Some businesses lend themselves easily to Instagram: restaurants, florists, clothing retailers. Beautiful products make for beautiful photos. So how do you take a less-than-visually-stunning product to Instagram and get 88,000 followers? According to Scott Marquart of Stringjoy, a maker of guitar strings, it’s all about the story you tell.
“Everyone looks too hard for best practices and hacks,” he says. “But you’re going to get the furthest with content when you’re doing things differently and breaking the rules. Making your mark comes down to what’s different about your brand, what sets you apart from other brands in the marketplace. If you want to get noticed, don’t be afraid to be radically yourself.”
Birth of an Instagram brand
Scott took to Instagram 3 years ago, when his Facebook page’s organic reach kept shrinking. His initial approach, inspired by commonly held wisdom, was to post behind-the-scenes photos of his business. But as he explored the guitar space on Instagram through hashtags, he noticed that all the likes went to one type of shot: beautiful guitars. And as a guitar enthusiast himself, that’s a tactic he could make work.
“At first we didn’t have the muscle to create a lot of content,” he says. “We tried to engage the community and did reposts, because that’s what was available. We were able to differentiate ourselves because we were one of the first brands in our space to post pictures of beautiful guitars. Over time, we developed clever ways to get that content without taking pictures all day.”
Stringjoy started working with small, independent guitar builders. They supplied strings at wholesale and, in return, received photos of beautiful guitars, often with the note that the builder wouldn’t trust anyone but Stringjoy to outfit them. “We get to stand next to that brand, and their quality affects how people see us,” says Scott.
He also began to see more and more posts from customers photographing Stringjoy’s packaging with their strings—photos he reposted. Generating social proof, or when people post public reviews of your products, is a huge benefit of Instagram for them. “You can tell people all day long what’s different about your product, but it’s never going to be as trustworthy as the word of a regular person who has bought your product.”
And engaging with the community has been a big part of Stringjoy’s success. “The nature of social media is to connect, to have two-way conversations, to engage with friends’ content and post your own,” Scott says. “It’s all about sharing stories. When brands go on social, they can treat it as a one-way interaction, without ever listening or engaging. For us, that’s part of sharing other people’s content: honoring the stories people are sharing with us.”
Test and refine
Scott’s philosophy: Try new stuff. Stuff that goes against common wisdom. “You might swing and miss, but sometimes you have to do it to find what does work,” he says.
Stringjoy plays with new ideas all the time. “A big thing we discovered early on is what posting frequency works for us,” Scott says. “Even today, it seems like most of the common wisdom is 1 post a day. At the very beginning, we did 2 posts a day; now, we do 4 or 5 posts a day, about 4 or 5 hours apart.”
He has also experimented with hashtags, finding the most success with different groupings based on content: one list of hashtags that’s string specific, one that’s more lifestyle focused, a set just for guitar pedals.
If Scott hews to one rule, it’s always to post a mix of content. “For me, it’s important above all to vary the content flow. I don’t like to post two pictures of just our product in front of a guitar in a row. We mix promoting products with powerful visual content.”
After the big Instagram algorithm update, he finds that their well-shot, well-lit, artistic photos get more likes than ever, while their less visually striking content performs worse than it did before. But that doesn’t mean he has stopped posting it. “It’s still good for us to pepper it in. A mixture of content just shows off the great stuff.” He’s also recently found success with video, so the team is throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.
“Authenticity is the answer to all of it,” Scott says. “A lot of people think Instagram won’t work for their brand. I consult for a parts supplier in the industry, for example, and you might not think electronic parts are Instagram-worthy. But you can create something really different from your competitors, especially if other companies who do what you do aren’t in that space yet. It might turn out to be the best place to build your community.”
5 tips from Scott for brands just starting out on Instagram
- Build momentum by building community. “When I started, I followed relevant people in our niche, commented on other people’s photos, engaged people in conversation. Too many people approach Instagram as brands and not as, ‘How would I use this account if it were my own?’ I follow people I want to follow and engage with their posts.”
- Don’t buy followers. “There’s no value to buying followers on a channel with this much organic reach. It’s going to kill your engagement. If your only goal is to raise your profile, it might have some value, but that’s a very short-sighted way to look at it.” A high-quality audience is better than a high number of followers.
- Do pay attention to hashtags. “Getting a good hashtag list can be a great way to get the word out. If you post a great pic with the right hashtags, you might see it get more likes than you have followers.” Observe which hashtags people are actually using, not just the first ones that come to mind.
- Make people feel something. “The most popular posts all make people feel something. They’re either something really funny that people can relate to or something that makes them happy or sad. You have to generate emotion to get a strong reaction.”
- Get comfortable with photo apps. Scott has a Nikon camera but often uses his Google Pixel phone, with an app like Photoshop or VSCO to spiff up his photos.