Social Media

Can Businesses Make Money on Instagram?

You know how people will ask you a really good question that you have to stop and think about? That happened to me last week, when one of our clients asked “How do businesses make money on Instagram?” In that moment, I realized I didn’t have a good answer-maybe because I’ve been using Instagram for over a year now and reached the point where I assumed that everyone understands why a business would want to be on Instagram (just like any other social media site).

The short answer that I have: you don’t make any money- at least, not directly.* The purpose of having Instagram for any business is to engage customers or potential customers, to get attention, to remind people that your business exists (or ensure that they don’t forget in the first place).

*Okay, some¬†people I know have sold things straight from posting pictures on Instagram (usually artists). There are always exceptions ūüôā

Use hashtags. We’ve talked about hashtags quite a bit in the past, mainly pertaining to Twitter, but the same ideas can be applied to Instagram. Using the right kinds of hashtags when you post a picture can increase your visibility with an audience that would actually be beneficial (instead of the “I will get you 1,000 followers” spammy accounts). Stumped on where to start with hashtags? Don’t worry- you’re definitely not alone. Start with the obvious: the picture itself. From there you can branch out- I’d recommend checking out industry related hashtags, or what similar businesses are using in their posts. Don’t be a straight-up copy-cat, but definitely use the inspiration to get your clever hashtag gears turning.

Links to website. In your little Instagram bio, you can add a link to your website (which, as a business, is usually recommended). The ultimate goal with Instagram marketing is to direct people to your website, so you might as well make it easy to get to. Some places will even link directly to their desired call to action page (i.e. subscribe to our newsletter, online store, blog, etc), so you’re not limited to your homepage. This link can be changed in the future, and many companies will change it during a sale or online contest to make it easy for followers to find.

Inspire people. Some businesses have a product or service that, on it’s own, doesn’t make for compelling imagery. For instance, Bob’s Red Mill¬†¬†(a business that makes¬†whole grain and gluten free flours, grains and baking mixes) could, to a point, take pictures of their different flours and leave it at that. However, they frequently post pictures of meals and recipes that use their products. Seeing some gooey chocolate muffins sets off that little reward ticker in my brain, and I’m much more likely to go out and buy some coconut flour (plus I have a “begin with the end in mind” approach to all things food).bobsredmill

You can also do quick video clips of your product or service in action. I’ve seen a few fitness brands share workout clips, snippets from a class in action, or promoting gear or other brands that they enjoy.

Be funny. A little sense of humor goes a long way. For instance, awhile ago I saw a company that used #MCM along with a goofy picture of an employee (I’m assuming it was with his permission). A lot of people I follow use industry or business-related memes. No, these aren’t going to make you direct money and aren’t self-promoting, but they help “show your human side” according to Social Media Examiner. I definitely enjoy seeing businesses that enjoy being a bit silly on social media-it makes them seem more approachable, and

Interact. Last but not least, interact with other users on the ‘Gram. This includes following people back, responding to comments if you choose, and encouraging users to tag you in posts related to your business. For example, Bob’s Red Mill invites users to use the hashtag #bobsredmill when sharing their product. It’s kind of genius when you think about it- getting people to share your product via hashtag is basically getting promoted for free. No, you don’t directly make any money, but you’re showing that you’re friendly by engaging with customers, and your business is gaining some attention.

Does it “make sense” for every business to have an Instagram account? Not necessarily. It may be a fun opportunity to try it out, even if¬†you have to get a bit creative thinking of¬†things to post!


Earlier this spring, Instagram decided that it’s users really needed the ability to hashtag their emojis, meaning you can now search for any emoji and see what others have posted (if they use the hashtag, of course). This wasn’t a life-changing moment for me- if anything, I thought it was unnecessary but mildly entertaining…and¬†promptly forgot about it. In my life and work, I have a lackadaisical approach to the emoji and no strong feelings toward them. It turns out, other people don’t necessarily share my lukewarm attitude. Some are¬†convinced that emojis are a plague brought down on language by younger generations, while others believe they enhance our communication, pushing us toward language 2.0. After observing such heated opposition (with my feet still planted firmly in the middle ground), I dug a little deeper into the world of emojis.

The very first thing I learned: there’s actually an emoji dictionary. This is a crowdsourced effort from the World Translation Foundation (yes, WTF). Similar to Wikipedia, the Emoji Dictionary allows others to jump in and contribute where they will.¬†I got sucked into the myriad of definitions and example uses of the current emojis (below is one example, used purely because the Example Use was hysterical to me).

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.00.58 PM

After perusing the dictionary for a tad too long, I had the harrowing realization that I’ve been using emojis based on my own interpretation. What if I’d accidentally been misusing an emoji in a really embarrassing way? Sure, in the grand scheme of the world, emoji misunderstanding isn’t the worst case scenario. In fact, it’s actually pretty common according to this article.¬†Like many others, I assumed the two hands together emoji was more of a prayer, but it’s intended use is to be a high five. As mentioned in the article, the world of emoji hashtags is really one of the only places where you might find a¬†Lamborghini side by side with a prayer for Nepal.


I think it’s fascinating that something as simple as an emoji can be interpreted differently among different people across the world. We all have unique perspectives and experiences, so why would our emoji uses translate similarly?

Speaking of emojis getting lost in translation, another delightful discovery I made was the Emojili app, where you can chat with people using only emojis.¬†Last August, two friends the app¬†as a joke, but it’s shutting down at the end of the month due to lack of funding.¬†I read this hilarious article¬†about one girl’s misadventures with Emojili (so that I could avoid downloading it myself for a couple days pre-shutdown). As if one emoji wasn’t potentially misleading enough, try stringing them together to form a coherent sentence. Last April, a couple decided to spend a month using only emojis to communicate. To be honest, I probably would’ve lasted a week and then broken up with him out of sheer frustration, but I’m happy to report that the couple made it through, and learned a thing or two about what works/doesn’t work in their non-emoji communication style.

So, conversations using too many or only emojis can have semi-disastrous results, but conversations that have one or two may actually help clarify tone according to this article from The Atlantic: “The biggest problem about all electronic communication is that it’s toneless. In the absence of tone, people read negative tone into it.” ¬†In other words, we are a cynical lot and if tone is unclear, we assume the worst. Things get hairy in the professional realm- it’s been¬†observed that the acceptance (or, perhaps more appropriately, “tolerance”) of emojis in the workplace is because of the millennials now entering the workforce (is it just me or does everyone love blaming the millennials lately?).¬†. To me, the “Are emojis work appropriate” question is best answered by a combination of your profession, whether your superiors will frown upon it, and common sense. Sure, emails to your co-workers can probably benefit from the occasional tone-clarifying emoji, but if you’re corresponding with a client, probably not. Again, it all depends. Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

This post has really only cracked the surface of what emojis mean, how we use/interpret them, and what their future holds. Academics are studying what emoji use can predict about our personalities, which I’m curious about looking into a bit more. For instance, behavorial studies can even guess what emoji you’re most likely to use based on nationality. Okay, well, maybe just if you’re Canadian...

Virtual Empathy in Social Media

VirtualEmpathy Panner

I love psychology and contemplating what makes people tick. So, when I saw this article¬†that examines¬†why we like, comment, or share things on social media, I had to do some reading (because this is the sort of thing that makes me¬†tick). The article made some interesting suggestions (it’s an attempt at self-expression, it feels like we reap some benefit out of it, etc), but what stuck out to me was reason #3: “To express virtual empathy.” Before reading this article, I understood the concept of “virtual empathy” but didn’t realize people had named it. The article goes on to discuss that, in terms of the types of interactions we can have with others on Facebook (and elsewhere), “liking” is alright, but commenting is better, or “more satisfying,” for both parties. And then it gets into¬†why¬†we share things in the first place (to alleviate loneliness) and why we choose not to share things (self-censorship). It was, overall, a very interesting read. But back to virtual empathy.

“Regular” empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of another. Virtual empathy¬†is the ability to do so through a virtual medium, such as social media. People have tried to quantify virtual empathy to see how it stacks up against real-life empathy (for lack of a better label), and while the numbers vary from study to study, it’s widely acknowledged that virtual empathy carries less weight (from personal experience, I’m inclined to agree).

What are some common ways people experience virtual empathy? Let’s take a look:

Thumbs Up. The simplest form of expressing virtual empathy is through a “like” (coincidentally, it also carries the least amount of empathy-weight).¬†Studies show that people like being “liked” Likeacross the boards: no matter the social network or demographic. That probably seems like a no-brainer, but who doesn’t enjoy a “truth universally acknowledged”?¬†A “like “can be a way of expressing approval, solidarity, understanding, compassion…the list goes on.

In my opinion, virtual empathy in the form of a “like” doesn’t carry a lot of weight (in the article mentioned at the beginning of this post, a “Like” is described as “a quick and easy nod”). Being overly cynical, a “like” is just a click into the void. If I write a heartfelt status update about a deceased relative, for instance, am I really going to feel a person’s compassion and understanding because they clicked a button? Probably not.

Commenting/Sharing. A comment or share ranks higher on the virtual empathy scale, because they require a deeper amount of thought and action. Since they’ve consciously taken time and effort to comment on something, a comment is given more weight.¬†In the example of a deceased loved one, a quick “Sorry for your loss” comment goes a bit further than a “like.”¬†When we measure the success of posts in terms of marketing, this holds true: posts that are commented on or shared are considered more successful than those that have been “liked” (even by the algorithms that measure analytics).

Sharing is usually done out of support- maybe an event or announcement that could use a larger audience (like a fundraiser or lost dog post). In other words, sharing is caring!

Virtual Reality & Telepresence. When you Google “virtual empathy,” the¬†results include a¬†string of articles on virtual reality.¬†¬†At first I was slightly peeved that Google misunderstood my request, but¬†it appears¬†that the two are interwoven in a tremendously interesting way. One of the results was¬†the¬†story of an elderly, disabled woman who was unable to leave her bed but wanted to be outside towards the end of her life. Her daughter used modern technology to give her the experience of being outdoors without putting her health at risk. There’s also Henry Evans,¬†who, though quadriplegic¬†and unable to leave his bed, is utilizing something called “tele-presence” so that he can still interact with the world. In fact, he has given several TED Talks on the idea of “tele-presence”:

Virtual reality has also been used to help people¬†understand conflict in far away places. Students at the University of Southern California created a virtual reality experience (I hesitate to call it a “game”) called Project Syria (read more about that here).¬†I have to admit, the intricacies of virtual reality escape me because I’ve never used Google glass or even played video games (unless you count Mario Kart/Super Smash Bros), but the idea intrigues me. If something feels real enough that it provokes a deep emotional response- like empathy- well, that seems like a pretty powerful tool.

In the same vein, tele-presence carries some weight in the world of social media, with new apps and networks that allow us to experience the world through the eyes of another. Snapchat has recently started playing up this idea in it’s Live Stories Feature. In this section of Snapchat, you can view what’s going on in the world (I just took a screenshot of what’s in there today- it changes on a daily basis). Last week, the featured story was West Bank and a look on either side of the barrier. The running of the bulls was also featured.

Snapchat Live Today (7/13/2015)

Snapchat Live Today (7/13/2015)

A few months ago, I¬†explored the idea of increased awareness through social media in this blog post about hashtags. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the newer live-streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope provide us with the unique opportunity of exposure to other areas of the world without ever having visited. We can learn about events from a source other than huge news channels. We can see what regular people are saying or experiencing, without ever having met them or spoken with them before. It’s not the same as a real life connection, but I think it has a more powerful effect than we realize.

Maybe you’re on Periscope live streaming a video of a kid riding a bike for the first time, as narrated by a parent, and suddenly you remember¬†your¬†first time riding a bike, or what sharing that experience with your kids was like. Maybe you don’t have any recollection at all, and you just reflect on how excited that kids must feel. Regardless, you’re bound to feel something, to care at least a little bit. Maybe you hit like, comment, or just move on- but you probably just experienced a little slice of virtual empathy.

PimplePopper, Stretchmarks, NoMakeup- Normalizing The Human Body

At first, I think some of us were worried the internet was going to give us all unrealistic body expectations. Photoshopping, #thinspiration, and just the amount of images there are have done some of that. Listening to a WNYC program about what the internet/social media has done with respect to eating disorders shows this unrealistic end of the spectrum pretty well.

As a backlash to this, I’ve noticed more recently is a wave of events moving towards¬†the other end of the spectrum. Not just “I like who I am” but “Here’s my flabby stomach”. This natural evolution seems to be a combination of things happening at the same time.

Medical Social Media: Figure 1 and Dr. Pimple Popper

I heard a podcast about ‘instagram for doctors’ and had to check it out. Figure 1 is an app where doctors can upload photos in an attempt to not only amuse each other but share information.


Suddenly rashes aren’t something terrible and horrible but something hundreds of people are posting and commenting about.

Since I’m not fantastic with blood (but mainly not fantastic with eyeballs), I wanted to find some way to be medically fascinated online. Enter Dr. Pimple Popper.


Slight background: Now I had TERRIBLE acne as a teenager/young adult. And I know everyone says that but I really did. Like count to 100 pimples and keep going. I was super self conscious about it and eventually went on Accutane in my mid 20s to get rid of them.

There is something very satisfying to me about these people being free of their blackheads. Is it because of my background? Is it because my work is do digital and watching someone do something start to finish physically is satisfying? Is it just generally mesmorizing? I’ll never know. (The ‘Mr. Wilson’ video series in particular is amazing¬†if you want to see this in action.)

Yes, a whole Youtube channel with millions of views of people watching skin extractions. Did you think we’d ever see this day? Medical stuff, even weird medical stuff, is getting more normal to see.

Normalizing Human Experiences: Stretchmarks and Breastfeeding

If we step away from the ‘medical’ camp, we also see regular people and celebrities beginning to¬†draw attention to less than desirable or traditionally ‘controversial’ things.

Chrissy Teigen has famously recently posted this photo of herself on Instagram:


I noticed bruises but she captioned the photo:¬†“Bruises from bumping kitchen drawer handles for a week. Stretchies say hi!There is an Instagram account called ‘Love Your Lines’ with over 100,000 followers and the ability to submit your own stretch mark photos.¬†And if you think of any traditionally negative body trait, I bet there is an Instagram movement to flaunt it.

Similarly, not just parts of bodies but body processes/activities like breastfeeding or getting your period unexpectedly have been getting more normalized, online and offline. Model Nicole Trunfio breastfed her son during a cover shoot for Elle Australia and they decided to turn it into a subscriber only cover.


It’s brave to like yourself. But it’s brave to say “I have this thing that isn’t sexy/beautiful but it’s part of me so I love it.”

#NoMakeup And Posting Less Than Perfect Stuff About Ourselves

For years, women have been posting their own #nomakeup selfies (though there was an uptick recently when¬†Amy Schumer released her boy band parody song ‘Girl You Don’t Need Makeup’.)


Rather than women calling each other out on social media (though I know that still happens), it seems more like people are moving towards posting more normal things about themselves. I mean I’m not necessarily going to show you all my leg stubble but if someone takes a picture of me at the beach, I am perfectly fine with it being posted. Because we live in a climate where it has become more and more accepted that ALL of us are online visually, not just the wealthy and beautiful with modeling contracts.

This culture has resulted in an internet of diverse bodies and experiences we can easily reference. And as a society, it’s nice to not just see what media companies put out there in the way of images and messages. Teenage Nicole would have appreciated ¬†seeing some people like her but Adult Nicole appreciates that the internet has gotten us there.

Tinder: A Case Study

Note: this post is purely for fun, and all social observations are based on a very small sample of the population. Actually, just 2 people. 

A couple months ago, I was visiting my family in the midcoast Maine area and went out to lunch with my cousin JD and one of his friends. While we were waiting for food, JD decided to play on Tinder. Having never actually been on Tinder, it’s¬†intricacies baffled me¬†(everything I knew¬†actually came from this Conan¬†bit¬†with Dave Franco). Besides that, I’d only heard about it through friends who live in cities and articles like this one. The popular swipe technology used in Tinder has been used for shopping, personal stylists, music, and even investment apps, and that’s just the beginning.

But I still didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Since Tinder is location based, it¬†didn’t make sense for me to have it-¬†in small town Maine, odds are I would already know anyone else using it. Watching JD play on Tinder was fascinating, so¬†I started grilling him about it. Fed up with my questions, he asked “Why don’t you just get it and find out?” “Because…fine.”

So this is the story of how I had Tinder for less than an hour.


Step 1: Download the app. It’s free! Boom.

Step 2: Profile setup. This ¬†was a piece of cake, 30-60 seconds, max. You just¬†log in with Facebook and it automatically pulls in your profile information (admittedly, I didn’t look into the privacy information very deeply because I knew this was all temporary).¬†So far, this whole Tinder experiment seemed awesome. It correctly assumed two things about me: a) that I had Facebook and b) I’m a bit lazy, so the less¬†set up I have to do, the better. After lazy profile setup, you’re ready to make some matches.

Step 3: Swipe Away:¬†Once you hit “Discover,” the location-based technology kicks in. It felt like I was sending out my own little “Check it, I’m on Tinder!” Bat-Symbol. Or that I was a killer whale using echolocation to avoid an iceberg.

Once Tinder located me, the fun started.¬†The first picture came up: “Greg, 21.”

Me: Wait, so how do I play?
JD: It’s not a game.
Me: You know what I mean.
JD: If you aren’t interested, swipe left. If you are, swipe right. Easy.
So, I swiped left.
JD’s Friend: What was wrong with him?
Me: Meh. Too young. And his picture had part of another girl’s face cropped out. C’mon…

And then, I just kept swiping left like it was my job. In fact, if swiping left was a career path, I would have risen from unpaid intern to CEO in ten minutes.¬†Mentally, the whole thing felt like more¬†of a game than a dating app. You never know when people swipe left (i.e. reject) you, unlike real life (depending on your level of self-awareness). It’s anonymous until you match someone, so it’s¬†low stakes (and we’ve talked about anonymity in social media before). The stakes felt so low, in fact, that at least 50% of my mental energy was spent debating whether or not I should have ordered fries.

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Me: Why am I not getting any matches?
JD: You haven’t even swiped right yet…
Me: *Stares blankly*

So, after a few more left swipes, I made my first right swipe.

Me: How many times do you swipe right? I don’t want to overdo it.
JD: Uh…I pretty much always swipe right. Even if I think I want to swipe left…I swipe right.
Me: Oh. Pause. Am I playing wrong?
JD & JD’s Friend: It’s not a game!

Still convinced this was totally a game, I was a bit more generous with right swipes (the final countdown was 5-6), and lo and behold, actually made a few matches. Once you match up with someone, you can start chatting with them, which made me feel weird and uncomfortable (yet another sign that I wasn’t grasping the basic concept of Tinder). Keep in mind, the last time I blind-chatted with someone was back in the early 2000s when chat-rooms were cool.

Step 4: Match & Message (…maybe).

JD: What’s wrong?
Me: Some guy I just matched with messaged me. What do I do?
JD: Uh…write back?
Me: But…he said “heeyyyy.” That’s terrible. Can I take back that swipe?
JD: *Stares blankly*

The highlight reel of my brief foray into Tinder chats:¬†I didn’t realize that my Facebook “About Me,” and subsequently my Tinder bio, was a quote from¬†Hot Rod¬†(see below). Excited by the lazy setup, I never thought to actually look at my profile. One fellow¬†broke the post”It’s a match” ice with “Heyy there. Nice Hot Rod quote. Solid movie!” This Tinder win was followed by a chat with a guy who, through the course of the conversation, I discovered does Crossfit with one of my uncles. So much for escaping the small town aspect. The third person who messaged me asked where I was at the moment, and if I’d be down for grabbing coffee later. In response, I deleted my account and the app, and contemplated setting my phone on fire (ok, maybe not the last part). But, by this point, I felt that¬†I’d seen enough.

Thanks for nothing, 17 y/o me.

Thanks for nothing, 17 y/o me.

This all took place before our food had arrived. JD continued happily swiping, and I resolved the fries debate by eating most of his.

Step 5: Abandon app altogether and enjoy food. And we all lived happily ever after.

In short, the swiping technology used in Tinder is pretty incredible, and I’m intrigued to see how it will be adopted by businesses/industries in the next year or so. As for Tinder itself, I still don’t understand what the fuss is about. But then again, maybe I just wasn’t playing right.

Tech Thursday: Health and Social Media

Since around 2012, there have been an increasing amount of studies/articles going by about social media’s harmful impact on our psychological/emotional health. Even technology in general gets a bad rap for causing these and physical ailments. Most of the proposed solutions involve detoxing or unplugging altogether, but what about finding a happy medium? That’s what this Tech Thursday is about! A solo host by Kassie this week.

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