Last year, a new client came to me seeking marketing help. They had great products that their customers loved – high-performing guitars and bridges – but they’d neglected their social media and knew it was time to give it a boost.
They had a major dilemma, though, at least when it came to hiring me: they wanted a lot of services but didn’t have a budget to support it.
Our marketing campaign went through a few alterations: we focused on getting Facebook and Facebook ads up to par, but then they realized that they actually like handling Facebook on their own; we focused on Instagram and Twitter, but then their budget slimmed down even more; we pivoted, focusing on monthly MailChimp newsletters. Then they decided they missed Instagram. They came to me with one question.
“Is there a way to use Instagram but keep the budget rock bottom low?”
I explained to them that they had a major – and untapped – community on Instagram, people who were posting all types of images and videos of their products: guitar builders who used their bridges in their designs; solo artists and musicians playing everywhere from their couch to major venues; hobbyists who were building their collections; even little ones taking lessons or posing next to their parent’s newest guitar.
These photos were already optimized, too. Though our account had been unused from our end, it was tagged in these photos, as were a variety of brand-centric hashtags. Most importantly, these photos were catching a lot of attention. The music community is tight-knit and customers devoted to a single brand are even more so.
If we didn’t have to come up with our own content, I could simply re-share these audience posts every week. The content already existed; we just had to tap into it.
My client loved it. It lessened their workload and their budget, at the same time allowing us to maintain a lively social media feed.
My Homegrown, Unofficial Brand Ambassador Campaign
The budget was still miniscule, so I had to come up with an efficient process. The plan I designed has proved so effective that I haven’t had to tweak it:
I setup five hashtag streams in HootSuite: two versions of the company name, two brand-related hashtags that a majority of our audience members use and a casual branded hashtag that I promote on our Instagram profile.
For example, let’s say the full name of the brand is Andy’s Guitars and Bridges. The two versions of the company name would be #AndysGuitars and #AndysBridges; the two hashtags the audience uses might be #AndysAcoustic and #AndysTremolo; and then the casual hashtag would be something like #FansOfAndysGuitars. WeWork, a company that sets up shared office spaces all around the world, uses what I call a “casual branded hashtag” for their #DogsOfWeWork community.
Every week, I check the streams and favorite every image I scan. This serves a double purpose: we engage with the community and I have a way to tell myself that I’ve handled that post.
If we’re not following the user on Instagram yet, we start.
I choose which posts to share based on loose criteria and intuition. Professional photo? Share. Photo from a well-known musician? Share. Something unique, like the jewelry designer who made a small-scale version of one of our guitars? Definitely share. We also make a point to shout-out our newest fans – if the photo’s even somewhat decent, it goes up on our feed.
When re-sharing posts, I don’t use the default caption that HootSuite loads. Each caption is adapted based on whether or not we’ve connected with the person before and if they have an actual text description or just a series of hashtags. In total, there are four caption templates I use, each one including the fan’s username and an indicator that it’s a re-Gram. Here are simple, adapted versions of my templates, using the sample brand name from earlier:
Thank New Fans + Original Photo Includes Caption
Template: A big thanks to [NAME] for being a fan of #AndysGuitars! Repost: [ORIGINAL CAPTION + ORIGINAL HASHTAGS]
Sample: A big thanks to @lindsay_pietro for being a fan of #AndysGuitars! Repost: Can’t seem to put my new #AndysAcoustic down. Somebody come save me. #Andys #GirlsWhoRock
Thank New Fans + Original Photo Does Not Include Caption
Template: A big thanks to [NAME] for being a fan of #AndysGuitars! Repost: [ORIGINAL HASHTAGS]
Sample: A big thanks to @lindsay_pietro for being a fan of #AndysGuitars! Repost: #AndysAcoustic #Andys #GirlsWhoRock
Audience Member We’re Already Connected With + Original Photo Includes Caption
Template: Repost [NAME]: [ORIGINAL CAPTION + ORIGINAL HASHTAGS] #AndysGuitars #AndysBridges
Sample: Repost @lindsay_pietro: Can’t seem to put my new #AndysAcoustic down. Somebody come save me. #Andys #GirlsWhoRock #AndysGuitars #AndysBridges
Audience Member We’re Already Connected With + Original Photo Does Not Include Caption
Template: Repost [NAME] [ORIGINAL HASHTAGS] #AndysGuitars #AndysBridges
Sample: Repost @lindsay_pietro #AndysAcoustic #Andys #GirlsWhoRock #AndysGuitars #AndysBridges
When it’s time to post the image, I quickly scan recent comments and messages, plus any username-tagged photos that would have slipped through the cracks of my HootSuite streams. I reply and re-post as needed, which is a quick process.
Yes, there’s a lot more we could be doing with a larger budget, but sometimes taking on a project means adapting to the client’s needs and delivering the best results within those limitations. If I didn’t think it was possible, I wouldn’t have accepted the challenge. We had one major benefit that many brands can only work to get to: an active, happy Instagram audience that was providing tons of great content on a consistent basis. We just had to harness it.
Within one year, we increased our following by nearly 450 percent.
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What I Learned About Leaning on Your Instagram Audience
Sometimes you intuitively know how to do something even if you’ve never done it before. I got lucky when it came to this campaign – it just clicked from the beginning. I still learned a few lessons, though:
Influencers need a lot of attention. We have a number of famous musicians who use our products, and these guys are social media mavens. They’re always online, they’re always posting awesome concert photos and they’re always shouting us out. They don’t get overlooked – we need them, probably more than they need us. Vans is a good example of a company that highlights their influencer brand ambassadors, like in this photo with surfer Dane Gudauskas.
Be appreciative. Overly appreciative. Then sprinkle some sugar on top. You really can’t be too sweet on social media, even if you’re a cool guitar company with some very crass customers posting images that have NSFW hashtags. It doesn’t matter. They love our brand, so they love that we love them. There’s a lot of love flowing between everyone. We’re not afraid of our feelings and we express them openly.
Clever branded hashtags may only be sort of worth it. We tried to start a specific branded hashtag that combines our company name with another word as a way to differentiate ourselves from overlapping profiles while giving our audience something easy to remember. It wasn’t necessary. The community had already picked the branded hashtags that worked for them. We tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. On the flip side, Starbucks seemed to nail this with their #StarbucksDate and #PinkDrink campaigns.
Don’t commit to anything that the budget doesn’t support. Should we be sharing videos of people playing music with our guitars or bridges? Absolutely. No doubt about it. It’s a travesty not to. That said, I’m simply not paid for the time it would take to watch the videos and assess their quality. We definitely don’t want to showcase a poor guitar player or tone deaf singer using our products. Sometimes you can’t create the best campaign ever for a client, so you have to create the best possible campaign within the constraints.
Some images don’t deserve a lot of attention. There’s one account that constantly posts series of images that we’re tagged in. Yes, they use our products, and yes, we’re always happy for any customer who loves us, but eight images in a row of different angles of the same guitar – most of which aren’t actually showing our bridge – is clickbait-y. We favorite these images, mostly so I know I’ve seen them, but that’s about it. Everyone’s responsible for their own marketing style, and if an Instagram user is going to overwhelm a brand with numerous low-quality posts, they’re going to have to figure out why they’re not getting the attention they seek.
If someone is upset, don’t ignore them. Until you have to, you know, ignore them. A customer had one of our products stolen from him. He was sad about it. We were sad about it. We all agreed that being robbed sucks. He told us the story, at length. We took a couple days to respond, which sparked his impatience. So then he told us the story again. We responded and expressed our condolences. Then he told us to send him a replacement for free. How did we handle that? We didn’t. The request was ridiculous and he’s an adult and should know that. I’m all for catering to customers, until they become unrealistic and impractically demanding.
Just stick to your schedule already. If I sit down weekly to handle this campaign, it takes me less than half an hour from start to finish. If I miss a week and have to catchup, it somehow takes me over an hour. Not only is consistency important when it comes to showering your audience with affection, but pushing the task to the side becomes a scheduling hassle. Just get it over with. Everyone will be happy.
How to Determine if You Have a Community of Brand Ambassadors
We got super lucky: our brand ambassadors were already out there, doing what we wanted them to do.
Do you have your own network of fans on Instagram? You just might. Answer these questions:
- Are influencers using your product?
- Are they on social media?
- Are they showing the product on social media?
- Are they saying nice things about it?
- Are your fans sharing pictures of your product in action?
- Are they showing how your products can be used or styled? (This type of post is a lot more powerful than the type of product image you’d seen on Amazon.)
- Are those photos from your fans getting attention?
Non-influencers can still attract a lot of attention, at least enough to make their posts worth your while. Someone who doesn’t have a lot of followers can still get plenty of interaction on a post with your brand name in it.
Letterfolk is a company that shares a ton of images from their customers, like the one below.
This isn’t about building brand ambassadors. It’s possible to do that, but that topic is for a whole ‘nother blog post. This is about figuring out if there’s a community that you can take advantage of. And if there is, stop letting the opportunity pass you by – you have what some brands only daydream about.
We’d love to know – how do you interact with your customers on Instagram?