Scrolling through Instagram, it is easy to get lost in the pretty pictures. But businesses are finding more than face value in the social media platform.
Auckland-based specialty cake bakery The Caker has amassed about 22,000 followers on Instagram since owner Jordan Rondel first began posting almost four years ago. She describes it as its most valuable asset.
"It has grown to a point where our Instagram account is the most important thing to the business. We treat it with the utmost care and dedication," Rondel says.
"I It has been key to spreading the word about The Caker, not only in New Zealand but also on an international scale." Rondel concedes the picturesque nature of the company is a natural fit for Instagram and consumers posting and tagging their own pictures of The Caker's products creates a "snowball effect", further boosting the company's profile and ultimately leading to more sales.
Rondel is the company's voice on Instagram. Images of the firm's cakes are the primary content on its feed, but she also posts photos of herself and the team.
Interior stylist and writer Michelle Halford agrees people like to see the faces behind the brands they're following on Instagram.
Halford has an impressive 135,000 followers on her Instagram feed The Design Chaser, which takes its name from the successful home interiors blog she founded in 2012.
"You want your tone [on Instagram] to be natural, authentic, and never feel forced.
"Even though you might be promoting a product in a post, you still want to show a bit of your personality and something about yourself so you're relatable and likeable."
Among Halford's other tips for Instagram success are posting regularly - she generally does so once a day - creating a consistent look and feel to your overall feed and engaging frequently with your followers and those you are following.
Lucy Wildman is a co-founder of kids' merino clothing brand Little Flock of Horrors, which has about 2000 followers on Instagram.
The brand has formed a number of alliances and partnerships through its Instagram community, including a collaboration with model and mum Anna Reeve - whose twin sons have an Instagram account called The Reeve Nuggets.
"I sent her some of our leggings for her children and because I follow them on Instagram I could see they were wearing them all the time," says Wildman.
"I just sent her [Reeve] an off-the-cuff little comment, saying, 'We need to make a Nuggets limited edition release of these pants', then she sent me a direct message saying, 'Let's do it.' It all came about in a really cool way, and all through Instagram."
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Little Flock of Horrors
When did Little Flock of Horrors start using Instagram?
About two years ago, but we started taking it really seriously as a marketing platform about a year ago. We're now posting every day, thinking strategically about our content and identifying people we want to be associated with.
What was the impetus to ramp up your efforts?
About 40 per cent of our business comes from the States, and when we were going over to trade shows there people were primarily asking, 'Are you on Instagram? What's your handle?' Even in the three years we've been going to trade shows in the States we've noticed that increasingly the buyers are from online stores, as opposed to traditional bricks and mortar. Those online retailers have huge Instagram followings, and can sell out an outfit just by posting it on Instagram. It has been the kick in the pants we needed to really be taking Instagram seriously.
What have you done to build your following?
The difference between an average Instagram account and a good one is an authentic voice. People don't want to see posts that say: "Save 20 per cent off this"; they want to dig beneath the surface of a brand, see who is behind it and what's going on. For us that is a natural fit, because our message is that we make merino for little monsters; we're not about capturing perfectly beautiful moments, but about being real. We'll post a slogan like: "Is it wine o'clock yet?" and we'll get good engagement, because that is funny and real for our audience.
We've also formed alliances and brand partnerships with people who have a similar tone to their Instagram accounts - for example, some of the bloggers and influencers out there who talk about the reality of having kids.
There's an Instagram mum who's behind the website Our Grand Tour. I sent her son Mickey some stuff, which he wears all the time, and we've since collaborated to do a couple of styles with her with a limited edition screen print. We're aligning ourselves with peers in our space and we're making natural connections as a result.
What are some of your goals for further developing what you're doing with Instagram?
I'd like to replicate what we've been doing with our followers in this small test space in New Zealand and apply it to the North America, UK and Europe markets. And then it's about getting more brand representatives out there. Getting more kids into merino - and getting them photographed wearing merino - is a big target for us.