Hustling for Traction and Doing Things That Don’t Scale

Ian Heidt, Co-Founder and CEO of Housecall, talks about the extreme lengths they’ve gone to build early traction in their local market. From dressing up like elves and delivering Christmas trees, personally fulfilling services through the app, and giving back to the community, they represent the epitome of hustle. And through these processes, they’ve discovered the tactics that will help them massively scale.

Show Notes:

  • Ian Heidt
  • Housecall
  • Intro Song by Alex Koch of Digital Dust Studios
  • Outro Song: Jakwob - "No Place Like Home" (feat. Rationale)
  • Productized Services with Brian Casel

    So there's services where you trade time for money. And then there's products, where you build once (sort of) and get paid over and over again. But there's another way... and it might just fit the bill for all you people (looking at you Scott) who don't have a pure product idea and are trying to move in that direction.

    In this Business Time interview, Brian Casel shares a couple excellent tips on how he created a successful productized service offering, successful enough that he was able to stop all of his client work and focus full-time the company that embodies his productized service. You'll learn things like:

    • What to look for in the work you already do to find a productizable service
    • How to turn your service into a repeatble and measurably improvable process
    • And much more...

    8 Ways to Stop Boring Your Email Subscribers

    We constantly talk about testing email headlines, email layouts, emails for mobile, and email timing. But, what about looking at what we’re actually sending our subscribers?

    Would you read your own emails?

    Here are 8 ways to energize your subscribers:

    1. Do not talk only about your services.

    According to recent research, we humans spend 60% of our time talking about ourselves. The number increases to 80% on social media.

    Writing quality emails is about how you can help your subscribers. Use words like “you” and “your” throughout the email. Focus on helping your subscribers learn more about your services so they will understand the benefits. This all starts by not talking about your services from the beginning. Build a relationship first.

    2. What is your attention span?

    Have you been reading this article word for word? More than likely you are skimming it. That’s part of the reason I bolded the first sentence of each point and placed the test link below on a separate line.

    We attract like-minded people to our businesses. Consequently, if you do read every word of every article, then you will attract people with similar predispositions to your business.

    That means they will want to know a similar amount of information as you. To understand your patience level, test your own attention span. When you know how much content you pay attention to in an email, you will know how much detail to include.

    Test your attention span here!

    Use your own attention span as an indicator of whether your email content is useful and engaging, or long winded.

    Also, consider the fact that attention spans online over the past twenty years dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes thanks to social media. You have less time than you want to interest people in your email. Use the time to the best of your abilities.

    3. Why buy the milk, when you can get the cow for free?

    Pardon the un-politically correct question, but do you give away too much in your emails? Free is good! Giving away everything of value in your company for free is bad.

    Your email should entice people but not give away so much information that it makes your call to action useless. Tease people with information so they feel compelled to click on the link. Make them want to learn more. Stop short before you…

    4. Follow up with people.

    Sorry, but your software is not good enough for me to stop in the middle of my day. When I need it, I will search every corner of the universe to find it. In the meantime, stop sending me one-off missives and then disappearing into the ether for long stretches of time.

    To get on your prospects’ radar, you must be consistent. In sales, it takes five no’s on average to get to a yes. Only 8% of all sales people keep asking five times or more. Email can be an even longer approach. You are building trust and relationships with a larger number of people over time to increase your sales. Be patient, and keep providing information that is relevant to your prospects.

    5. Use social media as a testing ground.

    Dean DeLisle from Forward Progress uses social media as a testing ground for email topics for his clients. “For example, maybe you want to connect with CIO’s and vice presidents of IT. You are not sure how they will respond to your topic. You can test discussions in targeted groups in LinkedIn. You post discussions to see how many people like and comment on the thread. That will give you a signal whether you will get your own database to respond.”

    I tested this idea for an email I am working on about entrepreneurs’ greatest fears (see next point). While I know how to write, I wanted to see exactly what I should write about. Within one hour, I had two detailed descriptions of entrepreneurs’ fears from a question I asked in a LinkedIn group.

    6. Speak to your clients’ fears.

    Everyone has a fear of something. Your job is to understand how to reduce that fear with your service.

    This means your wording should mirror these fears. Take the question about entrepreneurs’ fears from the previous point. Here are two golden responses from the discussion. “The sky’s the limit, but you have to get in the air to see how far you can reach the stars” and “My biggest fear is that we will run out of cash before we achieve traction and meaningful growth, and everyone’s work will be for naught.”

    These fears might need to be cleaned up in an email, but the expressions give good ideas for how to help. Using prospects’ words in your writing can improve your chances of striking an emotional chord with your subscribers. They want to know that you get them.

    7. Test your content.

    I opened this conversation talking about writing good content, not just testing it. However, if you are going to write engaging content, it will take time to get better at your craft. Testing helps you improve.

    After all, B2B emails have a paltry 1.7% click-through ratio. This means that out of 100 people, at most, 2 subscribers click through to your information.

    As you work on improving this ratio, start playing with your email content. Do not change everything at once. Instead, constantly look to see how you did. Can you do better next time by improving the information you share?

    8. Raise Eyebrows

    A few years back I read the book Copy This by Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s. One thing that stuck with me was that he named the company after a nickname friends had given him. As he said in the book, “It was no accident I chose it. Customers don’t forget hard consonant names.”

    I know that telling you to try something and you trying it are two different things. However, you will know you have the right platform or the right product when other people raise their eyebrows. So, do eyebrow tests of your product. Hold video chats, take the product to network events, etc., and see where people raise their eyebrows. By their response, you will know very early on in the process whether you have a winner.

    Would You Read Your Own Emails?

    Writing an email for your subscribers should be about educating them on how they can use your services. While you do not need to be an entertainer, you need to put some charm into your emails. Show your human side, and let your subscribers know you care. Otherwise, they will leave your email list by either clicking the spam button or ignoring you altogether. It is your responsibility to create great content for them. So, what keeps you interested in an email campaign?

    About the Author: is the author of the upcoming book Start Up Gap. He is a prolific blogger and freelance writer, creating over 3,000 articles in the past 5 years.

    Using Interactive Content to Increase Conversions: 4 Examples from Top Companies (And How You Can Do It Too!)

    If content marketing was 2013’s internet marketing buzzword, 2014 may well be the year of its evolution: interactive marketing.

    But what exactly is interactive marketing? At its core, interactive marketing focuses less on an immediate sale and more on building a relationship with customers by engaging them in conversation. With the proliferation of social media and mobile phone use, opportunities have surfaced that make interactive marketing easier than ever. So how are well-known companies putting it to use, and more importantly, how can you? Let’s take a closer look:

    Coca Cola Embraces Referral and Social Marketing

    Coke’s wildly popular “Share a Coke with…” campaign replaced their iconic logo with popular names and invited consumers to share a coke with their friends. The hashtag campaign #shareacoke on Instagram generated over 340,000 posts and enjoyed a 96% positive (or neutral) customer reception – the kind of numbers New Coke dreams about.


    Oddly enough, Sherice isn’t available, but Sharkeisha is!

    Key Takeaway: Sharing a Coke with someone isn’t just about enjoying a drink. To Coke and its consumers, it’s about capturing a moment in time and building a memory – Name-emblazoned Coca-Cola just happens to be the primary driver of that memory.

    And while you may not be a giant corporation, you can still add a personalized touch through brand incentives such as Ambassador. It works with a variety of third party applications including PayPal, ExactTarget and Shopify to name a few.

    Yoplait Helps Save Lives

    Every year, Yoplait yogurt donates 10 cents per specially marked pink yogurt lid mailed back to them, to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. Yoplait’s parent company, General Mills, is estimated to have donated between $35-50 million dollars since the movement started in 1997.


    That adds up to hundreds of millions of lids sent in by customers!

    Key Takeaway: Support a cause that gets your customers involved too! People are more likely to recommend your product or service to their friends if they can interact with it (i.e. mailing in lids) or even do so on a social basis (like or share) and see the impact of their action.

    Jack Daniels Invites Users to Share Weird Drinking Stories

    Stories of intrigue…passion…and maybe a few chairs and tables flying. That’s what great bar tales are made of. Sensing that everyone loves a good story, whiskey manufacturer Jack Daniels invited users to share their wackiest, most unbelievable bar story, and bundled them into a campaign it called “The Few & Far Between”

    Some of the stories involve Jack Daniels – like the “200 Shot Salute”, wherein a well-liked bartender’s remains were cremated and added to shots which were then consumed (knowingly) by patrons at his bar. Others don’t involve Jack at all, but are still funny and worth sharing. Like with the Coca-Cola campaign, the brand isn’t front and center, but rather hovering in the background, still noticeable and still in the back of consumers’ minds.

    Key Takeaway: Your product or service doesn’t always have to be in the spotlight. With interactive content, simply inviting users to share a story from your particular industry can be enough to reinforce your own brand’s history, or its fresh modern take on big issues. What stories are your users waiting to tell? Using a web-based service like Storify can help them bring together the snippets of media and images to weave a tale about nearly anything.

    Ice, Ice, Baby

    Much of the viral marketing that happened this summer surrounded the Ice Bucket Challenge, designed to raise money for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).


    As a result of the ice bucket challenge, the ALS Association was able to raise over $79 million dollars while also spreading awareness and gaining exposure for this little-understood disease. Of course, one of the biggest pulls were the celebrities who participated – tagging each other to see who would be next.

    The virality of tagging pals to participate and video their reaction is what made the challenge so memorable for so many. Plus, it started in the hottest part of the year, so it was only natural that people wanted to “cool off for a cause”.

    Key Takeaway: Of course, you don’t need a major celebrity’s endorsement to start your own viral sharing challenge. Think about something simple, fun and do-able by just about anyone. New challenges have already sprung up to piggyback off of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s massive success, including the Rubble Bucket, Bullet Bucket and Rice Bucket. Whether or not they’ll have the same incredible success that the ALS Association saw remains to be seen, but the seeds of promotion have already been sown.

    What’s Next for Interactive Content?

    The great thing about interactive content is how quickly it can spread, and how the concentration is on the customer and their response, rather than the brand and its benefits. Creating such challenges, stories and relationships often involve little other than a great idea and a receptive audience. The direction is up to you.

    Have you seen some great examples of interactive content? Have you used it in your own business? Share your experiences and perspective with us below in the comments and let us know how it has helped you forge even stronger customer relations!

    About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps businesses improve website design and increase conversions with user-focused design, compelling copywriting and smart analytics. Learn more at iElectrify and get your free conversion checklist and web copy tune-up. Follow @sherice on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ for more articles like this!

    What Spending $57,000 on Instagram Taught Me

    dan bilzerian Over the last few months, I heard one name mentioned by my fellow entrepreneurs more than others. Can you guess who it is? It’s not Elon Musk or any other popular entrepreneur… It’s Dan Bilzerian - the man with over 5 million Instagram followers (some of his pictures aren’t safe for work). If you aren’t familiar with Dan, I can tell you he’s pretty much the modern Hugh Hefner. He posts pictures of his lavish life and all of the women he is surrounded by on a daily basis. It isn’t Dan’s lifestyle that interests me, however. It's what other entrepreneurs say about him. In essence, they love his life because they can’t have it. For example, I was meeting one of my buddies in New York, who has a few billion dollars, according to Forbes. He is married and has kids. He, as well as a few of my other wealthy friends, love talking about Dan and living vicariously through his Instagram profile. This made me think: how can I replicate Dan's Instagram success, but with a much more toned-down version? Read More

    Please help – 5 second SEO experiment

    A while ago we posted our advice on whether or not you should be implementing SSL on your server for SEO reasons. The nutshell answer being don’t panic over SEO and SSL.

    Another reason for not doing anything right now is that there’s evidence to suggest that HTTP Referrer information is not being passed on through links. So we’d like to put that to the test.

    All you have to do is click on the link below; that’s it. That’s our own HTTPS referrer linking to a non-secure page on a website that we’re using for testing purposes.

    Please only click on this link from the actual page on our server though. If you’re reading this elsewhere (for example in an RSS reader/service), please click on this link first to open this post in your browser, then click on the link below.

    We’ll let you know what we find.

    >>> Please CLICK HERE from your web browser  <<<<

    Thank you.

    My new product : Hyper Plan

    scrum kanbanI have just launched a new product. First some back story. A few years ago, my wife and I were renovating the house we live in now. Trying to schedule and track all the different tasks, tradesmen and quotes was a real pain. We stuck Post-it® notes onto a whiteboard to try to keep on top of it all. The Post-it notes represented the various jobs that need doing. We placed them in columns (representing what stage they were at: needs quote, accepted quote, scheduled, doing, done) and rows (representing the various trades: plumbing, roofing, electrical etc). It worked, but it was far from ideal:

    • I wanted to see status vs trade, status vs room and room vs trade. But changing the layout was a pain, so I had to pick one layout and stick with it.
    • Colours were useful for extra information. But we were limited to just the few colours that Post-it notes come in.
    • There was only limited space to write on the note.
    • My wife couldn’t read my handwriting.
    • We had to use a separate spreadsheet to track the budget.
    • Post-it notes would fall off and get lost after being moved a few times.
    • I ran out of Post-it notes.

    That is when the idea of Hyper Plan first occurred to me. It has been burning a hole in my brain for the last 5 years. Now I have finally got around to implementing it.

    Hyper Plan is Post-it note style planning, implemented in software. In software you are no-longer limited by the number of Post-it notes you can afford, the amount of wall space you have or the number of colours Post-it notes come in. You can even change the layout and colours with a mouse click. All with animation and easing curve loveliness.

    The sorts of planning you can use it for include:

    • project planning
    • planning what is going into your next software release
    • event planning
    • Kanban / Scrum / Agile
    • planning a holiday
    • to do list (I know!)

    Anything where you have discrete tasks that you want to be able to categorize (e.g. by person, status or type), schedule or track in a visual form.

    Here is a 2:42 minute overview in video form (with audio):

    Hyper Plan videoCan’t see the video? Try this mp4 version (10.7 MB).

    Hyper Plan is quite different to anything else I have seen. That could be a good thing or bad thing. I am putting out an early beta to try to find out.

    Hyper Plan is not currently for sale. I don’t want to take the time to set up all the payment processing and licensing until I am confident someone might actually buy it. The current beta version will run completely unrestricted until 17-Jan-2015. There are Windows and Mac versions. Hopefully a commercial version will be available for sale by the time the beta expires. If not, I will release another free version.

    Currently it is very much an MVP (minimum viable product).

    • The UI is a bit rough around the edges.
    • The logo was done in 5 minutes in Word.
    • The documentation is just a quick start guide.
    • Some important features are not implemented yet (e.g. printing, exporting and undo).

    But I have tried to follow my own advice and resist foul urges to spend months polishing it (which is hard!). What is there is pretty robust though, and I think it demonstrates the concepts. Hopefully I will know in a few weeks whether it is worth taking the time to polish it to commercial levels.

    I would love to know what you think. Particularly how useful you find it for ‘real’ planning tasks. Even responses of the form “I wouldn’t use this because…” are helpful. Please also email a link to anyone else you think might be interested. Particularly if you have ever seen them sticking Post-it notes to a wall or swearing at Microsoft Project! My contact details are here.


    Q: Why is it desktop, rather than SaaS/mobile?

    A. I think stories of the death of desktop software are exaggerated. Also:

    • I can build a minimum viable product much quicker for desktop.
    • Differentiation. Some people prefer desktop apps, e.g. because they don’t have reliable Internet or don’t want to store their data on third party servers.
    • Less competition. Everyone else seems to be doing SaaS/mobile.

    I might add SaaS and/or mobile versions later, if there is enough demand. Note that DropBox (or the Google, Microsoft or Apple equivalents) allow you to easily sync a Hyper Plan file across multiple computers.

    Q: So it’s Trello for desktop?

    A. Not really. I had the basic idea before I ever saw Trello. And I’m not stupid enough to compete with a free tool from the great Joel Spolsky! Trello is great at what it does. But Hyper Plan is different in quite a few ways. In Trello the emphasis is on collaboration and workflow. In Hyper Plan the emphasis is on visualization and planning. Hyper Plan allows you to present your information in lots of different ways with a few mouse clicks. It also has a built in ‘pivot table’ type feature that is much easier to use than Excel pivot tables. This is really useful for totalling effort and expenditure by different categories.

    Post-it is a registered trademark of 3M.

    The scrum photo is licensed under creative common by Logan Ingalls.

    Filed under: Hyper Plan, marketing, microISV, productivity, software, tools Tagged: agile, Hyper Plan, kanban, lightweight, planning, post-it, scrum, software

    The Marketer’s Guide to Instagram

    In just four years, Instagram has exploded to over 200 million monthly active users (MAUs), making it the fastest growing social network on the planet.[1] While the number of MAUs falls well short of other social networks, Instagram has the most engaged users.[2]

    A study was done using the rock band Paramore’s social media accounts. The same image was posted to their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts simultaneously, with these results:[3]

    • Facebook Fan Page (3,200,000 fans) – 9,405 likes
    • Twitter (3,350,000 followers) – 433 retweets and 289 favorites
    • Instagram (360,000 followers) – 52,237 likes and 315 comments

    With only one-tenth the following of their Facebook fan page, their Instagram account generated 5 times more activity.

    Forrester Research also conducted a study yielding similar results. They found that Instagram had a fan engagement rate 58 times higher than Facebook and 120 times higher than Twitter.[4]

    These numbers are truly astounding. What is the reason for the massive jump in engagement on Instagram? One explanation has to do with how networks are structured. Let’s take a look at three of the major ones:


    Facebook Homefeed

    Facebook Homefeed Mobile


    Twitter Feed

    Twitter Feed Mobile


    Pinterest Feed

    Pinterest Feed Mobile

    Look at the amount of information displayed when you log in. It’s sensory overload. Our brains cannot process all that information at one time. From a marketer’s point of view, this presents a major issue. You spend hours curating content to engage your users, but most of the time it falls on glazed-over eyes.

    Now, let’s look at Instagram:


    Instagram Feed

    Instagram Feed Mobile

    Instagram keeps it simple: muted color tones, no advertisements, minimal buttons, and most importantly, only one photo on the screen at a time. This presents an awesome opportunity to truly get your following’s attention and communicate your message.

    Instagram offers a powerful platform for marketers and businesses, yet there is a common misconception that if you don’t have a physical product to sell, the network isn’t applicable. Albeit a great way to directly market a product, the true power of Instagram lies in the ability to connect with users. This means that all businesses can (and should) use Instagram.

    Getting Started

    Setting up an Instagram profile is extremely straightforward, so we aren’t going to belabor that here. However, there are some distinct differences between Instagram and other social networks which are important to note.

    Setting up Your Profile

    Setting Up Instagram Pofile

    IG Profile Example

    • Unlike Facebook and Pinterest, Instagram doesn’t distinguish between businesses and individual users. All accounts are the same.
    • You can change your account name as many times as you like. Also, you can use underscores (_) and periods (.) in your username.
    • You can select one image for your profile picture. The image isn’t clickable to zoom. This is the only photo that will show on behalf of your business, as there are no header photos on Instagram.
    • Instagram allots only 150 characters in your profile for a blurb about your business. Keep it simple, with a slogan or a brief elevator pitch. And, please, no emoticons.
    • Arguably, the biggest downside to Instagram is no outward linking. The only place you can include an outward link is your profile bio. Use it wisely.

    Creating an Identity

    You’re going to want to find out what type of content engages Instagram users the most in order to maximize your Instagram presence and create an identity. Images communicate a lot more than words.

    The best way to start is to find accounts in similar industries and see what they do. Take careful notes on the content they post and the reactions they receive.

    Here are some great examples to help you get started:

    • American Express – A prime example of a business that has an intangible product but still has a great Instagram presence.
    • Taco Bell – Across the board, Taco Bell has an amazing social media presence. They do a great job creating interesting content by using their product in a creative way.
    • Warby Parker – A great example of a company with a beautifully curated account. They’re able to subtly advertise their product while still engaging their following with awesome images.
    • Sharpie – Sharpie has mastered user-submitted content. They ask their following to create drawings using Sharpie markers and then post them to their account.
    • Burberry – Burberry doesn’t take the obvious route by posting images of their clothing. Instead, they pull back the veil and show followers what goes on behind the scenes at the company.
    • Intel – Another great example of an account with a product that might not traditionally fit on Instagram. They get extremely creative with their account in order to engage their following.
    • Hot or Not App – Mobile app marketing is arguably the most difficult form of marketing to do well. Hot or Not has done incredible things with their Instagram account. If you have a mobile app, give them a follow. (We don’t necessarily endorse their business, but for the purpose of providing an example it’s worth examining their strategy.)

    Many of these companies hire professionals to curate their accounts, so don’t get overwhelmed if you can’t compete with the quality of their images. Instead, focus on their posting strategy and how they engage their users.

    Since there are no auto posters that work with Instagram’s application programming interface (API), we recommend you create an editorial calendar to keep your posts on schedule and optimized. An editorial calendar is a tool used by publishers to control the flow of content across multiple mediums. Here is an example of one we created for a client with a brand new Instagram account:

    Editorial Calendar Example

    1. Date: The date of the scheduled post.
    2. Time: The time of the scheduled post. When starting off, we always pick four different times, and we A/B test to find out what time our following is most active.
    3. Image: The name of the image you plan to post. There is no limit to the types of images you can post, but we recommend that you don’t barrage your following with advertisements. Keep it fresh and rotate the types of images you post. Mix in some funny (but relevant) memes to keep your followers engaged.
    4. Video: Instagram allows videos, and we highly recommend that you take advantage of this feature. Each video can be up to 15 seconds long. Mix in video posts while A/B testing to see how your audience reacts. Traditionally, videos get less than half the engagement of images.
    5. Filter: Instagram has 17 built-in filters to help improve the quality of your images. The calendar states “use judgment,” meaning choose a filter if you feel it makes the image more appealing.
    6. Hashtag: We cover hashtags in depth in the next section. Use the editorial calendar to plan them out ahead of time.
    7. Copy: The description that you will include with the photo. There is no limit to the number of characters you can put in a description, so you’re free to write as much or as little as you choose.
    8. Profile Tags: Here you would include the handle of other users you are tagging in the photo. For example, if you post a photo of your employees, you can tag them in the photos (just like Facebook).
    9. Daily Posting Schedule: After the first week, the calendar moves down to one post a day. If you are getting great engagement from your following at every time of day, feel free to post four or more times. However, in our experience, it is extremely difficult to come up with that much engaging content, and you may end up losing followers if your posts become boring. Most of the time, the sweet spot is in the one-two posts a day range.

    It’s important to have some form of calendar to establish consistent posting. People tend to be turned off when you post too much or post in bursts (e.g., five photos in a row), so it’s important to create a schedule. In addition, you want to use the first week or so as a basic A/B test to gauge the reaction of followers. There are a number of free online platforms to help you set a schedule:

    Choose a platform and pay close attention to which photos get the most engagement. We recommend Iconosquare because it’s extremely easy to use. The platform keeps track of how your account has progressed month over month in terms of a following and user engagement. There is a plethora of data available that will help you determine:

    • Your most engaging content
    • The best time of day to post
    • The best filters to use
    • Which posts caused you to lose/gain followers
    • Growth statistics


    A number of online studies show that Instagram users are most active between 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm, but your following might be different. Use the free metrics provided to craft your own plan based on your data.

    Growing Your Following

    It’s important to craft a plan that focuses on quality content, metrics, and maximizing follower engagement because it will help grow your account. Whenever a follower likes a photo of yours, it will show up on the follower’s feed. That means someone who is connected to your follower can view your posts should they choose to do so.

    When creating your posts, there are a number of things you should do:

    Use Hashtags

    A cliché, but they work. Hashtags are words (or groups of words) following a # symbol (such as #business, #smallbusiness, etc.). What they do is help users find your photos by grouping them with other photos using the same hashtag.

    For example, if you go to the Explore tab (the star on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen), you’re able to search for users and hashtags. Type your industry (e.g., “marketing”). What you will see is a huge list of photos tagged with “#marketing.” Essentially, hashtags can help other like-minded Instagram users find your content, and they can be strategically used to increase the visibility of your posts.

    For a list of the most used hashtags and their meanings, click here.

    You’ll notice that the hashtags included on the above list aren’t necessarily applicable to businesses. We recommend using these hashtags only in moderation because they can annoy and confuse your followers. Instead, we recommend using hashtags in three ways:

    1. To create your own brand – A brand hashtag is one that is specific to your business. Come up with a short phrase (like #automatedmarketing) or simply use the name of your business. Use the same hashtag on every post and encourage others to use it when posting to their accounts. KitKat is a great example of this. They encourage users to use the hashtag “#haveabreak,” which they consistently use across all their social media accounts as well. This creates a consistent brand across all social networks and encourages users to share content and spread the brand.


    1. To join in what’s trending – Trending hashtags are those which are viral at a given moment. When you come across a trend that’s related to your business, engage in the conversation by posting content using the hashtag. This can put your message in front of a large, highly engaged audience. This technique requires a little more effort because Instagram doesn’t currently show what’s trending. However, you can use the same trends that are on Twitter and Facebook (found on the sides of your feeds) to join in on Instagram.
    2. To connect with a niche – Finding related hashtags takes some digging. Head to and type in a keyword related to your business. The platform will return a long list of related hashtags and their associated volume. From these, you will be able to build a list of relevant hashtags to use in your posts.

    Since you’ll be posting from a mobile device, we suggest you keep a note pad with your hashtags in them. This will allow you to copy and paste them into each post and save you the hassle of typing them out each time.

    Use Filters

    Instagram has 17 filters that can help to improve the look and feel of your photos. An online study gives us insight into which are used the most:[5]

    1. Normal / No filter – 43%
    2. Earlybird – 10%
    3. X-Pro II – 8%
    4. Valencia – 5%
    5. Rise – 4%
    6. Hefe – 4%
    7. Amaro – 4%
    8. Hudson – 3%
    9. Brannan – 3%
    10. Nashville – 3%

    Filters are a great tool, but don’t spend too much time trying to figure out which one looks the best. We suggest using filters when the image quality isn’t up to par. Filters are a great way to mask poor quality.

    Link Your Accounts

    Instagram provides the ability to link with your other social media accounts and push posts to them. This is a great feature because, let’s face it, social media is time consuming. Pushing content will save you from logging in to your other accounts and reposting. When you push an Instagram post to another network, it displays as coming from Instagram. If you have a large following on other networks, it’s an easy way to drive traffic to your Instagram account.

    Instagram allows you to push posts to six networks:

    1. Facebook
    2. Twitter
    3. Tumblr
    4. Flickr
    5. Foursquare
    6. Mixi

    Linking the accounts is easy. When setting up a new post, you’ll see this screen:


    All you need to do is tap the corresponding network and log in using your credentials before sending your post. After you set your login credentials once, Instagram will save them for future use so all you have to do is tap each network icon to push your content.

    In order to avoid posting duplicate images and videos across your social networks, we recommend you use only Instagram for the six networks listed above. (For the others, you will still need to post to them.)

    Use Your Website

    Instagram launched a cool feature that allows you to embed your content on a website or blog. If you have a high-traffic website, this is a great way to get exposure for your account. If you have a portfolio page, consider using your Instagram account to feed through that. Or, easily embed images/videos into your blog posts by following these simple steps:


    1. Go to and locate the image or video that you would like to embed
    2. Click on the three dots in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo and click “embed”
    3. Copy and paste the code into the text file of your blog post

    Use Likes and Comments

    This technique is a hustle, but it works. Start by going to the search section and typing in the hashtag of your choice. Put yourself in the mind of your ideal follower and think about the types of hashtags they would be using. For example, if you’re a web hosting company, search for hashtags like “computer,” “website,” “web design,” etc.

    Click on the “list all” option (three horizontal lines) so the photos will be listed one by one. Then, scroll down the feed, liking every photo you come across. Those users will see that you liked their photo and check out your profile. If you have a well-curated account, they may follow you back. However, keep in mind that Instagram has spam filters which limit the number of photos you can like to 350 per hour.


    You can do the same thing with comments. This is much more time consuming, and Instagram limits comments to 50 per hour. Also, be careful about what you comment. Stay away from sales pitches and stick to positive feedback like “love your photos.”

    Another method is to follow a lot of accounts and hope they follow you back. However, this method can backfire. If you’re following 10,000 accounts but have only 500 followers yourself, it will create a negative perception of your account.

    Use Influencer Marketing

    If you’re a business owner, you really don’t have time to spend coming up with hashtags and liking photos. Since Instagram’s advertising platform isn’t readily available, the most effective way to grow your following is to connect with influencers. (We will discuss influencer marketing in more detail in the next section.)

    Creating an Instagram Marketing Campaign

    It’s important to build a following before embarking on marketing campaigns because if you don’t have any followers, no one will see your content. Make sure you follow our suggestions in the section above, and then, once you do, we can get down to setting up an effective marketing campaign that will generate a big buzz for your business.

    Step One: Set Goals / Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

    The common mistake here is to set a monetary goal like “sell more widgets.” Instagram users are sensitive to spam and to the platform being used as a sales tool. While an effective Instagram campaign will help you sell more widgets, creating a campaign aimed at increasing sales actually will have the opposite effect. Instead, create goals based on engagement. We use the following goals for our campaigns:

    • Increase engagement by X%
    • Increase followers by X%
    • Increase off-page (non-follower) engagement by X%

    Using these KPIs will help keep your campaign headed in the right direction. If you can create a campaign that has a lot of engagement, your sales will increase. Trust me!

    Step Two: Make a Plan

    Just like with any marketing campaign, you need a concrete plan that will help get you from point A to point B. We’ve gotten it started with a few key points you will want your plan to cover:

    • Audience – Lay out exactly who your target audience is. This part of your plan should cover their likes, what types of accounts they follow, what types of hashtags they use, their physical location, etc.
    • Message – What is the message your campaign is attempting to communicate? Here you will want to specify your key messages and your partners’ handles (Facebook and Twitter) for quick reference and some relevant hashtags.
    • Measure – Decide on a platform to gauge the effectiveness of your campaign. As covered above, we use Iconosquare because it’s a free and simple tool that provides a ton of great metrics. Whatever you decide on, make sure you’re able to effectively keep track of the KPIs laid out in Step One.

    Step Three: Execute the Plan

    Coming up with a plan is the easy part. Everyone wants to reach 1,000,000 users, but how will you do it? We’ve compiled the three most effective campaign types, along with some case studies, to get you started:

    1. User-generated content (UGC) – This is a great way to source content (a/k/a save you time), engage your followers, and engage the followers of your followers. What you want to do is post a series of photos to your account announcing the campaign. Be sure to include the following:

    • What you want people to do. If you have a product, ask your followers to post images of creative ways they use it. If you offer a service, ask your followers to post a question they have regarding your industry, which you will answer on your account.
    • What you want people to include. Make sure you stipulate exactly what you want followers to include in their photo submissions. We suggest you create a hashtag that will allow you to easily search for their submissions. Make sure they tag your Instagram account in their posts so their followers can get involved as well.
    • Why people should do what you ask. Followers aren’t going to post photos just because you tell them to. However, for some reason, Instagrammers get a kick out of being featured on other accounts. So, offer them a chance to be featured on your profile if they submit the content you ask for (choose only a few to feature).

    A great example of a successful UGC campaign is Belkin (iPhone case maker) and Lego. The two companies teamed up to create a customizable phone case that allowed users to add Legos to the back. They decided to use their Instagram accounts as a means to help promote the product.

    They launched a UGC campaign that asked their followers to create crazy Lego structures and post them to their accounts using the hashtag #LegoxBelkin. Then, the companies featured their favorite ones on their accounts. The campaign is a great example of a way to organically engage your following and let your customers do the marketing for you.


    2. Giveaways/Contests – Giveaways are similar to UGC campaigns except you give away free swag to encourage participation. This gives users an incentive to participate and will generate far more engagement. Here is a quick guide for how to get started:

    • Select your giveaway/prize for participating winners. If you run a business that sells products, give away a gift card, discount, or free product. If you run a service business, give away free services.
    • Select entry method. This is how users will participate in your giveaway:
      1. “Follow to win” – Follow your account. The downside is users can unfollow after the contest ends.
      2. “Like to win” – “Like” one of your photos. The downsides are users can unlike after the contest ends, and it generates minimal engagement with others.
      3. “Submit to win” – Follow a link URL and enter their information. The downside is it’s very difficult to get Instagrammers to leave Instagram and enter their information, so it comes off very spammy.
      4. “Post to win” – Post a photo to their account. We strongly recommend using the “post to win” method as outlined above. It gives you the most control over the contest and maximizes user engagement.
    • Create giveaway post. This is the post that will announce the giveaway and what people need to do to enter. If you don’t have an in-house designer, we suggest you hire someone to curate a post for you (Elance or Fiverr will be fine). For a perfect example of how this post should look, check out @cardiotennis. It shows how to enter, what to tag, and what the giveaway is, all in one image.

    Instagram Giveaway

    • Post the winners. This part really should go without saying, but make sure you actually follow through with your offer. We strongly suggest that you post a follow-up image with the winners as social proof. You want to make sure your followers can verify the validity of the campaign for future submissions.

    3. Influencer Campaigns – As an experienced marketer, you’ve seen influencer campaigns before, with bloggers and even on Twitter. Instagram has taken it to new heights. Instagram influencers have larger audiences, and they generate far more engagement than other online mediums. There are two main types of influencers on Instagram:

    • Celebrities
    • Users with big followings

    Partnering with celebrities is difficult and should be attempted only if you’re an advertising agency. Getting in touch with them is nearly impossible, and if you do, prepare to break open your piggy bank. You want to focus on Instagram users with big followings to promote your business/account.

    Two companies that have executed phenomenal influencer campaigns are SHREDZ and Bachelr:

    • SHREDZ, a direct marketing nutritional supplement company, found hundreds of Instagram users who had followers that were highly engaged and enthusiastic about fitness. SHREDZ created a sponsorship program whereby they would pay these Instagrammers to post images using SHREDZ products. They required each Instagrammer to include the link to the SHREDZ website in their bio. In 2012, before partnering with influencers, SHREDZ did about $90,000 in annual revenue. At the end of 2013, they did $5 million in gross sales.[6]
    • Bachelr, a men’s fashion startup, used an Instagram influencer campaign as their launch strategy. Bachelr’s design team created a ton of beautiful curated images that displayed their product with their watermark. Then, they paid a number of influencers $50 each time they posted the images to their profile. The result? In two weeks their website received over 20,000 unique visits and crashed the servers. One of their founders took to a Reddit forum and posted about their campaign to share the story of their success.[7]

    23-Bachelr 1


    However, Influencer marketing isn’t just for products. Mobile applications have greatly benefited from influencers on Instagram as well. Marketing a mobile app is arguably one of the most difficult tasks for marketers, as mobile marketing is still in its infancy.

    Since Instagram is almost exclusively accessed via mobile devices, the dating app Hot or Not chose it as the perfect platform to promote their product. They created a user-generated platform for which people could create an image and post it to Instagram. Then, they connected with thousands of influencers to spread the word and encourage others to download the app. To date, the campaign is estimated to have generated over 1 million installs.

    You can look for influencers with the Instagram Explore tab, which is the star on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Click on an image in the Explore feed and then click through to that user’s profile. Or, search by hashtags related to your business.

    Look for users with at least 25,000 followers. Make sure you keep a spreadsheet listing each potential influencer. (I’ve made the mistake of reaching out to someone I had contacted previously. It made me look unorganized, and I wasn’t able to work with that Instagrammer.)

    There are two ways to reach out to potential influencers:

    • Contact information – More often than not, people will leave an email address for inquiries in their profile. Send them an email about your business and your interest in using them as an influencer.
    • Direct messaging – If you follow the person, then you’re able to send them a direct message. To send a direct message, use the same button you would to post a photo. At the top of the screen, you will be given the option to send out to all your followers or direct. Select direct and locate the person in your address list. You can send them a direct message requesting their services.

    Make sure you do a thorough analysis of each influencer’s profile. Fake likes are easy to get, so your decision needs to be based on more than just how many followers an Instagrammer has. Instead, look through at least 30 posts from your potential influencer, paying close attention to the engagement each photo gets.

    If an Instagrammer has 100,000 followers but is generating only 50 likes per photo, then they may have spammed out their account. Look for Instagrammers that are generating at least a 5% ratio of engagement to followers (i.e., for every 100 followers they have, they are getting at least 5 comments and likes on each post).

    If you decide to use an influencer, make sure you commit to the strategy for a couple of months. As with other forms of advertising, one or two posts isn’t going to get the job done. The practice needs to be repeated over a period of time to take effect. In addition, make sure your website is responsive and mobile friendly, as the influx of traffic will come primarily from mobile devices.


    Instagram is an extremely powerful network when properly utilized. The real power lies in the ability to connect one to one with users and build a following that is actively engaged with your content. Instagram is the most personal social network there is. Exploit this by using Instagram as a means to show your fans who you are. Use this guide as a baseline for your Instagram campaign and watch your account blossom.









    About the Author: Ryan Stewart has over 8 years of digital marketing experience working with clients like Best Buy, Target and the Department of Defense. Ryan holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and owns Webris, a digital marketing agency based out of Miami, FL. You can follow him on Twitter here and Instagram here.