In late 2019, we worked on the launch of Ottawa's first food hall. Our goals were to educate people on what a food hall is, excite them about the fact that a food hall was coming to Ottawa, and get them to starting engaging with the brand. Because we were looking to engage people 19 to 35 years old, the best place to do this was on Instagram.
Along the way, we learned a few things about how you can grow your brand on Instagram in the Ottawa area. We were able to get over 3,000 followers on Instagram in about two months with no paid media budget. But more important than the total number of followers were the demographics of our followers and who we were engaging with. Over 70% were under 35 years old and well over 80% were in Ottawa.
1) Use an Instagram Business Profile
One mistake that I see people make is that they aren't using an Instagram Business Profile. Right off the top, you're missing out on the added benefits which include being able to have easy-to-find calls to action in your profile. like your phone number, website and location.
Plus, you get the added benefit of getting better and more detailed analytics on who you are engaging with. This is key to trying to understand if your strategy is working. Setting up a business profile is easy if you just follow a few simple steps.
2) Leverage the Link in Your Bio
Instagram doesn't give you a lot of opportunities for linking to websites or landing pages, so you need to make the most of what you do have: the link in your bio. Services like Linktree and Link In Bio allow you to put a link in your Instagram bio that leads to a simple landing page that then links to other pages, resources or places on the web. You'll notice these being used often by publishers that use Instagram to generate traffic to their latest articles but there are many different ways you can use these services. The possibilities are almost endless. Here's how chef Jamie Oliver uses Linktree to point people to his latest recipes, products and restaurants. Brilliant!
Service like Linktree are important because Instagram's algorithm doesn't always show people your posts in chronological order. That means that if you are always changing the link in your bio to match your latest post, there's a good chance the post somebody sees in their feed and the link won't match. These services don't cost much (if anything) and are easy to use so there's nothing holding you back from using them.
3) Use GaryVee's $1.80 Strategy
The most powerful function in Instagram is the search function. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has developed and documented a strategy called the $1.80 Instagram Strategy to leverage the power of Instagram search. Use it daily to search for hashtags and locations around Ottawa and then comment on the top posts.
This strategy takes only a bit of time each day to add your two cents to the top nine trending posts for 10 hashtags each day. That's why it's called the $1.80 strategy. For the food hall, we'd search for the types of hashtags and locations (ie: food, music, bars and restaurants) where the customers we wanted to engage with were hanging out, and then engage with them directly on their posts.
In Ottawa, you probably want to avoid the #Ottawa hashtag as it's too broad. Depending on what your niche is, search our hastags like #OttawaFood, #OttawaEvents, #613Eats and so on. Find the locations like TD Place, Byward Market, and even specific venues, restaurants and stores you know that your customers are likely to be hanging out.
4) Get Influencers Involved
One of the best ways to give your Instagram brand building efforts a real boost is to work with influencers. Choosing the right ones can be difficult but you should spend some time watching your product category or industry around Ottawa and seeing who is driving the conversation on Instagram. Check the quality of their posts, look at the photos and see if they are putting effort into their work. Are they committed to their craft? I think working with fewer influencers and developing deeper relationships is a better way to go than trying to work with a bunch of them.
Don't be fooled by people with large follower counts. That's because some influencers are using tactics like buying followers or engagement pods to game the system. Look at who is commenting on their posts... if the first few comments are always from other influencers, then they are likely using engagement pods. Also look at how many posts and how many followers they have and how many comments/likes they get. Compare that across a few influencers to get a sense of what is normal and if something is out of whack, they are likely paying for followers and/or likes. Take some additional time to dive a bit deeper and ask to see their analytics. Look at who their followers are and where they are located.
When you figure out which influencers you would like to work with, reach out to them. Ask them how much their services cost (influencers are a paid channel) and what services they can provide. Like/Follow giveaways are great for getting your follower count up but I like I said earlier, think of something unique and interesting you can collaborate on. Take your time, consider doing a post to see how people respond and watch your analytics to make sure you're getting the engagement you want from the people you want to engage with.
My last piece of advice is to give them something exclusive. Once you have your top influencer or influencers identified, because you've done your homework or done some test posts, give them something exciting they can get their followers excited about. For the food hall, we provided a select group of influencers an inside look at the project, the first taste of the food and other types of exclusive content. For the food hall, we gave Consumed By Carlo exclusive access to the food hall before almost anyone else. He was even the first person we had in to try some of the food. The response to his posts from his followers was amazing and yielded some of his best engagement.
5) Get a Good Photographer
Instagram is a visual medium and whether you know it or not, your photos and the quality of the photos go a long way to telling people what you're about. Quality photos (and video) on Instagram can really help you build your brand story because they grab attention. Remember, people scroll through their feeds at a breakneck pace and aren't always stopping to inspect photos unless you can make them stop. Be creative and have some fun with your photos but make sure they always look good.
Ottawa has a lot of great photographers that can fit into almost any budget. Spend some time looking for them on @IGersOttawa and the hashtag #MyOttawa. Once you have a photographer in mind, look at your content calendar (you should always have one of these!) and figure out how to get enough photos to support your content plans for a month or more. Doing so will help you keep the costs down a bit and keep your content pipeline full for a while.
6) Post at the Right Time
This is an important one because I find that most people just assume everyone else is using Instagram from 9am to 5pm on the weekdays so they will only post at those times. From our experience on the food hall, posts were more likely to get views and engagement in the mornings and in the evening. In particular, Thursday mornings before 8am and on Sunday nights.
There are plenty of services that you can use. Hootsuite, Later and also Hubspot are ones that we've used. These services will let you schedule posts so you don't have to be stuck to your phone all the time. All of these services are great but they do have limitations like the types of content you can post. They can also be prone to glitches or issues with the APIs that connect to the social platforms, so I would recommend going slowly at first while you get comfortable with how the tools work. The last thing is that you need to get the formatting of your captions right so spend a bit of time getting us to this.
You don't need to schedule all of your posts, so spend a bit of time getting an editorial calendar together so you have an idea of what you're going to post and and when, but leave room for spontaneous posts. There's lots of research out there about the best time to post but do some testing and figure out what works for your audience. Ottawa isn't exactly the city that never sleeps, if you know what I mean.
7) Use Instagram Stories
Our last piece of advice is to use Instagram Stories. Unlike posts, Stories are visible for only 24 hours after they are posted unless you add them to your highlights. Think of Stories like a real-time feed of what's happening now. Where posts live on forever and can be viewed as snapshots in time, Stories are small capsules of moments that are happening in near real time. I think the Stories give you the opportunity to be creative, have fun and be a little less planned-out than might otherwise be.
One way to keep your Stories on brand yet still be spontaneous is to think of the different types of stories you want to share. For the food hall, we looked at food, music, people, events, promos and other major content buckets and then created highlights for each. Then, we created some templates for each type that you can animate and draw on top of when you need to share a story, so you can have something that looks professional, is creative but remains on brand.
Ottawa has a small but burgeoning scene of artists, chefs, makers and marketers who are active on Instagram. If you spend even a bit of time on Instagram and follow local hashtags, it's pretty easy to find inspiration in what others are doing.
Whether you're looking to raise awareness, increase revenue or solicit donations, Instagram is a powerful tool but brands don't get built in a day. Take some time to learn more about the platform by interacting with people and leveraging some of the tips I have given you.