When Brett and I started at Alvin & Company the summer of 2015, Alvin as a business and more importantly as a brand had no social media presence. As we evaluated what would serve the Alvin brand best, we tried to focus on what audiences had the most growth potential as far as converting them to users (and buyers!) of Alvin products. One of the easiest to reach and largest groups were young architecture and design students. Many schools still teach students how to draw by hand and require them to purchase tools in order to do that. Looking for the most direct and effective way of engaging with this demographic, we choose to create an Instagram account that would feature the tools we sell and are used in architectural and design drawings. Instagram was chosen as it was more popular with our demo and as a platform is heavily visually based which serves us better selling tools for drafters, designers and artists.
In order to grow a following to reach more people with the message of who Alvin is and the products we carry, we came up with a couple simple strategies that we had seen work well for similar companies/brands. The first was our daily posting strategy which involves finding posts of hand drawn architectural designs or art pieces by other Instagram users and "reposting" the images to our own feed twice a day (one in the morning, one late afternoon). This serves a few purposes, it saves us the time of having to create content ourselves while building up an engaging feed people will want to scroll through and come back to on a regular basis. It also built a community around architectural and artistic drawings done by hand as the other users felt "featured" by an account highlighting good drawings.
The only requirement of material to be reposted was that it was drawn by hand since the tools we sell are designed for that. But the most ideal post is a very well drawn, architectural piece that was done using an Alvin branded item, be it pencil, straightedge, cutting mat, scale, table, etc. The third post (midday), would be a more Alvin focused post, usually photography of our products with a caption describing what it is or how it is used or maybe something clever like a play on words. This is to showcase our products, generate interest in using them and establish a personality for the brand and social media profiles. One that ideally appealed to young art/architecture students. Also to post with consistency and relevance to our audience/following.
Our other main strategy and far more effective one was to find and partner with other larger and influential Instagram users with followers that might use our tools. By fostering a relationship with these influencers, we grew our account much faster than we would have on our own and attracted actual loyal followers that are interested in our content and products. Two of the best examples of this were Mab Graves, a very talented and young female artist with a very large following of other users that enjoy drawing and Arch_More, a group of architectures that post daily architectural sketches with over half a million followers.
Mab was awesome to work with and best of all, she had already been using an Alvin Draft/Matic .3mm mechanical pencil almost exclusively for any of her graphite drawings. The pencil appeared in her posts regularly and anytime people asked what tools she used our pencil would get mentioned. Mab is also really great at engaging her followers and regularly runs contests where people would submit their own artwork. We partnered with her in November of 2015 to run a drawing contest sponsored by us where she would pick winners and we would award the winners with a Draft/Matic pencil, just like Mab uses and a piece of her artwork. This contest pushed us over our first 1,000 followers.
Our other most notable partner was arch_more. They too had a monthly drawing contest, this one geared toward architectural sketches. They had been giving away pencil and pens sets to winners as prizes. We approached them and offered to sponsor them with tons of drawing tools to giveaway. This has been a reoccurring event for us and has added many of our followers and gotten our products into more hands that we would have never reached otherwise.
There are a few reasons we have worked with these influencers and many others like them and try to do a lot of giveaways and contests. First, leveraging massive audiences at almost no cost to us is a great value. It can be difficult for us to contribute direct sales from this, (although it definitely has in a few cases), but it creates a lot of brand awareness so that when someone needs a drawing tool, we want to be the first brand that comes to mind. Second, we are trying to connect a few ideas in people's mind when they see our brand. Such as that we are a good and generous company that wants to giveaway products to loyal fans because we care about them, and that we are in league with the cool and talented people they look up to and want to be like or draw like.
The best part of all of this is really anyone can do this social media stuff and it doesn't have to cost a ton of money. Brett and I have never really ran a social media platform to this degree before beyond our own very casual use. We learned a lot and there was a lot of trial and error before things really picked up. There are a lot of great resources out there with people that have a lot more experience with this stuff than us (My favorite is www.socialmediaexaminer.com ). Knowing who we were trying to reach, what they wanted to see or hear, and how to engage and interact with them were the most important parts to growing a following. The other thing that worked well for us was just trying a lot of different things. We tried different kinds of posts, different styles of drawings, different types of artists before we settled on what worked best and fit the persona we wanted our feed to have. We connected a lot of people and not everyone got back to us or was interested in what we were offering. We ran a couple contests ourselves that had very little interaction, but were valuable lessons on what works and what might not.
Now granted, we have a couple things in our favor that not everyone might have, a full time staff member that could focus and keep up regularly with the account was very helpful and great when getting started. Also our products have been around for many years and already in the hands of some rather popular people with a lot of reach. But putting in a little time each day with a decent post, and liking and commenting on others' posts on a regular basis will eventually pay off and you can drive people where you want them to go with link in your bio or by just telling them where to go in posts.
In summation of things that have worked for us:
- Figure out who is your target audience. Now figure out where they are/how to reach them (ie Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
- Consistency will pay off. Stick to a regular schedule that works well for you. Ideally, post at peak times when your audience is active and online. (TIP: You can schedule posts using apps like www.later.com)
- Patience. This in conjunction with the last point is key. You probably won't have 10,000 followers over night or maybe even 1000 in a month. But keep at it and let it grow organically as much as possible.
- Find your style/voice. Try a few things out. It's usually best to be genuine and avoid sounding too "salesy". Try to be humorous, or classy, or informational, or creative, whatever fits your brand best!
- Give more than you take. Meaning you should try to share cool or useful things more than just talking about yourself or your products. People want to engage and connect with things they love on social media. (Check out the book "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook" by Gary Vaynerchuk for more on this.)
- Search out and connect with Influencers in your field of interest. Leverage the power of others' reach by partnering with people and helping them out with things like cross-promotion, sponsorship, giveaways, cold hard cash, etc. Again stick with what feels like the best fit for you and your brand.
- Giveaways and contests can be great promotions. People love free stuff! And certain kinds of contests, in our cases the drawing contests, while create a lot of "user generated content" they you can use to build your feed!
- Play to your strengths. If you have a long heritage of products or a store front people having been using for years and years, then celebrate that and talk it up! If you're fresh and new, talk about what sets you apart! If you have cool locations or products to show off, take lots of awesome pictures. If you're more of service you can create great posts with some text to explain why your service is the best!
- Engage with other users. Like photos of related content, comment on posts, reply to comments on your posts, direct message people and ask for feed back or thank them for connecting with and supporting you! Other users will notice when you follow them and engage with their content and will be more likely to like and follow you back! (Avoid being too spammy about it though. Again stay genuine and be focused on your target audience and related field of interest.)
Hope this helps, please feel free to contact us with any questions or anything we can do to help. Thanks for you time!
The Brand Team @ Alvin & Co.