Our Chat With Chris Jones—One of Instagram’s Most Successful Marketing Whiz Kids
Needless to say, here at Kickstagram, we enjoy spending time with like-minded Instagram marketing fanatics. But it’s not just enough for us to have the inside track into their product- and service-pushing minds—we want you to have access, too.
As such, we’ve interviewed the likes of masterful marketers like Austen Allred and growth hacking gurus such as Vincent Dignan—they know their stuff. Still, there’s plenty more Instagram marketing information to be had, and a tons of people to offer it up.
Which brings us to the heart of today’s post—Chris Jones. Chris is one of Instagram’s most successful marketing whiz kids (though he’s actually a full-blown adult). Starting off with Internet and email marketing in 2010, he launched his first e-commerce site in late 2014.
Not long after, he discovered he had a knack for one of marketing’s finest platforms—Instagram. We’ve been following Chris’ work for quite some time, and couldn’t be happier he was willing to share some of his social savvy with us. Interested in learning more? You’re in luck—keep reading …
Chris, you’ve come a long way—how did you get to where you’re at today?
I’m a college dropout, so I don’t have a degree. With not much to do, I got into e-commerce after listening to an interview on Pat Flynn’s podcast. I don’t remember which one it was or what exactly was covered, but it just really moved me. I think everyone can probably point to some book, interview or article that’s lit an entrepreneurial fire for them.
I listened to this interview, and I decided I absolutely wanted to be active in e-commerce—I just had to figure out what I wanted to to do. At the time (and still to this day), my big hobby was weight training—powerlifting, more specifically.
Seeing as how I spent a lot of time in the gym, I just started looking around to try and identify some sort of need people like me had. Oddly enough, I noticed that all men’s workout pants were absolutely horrible. They were cut wrong, and really bad for lifting weights. They would pull as weights were being lifted, and more than just about anything, they were insanely ugly.
I toyed with the idea for a bit, but ultimately decided that this was a problem I could solve. So, I designed a pair of athletic pants after a really popular style of pants known as ‘joggers.’ These are big now, but all of this was a couple of years ago when nobody was wearing them.
To get going with everything, I started a company called Bec Sport and approached a foreign supplier. So there I was—I had this company, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t know where to find my customers.
It was kind of a knee-jerk thing, but I decided to start an Instagram account. To be honest, I only started it because I wanted to look like a big company. I knew that big companies had Instagram accounts, so I figured I’d do the same thing. If they had one, I should, too.
I did what everyone does—I uploaded a few pictures, and nothing happened. I didn’t really have any followers, though, so I figured that might be the problem. So, I just started engaging with people. That’s it—that’s all I was really doing.
Even crazier, I was doing all of this stuff manually. I’d follow a specific hashtag and scroll down, liking every post the search results gave me. Occasionally, if I saw someone wearing an ugly pair of pants, I would comment, saying something along the lines of, “Hey, you need a new pair of gym pants.” You know, something like that with a winky face next to it.
Every day after work, I’d spend around two and a half hours doing this in the evenings after my day job. I quickly found that this resulted in quite a few people engaging with me, also. Eventually, they’d make their way to my Instagram profile and would like my posts and comment on some of them—it was awesome.
The results came quickly, and I was blown away by all of it. The only problem? As a systems guy, I quickly grew tired of doing all of this manually. I think I made it like three or four nights, and then said to myself, “This isn’t worth it.” I didn’t give up, though—I started looking for programs that would automate what I was already doing on Instagram.
I found one, and within a couple of weeks, I actually got my first sale completely by accident before my store was really ready to launch. Believe it or not, I didn’t even have any tangible products to sell.
What I loved most about this whole Instagram thing is that I have this marketing plan working in the background twenty-four seven, and it had generated a sale even before I was ready to start selling. From there, I just kept scaling up, growing my business in the process. I’ve had a couple of other projects along the way, but that’s basically my story.
Why do you think Instagram is such a special digital marketing tool?
I would say that the fact that it’s highly visual is part of it, you know? But you could argue that Facebook and Pinterest are highly visual, as well. That said, they’re not nearly as simplistic. So, Instagram is visual, simplistic and I also love how Instagram doesn’t allow outbound links in its post captions.
This might seem like a really minor point, but I think what it does is disarm an audience, so that people don’t feel like they’re constantly having to defend themselves against commercialism. Once an Instagram account has been created, this allows brands to sneak in the backdoor while people still have their guards down.
Getting back to the visual side of things, though, pictures make it really easy to generate interest in your brand—way easier than on Facebook or Pinterest, in my opinion. I’ll also tell you that Instagram’s algorithm is a lot more friendly than the Facebook and Pinterest algorithms—even after the new update.
Seriously, don’t get me started on Instagram’s new update. I actually wrote an article about it, if you’re interested. The new update was not nearly as devastating as most people thought it would be. In my case, it was actually good for business. I never depended on the whole chronological thing.
Most of my page traffic came from automation and the daily engagement I had with users, anyway. Still, so many brands were afraid of the algorithmic update, that they began to stop posting on Instagram, altogether. Because of this, I had less competition. Crazy, but I’ve actually found that my engagement has gone up a lot since the update.
How can products and services be sold on Instagram? What does that look like?
That’s a hard question, so I’ll do my best to keep the answer simple. I think that the road map to generating sales on Instagram is probably what we should zero in on. First, and this is almost going to sound a bit cliché, have a great brand and product—that’s rule number one.
And I know that might sound stupid, but it’s the truth. Far too many people think you can make money on Instagram, without the brand or product really mattering—it doesn’t work that way.
Once you’ve got the right mentality in place, it’s time to set up an account. Start posting what are known as ‘lifestyle’ pictures on Instagram. And just so we’re all on the same page, there are two different ways you can create a lifestyle or a mood on your page.
The first is to curate content from elsewhere on the Internet—of course, you’ll want to give credit where it’s due. But this works—as long as the quality is good, people like this.
The other option is to be a content generator. Like, let’s say you have a photographer for your brand, and you’re regularly doing photo shoots—these are great for Instagram, too. Or, if people take photos of themselves using your products, you can use these posts to your advantage, as well.
They’re creating a lifestyle that other people want to be a part of, or that other people want to have. Once you have people’s attention on Instagram, the last part of the equation would be using something that I call ‘persuasion triggers’ to get people to go to your website and make a purchase.
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If I run an online business, what should I do today to attract customers on Instagram?
So right away, go set up an Instagram account, and make sure that you have your brand name as your Instagram handle. In fact, if it’s not available and you’re serious about this, I would honestly consider changing your brand’s name.
Might seem a bit drastic, but I’ll tell you why you should do this. It’s kind of similar to getting the .com domain for your company’s website. If you have it, it subtly, yet powerfully signals to people that you’re a serious brand.
And by contrast, when you have a bunch of underscores or numbers or periods in your name just so that you can have your brand name, it looks like you weren’t the first person to arrive, or that you’re not a serious brand. People think this doesn’t matter, but it really does.
After that, just start posting. Okay, that’s actually not great advice—there’s more to it than that.
My next piece of advice would be to go follow 150 Instagram accounts. I would do this from your personal account—don’t do it with your business account. Make the base of accounts you follow a mix of friends, family, Instagram celebrities and real celebrities—that way, all of your bases are covered.
In a couple of weeks, you’ll get a better feel for the kinds of accounts you want your brand to follow. After that, it’s easy—keep following more of the accounts you like; unfollow the accounts that are boring or lame.
Now, there’s something critical that takes place, here—start paying attention to what it is that makes you look forward to your favorite accounts’ next posts. What is it? Answer this question, discovering reasons X, Y and Z, and then start putting them into practice, yourself. This will generate interest in your company.
Dude, that naming thing was kind of intense—we’d never heard of that before.
It’s important stuff, man. In fact, you should include this reference in the article just because it’s good advice for everyone—I’m sure you’ve heard of author Seth Godin, right?
If you Google the name ‘Seth Godin’ and ‘naming a brand’ or ‘brand name,’ the first hit you’ll get on Google is going to be an article that he wrote about the importance of naming your business. It’s super short—it’s only like 500 words, if I remember correctly.
He presents some absolutely brutal concepts that must be followed whenever you’re naming your business. Think about it, man—too often people start a jewelry company, and then name it something dumb like, ‘ABC Jewelry.’
Boring names ensure that you blend in with everybody else and that nobody remembers your name. If you follow Seth’s advice, you can almost guarantee that your Web domain and Instagram handle will be available.
What are some of the most common Instagram marketing mistakes brands make?
The biggest one has to do with the type of content that’s created and published. If you have a small startup, people are going to follow you because they want to see behind the scenes. They don’t want to see the same images of your brand that everyone gets to see. They want images of a photo shoot you’ve done, or a random pop-up shop you did in a small town somewhere.
Intimate, behind the scenes footage is perfect, but what isn’t okay is posting pictures of your baby because you think he or she is so darn cute. Even worse, posting this kind of image on your business account is social suicide. I can’t stress this enough—it makes you look so small.
Remember, you want to project a big-time image. You want to have people think that everyone is shopping with you; you want people thinking that you’re popular. If you’re driving down the road and there are two equally nice restaurants on either side of the road, you’re not going to go to the one that’s empty.
If you’re like me, the busy, more crowded one is the place you’ll choose to eat. You can already see where this is going—you want to project the image of the busy restaurant with a crowded parking lot.
There’s a southern saying that aligns nicely with this mentality, and I love it: ‘No dunk is better than podunk.’ Everything you do transmits a message to your audience. Make sure that they’re seeing you as a key player, and not a nobody.
You can be a stay-at-home mom with a simple Etsy shop, but you want people knowing that you’re slammed with orders. Your brand’s Instagram account should reflect this.
Okay, last item—tell me a little about your website, Profit From Instagram.
Sure thing! Yeah, so I used to participate heavily in a few different Shopify forums. Anyway, on one of these forums, there was a guy who was asking about how to generate interest in his company on Instagram. He felt that he had a great product and a solid niche, but he wasn’t able to make any sales.
I felt that this guy was somebody who could benefit from the same Instagram strategy that I was using to generate sales, so I wrote it out in painful detail and posted it to the forum. He was super grateful, and other readers started e-mailing me privately about my suggestions—it was crazy. Believe it or not, to this day, I still get responses from that forum post.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that, if adapted slightly, I might be able to help more than just the one guy I originally wrote the post for. So, I bought a domain, put up a website and published it again.
At the time, I had no plans to ever write another article. But after I shared it on Facebook and it got liked and shared a few dozen times, I thought I might be onto something. I don’t quite know how, but somebody at Shopify found the post and put me in their ‘Daily Digest’ that goes out to like 200,000 people every week.
Before I knew it, I was getting lots of questions from people about other things that I didn’t cover in the post. Since that first piece, I’ve written a couple of other guides to help people out. You know—photography, finding your niche and most recently about why you shouldn’t be afraid of the Instagram algorithm.
All in all, it’s been a fun project.
- Note: Though the link was already included within the body of this post, if interested in gaining access to Chris’ personal archive of Instagram marketing guides, feel free to visit his website—Profit From Instagram. Simply click here to make it happen.
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