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Nathan Chan is the CEO and publisher of Foundr, a media and education company for young, aspiring, and novice entrepreneurs. He’s had the pleasure of interviewing rock-star business leaders to find out what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.
In the following excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Instagram for Business, 2nd Edition by Kim Walsh Phillips, Chan discusses how he catapulted Foundr’s following, which has reached over 3.6 million.
Tell us how you started.
I tried many tools and marketing channels. When I shared with entrepreneur friends that I was using Instagram, they all told me it was a terrible channel for business. They said, “Only fitness and fashion brands should be on there.” We’d had an account for three years, set up and managed by an intern, with just a few hundred followers before I jumped in. I started by researching hashtags and writing better captions. This landed us a serious spike in magazine subscriptions. After just 24 hours of testing, I noticed an extra hundred downloads for our magazine. Better yet, we were making an extra $100 to $200 on subscriptions. In the first two weeks, we grew to 10,000 followers back in 2014.
Do you think that kind of growth is still possible today?
Definitely. It all comes down to getting as many influencers or other accounts as possible to share your content and engage your audience. While it might be harder to get followers now, it is vastly easier to get engagement. With the “s4s” model—share for sharing, essentially—all the top Instagram accounts promote one another’s accounts. Even National Geographic has done this. It is an “I’ll share your post if you share mine” concept. Alternatively, money can change hands. This is where you pay another person or account to share your content, or perhaps you send them free products. Either way, to get someone to share your content, there has to be some sort of value exchange. All the top Instagram accounts do this.
If someone is just doing this for the first time, how should they approach it? They probably don’t have a national magazine they can leverage.
First of all, dig deep and think about what you can potentially offer to a partner. Maybe it’s an ongoing promotion, like links in your blog articles or a link to their site from your website resources page. You can always find something worth trading. Or you can just pay like we did in the beginning. To find potential partners, check if they list an email address in the account bio. Often that is an indication that they are open for business. Start small and find a caption and/or image that produces results—and then find other potential partners.
So what is the overall goal of your account? And how has it changed over time?
We’re aiming to build community. But then you need to move that community off the social media platform because Instagram or any other platform could shut down your account. There’s nothing you can do about it at that point. I don’t think it’s wise to rely solely on platforms you don’t own.
For us, the goal has been to build our own media base. We want to grow an email list and a newsletter—whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, you name it—to drive people to our home base and capture their contact info, which allows us to stay in touch, build more trust, and provide more value.
We treat Instagram as a channel, just like any other (SEO, Google, Twitter, Facebook). They’re all marketing channels that allow us to facilitate our relationship with the prospective customer and interest those who want to join our community.
Where do you go for inspiration for your posts?
When I first joined, I looked around for accounts that produced the best content in the startup motivational niche. Then I started following them. We usually follow fewer than a hundred accounts and get enough inspiration and ideas for posts we can create or repost. We also have a lot of collaborative partners to help us grow rapidly, too. Now, more than ever, it’s about relevancy. It’s about posting the best possible content that your audience will love, and triggering an emotion that makes them really want to tag their friends, mention their friends, like it, share it, screenshot it, repost it, or make it a screen saver. That’s the whole goal.
For more success strategies, buy The Ultimate Guide to Instagram for Business, 2nd Edition, available now.