Your Products Won’t Build a Business on Instagram But Your Content Will

Eduardo Morales

The key to successfully selling your products and services on Instagram is first and foremost, being able to create great content, not great products. Why? Instagram is a company that exists to maximize profits by maximizing the attention they capture from their users. They do that through the Instagram algorithm that shows people the most engaging content on the platform first. Instagram, and therefore, the algorithm doesn’t care how “good” your products are, it cares how engaging your content is because keeping people engaged on the platform is how they make money. The mistake most small business owners make when trying to grow their business by selling on Instagram is thinking that the rules of traditional, product-based, marketing also apply to Instagram when they don’t. In traditional product-based marketing (what they teach most of us in University), a business is successful when they create a differentiated product, communicate its benefits through visually appealing branding and sell it through the right channels so their target audience can discover it and perceive enough value in it to buy it. When business owners apply that framework to their Instagram, they create accounts focused on creating content that clearly shows their products and give peoples reasons why they should buy it.

They usually look something like this:

Unfortunately, product-based marketing doesn’t translate to sales on Instagram (you can check out my Instagram Small Business class to learn about every single thing that I do to build sales on my accounts). In fact, it actively works against the success of small business owners on the platform because it fools them into thinking that having a good product and showing it in a visually appealing way is enough to get people to buy it.

Don’t get me wrong, having a good product is the only path to long-term success outside of Instagram, but on the platform, it’s simply not enough.

It’s not enough because it doesn’t take into account the principles of how Instagram works. On Instagram, the only way to make sales is to generate enough traffic of people that discover your account, and therefore, find your products to create a purchase opportunity.

Without traffic, there won’t be sales, and how do you generate traffic on Instagram? By having engaging content because only through engaging content will the Instagram algorithm surface your content to enough people to generate enough traffic to successfully increase your sales.

Now, here is where applying the rules of traditional product-based marketing on Instagram becomes a problem — people use Instagram to consume content that will entertain them and/or give them value, not to consume content about a product.

This is the reason why businesses that create content that is focused on products (which is what product-based marketing teaches) generally don’t generate sales on Instagram, because it’s not what people are interested in consuming when they are using Instagram. If it’s not what people are interested on consuming, they’ll ignore it in favor of entertaining and/or valuable content, and consequently, it’ll receive much lower engagement in comparison to other content categories on Instagram. Due to this low engagement, Instagram will surface it at a much lower degree and the accounts that create this type of content won’t receive traffic.

Not enough traffic = no sales.

Okay, so now that you know that traditional marketing won’t lead to sales on Instagram, what is the solution?

Instead of taking a product-based marketing strategy to building your business on Instagram, take a content-based strategy.

In a content-based strategy, you of course have your products available for sale on your account, but your focus isn’t on creating content that “sells” your products, its on on creating engaging content. Period.

And how do you create engaging content? Follow these three steps:

  1. Face the reality that content that focuses on showing products doesn’t generate engagement on Instagram so stop creating it.

  2. Focus your energies and resources on creating the most differentiated and high-quality content about a topic that your target audience is most interested in. In other words, creating the best content in your Instagram niche (I recommend reading this article about the phases of an Instagram niche and how to find the most valuable Instagram niche for you because they also greatly influence how likely you are to find success in a particular topic).

  3. Implement a simple system to increase your Instagram engagement by consistently trying out new types and formats of content and then, every week, checking your Instagram insights to see what content gets the most engagement, which gets the least and from there improve upon what generates engagement and post less of what doesn’t. You can read more about it in my article about how to increase your Instagram engagement but it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Like anything else you want to improve in life, it requires time, effort, and practice.

This is the approach I took to grow the small businesses I make a living from on Instagram (@pinlord@potteryforall@macramemakers). Before creating any product for them, I grew an audience by creating (in this case curating) the best content about a topic to grow an audience (#enamelpins for @pinlord, #ceramics for @potteryforall, and #macrame for @macramemakers). Once the audience and traffic was there, selling a product was a lot easier than if I had started by creating products and creating content around them.

Once you’re able to build an audience, selling a product is easier. If you start by trying to sell a product, you‘re much less likely to build an audience, and therefore, less likely to sell your product.

I know, it’s hard because it requires us to unlearn the way we have done business on other channels but it’s truly the way to succeed on Instagram.

That’s it! That’s how you transition from a product-based business that doesn’t generate enough sales on Instagram to a content-based business that understands the principles of the platform and tailors its strategy to them in order to sell well.

Good luck!