“I never jumped into Instagram as a way to make money. For me, it was much more awareness and follower focused. Instagram was — and still is — a real-time feedback loop for my work. It’s a way to find out if people are enjoying what I’m creating.”
In a brightly-lit Clay By The Bay pottery studio in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, I had the chance to sit down with full-time designer and part-time maker, Kenny Sing, founder and CEO of Turn Studio.
Sing started Turn Studio in 2016 as a passion project, like so many successful business owners and entrepreneurs before him. It wasn’t until the followers, engagement, and product requests started pouring in that he realized that Turn Studio could actually turn into a viable business.
But it wasn’t by luck or chance that Sing was able to grow his business on Instagram, though he’ll tell you that both certainly played a part. Instead, he saw an opportunity and built his business methodically over the course of two years.
Here’s how Turn Studio, a small ecommerce business, amassed a following of more than 40,000 followers on Instagram and thousands of dollars in revenue.
Timing and finding your niche is important
Just as there are trends in fashion, music, finance, and design, there are trends in social media as well. When perfectly timed, you can jump on and ride a trend right into a successful business.
“I saw a trend starting to emerge on Instagram. Pottery began to take off and ceramic influencers were growing their followers into the hundreds of thousands. I knew I had the right product idea, I just needed to figure out how to get my foot in the door” explained Kenny when I asked him how he initially found success on Instagram.
That’s when Sing turned to some of the biggest pottery and design influencers on Instagram. When first starting out, he would tag the biggest, most influential art and design accounts (such as Design Milk) in the captions of their posts so that they would get a personal notification from the tag.
Sing would also look for specific hashtags used in contests hosted by top accounts and feature those hashtags in his own posts. That strategy led to greater visibility and reach.
“I liked to think of it as ‘hacking the contest world’ on Instagram,” joked Sing. “But it worked. People in the design space are looking for niche accounts to follow and my account grew by thousands of followers each month. It’s a great community.”
Once Turn Studio gained some initial traction through features on top accounts, it was time to build a loyal following of his own. For that, Kenny needed consistently beautiful content and a unique style of his own.
Style can set your brand apart
If you were to get to the core of why people follow a brand on Instagram, you might find that it often has to do with reliability. Different than personal profiles, people follow brands and influencers for a reliable source of a certain type of content. Entertainment, news, sports, fashion, beauty — you name it.
“The goal for Turn Studio on Instagram is to publish a variety of content within the same style and theme but tailored to a very specific audience. Ultimately I want people to feel inspired to create their own art or business, but that’s only half. The other half is creating content that attracts other markets — mathematicians, designers, artists, painters.”
Developing your own style is one of the most important things you can do to set yourself apart for the millions of pieces of content that are posted to Instagram every single day. And it’s not just the imagery that makes up your style, it also includes things like:
Believe it or not, every single piece of content is an extension of your brand and your business. And Turn Studio makes his brand extremely relatable by always using “I” in the captions. It may seem like a small thing, but it makes his content super personal, and quite different from other brands.
It’s as though he is embracing that it’s just him behind the account.
“People tend to underestimate the power of your voice on Instagram. I try to make every caption meaningful and personal, which is why I almost always include the word “I” in my posts. I also respond to every single comment publicly or via direct message, even on reposts. Building relationships on Instagram is part of the reason why I have been able to find some success.”
Results are in the details
While there are hundreds of factors that go into what types of content users see when they open up their Instagram app, there are only three that Turn Studio focuses on: frequency, timing, and hashtags.
“Ever since Instagram changed the timeline from chronological to an algorithm, I’ve noticed that posting less — once per week — has actually been more successful than posting multiple times per week. It allows me to focus on quality over quantity, which leads to more engagement per post.per post, explained Kenny. “Posting more frequently to my story creates follower loyalty in a different, more personal way that reduces the chances of someone deliberately unfollowing you because you are cluttering their feed.”
Kenny also explained that he spent weeks testing out the best times to post to the Turn Studio feed. “I started to realize that I was seeing the most success during off-hours. Times like Sunday mornings, Saturday nights, weeknights, and weekends generated much more engagement than during working hours.”
Sing elaborates, “My work is video based. It’s not a quick photo I want my followers flicking past during a case of the Mondays.”
Hashtags are also a major part of Turn Studio’s Instagram strategy. Sing relies on strategic hashtags to reach new people and grow his account.
First, he determines which hashtags to use based on other top design accounts. He spends time analyzing other brand posts in order to figure industry-specific hashtags that he should be using. Sing also uses the “Explore” feature to search hashtags and analyze the content that is populated in each search — making mental notes as he goes.
“A lot of times people follow me based on hashtags and even like my content — Instagram’s algorithm loves that! Those users validate the hashtag in a way,” explains Sing. “The hashtags I use are also always specific, make sense, and are related to the work that I’m creating. I make sure to feature hashtags that are used more than 50,000 times because it helps to increase visibility within Instagram’s powerful Explore feed.”
And get this, about 50% or more of Turn.Studio’s post impressions come from sources outside of his existing follower base. That’s huge!
Though the Instagram algorithm can often feel like a guessing game, there are proven strategies for methodically growing your business account. Like Turn Studio showed us above, you don’t need to worry about every single factor to make a splash. Sometimes less is more.
Success is relative
We often receive questions from customers along the lines of: “How do I grow my account to one million followers?”
What they fail to realize (to no fault of their own) is that the biggest accounts in their industry only have 500,000 followers, and even then, they are an exception to the rule.
Success is relative and unique to each individual brand or business. You don’t need one million followers to be successful on Instagram. All you need is a group of highly engaged and active followers.
“My long-term goal is to make this a self-sustaining business, but for now, creating great content is the focus. I can’t do that without a loyal following on social media,” says Sing. “I never outwardly promote my product or attempt to ‘sell’ to my audience. I focus on great content and the rest takes care of itself.”
Of course, Kenny still keeps an eye on his analytics, focusing on metrics such as:
- View-to-reach ratio: The number of people that watched a particular video compared to how many people it reached in the feed
- Reach-to-engagement ratio: The number of people that the post reached compared to how many people engaged with it
- Lost followers: The number of followers lost after a specific post
- Non-follower likes: How many people that aren’t following the account liked a post
- Average Stories views: How many people watched the first “slide” of a Stories series
- Average Stories completion rate: The number of people that watched the last Stories frame compared to the number of people that watched the first Stories frame
The metrics that matter to Turn Studio might be much different than the metrics that are important to your brand. It’s important to understand which data points move the needle and to focus on improving those incrementally over time.
“Instagram forces me to take myself and my business more seriously. Sure, Instagram is a highly-curated version of our lives, but also a tool for personal growth. Instagram makes me do my best work. It keeps artists and influencers accountable.”
Make your own luck
“The best post I’ve ever created was picked up by Design Milk and now has more than 108,000 views on Instagram. I believe it was successful because of the post timing (Sunday morning) as well as the fact that I used very specific hashtags to make the video more discoverable. Plus, it’s one of my better videos, which always helps.”
Getting picked up by Design Milk helped to take an already successful post to an entirely new level.
But if Turn Studio hadn’t focused on creating consistently great content or implemented the growth tactics discussed above, the opportunity would have never presented itself in the first place.
You have to make your own luck.
“A majority of my audience wants to know how I’m doing something in particular with pottery. And so that’s what I focus on — creating awe-inspiring content that sparks people’s imaginations. If I can do that, I know the rest will work out.” — Kenny Sing, Founder and CEO, Turn Studio
Want more posts like this? We write stories of businesses doing great stuff on social media, the latest social media experiments to try, and news and trends that’ll help you succeed on social media. Subscribe here →
This article was first published on the Buffer Resources Hub on February 5, 2019.