So I’ll level with you, as little as a year ago I was definitely an Instagram hater – and for all the regular reasons:
For some, all those reasons may still hold water. However, for those operating in the business world, attempting to grow your brand or that of your company, this perspective simply isn’t functional – or, if it is, it puts you and your brand at a disadvantage.
The moment I started getting serious about Instagram was when I became serious about starting my own business teaching professional speaking. As I began to research how to go about marketing myself, I realized what many of those around me had already discovered: that Instagram has become and is continuing to grow as one of the strongest marketing tools for personal branding out there.
Where this came to a head was even more recently was when I traveled to South Africa last November. As it often is with technology nowadays, it was my younger cousin who set me straight.
We were chatting, and I mentioned to her that we should keep in touch more – that I’d add her on Facebook and we could talk there. Her response, confusion. Why? Because…
In the South African context and for the younger generation, social sharing is performed primarily via Instagram. Private conversations are held over chat apps such as Whatsapp. Facebook and Facebook Messenger are a thing of the past. This realization cemented a change in my marketing perspectives that were a long time coming. It shifted my marketing focus from Facebook and LinkedIn to Instagram – and this is a shift that, with the launch of Toronto Story Archive, has been invaluable.
Looking back now on how my marketing strategy has transitioned from when I first began my journey to become a professional speaker, to now as I continue to grow my career as a speaker and as the Host of Toronto Story Archive, I can boil down an argument for Instagram as something that every professional should do to 3 key reasons:
The importance of having your conversations where your consumer, listener, viewer, target market, or audience interacts is not a new concept. In fact, this is very much Marketing 101. The difference here is that this goes beyond simply being where your consumers interact to being able to connect credibly with those consumers.
I think every generation can affect on some level with the trope of the parent or older relative who embarrasses them online with a comment or post that ignores, through ignorance, the unspoken social norms that govern interaction on that platform. But this is not a faux pas reserved for a generational gap, in fact these errors can be made by anyone unfamiliar with a given platform.
Looking through my old Instagram posts (feel free to peruse @iammowaja) my cousin had some harsh critiques. From my lack of filter use, to blurry photos, to the fact that “collages are lame”. The reality is, there is a learning curve to every new environment we find ourselves in. If your consumer (or listener in my case) exists on a certain platform, it’s not enough to just be there – you need to be seen as a credible contributor to the conversation. This means overcoming that learning curve as quickly as possible.
I know that this title immediately rubbed some people the wrong way, and that’s sort of the point. In a world filled with bots, fake accounts, and scams, there is a fairly straightforward test that many people – be they potential partners, investors, employers, or otherwise – do in order to test whether someone or some company is legitimate: search them, and not just on Google but across all social media platforms.
Everything from your number of posts, to your number of followers, to your ratio of followers to following can count towards how people perceive you as a person or brand before they even meet you. At the more extreme end of the spectrum, it can dictate whether people think you’re a real person or a fake account.
In today’s world, being discoverable is important. It’s a rich-get-richer scenario where the more legitimacy and followers you collect, they more you’re likely to collect because each new follower you acquire serves as a litmus test and testimonial to your credibility for the next follower or viewer of your online profile.
Honestly, this has very little to do with your business and everything to do with you. It also speaks to the counterpoint of wanting to experience life – not see it through the lens of a camera.
I can genuinely say that I see more beauty around me now than I ever did before using Instagram. Why? Not because the world has changed, but because the way I see it has changed. In seeking out 4-5 opportunities to post to Instagram, daily, I’m compelled to look for picturesque moments in my everyday life that I feel my followers will respond to.
Instagram rewards good content, and as a photographic app that means that it rewards expressions of success and beauty in our lives and the world around us – at least that’s how it’s felt for me. I never noticed how lovely that small hallway in Scotiabank Cinema, separating theatres 1-3 from the rest, was until I realized I wanted at least two more posts for that day.
I know, it sounds contrived, and on some level it is – but I am of the opinion that it is the utility, the benefit, the enjoyment you get from an experience that defines its value. Being an avid user of Instagram has put me in a position to experience more of the world around me, if for no other reason than so my feed remains engaging, avoids becoming repetitive, and continues to attract new followers – but that in no way detracts from the experience, at least for myself.
At the end of the day, I find being a part of the Instagram community is an opportunity to connect with my listeners on another level, beyond the once-a-week podcast. For the business owners and entrepreneurs out there, if I could leave you with one last thought it’s that as you go through the process of building your Instagram following remember that it’s not all about branded content. People want an authentic human connection, so go beyond your branded Instagram account and showcase the person behind the brand.
Mo Waja is a professional speaker, marketer, entrepreneur, the author of presentIMPACT: The Speaker's Guide, and the Host of Toronto Story Archive. To date, Mo has spent tens of thousands of hours coaching business professionals, entrepreneurs, non-profits, campaign advocates, post-secondary students, politicians, motivational speakers, and medical practitioners in the art of professional speaking and communication.