Growing Your Brand through Smart Social Media
I’m not a celebrity. But I have received fan mail. Out-of-the-blue letters from a few of my Instagram (IG) followers.
As a side job — what I call a jobby (a job that’s hobby-heavy) — I sell antiques. Since its inception, my IG gallery has attracted nearly 20,000 followers.
My followers are retrophiliacs, people for whom vintage is a way of life. Some IG accounts skyrocket to tens of thousands of followers within a few months. My account has formed a smaller (but loyal) tribe over an 18-month period.
Megillicutti is my brand.
Build Your Brand through Social Media
In my IG profile I describe myself as “a chronic curator of curiosities. On the quest every day to elevate the everyday.” Every day on Instagram, that’s what I try to do. Post a beautiful image and narrative that captures how to elevate the everyday with vintage finds.
Of my followers, only ten have written private “raving fan” messages. That’s one out of every one thousand. Hardly a percentage worth touting. But fans show their loyalty in multiple (sometimes soft-spoken) ways: liking a post; commenting on a post; sharing a post; signing up for content; showing up at your events; privately asking your advice; collaborating on projects; and, buying what you sell.
Platform that’s Best for You
IG, like many social media platforms, is a powerful tool for creating brand awareness and nurturing relationships with potential customers. The swelling number of “How to Create Raving Fans on Social Media” articles remind us that fandom is paramount to fiefdom. If you have fans, you own a piece of their loyalty and, hence, you have an audience to whom you can market your brand, your service, your product.
In my case, Instagram became the platform for promoting the vintage style and antiques that I love and want to be known for.
Whether you sell pipes, cars, memberships, or financial services, social media is a platform vital to creating brand awareness, generating leads, and building your business. IG may not be your social platform of choice, the one that works best for your audience. But IG works for my demographic—20- to 30-year-olds looking to feather their nests.
Here’s what I’ve learned about creating a loyal following:
Just Do You
Thousands of people on Instagram sell vintage. And there are hundreds of thousands of Instagrammers who decorate their homes with vintage finds. I’m not unique.
Yet I am.
Bottom line: People respond to personal interpretations of that which is ubiquitous. My IG spin on vintage is three-fold:
I craft a narrative about the vintage finds I feature;
I work hard to stage and capture professional quality images; and
90% of my images reflect my love of the color green, specifically vintage green.
While IG is image-driven, it has become a place where my two passions — vintage living and language — collide. It is a deliberate brand move combining the two: In a space saturated with beautiful images, what could I uniquely offer? As one follower said, “I love your photos, but it’s the wonderful way you write that keeps me checking your feed.”
I want my gallery to tell a story that only I can narrate—both visually and verbally—and keeps people checking my feed. What will keep people checking “your feed”? You don’t have to take beautiful photos. And you don’t have to be a great writer. But figure out what is unique about you—and share authentically.
A close IG friend said it best: “People follow those who have something to offer—on just about anything. There’s no rhyme or reason except a common thread of authenticity and an eagerness to share.”
Share Your Expertise
On Instagram, a popular design blogger (with 50k+ followers) crowned me the “McCoy Queen”—a name that reflects my passion for an Ohio-based vintage pottery I have collected zealously for 18 years. During my first few months on IG, I noticed that when my McCoy pottery collection cropped up in images, likes and comments spiked. Not only was McCoy pottery click-bait, it also aroused curiosity among my followers.
People want to know what I know: how to identify the “real” McCoy, how much to pay for a piece, and where to find it. After a follower requested detailed shots of my collection, I developed a McCoy 101 series. If she was interested, maybe others were, too.
It’s a simple column—brainless on my part—that offers insider collecting advice to novice collectors. Since I began the series, people have tagged me in their posts when they add a new piece of McCoy pottery to their collection (yes, that leads to more followers); pointed fellow collectors who aren’t already following me in my direction; and continued to engage me in conversation when they have questions.
The success of this series triggered thinking about other areas of expertise that my followers might benefit from, like tips for the beginner vintage dealer. My goal is not for my IG gallery to become a “how-to” repository. I still want to inspire with beautiful images and write with heart—two elemental pieces to my success thus far. But a “how-to” component undergirds my credibility as a vintage dealer while also creating content that connects with my followers.
How Will You Know You Have Fans?
“I’ve never heard so many people talk about Instagram before!” said my sister following the first day of sales at Randolph Street Market, Chicago’s premier antique market.
Within the first few hours of the show, new customers — people who found me via IG — stripped my booth. While not essential, building in-the-flesh relationships with virtual followers helps deepen relationships. When an item is purchased in the flesh, you better understand your target market by learning how they will use the piece and what attracted them to it. You also step out from behind the virtual veil of social media. As you swap stories, share an experience, laugh, and express yourself through body language, your brand becomes personal. This is building your brand through social media.
I no longer am Megillicutti the brand, but Megillicutti the person.
And it’s this personal experience that customers will share. Thrilled with her three purchases, one IG customer posted a pic on IG with the caption: “Great finds from @megillicutti at the Randolph Market!! Melissa is so sweet and has the most amazing taste—happy to buy from such a sweet friend.”
When you cross the divide from follower to friend, you know you’ve added a fan.
In the fury of the day, I didn’t follow my boss’s advice and keep track of the exact IG quotient — the number of customers who purchased items because they follow me. But sales were greater than pre-IG days. More importantly, relationships were deepened, as multiple new customers shared their experience doing business with me on their IG feeds.
Sales are only one way to measure the strength of your social media platform. Ask yourself the following: Are people sharing your content? Are people mentioning you in posts? Are people commenting on your posts? Are people asking for specific content, or more of a specific kind of content? Are people seeking your expert advice? Are people reposting your posts (or re-tweeting your tweets on Twitter)? Are people asking to collaborate on a project? Are people emulating what you do? These are all signs that you are creating camaraderie around your brand.
This truth is crystalizing the longer I commit to posting on IG: Often you have fans that you don’t even know exist. Two months ago, I hosted a giveaway, something many IG-ers do to honor their tribe and add to it. If you comment, you’re entered. If you tag a friend, you’re entered again. If you post the giveaway details on your feed, you’re entered again. The exposure creates more followers.
The random winner of the giveaway was a lady who sometimes liked my posts but never commented on my posts. Secretly, I was hoping I drew a name of someone whom I perceived as a “fan” — a follower who never misses commenting on or liking a post.
My perceptions deceived me.
When she learned she won, I learned that she was a fan, though a quiet one. She wrote “I can’t believe this!!! Wait till I talk to me bestie; we are huge fans of you!! Seriously, this is like winning the lottery for me.”
And slowly I’m learning, fandom isn’t luck of the draw, but committing to the one thing you uniquely do well—and responding to your followers’ feedback. The relationship between content creators and fans is a constant exchange of energy. Your enthusiasm invites your fans’ involvement; their involvement drives you to create more and better content; this in turn draws more followers to your tribe.
A community is built over time by committing yourself to not just performing to an audience, but interacting with the fans you have.