A Long Term vs. Short Term Instagram Content Strategy
Instagram is a platform based on sharing. It lends itself well to attributed sharing and upgrading of content. With that in mind, a good Instagram content strategy has two elements: a short-term strategy and a long term strategy.
A good long-term Instagram content strategy is based on fully original content with high value, produced and published by you. A hallmark of high-quality original content is that it gets shared and upgraded by others. A long-term strategy is a long-term investment, and it’s something that will take you months, or even years to be successful at.
So what do you do in the meantime? You build up your short-term Instagram content strategy. A short-term strategy that is easy to implement, and effective contains the following elements:
- Curated content
- Upgraded content
- Original Content
Your Content Split
Before we dive into curated and upgraded content, we’ll talk about how to split your content. In this post, I talked about starting with an 80/20 split when experimenting with Facebook ads. I’m going to make a similar recommendation for your short-term Instagram content strategy.
80% of the content you share should be either curated or upgraded, while 20% should be original. If you are doing the design yourself, or suffer from other limitations, you may choose to start with something like a 90/10 split instead.
The point is, that when you start out most of your content will not be original. However, as you grow your audience, you will transition from a short-term strategy into your long-term strategy, and your percentage of original content will grow.
For example, you may start with an 80/20 split. A few months down the line, you may move to 70/30, then 60/40 a few months later, and so on.
An Evolving Instagram Content Strategy
This evolution is important. The problem with unoriginal content is that it’s … unoriginal. It’s effective for getting your brand in front of an audience, and will earn you some followers. However, it does not build your brand’s Instagram persona nearly effectively as original content does.
Because of this, and because people are naturally attracted to personas that are genuine, it’s important that your content become more original over time.
Another benefit of transitioning to an original-Instagram content strategy, is that other people will begin to curate your content. Since curated content includes attribution to the original publisher, this will become another source of followers for you.
Simply put, curating content is the practice of publishing other people’s high-quality content that is relevant to your brand, niche, and target market, while attributing the original publisher.
NOTE: It is extremely important that you always attribute the original publisher when you curate content. Stealing content is unethical and virtually impossible to hide. Your audience will eventually discover your theft, and it will result in damage to your persona. It’s an unethical “short-term: win, long-term: loss” that you must avoid.
Curating content allows you to save the time and money of creating original content while still providing your followers with content that is high-quality and relevant.
Since you’ve already analyzed your competition, you should have a pretty good idea of what your audience will be attracted to, and curating content for them allows you to provide them with the “best of the best”. It buys you some time to begin creating original content, and also provides you with additional metrics on what your audience best responds to.
How to Share Content
Unfortunately at the time of this writing, reposting content is not a feature built into Instagram. There are several apps that can download to your phone that will help you to automate the curation process, including Hubspot’s Repost app.
However, if you prefer to do it without the aid of a 3rd party app, your best option is to take a screenshot of the post and post it to Instagram directly from your phone (while giving proper attribution, of course).
Content upgrading requires more time and effort than content curation, but not as much as fully original content. It can be thought of as a mid point between the two.
With content upgrading, you find a piece of content that’s relevant to your persona and your audience. Rather than curating it, you improve upon it while maintaining the same general theme or concept.
For example, if you notice that a competitor’s original content is doing especially well, you can “upgrade” that content by making your own version that is better. It is important to clarify that the goal is not to steal their content (see my previous note about the ethics surrounding that), but rather to add your voice to a conversation that your audience has already expressed interest in.
How to Upgrade Content
There are several ways that you can upgrade good content. In this section I’ll present a few simple ideas that have been profitable in the past.
Update the Content
There are several ways to update a competitor’s content. If their photo is grainy or pixelated, for example, you can use a similar, but high-definition photo. Statistics from 2017 can be upgraded to statistics from 2020, and include any changes to the data in your post description. If your competition posts an info graphic such as “5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Widget”, and you know of a few more ideas that they overlooked, you can post “7 Ways to Make Your Widget Rock”. And so on.
Updating content is not so much about “out-doing” your competition, but about contributing to the conversation by providing a fuller picture of the topic at hand, or by contributing the unique value that your persona possesses.
Increase Your Production Quality
Unfortunately, many commercial Instagram posts are produced hastily and sloppily, and it shows. It’s a source of personal amusement to me, that despite having a much larger marketing budget, major name brands and Fortune 500 companies are sometimes the worst offenders.
However, that opens up opportunities for smaller companies to effectively compete. An easy way to upgrade run-of-the-mill content is by using high resolutions, crisp imagery, cohesive color schemes, and thoughtful composition.
If you do this consistently, you will be able to stand out solely by producing content that is significantly superior to what your competitors are posting.
Provide a Good Post Description
Another benefit (to you) of the mass-produced content that larger corporations put out is that they often fail to provide details and descriptions with their posts. Many times it’s just a picture and a hashtag.
In many ways the online economy is information-driven, and you can set yourself apart from the competition, even on very similar posts, simply by providing valuable information in the post description.
Going back to our widgets example, you can improve the quality of the post by elaborating your “7 Ways to Make Your Widget Rock” in the description, decoding any confusing language (technical jargon, acronyms, etc.), and linking to a blog post where the audience can learn more.
Use a Picture Series
If a user likes content that you’ve posted on Instagram, there’s an extremely high likelihood that they want to see more. Not necessarily more posts on the same topic, or posts with the same style, but more posts in the same series.
To explain a series, it might be best to employ a few examples.
It’s not unusual for someone to go on a beautiful destination vacation and post one or two pictures on Instagram. However, their followers who like those pictures would probably love to see more – what the surrounding areas look like, what the beach looks like at night, the moray eel the vacationer saw while snorkeling, etc.
Using series is also a potent tool when creating info graphics. Rather than publishing a self contained info graphic, such as one post of “7 Ways to Make Your Widget Rock”, you could break it into a series. The first post in the series could have the title, the second post could show the first way to “Make Your Widget Rock”, the third post could show the second way, and so on.
This is actually more engaging to your audience. It gives them a sense of progressing through the content. This sense of progression can actually help your audience to retain the information better as opposed to just viewing it as a single static image.
Call Your Viewers to Action
Yet another tactic that is often overlooked by marketers, calling your viewers to action is another way to get their attention and motivate them to engage with you.
A Call to Action is much like “closing the sale”. It is ineffective to grab your audience’s attention and pique their interest if you’re not also going to call them to take action. All things being equal, you will get better results when using a Call to Action than when you do not.
Disseminating Upgraded Content
Once you’ve upgraded a post, you can upgrade the way you get it in front of an audience. This short section will focus on ways to get your content in front of as many people as possible. Although I’m focusing on upgraded content in this section, these principles also apply to curated and original content.
Refine Your Hashtags
Many marketers unwittingly underutilized Instagram’s hashtag system. The biggest mistake that they make is that they use too few and too general hashtags. I recently saw a post by a brand of mens dress shoes that had only one hashtag: the brand’s name. I was dumbstruck. What a missed opportunity!
For your content you should use as many hashtags as possible (assuming that they are relevant). For the men’s dress shoes post, they could have used popular hashtags such as #fashion, #mensfashion, #menstyle, #dapper, #classy, #gentlemanstyle, #manliness, and a whole host of others. Had they used some of those hashtags their reach would have increased exponentially.
How to Come Up with Additional Hashtags
But how can you come up with more hashtags to use? An easy method that I teach for this is to think of a few fairly broad topics that relate to your post. Then for each of those topics think of five to ten subtopics. Then think of five to ten subtopics of your subtopics.
These topics don’t have to apply directly to your post, but they should be related somehow. For example, if you’re posting pictures of men’s dress shoes, you can use hashtags that revolve around events where a man might wear dress shoes:
- #prom (11.9M posts)
- #dance (102M posts)
- #formal (3.6M posts)
- #wedding (180M posts)
The type of man that might wear dress shoes:
- #gentleman (10.6M posts)
- #dapper (11.6M posts)
- #executive (711K posts)
- #boss (21.8M posts)
Or things that set the product apart from other dress shoes:
- #wingtip (142K posts)
- #premiumshoes (242K posts)
- #leathershoes (1.2M posts)
- #shoeshine(441K posts)
To get started finding hashtags, look at what your competitors are using. Then, using the method I’ve already outlined, brainstorm for any topics and subtopics they may have missed.
Low-Count Versus High-Count Hashtags
Although it’s not a perfect approximation, the number of posts is somewhat indicative of the size of the audience. With that in mind, you might wonder, “why even use #wingtip when the audience for #wedding almost 1300 times larger?”
The answer is quality.
When you use #wedding, you’re going to be seen by all sorts of people. From a parent researching floral arrangements for their child’s wedding, to a woman looking for the most popular “daughter-father” dance. The percentage of that audience that is actually interested in dress shoes is inevitably going to be quite small.
However, if you are selling wingtip dress shoes, and use #wingtip, your audience is much more qualified. Someone who is looking for #wingtip is specifically interested in your product. A 142K qualified audience is just as valuable (if not more so) as the 180M unqualified audience.
In the beginning, set a goal of having 20 – 30 hashtags on every post. This may cause you to break the “only use relevant hashtag” rule. Try not to, but if you can’t reach your goal without doing so, then break the rule. In the beginning it’s more important to learn how to brainstorm and use a variety of hashtags.
As you get used to doing so, the quality of hashtags you’re able to think of will increase.
Integrating Instagram Stories into your Instagram Content Strategy
Instagram Stories give you a great opportunity to strengthen your persona by showcase the personality of your brand. As such, don’t just use standard posts in your stories. You need to do something special.
Here are a few ideas to get the most out of your Instagram Stories
Behind the Scenes
Use Instagram Stories to show your fans “how the sausage gets made”. This could be in the form of pictures or videos. For example, you can have a story that shows the work that goes into creating your product, or shows you hard at work delivering your service.
Putting a face to the value will help to personalize your brand.
Another great use of Instagram Stories is to give your fans a “sneak peak” into an upcoming feature, service, product, or other value offering. Usually video is the best format for this, and when you’re presenting your “tease” be sure to exude genuine excitement.
Product in Use
Showing your service or product in-use is a powerful marketing strategy. It’s akin to offering fans a free sample. When your audience sees you benefiting from your product or service, they will naturally visualize themselves realizing those same benefits. It’s a way of inviting mental and emotional investment into the benefits that your offering provides.
If you are collaborating with another brand, or with an influencer, an Instagram Story is a great place to show that off. This type of story provides the same “insider” feel as a “Behind the Scenes” story, but with the added excitement that naturally arises when synergistic teams come together to collaborate.