If you are a creative small business owner, welcome to 2015:
Advertising dollars are tight. Margins are small. Marketing needs to be free. Social Media is King.
Blogging is hit or miss (but man, if you're good at it - it's a BIG HIT). Pinterest is where half your website hits originate, even after all the credits you've been slighted. Facebook is good for selling things to your mom's friends, but it's also mired in HuffPost articles and weird loud opinions from strangers. Twitter is where you realize you don't know a thing about world news and current events - better leave that one alone.
But INSTAGRAM. Instagram is the watering hole. The social epicenter.
There's a lot of pressure on Instagram - especially if you run a visually strong business.
Your coffee shop has to have a good "gram spot" where everyone can shoot their latte. Get your geo-location on FourSquare, too. That's how ten more people found out how to walk through the door this afternoon.
Your jewelry better be on a damn good looking piece of driftwood, because when you gram that sucker the people are gonna want soft light and good textures. Even if your jewelry is beautiful on its own - the extra styling just shows that you care.
My calligraphy desk should be windex-ed 4 to 8 times a day if I expect to get a solid "working" shot of my current projects. Better yet, I should just get that photographer to send me her images so that I can instagram those and skip cleaning my desk altogether.
Top it off with remembering to tag everyone involved in all your projects - for the social capital and general goodwill associated with collaboration. It also doesn't hurt to make strong brand associations and maybe get a few followers off that mention, you know?
So yes, that's what we project. But what do you consume on Instagram? Other people's gorgeous homes/offices. Their babies. Their dogs. Their cocktails. Their vacations - ohhhhh, the vacations. Some people have just permanently relocated to the South of France, am I right? (Oh wait - you mean all those photos are from a backlog of one vacation, six months ago? Dang. I didn't think of that.)
Think of your visual/social consumption the way you think of actual food for a second.
We all learned as kids that if we just sat around and ate candy all day, we'd get a stomach ache. You could only ride the sugar high for so long before you passed out on the living room floor, waking up hours later to realize that you missed dinner and now also have cavities. We learned to feed ourselves a balanced diet for overall well-being... even when broccoli didn't sound so good. We couldn't eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner and thrive for long - right?
So why are we surprised that a social diet of visual "dessert" is starting to make us sick?
This general feeling of malaise that falls over me when I open Instagram is something I believe we're generally starting to share. It makes me wary, or at times anxious, to even scroll through my feed to indulge in all the syrupy-sweetness of everyone else's lives. It makes me worry about the disaster mess of my own life: am I the only one who could use more friends, more free time, more talent, more revenue and a vacation to the beach? Is that just me?
The answer I know in my heart is: no. It's not just me. If you get face-to-face time with anyone, you realize this is something we all share to some extent. So how do you remember that in your weaker moments? How do you approach it differently without hurting your business?
I don't have all the answers, but I've been testing a few theories...
1. Mix up the message
I think a potential strength of a business can be the story or path of its owner. I could be alone in this, but the people who start businesses are sometimes vastly more interesting than their products. Their stories are diverse, and shed light onto how and why they commit to what they're doing. It gives a context for how they developed their process and often compels me further to support their effort. Not to mention that sharing appropriate/relevant pieces of your life, community and story can really break up the monotony of WORK!WORK!WORK! - which can become easy to gloss over. (See: @amy_merrick)
2. Share a struggle
No one wants to struggle. It's also terrifying to admit struggles as a business owner because it has the potential to make your business seem untrustworthy or unstable. Daily failures - forgetting to invoice a client, making an error on an order, missing monthly sales goals - are things I would skip sharing. Yes, talking about that stuff will probably turn off your audience and start to instill doubt in your ability as a business owner, haha. However, can you think of a time you struggled and it turned your path towards something new or better? Can you think of a failure that taught you a lesson? Do you have enough perspective to share a past mistake that led to future victories? Why not share that? Imagine the impact you can have on your audience by opening up that reality and sharing that hard-earned wisdom. Imagine how much that will mean to someone who is fighting that same battle right now. (See: @ashleywoodsonbailey)
3. Have a sense of humor
Not everything has to be butterflies and roses. Learning to laugh at yourself is life's best medicine - and letting people in on the joke can be wildly liberating. Everyone knows that no one's week moves from macarons on Monday to French lace on Friday without a single hiccup. Often times these bumps in the road aren't even our fault and couldn't possibly make us look bad. It's just... c'est la vie! Everyone can relate to that, and sometimes sharing the particularly hilarious mishaps can engage the interwebz in a new, refreshingly supportive way. (See: @jengotch)
4. Show your face
I'm sure you follow dozens of accounts where you see beautiful images all the time, but you can only imagine what the "man behind the curtain" looks like. I'm not saying that a good feed has to turn into a string of selfies - but an occasional HELLO can really warm my heart. Especially when it's a hello that includes a few quirky personal details or a snuggle selfie with a baby/puppy. Putting a face to the business has impact - it helps me remember people's names, where they live, what their style is like and what we might have in common. It reminds me that all this stuff is being produced by a PERSON. A living, breathing, normal human who deserves encouragement and is working hard. I have mad respect for everyone who is getting their hands dirty and running their own business - and even if you think you have a double chin, I'm proud of you. (See: @alimakesthings - who does NOT have a double chin anyway)
5. Set the scene
Have you ever watched that show How It's Made? Crazy stuff - right? Who knew that it took fifty bazillion machines to make a Twinkie? Who knew that people hand-check the stitches on fancy leather boots to make sure nobody gets sent a dud? It makes you appreciate the time, effort and technology that goes into making impressive products. It's tempting to only share images of finished work - or advertising/styled shoots where everything is arranged just so. But I have a feeling that we could be learning so much more from social media if everyone was willing to teach a little! I'm not asking you to share the recipe for your secret sauce, but an action shot (a little video, a bit of explanation) can vastly change the way I see what you do. It can show me value I never saw before. It can inform my opinions. I can become a smarter, better person by scrolling through my feed. How much POTENTIAL can be unlocked by doing this!? Just thinking about it gets me fired up! (See: @floretflower)
6. Get real
I know that everyone will be comfortable with varying degrees of realness, but I would beg that we all at least try to start with our language. Read some of your instagram captions out loud to yourself. Do you really talk like that? Have you really been swooning all day? Should we call a doctor? Do you find yourself being able to relate to other people who can always wax poetic about the wonders of love and creation and travel and life? I mean - I do that. I wax poetic. But I don't feel that way every day. On the days when there are no fancy words, that just has to be okay. The fact that I'm not always filled to the brim with inspiration is honestly what my life is like, and I feel more comfortable being real about that. Sometimes I want to instagram an envelope and say, "well, this is an envelope." I have to believe that I'm not taking anything away from the image by letting it speak for itself. A picture can be worth a thousand exclamation points. (See: @saipua)
Following these people, and others who do similar things, has made the internet a less scary place to hang out. They've let me learn with them, laugh with them, cry with them and root for them. Practicing these things in my own social media has helped me generate deeper connections, form actual friendships and allowed me to be myself instead of always keeping up with the next pretty thing. Have I lost some followers? Yea. I lose followers every day. Sincerely, I lose about 80 followers a week. I would rather lose 80 followers for the sake of making a real friend - every. time.
Of course, if you're using your social media accounts professionally - be professional. If you don't know where to draw that line, ask a few people you trust to be honest with you about what's too much. But, in a world where I work in solitude and no longer get to experience your wit and charm at the water cooler, I like to be able to hear it in your captions or see it in your pictures.