If you’re looking to build your brand and gain visibility for your business, Instagram could be just the online marketing tool that you need. Especially for businesses in the wedding/events space – a niche driven by aesthetics and visuals – Instagram can really help to drive home to your audience exactly what your business can do for them before you ever speak a word to them or write a single piece of content.

But like any social media tool, each one has their own strengths and dynamics, and Instagram is no different. Sue B. Zimmerman – the “Instagram Expert” – is here to help us get more bang for our buck out of Instagram with some helpful and creative tips and strategies that she uses with her own clients.

Rich: Sue B. Zimmerman is the #instagramexpert. She’s creator of the online Instagram course, Ready Set Gram. She’s a popular Creative Live instructor, powerful speaker on prominent stages like Social Media Marketing World and The Agents of Change, and she is a highly sought after business coach. She’s passionate about teaching business owners and marketing professionals how to easily leverage the power of Instagram to get tangible business results.

She’s a serial entrepreneur, she has 30 years of business experience, she is a good friend of mine and she’s got extensive knowledge of social media, and it’s her mission to teach, mentor and empower others to be highly successful entrepreneurs. Hey Sue, welcome to the show.

Sue: It’s always good to be talking with you.

Amber: Thanks for coming on.

Sue: You betcha.

Amber: So I don’t know you as well as Rich does, so I would love to her your story of how you discovered Instagram.

Sue: It’s a fun story. So my teenage twin daughters were on their phones during vacation and I was talking to them, and they were not looking at me, they were just scrolling on their phones.  

Rich: I can’t relate to that at all.

Amber: Neither can I.

Sue: Hello, is anyone listening to what mom is saying? And they’re like, “Mom, we’re on Instagram.” And I’m like, what do you mean you’re on Instagram? They told me not to get on it because then I’ll probably start teaching it. And I thought that was a good challenge for me.

So I knew that because my twins were on it and they were teenagers that I needed to look at it and understand it for my retail shop, because at the time I had a seasonal store on Cape Cod called Sue B.Do, and it was there that I sold jewelry, accessories and clothing. And I was on social, I was teaching social media for 8 years, I know a lot about all different platforms, not just Instagram. But what I really didn’t understand was the power of visual storytelling and the power of user generated content in collaboration with other people meeting my employees.

So this was 5 years ago, I read every blog post I could find and really studied the platform and realized it could be a great tool to me to bring people into my store. And I did. And I made it mandatory for all my 7 employees to start using it – with my rules, of course – and my sales increased 40% in that one summer.

So I thought this was crazy that my sales went up because of Instagram. Because I knew that people were coming in because of Instagram because I tracked all my sales at the counter. My store was small and I would often say to people, “How did you hear about us?” And over and over again they were holding up their phone and saying, “Instagram”. So I told my employees they were all getting commission for every sale I’m getting from their Instagram accounts.

So I just realized that so many retailers were struggling and needed to understand how to use social in a way that’s actually fun and not overwhelming or felt like a chore. So I ended up attending a conference out in California and I ended up learning about this whole online marketing space which I knew nothing about 4 ½ years ago. And I decided at that moment that I was going to become a teacher and educator. And I thought I was going to teach social media – specifically Instagram – to just retailers, but then I went bigger and broader and said I’m going to take this to the whole world, the world is my oyster, in this online space.

And so that is what I’ve been doing 24/7 for about 4 ½ years. And full disclosure, I have never worked this hard in my life, and I’ve had 18 businesses, so to let the audience know that I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. But the reason I say this is because teaching online there is so much noise and competition, there are so many people that claim they teach Instagram but in my opinion don’t really know what they’re talking about. So I fortunately have immersed myself in teaching this and have had the opportunity to be on prominent stages like Rich’s event and Social Media Marketing World and Creative Live, and being interviewed on podcasts and really explaining how you use Instagram to grow your business, to grow your audience, to understand how to use user-generated content.

And we ca dive into all these strategies in a little bit, but I think that when people start actually getting results from the way you teach it, then they talk about you and then you realize that when other people talk about you it’s a beautiful thing.

Rich: So you have taught a lot of people, a lot of different businesses, about Instagram and how to use it to grow their business. Let’s narrow that down a little bit, obviously our audience are wedding professionals, caterers, florists, DJ’s, photographers, what have you. So why would Instagram be an important marketing tool for wedding professionals, how would wedding professionals best use this?  

Sue: I love this question and I want the audience to know that two of my clients come from this industry. One is a videographer, his name is Chip Dizard and he’s a photographer and videographer, and he has had great success in the wedding industry showcasing his talent as a videographer on Instagram showing his clients, showing himself as a speaker in the space, and really humanizing his business so that people get to know him and how talented he is. And it’s basically his digital scrapbook, it’s basically his digital portfolio of what he’s capable of doing if you hire him as a videographer. Does this make sense?

Rich: Yes. Now is he showing a mix of photos and video in his Instagram feed?

Sue: Yes. So in his Instagram feed – which is curated and lives on forever – that’s what he’s showing. But here’s the real cool thing I want you guys to know, there’s a whole new layer since August of 2016, which is Instagram Stories.

So Chip shows behind the scenes in his Instagram stories, and he shows how he edits his videos for his clients, giving more credibility to his talent outside of the perfectly curated Instagram feeds that most people have in this industry. And it really makes you notice that this guy knows what he’s doing and he’s a fun guy to work with. So you get a real sense of Chip and the way that he works with his clients, which I think is priceless.

Rich: So there’s the carefully crafted photos and video that we might use in Instagram – and many of us have used – but then you’re saying that the stories is more of an almost behind the scenes where we can show off our personality?

Sue: Yeah! In fact, today I did a Twitter chat with Buffer all about Instagram Stories today #bufferchat, and that whole conversation is there in terms of what is the value to Instagram Stories to your business and how can you use it to amplify what you’re doing on Instagram. And I think a lot of people still haven’t utilized it in their niche because either they’re afraid to be on video or they’re not quite sure how to do an Instagram Story. And because I’ve had a lot of experience using Snapchat and Periscope and other livestream tools, I’m extremely comfortable crafting a story.

Here’s what the audience needs to know, is that when you do an Instagram Story there is a rainbow ring around your avatar, and that ring means “Watch me, I did a Story”. So when you tap through and watch that story, he rainbow ring goes away for the person that viewed it until a new clip is added to that Story.

Now, a clip can be a 15-second video or a photo. And so now you say, “Oh, Sue added another clip to her Story; let me go see what that one is about”. So people come back for more, it’s like your own broadcasting channel. And with Instagram Stories for the wedding industry, you can tag brands and businesses that you’re showcasing in your Story.

Say you like the magazine Bride, in your Story you just got featured in Brides, the shoot you did as a photographer got featured and so you can talk about that in your Story and you can tag/@ mention “Brides”. They will get a notification in their Story that you tagged them and they just might like what they see, and they might respond to that through an Instagram direct message and reply to your Story. And now you’ve gotten the attention of the magazine. So maybe let’s take it a couple steps further, you want to get the attention of the florist or the party planner or the DJ or the bridal dress. Whatever it is, you can strategically tag/@ mention businesses and brands.

Separately, for those of you who work within a location-based business – let’s say Maine – and you are trying to attract clients in that area, you should be tagging the location of where you’re doing your work. So maybe the location is niche – like the church or the hotel, or the wedding venue – and you can tag them on Instagram because they have an Instagram account. Or maybe it’s something bigger in Maine like the venue. So you’re tagging the hotels and you’re basically giving a shout out to the hotel where the wedding is and they might love that you’re constantly giving them a shout out and they may contact you about giving you a package rate or something like that.

I’m going to give you an explicit example of what happened to me here in Boston. I live in downtown Boston at the Millennium Tower and I could use the geo-sticker on Instagram in my Instagram Stories that says “Millennium Tower” or I can use “downtown Boston”, or I can use “Boston, MA”. But I used the location of my apartment building, got the attention of the restaurant across the street called The Merchant, because I showed up in that location tag. So locations on Instagram and Instagram Stories are applicable. You can use the Instagram sticker to use the location and when you do, if you tap on it, it takes you into that location – which is in maps – and shows you the top 9 photos that made it to the top of that geo location.

So The Merchant restaurant saw me in their top 9 and they were like, “You live right across from our restaurant and I see that you’re on Instagram and you’re an influencer. How about you come in and do an Instagram Stories here and dinner is on us?” So my husband and I had dinner that was over $150 and they picked up the tab, because they found me at a location sticker in my Instagram Stories.

Rich: It makes sense, but let me ask you a question. So we’re trying to get in front of couples here. How are average people finding you, I guess that’s the question? Are you using geo-searches because they’re curious, or are they thinking of having their wedding at the Samoset so they just go there and happen to open up Instagram and see what people are posting? How does that work?

Sue: So most people getting married these days have their own unique cute hashtag, so if you can establish who is getting married and you’re spying on them in some way or they’re announcing it on Facebook or you know people getting married and you’re in the industry and you’re trying to find that couple and do business with them, you can start engaging then wither it’s on their Instagram feed or just replying to their Instagram Story and starting a conversation. Not selling, not pitching, not doing anything except, “I see that you like x, you might also like y”, or “So glad you booked your location, if you’re looking for a photographer I’d love talking with you”.

You’ve got to first find out where is your ideal customer hanging out and what is the first thing they do. I think it’s book the venue or the church. So finding out where they’re announcing that they’re getting married – and most people do it on Instagram and Facebook – and so understanding what hashtag will bring you to that client. Does that make sense, Rich?

Rich: Yeah, it definitely makes sense. I can see how that might work. I also am curious about how we might be able to…I know that Instagram is owned by Facebook, I know that Facebook advertising can target people that are getting engaged. Can we swing those ads over into Instagram perhaps to get in front of them?

Sue: Absolutely. And you should totally link up with Morgan on my team about some details and ninja tips for doing Instagram ads. But yeah, when you know the age and the interest and the demographic of your target audience and their income and all that, and you target them accordingly, it’s golden. So maybe people 26-35 that live in Maine and do x, y and z. So yes, you can target.

Amber: That is about the right demographic, and I’ve done that before and it’s been really helpful. I also think hashtags have been really great for me just being able to get so many more ‘likes’ and growth when I hashtag certain things when I’m directing them to my blog. So I totally agree and I can say that those tips really do work. And I actually leaned those tips from you at Agents of Change, so thank you Sue B.

So speaking of that, what kind of hashtags should we use to attract couples?

Sue: So I’m actually doing a little search for you right now while we’re talking. I’m searching “Maine weddings”, so there are almost 10,000 photos. That’s where I would start and I would look at the ones that are in the top 9 and I would look at the hashtag “#realmainewedding”, that’s a good one. Wow, these photos are beautiful.

Amber: Yeah, we’re pretty lucky because we have so much we can showcase.

Sue: Oh my gosh, yes. So if you click into “real Maine weddings”, then you are looking at some more great gorgeous photos and you can get some more hashtag ideas. The best way to know what hashtags to use is to find one that works really well and then see what Instagram suggests. And then make sure before you use any hashtags that the visual content in that hashtag hub aligns with your business.

The biggest mistake I see people doing is using really broad hashtags like “#wedding”. Because that’s you and everyone else in the world getting married on Instagram with over 600 million active users. So why be in a hashtag hub with over 75,000 million? It’s too big, you’ve got to go niche. The key here for you guys is to stay in your lane and stay really niche in Maine.

Rich: So you’ve given us a lot of good information, but for the people who are maybe just getting started or been using Instagram haphazardly. What tips do you have for setting up their accounts in a way that will be attractive to couples looking to hire somebody?

Sue: Great question. I think there’s 6 or 7 things that everyone needs to know. So #1 is having what I called a “bionic bio”. A bionic bio is one that is completed and looks professional, meaning you have a professional avatar – I suggest a smiling face and not your logo unless you’re a really big brand – or maybe even just have it be beautiful flowers or something that represents the wedding.

So having a great avatar and having a great description in your bio, you get 150 characters. And make sure that whatever you’re saying is very relevant to who you want to serve. And then having a good call to action – CTA – to drive traffic to the one live link that you have in your bio. And most importantly, creating a trackable link using something like bit.ly. If no one knows how to do this, I have a YouTube video explaining this, just google SueBZimmerman.com and that bit.ly link and you’ll be able to create one for your business.

Because you want to track your success on Instagram to where you’re trying to take them, what opt in or video or Facebook page or wherever you’re trying to have business you want to have that. So #1 is having a really good bionic bio.

Number 2 is creating compelling content. People often ask, “What’s compelling content?” Well, I will tell you it’s not a bunch of text overlay that’s random. In fact, today’s blog on SueBZimmerman is basically what not to do to clutter your Instagram feed. So Amber, this would be a really good article to link up so that people know what not to do, and it’s the one that we just released today.

But when I say “compelling content” it means content that is enticing, emotionally drawing people into your account and making people feel like they’re literally taking a bit of that wedding cake or right beside you dancing. And you’re pulling them in emotionally to the experience that the people are having at the event that you’re doing services at. Does that make sense?

Amber: Yes, it does make sense to me.

Sue: And first and foremost with that being said, the lighting has to be impeccable. No grainy, blurry photos ever. And often on wedding accounts it’s the little details that are at weddings that make for an amazing Instagram account. So it can be just the makeup that the bride is putting on, or the flowers that the bridesmaids are holding, or it can just be the little beautiful details throughout the wedding tables and the centerpieces. All of that is eye candy for a great wedding Instagram account.

Amber: Perfect.

Sue: So having compelling content and having a bionic bio and having really creative descriptions. So this is the thing that a lot of people don’t really think long and hard about, you actually get 2,200 characters in the description. You can essentially write what I call a “micro blog” if you want to. For those of you that don’t love blogging but love Instagram, it’s a great opportunity for you to tell more than just what the video or the photo is showing.

Talk about why you posted that photo and why it’s so compelling, in your voice and language that your customer or client would hire you because they like the way that you’re talking, and in a style that stands out.

So I did another blog post about descriptions and all kinds of creative ways that you could either be using emojis, or spacing, or all caps, or lowercase. What does your description style look like, because that becomes another opportunity for you to stand out from everyone else that does what you do.

Amber: That’s awesome, ok. More, more!

Sue: So I think those are the three things for a beginner that they really should focus on. Oh, the last thing I have to say is, if you’re here for business you absolutely have to have a business profile account. And if you don’t know how to do that, again, I have a blog post telling you how and why to create a business account, because with a business account comes all of your insights.

When you click into your insights you can see how many impressions you had from last week, you can see what your reach is, you can see how many views to your profile you’ve had, you can see your website clicks and your text clicks – if you set up the contact via phone – or you can see your email clicks. And so those are analytics that are now being given to you through the Instagram app without having to go into the Power Editor.

In addition, about 3 weeks ago Instagram announced that you can now get analytics on your Instagram Stories. I just opened mine and I can see my reach – my impressions – for the past 7 days is about 40,000 impressions from my Stories, which is huge.

Rich: That is huge!

Sue: You’ve got to pay attention to these insights that you get when you have a business profile. If you’re here for a business it makes no sense to have a personal account and not a business account.

Rich: Is there any downside, why wouldn’t every business be switching over? Is there something we give up when we go over to business?

Sue: So what some people think is that they don’t get as much engagement or as many ‘likes’ because now you’re in the Facebook/Instagram pay and play space, to some degree. I don’t do ads religiously. What I do is create compelling, valuable content.

And here’s what I’ll say to that Rich, I used to post daily on Instagram thinking I needed to do that to stay top of mind. But I do my Instagram Stories daily – which brings eyeballs to my post – so I don’t have to spend as much time crafting a post in Instagram which is in the theme if my Instagram feed that requires a lot of time and planning. I need to make sure that each post really gives great value and I have a strategic hashtag strategy and I have that compelling content created in the description. And I get more bang for my buck, meaning I get more reach for each post, because of the business profile and the intention behind each post.

Amber: That makes sense. I am so thankful that you’re going to be at our spring conference so we can pick your brain even more, because that was only 4 and you said that there were 7 and I’m itching to now all of them.

But where can we find you online? You mentioned a lot of blog posts and things like that, so can you tell us where to find you?

Sue: Sure. So I like for people to obviously go to my website, that’s my home base. There is a free Instagram Strategy Guide waiting for all of you that are a little like this was a lot of information and you don’t know how to process it. I have a 17-page free Instagram download that you can grab, so make sure you do that. And on Instagram I am at SueBZimmerman and TheInstagramExpert, if you listen to me on this interview please come over and say “hi” and introduce yourself and let me know that you found me from this fabulous interview. And I guess they have to go to the conference to hear the other three, right Amber?

Amber: I know! You’ll have to, you guys. It’s going to be so great. Thank you so much for your time, you busy woman.

Rich: Thank you Sue, I appreciate it and we’ll make sure all those links are in the show notes now that we have a transcriptionist.

Amber: I’m so thankful for her right now! She was throwing those out like machine gun fire, she’s awesome.

Rich: Absolutely. Alright Sue, thank you so much and we’ll see you on March 31st and April 1st at the Streamline Marketing Workshop’s Spring Conference.

Sue: Yeah, and hopefully there won’t be any snow then. Is there snow in March in Maine?

Rich: We’re going to put blinders on you, you won’t even see it. It’ll be fine.

Sue: It’s going to be fine, I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to bring my husband, it’s going to be great I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks so much you guys, this was a blast.

Show Notes:

Sue B. Zimmerman understands the powerful effect of online marketing using Instagram. Follow her advice and tips through the many blog posts and instructional videos she has posted on her website. And don’t forget to follow her on Instagram and tell her you listened to her on this podcast! And if you liked what you heard here today, make sure to grab your tickets to hear Sue speak later this month at the Streamline Marketing Workshop Conference.

Amber Small makes wedding dreams come true. Make sure to reserve your spot now for the Streamline Marketing Workshop Conference that she – along with Rich Brooks of flyte new media – have created specifically targeted to wedding professions, with the goal of helping them reach, connect & engage with their best customers.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!