What are the best practices for using Instagram to market your business or brand?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, author and Instagram marketing expert Rev Ciancio pulls back the curtain on how he’s built up almost 80,000 followers on Instagram and breaks down exactly what marketers need to know to master Instagram marketing for their own businesses.
Rev covers both the high-level strategy that will help you win at Instagram, as well as the nitty-gritty tactical details you’ll need to know to look like an Insta pro.
This week’s episode of The Inbound Success Podcast is brought to you by our sponsor, IMPACT Live, the most immersive and high energy learning experience for marketers and business leaders. IMPACT Live takes place August 6-7, 2019 in Hartford Connecticut and is headlined by Marcus Sheridan along with special guests including world-renowned Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith and Drift CEO and Co-Founder David Cancel.Inbound Success Podcast listeners can save 10% off the price of tickets with the code “SUCCESS”.
Some highlights from my conversation with Rev include:
Rev is a food blogger and Instagram influencer focused on the restaurant and hospitality business.
He has taken a very intentional approach to what he posts on Instagram and specifically shares things related to his passion for food and how to market restaurant and hospitality businesses on the platform.
Rev says there are really only two reasons that a business should be on Instagram. Either a portion of their target audience is already there, or they have the ability to build an audience where nobody else is.
Instagram is a very visual platform, so if you can’t express either the values of your company, or the solutions your service or product provides, or you can’t speak to your audience through a visual medium, it’s the wrong social network to be on.
It’s a particularly good platform for conveying corporate culture through photos of employees, office environments, team outings, etc.
Instagram has both very casual users who just look at photos and videos but don’t read captions, and intense users who go deep on a topic. Rev says to design your Instagram presence for the intense user by sharing striking images and videos, and then going deeper in your captions.
Because Instagram only shows a limited amount of text from the captions before making you click to read more, when you’re crafting the message to your Instagram post, think about what’s going to happen in the first six or seven words that’s going to make somebody want to tap more to see what else you wrote.
Photo quality is critical on Instagram and apps like Snapseed make it very easy for even a layperson to create professional looking photos very quickly.
Consistency is also very important, so Rev says to determine how often you will post and then stick with that scheduled to develop a habit amongst your audience.
One way to get discovered by new audiences on Instagram is hashtags. The platform allows you to use up to 30 hashtags, and Rev suggests taking a “content mix” approach by combining some more popular and widely used hashtags with some more niche terms to find your audience.
There is a debate going on right now about whether it’s better to post hashtags in the caption to the post or in a comment. Rev is testing both approaches right now and suggests that others do the same.
Instagram doesn’t allow you to use hard line breaks when posting captions, and will actually remove hard line breaks when they are put in. Rev suggests using a third party tool such as a notes app to create captions and insert a period in between paragraphs to get around this. Doing so makes caption text easier to read and also lengthens the amount of time your audience interacts with your post, which Instagram’s algorithm really likes.
To make it easier to format and schedule out Instagram posts, Rev uses Later, a third party software tool.
Photos and videos posted to the Instagram feed are a great way to capture a moment in time, whereas Instagram Stories are more effective at digging deeper into a topic and weaving together a narrative.
If you’re posting a large volume of content to Instagram and one of your goals is to get people to visit your website, or click through on something, then putting a link in your bio can be a great way to accomplish this.
Resources from this episode:
Listen to the podcast to hear how Rev approaches Instagram marketing and learn how to apply those lessons to your business Instagram strategy.
Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I’m Kathleen Booth and I’m your host. And my guest this week is Rev Ciancio, who is a hospitality and digital marketing consultant. Welcome Rev.Rev Ciancio (Guest): Hi, thanks for having me.
Rev and Kathleen recording this episode
Kathleen: I’m happy to have you here, especially because we’re going to talk about something that we haven’t talked about yet on this podcast.
But before we get to that, you have a really interesting background. What you’re involved in now is really interesting and kind of different from some of the other guests I’ve had on.
Tell my audience a little bit more about yourself and your connection to delicious looking food.
About Rev Ciancio
Rev: So I used to be in the music business, and I owned an independent agency that did marketing promotion on behalf of record labels and publishers. I got this in my head one day that working for a small amount of time on a band, or an album was fun, but I really wanted to get in deep with bands, and I become an artist manager. So I was managing rock bands and touring the world and all that fun stuff.
What I sort of learned over time in that business is that the majority of band members who pick up an instrument don’t do it to start a business, they do it because they want to play guitar, or they want to sing a song.
I found that over time, my ability to teach people in that industry to think about business first, or think about business as much as they do their creative aspects, just wasn’t providing the results I’d hoped it was. And I was like, “Well, I bet I can apply these same principles to food and to restaurant marketing.”
So I made a leap from doing independent marketing and consulting for basically rock bands, to chefs and restaurants. You’d be amazed at how similar those two things are.
Kathleen: I feel like the same thing could said about doctors. Don’t they always say doctors make the worst business managers?
Rev: Probably, but I feel like the art of health is less art and more science. So you’d be surprised the similarities in rock and roll, and in food and hospitality. But I kind of quickly learned that you can’t download a hamburger, and that if you have a favorite restaurant you might eat there again as opposed to you’re not going to buy an album twice unless you’re converting from album to CD, or whatever digital.
Anyway, I started to apply the principles I had learned in the music business in marketing, branding and promoting bands to restaurants and food and it worked.
So that was it, I was done. I was done with the music business and from that point forward I sort of focused on hospitality marketing in the forms of local search, social media, menu management that kind of stuff. I actually went and even owned a bar for awhile.
So, not only have I consulted, not only do I like eating, but I’ve actually been in the trenches and run a bar and restaurant.
The most important lesson I learned in owning a bar and restaurant is that I’m really bad at running a bar and restaurant. But I’m pretty good at the marketing and branding piece. So, I sort of got out of owning and just focused the rest of my career on helping location-based businesses, primarily restaurants, to be successful with digital marketing, and digital marketing tools.
Kathleen: You’ve spent some time also at Yext, correct?
Rev: I was there for two years, yep.
Kathleen: They’re a big player in the local marketing space as well. I’ve actually had the CMO of Yext on the podcast talking about local search and SEO and optimization. So, it’s an interesting background, a mix of things that you have from working at the smaller level with those local businesses to working in a larger SaaS company that’s aiming to help those kinds of companies at scale.
Then, one of the things I found really interesting about you, and that was kind of a fun side rabbit hole that I went down, was your Instagram. Warning to anyone listening. Do not look at Rev’s Instagram if you’re hungry. It’s kind of like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. It’s really dangerous.
But you have this really interesting Instagram that’s attracted quite a following. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Rev on Instagram
Rev: Sure. Well, first of all I don’t make any apologies for causing hunger pains. So, no apologies happening there. If you happen to go look at my Instagram screen name, which is just my name Rev Ciancio, I post what a lot of people call food porn.
So, I used to write a lot of content when I was in college and whatever about the music business, about music. Then I got in the music business and I didn’t want to have my passion and my job sort of be the same. So, when I started in the music business I still wanted to write, so I started writing about food.
Back in like it must have been in ’99, 2000 food blogs weren’t really a thing. So my first real food blog was in 2003 and I’ve just sort of kept creating content since then whether it was a blog or Pinterest, or Snapchat or whatever.
Instagram, I’ve been on since 2006 so quite a while. But, that I think is the first social network that really lended itself towards the visual nature of food in terms of it being appealing and looking. I really think only in maybe the last three or four years has that channel really become what it’s become in terms of growth, and influencer marketing as it appeals to food.
So, how did I get there? Well, I used to treat my Instagram just like everybody else. Pictures of my daily life, and shaking my fist at an angry bus. Or, here’s a really poorly lit picture of a salad. You know, just a snap shot of my life.
I made a decision that if I was not only going to lead digital marketing for other businesses, but if I wanted to sort of attract a bigger audience, then I needed to practice what I preach.
So I was like, “Well, I’m not going to look at Instagram as being a yearbook, or a photobook of my life. I’m going to use this to prove that I am who I say I am to reach a broader audience.” Then actually be able to use it to learn so that I could transfer that knowledge to my clients.
So, all those great looking photos you see up there were intentional. I decided what was my reason for being on there, what theme did I want to have, why did I want people to follow me. So there’s a lot of thought and a lot of curation into sloppy looking cheeseburgers is what I’m trying to tell you.
Kathleen: I mean, the food is insane. I am now deeply regretting the healthy kale salad I chose to have for lunch right before I did this podcast interview. I’m looking at the pizza, the burgers, all of it. It all is everything that I would eat if I had no limitations.
Rev: Well, then it’s doing its job. It got your attention.
Kathleen: Yes. It did.
Now, this is exactly why I was interested in talking with you because I really haven’t had anybody come on the podcast yet, and I think I’m at about 80 episodes, and talk about Instagram. I talk to a lot of B2B marketers. Certainly B2C as well, but I think particularly in the B2B world, everybody feels like they need to be on Instagram, but nobody can quite figure out what to do with it. I think B2C is doing a little bit better, and I think some Instagram ads are helping.
But, I feel like a lot of the people that are listening really don’t have a deep knowledge of Instagram. Maybe I’m making an assumption. I don’t have a deep knowledge of Instagram. I mean, I use it. We use it for our business. I wouldn’t say it’s a major driver of traffic to our website, or leads, or even brand awareness for us.
So, I really just want to pick your brain for marketers who are listening, who are maybe grappling with “How should I use Instagram for my business?”
How would you suggest they get started today, given where Instagram is now? And then we can maybe dive a little bit deeper into very specific tactics of ways to do it right.
How To Use Instagram For Business
Rev: Cool. Well, I would say this really about any social network but specifically as it relates to Instagram. There’s only two reasons why a business needs to be on Instagram. Either a portion of their target audience is already there, or they have the ability to build an audience where nobody else is.
If you can’t define either of those things I would tell you not to use Instagram or any social tool.
Where it gets specific with Instagram is, this is like a “duh” moment of course, but it’s a super visual format. So, if you can’t express either the values of your company, or your interests, or the solutions your service or product provides, or you can’t speak to your audience through a visual nature, it’s the wrong social network to be on.
So, is it a powerful platform for B2B? Well, yeah, I would say it is. But then it’s how are you using it.
So, what I think the problem with a lot of businesses when they approach Instagram is they approach it the same way they might approach LinkedIn, or the same way they might approach Facebook or Twitter. They’re just copy and pasting the same format, and they’re using it to broadcast whatever it is they’re broadcasting.
Because Instagram is pretty visual I think it makes a great play for it being a great way to brand your business. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be promotional based, “Buy our product. Use our service.” But it could be about your people, it could be about your brand, it could be about your customers.
So, I think Instagram is a great tool for expressing either who you are as a brand, or who are the customers you help.
Kathleen: It’s interesting that you say that, because I think to date … Again, we haven’t put a lot of resources into our Instagram. But, I feel like the one area to date where it really has produced results for us is with recruiting. Because people do … We tend to recruit a lot of younger marketers, I say younger but that’s younger than me. Which is a lot of people. People who are in that Instagram demographic, and they do tend to look at our feed and see the pictures.
We post a lot of more kind of cultural things — our employees out having fun together, stuff happening in our office. It’s been really great for that. We really haven’t put a lot of effort into it as far as attracting a customer, a subscriber audience. I think that there’s probably a lot more we could be doing to be quite frank.
Rev: I think you hit on it. I think a lot of, especially in 2019 the way the work force is going, people choose where they’re going to work. Not just on the availability of a job or not, but what is the culture like. I think Instagram is a great tool for expressing the culture of what it’s like to be a part of your brand from the inside.
So, I would agree that, that’s actually a really great use of Instagram because you can take pictures of, or videos of people and moments and show what it’s like to be a part of your team. So from that aspect it’s actually a really great recruiting tool because it gives a vision into what it’s like to be there.
Kathleen: So, fair to say that the key differentiator of Instagram, well key differentiators, one is that the platform is really built around pictures and video? Then, I know the other one is that you can’t put links in your posts. You can put a link in your bio, but not in your post, correct?
Rev: That’s correct. One of the things with Instagram is because it’s sort of an open format and it’s very heavy in the influencer world and there’s a lot of brands trying to figure out what to do there, I think you get a lot of casual audience. So, just because somebody liked your picture doesn’t mean they read your text. So even if you did attempt to put a link in your text, which doesn’t hyperlink, or you were smart and put it in your bio and told people to go there after they read the post, it doesn’t mean they’re even going to see that text.
Rev: So, the problem, or maybe the challenge, with Instagram is that you get a lot of intense users. If you want to go deep as a fan on any subject, cars, education, food, swim wear, vacation you can go super deep by following super deep oriented brands, or channels, or influencers. But you’re also going to get the bigger you get a lot more causal of an audience. So it’s a lot harder to get them to convert from being causal to intense. But, it’s a great place to drive intensity.
So, you see that picture and if it really speaks to you, then you might click more, then you might take my call to action. You might go to my story. So, I tell people to design their content for the intense experience, not the broad audience.
Kathleen: Okay. So, it sounds like focusing on videos and images that can stand alone without any supporting copy?
Rev: Well, from an attraction standpoint. I’ll use my account as an example because thats honestly the best one I have, or maybe the one I have the deepest lens into.
So, if you go look at my Instagram account without clicking deeper, it just looks like cheeseburgers, french fries, steak and barbecue. But if you start to go read the captions, or you read the stuff I’m putting out there, you check out my stories, a lot of them have not just where should you get that pizza, but how you should manage your reputation online if you’re a restaurant. Or, the importance of impression metrics in Instagram.
So, the actual text is a bit deeper. I do that by design.
The picture of the cheeseburgers is there to get your attention. It’s my headline if you will. Then the text drives a deeper intention. So, I’ve sort of designed it that if you want to casually like burgers, you can, and if you really care about what I have to say or my thoughts, you can go deeper.
I think the sort of a great way to look at how Instagram can work for a brand is that the pictures have to be appealing about whatever it is that you’re trying to spread.
Like we were talking about recruiting. What’s it like to work here? Then the text, and the links, and the calls to action can be how to take that next step, how to find out more. How that brand can appeal more to the intended, or target, audience.
Kathleen: We talked about the pictures, and it definitely sounds like, if I’m hearing you right, that that’s about the first attention grab. We’ll call that almost like the top of the funnel. How do you real them in?
Then, as you’re describing, there’s what you put in your caption to the picture. I mean, even as a casual Instagram user I’ve noticed there are certain little tricks people use, hacks, et cetera in terms of formatting their captions, how they want hashtags to show up.
Can you talk a little bit about the different ways that you can use that space to your advantage and to help you get found?
Rev: Sure. So, one of the things that you need to keep in mind when you’re building the text for your Instagram posts is that they do cut you off. So there’s only a certain amount of characters before you have to tap more to see it. It’s almost like an article versus going deep into a blog.
So when you’re crafting the message to your Instagram post, you got to think about what’s going to happen in the first six or seven words that’s going to make somebody want to tap more to see what else you wrote.
So, I know again this is going to sound like a “duh” moment. But you got to think in terms of story telling.
The photo gets your attention, that first line needs to make you want to click to read more. So you have to think about, when you’re crafting an Instagram post, how intense is the message? If it’s not super intense, you can sort of give it away before the fold.
Like if it’s … Let’s say it’s a giveaway. You’re going to run a promotion on your Instagram. I would tell you that the first word in your post should be “giveaway” so that I know, “Hey, that’s a giveaway. If I want to participate in a giveaway I need to tap more.”
But, if it’s more of a story that reveals a point or needs to drive something, you need to almost treat it like it’s a headline to your photo. I hate to use the words “click bait,” but really you got to think about what’s going to drive that tap for more.
If you’re going … Look, I don’t tell brands to get on Instagram and think about growing your follower base. It’s pointless. You want to grow engagement. So I don’t care if you have 100,000 followers, or 10. How many of those followers are hanging onto every word and photo you say?
So when you’re writing that text, and you’re thinking about “How do I get them to click more?”, you got to think about what’s the best story you can tell? What is the highest value you can have and get them to click more?
Anything else, Kathleen, that I’m going to go through today is completely tactical-based like where to put your hashtags, which hashtags to use. If you can’t sort of perfect the image, the call to action and how to get click more, none of the other advice I would ever give you has any relevance whatsoever.
Kathleen: So, have you seen any examples of brands that are doing this really well that have that deep level of engagement and that passionate following, if you will?
Brands That Are Crushing It On Instagram
Rev: Most of my examples will be food, that really shouldn’t be a surprise.
But I really like Taco Bell. I think all their images look great. So they’ve taken the time to make sure they captured your attention by having a really interesting image. Then if you go look at their photos the first line of text, that pre-header to the more, is always something that makes you sort of want to know more. It makes you want to tap more, it makes you think. You can almost decide in the instant whether you need to know more or not. They’re a really good brand to follow.
I kind of also really like Food Beast. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Food Beast, but they’re a media channel. So they’re kind of an agency and they do some influencer marketing stuff. They have a podcast or whatever, and a blog, blah blah blah. But their whole thing is about really intense food experiences. So, they don’t post a picture of burgers at In ‘n Out. They post a picture of a stack of 17 patties on a bun. So, it’s really intense but then you’ll go click it and they’ll be something about how you can order that burger. Or why you should tap their bio to go listen to an interview with somebody who figured out how to gain the secret menu system at In ‘n Out.
But, anyway. The content’s super engaging. So the photo will draw you in, the text will make you want to tap more and then there’s usually some sort of call to action that makes you want to go deeper.
So, those are two examples of brands I really enjoy following.
Kathleen: Okay. We’ll definitely have to check those out to see how they’re crafting their captions.
Now, as you mentioned there are tactical elements to this. So, shifting from the strategic, which is how do you tell a great story, how do you craft a great first line to get somebody to want to hit that more button and dive deeper. Then there’s the very tactical elements of formatting these things. Again, the hashtags. Can you get into the tactical side of it a little bit?
The Nitty Gritty of Mastering Instagram Marketing
Rev: Sure. So, let’s start high level.
The first is photo quality. It’s so hard for me to tell people to not edit their photos. There’s some really simple, simple easy to use apps you can use on your phone.
I happen to like Snapseed, it’s available on both iOS and for Androids. I mean, I’ve got it down where I can edit a photo whether it’s a picture of my kid in the backyard, or a stack of french fries I can edit it in under 30 seconds. They’ve made it super easy to just adjust the white balance, up the structure, add a little saturation.
The difference between a crappy photo and a much more engaging photo is much lower. There’s a much lower barrier for entry than you think there is.
Kathleen: Now, do you have to know much about photography or graphic design to do this? Or is this something that anybody could figure out using Snapseed?
Rev: I have been doing some sort of photo content since 2003 and I know nothing. My photoshop skills are about as good as I can cut and past a taco into somebody’s hand. I have no photoshop skills. I mean, you said earlier that you really liked my pictures. That’s something I could teach somebody in a matter of minutes. It’s much easier than you think it is.
So, number one, edit your photos. Don’t assume that just because it looks good on your phone it’ll look good on mine. Run it through an editor. Do a little white balance, a little contrast, play around with it. But number one, definitely edit your photos. Don’t think your handheld device is good enough that you can be a master.
Number two, a really good, and important, tactic is consistency. So, if you’re going to post every day on Instagram, then post every day. Don’t post every day for a week and then stop doing it. If you don’t have the bandwidth to post every day, post every other day, or post just on Saturdays. But you want to build an expectation with your audience of how much content to expect from you. Don’t put anything out there that doesn’t help … That basically doesn’t help people.
So, if you’re like, “We’re going to post every day,” then you better make sure that every day you have something that’s valuable to people. If you can’t possibly put up something of value every day, then lower your cadence, right? It’s okay. Instagram’s not going to hurt you if you only post on Sundays.
Have that consistency, let people expect to know when somethings going to … They’re going to get something from you.
Kathleen: Is there anything you can do in the way you create your post to increase the odds of it getting found by somebody who’s casually looking through Instagram? Because there are your followers, and then there are the people that are going to stumble upon your content.
Rev: Sure. So, I’m sure everybody’s heard of this but one of the best ways to attract new audiences on Instagram is with hashtags. I’m going to break down something really important here in a second about hashtags. But, the thing to know is you can have up to 30 different hashtags. So, I suggest that people use a content mix of hashtags.
So, again, I’ll use food as my example, of course that’s my lens. I wouldn’t share a picture of burgers and then have all burger hashtags. I’ll have some location hashtags, I’ll have some branded hashtags, I’ll have some more cheap food type hashtags. But you want to get a mix of hashtags that appeals to different levels of your audience.
Some hashtags are going to have millions and millions of uses. If you have 100 followers there’s little to no chance that you using a #Life, or #Happy that you’re ever going to score with those. You need to find things that are a little bit more deeper down the funnel in terms of getting an audience.
But you need to think of that mix in terms of tiering your hashtags. But the other thing to note, and there’s sort of a conversation happening out there in Instagram land, you can either put the hashtags in the caption of the text, so along with your call to action and your description, your story. Or you can put them as a comment. So they’re separated.
There’s a conversation out there happening, and nobody’s sort of landed on which side of the coin is better. But I would tell you to test it.
Kathleen: That’s really interesting. I haven’t heard about this. So, I would love to get your sense of when you might use one versus the other.
Rev: Well, I have been religiously posting the hashtags in the text of my content for three years. So, I’ll write out my post, I’ll pick out my 30 hashtags. When I go post it up I’ve included the hashtags with the text.
Somebody recently told me that they’re having success with using it in the comments. So I’m actually in the middle of a seven day test where the prior seven days I only did in the text, these seven days I’m only doing it in the content. Then, I’m going to measure what the differences were in those.
When you’re going to run a test like that, and I would tell everybody to test this. Everybody. Know what you’re testing.
So me, right now, I’m just looking for a signal. Do I get more audience, do I get more followers, do I get more engagement? What do I get more of?
I’ll then take that information and then do a second deeper test. So, right now I’m just looking to see how it affects my impressions. Do I get more or less impressions by putting it in the text versus the comments? Then once I have an answer on what I think it is, then I’ll test the next thing which is “Okay, if I continue to get higher impressions will I then get more followers?” See what I’m saying?
Rev: So, Instagram doesn’t give us these answers. You kind of got to out there and test them. I’m not exactly sure based on what Instagram has put out there whether there is a difference.
I do know that the algorithm works different for every single account. So that’s why it’s important to have a theory and to test it. Have a control, that kind of thing.
Rev: I would tell somebody to always use some hashtags. Never to not use a hashtag. Even if you don’t score for the Explore page, which is when you go to search in Instagram and you see recommended things, you should go look at hashtags are how you get there.
But, even if I post something … Like, every Monday I post a marketing tip. In that I always use #Rev’sMarketingTips.
So let’s say you happen to find the post I did this Monday. You think that’s a valued tip. You see that I’m using that hashtag, you can then just tap that hashtag and find other posts related to that subject that go back years, and years, and years, and years.
So, the value of the hashtags I think most people would look at as, “Oh, that’s how you hit the Explore page and get a bunch of followers and likes.” It’s also good for research.
I did a thing last year where I was trying to categorize all the types of fries. There are 21, by the way. I needed a photo visual of smiley fries. I didn’t know how to find a picture of smiley fries so I just typed into the Explorer S-M-I-L-E-Y-F-R … And guess what? People had used the hashtag, so I found the things I needed.
So, hashtags have a double value. It can help you be found sort of in the immediate, and also in the long run. But I would tell everybody to use at least the most relevant ones to the content every time.
Kathleen: Okay. Now, I want to come back in a minute to the Explore tab but I don’t want to get distracted from this and lose track.
So, I notice when I look at your posts you have a very particular format that’s almost paragraph style. In between your paragraphs you have a period on the line break. This is getting very tactical and technical but it’s something that I’m interested in. I see a lot of other people do their initial caption and then five line breaks with little periods and then their hashtags.
Can you talk a little bit about that and also for the newbie to Instagram, because I remember when I had this question, how do you do that? Because you can’t do a hard return from your phone.
Rev: So, we’ll start with the why, we’ll talk about the how, and then I’ll go into why you would do each one.
So, first of all you can’t do a line break when you’re typing in Instagram. Typically they’ll just pull it back anyway. They’ll delete the line break. So, I put a period in between paragraphs or sentences so that it’s essentially a line break. It just so happens that there’s also a visual to my line break. They don’t allow you, so that’s why you would do it.
Now, why do I particularly do it, or why would I recommend you do it? Well, I think if you take five sentences and you put them together they’re much harder to read than five sentences with spaces in the middle. So I’m trying to make a really fast moving social network a bit more digestible.
If you see what I call “word vomit,” you just see five sentences all smashed together on Instagram, your brain’s not going to register that as fast as if I have one sentence, a line break, one sentence, a line break. It feels more digestible and easy.
So I’m trying to get my content to be a little more easy to digest and I would tell that to anybody.
But, now to get into the super, super, super deep part. So the Instagram algorithm rewards the accounts by users who spend more time. So if you come to my content and you spend one second that’s worth X amount of algorithm. If you spent two seconds that’s worth X+. If you spend five seconds X++. If you spend a full minute on one of my Instagram posts the algorithm is like, “Wow, this must be a pretty awesome post.”
So, why would you put in line breaks, or multiple line breaks is you’re trying to get people to scroll and interact. So it’s a little bit of gaming the system, you know what I’m saying? But, truly Instagram does value time spent on a post.
So that’s why you would might see somebody has a sentence and then five line breaks. They’re trying to gain time on the post.
Kathleen: Now, the technique I’ve always used to do that, because you can’t do it in Instagram, is to open up the Notes App on my phone and type it in there and then copy and paste it over. Is that pretty much what you do, or do you have some other secret sauce behind how you’re doing this?
Rev: I used to use Notes on my phone. I just don’t like that app. So now I use Simple Notes. Simple Notes also has a super easy desktop format so it’s easy to go back and forth between, which Notes doesn’t really. So, but essentially it’s the same thing. I write it in the text based notes and then cut and paste it in.
Instagram Software Solutions
Rev: But there are a number of software solutions out there that will let you do that where you can actually write it in the software and have it push it. I just don’t happen to like them.
Kathleen: What are some of the more common ones?
Rev: Later is probably one of the biggest ones. I really like their analytics, I just don’t … I’m not a scheduler. I don’t like scheduling software, so.
Kathleen: Got it. Those are some of the details that I think if you’re not a heavy Instagram user can really trip you up. Being like, “How are all these people adding these line breaks and periods? Why are they doing that?”
Rev: But I could see for a … You know, I’m a user in that regard. But for a brand or business if you’re managing multiple social channels and you have content going out everywhere having a software that schedules could be super, super helpful.
Rev: Don’t take me saying I don’t like it meaning it’s not good. It’s just not what I need.
Getting Into Instagram’s Explore Tab
Kathleen: Now, back to the topic of the Explore tab. So you mentioned that is how you can get found in Instagram by an audience that may not already know about you if you land on the Explorer tab.
Can you talk me through how does that happen? How does Instagram decide what to put there?
Rev: So, the answer is “I don’t know.” Anybody that has the answer either works at Instagram or is lying.
Like I said, I’m in the middle of the test and I went and actually analyzed my last 14 days worth of content, so 14 posts this morning in preparation for this conversation. I realized that in the last 14 days I made it to the Explore page twice. It was only worth about 400 total impressions.
So, how do you hit it? I don’t know. Ways that you can sort of try to get in the surface of it is having better engagement. One of the ways to send a signal is through hashtags. So the way … Let me see if I can explain this a different way.
So, here’s how the algorithm works. If you, Kathleen, post X type of content and I, Rev, happen to like your content and then I go like content that’s similar to Kathleen’s content, it will send a signal to me and to Instagram that your account should be shown more to me. Does that make sense?
Rev: Then as long as you continue to post similar relevant content, it’s going to be shown to me. So my algorithm is unique, and your algorithm is unique. Where they match is where the magic sort of happens.
The Explore page is where your content and the general populace, so the ven diagram of interest, that’s where the general algorithm and your algorithm meet.
So, everybody’s like, “Oh, hit the Explore page. Hit the Explore page.” People think, “Oh, if I get 10,000 likes in the first 10 minutes I’ll hit the Explore page.” That is not how the Explore page works. It used to but Instagram’s gotten a lot smarter.
So now, again, it’s going to take into effect your Explore page, and my Explore page are going to be totally different.
It’s going to show me things that are relevant to me based on other posts I’ve engaged with. It’s going to show you relevant things based on what you’ve engaged with. Hashtags is just a way for you to send a signal that your content might be relevant for X type of category or content.
Kathleen: You said that you knew two of your posts had landed on the Explore page. How did you know that?
Rev: So, if you have an Instagram account and you have, I forget, over so many followers you can change it to a business account. I have a business account and one of the advantages to a business account is Deep Insights.
So you can pull up your Insights on any post and you can see what your reach was, you can see how many followers you got because of that post, you can see impressions and then you can also see how people found that post. So you’ll see something like from home, or from hashtags, or from profile, location, Explore, and other.
So, like I said, I went and looked at my last 14 days of content and only two of my posts had impressions from Explore. So if you just view Insights and then you can see. If it doesn’t say from Explore, that post did not hit the Explore page.
When To Post to the Instagram Feed v. Create An Instagram Story
Kathleen: Interesting. Now, changing gears for a second, Instagram has the feed and then it has stories. I would be really curious to get your take on when a brand should use stories versus when they should use the feed for something.
Rev: There’s a great question. When to use stories, and when to use feed?
I read a poll the other day, and after the interview I’ll send you the report so that you can link it up if you want. But basically a company went out and did a bunch of research on Instagram the other day and found out that people don’t look at stories. Not nearly as much as people thought they did. I think the reason for that is people originally assume that stories didn’t screw up their algorithm for their feed so they were like ballot stuffing, and box stuffing. Like, “Oh, I can put anything I want in my stories. It doesn’t hurt my algorithm.” Almost like, “Oh, it’s going to delete in 24 hours. It’s throw away content.”
So, you might have an influencer or a person that would go put up 14, or 15 story posts in a day and I think what’s happened is as people have started to actually look and play with stories, they move through it even faster than the feed.
So, if you have 20 live stories it feels like homework for me. I don’t need that much vision into your life. Unless you’re somebody who I really look up to, or you’re a celebrity I’m really interested. Or, I don’t know somebody you’re stalking.
But, when to use them, and I think is really what’s good here, is I think that they have to be a part of the overall content plan. The feed is intended as a snapshot. Here’s a moment in time, it’s super curative, we thought about this, we put time into this post, it’s meant to represent us a certain way.
So I think people look at the feed as having a certain value because they know that you have to work to have a certain quality post. They’re expecting a certain level of quality.
Where the expectation with stories isn’t the same. It’s more people are looking for “How do we get here? What’s the story behind the story? Is there really a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain?”
So, when would I tell somebody to use a story? When you need to tell deeper parts of a story. Or, when you need to show a side of the brand that’s a bit more snackable, right?
Like, I’ll give you an example. I know that my content is photo-based around food, and then provides restaurant recommendations and hospitality marketing tips. If I put a picture of my kid in my feed it doesn’t deliver against either of my brand goals.
But, I might put a picture of my kid in my stories because something funny happened and it shows you a little bit more about my brand, or my personality. It doesn’t necessarily have to interrupt the broadcast of Rev Ciancio. It’s just “in addition to.”
So, is that a really, really long way to say use it to tell the high listing stories?
Kathleen: No, that’s perfect.
The other thing I think is so interesting, though, is that feed and stories have very different functionality. Stories has dramatically enhanced tools when it comes to your ability to edit. I want to even say, like, add bling, or bedazzle your images. There are so many things with text overlays, and animated GIFs, polls, and questions, and music. It goes on and on.
So, that’s one of the things I think is really interesting, is the way that you can manipulate the images and the video on your stories is very different then what you can do in the feed.
Rev: Yeah. I think that’s one of the fun parts about stories is there’s more you can do. You can actually put a link that people can click, and you can have a call to action. You can put fun animations. That’s why I think stories are sort of more the behind the scene thing. You can definitely have a lot more creative fun with them. It’s easy to add a GIF, it’s easy to add a link, it’s easy to add a geo locations.
From a business account aspect, one of the things that I love about stories and that was really helpful from a branding and marketing perspective is you can actually calculate sticker taps.
So, a sticker tap is anything that you add to the photo that leads somebody to another destination. So, it could be a geo tag, it could be another screen user name, it could be a hashtag. You can look back and see how many sticker taps.
So, if you’re a brand and you’re using influencer marketing, you’re paying influencers to post sponsored content about your brand you can have them report back, “Hey, how many people saw your story and then tapped to my page?” That’s a super valuable metric because it shows high intention.
So, I mean that is one of the great things about stories is there’s a lot more fun and a lot more tools.
What Is “Link in Bio” And When Should You Use It?
Kathleen: Yeah. Now, the other thing that I’m really curious about is the whole “link in bio” thing. You see a lot of, particularly news organizations do this a lot where they then maintain dedicated pages on their websites that are just collections of stories that you get to from tapping the link in their bio. Then you tap on that and it takes you to another … That’s sort of their way of getting you to come back to their website.
Any thoughts on should brands be using that? Is that just for bigger companies? When does that make sense?
Rev: I love telling people to always take another … I’m sorry. Let me put that another way. I love calls to action. Even if the call to action is, “Like this photo.” It’s a call to action. So, to me, if you have something really valuable, or really funny, or really important to share telling people, or asking people to click the link in your bio to learn more, to read more, to get something for free to download is a great use of it and shows high intent.
So, I published a book. Well, actually my former employer published a book that I wrote earlier this year. I know that I’ve driven almost 600 downloads to that book from my Instagram bio page. In the grand scheme of thing if I’m getting 2,000 likes a day 600 isn’t all that much. But, to me those 600 taps are more important to me than any other content action, or engagement action that’s happened on my profile.
How do I know that? I track that link. I make calls to that link. I look at that link. So I think it’s a super …
Putting a link in your bio and drawing a call to action to it is a great way to give customers another reason to be deeper involved with your brand. Or to reward them, or to help them, and I think it shows a really professional way, even if it’s just entertaining, to use Instagram. Give me a deeper experience. If you want me to follow you and engage with you give me lots of fun stuff. Give me lots of value, give me lots of information.
So, I’m a huge fan of the call to action. Set a quick link in bio and I’m a huge action of people measuring it.
Kathleen: There are two different ways you can handle that link in the bio. There’s the send them to a page on your website where there’s a thing, whether that’s an offer, or a book as you have. Or there are these third party tools that are specifically for the link in bio feature that allow you to create almost a dynamic page that has multiple offers, or multiple gateways to other things.
Have you used any of those, can you speak to are there any of those in particular that you recommend?
Rev: Sure. I’ve tested a couple of them and they didn’t really deliver against my goal so I kind of stopped. But I can tell you why you would think about using something like that.
So, the way the algorithm is working currently with Instagram is the life of a post, they’ve extended it. So if you put something in your feed it typically performs about for three to four days. Meaning it’s going to continue to get activity, maybe somebody came to Kathleen’s page, they start up following you, it throws a couple posts up and they like it. They realize you like it. Three days later they’ll test another one from four days ago.
So, anyway, the life of a post is a little bit longer on Instagram than it used to be. It’s certainly longer than the life of a Facebook or Twitter post.
So, how does this relate? Well, if I put up an article on Monday and say, “Hey, go click the link in my bio. You should read this article.” But then I post another article on Thursday and tell you do to the same thing. If you see that one from Monday you can’t interact with it again. So, that call to action kind of dies the minute you switch your bio.
If you are a brand, or a business, or a person that has lots, and lots of media content to share, that’s where those tools are really, really helpful because then if I missed the ability to click the link that was directly to the contents that you told me to link to that landing page still gives it to me. Like, I didn’t miss out on it as a brand, or a marketer, I didn’t miss out on that tap. I didn’t miss out on driving that value.
So that’s why you would use it.
Kathleen: I see it a lot with media organizations. I follow The Today Show on Instagram and they do a really good job with the link in bio thing. Then they have their page with a million different things you could go off and look at. So that’s a good example for anybody who wants to see that.
Rev: Yeah, anybody who’s producing a high amount of content like a news channel or media outlet it’s a super valuable tool. If you’re just sort of writing a blog here and there, producing a monthly video, maybe not a tool that’s going to deliver as much value to you. But still something to look at.
Kathleen’s Two Questions
Kathleen: Yeah. Well, I could talk about Instagram with you forever. But, we are running out of time. So before we wrap up two questions I always ask everybody. The first one is: company or individual, who do you think right now is doing inbound marketing really well?
Rev: I’m going to answer that question from an Instagram content perspective, how’s that?
Kathleen: I love it.
Rev: I love Later. Later is an app that helps you sort of manage your Instagram content. But, I love that their content is a mix of thought leadership, product attributes and branding. It’s super specific to Instagram marketers and people who need Instagram solutions.
But it helps people think about the space, then they tell you a bit about why their product could help you. Then they also do some branding moments.
So, they’re truly using content in the way it should be used, to get your attention, to get you to consider their solution, to understand the problem. Really that’s what inbound marketing is. It’s about awareness and conversion down the funnel.
Kathleen: They are @LaterMedia on Instagram, because I just went and followed them as you said that.
Rev: They have a good content mix too, I tell people if you want to learn more about how to do good Instagram marketing, actually check out Later. They have some good marketing and some good branding.
Kathleen: Boy, just casually glancing at their account one thing the very interesting that they do well is all of their images kind of thematically hang together, like from a color standpoint. They’re all very pastel and bright and happy. So, that’s really interesting. It takes a very keen editorial eye to carry that consistency out throughout everything.
Rev: They have clearly thought out what their Instagram marketing … Why they’re doing Instagram marketing. It’s one of the great reasons to look at their account.
Kathleen: All right. Second question: the world of digital marketing is changing really, really quickly. It can be very hard for marketers to stay up to date on the latest developments. How do you handle that? How do you keep yourself educated and on top of everything?
Rev: Oh, boy. Well, you have to want to learn. That’s the first thing. Me, I listen to, there’s probably three or four podcasts that I really, really recommend that I’ll listen to every single episode on. Because they’ve consistently delivered value and the types of things I want to learn about in marketing. But then there’s also a couple media sources that I really like. So, it’s reading, it’s listening, it’s educating, it’s asking questions. Then my favorite part about marketing, and the most important one, is testing.
So even if you learn something new, or somebody listening to this interview today is like, “Oh, that’s really cool.” Don’t take my word as bond. Let it inspire a thought and then go test it. Maybe some of this works for you, maybe it doesn’t, maybe you come up with something better than what I’ve thought of. That’s really … How do I stay educated and keep abreast? I learn, ask questions, and then test, test, test, test, test, test.
Kathleen: All right. You got to spill the beans on what your favorite podcasts are.
Rev: So one of my favorite podcasts is Social Pros with Jay Baer. What I love about Jay is that podcast has been around for many, many years and they sort of started it to talk about great solutions and great ideas in social media. But it’s really come about digital marketing.
On one episode you might get some great thought leadership about how people need to think about marketing tomorrow, then the next episode you’ll get super neat tactics on how to master HubSpot. So it’s really good if you like inspiration and tactical information, which is like some days I don’t need inspiration I’m just like, “Tell me how to change my day-to-day.” That’s a great one.
My other really favorite one is The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer and Tom Webster. It is entirely thought leadership. So they’re not going to tell you, “Hey, what’s the best way to get more engagement on Twitter today.” But, they truly, truly care about marketing and like to think deeper. So if you’re a really heady marketing nerd like myself, and probably a lot of people that listen to this show, The Marketing Companion podcast is a really great podcast for inspiring you to want to think differently, and to be ahead of the curve and be a better marketer.
Kathleen: I was just listening to their episode on Mark Schaefer’s new book Marketing Rebellion this morning.
Rev: I’m obsessed with the concept in that book. I believe that reputation management and customer success is the most important form of marketing, that’s kind of what that book’s about. So, it’s speaking to a lot of the values I hold.
Kathleen: Yeah. Very cool. Well, thank you for sharing your insights on Instagram, that was really interesting. I feel like I know a lot more know than I did when I started. I am self-admittedly not an Instagram pro. So, that was really helpful.
How to Connect With Rev
Kathleen: If somebody’s been listening and wants to reach out and learn more from you what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Rev: Well, again, thank you for inviting me out today. I truly enjoyed this conversation. People say to me all the time, “Oh, I should be like you. I should be on Instagram.” If you don’t know why you should be, then don’t. Take the challenge that works for you. But if people want to ask me more questions, or get more information my screen name is the same on every LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I’m @RevCiancio. If you’re like, “I don’t know how to spell that, or I can’t remember.” Just Google “Expert Burger Taster” and I should be in the top seven results.
Kathleen: You can also visit the show notes and I’ll have links to your Instagram, and your LinkedIn, and any other place that you reside online.
Rev: Thanks so much. I’ll tell you what, obviously anybody who’s listening to this after its been recorded you’ll already have known this, but I’m going to put a link to this podcast in my bio once I have the link.
Kathleen: Love it. Excellent. Link in bio, check it out. Very good. Well, thank you so much, Rev, it’s been fascinating.
If you are listening and you liked what you heard, as always, I would really appreciate a review on Apple Podcasts, or the platform of your choice. Really, I would appreciate it. If you know somebody else who’s doing kick ass inbound marketing work tweet me @WorkMommyWork because I would love to have them as my next guest.
Kathleen: Thanks for joining me Rev.
Rev: Thank you for having me.
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