3 Ideas for Getting Started With Instagram Stories

You may have noticed something new with Instagram. Stories is Instagram’s version of Snapchat in that it allows you to create stories that will last in your followers’ feed for 24 hours. This can be a an image, a video, or a set of videos and images. You can add text onto the images as well as doodles. People that already use Snapchat have been quick to jump into Instagram Stories, for everyone else there is a bit of a learning curve on how to view other people’s stories and how to create your own.

There is a great article on TechCrunch about how to use Stories, so I won’t cover that again, but I do want to give you a few content ideas to help you begin taking advantage of this new feature.


Use the picture functionality to create a slideshow of images that would be interesting to your followers. Imagine you are unboxing the latest shipment of your product that UPS just delivered. Take a a picture of a handful and load them in as a story. Put some text on top of the image to say what it is and maybe even a fun doodle.

Before, during and after

So I totally lifted this idea from my daughter who has already figured out how to put Stories to use. She was reorganizing her collection of Disney Tsum Tsums and shared a before, during and after picture of her process. It was short and fun and told a complete story from beginning to end in a few seconds. This could be a great way to put together a recap of an event with before, during and after activities.

How To

You could offer quick user tips on how to use your product or service. As long as the hints are short, this could be a fun medium to show people alternative uses for your product or service that may be new to them. You could also give a quick view of how you make your product or service without going into detail. The process for making your product may take a few hours, but using short videos or images, you can give your followers an idea of how the process works.

People love to know what is going on behind the scenes of your business, and because Stories are considered more laid back, it gives you license to be creative and have some fun with it. Now it is your turn to take these ideas and run with them. I would love to hear what you come up with.

The Anatomy of a Niche

(This post was originally a guest post I did for Wood Street’s blog)

It’s no secret having a niche is important in business these days, but it can be hard to identify the niche that will work best for you. Let’s take a look at a few characteristics that go into making the anatomy of a good niche.


By authentic, I mean you should be both knowledgeable about your niche and you should like it. If you are going to provide a service to a specific industry, you better know a lot about that industry and it should be of great interest to you because you are going to be spend a lot of time talking and working in that industry.  This is why your passion is such driving force in choosing a niche.

Bigger companies can get away with forcing a niche a bit more than a small business because you, as the owner or head of marketing, are often the face of your business. People will know if you are forcing it and tune you out. It really needs to become an extension of yourself.

Easy to communicate.

It should not require a long and involved explanation for your niche, because often you will not have the chance to explain it. Many people’s first interaction with you and your product/service will be seeing it on a shelf or reading a social media profile. You want something that can be quickly and easily explained to your target audience both visually and in descriptions.

With a strong niche it is easier to know where to communicate your message. You are better able to zero in on your target audience allowing you to engage them with the tools they use most. The messaging itself also becomes more focused because you can keep it inline with the goal of your niche.

Has a market.

There has to be a market that your niche can serve or you won’t be in business very long. It is preferable that your market is passionate about you, your product/service and your niche. A loyal fan base is so important to a company when there are so many competing messages vying for their attention. This loyalty leads to repeat customers and referrals.

Your market doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to support your financial goals. You define what success means to you and if your market can support that definition of success then you have a good niche. In addition to meeting those goals, you have to know if you are able to scale your operations as you grow. If you are afraid you may struggle, you may have to adjust your pricing to achieve your long term goals.

While simplified, this gives you a good overview of how to evaluate your company’s niche. If you are still trying to identify the best niche for your business, take a look at my latest free resource in the Marketing Roadhouse member library – Uncover Your Niche. It will teach you the benefits of having a niche, different types of niches, and how to use the 4Ps of marketing to uncover yours.

Get to Know Canva

Get To KnowI’m sure you have been on Instagram or Facebook and seen those beautiful images with quotes on them. Maybe you received an email promotion or invite with a cool looking graphic and wondered how someone designed it? Are they a designer? Are they paying for a designer? Chances are they are using Canva.

Canva is an online design site that helps you design everything from social media graphics to presentations to menus. The best part is that Canva is free to use. The site offers templates, layouts and editing features to make great looking designs. Some layouts and photos have a small fee, but there are many designs that can be made for free. You can also use your own images to personalize your graphics. In addition to their website, they have an app for the iPad which is really easy to use.

Why use Canva? Not every business can afford to use a professional designer and Canva gives you a great DIY alternative. Even if you work with a professional designer for overall branding and “the big stuff”, Canva gives you a great tool for making blog and other social media graphics. We know graphics catch the eye of people scanning through their social feeds, so having something that looks great and complements your message is important to cutting through the noise.

Canva is really easy to use and they supply so many tutorials and a design school that allow you to get up and running quickly and making great looking graphics. If you haven’t already given Canva a try, join the almost 9 million users that have.

Put Social Back into Social Media

There was a time when Twitter was my absolute favorite social media tool. There was always a conversation to join, a question to answer, or an answer to my question. It had a real sense of community and I miss it. Now when I look at Twitter, I see automated posts from other social tools such as Facebook and Instagram. I also see a lot of programmed posts from tools like Buffer. It has become a newsfeed much more than a community. Where is the social part of social media?

Companies are one of the biggest culprits of pushing content with no interaction and I believe that if you increase your interaction with your tribe, you can break through the noise on all these social networks. I see so many brands on Instagram that have a ton of followers, but follow no one. They are just posting and not interested in interaction. I often discover new companies to follow, because they find me based on who I follow and interact with. I am more inclined to follow them back if it is a topic that interests me.

Yes, content marketing is very important, but engagement with your tribe that is tied to your content is where the conversations take place allowing you to nurture your community. Ask questions relating to your content and how you can help them. There are things you can do beyond engaging with your tribe about your content. Share content from other tribe members, provide advice or answer questions even when it has nothing to do with your area of expertise. Be useful.

Follow back your followers. You don’t have to follow them all, use the same requirements you use when you choose to follow someone on your personal accounts. If you are on Instagram, go through your feed, and like or comment on some pictures. Don’t be afraid to start conversations with those you follow. You don’t have to be business all the time, show your personality.

The content is what is going to attract new members to your tribe, the conversation is what is going to nurture and keep them engaged. Get out there and be more social.

Are We Asking the Right Questions?

One of the most asked questions I get as a social media professional is how to get more followers. I mean we all want more people to hear our messages, right? But, what if we are asking the for the wrong thing? Do we really want more followers? Or do we want more engaged followers that have a high likelihood of becoming paying customers? I know that’s what I want. I would rather have a small group that is engaged and active with me than some obscene number of followers that never even notice my message.

In 2008, Seth Godin wrote a book called Tribes where he talks about groups of people (tribes) that have a shared interest.  Based on this concept, I say we worry less about follower numbers and more on building and nurturing our tribes. By nurturing our tribes we can create brand ambassadors and customers which sounds a whole lot better than a like or comment. Let’s face it, a like doesn’t pay our bills.

So if we begin to look at our followers as a tribe, do we change how we think of them? I think we do. I think we care a little more about them and begin to provide them with products and information that makes their lives better in one way or another. We want to provide value to our tribe, not just try to pull value from it. I think this is the reason I hate the term “email blast” so much. Your email subscribers are your closest tribe members, so why would you ever blast anything at them? They have invited you into their busy inbox and you need to honor that with useful information and resources.

The same goes for social media. Numbers don’t mean anything if they are not an engaged tribe. Work on creating great content, sharing other people’s content, answering questions and helping out. You will see your follower numbers increase along with your engagement and conversions. I’m not saying this is a quick or easy process, but it is more effective in the long run. I have heard the stories of buying social media followers. Your follower list is inflated, but no one is paying attention to anything you say. You may as well have zero followers. Do the numbers look impressive? Maybe to some, but others will dig a little deeper to see what type of engagement you get. Consumers are savvy and will know when you have purchased those followers.

Does this mean you shouldn’t purchase Facebook advertising or other methods to increase followers? No, I boost Facebook posts when I feel I am providing good value to a targeted group that may not be familiar with me yet. I like to think of it as an introduction. Be sure to make the best first impression possible and bring these new people into your tribe.

Let’s stop worrying about followers and think how we can build our tribe and best serve that tribe.

How can I help you? Fill out my contact form and let me know.

How to use Hashtags to Your Advantage

If you are around my age, you know the # symbol as the pound sign on the phone or a way to abbreviate the word number. Now it is has become synonymous with the word hashtag and is part of everyday life on social media. I like to look at hashtags as a way to categorize posts making it easier for people with similar interests to find you and your information. Let’s get to know hashtags a little more.

A little history

The first hashtag (#barcamp) appeared in a tweet from Chris Messina, and then they were used during the 2009-2010 Iranian election protests to make it easier to track the activities for Twitter users. On July 2, 2009, Twitter began to hyperlink hashtags used in tweets allowing users to click on the hashtag to see all tweets that contain that tag. This made it easier to track conversations around an event or topic. The word hashtag was added into the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014.

Why use hashtags?

By using existing hashtags you can become part of conversations that are already taking place, and therefore can help you gain new and relevant followers. People search on hashtags to find the type of content that interests them. Your post will show up in that stream and if they like your post, they may look at the rest of your content and follow you. The key here is relevant followers. Do not use a hashtag just to try and get attention. You will be viewed as spam if you try to hijack a hashtag with irrelevant content.

Where to use them

Hashtags are currently supported by the following sites:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest – they are not searchable, but help for keyword searches in descriptions.
  • YouTube – in the comments
  • Vine
  • Flickr
  • Periscope

You will want to do further research on the best way to use hashtags for each tool you use as part of your social media strategy.

How to use hashtags

You can use popular tags like #tbt for Throwback Thursday, but know that the popularity of these may make your post a needle in a haystack, but I still think they are a good to participate for a few reasons. One they give you easy content ideas, two your followers will enjoy them, and three you may pick up new followers. You can also search for more industry-specific hashtags such as #solorpreneur or #salestip. Take some time to research tags for your industry and the types of content that are shared on these tags. If they make sense for your business, include them in your posts.

Don’t overdue the number of hashtags you use. For most sites, you want to keep your hashtag use between 1 and 3. Instagram is definitely an exception due to the fact that interactions can increase with post including 11+ hashtags. Please don’t feel pressure to use that many. Remember to keep it relevant and if you are adding that many to your Instagram post, consider adding it as a comment so it is not a distraction to the content in your post.

You can also create your own tags for various reasons including events and campaigns, but we will leave that conversation to another day.

There Is No Magic Formula

I was sitting here preparing to talk on a panel to a group of small business owners, and as I reviewed the questions we were given I noticed that a lot of my initial responses were “Depends”. The more I thought about it that seems to be my response to a lot of marketing-related questions I get from people. They ask me if they should use this tool or that tool. Sometimes they ask what they should be posting. Almost always my initial response is Depends. I’m not trying to stall or be difficult, just honest in the fact that there is no magic formula that works for every business out there.

Believe me, if I knew a secret formula that could be successfully applied to every business, I would have probably retired by now. Seriously though, every business is unique and so should their approach to marketing and social media. Yes, there are best practices that everyone should follow, but each business needs to evaluate some things internally before truly deciding what to tackle.

Target Audience

Your target audience has a lot to do with determining what tools you will use and the strategy on how to best use them. You need to understand your target audience’s needs, wants, and where they spend their time online and off. Finding out where they spend their time allows you to understand where you should spend your time connecting with them. Go where the fish are, don’t try to lure them to a different location. Connect where they are comfortable and most likely to be open to your message.

Your Resources

In addition to understanding your audience, you have to understand your resources with regards to time, money and talent. If you have limited time, spend it on the one tool that will provide the biggest impact based on your goals. If you have limited money, you will want to use tools that are less expensive or free. As for talent, if you aren’t comfortable in front of a video camera, don’t choose a tool that requires video. Do what makes the most of your resources and your comfort level with technology.

Your Goals

When looking at the tools you will use, you also need to consider your marketing and business goals. What do you want to get out of your marketing efforts? Brand awareness? Conversions? Provide better customer service? Different tools lend themselves to helping you achieve different goals. Your goals may be very different from your competition, so your tools and strategy will be different too.

So the next time you ask me a question and I respond with “Depends”, please don’t be offended. It is simply my way to begin that conversation that allows you to make the best and correct decision for your business.

2016 Marketing Survey

Happy New Year! For the past couple of years I have selected 3 words to guide my year, both personally and professionally. One of my words this year is growth, both your growth and mine. I want to help you grow your business. To do that, I want to know how I can best serve you this year. I created a quick 5 question survey to get a feel for the types of content and training I can provide throughout the year. It should only take a few minutes, and I really appreciate your participation.

Content Marketing Buckets

As a service based company, I struggle with creating content for my email newsletters, blogs and social media accounts. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I often don’t know what to say and often feel like I am disorganized in my approach. When in the process of relaunching Marketing Roadhouse, I decided that I would take the approach that I use with my clients – creating content buckets.

My mission here at Marketing Roadhouse is to help businesses tell their story to the world through the use of content and community. That mission alone allowed me to create 2 different buckets: community and content. As you can probably guess, this post fits into my content bucket, as did last’s weeks post. I then took it one step further and added “home base” to my list of buckets because community quickly became too large to manage. I like to look at community as a combination of outreach (social media) and your home base (website, email marketing, and blog). My fourth and last bucket is for business topics which are usually reserved for my email newsletter.

Maybe your business mission doesn’t provide you with an obvious set of content buckets. If this is the case, take a look at your list of products or service offerings. One of your goals in content marketing is to share your expertise and position yourself as a resource in the areas of the products or services that you offer. Your content buckets, should support this goal. Look at your website or promotional materials to see what product categories or services you market to your target audiences. Can you create four or five buckets that your future content will fit into? If you look at the Work With Me section of my site, you will see that my buckets closely align with my services. It all works together.

You can create buckets from other marketing touchpoints or SEO goals, but the methods I have mentioned here are the easiest to execute. Write those bucket names on a piece of paper and see what topics and ideas you can come up for each bucket. I bet you will come up with a lot more than you were expecting. This method can be very effective to keeping you organized and on point with your marketing message.

Why Perform a Content Audit

There are many reasons to perform a content audit, but my focus when I do them for clients is to evaluate content that has been created over the years and determine how it fits into the company’s content marketing plan. Trying to continually create content is difficult, especially for a small business that needs as much time as possible to service clients and produce products. Content creation is important, but often takes a back seat when we are busy running out businesses. Leveraging content that already exists can lighten this burden.

When evaluating a company’s content it usually fits into one of three actions: update for reuse, transform into something new, or create a new revenue stream. The first action is to update and reuse the content. You may have done a client presentation two years ago that is sitting on your computer just waiting to be updated and reused as a blog post, email newsletter, or social media post. It is very likely that there are multiple posts within just one presentation. It’s just a matter of identifying what works for your target audience and crafting the post or newsletter.

The second action is transforming the information into something new. I am working with a design firm and my client to change some of their presentation slides into infographics for their website and social media posts. You can give that information new life by transforming it into a new format or information. You can take a questionnaire you have used in the past and make it into quiz to place on your website. Other content can be created into a series of emails that you share to people who sign up for your newsletter. You are attracting new readers with content that is valuable to that audience.

The last action is when you Identify content that can be turned into a whole new revenue stream. Looking over all your content, there may be enough to form a basis of an e-book or book. Maybe you have done so much training over the years that you now have enough material to build an online course. This happened to me this summer. After auditing all my content, I found that I had the basis of several courses. This led me to rebuild Marketing Roadhouse and will be rolling out these courses throughout 2016.

Yes, there is still work involved in reusing and transforming this content, but it provides you a solid foundation of content. It makes the creation process much easier than starting from scratch. It also allows you to involve others on your team especially if they have graphic, video or audio skills and can transform that content for you. So take a look through your old files and see what treasures may be there. If you are interested in having me do a content audit for you, just let me know.