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:
In our last post, we looked at the importance and uses of the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. In this article, we’ll look at how to set up and launch your page, as well as a few practices for managing an effective (read:profitable) Facebook page.
This post is an introduction to best practices on Facebook. This post does not cover the nuances of Facebook advertising, integration with mailing lists and other social tools, or analytics – if you have a specific question on that, email me.
So now to get started. Order of operations is important with social media, so the next few posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ will discuss setup and launch separately.
Setting up a Facebook page is fairly simple. First, go to this page to start your setup. After you have selected your page type, here are a few important steps:
Do NOT invite all of your current friends and contacts to “like” your page before it is completely set up. You have one chance at a first impression with your most loyal contacts, so you must make it count.
Include all business contact information in the relevant information sections. Everything. This means phone, website, email, physical address, p.o. box, fax. Everything.
Upload your company logo as your profile picture.
Upload a striking/interesting image for a cover photo that represents your product well. Make sure your image is high definition and not blurry (if it is a photo).
Add admins to your page using the “manage admin permissions” page in your page settings. Note: admins must have already “liked” the page.
Now, post your first update! This should be a message welcoming fans to your new page. Include a photo or group of photos with this post. I also suggest posting some other media rich content (videos, photos, audios, online interviews) for your audience to see when you launch the page.
Now you are ready to announce your page to the world! This is a critical step in getting early momentum. But keep in mind: the suggestions below can be used at any time, so they are still a good idea even if your page is already established.
Go to your company Facebook page, and invite all of your friends to like the page. If you are using Google Chrome, download the “Facebook Select All” extension so that you can invite hundreds of friends to like your page at one time.
Ask your employees to like the page. Then, copy/paste step 1, email it to everyone in your company, and ask them to invite their friends.
Use the “invite contact list” tool on Facebook to invite everyone in your email contact book to like your page.
If you have a company email list for customers, clients, fans, etc, upload that contact list (must be .csv file) to Facebook to invite all of those contacts to like your page.
Post a status update on your personal Facebook asking your friends to like your page.
Launch a Facebook give-away contest that encourages users to like your page.
Post a link to your Facebook page on your website, blog, and other social media profiles.
If you follow these steps , the next 48 will bring a spike in interaction, pageviews, and page likes.
Now it is time to build engagement with your page and attract a wider audience. Here are some do’s and don’ts for building your Facebook audience:
Post at least once a day.
Post creative and friendly content that gives fans an inside look at your company or product.
Post images, videos, and links to interesting content, always writing a caption to explain the importance of the content.
Ask your fans questions that get at the heart of their experience of your product.
Offer special, exclusive deals to your Facebook fans.
Respond to any comment, concern, or critique within 24 hours.
Ask your fans to connect with you on other social networking sites.
Host contests and other giveaways to encourage word of mouth reach.
Announce new products and tell customers where they can buy your products.
Use Facebook advertising to increase your fans and reach new customers (detailed explanation on that here).
Be creative and don’t take yourself too seriously!
Continually repost marketing materials (this content gets very boring and will cause people to unlike your page).
Post irrelevant content about politics, religion, or humor.
Post content presenting any other company, person, or group of persons in a negative light.
Post updates expressing frustrations. Keep it positive.
Let your page become out of date. This reflects very poorly on your company.
To give an idea of what good content looks like, and how good content leads to more exposure, take these two event posts from My Father Cigars and Camacho Cigars:
Obviously, the fact that Camacho has 20x more Facebook fans has something to do with the difference in engagement. But even a cursory glance indicates that taking time to craft a post will result in more likes, shares, and comments. The post by Camacho Cigars features a well thought out image, a clear explanation of the post, and a link to the event page. Additionally, a fan commented and received a swift reply. In contrast, the My Father post above is plain, and very long. The post was also reposted three times in a row, making the My Father facebook page look uninviting.
Of course, that’s just one example. Each company has a different strategy for creating content. The challenge is to refine your strategy by listening to your audience and understanding what it wants.
To learn more about how to create the best content on Facebook, I suggest reading these articles:
There you have it. How to set up, launch, and maintain an effective and profitable Facebook page. It is true, this is only the tip of the iceberg–we haven’t covered how Facebook advertising can shoot sales through the roof or how to integrate Facebook into your broader marketing strategy, but this post is a good start. The key is to stay creative, resourceful, and attentive to your audience.
If you follow the instructions above, you should be well on your way to building a successful and profitable Facebook page. In our next post, we’ll look at some of the best practices for using Twitter to sell products and build valuable business relationships.
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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Tom Cassano over at LongFillersLounge (a great new cigar blog) recently posted a really interesting commentary titled “Social Media Bringing Cigar Smokers Together.” In it, Tom recommends Instagram as a great app for any smartphone user who also smokes cigars. It might seem a little weird to be interacting with cigar smokers online you’ve never met, but really, it isn’t. In fact, I’ve met more than a handful of people from Instagram at cigar lounges in the city, especially Cigar Inn which seems to have a big Instagram community going.
If you’re just getting on to Instagram, take a few photos, but be sure to check out hashtags like #cigars #nowsmoking #cigarsociety and more. Once you get plugged in you’ll find your way around. It seems to have worked with Tom and myself, so let it work for you.