Growing Your Instagram Audience Without Spending A Fortune

Create an Instagram account, they said. It’s the answer to all your marketing problems.

It sounds easier said than done, and it is.

Mark Ashbridge is Co-Founder of one of Belfast’s best-known coffee shops, Established Coffee (ESTD). In 2020, the business celebrated six years in business, as well as achieving over 25,000 followers on Instagram through organic growth – no ad spend required.

But Mark didn’t build his audience over night, he and his team have worked hard to grow their following.

Mark shared his story of the company’s Instagram journey at a Lunchtime Learning session facilitated by the Cathedral Quarter BID (Business Improvement District). His talk was packed full of useful insights.

Here are some key points from his session that could be applied to your business:

1. You don’t need a qualification

Mark explained that you don’t have to have a marketing qualification to grow your social media following. A good eye for photography, a bit of creative flair, being organised and developing a schedule for posting, and reading up on some tips and ideas all help.

“No one in our business has any formal qualifications in marketing, but there are skill sets within the team that lend themselves to social media. As a small business, all hands are on deck, so to grow your online presence you could make use of others’ skill sets” he explained.

2. Don’t try to spread yourself too thin

In order to really do your digital marketing justice Mark believes you need to pick one channel, or a couple, of social media platforms that suit your product and service offering rather than spreading yourself too thin across too many platforms.

He said: “We don’t post content without an associated image. While we have Facebook and Twitter, most of our followers are on Instagram. We’ve been in business for six years and in that time the popularity of Instagram just shot up, so that could partly explain it. Also, because we’re so image heavy on social media, Instagram works well for us. We do use Facebook events but we probably underutilise Twitter.”

3. Consistency is key

Mark explained that being consistent with image quality, aspect ratio, schedule, tone of voice is important to capture your audience.

He added: “Multiple people contribute to our social media platforms, so it’s important to us that we maintain the tone of voice. We’re usually quite direct, no frills. This can come across as a little cold, but we think our imagery conveys personality. If we wanted to do things a little differently, it might be nice to inject some personality into the post, but the way we do it allows for consistency. The purpose of our social media is to get people into the café. Once they’re there, they’ll get the full experience.

“All of the images on our main feed have a similar look and feel. The consistency in our imagery, our lighting, the slight filter that we use – for us, it’s important to create a cohesive look. When customers take their own pictures and tag us in them, we share those to our stories. This helps us to maintain consistency on the main feed, but also lets followers see another point of view and acknowledges for the customer that we have seen their post and appreciate it.

“New dishes are posted on a Friday on our main feed as a finished dish with a full-length description of the ingredients, but our kitchen put a lot of work into new dishes and some of them could have up to eight elements. They thought it would be a good idea to showcase the ingredients and the work that goes into it, so we “build the dish” through Instagram stories to show the dish being plated up. This also acts as a look behind the scenes.

“Our menu is also saved as a story highlight. It is quite small, but we have a title page before it that instructs people to screenshot the menu so they can pinch and zoom. We’ve found simple things like this save us a lot of time in answering the same questions that people would usually have messaged us with, whereas now all of the information is there.”

4. Be Deliberate – find your voice

Part of Mark and the team’s strategy is to be authentic and engaging with their content but he says there’s “no ‘right way’ to do Instagram”.

Mark added: “It’s whatever works best for you and your customers. Unlike our approach, @hollybellycafe in France offer a real behind the scenes look at running a café, with the owners sharing a lot about their own lives. @3fcoffee in Dublin shares a wide variety of content and their main feed is quite eclectic in style. Multiple personalities are showcased to represent the different aspects of the business. @siopshop are based in Manchester and they have a unique and deadpan sense of humour that comes across on their Instagram. Not for everyone, but I find it hilarious.”

5. Be Genuine – tell your story

Mark wanted to ensure that what they showed people on their Instagram feed would meet their expectations when they come into the cafe.

He said: “For us, it’s important to match peoples’ expectations. When people see our Instagram and then visit the café, we want their expectations to be met. Be careful of overusing filters or Photoshop to showcase a product in a way that won’t match expectations. With Instagram, you eat with your eyes. Although we’re a coffee shop, we showcase the food. There are only so many ways you can be creative with a cup of coffee.

“When Game of Thrones was being filmed here, Kit Harington came in and he did a post we have called ‘All Of Us’ where we showcase different people like customers and suppliers. That generated a lot of attention.

“We don’t follow any ‘rules’ for the algorithm. We don’t want to be a slave to it, we just do what works for us. We want to use Instagram as a tool to help our business. Some customers will come in and show us a picture we’ve put on Instagram and just say ‘can I have that please?’

“Over the last six years our Instagram following has grown and over the last six years our business has grown. It’s hard to quantify what Instagram has done for our business, but we do know that it has contributed to our growth and marketing on Instagram for us, works.”

Check out Mark’s full Lunchtime Learning on the Cathedral Quarter website: https://www.cathedralquarterbelfast.com/whats-on/lunchtime-learning-growing-your-instagram-without-spending-a-fortune

To see more Lunchtime Learning sessions go to: https://www.cathedralquarterbelfast.com/lunchtime-learning

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