Does Vertical Video Make a Difference? We Spent $6,000 on Tests to Find Out

There has been much discussion recently on industry-leading publications about the effectiveness of video on social media.

For example, did you know that video posts on Facebook receive at least 59 percent more engagement than other post types?

Since our 2017 research with Animoto comparing square vs. landscape video, little has been published around the impact of video format on overall video engagement.

Specifically, vertical video vs. square video.

Vertical Video vs. Square Video

While we know that square video (1:1) results in 30-35 percent more video views and an 80-100 percent increase in engagement compared to landscape video (16:9), we wanted to know how vertical video stacks up on Instagram and Facebook (both within the News Feed and Stories).

Which is why we teamed up with our friends at Animoto once again to test (and test again) the hypothesis that vertical video would perform better than square video on social media.

We were shocked by the results!

Today we’re excited to share our research with you along with several actionable takeaways for marketers looking to improve their social media video marketing results in 2019.

Author’s Note: We’ll be talking a lot about great video marketing tools in this post. Our must-haves are Animoto’s iPhone app for vertical videos, Animoto’s web app for square videos, and Buffer for sharing. Feel free to grab a subscription from each before we get started.

Table of Contents

Below are the full details from our study on everything from our vertical video hypothesis to the surprising results! Here’s a quick look at what we’ll cover:

Let’s do this!

The vertical video and mobile hypothesis

This research idea with Animoto all came from one simple statistic: square video takes up 78% more real estate in a person’s mobile newsfeed than does landscape video – making square video more engaging, more effective, and easier to watch.

And since square video outperformed landscape video in almost every category, we hypothesized that vertical video would eclipse square in a brand new study.

But why is video – particularly mobile video – such an important part of your social media strategy?

According to a recent report from Nielsen, U.S. adults are spending 10 hours and 24 minutes per day interacting with media, whether that be watching, listening to, or reading content across all of their devices.

And shockingly, mobile phones (smartphones) alone accounted for 65% of total digital usage, up from 62% in Q1 2018:

Nielsen Media Usage 2019

As mobile usage continues to increase year-over-year, our social media and video marketing strategies must evolve along with the expanded use to focus on mobile-first experiences.

Sometimes that’s as simple as formatting the video to fit natively within the platform.

3 important video marketing takeaways

Video is leading the way with social media marketing and so we’re super excited to share this actionable research with you.

By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with data-backed ideas and insights that you can apply to your own videos today.

But first, a few key takeaways to set the study up!

1. Facebook News Feed: Use vertical video to drive traffic

In all of the experiments we conducted, we consistently found that vertical video outperformed square video within the Facebook News Feed. First let’s look at the cost per click (CPC) comparison:

  • Buffer: Cost per click (CPCs) 26 percent less expensive with vertical video
  • Animoto: Cost per click (CPCs) 38 percent less expensive with vertical video

Square vs. Vertical Video Cost Per CLick

Next, let’s take a look at the cost per view (CPV) comparison:

  • Buffer: Cost per view (CPVs) 68 percent less expensive with vertical video
  • Animoto: Cost per view (CPVs) 26 percent less expensive with vertical video

Square vs. Vertical Video - Cost Per View

Since the video tests (vertical vs. square) were identical in content, theme, length, headline, caption, and more, it came as quite the surprise that vertical video outperformed square by such a significant margin (as much as 68 percent less expensive in cost per view).

It’s also interesting to note that not only did vertical video outperform square in the Facebook News Feed, but Facebook outperformed Instagram in overall cost per click (CPC) within the feed. An important takeaway for advertisers.

Buffer averaged $0.29 CPC on Facebook and $0.51 CPC on Instagram. Animoto averaged $0.32 CPC on Facebook and $1.31 CPC on Instagram.

2. Instagram Feed vs. Stories: Stories are a great way to inspire action

When looking at the Instagram Feed vs. Stories, it became immediately clear that Instagram Stories are a great way to inspire people to take action. In both the case of Buffer and Animoto, Stories consistently reduced advertising costs in regards to cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and cost per view (CPV):

  • Animoto: Stories 57 percent less expensive for CPMs and CPCs than the feed
  • Buffer: Stories 50 percent less expensive for CPMs and 30 percent for CPCs than the feed

Cost per click (CPC) data:

Instagram Feed vs. Instagram Stories - Vertical Video

Cost per one thousand impressions (CPM) data:

Instagram Stories Vertical Video CPM

However, it’s important to note that costs actually increased with Stories compared to the feed when measuring cost per view (CPV):

  • Animoto: 108 percent more expensive on 3-second CPV and 65 percent more expensive on 50% total watch time CPV
  • Buffer: 71 percent more expensive on CPV 3 seconds and 21 percent more expensive on 50% total watch time CPV

Instagram Stories Vertical Video - Cost Per View

As many of you savvy marketers might have guessed at this point, we witnessed a rise in cost per view as cost per click decreased.

We believe that this is largely due to the fact that it is hard to get people to watch your entire video or when they’re too busy taking action such as “swiping up” or clicking on a link.

Overall, Instagram Stories are a great way to get people to take action and a big opportunity for brands to utilize in 2019.

3. Instagram News Feed: Use vertical video to generate engagement

The final big takeaway from our research is that the Instagram Feed is a powerful platform for driving engagement when compared to Facebook (News Feed & Stories) and Instagram Stories… almost too good!

Reversing the Instagram Feed data from takeaway #2, you’ll notice that 3-second CPVs were 91 percent less expensive on average for Buffer and Animoto. In addition, 50 percent total watch time CPVs were 43 percent less expensive on average.

But which format drives more engagement within the Instagram Feed? Turns out it’s vertical video!

  • Animoto: Vertical video resulted in 13 percent more 3-second video views and 157 percent more 50% total watch time views
  • Buffer: Vertical video resulted in 6 percent more 3-second video views and 187 percent more 50% total watch time views

Instagram News Feed - Video View Stats

The practical takeaway here is that the Instagram Feed is a great way to boost awareness around your product and generate engagement.

Other key video marketing learnings

In addition to the three key learnings above, our research pointed to some other unexpected takeaways that you might be able to apply to your video marketing strategy.

1. Facebook marketing is alive and well

We’ve discussed the power of Facebook marketing (here and in previous studies) and found that it remains a viable way for brands and businesses to reach target audiences. Particularly, if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to drive traffic to your website.

In all of our tests, we found that Facebook consistently generated a lower CPC than its Instagram counterpart.

While Instagram was the most effective way to generate interactions and engagement in our tests, Facebook emerged as an extremely reliable way to drive traffic.

We’ve seen this hold true over the past two years at Buffer as well. Our most successful social media advertising campaign of all time – a campaign that is still running today – runs on the Facebook News Feed:

Facebook Advertising Results

This campaign has generated more than 169,000 link clicks and reached more than 1,500,000 people since launching in April 2017.

The best part is that it’s a super simple ad concept:

Buffer Facebook Ad Example

While brands and businesses flock to Instagram in 2019 in search of a new promising advertising platform, look for Facebook to continue to offer a low-cost, action-based alternative.

In terms of what type of content to create for Facebook, remember that, on average, video posts receive at least 59 percent more engagement than other post types.

2. Highly-produced “polished” video content doesn’t always win

One of the more interesting portions of our experiment revolved around testing what we called “organic” vs. “polished” video content.

  • Organic videos are what you would imagine as DIY-style. These videos didn’t include any B-roll, special effects, transitions, or other more produced elements. In other words, they looked like they were made by an amateur.
  • Polished videos are much more produced. These videos included studio lighting, B-roll, special effects, transitions, and other elements that give them a professional feel.

With our research, we wanted to know if spending more time, resources, and money on producing polished videos actually resulted in greater results than organic DIY videos.

We found that there was no statistically significant difference in the results.

In fact, in many cases, organic DIY videos outperformed polished videos on both Facebook and Instagram.

In collaboration with Animoto, Smarties ran their own experiments to test whether or not highly-produced video ads outperformed organic DIY video ads on Instagram Stories:

Their team found that organic DIY videos resulted in a 50 percent decrease in cost per 10-second video view on their highest performing ad. In their case, unpolished smartphone imagery was up to 2x more effective at capturing their viewer’s attention.

All of this to say that it’s more important to experiment with a variety of video types and formats than it is to work on perfecting a single video. The more video content you publish, the more feedback you’ll receive from your audience, and the quicker you’ll improve.

3. Instagram Stories ads one of the biggest opportunities in 2019

As a result of this experiment, we see Instagram Stories as one of the biggest opportunities for brands and businesses in 2019. It’s why we built a tool called Stories Creator dedicated to helping brands create thumb-stopping Stories content.

And though Instagram Stories now has an incredible 500 million people around the world using the channel on a daily basis, it remains a relatively untapped advertising resource.

“Right now, one of the interesting things about Stories is there’s a benefit to being an early adopter… the pricing is really attractive. And so we think the mix shift to Stories is a big opportunity for us. And it’s going to take time to continue to get advertisers in, but we’re very happy with demand to date,” explained Sheryl Sandberg in Facebook’s recent Q4 earnings call.

We discussed the impact of Stories in this research above, but other big brands such as Bustle, Nike, Square, and more have experienced similar results as a part of their strategies.

Blenders Eyewear, for example, has generated thousands in revenue for their products using Stories ads – leveraging special announcements like a much anticipated restock, flash sale, giveaway and any limited time promos:

Blenders Eyewear Instagram Stories Examples

We’ve seen similar results when we use Instagram Stories ads to promote our blog posts and podcast as well. Our Instagram Stories ads cost just $0.06 – $0.12 per click when a typical Facebook feed ad usually costs around $0.30 – $0.60 per click.

Multiply that cost savings by thousands of dollars in ad spend and it’s a no-brainer in choosing Instagram Stories as our primary social media advertising channel in 2019.

Overall vertical video research conclusion

If we were to boil down this research to one key point, it would be that businesses and brands must keep up with mobile-centric video trends if they want to succeed on social media in 2019. A mobile-centric strategy relies heavily on vertical video and creating content that feels native to each platform.

As we mentioned in the beginning, mobile phones alone accounted for 65% of total digital usage in Q2 2018 (up from 62% in Q1 2018) – with that number growing by the day.

Everything from your website to the content you create for social media must focus on the mobile experience. Sheryl Sandberg puts it perfectly when she mentions:

One of the challenges that marketers have is keeping up where consumers are. If you think about our history, people made the shift to mobile before marketers did. And I think one of the successes we’ve had is we made it easier for advertisers to move into a mobile environment.

For marketers, the constant challenge is making it easier for your audience and customers to consume content when and where they want it. Not when and where it’s convenient for you, but when and where it’s convenient for them.

Luckily for us, Facebook and Instagram are making it easier than ever for marketers to provide a mobile-first experience.

It all comes down to whether or not you are willing to be an early adopter, experiment with vertical and square video, try new things, and always be looking to the future of social media.

What’s next for video marketing?

We’re in the midst of a video revolution. The traditional 16:9, landscape format is being replaced by a new, 9:16, vertical format that has fast become the default for video creation and consumption.

Vertical video used to be seen as a mistake —something people do when they forget to turn their phone horizontally while filming — but since the rise of platforms like Instagram Stories, vertical video has taken over and become an innovative way for individuals and businesses to tell stories.

Over one billion people use the vertical video format on Facebook-owned properties like Instagram and WhatsApp alone — and even YouTube has now embraced vertical video on the web and mobile.

Vertical video has changed video production. Anyone can now create incredible video content from a smartphone — no need for cameras, expensive editing suites, it can all be done in the palm of your hand.

Interested in creating  your own vertical videos? Check out Animoto’s Social Video Maker iPhone app designed for just that. Their web app is great for mobile-friendly square videos. We used Animoto to help generate more than 2,000,000 video views on social media in 2018.

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The 10 Top Social Media Tools Brands are Using to Succeed in 2019

Marketers are faced with an ever-growing list of responsibilities. From social media marketing to customer experience and advertising, it can be a challenge to stay on top of everything.

Luckily for us, there are a plethora of great social media tools on the market to help you succeed in your role and stay productive.

Tools for content curation, discovery, scheduling, publishing, analytics, and more can be used to enhance your effectiveness.

This week on The Science of Social Media, we’re exploring the top 10 social media tools brands are using to succeed in 2019. Utilizing these tools in your daily workflows will help improve results across the board.

Let’s dive in!

The 10 top social media tools to try in 2019

Here are some of the most-used social media tools used by some of the world’s top brands:

1. BuzzSumo

Social Media Tools: BuzzSumo


Pricing: Plans start at $79/month


BuzzSumo is a tool that lets you find the most shared content and trending influencers. You can use it to analyze which content performs best for any topic and all you need to do to get started is to search for a topic or a domain.

Through BuzzSumo you’re able all gather a better understanding of your impact on social media and develop smarter content strategies by seeing which of your own pages were engaged with the most. BuzzSumo will break the results down by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit shares.

This provides the added benefit of being able to see which articles are performing well across the web without having to constantly monitor multiple social channels.

Similar tools: Ahrefs, Meltwater, Mention

2. Google Trends

Social Media Tools: Google Trends


Pricing: Free


Google Trends is a completely free tool that Google created to help anyone search for trending topics online.

Brands use it to monitor notable things that are happening in the world. Many professionals use this as a way to discover and share information related to what’s most popular right now.

You can also use Google Trends to monitor keywords to see if they are trending and how their current volume compares to previous months and years. You can then use this information to inform your content and social media marketing strategy.

Similar tools: Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, WordStream

3. Buffer Publish

Social Media Tools: Buffer


Pricing: Free (paid plans start at $15/month)


Buffer is a social media marketing platform designed to make it easy for businesses and marketing teams to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all their accounts in one place.

For example, Buffer allows you to set up a schedule for your social media profiles, and after you add content to your Buffer queue, it will publish at the times you’ve designated.

Buffer also provides a robust analytics dashboard so that you can see which of your posts are most popular on social media, and easily Rebuffer them to your queue.

In addition to our web application, we also have both Android and iOS apps as well as a fantastic Chrome Extension that’s great for Buffering while you’re browsing the web or on the go.

Similar tools: Hootsuite,, Sprout Social

4. Canva

Social Media Tools: Canva


Pricing: Free (Canva for Work starts at $12.95/month)


Another fantastic tool that absolutely every brand or business online should know about is Canva.

Many times social media managers and marketers need to be able to create beautiful images without a designer. It’s what makes up part of a great social media strategy.

Canva is the tool so many marketers rely on for making great-looking social media images quickly. You can use the ready-made templates, icons, and illustrations to make your images look professional without having to do much of the actual design work.

Canva has an easy to use drag-and-drop interface plus a massive library of over two million graphic elements.

Similar tools: Crello, Buffer Stories Creator, Bannersnack

5. Unsplash

Social Media Tools: Unsplash


Pricing: Free


One of our favorite tools in the design, photography, and video space is Unsplash. Unsplash is a massive library of free professional photos you can use — free!

Unsplash photos are really popular with many social media marketers because they can help give your content a professional, polished look.

And there are so many Unsplash collections to explore. We recommend finding a couple of creators whose photos you really enjoy and following them so you can always find their latest work.

Similar tools: Pexels, Storyblocks, Videvo

6. Animoto

Social Media Tools: Animoto


Pricing: Plans start at $5/month


Animoto is one of our go-to social media tools for quickly creating stunning marketing videos.

Their video maker turns your photos and video clips into professional content in just a few minutes. They describe it as “fast and shockingly simple,” – and we would agree with that.

There are so many benefits to being able to quickly create engaging marketing videos. Video is a content format that we know a lot of people struggle with, but Animoto helps to bridge that gap.

We’ve used it to create quick recaps of recent blog posts for social media, videos promoting a big announcement, and videos around product launches.

Using Animoto, there are plenty of opportunities for you to add value to your audiences’ lives.

Similar tools: PowToonAdobe Spark, Crello

7. Feedly

Social Media Tools: Feedly


Pricing: Free (paid plans start at $5.41/month)


Our next tool is Feedly. Feedly is great for so many things. Maybe you work with influencers and want to follow their blogs, or you need to keep up on industry news, or any other reasons that you might visit several websites. Instead, you can add all those RSS feeds to Feedly and see them there. A huge time saver.

Feedly is also great for content ideation. You can add several of the blogs, writers, and publishers whose content you like to one feed and see them in one glimpse.

It even has a Buffer Publish integration so you can schedule your content to go out right from the Feedly dashboard.

We also want to give Flipboard a quick shoutout here, too. While it’s not an RSS aggregator like Feedly, you can follow topics on Flipboard and it curates the world’s news stories to help you stay informed.

We’ve used Feedly to follow specific influencers and industry news, and Flipboard to keep up to date with bigger stories.

Similar tools: Flipboard, Quora, Pocket

8. Buffer Reply

Social Media Tools: Reply


Pricing: Plans start at $50/month


This next tool is one of our very own at Buffer: Reply. I think we’ve mentioned it a few times on the show but we’ve never gone too deep.

Buffer Reply makes social media engagement easy for marketing and support teams who need to respond to social conversations. It’s all in one inbox.

What’s great is that through Reply you can see social conversations across social networks:

  • On Twitter, you can see public tweets that @ mention your handle, direct messages, and any searches you have set up for keywords or hashtags.
  • On Facebook, you can see comments on your Facebook Page posts and ads, visitor posts, private messages, and reviews.
  • And for Instagram business profiles, you can see comments on your posts and ads as well.

It’s a single inbox where you can see all of these conversations happening. It’s a huge time saver. In our case, our customer support team and social media manager, Bonnie, spend a lot of time in Reply every day, and we know that when someone reaches out, they would be getting an answer from us.

Similar tools: Hootsuite, Mention, Sprout Social 

9. Native Analytics

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention native analytics for each social platform, which is completely free.

Let’s quickly go over the top three, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Facebooks Analytics

Facebook Analytics

Under the Insights tab on your Facebook Page, there is just so much information. Everything you ever wanted to know about your engagement, number of likes and followers, how your posts are doing, and, of course, Facebook’s Pages to Watch which lets you compare the performance of your Page and posts with similar Pages on Facebook.

You also get insights for Facebook Groups so if you run a Group definitely check those out.

Instagram Analytics

Instagram Analytics

With Instagram Insights, you can see activity around how frequently users interact with your posts, see how your posts are performing over time, and find out where your audience is from as well as their age range, gender, and when they are online.

Twitter Analytics

Twitter Analytics

Starting with Twitter, their analytics can reveal a lot of valuable data about your audience, how well you’re engaging your following, and what your top performing content is.

All you have to do is go to to log in and start learning more about your audience and their interests.

10. Todoist

Social Media Tools: Todoist


Pricing: Free (plans start at $3/month)


The last tool we want to mention today is related to your productivity as someone managing social media: Todoist.

Specifically, within Todoist, I have created a free Social Media Calendar by Buffer that you can use to make sure that your brand and business are posting to important social accounts on a regular basis.

This type of calendar is important because, by consistently posting great content, you’ll be able to grow your audience, increase engagement, and build a community online.

This sample social media calendar is based on real content and scheduling times from Buffer’s own social media accounts.

Similar tools: Wunderlist, Trello, Any.Do

Honorable mentions (more social media tools)

Although we couldn’t cover all of our favorite social media tools in this episode, we wanted to share some more of our favorites!

How to say hello to us

We would all love to say hello to you on social media – especially Twitter!

Thanks for listening! Feel free to connect with our team at Buffer on TwitterBuffer on Facebook, our Podcast homepage, or with the hashtag #bufferpodcast.

Enjoy the show? It’d mean the world to us if you’d be up for giving us a rating and review on iTunes!

About The Science of Social Media podcast

The Science of Social Media is your weekly sandbox for social media stories, insights, experimentation, and inspiration. Every Monday (and sometimes more) we share the most cutting-edge social media marketing tactics from brands and influencers in every industry. If you’re a social media team of one, business owner, marketer, or someone simply interested in social media marketing, you’re sure to find something useful in each and every episode.  It’s our hope that you’ll join our 20,000+ weekly iTunes listeners and rock your social media channels as a result!

The Science of Social Media is proudly made by the Buffer team. Feel free to get in touch with us for any thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

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Nike’s Secret to Success on Instagram: Building an Engaged Community

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Wes Warfield from Nike shares how it handles engagement on Instagram. 

Chances are you’ve come across Nike on Instagram at one point or another.

With more than 83 million followers around the world, Nike is easily in the top 20 most followed Instagram accounts globally (out of nearly one billion).

As you might imagine, that’s a lot of engagement.

But it’s also a ton of incoming conversations for Nike’s marketing and customer care teams to sort through. In fact, the team at Nike (led by Social Media Manager Wes Warfield) handles more than 1,000,000 conversations per year across 200 different social media accounts.

We sat down with Wes to understand just how Nike approaches customer care on Instagram and how they’re leveraged adding value to help grow a massive online community of athletes, influencers, and everyone in-between.


View this post on Instagram


Can you imagine? Winning the same marathon that inspired you to run marathons? 👋 @shalaneflanagan. #justdoit

A post shared by nike (@nike) on


Nike starts with personalization

As one of the world’s largest brands, you might be surprised to find that Nike takes a personalized approach to engaging with their audience.

“We don’t respond as individuals, we respond as Nike. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t treat each conversation as if we’re talking human-to-human,” explained Warfield. “Representing a massive brand presents a challenge across 200 different social media accounts as we all work to create the same experience for our customers. This approach requires extensive training as soon as a new employee comes on board.”

In order to provide that consistent experience on social media, it’s important that employees understand the brand down to its core. Here are several questions that every employee should be able to answer:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do it?
  • What do we stand for?
  • What is our brand voice?
  • How does our product improve people’s lives?

Nike provides employees with a set of guidelines and examples on how to handle certain situations and conversations across social media. These guidelines and examples help customer care representatives to develop a specific tone of voice from day one.


View this post on Instagram


@SerenaWilliams has proven time and time again, there’s no wrong way to be a woman. #UntilWeAllWin #Nike

A post shared by nike (@nike) on


However, the keyword there being guidelines, not rules.

Warfield explains how important empowering employees to make their own decisions is in ensuring that Nike thrives as a brand on Instagram: “Generally speaking, we empower our employees to represent the brand in a way they feel is in line with Nike.”

Wes explains this approach perfectly using a sports metaphor (naturally!), “The Nike customer care team is sort of like the assistant coach on any sports team. The assistant coaches are the ones that work hands-on with the team. They’re more relatable and approachable. Whereas, the head coach – Nike – can be a bit intimidating.”

In other words, Nike trusts their employees to act as they see fit to connect the Nike brand with the community. This happens on a macro scale as well as on a micro scale – each and every conversation with customers on a daily basis.

How Nike plans, approaches, and manages customer care

Located in the heart of the Pacific Northwest (Beaverton, OR) Nike employs hundreds of people across dozens of different departments.

Meaning that collaboration between teams – or a lack thereof – can create a disconnected and jumbled feel for customers. Even smaller brands and teams face this cross-collaboration challenge.

In order to solve this problem, Warfield and team are purposeful and strategic with their approach.

“We make sure that our team is briefed on the stories that are going to be told among the various Instagram accounts. Doing so helps us to stay consistent in terms of voice, messaging, hashtags, captions, etc,” says Wes. “We’re focused consistent Nike messaging across platforms – making sure that our conversations reflect the nature of the stories we’re trying to tell. Which, by the way, are changing all of the time!”


View this post on Instagram


“My dad sacrificed his dream, so I could live mine.” @kyrieirving #justdoit ⠀ 🔈 on.

A post shared by nike (@nike) on


But managing more than 1,000,000 incoming messages per year means that Nike has to pick and choose the most important conversations to focus on.

Wes explains, “We are always actively looking to take part in relevant conversations on social media since we obviously can’t be a part of every single one. Specifically, we look for where can we add value directly to customers’ lives. We keep an eye out for actionable incoming requests where we might be able to help more than one customer at a time.”

This is a brilliant move on Nike’s part. Since their team receive lots of similar questions from their customers, they see this not as an increase in work, but as an opportunity to help multiple customers at once. The magic of this strategy is that it increases the chance that those customers will share the information with others, thereby decreasing the future volume of questions around a particular topic.

They also implement another productive strategy, according to Warfield. “We sit down often to discuss specific campaigns and how we will approach them. We list out all of the potential questions that we’re going to get and how we’ll answer those. It helps us to save time and be more productive in our jobs.”

Why community is an important tool for Nike

Besides the millions of engagements and conversations created by content that Nike posts on social media, Instagram and other platforms also serve another important purpose: community.


View this post on Instagram


Don’t just dream of a place on the podium. Dream of a place in history. #justdoit

A post shared by nike (@nike) on


When brands take time and invest in activating their community, they often see tremendous results down the line in terms of engagement and word of mouth.

“We want to be a part of our customer’s journey and a part of people’s real-life stories and if you buy our product, great,” says Warfield. “But buying from Nike isn’t entirely the point. We began to invest in people (the community) on social media because that’s where they are and that’s where they spend time. Social media is where people share the experiences and it’s where they’re asking support-related questions. It’s a massive community and a great chance to build relationships.”

If you’re struggling to get people talking, here are a few tips from Wes:

  • Find something that gets your audience moving or talking. At Nike, we started with gamification. Our goal is to get people moving! When you link that to a reward, you have a much better chance for success.
  • More importantly, make your content shareable. We started realizing that people wanted to share the story of their athletic journey with Nike. By making this a part of our overall content and customer service strategy, we were able to increase shares on social media. Find out what makes your customers tick.
  • Don’t dismiss social media as one of the most important tools for relationships. At Nike, We’ve found that social media, instant chat, and our mobile app are a much better communication journey for customers than email and phone support. Embrace current technologies and meet your customers where there are.

Even Nike, one of the world’s largest and most well-known brands, understands the value of relationship and community building on social media.

The future of Nike customer care

Nike focuses on two key components of their overall marketing strategy:

  • Digital marketing (offense)
  • Customer care (defense)

The two teams work together ‘round-the-clock to actively communicate what content is going out as well as how they can better handle all incoming messages. It’s a well-oiled machine that ensures each customer is receiving a coherent experience across channels.

“One of the most important things that we focus on is that we want to be and sound human, even if we’re speaking on behalf of Nike. It’s something that we’re always improving,” says Wes to end our time together.

In order to truly relate and keep credibility with their customers, the Nike marketing and customer care team has to speak their language. Of course, this is something that is always changing and evolving.

And similar to sports, mastering these skills takes time, energy, and practice.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series

A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

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Building an Ecommerce Business: From Zero to $100,000 in Revenue from Instagram Ads

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Remi Silva shares how his company, Blank Tag Co., grew from zero to $100,000 in revenue using Instagram ads. 

In February 2017, when Remi and his girlfriend Alondra were visiting Tokyo, the last thing they were thinking about was starting a business together. But a chance discovery in a Tokyo stationery store changed everything for the couple.

“We stumbled upon a shelf full of stickers made by B-Side Label,” Remi explained. “The stickers were extremely high-quality and unlike anything we had ever seen.”

The pair purchased a few stickers and didn’t think any more of it until the following day when they chanced upon the B-Side Label flagship store tucked behind the main street in Harajuku, a Tokyo neighborhood. Amazed by the fun and joy these stickers brought to them, and the fact that B-Side Label could run a whole store dedicated to stickers, the couple decided to try the same back home in the U.S.

Their business, Blank Tag Co., now generates more than $100,000 per year — with around 80 percent of that revenue coming directly from Instagram ads. And what’s more, the couple both still have full-time jobs, running the sticker business on the side.

Launching Blank Tag Co.

The couple wanted to use stickers as a way to spread joy and happiness — just as they’d felt in those Tokyo stores. They also believe that stickers are more than just a piece of paper you place somewhere.

“Stickers are an expression of who you are, what you associate with, and a way to capture memories,” Remi told me.

After returning home for the trip, Remi and Alondra decided to build a sticker company of their own, and Black Tag Co. was born.

Blank Tag Co. website

“The stickers we make are chosen specifically with the aim to make all of our customers feel a sense of belonging and pride when they see them. We want to create stickers that will invoke emotion out of everyone who purchases or sees them.”

Building a customer base from scratch

Having a product is one thing, selling it is a completely different challenge. With a background in PPC advertising, Remi decided that the best way to grow a customer base would be through ads, and he began to test out various channels.

A false start with PPC ads

Remi’s first port of call was Google AdWords, but after a few trial runs with PLAs (product list ads) and search ads it wasn’t really working.

What Remi found was that the keyword “stickers” is saturated by people looking to print their own stickers, rather than buy pre-made stickers. “The keywords around that topic didn’t really work for me,” he explained.

But from experimenting with AdWords, Remi came to a realization that changed the trajectory of the business. “I realized that we needed to generate brand awareness, and PPC isn’t the best way to go for brand building.

Building a brand on Instagram

Next, Remi turned to his favorite social media platform, Instagram, to start building up the Blank Tag Co brand, and audience.

Remi began to post content regularly, sharing images of every sticker the company had produced.

Blank Tag Co. Instagram post

“We’re lucky that our images are really good content,” he told me. “Once I get new images from our designers, I create a feed image and story image to share on Instagram — this process allows us to consistently create new content and keep our followers interested.”

They also use hashtags such as #stickers #sticker, #shopsmallbusiness to help the content spread further on the platform.

This approach helped Blank Tag Co. to continually pick up new followers, and it now has an audience of more than 38,000 followers.

Blank Tag Co. Instagram

Testing ads, and going all-in on Instagram

Good content is great to build a following on Instagram, but Remi found that followers don’t always convert to customers.

In order to drive more revenue from Instagram, Remi and Alondra started to experiment with paid advertising.

To start, Remi added the Facebook tracking pixel to the Blank Tag Co website so that they could build up a wealth of data about user actions and conversions on their site. This enabled him to set up custom audiences of people Facebook predicted would take those same actions on their website.

Next, Remi started testing the performance of various ad types and chose to let Facebook distribute the ads and optimize placements itself.

After a few weeks of testing ad placements across Facebook and Instagram, Remi noticed a trend: “It kept naturally skewing more towards Instagram,” he noted, and decided to run specifically test the performance of Facebook vs Instagram placements.

“I created a couple of separate ad sets in Ads Manager — one set focused only on Facebook, and the other on Instagram. Instagram dominated the test, so I decided to go all in on Instagram ads from here.”

Optimizing ad performance

Once he’d decided to go all in on Instagram ads, Remi began testing a bunch of different elements to see how he could best optimize the ad performance.

Blank Tag Co. measures the results by keeping a close eye on ROAS (return on ad spend), as well as customer acquisition cost vs. lifetime value. “If I’m acquiring customers at $5 but their LTV is, let’s say, $40, the delta between the two is what I care more about,” Remi elaborated.

By testing out various image and video styles, Remi has been able to find out what type of creative performs best for Blank Tag Co.

”Videos didn’t do so well, so I kept testing images and found that particular image types do really well for us“ he explained. “Images that have bright backgrounds with our stickers placed on an object, like a laptop tend to perform best.”

Blank Tag Co. Instagram ad

Remi also regularly experiments with a few other aspects of Instagram ads to get the most ROI:

  • Ad placement: Instagram has recently opened up stories ads, so now advertisers can reach their audience via the feed or stories.
  • Copy: Opening up ads with a question works well and you’ll often see Blank Tag Co. ads starting with copy like “Love Stickers?” Remi also likes to use adjectives like “waterproof” and “durable” to show the quality of their products.
  • Location: Testing various locations across the U.S. and targeting particular products to regions that may have more affinity with that style of sticker.
  • Audience: Switching between look-alike audiences and manual targeting, Remi likes to ensure he targets ads to varying audiences to avoid audience fatigue.

More than just a sticker company: Why brand is a key ingredient to success

Remi and Alondra’s journey from a moment of inspiration in a Tokyo sticker store to their own company generating in excess of $100,000 per year is incredibly inspiring.

But their success is anything but a happy accident.

From starting, and failing, with AdWords, to realizing the importance of building a brand to sit behind their business, the pair has had to adapt their strategies and figure things out on the fly.

Now, Blank Tag Co. is hugely successful, and a lot of that success comes down to its brand. Remi and Alondra see stickers as an expression of who you are, and ways to bring happiness into other’s lives and the Blank Tag Co. brand reflects that vision.

As Katlin Smith writes on Inc., “many businesses make the mistake of assuming that low price points and ultra simple shopping processes are all that consumers seek (or what they predominantly seek).”

There are thousands of options out there for consumers now, and oftentimes, your brand is the differentiator — that’s precisely why Blank Tag Co. is more than a sticker company. Stickers inspired happiness in Remi and Alondra as they shopped in Tokyo, and now, Blank Tag Co. seeks to do the same for each and every consumer that experiences its products or sees any of its content.

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A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

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How Blenders Eyewear Creates Profitable Instagram Ad Campaigns

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Grace McLaughlin shares how how Blenders Eyewear uses Instagram ads to grow its business. 

“We are a visual brand with a visual product so the image sharing platform [Instagram] makes for the perfect ad channel,” Grace McLaughlin explained to me over email.

“We have a loyal community of content creators and brand ambassadors out there that help the brand to come alive, and Instagram is their personal social media platform of choice,” she continued. “That means that all of our original and user-generated content has already been made specifically for Instagram and makes it easy to leverage for ads.”

Grace, marketing manager at Blenders Eyewear — an eyewear brand out of San Diego, CA — has helped the company reach more than 42 million people with its Instagram ads and had shown a profitable return on that ad spend.

Here’s how Blenders successfully creates Instagram ads campaigns.

The art of crafting great Instagram ads

“Mirror what’s working for you on organic,” Grace told me. “Keep the same brand tone and vibe but with a sales twist, you’ll need a hard pitch and call to action.”

Blenders Eyewear - Instagram for Business

You can’t rely on ads alone to be successful on Instagram, you have to have great content in your feed and stories if you’re ads are going to help you achieve your goals.

“If you let the organic side slip, then you’re just wasting advertising dollars,” Grace shared. “A lot of users are going to click through on your ad to browse your ‘grid’ as a secondary step before clicking off the app to your website.”

Grace also recommends that you front-load your caption with the most important copy: “Lead with key information and an offer so that it appears before the ‘more’ tag. Highlight the exclusivity, scarcity, and urgency of your offer.”

Blenders Eyewear - Instagram for Business Example

There’s plenty of room for captions on Instagram — 2,200 characters, to be exact — but after three lines of text they become truncated with an ellipsis, so you need to get your most important copy in those first three lines.

A simple way to measure the success of Instagram ad campaigns

Measuring the success of advertising campaigns can be difficult — especially with the amount of data available to marketers these days. Blenders, however, keeps it simple.

“We’re focused on ROAS (return on ad spend), Grace told me. “We see value in softer metrics like reach, traffic or engagement but ultimately we are driven by sales.”

If you’re tracking your conversions with Ads Manager, it’s often not too tasking to calculate your ROAS. The formula is as follows:

(Campaign Revenue / Campaign Costs) x 100 = ROAS

Return on ad spend

Therefore, if you generated $1,250 in sales, and spend $450 on the ads, your ROAS is 277.78 percent.

On the other hand, if you generated $800 in sales, and spend $1,000 on the ads, your ROAS is -20 percent.

This type of valuable information can help you determine which Instagram ad sets and campaigns to double down on and which ones to discontinue immediately.

When we asked Grace about ROAS and what results they’ve seen from their Instagram ads, she said:

Instagram accounts for almost 25 percent of our ad spend and ROAS trends around 15 percent higher than Facebook. CPCs are 60 percent lower, CPMs are 50 percent lower and CTR is 33 percent higher versus Facebook. To date we’ve reached over 42 million people with our Instagram ads!”

The important thing to note here is that Blenders Eyewear is able to continue to spend (and increase their spend) on Instagram ads because they can prove that they positively impact the bottom line.

While brand awareness and engagement metrics are still completely valid goals for Instagram ads, if you can’t demonstrate their value in tangible ways, it’ll be tough to leverage them for more budget in the future.

The importance of the Instagram Stories ad format

It’s no surprise that with the emergence of organic Instagram Stories content as an effective way for brands to reach their customers that Stories ads would soon follow.

“Right now almost half of our Instagram ad spend is being put towards the Stories placement,” Grace explained to me. “ROAS trends lower there for us.”

But the Blenders team doesn’t create any old Stories content and turn it into an ad. They are thoughtful about when and how to use Stories ads for maximum effectiveness.

“The Stories placement is best for when you have a special announcement – like a much anticipated restock, flash sale, giveaway or any limited time promos. You need to convince the user they need to take action right then and there,” said Grace. “Unlike Facebook or Instagram ads they can’t tag friends, like the post, or save to come back to later.”

Blenders Eyewear Instagram Stories Examples

These factors make Stories ads unique in that sense. The content needs to be highly-actionable and compelling enough for your audience to immediately want to swipe up. There are lots of different content types and strategies that can help to promote action, but Square has a specific approach.

“We like to use the text tools and video formats available to every user in the Instagram app so that it looks native and organic to the user and they don’t just immediately swipe through at the first sign of an ad,” explains Grace.” Things like stickers, GIFs, hashtags, locations, and other native features help to make our content fit right in.”

Successful Instagram ads begin with your content

Focusing on beautiful, creative content that looks and feels native to the platform is one of the most important things brands can do to increase the effectiveness of your Instagram ads.

More often than not, what works with organic Instagram content is a fantastic barometer for the specific types of content that will work with Instagram advertising.

In other words, your brand doesn’t need two different content strategies to sell your products (organic vs. paid). What your brand does need, however, is content that resonates with audiences on a deep, authentic level.

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A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

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How Bustle Ignited Engagement and Created New Revenue Streams Using Instagram Stories

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Hannah Caldwell shares how Bustle uses Instagram Stories. 

Stories were introduced to Instagram in August 2016, and as soon as the new featured dropped, the social media team at Bustle — a premium publisher reaching millennial women — were excited to see how the format could help the publisher connect with its audience in new and exciting ways.

It was an insta-success.

“From the start we’ve seen high performance from Instagram Stories,” Hannah Caldwell, a New York-based Social Editor at Bustle, explained to us.

“We’ve seen completion rates as high as 92 percent for shorter stories and 60-70 percent for longer episodic content,” she continued — and when you consider Bustle has amassed an audience of more than 4.5 million followers on Instagram, that’s a lot of people paying attention to its content.

But what Bustle sees as most exciting about Instagram Stories isn’t the high completion rates and viewer figures, but the number of really meaningful responses from it receives from people who view its content.

“We love when people message us to say how much they loved an episode and can’t wait for the next one, or answer a question we’ve posted in the story,” Hannah said gleefully.

But how did Bustle become so successful on Instagram Stories? We continued our conversation with Hannah to find out.

How stories help to diversify content

Bustle has built its following on Instagram by focusing on one specific type of content — something its digital-native readers are very familiar with: Memes.


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i miss blockbuster nights 😩 wbu @girlsthinkimfunny (@annetdonahue on Twitter)

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“Memes are a major part of our brand,” Hannah shared. “[But that] doesn’t reflect the whole of what Bustle has to offer.”

“Stories let us explore a number of facets that make up our brand — from beauty series to entertainment content to trivia games, we’re able to share all that we are with our followers.”

Bustle’s experimental approach to stories and the resulting episodic stories series’ has created plenty of opportunities for the business.

Embracing episodic content

“Our series have allowed us to partner with brands and influencers on social in ways that we couldn’t before,” Hannah explained.

For an example of this, look no further than Bustle’s collaboration with Sephora Collection. The brands partnered on “The Beauty Lab” — a series consisting of four weekly episodes co-hosted by Bustle Branded Beauty Editor Irma Elezovic, and Sephora Collection National Makeup Artist Helen Phillips.

Each episode showcased a new beauty challenge and viewers could shop the items via swiping in the Instagram Story and through a series of endorsed posts on Bustle’s Instagram.

Bustle Instagram Stories

“Bustle’s partnership with Sephora Collection last year earned a Digiday Award for Best Custom Advertising,” Hannah shared. “The majority of our sales deals now have some kind of social component. And since we were one of the first brands to play around with Instagram Stories, especially in a serialized format, we definitely had some amazing coverage and brand recognition from that.”

Keeping a stream of great content flowing

The 24-hour nature of stories can make content production seem really tough — after all, you’re having to produce new content every day.

For inspiration, Hannah and the Bustle team look to their on-site content to see what topics are performing there. “First and foremost, we make stories that we as users would want to see,” she explained. “Our on-site content is the best place to start.”

When it comes to producing stories, Bustle aims to find the middle ground between high quality, and not looking overly produced. “We want it to feel like your friend could have made it since most of the time, that’s whose Stories you’re watching.”

Staying true to the Stories medium

Most of Bustle’s Instagram Stories are created using phones to ensure it feels like something your friend could have made.

“I do all shooting, editing, decorating, and posting from the phone. I do keep assets on my computer to keep things organized and occasionally do some small editing on desktop programs but for the most part, all phone,” Hannah shared.

Bustle also embraces as many of the Instagram Stories features as they can to make the posts feel friendly, and native to the platform. “We want the content to feel true to the platform, so using the fun features Instagram provides is a great way to do that. Additionally, things like the Poll sticker makes a story interactive for the viewer which is a great way to keep them engaged and entertained.”

Viewer engagement is the true measure of quality

Though Bustle tracks a bunch of engagement and audience metrics, Hannah looks at the often-unquantifiable and overlooked metrics to gauge the true success of Instagram Stories content.

Talking about the Beauty Call Instagram Stories series she produces, Hannah explained:

“Most episodes have a very high completion rate for how long the stories are but, more importantly, the fans have been very vocal about how much they love the series. Viewers send in suggestions for future topics, accolades for how entertaining it was, excitement for another episode to be live, and more. Even though it’s harder to quantify, hearing praise from the viewers is always my favorite benchmark for success.”

When all is said and done, conversations and engagement are a simple, yet incredibly effective way to gain both qualitative and quantitative feedback about the quality of your content.

As Hannah mentioned, Bustle is able to get real-time qualitative feedback around what people want to see more of, what they particularly liked and didn’t like, episode ideas, and more. Hannah and her team can then turn around and make that a reality almost immediately with the ephemeral nature of Stories content.

After taking the qualitative feedback into account and adjusting their content strategy, Bustle then works in the quantitative data (real engagement numbers) to measure against their Stories experiments.

It’s a continuous circle of useful and productive feedback.

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A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

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The Secret to Instagram Success: Square’s Community Curation Strategy

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Nick Dimichino shares exactly how Square’s been able to grow an engaged following on Instagram. 

When your product powers millions of businesses and sellers around the world, you’re bound to find some incredibly inspiring stories to share on social media.

Yet for some reason, many brands overlook or fail to tap into the vast resource that is their community. But those that do find that there is an unlimited supply of engaging content ideas to share across social media.

For financial technology company Square their community of entrepreneurs and business owners is at the very core of their social media strategy, most prominently on Instagram.


By consistently sharing imagery and stories from real businesses that use the Square product, they’ve been able to amass an audience of more than 1,000,000 people and brands across social media, including 50,000 followers on Instagram alone.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Square’s social media lead, Nick Dimichino, to find out exactly how they’ve been able to grow an engaged following on Instagram over the years. Here’s what he had to say.

Start with your purpose

Brands today are beginning to realize that it’s not always enough to simply post consistently to their blog or social media. Today, consumers and audiences are demanding a lot more from marketing teams and the businesses they decide to purchase from.

They’re looking for brands with a purpose.

That’s the approach that Dimichino and the Square team take to their marketing:

“When people think of Square, we want them to think about the sellers we serve. Our channels are a place where we tell the stories of those sellers—showcasing their dedication to their craft and drive to achieve their dreams no matter the obstacles. Square’s purpose is economic empowerment, and we hope that comes through in everything we do.”

Developing a compelling purpose for doing business can have a major impact on customers. In fact, according to new research from Accenture, 47 percent of consumers will leave brands that lack a purpose. And 63 percent of respondents prefer to buy goods from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs.

Finding your purpose isn’t something you should take lightly as it can have a long and lasting impact on your business.


As a brand, business, or retailer, you might be in a secure place right now, but as soon as consumers find a direct competitor that has products they like, accompanied by a quality customer experience and a purpose-driven mission, just about half of them will leave.

At Square, focusing on their community of sellers was a no-brainer and has helped propel them to success for nearly a decade.

Source high-quality user-generated content

User-generated content comes in all shapes and sizes.

From simply sharing users’ photos, to photo contests and product reviews, many thriving companies on Instagram are experimenting with user-generated content in one form or another.

At Buffer, for example, we implemented a user-generated content strategy that helped us to grow our followers by more than 400 percent in one short year.

But one of the things we love about Square is that they take community content curation to a new level.

“We build relationships directly with our sellers and encourage them to share their stories with us—in their own words—so that we can share them with other businesses,” explains Dimichino. “It’s been a huge part of our strategy, and our sellers have responded in a major way.


Looking at their Instagram feed, it’s clear that there’s a common and coherent theme threaded throughout each individual photo and video. That theme: inspiring small businesses.

As many small business owners know, there are an array of emotions that go along with running your own business. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures. And so sometimes all entrepreneurs need is a little inspiration to remind them that they are not alone in this journey.

“We want to empower people to find their own path to success. No two businesses are alike and we think that our sellers’ stories reflect that unique nature,” explains Nick. “There’s something special about people being able to see themselves in the success of another. Something that inspires them to continue working. If we can have an impact like that on even one person, we’ve achieved our goal.”

User-generated content acts as a powerful form of social proof – providing your audience with genuine content from real people. This helps to develop your brand as a thought leader in your industry by demonstrating that you are willing to your customers and their needs first.

“Our social media strategy really begins in the Square hardware lab. We’re extremely fortunate to have beautiful products that our sellers are proud to make the focal point of their social content. It’s been an incredible advantage for our brand,” Dimichino shares.


Plus there’s the added bonus of user-generated content helping to supplement your content marketing strategy. It’s a major challenge for businesses to continually come up with original content ideas for various marketing channels. User-generated content provides a never-ending stream of quality assets.

Make Instagram Stories a key part of the overall growth

As competition for space in the Instagram news feed heats up, Instagram Stories continues to offer new and exciting ways for businesses to connect with their audience.

More than 25 million businesses use Instagram worldwide, and over half of those businesses are creating Stories every month.

In fact, Stories are so popular, they might even become the new News Feed.

When asked how Square approaches Instagram Stories, Dimichino described, “Stories is a format that has allowed us to easily connect our community of sellers. We often use this space to put a business and its story directly in front of our larger community of sellers, bringing them together in a way that has been special.”

Take, for example, a recent Instagram Stories takeover hosted by a small business called The Salty Donut on the Square account:

The Salty Donut Instagram Stories

Square also features sellers in their Stories in other creative ways as well – keeping their audience on their toes. In the Heart + Hustle series, Square explores the passion and drive of small business owners, the struggles they face, and why they remain optimistic about the next five years.

Heart + Hustle Instagram Stories series

Heart + Hustle is a wonderful example of the power of using content and data to tell a compelling story. In turn, they are inspiring more and more small businesses to pursue their dreams each and every day.

Square’s impact on small businesses

Perhaps the most compelling part of Square’s social media story is that they take full advantage of their ability to help millions of businesses and sellers around the world grow.

Every single piece of content, from blog posts to individual Instagram photos, is an extension of why they are in business and what they stand for: economic empowerment.

It’s as if their marketing team sees it as their personal responsibility to make this a reality each day. Whatever it is, it’s working.

More and more businesses continue to share their story with Square, which helps to power their overall marketing strategy, which means more great content for all of us to consume.

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How Turn Studio Transitioned a Side Project into a Thriving Ecommerce Business with Instagram

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Kenny Sing, founder or Turn Studio, discusses how to grow an audience on Instagram. 

“I never jumped into Instagram as a way to make money. For me, it was much more awareness and follower focused. Instagram was – and still is – a real-time feedback loop for my work. It’s a way to find out if people are enjoying what I’m creating.”

In a brightly-lit Clay By The Bay pottery studio in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, I had the chance to sit down with full-time designer and part-time maker, Kenny Sing, founder and CEO of Turn Studio.


Sing started Turn Studio in 2016 as a passion project, like so many successful business owners and entrepreneurs before him. It wasn’t until the followers, engagement, and product requests started pouring in that he realized that Turn Studio could actually turn into a viable business.

But it wasn’t by luck or chance that Sing was able to grow his business on Instagram, though he’ll tell you that both certainly played a part. Instead, he saw an opportunity and built his business methodically over the course of two years.

Here’s how Turn Studio, a small ecommerce business, amassed a following of more than 40,000 followers on Instagram and thousands of dollars in revenue.

Timing and finding your niche is important

Just as there are trends in fashion, music, finance, and design, there are trends in social media as well. When perfectly timed, you can jump on and ride a trend right into a successful business.

“I saw a trend starting to emerge on Instagram. Pottery began to take off and ceramic influencers were growing their followers into the hundreds of thousands. I knew I had the right product idea, I just needed to figure out how to get my foot in the door” explained Kenny when I asked him how he initially found success on Instagram.

That’s when Sing turned to some of the biggest pottery and design influencers on Instagram. When first starting out, he would tag the biggest, most influential art and design accounts (such as Design Milk) in the captions of their posts so that they would get a personal notification from the tag.

Sing would also look for specific hashtags used in contests hosted by top accounts and feature those hashtags in his own posts. That strategy led to greater visibility and reach.


“I liked to think of it as ‘hacking the contest world’ on Instagram,” joked Sing. “But it worked. People in the design space are looking for niche accounts to follow and my account grew by thousands of followers each month. It’s a great community.”

Once Turn Studio gained some initial traction through features on top accounts, it was time to build a loyal following of his own. For that, Kenny needed consistently beautiful content and a unique style of his own.

Style can set your brand apart

If you were to get to the core of why people follow a brand on Instagram, you might find that it often has to do with reliability. Different than personal profiles, people follow brands and influencers for a reliable source of a certain type of content. Entertainment, news, sports, fashion, beauty – you name it.

“The goal for Turn Studio on Instagram is to publish a variety of content within the same style and theme but tailored to a very specific audience. Ultimately I want people to feel inspired to create their own art or business, but that’s only half. The other half is creating content that attracts other markets – mathematicians, designers, artists, painters.”


Developing your own style is one of the most important things you can do to set yourself apart for the millions of pieces of content that are posted to Instagram every single day. And it’s not just the imagery that makes up your style, it also includes things like:

  • Voice
  • Tone
  • Language
  • Hashtags
  • Mentions
  • Color
  • Design

Believe it or not, every single piece of content is an extension of your brand and your business. And Turn Studio makes his brand extremely relatable by always using “I” in the captions. It may seem like a small thing, but it makes his content super personal, and quite different from other brands.

It’s as though he is embracing that it’s just him behind the account.

“People tend to underestimate the power of your voice on Instagram. I try to make every caption meaningful and personal, which is why I almost always include the word “I” in my posts. I also respond to every single comment publicly or via direct message, even on reposts. Building relationships on Instagram is part of the reason why I have been able to find some success.”

Results are in the details

While there are hundreds of factors that go into what types of content users see when they open up their Instagram app, there are only three that Turn Studio focuses on: frequency, timing, and hashtags.

“Ever since Instagram changed the timeline from chronological to an algorithm, I’ve noticed that posting less – once per week – has actually been more successful than posting multiple times per week. It allows me to focus on quality over quantity, which leads to more engagement per post.per post, explained Kenny. “Posting more frequently to my story creates follower loyalty in a different, more personal way that reduces the chances of someone deliberately unfollowing you because you are cluttering their feed.”

Kenny also explained that he spent weeks testing out the best times to post to the Turn Studio feed. “I started to realize that I was seeing the most success during off-hours. Times like Sunday mornings, Saturday nights, weeknights, and weekends generated much more engagement than during working hours.”


Sing elaborates, “My work is video based. It’s not a quick photo a want my followers flicking past during a case of the Mondays.”

Hashtags are also a major part of Turn Studio’s Instagram strategy. Sing relies on strategic hashtags to reach new people and grow his account.

First, he determines which hashtags to use based on other top design accounts. He spends time analyzing other brand posts in order to figure industry-specific hashtags that he should be using. Sing also uses the “Explore” feature to search hashtags and analyze the content that is populated in each search – making mental notes as he goes.

“A lot of times people follow me based on hashtags and even like my content – Instagram’s algorithm loves that! Those users validate the hashtag in a way,” explains Sing. “The hashtags I use are also always specific, make sense, and are related to the work that I’m creating. I make sure to feature hashtags that are used more than 50,000 times because it helps to increase visibility within Instagram’s powerful Explore feed.”

And get this, about 50% or more of Turn.Studio’s post impressions come from sources outside of his existing follower base. That’s huge!

Though the Instagram algorithm can often feel like a guessing game, there are proven strategies for methodically growing your business account. Like Turn Studio showed us above, you don’t need to worry about every single factor to make a splash. Sometimes less is more.

Success is relative

We often receive questions from customers along the lines of: “How do I grow my account to one million followers?”

What they fail to realize (to no fault of their own) is that the biggest accounts in their industry only have 500,000 followers, and even then, they are an exception to the rule.

Success is relative and unique to each individual brand or business. You don’t need one million followers to be successful on Instagram. All you need is a group of highly engaged and active followers.

“My long-term goal is to make this a self-sustaining business, but for now, creating great content is the focus. I can’t do that without a loyal following on social media,” says Sing. “I never outwardly promote my product or attempt to ‘sell’ to my audience. I focus on great content and the rest takes care of itself.”

Of course, Kenny still keeps an eye on his analytics, focusing on metrics such as:

  • View-to-reach ratio: The number of people that watched a particular video compared to how many people it reached in the feed
  • Reach-to-engagement ratio: The number of people that the post reached compared to how many people engaged with it
  • Lost followers: The number of followers lost after a specific post
  • Non-follower likes: How many people that aren’t following the account liked a post
  • Average Stories views: How many people watched the first “slide” of a Stories series
  • Average Stories completion rate: The number of people that watched the last Stories frame compared to the number of people that watched the first Stories frame

The metrics that matter to Turn Studio might be much different than the metrics that are important to your brand. It’s important to understand which data points move the needle and to focus on improving those incrementally over time.

“Instagram forces me to take myself and my business more seriously. Sure, Instagram is a highly-curated version of our lives, but also a tool for personal growth. Instagram makes me do my best work. It keeps artists and influencers accountable.”

Make your own luck

“The best post I’ve ever created was picked up by Design Milk and now has more than 108,000 views on Instagram. I believe it was successful because of the post timing (Sunday morning) as well as the fact that I used very specific hashtags to make the video more discoverable. Plus, it’s one of my better videos, which always helps.”


Getting picked up by Design Milk helped to take an already successful post to an entirely new level.

But if Turn Studio hadn’t focused on creating consistently great content or implemented the growth tactics discussed above, the opportunity would have never presented itself in the first place.

You have to make your own luck.

“A majority of my audience wants to know how I’m doing something in particular with pottery. And so that’s what I focus on – creating awe-inspiring content that sparks people’s imaginations. If I can do that, I know the rest will work out.” – Kenny Sing, Founder and CEO, Turn Studio

If you’d like to read more Instagram case studies just like this one, check out our brand new content series where we interviewed incredible folks from brands like Nike, Bustle, Entrepreneur, and more.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series

A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

from Social

How to Sell on Instagram: A Stories Strategy That’s Generated ‘Hundreds of Thousands’ in Sales

This post is part of our Instagram Marketing Strategy series. The series provides you with actionable insights and lessons on how businesses are using Instagram. Next up, Jay Perkins shares how Kettlebell Kings has used Instagram to generate ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in revenue. 

“We all had what I guess you call ‘real jobs’,” Jay Perkins told me.

Back in 2013, Jay worked at Bigcommerce, an e-commerce software provider where he learned about what it takes to have a successful online business.

But Jay could only hold back his entrepreneurial ambitions for so long.

After kicking around business ideas for a year-or-so, Jay and his two business partners decided to take the plunge and launch an online store of their own.

Fast-forward to 2018 and Kettlebell Kings is a leading kettlebell equipment supplier based in Austin, Texas, generating mid seven-figures per year in revenue — with much of its new business coming directly from leads generated on Instagram.

‘Most of our biggest deals and business development relationships have come through Instagram’

There was a time, when Kettlebell Kings first started out, that Google AdWords campaigns and a compelling free shipping offer — “the first of its kind in the kettlebell space,” Jay said — were its main marketing tactics.

Yet as the company grew, social media took over as the #1 way to generate new business and Instagram is now Kettlebell Kings most successful marketing and acquisition channel.

“On average we get 400-600 leads per week from social media, with half coming from Instagram,” Jay told me over email.

When it comes to revenue generated directly from Instagram “it would be in the hundreds of thousands,” he revealed (Kettlebell Kings uses Hubspot to track its conversions).

But Instagram hasn’t just helped Kettlebell Kings to generate one-off sales to consumers, it’s also an important channel for business development.

Jay explained:

“Most of our biggest deals and business development relationships have come through Instagram — we have even signed deals with national gym chains from leads generated on the platform.”

Instagram didn’t become a lead generation goldmine overnight, though. It took a lot of work.

‘We’re very strict on the posts that go into our feed’

The first step to a successful Instagram marketing strategy is creating content for your Instagram feed that your audience wants to see and engage with.

In the Instagram feed, Kettlebell Kings focuses on sharing educational content and workout examples — this strategy has helped it to amass an audience of over 79,000 followers. It also reposts images and videos from customers and this user-generated content angle has lead to the hashtag #kettlebellkings being used more than 20,000 times on Instagram.

Key takeaway: User-generated content

“Back in 2016, we started to embrace user-generated content for our Buffer Instagram account. In the first year, this strategy helped our account grow by almost 400% – 4,250 to 21,000 followers. Now we have over 40,000 followers.”

Brian Peters
Digital Marketing Strategist


“We’re very strict on the posts that go into our feed,” says Jay. For a post to make it to Kettlebell Kings’ Instagram feed, the content must:

  • Feature good use of a Kettlebell Kings product ✅
  • Show good form (when using the kettlebells) ✅
  • Provide a ton of value to the viewer (helping them to learn something new, improve their technique) ✅

But with stories, Jay believes there’s more freedom to post less-polished content at a higher frequency.

Kettlebell Kings can also repost and feature more of its customers using stories than it can within the feed. “We can repost 10-12 customers who tag us on a daily basis through stories,” says Jay. Being reposted by the Kettlebell Kings account is highly engaging and rewarding for those featured and it also encourages more and more customers to share their content on Instagram.

Here’s how that strategy plays out…

Within the Instagram feed, you might see a video of a perfectly-executed kettlebell workout:

Or a shoppable, high-quality image of a Kettlebell Kings product:

Then on Instagram Stories you might see a Kettlebell Kings customer working out:

But how does this all translate into leads and revenue?

Instagram Stories: The lead-gen secret weapon

Now we move onto the conversion focused part of this strategy.

Here’s how Kettlebell Kings drives hundreds of leads per week directly from Instagram.

1. Share engaging content to stories

First, Kettlebell Kings will share content to Instagram Stories. Often these posts will be workout examples or reposts from customers:

On average these stories will be viewed by around 10 percent of Kettlebell Kings’ followers, sometimes up to 15 percent if there’s a CTA in a feed post to ‘check out stories’.

2. Include swipe up CTAs to drive traffic to a landing page

Next, Kettlebell Kings will include a CTA to ‘Swipe Up’ for workout examples or more content within one of its stories posts:

(If you want to create simple Stories graphics like this, we build Stories Creator to help you do just that. It’s free and no signup is required.)

Writer’s note:

The Instagram Stories ‘Swipe Up’ feature is now available to all Instagram business accounts with 10,000 followers or more.

If you don’t quite have 10,000 followers, here are some resources to help you grow your account:

Ash Read
Managing Editor


Once a viewer swipes up, they will be taken to a landing page or an article where they can read more about a topic and enter their email address for more exclusive content:

These pages tend to convert visitors to email addresses at around 25-45 percent, depending on the traffic source. So 100 visits would generate between 25 and 45 new leads, on average.

3. Create custom email flows for each landing page

Finally, once the visitor has shared their email address it will be entered into one of many email workflows Kettlebell Kings has designed to serve helpful emails about kettlebell workouts and techniques from experts.

“We have unique workflows depending on how someone has entered our system,” Jay explained. All its workflows are about building value and trust with new leads. Kettlebell Kings purposely includes product photos in its emails but rarely sends offers or tries to make a sale. Instead, providing high quality content is the number one goal.

Kettlebell Kings aim to stay top-of-mind by providing value to potential customers in every email with the goal of eventually converting when a lead decides it’s time to purchase some new equipment.

Due to the work Jay and his team put in ensuring Kettlebell Kings’ Instagram feed is always filled with fresh, engaging content the company constantly has batches of new followers — “about 1,000 new followers per week right now,” Jay says — to check out its Instagram Stories and enter into its email funnels.

Over to you

This strategy has generated ‘hundreds of thousands’ in revenue for Kettlebell Kings and there’s no reason you can’t also implement within your own social media plans.

How does your business use Instagram Stories? Let me know in the comments below.

The Instagram Marketing Strategy Series

A nine-part series on how to use Instagram for business. ➡

from Social