If your indie beauty business is not on Instagram, it doesn’t exist. With over one billion people using Instagram in 2021, this thought certainly rings true. As with most other major social media platforms, Instagram is essential to marketing your beauty brand these days.
In fact, one of the first things we advise when naming your new beauty brand is to check if the various social handles are available before you buy a website domain or go as far as getting a trademark.
But Instagram, initially created as a simple photo-posting app designed for recording moments as they happen, is perhaps the most appealing of the main social platforms thanks to its focus on visuals and mobile.
Its appeal as a marketing tool may seem surprising as it allows us only a single outbound link tracking back to our websites, online stores, landing pages and so on. Since it launched in 2010, Instagram has remained for the most part with few gimmicks – until relatively recently that is.
We love using Instagram for Formula Botanica as it is a fabulous, visual way to interact with our community of indie beauty advocates. To set the scene, we give several examples of our different styles of Instagram posts in this guide.
However, getting to grips with Instagram can seem like trying to hit a moving target. No sooner have you learned a new feature or read up on how to game the algorithm, than you find yourself having to learn new tricks to keep up to date with the app.
In this guide, we give you a snapshot of how to work with Instagram strategically. We now have over 100k followers on our Instagram account so we know just how powerful this lively, visually-rich social platform is in helping indie beauty connect and gain an edge.
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If you’d like further training on Instagram for indie beauty, covering step-by-step instructions on its various features, find out about our members-only site, The Lab at Formula Botanica. It offers in-depth training modules released monthly on formulation, natural ingredients, beauty industry trends and indie beauty business tools including Instagram and Pinterest.
Strategic Tips on using Instagram for your indie beauty brand
1. Never rely on Instagram (or other social platforms)
While it’s important to use Instagram for your beauty brand, the first point to stress is don’t rely on it as your only face to the world. Social media may seem a free way to promote yourself, but you have little control over your content once it is published on one of these platforms. The major Facebook, IG and WhatsApp outage in early October 2021 showed just how reliant we are on these apps to run our lives and our businesses.
We’ve seen some well-known brands – including those of some of our Formula Botanica graduates – be blocked by Instagram and in effect have their accounts taken offline at whim. You never know if and when you might fall foul, often erroneously or inadvertently, of Instagram’s content or user rules. It can take time to get your business account back live. Instagram can be slow to respond and vague about why your account was blocked in the first place.
It’s best to own your own home on the internet in the shape of your own website, and run Instagram and other social platforms as marketing channels alongside. Instagram can be free to use, but nothing is a free lunch. For peace of mind, spend time and money investing in your own website and e-store.
Tip #1: Never run all aspects of your indie beauty business on social platforms. Bring that business home to a website you own and control.
2. Create an Instagram strategy
Instagram, as with other social media, can be very time consuming; either because you spend hours creating those all-important, eye-catching posts for your own business, or because you are scrolling down your feed and commenting on other people’s posts.
Apparently, according to some latest statistics, the average user spends almost 2.5 hours a day on social media. Facebook tops the rankings with Instagram taking an average 28 minutes a day.
These figures are interesting for two key reasons: time is money in business, so don’t waste it; and be aware that if the average user is on Instagram for 28 minutes, at various times in the day, they need to find you, be attracted to and interested in what you post, and stay around to become loyal, active followers.
This means you need to think of time on Instagram as time spent working on your business, so you need a strategy on why and how to use it best for your business goals. It’s not enough to post pretty photos and graphics each day and think your ideal customers will find you. Think very clearly about what you want out of Instagram. For example, work out how your post content can:
- Build awareness of your brand and products.
- Actively engage people with your brand.
- Build a community of engaged followers.
- Convert your followers to potential customers.
- Reward their loyalty.
To make headway using Instagram strategically, you need to know who your ideal customers are and ensure you create content that appeals to them. We cover more on content below and talk about customer profiling in our podcast on 10 tips on branding your beauty business.
Think through your posts with laser precision. This does not preclude you from being yourself, being spontaneous, showing behind-the-scenes content and so on. In fact, all these types of content are valued especially as customers like to find out about the indie founder behind the brand. But, be aware of the strategic role each piece of content plays and how it tallies with the brand tone and style you wish to portray.
Once you’ve been using Instagram a while, use its own analytics as well as Google Analytics or similar research tools to monitor your own website. You will start to gather valuable data on who is following your posts and at what times of day and to find out how much traffic your own website is gaining from Instagram vs other social media. Get to love statistics as much as the photos and videos you post on Instagram.
Tip #2: Treat Instagram just as you would any other valued marketing effort. It is a platform demanding goal setting and measured outcomes. See Instagram as strategic content marketing.
3. Be on-brand on Instagram
If you have invested in your branding for your packaging, website and more, then elements of your brand need to translate into your Instagram posts. Your brand needs to be instantly recognisable to your followers through its consistent use of colours, style of imagery, and through your tone of voice.
If you are still working out what your branding should be, Instagram can be a useful place to test out some ideas and see what works. Don’t worry, you can always archive old posts. If you archive rather than delete posts, you will still be able to view them and their stats in your archived library which is only accessible to you. They will be removed from your grid but be available for you to see them or add them back live again if needed.
Your imagery whether graphics or photos need to be the best you can create. You don’t need to be a pro photographer, but do brush up on mobile phone photography skills and on how to do the ultimate flat lay photo. Product photography is a skill requiring an understanding of light and depth of focus. Remember, glass bottles reflect the surroundings and white product containers can be bland to photograph. But don’t go overboard on photo props as small-size photos will look too busy if you crowd out your product.
It can be tricky to come up with a standard, but still flexible look and feel to your posts. Use free online tools like Canva to create templates for grid post and as story, reel and video covers. Have you ever wondered how some Instagram photo grids are in the same hues or have the same lighting? These types of effect can be created using mobile apps to do some photo post-processing. Popular ones include Adobe’s Lightroom and pre-set filters. There are many more and so just find one to suit. Of course, you can edit visuals within Instagram as well.
Being ‘on-brand’ on Instagram doesn’t mean you can’t throw in some spontaneity and mix things up. Just plan grid posts to see exactly how they will sit next to each other so you can retain a cohesive brand feel, even if some posts are different in mood, colour or topic.
Tip #3: Try to stay on-brand by using consistent, cohesive colours and style of photography and a personal yet professional brand voice. Feel free to mix things up every so often but not so as to distract from your brand messaging.
4. DIY or outsource your IG account?
Content is king. This is as true today as when social media first arrived in our lives. Even more so given the noise online and the limited attention span most of us have while flicking casually down our media feeds. Content is not free. It requires planning, dedication, creativity, consistency, time and money.
Most indie beauty founders start off running their own Instagram accounts and some do so even when their businesses grow. May Lindstrom, whom we interviewed for our Green Beauty Conversations’ podcast, says she still does her own daily posts even though her brand is now an international name. If you choose to outsource Instagram content and administration, you will need to spend time drafting some brand guidelines and briefing your social media hire to ensure you get value for money and are happy with the content.
Our advice is to run the account yourself, at least to start with, so you get a feel for the platform, your followers, a sense of what works best and so on. You will in any case be better placed as the founder to do video or lives and to show behind the scenes of your brand.
Tip #4: Both routes – DIY or outsourcing your Instagram account – have learning curves. The route you choose might depend not just on the cost but also on how visible a founder you wish to be and how important your personal voice and touch is to running your marketing.
5. Create compelling content
Content is only compelling if it hits the mark with your target followers and potential customers. Remember, you are running Instagram to market your indie beauty brand and products, so think twice before documenting your personal life in posts.
Indie founders thrive off showing followers behind the scenes, but ask yourself if posting up every meal out or the daily antics of your pet help or hinder your brand. For example, we have heard of non-vegan founders of vegan-lifestyle-compatible brands posting up meaty meals and getting a lot of negative comments as a result. See our podcast ‘Should vegan brands be run by vegans’ for more on this specific issue.
Be aware too that if you have a personal account curious followers may make the connection and check you out there too. If you have your branding sorted out, you will instinctively know what content is in line with your brand mission and will assist your marketing.
Now, let’s focus on the types of content Instagram lends itself to and the genres of content you could rotate on your account to peak followers’ interest and keep them coming back for more. Here are some ideas of topics:
Behind the scenes – show your lab space, products in production, and hop on to do ‘lives’.
Product – highlight your products (but not in every post). Show them being formulated (as a behind-the-scenes look) as well as in their final packaging.
Inspiration – showcase new ingredients or a new formulation in the making.
Lifestyle – especially useful if your brand/products have links to your region, country or the landscape around you and so on.
Education – talk about aspects of your formulation/business ethos, about the properties of key ingredients, and give your (brand) opinion on trending issues such as sustainability or ethical sourcing.
Demonstrate your products – do ‘lives’ and short film clips demonstrating how to use your product.
Testimonials – use permission-marketing to post up your best customer feedback.
Events – show you, your team and brand out and about at markets and trade fairs, for example.
Quotes – from yourself or find relevant inspirational quotes.
Community building – create posts to foster community among your followers. Engage them and solicit their opinions by asking questions (binary ones work well) and use polls.
Tip #5: Rotate categories of posts to maintain followers’ interest and to keep your feed fresh and on-point. Don’t focus only on, for example, your products all the time as this would seem as hard sell and spammy.
6. Plan content but show up every day
To make the most of Instagram you need to show up regularly – ideally daily – and be consistent in your tone, visuals, approach and so on. But, consistency does not mean doing the same thing each day. The best way to keep a balance of posts is to rotate posts in the categories we mention above. To keep track of your content themes, use a calendar. This can be a simple Google or Excel sheet or an app.
Content can be scheduled directly to Instagram from Facebook Business Suite and Creator Studio for free. This includes scheduling stories to Instagram too, albeit with less functionality and fewer features than posting manually.
There are also Instagram apps that help you draft posts to schedule. Some are so-called official ‘partners’ of Instagram and therefore less likely to fall foul of their posting rules. Some apps around include Hootsuite, Later Media, Tailwind, Plannthat, Buffer and a lot more. Most have a free, if limited plan, and tiers of pricing to suit small to large businesses. Do your homework before paying for a scheduler. First, get used to the commitment needed to run Instagram daily, as it still takes time – one day a month for instance – to populate a scheduling app in advance.
But, Instagram has the prefix ‘Insta’ in its name for good reason; it prefers and rewards new, fresh, daily content that is posted manually. It likes to remember its roots. While scheduling apps and planners can take the strain out of daily posting, as you can load them up months in advance, do post manual, spontaneous content as well.
Imagine you scheduled a post and found that news’ events overtook it making it seem inappropriate. You need to monitor your account daily and change your content to be sensitive to events both local and international. Also, you need to monitor comments daily and reply in line with your brand voice and ethos. Replying to commenters promptly is good Instagram practice and will make your followers feel appreciated and even if you don’t agree with them, you need to reply courteously and ‘on-brand’. The more comments you have, whether your replies or those of your followers, the better a post will perform in terms of reach to your followers.
Tip #6: Schedule content to give you freedom, but show up every day in person to administer your account, keep on top of comments and to keep things ‘instant’.
7. Content types on Instagram: which to choose?
Keeping up with all the different terms social platforms use to describe content types can be frustrating. As each platform tries to rival the features of its competitors, you find similar content forms but with different names across various social media. Confused? Well, you’re not alone.
One overriding point to make is that video is king these days. This is the case across all social platforms and we see statistics suggesting that video posts have over 50 percent more engagement than static photo posts. In mid-2021, Instagram announced it was actively favouring video content and leaving behind its roots as a photo-sharing app once and for all.
This means that you will need to become adept at creating video and getting comfortable going live on Instagram. Gone are the days of thinking you can post a single pretty photo a day and get traction on the app.
With this in mind, let’s go over Instagram content forms and what they are best suited to:
The grid is the main ‘home’ of your account and where followers arrive if they click through on your Instagram username or from elsewhere, such as on your handle in a comment. The grid is the place you most notice the cohesion of an account and can get a feel for its overall branding colours, photographic style and voice. Originally, the grid was for static photos only, but now it takes three types of content:
Photos: single photos or multi-image posts allowing the user to swipe sideways to see up to 10 slides.
Best suited to: regular daily posts and showcasing your brand. Any topic.
Reels: short-form video clips up to 30 seconds long that loop. They are similar to Tiktok clips. They do not expire, unlike Instagram stories (see below).
Best suited to: very short behind-the-scenes clips or very short face-to-camera clips. Topics: informal, fun facts, edutainment/infotainment clips.
Video: these can be up to 60 minutes, but shorter is better to capture attention.
Best suited to: longer, more educational or opinion pieces, but don’t aim to post up more than 20 minutes of video. Shorter is still better. Ideally, post longer videos on YouTube and do a short clip as a promotion to post on Instagram.
Other types of Instagram content
Stories: these are short photo slide decks or videos visible for up to 15 seconds per frame. Stories can be less polished and lend themselves to behind the scenes, instant views of your life, business, product demos and so on. They are highly engaged with and you often will find a greater number of views on stories than on grid posts or even video posts. There is a way to keep them around longer than 24 hours; choose them as ‘highlights’ and they will keep in a folder on your profile. You can create on-brand cover graphics for each highlight category. This makes your profile page look more professional and cohesive.
Best suited to: informal, more spontaneous content. Fun, edutainment/infotainment content and behind the scenes / founder lifestyle.
Lives: are obviously real-time live video. They can be saved as videos on your grid once recorded. When someone is ‘live’, they appear as the first icon on the story timeline (but with a purple ring around it instead of pink to indicate a ‘live’) at the top of the home feed. Depending on users’ notification settings, your followers may get a notification about you being live. You can co-host a live with another account, which lends itself to discussions, opinions, collaborations and chats with team members, partner retailers and so on.
Best suited to: quick opinions, behind-the-scenes, talking about and demonstrating new products or ingredients, showcasing new things in your lab, talking live from events, Q&As, and collaborating with another Instagram account.
Tip #7: Use a variety of Instagram post types but learn to love video and how to be a natural in front of your mobile phone camera.
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Liz is Formula Botanica’s Content Coordinator and joined our team in August 2020. Liz worked as a professional blogger, journalist and site developer for many years and was also part of the Formula Botanica student community. Read more about the Formula Botanica Team.