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Instagram Growth for Cookiers and Makers

Dec 27, 2018 | Small Business | 12 comments

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from fellow bakers looking to get more exposure is: How do I grow my Instagram account? Instagram has a HUGE user base and it’s no question why so many people want to get in on this tool! And I got some feedback after posting this that the tone is “snarky”– sorry! Trying to help. Not to make fun or be sarcastic. This is my perspective, and I’m not trying to be “right”.

The quick answer:
Ladies: Post pix of your boobs and/or butt. Bonus points if you are ultra attractive.
Gentlemen: Post pix of your abs. You in a suit. Bonus points if you are ultra attractive.
Sit back. Relax. Engage with your followers a bit and watch that IG following grow.

I kid. Kinda.

If you look at some of the most popular accounts floating around IG, outside of celebrities, it’s not hard to figure out what sells. But we are not selling those things here. We’re trying to sell custom cookies/dessert art, etc.

I need to backpedal here for a second and chat with you about my experience– It took 3 years to grow my Instagram account to 10K. It all happened very slowly, steadily (despite a few very public interviews calling it “almost overnight success, it’s far from that). I got better at taking pictures, I posted content that *I* found interesting, and I engaged with my audience. The rest came organically. I never paid for followers. I did ads TWICE and decided “why do I CARE”. I just really want a portfolio of my work and a community to engage with… So that ad-idea got nixed as quickly as I started it. Within a year, I am at 75K which is mind blowing, and in no way expected, but hard earned. The growth also came hand-hand with other opportunities I pursued such as Netflix, Food Network, local media outlets, etc.

I interact with the people who comment and etc. on my account and I answer as many questions as I mentally and sanely can handle. Often times the same questions, over and over. Sometimes that is upwards of now 400 DMs a day (I have turned my DMs off for stories and as of Jun 2019 I get only half that amount… and it’s usually more value-add communications). It’s exhausting and almost a part time job in of itself, which is why I started asking for donations of ANY amount for sharing my resources and selling digital items and etc. in my SHOP. This makes me feel like my time/knowledge sharing is in SOME WAY, compensated for. This is also what sparked me to open my Amazon storefront. The only way I can continue to share is if I can also benefit and maybe one day make a living out of this!

If you want to grow, you need to be ready to invest your time and energy. More often than not, do it for free, and try to provide a product or service that is something people WANT to pay money for at some point. Despite how now I get to charge for my work 98% of the time, when I first started my business, I gave away more free work than I am proud to admit. But sometimes, that’s what it takes to achieve your goals.

Type in the handles of some of your favorite IG-ers here:
https://phlanx.com/engagement-calculator — take a look at that engagement number. The higher the percentage, the more engaged the users are with the content of the account. Most “influencers” tend to be around 7-8% range, but many larger (100-K plus accounts will have a smaller percentage, and that’s OK). If you have a smaller Instagram following, this percentage is probably way higher– because more of people engage, but you’re not engaging a lot of people– make sense? As you grow, it’s harder to keep that engagement up because a lot of people are there to just consume, not necessarily engage.

Having amazing cookies isn’t enough. In fact.. it’s more about how they are presented. There are some huge accounts in the cookier community that have great cookies, yes, but it’s their photography/content that makes them stand apart. They take beautiful, appealing photos and their feed is consistent in look/feel. Videos are higher quality and obviously look like some thought went into their production.

What a lot of cookiers struggle with is that their work is fantastic, but they are not being seen. While there is NOT any one thing that you can do to magically boost your audience overnight, try the following tips CONSISTENTLY for a few weeks and see what happens:

  1. Post quality pictures and videos (create good content). There are so many resources online on how to take good photos, etc. Go to YouTube, skillshare, etc. and educate yourself. Invest the time, do the work. I don’t take great photos but they are good enough to get me by, and I slowly found my style and what works for me. If you are making videos, one of my favorite apps for phone is VivaVideo. Yes, it’s worth it to pay a few bucks to remove that VivaVideo watermark.
  2. Be aware of the IG algorithm but don’t let it rule what you want to post about. Read this: https://later.com/blog/how-instagram-algorithm-works/ Remember how I linked you to the engagement calculator above? Absorb, put into practice (easier said than done, but be patient with yourself). Engagement means interacting (genuinely) with others, not just people who post on your feed or send you message. You need to actively go out to other accounts you want to attract. If you are disingenuous, responding to people’s posts with an emoji or one word responses, it will backfire.
  3. Adjust your behavior based on the things YOU want to do, and what you notice your follower base wants (know your audience). For example, if no one cares about your personal photos, nix them from your feed (save that for your PERSONAL IG account). Look at the ANALYTICS built into the Instagram app (after you have consistently created content for a while) and figure out your pattern. It’s different for everyone. Post frequency, time of day, etc. are all factors in this.
  4. Post stories! Don’t spam one like every half hour but as applicable things come up, spend that few extra minutes. You are allowed to be spontaneous and post the things that you want to– authenticity is king.
  5. Look at hashtags and use them appropriately. Lots of articles about this on the internet– do you research ;). Also hand-in-hand with this: tag brands that you use in your products on your photos/videos! Don’t overthink it.
  6. IF desired, collaborate with a better known brand. “Collaborate” can have many meanings, paid or unpaid. Smaller accounts generally don’t get paid for their mentions, etc. but might be comped product. I have been a part of both paid and unpaid experience. My personal thoughts are that the brand you collaborate with should reflect your beliefs. MANY of us fail at this at first when we start collabs and work with people for the sake of working with them for exposure or free product– if you are OK with this, great. If not, say “no”. I am getting to a point where I am no longer taking free product for mentions based on my follower base and engagement rate, but everyone starts somewhere. The exchange can be a follower request for giveaway which is CRAZY COMMON but.. I’m not a huge fan of this approach… so I don’t do that anymore… no one should follow an account just for a chance to score free goodies… and when the unfollow comes later it doesn’t feel great. BUT if you are starting out and need some help, there is zero shame in this!

Lastly– some important messages I want to convey, again, easier said than done, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it:

  • The size of your Instagram account (along with the number of likes or comments on your content) has nothing to do with your self worth. You need to learn to very clearly differentiate those in your head. Again, easier said than done. Your Instagram success CAN be a great business and marketing tool for your brand, whatever that may be. But even then, you can have a shit Instagram presence but still have a very strong customer base if you have a store front or do farmers markets, have great word-of-mouth network, etc.
  • There are a lot of quotes going around saying how being “Instagram Famous” is like being rich in Monopoly. IF you are one of these people who is propagating this, I encourage you to look at the other perspective- many large accounts bring immense value to their follower base, and actually DO use Instagram to make a living! Of course, this is risky since social media can be taken away at any moment, but I do feel these quotes are disrespectful to those who do utilize the platform for their livelihood. I often avoid posting quotes because context is so important. You can also see the flip side of the coin and view IG as untapped potential instead of putting it down.
  • People very rarely get “accidentally” Instagram “famous” — people who use the “it’s just luck” excuse are trying to answer your question quickly or not being real with themselves. I’m guilty for using this excuse a few times because the people I was interacting with already had strong opinions that could not be swayed and honestly I don’t have the energy to challenge it in that moment. Sorry for being human. But what you put in = what you put out. And I have put in a lot. And you will need to, as well, if you want to see results. Expect to spend hours a day on IG if you plan to grow it, and it’s a tool for growing your business, then it’s a part of your job. Not just the baking and decorating part. IF you are bitching about your lack of IG growth but also can’t get yourself to engage (authentically), please take some accountability and realize that maybe this is something that IF YOU CHOOSE to PRIORITIZE, you get some help.
  • People will use you for your Instagram account. People see you have influence and want to take advantage. And that is ALL FINE, if it works both ways and you’re OK with it. As my account grows, I have to seriously think about charging appropriately for shoutouts, services, etc. — collabs take A LOT of time, and I also need to make a living.
  • The bigger following you have, the more work it is to maintain. Think about how much you’re willing to invest in interacting with people, dealing with potential issues/drama. You can never make everyone happy and you will need to learn to deal with the negatives along with the positives. This is hard for everyone. And it never gets easier.
  • As a business trying to get noticed, again, POST QUALITY CONTENT — do not spam people to follow you, or comment with one word comments on the regular in hopes of a follow. People should follow who they want to follow, period. Do not expect people in positions of what appears to be success to help you, because nobody owes you anything. Find a way to set all those expectations aside and focus on bringing value to the community. This is a lot harder said than done, because it gets very tempting to want shoutouts, handouts, recognition, ESPECIALLY when you’re starting out.
  • Not everyone is going to have a 100K following. Like everything in life, if everything is popular, nothing is. You need to decide what that means for you.
  • Lastly – Keep in mind that Instagram is a free to use tool (unless if you are paying for ads). Too often I see people upset about the algorithm or that their posts are not being seen– we are all subject to the same algorithm. If you don’t like it and it truly brings you that much more stress in your life, it is 100% your choice to delete your account. And please note– your feed is not random, they are based on the posts you interact with (consciously or not!).

Good luck, and don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the process.


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12 Comments

  1. face2trade

    I simply could not depart your site before suggesting that I really loved the standard information a
    person provide for your visitors? Is gonna be back steadily to
    investigate cross-check new posts

    Reply
    • Lisa He

      Not sure I understand– can you explain in a different way what you’re looking for?

      Reply
  2. Melissa Lupo

    Wow thanks so much for writing about your experience! This is an incredibly helpful and generous, and coming from a talented source.! Am currently in the process of opening a cookie e-commerce and it’s amazing to “compare notes” with successful and entrepreneurs that are already winning. Sincere thanks again!

    Reply
  3. Meghan Halloran

    As an aspiring cookier, you have been an inspiration of mine via Instagram. I have followed along with your story and business for a while and you have helped me grow and learn a lot. I am still very new and small but this was very helpful and all your work that is free to help others like me is very appreciated. You liked a photo of mine the other day that I tagged you in and it did make my day. Thank you for your engagement. @elliescookie.co

    Reply
    • Lisa He

      Hi Meghan, thanks for the kind note! Wishing that you enjoy your journey 🙂

      Reply
  4. MICHEL

    Thanks for your posts, I have read most of them and they are clear and helpful. Wish you all the best!

    Reply
    • Lisa He

      This mean a lot to me– thank you!

      Reply
  5. Blanca

    I just want to say thank you so much for your advice and tips! It has helped me so much. I am just a beginner and I’m still learning but I’ve learned quite a bit from you.
    I wanted to ask if I start selling cookies , like me …. how much should I sell for?

    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
  6. Sharon Hawkins

    Thank you for the advice. My cookie business is for when I retire so I feel like I have plenty of time to grow and learn. This is a 5 year plan. The things you said really help because now I know I can go at a slower pace. I don’t know much about Instagram but it’s nice not to need to hurry. I do wonder though if there’s a such thing as going too slow? I don’t want to get buried, but I also don’t want to be inundated with follower either. Not quitting my day job. What do you think Lisa?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Lisa He

      There is only one “right” speed to go- one that is sustainable for you 🙂

      Reply

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