How you are effing up your engagement on Instagram

January 31, 2019

Marketing on Instagram can be kind of an enigma. It feels like just as you’ve finally figured out the secret to gaming…

January 31, 2019

Marketing on Instagram can be kind of an enigma. It feels like just as you’ve finally figured out the secret to gaming the algorithm-- boom, they change the algorithm. I think it feels that way because it is that way. Just as businesses and marketers figure out how to leverage these changes, Instagram becomes aware of them as well and they change it intentionally. After all, if we’re gaming the algorithm to get our brand out there, we’re not paying to play and they’ve got bills.

However, in all my years of experience as a social media consultant, I’ve noticed one thing to always be true, across all platforms:

CONTENT IS QUEEN.

Algorithm changes won’t hurt you too much if you’re posting shit that your followers want to see. We all want to blame algorithm changes or things beyond our control, but a lot of times those algorithm changes can just bring to light our own weak content plan.

In my experience, there are six main factors that will affect your engagement on Instagram.

1. You’re not replying to comments

Maybe it feels or sounds like a hassle to you but if someone took the time to write a comment on your post, you should reply. Just say a quick, “thanks!” I am guilty of not following this advice. Life can get in the way and sometimes Instagram can be an afterthought. Just take a few minutes each day to reply to all left in the last 24 hours.

Now if you regularly get dozens of comments, this advice will be tedious, but you should try to reply to 5-10 if you’re looking for growth.

2. You’re not engaging with other accounts

One sure fire way to make sure your posts are showing up in your followers’ feeds is to like and comment on their photos too. It’s funny how that works, but I do believe that Instagram rewards genuine participation (more on the genuine bit later).

This is such an important aspect to your engagement. If you’re looking for growth you need to reach out to your followers and spread the love you’re getting and want more of.

3. You’re not leveraging stories

As an experiment, I didn’t make any posts on my main feed for almost two weeks and only posted to my stories. For a lot of folks who are actively trying to grow their followings, the thought of not posting for that long probably induced some panic about losing followers and engagement. Wrong.

While I didn’t increase in followers, I was able to maintain the number I had and as a bonus, when I did post again in the main feed, I maintained the same organic engagement I had before the break. I also didn’t use many hashtags for outreach purposes in my stories, and I believe if I had, I would have seen an actual increase in followers.

The moral is Instagram Stories matter. And even if you need a break from the curated perfection of the feed, Stories are meant to be unfiltered, low key, and fun. You don’t need the level of attention to detail.

4. You’re following to unfollow

You are doing yourself a huge disservice when you’re following accounts just to unfollow them when they reciprocate. First of all, it’s annoying and disheartening for the other account. Second of all, it makes it that much harder for your content to get seen by those new followers.

Take a look around at some accounts that have a ton of followers but are only following a few hundred. Then do the engagement math. A lot of time less than 1% of their followers are liking and commenting on their posts. There’s no point in having 100k followers if you can’t even break 1000 likes on a post.

5. You’re using automation to like or comment

This is a practice that Instagram has routinely discouraged. Just don’t do it. Please. You will absolutely screw yourself over in the long run. It literally will only take you 10 minutes a day to just scroll through, like some posts and leave a comment or four. This brings me back to that genuine content thing. You need to just be a real human, even in your likes and comments. Instagram absolutely can tell where you’re liking and commenting from, even if it’s in your web browser.

6. Your content is plain old missing the mark

Finally, as I said at the very beginning, content is queen. If you’re doing everything else technically correct and you’re still not seeing growth in engagement and followers, the only thing it can come down to is your content.

If you want to figure out how to create better content for Instagram you can do a few things:

  • First, a content audit. Go through all of your posts from the last year, or if you post a lot maybe just the last 3 or 6 months, and see which ones got the most likes and comments. If you have a business account, you can get this information through Insights. Make more content like the successful posts.
  • Poll your followers in a post or using the poll feature in Stories. People are surprisingly willing to tap those little yeses or nos.
  • Research what other similar accounts are doing. Find accounts with various following sizes who post a similar type of content and see what seems to be working for their pages

And that, folks, is how you’re very likely fucking up your Instagram engagement and it probably has nothing (or little) to do with algorithm changes.

If you’re looking for more information on finding your audience on Instagram, or any social media site, for your business or blog download my free workbook: Finding Your Audience.

Main photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash. Pinterest graphic Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash.

September 18, 2018

One struggle all businesses have, in the cannabis space or not, is trying to figure out how to visually translate their brand into an Instagram friendly format. As a cannabis or cannadjacent business, you have additional struggles with censorship, making it even more important for you to think outside the box when it comes to using Instagram to connect with potential customers and lovers of your product.

In this article, I’m going to cover some of my Instagram planning basics to help you translate your business for the ‘gram and give you the framework to always have something to post.

Categories

Before you start posting, I want you to make a list of the broad topics you’d like to discuss or showcase on Instagram. It can be as many as you’d like, but for consistency’s sake, I’d keep it under 9.

Here’s an example for a retailer in the cannabis space:

  1. New Products
  2. Promotions/sales/events
  3. User testimonials/features/stories
  4. Behind the scenes at our company
  5. Employee Spotlights

These categories, 1-5, would be recycled on repeat in your Instagram grid. Take a look at the diagram below to help you get an idea of how it would be laid out.

These category buckets will be the framework for your Instagram grid. Breaking everything up into categories will give you an opportunity to work on content in advance, and you’ll be able to batch your Instagram posts, so everything is ready to go on the day you’re going to post.

Planning the grid

When it comes time to create your grid, I suggest using a third party app (I like to use Color Story, but Planoly gets rave reviews as well) to get a visual sense of what your profile page will look like when you make a new post, and not just what the post itself is going to look like alone in the feed.

You might not think much about creating a cohesive looking profile page, but it’s actually just as important. There are a lot of ways you can approach this.

You can make some nice patterns with your images to create a very cohesive look on your feed. Like this:

Or if you’re particularly clever, dedicated, and skilled in design, you can have a profile that looks like this:

I would like to say I’m dedicated enough to build my feed out a month in advance, but I like to leave myself some room for promotions or any influencer sponsorships that might come up. I also will never be so deliberate to build a feed that looks like the one above. I like my profile to feel a little more organic, while still structured. If I were building a retail brand of some kind, I might work more on some collage type of feed.

I suggest at least having a general idea what the current week is going to look like on Instagram using a planning app or tool of some kind.

Sticking with the schedule

While I don’t visually plan out Instagram posts that far in advance, I do work on the content of the posts a month at a time. I plan out all of my ideas and how I’m going to tie my posts back to this blog and make sure I have a good balance of all the topics my followers are potentially interested in.

I don’t always stick to the specific posts I write down at the end of the previous month, but this gives me a good backlog for future use. Most of the content I post is evergreen, giving me a lot of leeway to reuse my ideas at a later date if it just doesn’t fit with the flow of the week, for whatever reason.

To stick with my grid, I use Trello to input all of my post ideas for the month, schedule them on the Trello calendar (which gets synced to my Google Calendar), and post when it’s time.

I firmly believe that you should build flexibility into your plan. You should encourage whoever is running your Instagram accounts to do the same. Sometimes, you’ll need space to respond to something that’s culturally relevant for your followers. You don’t want a rigid editorial calendar.

What works best on Instagram?

I know you’re probably looking for a specific answer. But beyond visually appealing photos with bright colors and aesthetically pleasing flatlays, you’re going to have to find out for yourself what exactly works for your brand on Instagram.

Here’s what I can tell you to point you in the right direction towards figuring it out. Instagram skews heavy on the non-men under 30. If you’re actively pursuing that demographic, you’re in the right place. Ask some non-men under 30 what works. Either by following some on Instagram, polling them with yes or no quizzes in Instagram Stories, or just through simple trial and error. Do not send unsolicited messages of any kind, it will get you banned.

There you have it, folks. That’s how I’ve translated my business to Instagram and they’re my best tips to help you translate yours. Don’t be afraid to make some missteps. If a post doesn’t work, you can always archive it or delete it later.

Let me know in the comments below what you do to translate your business to Instagram. What’s worked? What hasn’t? And if you leverage any of the tips I mentioned above, please send me an email and let me know how it works.

September 11, 2018

I have a secret. I do not fret when it comes time to publish new blog posts. I can post two a week every week for at least the next 3 weeks. How can I be so confident, you’re probably wondering while maybe also hoping that I fail a little bit (it’s ok, I get it)? I do a little thing called content batching. 

WTF is content batching?

Well, content batching is pretty much what it sounds like. You sit down and write everything you need to write for an entire [insert time period]. Maybe for you, it’s a week. Maybe it’s 3 months. Maybe it’s a certain number of posts. It doesn’t really matter. The point is to do similar kind of work for as long as you possibly can. Think of it as a blogger’s version of an assembly line.

In my application, I write all of my blog posts for a month in one or two long bursts. Often times it gets split up into two 3 hour sessions, since that’s about when I need a real break and take walk around my apartment, for my physical health.

Right now, this is being typed in the middle of August. Friday, August 17th at 7:42 PM, to be precise. Most of the blog posts you’ll see here during the month of September were written over the course of this particular weekend, assuming I can stay motivated for several consecutive hours.

It’s all in a good plan

In order to make content batching work, it all comes down to having a great plan. You can’t set aside time to write for 3-6 hours with no idea of what to write about. I break up the biggest tasks into one per week so by the end of the month, I’ve got all eight blog posts ready to go.

The basic structure of the month goes something like this:

  • Week 1: choose your blog post/article topics and schedule on calendar time spent: about 1 hour
  • Week 2: write your first drafts for each post time spent: 4-6 hours
  • Week 3: collect creative collateral for your posts like images, links, video embed codes, etc time spent: 1-3 hours
  • Week 4: edit posts for spelling and grammar, then load them all as drafts, or publish with future dates, into your content manager/blog software time spent: 1-2 hours

The idea of writing 2 blog posts every week is, quite frankly, daunting for any business. This system takes some of the stress away.

But how do you come up with 8 new blog post ideas?

Coming up with fresh ideas all the time is probably a post for another day. I will get into detail about how I make it a little easier when it comes time to pick my article topics.

While I mentioned in the last section that I finalize my article topics in week 1, I don’t wait until week 1 to come up with ideas. In the back of my analog planner, I keep a section just for blog post ideas. One page for each of my general blog topics. When an idea strikes for an article, even if it’s half of an idea, I write it down on the appropriate page. Then when week 1 rolls around again, I’ve got enough ideas to fill out my editorial calendar for the next month.

Even if one or two of those article topics aren’t particularly inspiring at the moment, when it comes time to write the posts during week 2, I’ll have had enough time to either come up with a completely new idea, or I’ll have figured out a way to remix the original idea. Also, sometimes it’s better to just write something out even if you’re not necessarily feeling it because you have plenty of time to edit and rework it later.

How do you know how long it’ll take to write all of those posts?

I time myself. I use And.co for invoicing and expense tracking. It also has a handy time tracking feature. So you can bet your ass I take advantage of that not just for billing, but to keep track of how long I spend on tasks. That’s how I know it takes me 4-6 hours to write all of my blog posts for a month.

Timing myself has allowed me to schedule my content writing on days that I know I’ll be able to write for at least two hours. Two hours will put a hefty dent in my editorial calendar.

The tools I use

While I do a lot of the creative planning in a paper planner, I rely heavily on apps to keep everything I am working on organized. Particularly Trello and Google Docs.

My editorial calendar board gets used heavily. During week 1, I input all of my blog post topics, schedule them on the days I want to publish, and then create and attach a Google Drive Document. I can view them all on the calendar view (a Trello Power Up) to make sure the order makes sense.

When week 2 rolls around and it’s time to get to the actual content writing, because I’ve created and attached a Google Drive Document to each of the cards, I can just open up my board, choose a card and click right into my Doc.

When it comes to finding and creating images for each post, if I didn’t take the photos myself, I search on Unsplash or create something in Canva or Adobe Spark Post.

Final Thoughts

Content batching takes some practice and a lot of planning, so don’t try to go all in and think you’re going to write 8 blog posts tomorrow. I know the desire, but take a step back and train for it. It’s like a marathon. Start with writing two blog posts at once and work your way up from there. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated if you struggle. Since it’s not a daily habit, it will take more work to make it part of your planning and schedule. Stick with it and you’ll soon be singing the praises of batching content.

September 4, 2018

Did you know that, while still a small percentage overall, the legal cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing industries in Colorado? It’s also an incredible industry for women, with 36% of company leadership roles being held by women (versus 22% across all other industries). That means there are a lot of opportunities for ladies who love weed and management. It's still a pretty white industry, but there are organizations like Minorities for Medical Marijuana that are actively working to change that (also, if this is an issue you care about, please consider becoming a monthly donor).

I’ve been wondering what it would take to find and get a job in the cannabis industry in Colorado.

Get Licensed

In order to work in the cannabis industry in Colorado, you need to get a MED Occupational License. MED stands for Marijuana Enforcement Division. The application process is invasive and cost prohibitive, especially to the communities who were most directly affected by cannabis prohibition.

In order to get licensed, you must:

  • Set up an appointment with the MED Office
  • Pass a background check
  • Be a Colorado resident
  • Get fingerprinted
  • Pay $75-$250 application fee. No refund if you’re not approved.

Job Board Websites

Once you’re actually licensed, finding a job in the industry can be pretty easy, depending on what department you’re looking at and/or have experience in. You can find job listings for the cannabis industry all over your favorite job listing websites.

Ziprecuiter, Monster, and Indeed all have jobs listed in the cannabis industry. There are also cannabis industry specific job boards like Brue JobsVangst and 420careers. Furthermore, there are often job listings in the industry on Facebook and LinkedIn so don’t forget to look there too.

Networking Events

There’s also the old fashioned way to break into the industry and that’s by going to industry networking events, if you’re already in the state (or any state that has a legal cannabis market).

Women grow is an incredible organization that has chapter meetups all over the country. It’s a great way to get to know people who are already in the industry and get you an in on any job openings. I personally think it’s much harder work to get in this way, because all millennials have social anxiety it seems like, myself included, but ultimately the pay off is much better. Not only will you have a great in with the company but you’ll have the start of a social circle.

Start An Ancillary Business

Finally, if getting licensed is not for you, or unattainable for you, there are ways you can still be involved in the cannabis industry without directly working for a dispensary or growing facility. You can work for or start a company that provides ancillary services.

Although they may sell or produce something that exists in this weird legal limbo, cannabis companies still need a lot of the services all businesses need. Packaging, graphic design, copywriting, social media marketing, cleaning services, IT support, software development, etc.

When you start to consider all the possible ancillary services one could offer, you see that there are endless opportunities to get involved in legal cannabis.

What kind of job would you want in the legal cannabis space?

August 28, 2018

After getting my Instagram account disabled recently (that is a story for another day), I have been even more focused on building my email list. There are a lot of great reasons to have a mailing list, but the most important one, quite frankly the only one that matters: you own that list. If every single one of your social networking sites went down tomorrow, could you still keep in touch with your followers?

I bet for a lot of new entrepreneurs the answer is no. And that should scare you, especially if you’ve got thousands of followers on a particular platform.

I’m also guessing that one of the reasons you haven’t ventured into email marketing is because it feels kind of foreign and you don’t even know where to start. Which is understandable. You might even think you’ll be priced out of using email marketing software. Or that your business or blog is too small for email marketing.

First of all, it’s not as hard as it looks. And if you’ve used Wordpress before, you can probably figure out your new email marketing software. Secondly, if you’re just starting out, there are completely free options out there. My favorite email marketing provider, MailChimp, is free for the first 2,000 subscribers with 12,000 email sends per month. Finally, your business is not too small to get started with email marketing. It’s actually a great time to get started so you have time to learn while your list grows.

This article is going to discuss some considerations you should take when choosing an email marketing solution.

Price

First, you probably want to consider the price you’re willing to pay. If you are just starting out, most email marketing providers have free plans, or at a minimum, offer 30- or 60-day free trials.

I am a little biased towards MailChimp since their forever free plan is… free and offers such a big buffer before you’re in a paid account. By 2,000 subscribers/month if you can’t afford their cheap paid tier ($10/month), you have bigger problems to consider about your email marketing efforts.

Other consistent favorites across the web include Constant Contact (60-day free trial, plans start at $50/month), Get Response (30-day free trial, plans start at $15/month), and Aweber (30-Day trial, plans start at $19/month).

Features

The next things you’ll want to consider are the features. You’ll want something that will allow you to design beautiful emails, of course. You’ll also want something that provides detailed analytics.

Other nice features to have are custom fields for sign up forms; integration with your blog software, content management system, or e-commerce software; list segmentation, so you can send targeted emails to specific buyer types; integration with paid placements on social media and search engines.

I recommend trying a few out to learn which one you find easiest to use as well. If the interface is confusing you, then you’ll be miserable every time you try to use it.

Automation

Further expanding on desirable features, one feature that I don’t think you should skimp on is automation. Especially if you’re planning to use marketing emails to sell online courses and/or upsell services to your audience.

Automation makes it so much easier to stay in touch with your email subscribers. For example, instead of just sending one simple welcome email, I might send 5 over the course of two weeks that slowly introduces a new subscriber to me and my business.

This not only gives me a bunch of opportunities to connect, I don’t have to dump a bunch of new information on a newbie at once. This is an especially useful tactic to use when you’re offering a free product or download with their subscription to your mailing list.

Privacy Compliance

If you love your customers and followers as much as you want them to love you, then you should care that the software you’re using is protecting the data you’ve been trusted with.

Most providers will tell you how they safeguard that information. You should know how they do that before choosing a platform.

Integrations

Finally, you’ll want to find an email marketing provider that will integrate with your content manager or blog software. If you’re using Wordpress, Shopify, or Squarespace, you’re in luck because pretty much all the “good” ones will work with your site. If you’re using something else, you’ll want to do your research.

If you’ve used email marketing software before, drop your favorites in the comments below and let me know. If you think I missed a key consideration in choosing email marketing software, tell me how wrong I am, too.

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