To Pin Or Not To Pin? - The Start Up Business Dilemma
So, we took the plunge and opened a Pinterest account! [ Insert trumpet fanfare ]
Since the early days of Bearded Seagull, back when it was an embryo in an egg with no hint of beard growth, we pondered the pros and cons of opening a profile on the Pinterest platform.
Did I just spot this post disappearing into a swag bag?
To be honest, we were initially sceptical and opted out, choosing instead to share our products, news and updates on our website, Instagram and Facebook.
Why? We were worried the Pinterest setup would offer too much temptation for people to abuse our content and steal it, rather than support us and/or buy our products.
This was incredibly frustrating, as we knew how fun Pinterest can be. After all, we had already enjoyed the ultimate procrastination, pinning all sorts of random and interesting content to boards in our own personal accounts.
We could see the appeal and how Bearded Seagull's content could fit into the platform perfectly, but we just couldn't see how it could help our business to grow.
Sure, if we made our content eye-catching and interesting it might get noticed, but attention doesn't pay bills unless you can convert that interest and buzz into sales.
Ultimately, Bearded Seagull is a young, small business still finding its feet and we have to, dull though it is, keep our overheads in mind. Our funds are finite, but so is our time.
There is only so much content creation, hash-tagging, commenting, sharing and liking you can do in a day, or an afternoon or, the most likely scenario for Jo in particular, a spare hour after a long day at work when you are tired out and just want to go to bed.
With that in mind, we have had to be strategic and concentrate our efforts on the approaches most likely to bring about the most return for our investment. Investment, in this case, being a lot of our time.
Tick-tock, tick-tock....is that the time already!?
When we say a lot, we mean a heck of a lot of time! Interactions with social media on a personal basis may seem brief, odd minutes here and there, but for a business it is a whole different ball game!
To put this into context, advice all over the place unanimously says that businesses should aim to post high quality content on at least one or two social media platforms regularly and consistently. For many this means daily, to keep up with competition and to stay visible in the crowd.
Ahhh hashtags, what better way to spend an afternoon than trawling for relevant hashtags? That life extending, joyful and fascinating task...
Presuming you have a bank of worthwhile content ideas you can just draw upon when needed (which in itself is a big task to generate), you then need to set about turning that idea into a high quality visual of some kind, accompanied by some well thought out prose, keywords and relevant hashtags.
It hopefully doesn't surprise you to discover we don't just take photos on our phone, bung a generic filter on, throw in some obvious hashtags and hastily upload the content in a matter of minutes, on a whim.
The reality is very far from that. It takes hours and hours of work, carefully planned and scheduled, all in the quest for elusive engagement success in an increasingly challenging social media world.
Instead of privately sharing content with your close family and friends, you are trying to engage with as many strangers as possible.
Each and every piece of content we produce, including this blog post, takes hours of work, in one way or another.
How much work actually goes into producing a single Instagram post?
For example, for our painting close up Instagram posts, this is what it took to get our Instagram posts made and shared:
Step 1: Graham, our artist, paints a selection of new paintings.
Step 2: Imogen, our photographer, drives half way up England to photograph them.
Step 3: Imogen, using a bag full of expensive pro camera equipment, sets up a mini studio and spends a couple of hours photographing the new art.
Step 4: Graham carefully returns the paintings, one at a time, back up to his attic studio and Imogen drives back down the country.
Step 5: Imogen transfers the photographs and spends hours, sometimes days, editing and watermarking multiple versions of each painting's pictures, generating exported images ready for creating the product in our shop and for use in our social media posts.
Step 6: As each new painting is usually based around something slightly different, appropriate hashtags need to be found for each separate post. The process of finding, checking and compiling these relevant hashtags can take a few hours, depending on how many need to be done.
Step 7: In order to be able to make the best impact with the new Instagram posts we need to check the engagement data to schedule the posts into the best time slots.
Step 8: Write the prose to accompany the photo, separately compile the relevant hashtags for copying and pasting over as an instant comment and export the photo to a device, ready to build the post.
Step 9: Finally, post to Instagram!
Just to point out again...for success on Instagram, the recommendation is to post high quality photographs, with appropriate hashtags, regularly. Many start ups consequently aim to post their own original content, in a similar way, daily.
From the above example alone, I'm sure you can get a sense of how time consuming and labour intensive the process can be! If you are putting that much effort in, you want it to produce some results!
The infamous algorithm debates continue
We know our products sell when they get in front of the right kind of buyer, but tracking those buyers down on the web can feel like a game of PAC-MAN! A chase through a endless maze, in the dark, with no lights...
We are by no means the only ones encountering this, lots of independent business are struggling on this front at the moment.
A quick glance around the web soon reveals tale upon tale from despairing business owners citing the algorithm changes on Facebook and Instagram being the undoing of their marketing plans.
Engagement has truly plummeted for many, even slashed in half overnight for some! Unfortunately, we started up just as this "crisis" hit independents hard.
In such a challenging environment, with initially only friends and family by our side, we too have seen our posts lose engagement rather than gain. The battle against the algorithm changes is tiring, time-consuming and often fruitless.
What's Zuckerberg gone and done now?
The constant moving goalposts of algorithm changes on Facebook and Instagram (Facebook owns Instagram and is gradually changing Instagram to be set up more like Facebook) have made it very difficult for small businesses starting out from nothing, trying to be seen to grow and succeed.
Behind the scenes the algorithms are deciding which user-generated content to push, whilst the tech giant businesses controlling them are prioritising drawing in more and more advertising revenue.
The result? Priority now goes to those who pay the most, not those who share the most valuable and popular content.
The good old days of gaining followers and engagement by just being good at what you do, sharing quality content and being passionate, have gone.
That's why so many hints and tips guides for 'mastering social media' encourage you to keep up to date on the latest algorithm changes and adjust your posts to 'play the system'.
This can include suggestions such as 'work out when your target audience are online and post then' or 'ensure you spend half an hour liking and commenting on other people's posts before you post, to ensure the algorithm favours your content above others.' The list goes on and on.
You can spend hours, days and weeks testing these suggestions and making small gains but ultimately, what are you getting from this exercise?
Are a handful of likes from strangers, not buying your offering, really helping your business?
The reality is not much. On Instagram we had a scattering of people across the globe, mostly in countries we don't sell in, liking our posts. A few left supportive comments, but even some of these were unashamedly simultaneously asking us to reciprocate the favour as a strategic move on their part.
None of these interactions are conversions leading to sales and money in hand. Instead, it is mostly other influencers and brands trying desperately to run their own trial and error experiments on the platform, hunting for the elusive golden ticket of viral fame.
We like seeing other people's work and we like being able to share some of the cool photographs we manage to capture, revealing the intricate details usually hidden to the human eye.
For these reasons, we continue to have a presence on Instagram. Who knows? The algorithm might change again and one day favour and promote our content more.
In the meantime, we still wanted a way to share our content, link people to our growing blog and be able to inspire within our various arts and crafts fields of expertise.