Technological illiteracy is a real problem and those of us who work every day online and with technology often forget how overwhelming it can all seem to those that don’t. Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or math. I believe that we have a civic responsibility to make sure that not just our students but other demographics that are routinely marginalized online have the tools they need to access information and engage in the conversations that will shape our collective future.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristine Neil. Kristine is a creative entrepreneur, who believes that world-class branding and technology should be available to every business — no matter its size, years-in-business, or industry. She uses Instagram as a platform to connect with peers, prospective clients, and design enthusiasts by sharing cultural, experiential, and portfolio content for both her personal brand and the creative studio she owns — Markon Brands. Kristine loves consulting business owners on how to create a cohesive brand on Instagram.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In my early days as a brand designer and strategist, I learned that brands needed to be able to effectively portray themselves on social media and not just in traditional ways like print or other static marketing. It wasn’t enough to create a great logo; it was understanding how it would be viewed on a mobile device. It wasn’t enough to know how to work with long-form copy for an advertisement; I needed to know how to help them communicate in blurbs and snippets. Love it or hate it, understanding the nuances of social media can make the difference between building a successful brand and a mediocre one.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?
I’ll admit that I was slow to jump into social media back in the day, but it didn’t take long to realize the power it was going to have to influence how businesses are discovered and ultimately change the way brands interact with customers. The communications and public relations rules that companies have always followed still apply on social media, they just operate on a much, much faster timeframe! My background in communications helped me tremendously when I started forging my own way on social media, then when I started working on my business accounts, and ultimately when I began managing and consulting for clients. It’s hard to be an authority on something that evolves as quickly as social media marketing, but I treat staying ahead of the trends as part of my job.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Apparently watching a thousand different episodes of Dateline didn’t help us know to be wary of blind dates with clients from the internet. Unfortunately, catfishing exists even in the business world which we learned the hard way after agreeing to coffee with a potential local client who followed us on social for a while before sending an inquiry about a new project. Flash forward a few hours after sitting in a coffee shop wondering if he was going to show up at all and my teammate and I found ourselves watching slideshows in some random guy’s basement office while frantically trying to find a reason to cut the meeting short. As it turns out, he didn’t actually have any real work to offer and just wanted to “pick our brains” in a (too long) free consultation. Hot tip: screen those types of inquiries by phone before committing yourself for an afternoon — or worse!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m a pretty critical person, so it’s hard for me to think of any mistakes as funny. Rookie mistakes usually involve things like not proofreading posts and publishing careless typos or pushing the wrong image for a campaign seemed like major fails at the time but looking back I can definitely laugh about them. As I said, social media moves fast so luckily most mistakes will be buried by the gaffes someone else is inevitably going to make tomorrow.
Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?
Instagram is by far the most effective platform for me and my business. As web designers, our work is inherently visual, so it works well to show some behind-the-scenes shots, preview finished projects and interact with clients and peers there. The tough part can be directly connecting engagement with increased business revenues. Unlike retail industries where low price points can result in impulse buys and direct correlation between promoted posts and content with sales, it often takes clients getting to know us over a long period, liking our work and then — when the time is right — reaching out to work with us to see results. The funniest memory is a client that finally (after following us on Instagram for a while) came by our office to talk about working together. She was shocked to discover that our office is just like it appears on Instagram! I guess she was used to a lot of people who put out super altered photos and portray them as their own that she was just impressed to find out that we were real!
Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be Authentic
The quickest way to get people to zone out is to show them exactly what they see on everyone else’s accounts. You’re not keeping up a robust posting schedule and all that goes with it to blend in! Users are quick to notice when someone isn’t being real. When faced with an endless scroll of pretty, polished, manicured personas, offering an authentic picture of who you really are as a person (or as a brand) can be a breath of fresh air. Brands and influencers alike shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there; I’ve found that the messy behind-the-scenes posts usually generate the most engagement. If you’re hesitant to post anything less than perfect to your grid, that’s what Stories are for! You can be silly, speak directly to your followers, play with fun features like gifs, polls or questions and still maintain the picture perfect main profile we all strive for.
2. Ignore the Haters
People on Instagram tend to be nicer folk than those over on, say, Twitter but the platform is not without it’s fair share of trolls. They can often crop up in unsuspecting ways, such as a competitor who follows you just to copy your style or a jilted past customer who just won’t stop leaving negative comments. We’re all for free speech but honestly, your Instagram is your property and you have the right to police it in any way you want including blocking people or using the profanity filter to censor out specific keywords or phrases. This can help make your page a more enjoyable experience for the people you really want to connect with and allows you to keep your focus on more positive activities.
3. Be Consistent
Some of the best brands on Instagram aren’t necessarily posting multiple times per day, but what they are doing is posting consistently. This can mean that they are posting on the same days of the week, the same times of the day or even with the same themes that their followers can count on seeing. The key is to find what works best for your audience and stick with it! It’s sad when we set a client up with a beautiful content calendar that they stick with for a month and then drop the ball on. Keeping the momentum on your feed going doesn’t need to take up a ton of time, either. Use a scheduling app to queue posts up and work on a week’s or month’s worth of content at a time. This way, you can post consistently day-to-day and reserve your active time for engagement and connecting.
4. Define Your Brand Aesthetic — and Stick To It
Instagram followers may not be able to put into words just exactly why they like certain accounts over others, even within the same industry. But as a designer, it’s easy to see that what they are attracted to a cohesive brand identity. They know what to expect, and they like it. Working to define a brand color palette, photographic style and even a caption style that aligns well with your brand identity and messaging in the real world can pay off big time on Instagram. For brands, especially solopreneurs or small brands, this would also include defining what’s not Instagram-worthy. Examples of things that don’t belong on a business account are family pics, posts about personal politics or other affiliations and almost anything shared from another account. Your business feed is about your brand, not someone else’s, and definitely not about your personal life.
5. Meet Them Where They Are
One of the most under-used buttons on Instagram is that little magnifying glass icon in the bottom tray. The discover tab is a great place to explore industry hashtags, connect with peers and see what everyone else is up to. More than that, it’s a place to learn more about what your ideal clients are interested in. What are the accounts and hashtags they follow? Is there anything you can learn from them? Styles or content ideas you can tweak and make your own? Doing some exploring away from your brand’s own notification tab will help you expand your circle and grow your network.
6. Focus on Engagement, Not Likes
We all love when that little heart counter ticks up and up but likes aren’t the metric brands should be paying attention to on Instagram. When we look at our analytics, the posts that have the most likes are almost never the same as the posts that have the most comments and guess what posts convert clients? You guessed it — the ones with higher engagement. You can encourage comments by asking questions or being conversational in the captions; it all comes back to being authentic. Followers want to connect with the real people behind a brand. The likes are just a bonus.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’re at a place in history unlike any other when it comes to access to such a large amount of information at the tips of our fingers. So much of what happens in our real lives, in our communities, in our classrooms, in our town halls, and in our boardrooms is affected by or has the power to be shaped by the information that we get first online. Unfortunately, technological illiteracy is a real problem and those of us who work every day online and with technology often forget how overwhelming it can all seem to those that don’t. Teaching everyone how to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology and information online is as critical a subject as reading or math. I believe that we have a civic responsibility to make sure that not just our students but other demographics that are routinely marginalized online have the tools they need to access information and engage in the conversations that will shape our collective future.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’m a Catfish fan from way back so if Nev Schulman is still on the hunt for a guest co-host, I’m available!
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!