What Instagram Taught Me

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since opening an e-commerce store is that selling food online is not easy. On top of SEO, there are lots of other factors involved in running an online store. For example, writing product descriptions that sell. Since online shoppers can’t smell, taste, or sample our tea, product descriptions play a key role in triggering a purchase.

But for today’s savvy foodie consumers, compelling product descriptions still don’t cut it. When people think about food, they tend to intrinsically link it to something visual. In that case, photo becomes the key to get the sale.

Like every other brands, I started with a Facebook account for my business, then Twitter, and finally Instagram. Among these social media channels, Instagram is my crush, but I’ve also found it to be more difficult for business than it is for personal use. I’ve learned that Instagram has its own culture and is so much more than just sharing beautiful photos.

In the The New Rules of Marketing & PR, the author David Scott also shares his insights on Instagram. He implies that “With Instagram, you do almost no writing, so even word-challenged people can create awesome content.” While I agree that Instagram is much about photos and visual content, I would argue that a photo with some creative words attached to it still makes a difference. Words(captions) give a voice to the photo and tell a deeper story that a photo wouldn’t otherwise be able to convey. To me, an Instagram photo without a caption is like an Web photo without an ALT tag.

I am of the belief that crafting an Instagram caption that drives engagement takes some creative writing. To get followers to double tap your photo, creative captions with a clear Call-to-Action seems to help. The Wall Street Journal shares some great tips about writing good Instagram captions which I’ve found useful.

The examples of entrepreneurs leveraging Instagram for their business were inspiring, and I agree with the author that Instagram makes it easy to create and share photos, given that smartphones equipped with HDR cameras are now ubiquitous. But my experiences tell me that posting an Instagram photo shouldn’t be an afterthought and it certainly takes more than a minute or two to create awesome photos. On Instagram, quality often rules over quantity. In other words, to drive more engagement such as likes and comments, you post less while sharing high quality photos.

Further, with the recent changes to Instagram’s algorithm, a photo with more likes and comments has a higher likelihood of appearing at the top of your followers’ feed. So to stay on top of this numbers game, it would be wise to put more thoughts and time into posting an Instagram photo that appeal to your audience rather than just sharing spontaneous snapshots.

As with everything, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy and not all social media channels are created equal. What works for Facebook may not work for Instagram. The lesson I learn from Instagram is that it can be a tricky platform to generate sales from. Though it’s cited as the king of social engagement, at the end of the day, you need to fish where the fish are. It would not make sense for me to use Instagram if it’s not my audience’s cup of tea!

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