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Instagram Answers Our Burning Questions!

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If you're new to this blog, I hope you'll find the "Social Media University" section of my site to be a valuable resource!  I hope to offer more and more helpful insight to other entrepreneurs through my blog, and who better to learn from than someone at Instagram!  Today we're learning from Morgan Cornelius, who I had the pleasure of connecting with through the School of Hustle at the Hedley & Bennet apron factory last fall!
Morgan (@morganrcornelius) works with the Small Business Community on Instagram. Specifically, she meets, works with, and educates small and medium businesses every single day. She loves working with entrepreneurs, and hearing how their businesses came to be. Prior to Instagram, Morgan worked at Yelp and acted as their small business outreach manager for North America. While there, she fell in love with the passion and drive small business owners put into growing their businesses.  
Morgan was gracious enough to answer some of my burning questions about Instagram.  All in all, I came away with the impression that Instagram isn't "out to get us" like we all think based on the many rumors we hear.  I didn't get a strong sense that she was trying to convince me I needed to pay to play either.  And you know that great "shadow ban" debacle?  It was just an Instagram glitch.
Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

Morgan Cornelius & Ellen Marie Bennett emceeing the 2017 "School of Hustle"

-Hashtags-


Liz: Do they help or hurt your potential visibility? i.e. should we use all 30 hashtags, should we mix it up or use the same ones all the time?

Morgan: Hashtags are a great way to reach more people by adding them to the caption of your post. You can also add a location tag to your posts which will appear in location pages on Instagram. Hashtag and location pages feature public posts and stories that have been shared with the corresponding hashtag or location.

My takeaway:  Keep on keeping on with the hashtags, and it sounds like they should go in the caption vs. the comments.  Just don't use hashtags that aren't relevant to the content you're posting.


-Engagement groups ("pods")-

Liz: Do these engagement groups help us or hurt us? One theory is that by having a group of our friends agree to regularly engage with each other, we can stay connected while also boosting our visibility out in the feed/algorithm longer by having higher engagement rates. (These "pods" are set up as a group direct message where everyone sends their latest post).

Morgan: Authenticity and transparency are key to building sustainable engagement on Instagram. Trying to somehow game the system may provide a short-term benefit, but I don't think it's a recipe for success long term. In addition, Instagram's feed ranking is powered by machine learning, which is constantly adapting to new patterns in data. So it can recognize inauthentic activity and make adjustments.

My takeaway:  If Instagram is able detect patterns (i.e. the same people always commenting over and over again), we are better off not putting time and energy into pods.  I like Melissa Camilleri's "ENTICE" method to foster more engagement with your followers (learn about it more here, on the Think Creative Collective Podcast).


-Professional Photos vs. Phone Photos-


Liz: I personally notice that when I post a really great photo like this, they automatically get such a bigger overall reach & better engagement. There are rumors that hi-res/professional photos are somehow detected by the algorithm and may be shown more than phone photos. Any truth to that? 

Morgan: There isn't any truth to this. In fact, we share a number of creative tips for business owners around how to create great content without being a professional photographer here. We want businesses to feel empowered to create great content regardless of their marketing budget or their access to a professional camera.

My takeaway:  Morgan also said iPhone photos aren't given priority over pro photos- so I think both sides of this rumor is just that.  However, I do think the better quality images you post (in composition, clarity, and overall interesting subject matter) will just naturally get more engagement than dark, blurry photos.


-Algorithm Changes-


Liz: Are there new algorithm changes coming soon and if so, how will this affect small businesses and bloggers? I feel like more of my posts get seen and have a consistent reach on my smaller account (@cannonboroughcollective). It feels like the more you grow the harder it is to reach your followers. Are smaller accounts getting more of a "boost" in the algorithm? Are personal accounts vs. business accounts getting shown more?

Morgan: Instagram uses an algorithmic feed ranking system to determine the order in which people see photos and videos. The algorithm relies on a variety of signals to surface content a person is interested in. Since we've rolled out personalized feed, one key learning is people respond to great content regardless of whether it's from friends or a brand they are passionate about. We don’t penalize businesses for being businesses. We want people to see the content they care about, regardless if the content is from their friends or brands they are passionate about. We’ll continue to improve feed to show people more of the posts they find interesting.

Morgan's Tip for Businesses: Experiment with video or posts that feature multiple photos or videos as they are great formats to tell your business' story by sharing more information in an engaging experience.

My takeaway:  I have personally noticed more and more small accounts (under 1000 followers) coming up in my feed more frequently than the big accounts I follow.  I did switch back to a personal account for a week to see if it made any difference in engagement, but I don't think it did so I'm back to a business account.  As a user, I try to like and comment on the accounts I would like to see more of, and in turn Instagram does seem to show me that content the next time I log on.


-New Features-


Does using the bells and whistles of the platform (like cute Instastories filters or Instagram Live, etc.) help your overall reach in the algorithm? I heard that doing stories & doing more Instagram lives helps more of your followers see you (on a regular basis, not just at the time of the story/live).

Morgan: My best advice would be that it’s always a good idea to adapt your content to best connect with our changing community (think videos, IG stories, multi-post, boomerangs, hyperlapse etc).

When it comes to engagement, there are a lot of dynamics that can impact it and all sorts of other things that are totally outside of your control. Even aesthetic fatigue can also be an issue for some people. On our side, people are also following more than ever before, and as a result their likes might be spread out across a wider range of content. We also launched Instagram Stories in the last year which is now drawing the eyes to two different places on the home tab. Engagement is made up of SO many different factors — there's no silver bullet. 

My conclusion:  I personally notice that doing occasional Instagram live videos and consistently creating Instagram stories keeps my audience interacting with me.  It never hurts to pop in to have more face time with your social media community!

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I so appreciate Morgan giving us some information straight from the Instagram horse's mouth. Comment below if you have any other questions, and hopefully we can continue our conversation with Instagram!

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My Secrets to a Better Pitch for Bloggers

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Sometimes I forget that the things I finally have figured out are the things that a lot of other people are out there still wondering about!  I am always turning to Pinterest & other blogs to help me with all my questions about entrepreneurship, blogging, Instagram, etc., so I'm going to try to start sharing more (hopefully helpful) info with you!  I just ask that you'll share in your Instastories or on Pinterest if you find this to be useful.  It also helps me when you click on the affiliate links I've included (I earn a small commission from them). Thanks, friends!

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Ok, so do you just KNOW you have an awesome blog and a great reach and feel like you would make an ideal partner for some of the brands you love?  I bet you're right!  You have a solid Instagram following, consistent monthly blog traffic, and/or you are able to provide some fabulous professional photo content to the brands you work with!  

Well guess what?  If you don't entice someone with a great pitch email, then they might never even make it to your Instagram account to see how wonderful you are!  I was looking back at some of my old pitches recently, and realized I had been doing it ALL WRONG.  Here are a few of the mistakes I had been making with those emails:

-Too vague (i.e. "I would love to collaborate". Get more specific about what you're asking for and offering.)

-Not enough of the info they are looking for (I don't know if everyone takes the time to read your media kit, so putting a brief snippet of your analytics & pricing is a good idea)

-Too lengthy (make sure you offer a specific plan and request, but get to the point in a short and sweet email)

-Too open-ended (you have to give someone a reason to take immediate action from your email.  I offer a deadline to create a sense of urgency for them to reply to me sooner.)

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Here is a basic template to try the next time you're crafting an email to a brand you'd like to work with.  Remember to make it your own; if you copy this word for word, it won't sound enough like you!  Change it up a little to suit your own brand and style.

Dear (Awesome Brand),
I have a bright and colorful blog & Instagram called Charleston Weekender, and I would love to include your (shoes, clothes, location) in an upcoming project I have lined up.  I'll be working with (name of photographer with link to another project you have done with them) for a blog feature about (a certain event or concept, i.e. a local event like "Charleston Fashion Week" or maybe "5 Handbags I'm Loving Lately").
I have a current reach of (# of followers and typical unique views per post), and I have rates starting at ($___. Let them know if you're requesting product instead of payment, most brands prefer that).   My media kit is attached if you would like to see all of my offerings and examples of some of my successful partnerships.
I'll need to have participants lined up for this project by (deadline date), so please let me know if you're interested as soon as possible.  I'm happy to provide further examples or answer any additional questions you might have.  (Insert genuine compliment here. For example, "I am just loving your new duffel bags this season, and I am very excited to share them with my followers!")
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Guess what?  This gets brands to respond every time...NOT!  I still get flat out ignored all the time and get my fair share of nos.  However, I'm getting far more responses than ever before and a good amount of yeses!  By the way, the backstory of these photos with the orange bag is that I recently pitched Land's End via multiple emails to their PR team to work with them to share their new collection.  I've yet to hear back, so I bought this orange Land's End duffel bag anyway!  Can't win 'em all.


Soon I'll be sharing some better strategies for pitching your brand/products to magazines.  Make sure you check out the "Social Media University" section of my site so you don't miss out as I add a lot of free resources this year!

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-Shop This Post-

Duffel Bag // Cactus Print Embroidered Shirt // Rifle Paper Co. Shoes (sold out, but here is a similar platform from Keds) // CHS hat

photography by LISH Creative

 

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5 Things to Do With Your Charleston Valentine or Galentine

HOORAY!  Even on the years I was single, Valentine's Day has always been one of my favorite days of the year! I love the colors, decorations, sweets, and any excuse to treat yourself!  I've rounded up a few fun Charleston things you can do to celebrate between now and February 14th, whether you're with your sweetheart or best gal pal.

1.  His & Hers Vieuxtemps Sip & Shop | Feb. 11, noon-5

Take your girlfriends if your man isn't into shopping, but Vieuxtemps will definitely have something for him, too!  There are so many modern gifts for both guys & gals here- the owner even paints some really awesome fly fishing art. 

Personally I don't love shopping with my husband, so we are just going for the wine & chocolate tasting (they're sampling some Louis Sherry, so you don't want to miss THAT!).  It happens to be Second Sunday on King Street, so hopefully it will be a nice weekend to enjoy a stroll.  If not, they'll take the party indoors!

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2.  Magnolia Plantation Chocolate Walk | Feb 10-11

This sounds like the perfect time to check out Magnolia Plantation if you haven't already.  There will be live music and chocolates from around the world, free with garden admission ticket.  Find more information here.

3.  Cookie Fun @ Cannonborough Collective | Valentine's Day Party: Feb 10 11-1 & Cookie Decorating Class: Feb. 13, 6-8

Shop, sip, and decorate cookies with Bullfish Cookie Company while they last Saturday beginning at 11am (FREE party!).  If you'd like to have a fun and intimate girl's night out, sign up to learn royal icing cookie decorating with Bullfish.  Get more more details and sign up for the cookie decorating here.

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4.  Love to Love You Yoga & Beer | Feb 14, 6:30-8:30

Enjoy an evening of yoga with your loved one and awesome instructor Beth Cosi at the new Edmund's Oast Brewing Co.  After the class you get to stick around for beer!  Cost: $15.  Get tickets here.

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5.  Puppy Love Happy Hour | February 14, 4-7

Puppies, patios, & pints, oh my!  Head to Bay Street Biergarten for a Valentine's Day happy hour that your pup can join in on.  Live music from The Midnight City Band starts at 6.  I'm pretty sure this is what Maddie Martin wants us to go for V-day!  More details here.

 

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Weekender Wardrobe: Top Travel Bag Trends

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I am pretty sure I will get permanently locked out of my house if I come home with another bag!  I'm really all set for the time being, but different bags are awesome for both fashion and function- packing my dog's necessities for grandma's house, schlepping things to photo shoots, or just making a fun fashion statement while I travel.  Whether your travels take you to the store, the gym, or all the way across the country, here are some trends I think you'll love!

Go Retro

How awesome was it when people used to travel with a hat box, a make-up case, and all matching luggage?  I'm loving the resurgence of these vintage styles!


Use Your Words 

I am a shameless self promoter, so I put my branding on pretty much anything possible.  When I'm on business trips this is a great way to strike up a chit chat with a stranger.  Even if you're not using your own branding, just having a fun phrase can be the perfect conversation starter! 

Charleston Weekender Southern Charm Pouch  & Canvas Weekender Bag // Ban.do Pouches & Bags: First Class: Pouch & Duffel, Available For Weekends Pouch & Duffel Bag


Pop Your Color

Fun colors & prints will make you feel a little more vibrant, whether you're schlepping your stuff to the gym or toting groceries.

Land's End Duffel Bag (available in multiple colors) // Crab & Cleek Palm Frond Tote // Oh Joy Confetti Luggage 


I hope you enjoyed my picks!  Check out this post on what to pack the next time you're heading to a conference, and have a look at my travel guides here.

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5 Lies My Instagram Told You!

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I know you guys don't really think that life is all sunshine & roses over here at Charleston Weekender, but I still like to check in and occasionally put things in perspective (just in case you had some unnecessary FOMO).  I only show you my highlights on my Instagram, because I bet pictures of me ugly crying aren't really what inspires you!  Luckily it's been a minute since I last fell apart, but I DO hope to be better about sharing more of the struggle side of my journey with you this year.  Today I wanted to dispel a few misconceptions I have heard, based on what people have told me from what they see on my social media.

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1. I'm always happy!

While I did learn from my mom how to focus on the positive, I definitely have periods of just "blah".  I've had anxiety since grad school in 2006; after a lot of therapy, yoga, dietary changes, & self-awareness, I mostly have it managed.  In 2017 I got WAY out of the habit of regular exercise, and let dairy/wheat sneak back into my diet a lot.  I had so many days of waking up with a feeling of dread over nothing at all, and other days where I was just laying on the couch all day with no motivation to do much of anything.  My anxiety can zap so much of my energy that I get totally depleted and start feeling depressed.  This has all dramatically changed since implementing some new habits like a morning routine (read more about that here)!

2. I'm killing it- I mean just raking in the dough & ballin' out of control over here.

My biggest stressor in this entrepreneurship journey is definitely money.  As a speech therapist, I was making a very nice comfortable annual salary with awesome benefits & 16 vacation days.  Charleston Weekender & Cannonborough Collective don't send me a regular paycheck, and I'm constantly comparing my bank account now to what it used to be.  With entrepreneurship, sometimes there's a surplus and other times you have to give it a lot of extra hustle.  In spring or summer I might get wholesale accounts with stores that have multiple locations, but then I might not get a reorder again for several months.

I DO try to focus on the fact that sometimes the experiences I get to have are even better than money!  Well, at least a lot of the perks of my current situation (i.e. occasional free hotels) give me what I would really be spending my extra money on anyway.  So it's all relative I guess, and my earnings are consistently growing so there's that.

Side note: I DID wait and very gradually transition out of my speech therapy career; as TCW was bringing home more bacon I went from 4 days to 3 days and so on.  I also don't have any bank loans or debt so I feel like that's a huge win, but I often have such a hard time being patient enough to wait for the slow build.  I'm definitely much happier working for myself overall!

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3. Brands are knocking down my door to pay me the big bucks!

I think it has only happened a handful of times in the last year that I've had a company reach out to me to "collaborate" and then be willing to pay the rates I'm charging.  Usually my partnerships happen because I pitched myself to them.  When companies/restaurants DO reach out to work together, it's often to offer me a product I would never use or a glass of champagne in exchange for coming to promote their location.  I very rarely get offered something that's worth the value of what I'm currently charging for a post.  

So how do I get to work with the likes of Draper James & Talbots or be on influencer teams for big events like Modernism Week?  The majority of the time, I just ask!  I reach out to companies/locations/PR firms and make a compelling argument for why we should work together.  I send so many emails I don't ever hear back from, and also get plenty of flat out "no"s.  I'm so grateful for any and every opportunity that comes my way, but sometimes it's frustrating when people don't see the value in what I'm offering.  Other times, I get hired by really awesome companies or receive products from fabulous brands that I absolutely love. 

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4. I live a lavish life of jet setting. So fancy!

Ok YES, I do travel as much as possible (probably 1-2 times a month).  My mom gave me the travel bug when we used to tour the country on a Christian Tours bus full of mostly elderly folks.  We went every summer and I think we saw about 26 states and Canada along the way!  

Sometimes I can barter my Instagram reach for free accommodations, so I definitely try to make that happen as much as possible. Other times, my husband travels to different conferences for his job so I get to tag along.  We've gone to Vegas, Palm Springs, LA, & San Fran without having to spend money on lodging, so I fully embrace that when I can!

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5. I have no insecurities. 

For the most part, I'm way more confident than I was in my 20s and don't really worry about what other people think.  Sure, I would love to have straighter teeth, a flat stomach, and thicker hair (which is why I occasionally wear extensions & lots of hats).  The great thing about working with awesome photographers is that they know how to catch your best angles (or occasionally remind you to stand up straight/suck in)!  I also make sure to remind them not to zoom in on me too much! This is about as close as I care to get with anyone besides my husband. 

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I don't think there is a single person you see "killing it" that doesn't have their fair share of struggles. I hope my Instagram always gives you inspiration to make your days feel a little more like the weekend, but please remember I have plenty of days I just have to fake it 'til I make it!

photos c/o Jennifer Collins Photography (laundromat) & LISH Creative

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