.
But first, for business owners who have set up their Facebook and Twitter accounts, linked the two, and called it a day, a word of caution: presence alone won’t cut it. No matter how similar some social platforms might seem on first glance, they each cater to different audiences, and also have different standards for content.
“Pinterest and Fancy, for example, might seem similar because both rely on visual collage boards. However, 97% of all U.S. Pinterest users are women using it primarily as a source of inspiration, while 60% of all Fancy members are males interested in learning about new products. These differences are crucial, and they illustrate the importance of creating unique campaigns for different platforms.”
Like any public speaker would tell you: know your audience. Only then can you cater to it.
To use social media effectively, cigar companies should have a compelling brand presence on these platforms:
By virtue of its over 1 billion users, Facebook is still the dominant force in social media marketing. Advertising is effective and relatively cheap, and word of mouth referrals through user interaction can be very helpful.
Brands represent themselves on Facebook using company pages. They work very similarly to a Facebook profile, but with a few key differences, including:
Pages can advertise to unconnected users. Personal profiles cannot.
Pages are by default open to the public.
Pages offer administrators key information in the “insights” panel.
A good Facebook page will tell a company story to using pictures, videos, and other unique content. Do not simply repost marketing materials or content from Twitter. Many brands are in the habit of this, and as a result have low interaction and actually lose followers over time. Your Facebook content should be unique, carry a strong personality, and present a cohesive image of your brand to your followers. To do this, be sure to present content exclusive to Facebook, instead of just borrowing text, images, and links from your website.
Use Facebook to:
Broadcast company announcements (new products, etc) to fans.
Announce special sales.
Post behind-the-scenes content (pictures of the factory, office, parties, etc) to increase interaction and spread via word of mouth.
Create engagement to fuel referrals.
Twitter is all about conversation. Because it is an open platform, any user can contact another user simply by tweeting at him using the @ mention. Similarly, users can send direct messages to each other, which can be particularly useful for connecting with customers, building relationships, and bringing them into your retail location.
Twitter is also incredibly fast moving. On Facebook, some estimates suggest that while a Facebook post might have an average life span of 5 or more hours, a single tweet clocks in at about 45 minutes before it is buried. With so many tweets, it is important to post more often on Twitter to stay a part of the conversation.
The structural differences between Twitter and Facebook make for huge differences in strategy, and are why reposting Facebook content on Twitter (or vice versa) is harmful to your brand. We’ll talk more about Twitter in a later post.
Use Twitter to:
Interact one on one with customers and potential customers – greatly increases referrals and brand loyalty.
Answer customer service complaints – increases brand loyalty and limits damage done by unhappy customer.
Share important company news announcements – keeps your Twitter audience in the know
Make new business connections – no need for an introduction, just join the conversation and watch the relationships grow.
Available only on mobile phones, Instagram is a community of photographers, hobbyists, and life-lovers that share the best moments of their lives. Since cigars are all about the good life, it makes intuitive sense that Instagram would have a large cigar community. And it does. Every day, thousands of cigar smokers post pictures on Instagram. By reaching out to this community and posting unique, beautiful, or behind the scenes cigar related photos, you will build an audience that is very aware of your product and (if your product is good) very likely to buy your product in the future.
When I work with cigar companies, Instagram is a platform that I really focus on because it is so easy to convert an Instagram follower to a customer. Often times all it takes is for me to ask a smoker that commented on my photo if he has ever tried my brand for him to express enthusiasm for buying my cigars. But the real magic isn’t in the resulting business transaction—the magic is when that same user posts a photo of my cigars a few days later, and I see his friends asking him where they can buy some for themselves! That’s the power of social referrals.
Use Instagram to:
Entice followers to buy your product.
Follow up with customers after they visit or purchase.
Proactively engage your customers and followers.
Relatively speaking, Google+ doesn’t have a large user base. Your customers, in fact, probably aren’t using Google+ consistently.
So what makes it so important? Simple: your Google+ page is almost guaranteed a top search result on Google searches, which provides a great opportunity to put your best foot forward in a top Google search result. If you load your Google+ page with links to your business website, you’ll also get a significant SEO boost for your website.
Google+ is now also integrated in to other important Google tools like Google Maps and Google Places. When someone finds your business on Google Maps and clicks “More Info,” that user is now sent to your Places page, which pulls its information from your Google+ business page. So, no Google+ page means:
Lower SEO score (less traffic to website).
Probable blank page on Google Places.
A big opportunity missed to make a good first impression on a Google search.
By the way, this applies to everyone, not just cigar companies. If you are an actor, a freelancer, or a big company, you need to set up your Google+ page… now. If you still aren’t convinced that you need to utilize this great, free online boost, read this and this.
Use Google+ to:
Get an immediate SEO boost for your company website.
Inform casual searchers about your company, location, products, etc.
Place a positive, relevant link on the top of a search result for your company.
Interact with customers on Google+.
That is a basic overview of the importance and uses of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. Of course, it is important here to note that to manage social media successfully, you must identify upcoming trends in social media and be prepared to expand to new platforms. Platforms like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube are all important and can serve luxury brands well. But small and even midsized businesses rarely have a full time social media team that can suit the needs of posting across five or ten platforms. In my experience it is best to choose only the platforms that will best serve business, and then build brand equity from there.
Now that you have a general idea of the uses of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+, our next post will look at some specific strategies to a) build a large audience, b) increase engagement, and c) make sales.
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Have a question? Drop it in the comments or email me!
In the four years I’ve been actively involved in the New York City cigar community, I’ve become acquainted with the whole gambit of cigar companies that make up what we bloggers like to call the “industry.” I’ve helped to market or promote companies like the small local brick and mortar in Brooklyn, to the new boutique brand in Arizona, and on up to legendary industry leaders like Nat Sherman. My team has hosted or sponsored over 60 events in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and NJ. I’ve also spent a lot of time marketing my own organization, FineTobaccoNYC, which after starting in 2010 as a wordpress blog has become a review website, cigar club with over 700 members, and a luxury consulting company.
You can only meet your customers where they are, and they are on social media.
Central to all of my efforts has been the utilization of social media. I’ve sold a lot of cigars on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for myself and on behalf of a number of companies. In my work, I’ve noticed that many cigar company owners either a) don’t maintain a social media presence, b) don’t use social media in a way that effectively drives sales, and/or c) don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of social media efforts.
This series of posts, “Social Media for Cigar Companies,” is intended to help cigar shops, brands, and other industry players to market their brand more effectively. If you are a cigar company owner, or just a small business owner referred here from Google, read on and learn how to make money using social media.
Let’s start with why you need to be utilizing social media.Consider these six reasons:
1. Your customers are already using social media
According to the Experian 2012 Digital Marketer: Benchmark and Trend Report, a whopping 91% of adults have a social media presence. Cigar smokers are no exception. The hashtag #cigar on Instagram, for example, has over 300,000 photos and is growing more rapidly every day. You can only meet your customers where they are, and they are on social media. You might be able to count on the older generation calling you on the phone, but you can’t count on that with the younger crowd that will soon make up your customer base.
2. Your competitors are, or will, use social media
Social media as we know it now is less than a decade old. This presents an incredible opportunity for companies with foresight to take an early lead in marketing to the next generation of cigar smokers. It also means that this is your market to lose if you don’t make a wise investment in building a strong presence on social media.
3. Social Media is perfectly suited for luxury market companies
Luxury marketing is about narrative. People don’t just buy your product—they buy your story, your vision of life. This of course means that you must have a story to tell. But just as important, you must be able to present that story in a compelling way.
“92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.”
Social media is key to this. An Abrams Research study on social media marketing for luxury companies put it this way:
“The luxury market is ideally situated to thrive on social media. Along with deeper pockets, a keen interest in staying up to date on the latest consumer product goods, and an appetite for luxury products and lifestyle markers that’s growing all the time, its customers – the affluent – spend more time online than the general population.”
4. Social media is a leading source of customer referral
The 2012 Nielsen Report on “Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages” found that trust in traditional forms of advertising (television, magazine, banner ads, etc) is in rapid decline. The marketplace is simply too saturated with ads, and as a result consumers have lost faith in those ads.
At the same time, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family above allother forms of advertising. Translation: the $4000 you just spent placing that magazine ad could have been two, three, or four times as effective in social media. Why? Because social media is all about referrals. When Bob sees that Jim liked your company’s Facebook page, he is more likely to connect with your company and purchase your product than if you shouted at him to buy your product from a slick looking banner ad.
5. Social media builds invaluable business relationships
Roughly 90% of the valuable relationships I have in the industry started out as friendly conversations on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Why such a lopsided number? The power of these networks is that the social barriers between users are almost entirely non-existent. This allows for informal, totally off the cuff conversations that can serve as introductions to valuable business relationships.
6. Your business can survive without it. But why just survive?
As more of life takes place in online venues, and as social media becomes more deeply embedded in our lives, more of our relationships will start and grow online. At some point, social media relationship building will be a given. This is a big opportunity for those who see the tide shifting and act, and a liability for those who don’t.
In our next segment, we’ll look at the basic platforms you must have a presence on and discuss how each of them allows you to broadcast to, interact with, and entice your audience.
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