Regardless of whether you're the type of person to set New Year's resolutions or not, there's always a particular mindset during the New Year that has us reflecting. We tend to set goals and spend time planning before we dive into the year with full force. I find that this affects most areas in my business, and one of the tools I've been using to go through this in a more systematic way is a good 'ole fashioned audit. I usually start with an overall brand audit, but for today's purposes, I want to spend some time dissecting a smaller piece of the puzzle -- Instagram. For many of our businesses, Instagram has become an invaluable tool, however, I find that because it can feel like a smaller and slightly more "on the fly" platform compared to blogging or a newsletter, it's important to step back, reassess, and make sure we're still on the right track periodically. That's why we're here today. I've broken down the platform into 6 categories: Profile, Content, Captions, Hashtags, Planning/Strategy, and Community/Engagement. I have provided a little overview as to what you should be aiming for within each of these areas and then a series of questions to ask yourself as you audit your own profile and feed. To make things even easier for you, I've also created a fancy Instagram Audit Checklist for you to download so you can simply go through and check off the list, which will provide some insight as to where you might want to focus your attention.
With your username, you ideally want to have consistency across all social media channels and brand touchpoints if possible. If someone's first interaction with your brand was on your website then your Instagram username should really be easy for them to find based on your URL and vice versa. Similarly, you want to create a cohesive visual experience for your communities no matter where they interact with your brand. That means your profile photo should be the same across all platforms as well. If your business is a personal brand (I.E. it includes your name) and you are the face of your brand, you'll likely want to use a photo of yourself as the profile picture so your followers know who you are. This also allows your followers to form a personal connection with you. If you're operating more as a brand then you'll want to opt for a recognizable logo as your profile photo. Regardless, remember that consistency is king. It's also important that your username is easy to find, spell and related to your business. So if you switch your personal profile over to a profile for your new brand when you launched, and there's absolutely no relation, this might be the time to reconsider that decision and think about changing it to one that represents your brand. Questions:
- Is your username consistent across all social platforms and brand touchpoints?
- Is your profile photo consistent across all social platforms?
- If you have a personal brand, is your profile photo of yourself? If you are a non-personal brand, are you using a recognizable logo?
- Is your username easy to spell and find?
- Is your username related to your business?
In your bio, you have 150 characters to capture your audience's attention and share the mission behind your account. It's a small, but mighty piece of real estate so you want to make sure you're optimizing it and attracting the right followers. You can accomplish this by explaining who you are/what your brand is, what you do and what you offer. Give potential followers an idea of what type of content they can expect and how it will benefit them. It's also important to consider your writing style and the voice of your brand when writing your bio so that it's consistent with the rest of your content. So if you have a dry sense of humor and an undying love for communicating via emojis, incorporate that into your bio so your audience has a sense of what to expect. This is also the best spot for a specific call to action that requires a direct link as it's the only spot in which you can do so, therefore take advantage of it. Tailor the link to any specific content you're trying to promote (I.E. a blog post, a new offering or product, etc) by changing the link to represent that when applicable. I use bit.ly to shorten links and will change them depending on what I'm talking about or promoting at any given time, offering the perfect opportunity for a call to action. Bit.ly is also great for tracking traffic from specific shortlinks so you can get a sense of who is coming directly from Instagram or clicking on a specific link. Questions:
- Does your bio explain who you/your brand is, what you do and what you offer?
- Does your bio offer insight as to who your account will benefit?
- Does your bio explain what type of content can be expected and how it will benefit your target audience?
- Is your bio written in the same tone of voice and style as the rest of your content?
- If there a call to action in your bio?
- Is there a clear way to get ahold of you through your bio?
- Are you maximizing the website link opportunity and changing it when applicable?
Now that we've spent a little time assessing your username, profile photo and bio, it's time to dive into the fun stuff --the content! We've talked through the 5 C's of Creating Content for Instagram in a previous post so jump over to that post to really dive into the specifics. Because Instagram is such a visual platform and that's why we love it so much (#eyecandy), we want to make sure we're spending time on our visual strategy for Instagram and ensuring that there's consistency in your content and you're paying attention to your overall grid. Questions:
- Is it clear what the purpose of your Instagram account is and are your photos helping you achieve that?
- Do you have a consistent theme and overall concept for your content?
- Is there a consistent color story throughout your Instagram feed?
- Is it pleasing to view your content together as a grid?
- Do you use the same editing recipe for all of your posts?
- Do you pay attention to composition both when creating individual posts as well as the overall grid?
- Does your Instagram content mix represent a variety of content for your brand that supports your overall brand goals and the purpose of your Instagram account?
- Have you managed to capture a brand style on Instagram that is recognizable and quintessentially you?
- If you look at your top 9-12 photos, are you telling a story through your content?
- Overall, is your Instagram content consistent, high quality and relevant?
As important as your visual content is on Instagram, you also want to ensure that you're paying attention to your captions as they complement your photos. I mentioned voice briefly in the first section in regards to writing your bio, and the same applies here. It's important to be clear on what your brand voice is and how that shows up on Instagram and through your captions. The most powerful captions enhance your photos; the two elements should work together to showcase your brand style and tell your story. This doesn't mean that you're necessarily talking about exactly what's in the photo, however, it shouldn't feel like there is a discrepancy nor do you want to shortchange an amazing photo with a lackluster caption. Your aim is to capture your audience's attention so they're inspired to click that little "more" button (if your caption is over three lines, the app will hide the rest of it), and engage with your content. Tell stories, showcase your brand personally, ask your audience questions, include calls to action, and establish yourself as an expert through your captions. Questions:
- Are you paying attention to and writing relevant captions that enchance your photos?
- Do your captions use storytelling tactics and showcase your brand personality?
- Do you include questions in some of your captions to engage your audience?
- Are you including calls to action in some of your captions?
- Are you using your captions to share your expertise and build trust with your audience?
Everyone has a slightly different strategy when it comes to hashtags, and I think a big part of it involves trials to figure out what works best for you and your brand. I personally prefer to stick to using a maximum of 5-10 hashtags on each photo and opt to list it in a separate comment under the caption. I like the way it looks and it doesn't clutter my post as much. What I tend to do is create little groupings of hashtags according to themes/subject matter in my Notes app on my phone so I can just copy and paste when I post on Instagram. This saves me from having to write them all out and from trying to remember which ones to use. Pay attention to your engagement on each photo to give you a sense of which hashtags are working well for you and adjust accordingly. My hashtag strategy is to use a mixture of larger, well-populated hashtags with more niche options with smaller followings that I have a higher chance of getting "found" on. And I always ensure that my hashtags are relevant to my content. Think through what hashtags your ideal audience are likely to use and what they might be searching and use those that to interact with them. Questions:
- Are you using relevant and strategic hashtags on all of your posts?
- Do you use a mix of more popular hashtags with more niche hashtags?
- Do you use hashtags to find and interact with your ideal audience?
- Do you keep consistent with where you post your hashtags (I.E. in a comment underneath) and how many do you use?
5. Planning + Strategy
The piece that holds this all together --and where the magic of PLANOLY comes in, of course, is in planning and strategy. We already talked about the importance of creating and posting consistent, high quality content, which is the foundation of an effective Instagram strategy. Planning ensures that even during times when you may be lacking time or resources, you'll still have relevant content to pull from and post so that you don't lose your momentum. You can continue to engage with your audience without sacrificing quality or relevancy. Questions:
- Do you plan out your content and schedule your posts in advance whenever possible?
- Do you pay attention to when you're posting and what type of content performs the best at what times?
- Do you use a tool to plan out, schedule, manage, and analyze your content?
6. Community + Engagement
Instagram has always been about community, but since the introduction of the algorithm, engagement has become more important than ever. Engagement will ensure your content is being seen by your followers and that you are reaching the right audience. There's no way around the fact that in order to grow your community and benefit from using Instagram for your brand, you need to dedicate time to engage in authentic conversations on the platforms. This means replying to comments, spending time interacting with other people's content that's beyond a simple "like" or "so pretty!". We're talking about taking the time to start conversations and to build relationships. This means following the right accounts that are aligned, relevant, and inspiring to you and dedicating time to interact with others on Instagram on a regular basis. Questions:
- Do you follow accounts that are aligned, relevant and inspiring?
- Do you reply to comments and questions in a timely manner?
- Do you dedicate time on a regular basis to engage with your followers?
- Do you seek out and engage with your target audience on a regular basis in an effort to expand your community?
- So now it's your turn -- download the Instagram Audit Checklist (it's an interactive PDF that you can simply click to check off each box or print it out and fill it out by hand). Spend some time going through the questions.
About our Guest Contributor
Paige is the owner and creative director of Studio Bicyclette, a lifestyle blog and creative studio that aims to inspire and help brands and businesses find their magic, style their brand and tell their story. Her wanderlust and ability to find and create beauty in the unlikeliest places comes from a belief in fairy tales that started at an early age, a place where imagination is a tool that can be used to tell a story, spark creativity and solve any problem. When she's not styling a photoshoot or helping clients implement a social media strategy, you can usually find her dreaming up fancy cocktail creations, planning her next adventure or hunting for the perfect shade of pink lipstick.