You walk into a coffee shop, order your go-to coffee, give them your name, and step to the side. As you wait, you pull out your phone and open an app. Which app do you tap?
If you're like 800 million other Americans (as of Sept 2017), you likely open Instagram, scroll down the feed and double-tap a few pictures until you hear your name called and you're returned to reality - and a much-needed dose of caffiene.
Instagram is a highly-visual platform that has become a key player in the B2C category and it's grown to work well for the pet industry also.
Believe it or not, it's also a great place to tell your brand story and connect with your customers on a personal level. On Instagram, users have the power to be introduced to their new favorite pet brand (like yours!), partner with pet influencers, share pet stories, encourage product interaction, and more.
If you're not already on the platform, what are you waiting for?
How to Use Instagram
Before your pet business can become successful on Instagram, it's important to understand how it works and how to properly use it. By now, many of us understand the concept: Open the app, log in to the account, click the plus-sign on the bottom of the screen, upload a picture, write a small caption, and post. Ta-da!
In case you're not sure of the mechanics or whether you're doing it properly, or you just need a refresher on how it works, here's a few things to keep in mind when you're making your next post. We'll break it down by component: Images, captions, and hashtags.
The key to posting a great image is to make it as high-quality as possible. Back in the day (two years ago), people and brands got away with posting sub-par, grainy photos with a quick Instagram filter applied, and people didn't mind as much.
Now, in the day of Instagram celebrities and influencers, a well-tailored profile is necessary in order to stand out as someone people should pay attention to. To get that pristine profile, images that are high quality in both resolution and framing are essential to success.
Above: Which profile captures your attention and tells a great brand story?
While there's no exact equation for what makes a good Instagram post, some examples include:
- Images of pets shopping in your store
- Reposted high-quality images of your customer's pets using the products at home
- Behind the scenes photos of your employees at the store
- Promotions and giveaways partnered with your top vendors (or vendors whose products you want to push)
You may have noticed that this is similar to the content that many pet shops are posting on Instagram. The key to standing out is:
1. Be hyperlocal
Tag your location and mention customers to build a community in that 5-10 mile radius around your store
2. Post high quality images
There are a lot of accounts posting photos of cute dogs purchasing treats, but how many have decent lighting and color balance? This might not seem important, but when you're looking to stand out on Instagram, it matters more than you think.
You don't need a DSLR camera for this, either. Simply follow these steps to take a high quality photo for Instagram:
- Don't use Instagram's camera - Instead, use your phone's camera which will allow you to take multiple pictures and ensure you get just the right one.
- Make sure your phone is steady - This is especially crucial in low-light situations. You can use your elbows on a steady surface or purchase a tripod for phones if you're worried about things being too shaky!
- Watch your background and foreground - Is there a trashcan behind the cute dog? A spilled bag of food? Consider setting aside a couple of prime locations in your store that are always camera-ready and snapping most of your photos here.
- Take a lot of shots - We all know animals are difficult to take pictures of! Whether you're taking a picture of your customer's pet or a product, make sure you take a few and choose the best one later on.
- Straighten the photo - Use the grid feature in your camera app to straighten out the horizon of your photo. It's a small change, but one that can make a big difference.
- Say no to zoom and flash - Zoomed photos on phones lose their quality fast, and people can tell. Also say no to flash. If you need more light, consider placing extra lamps by those prime picture-taking spots you picked earlier, or waiting until there's plenty of daylight (the best kind of light) in the store.
- Tap the screen to focus - When taking a picture of a cute dog, you don't want the counter behind him to be clear and his face all blurry! Tapping his face before taking a photo will ensure he's in focus.
- Edit the photo before posting - Ignore Instagram's filters. Use 3rd party apps such as Snapseed (for iPhone and Android) and VSCO (for iPhone and Android) to edit your photo ahead of time, so that by the time you're uploading it to the site it's all ready to go.
You've got the perfect photo: it has great lighting, has been edited to perfection, and you can't help but hold back the smile you get from looking at that dog's face. Now what?
Now it's time to create the caption. For many, this is one of the hardest parts. However, it's worth putting the time and effort into making a good caption that will connect with your followers.
The best Instagram captions add context, tell a story, and capture your followers' imaginations and encourages them to engage in some way. You can make your caption a simple word or sentence, or tell an entire story (up to 2200 characters). It's up to your followers and what they prefer, so test multiple lengths to see what resonates best!
For a great caption, consider the following:
- Include a call-to-action - Ask people to "Comment with what you think this dog's name is!" or "Come in and buy these cat treats by 4pm today before they're sold out!"
- Use a consistent brand voice - Instagram is one of the best tools you can use to build your brand. When doing so, it's important to maintain a consistent brand voice with all your content
- Use emojis - Depending on your target audience, emojis work really well to connect with followers and draw attention to your captions
- Use mentions - Does your customer who's pet you took a photo of have an Instagram? Tag them in the mention and they'll be more willing to share with their friends - friends who have pets, mind you!
If you're running a contest, consider asking your followers to tag a friend in the comments to expand your reach and bring more attention to your posts.
There's no one-size-fits-all caption that works best for everyone, so test out different strategies and use your Instagram analytics (make sure you have a business account to get those!) to see what works best with your audience.
#Inorder #tobesuccessful #withhashtags #youneedto #bestrategic #withtheirusage
In other words, don't do that. ^
To start out, there are two general rules you should follow when coming up with hashtags:
- Don't use widely used ones like #dog, #cat, or #pet. Even #petsofinstagram, #catsofinstagram, and #dogsofinstagram are so overused these days that your chances of being found - and standing out - are slim-to-none
- Don't use hashtags with no weight to them unless they're branded. Hashtags such as #cutedogswithnoses, for example, isn't going to get you anywhere because no one is using it or searching for it
Instead, go for hashtags with 500-1000 posts. This way, you can see that people are using them but they haven't gotten to the point of overuse where you won't even be found.
What about branded hashtags? These are a great way to stand out and get your community to engage. Come up with one or two hashtags that your audience can use in their own posts. For example, Applaws Pet Food uses #ApplawsPet and reposts photos that customers use that tag on.
Finally, clean up those captions by including your hashtags in the first comment of the post, instead of in the caption itself. Use only 3-4 primary hashtags (such as branded ones) in your caption and all the others (up to 30 in a post) in the comment so people can discover your posts.
Instagram Tips for Pet Stores
It's a fact: people love looking a pictures of cute animals on Instagram. Because of that, Instagram is decidedly easier for pet businesses than those in not-so-cute industries like, say, real estate.
With that said, that doesn't mean we get permission to slack off. It just means if we do, we'll still get a few likes because: awwww, it's a doggie.
To make a lasting impression, create a community, and ultimately grow your business with Instagram, it takes a little more than simply posting a cute photo now and then.
Create a brand story with your imagery
Who are you as a business? What is your goal, your mission, your vision?
Go beyond posting photos of products in stock and the latest specials in your store. Create an Instagram strategy that focuses on building a story around your brand rather than simply sharing products and cute pets.
This doesn't mean you can't post photos of products and pets. Far from it. But when you do post that photo, ask yourself: Why am I promoting this product? Does it fit in with my mission of providing natural pet food to my community? Or do I just need to get rid of the inventory in the back?
Share imagery that boosts your brand presence and establishes yourself as the go-to place for all things pet in your neighborhood. Your followers, customers, and your business will thank you for it.
Connect with your followers
Don't ignore your community. Connecting with your followers can include a variety of methods such as:
- Quickly responding to comments and messages
- Sharing photos your customers have taken in your store or with your top selling products
- Encouraging engagement with each post
If you find it difficult to make time to respond to your customers, try to make a point to check your profile at least once - perhaps in the evening - to reply to anyone who's engaged.
Remember that, on Instagram, comments are king. Liking a post is as easy as double tapping a photo, something that takes half a second, but commenting takes more time and more thought.
Don't forget to share your location
Using geo-tagged photos has been proven to increase engagement and get you found more than photos that don't have a tagged location.
People who are nearby and searching for profiles in the area will be able to tell that you posted recently and will discover you that way. Who knows, maybe they're ready for a new bag of dog food?
Sharing your location is as easy as choosing it right after writing your caption and, with a step that simple, there's no reason not to do it. After all, you want to bring people into your store, right?
A Note on Instagram Stories
In 2017, Instagram came out with a feature that has made it a major competitor to Snapchat: Instagram Stories. Commonly referred to as "Insta stories," these are quick photos and videos that are designed to disappear after 24 hours (unless you save them to your story highlights).
Instagrammers like to flip through these stories to see what their followers are up to outside of the tailored, high quality posts that you've worked so hard to develop on your page. These are designed to be quick glimpses into what you - and your business - are up to on a day-to-day basis.
Here's a few ways you can use Insta stories to benefit your business:
- Share quick pet health tips and educate your followers via video
- Show which products you're almost sold out of so your audience knows to hurry over before you run out
- Interview your customers about their favorite brands and why
- Let your employees talk about their favorite brands and why
- Show off cute pets in your store (without having to worry about perfect lighting and all that)
- Share new products when they get into your store - and your excitement about them
- Show a pet's response to a product in real-time
As you can see, there's a lot that goes into running a successful Instagram account. Instagram is one of the biggest social media platforms out there and all of your customers are on it.
If you're not properly engaging with them, then you're missing out on a big slice of pie. And who doesn't like pie?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer and writer for the pet industry. Growing up in the pet industry, she has keen insight on market trends and a passion for helping small businesses grow. Her portfolio includes various topics from pet food trends to using technology and marketing strategies to boost pet business sales. When she's not writing articles or working her day job, she's playing with her cat (Chewie), reading a book, or hiking one of Washington's many trails.
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