In 2021, Instagram is still the go-to place for entrepreneurs who want to build a strong personal brand and market their projects to a broader audience. To get some hands-on knowledge on the subject, we talked to Denis Lagutenko, founder of multiple successful affiliate projects with 10+ years in the industry who is also a prominent influencer with almost half a million Instagram followers.
The main promise and the key selling point of affiliate marketing is that it allows you to make money online. In fact, if you type “affiliate marketing” in Google, every search result will somehow revolve around the idea of profit.
Due to this, the cult of success among affiliates is in full swing as people closely follow their heroes on social media trying to figure out their secret. And if there’s a cult of success (or rather its visual signs), Instagram is its cathedral.
The competition on Instagram is, however, massive. Companies, brands, influencers of all ranks crowd out the newcomers, while the everchanging algorithms of this social platform don’t favor them either.
According to Lagutenko, the majority of Instagramers who start building their personal brands fail at one crucial point: you have to keep your followers engaged and become a part of their daily online surf. For that, you need to incorporate content production into your daily routine. A hired social media gun or an agency can help you with the strategy and visuals at the beginning, but they won’t be able to produce content for you. Not the kind of content that comes from the heart and allows you to build a relationship with the audience.
Denis Lagutenko: “Business is fueled by personal relationships. All business media, like Forbes for instance, wrote about it at some point. When you start a new project, the trust that your partners and clientele put in you is based, first of all, on your track record and, secondly, on how you present yourself to the world. Even if you’re partial to publicity, you can’t afford to stay out of the spotlight if you run an online business”.
Why build a personal brand on Instagram when there’s a bunch of other media out there?
People are drawn to the visual component of success, and Instagram is the perfect medium to broadcast that kind of a message. Nowhere else will you find so many beautiful, young, healthy, sporty, rich people who seem to have life figured out.
Even though the refined pictures (and people who post them) never show the amount of tears, hard work, and less visually appealing moments put in behind the scenes, people will always put a like on what they’re striving to achieve.
So, an affiliate business owner promoting their product, or consulting services, or courses, — whose promise is to help you make money online, remember? — needs to be an embodiment of their selling point.
There’s another point speaking in favor of Instagram above all other social media. It’s the complexity of production. No other network allows you to get as much social traction with DIY content. See for yourself:
- Youtube demands professional production, otherwise your videos won’t stand out;
- Tiktok favors talents and challenge-takers; shooting one worthy video can take ages there;
- Facebook is cut out for making you pay for promotion and requires creatives.
Lagutenko heavily relies on Stories shot on his phone. They are the bread and butter of his Instagram content strategy.
Denis Lagutenko: “Stories are simple to produce, convenient to consume on mobile, and highly interactive. But most importantly, this kind of format shortens the virtual distance between me and my followers.”
4 rules of making an Instagram account suitable for building a personal brand
All the content people consume online can be divided into three main categories: news, information, and entertainment.
With an unthinkable amount of content produced daily, there’s literally a war for consumer attention out there.
Denis Lagutenko: “When you start an Instagram account, or any online media whatsoever, you need to understand that you won’t be competing against other online entrepreneurs. You’ll be competing with Netflix, 9gag, Reddit, and Superbowl commercials because this is what really captovates people’s attention.
Think about the last time you watched an educational video. At the point that you got bored, what was your first intention? Keep on watching or hit Close and watch a new episode of that new Netflix show? And how do you reduce stress from reading the news? Do you read more news?
The bottom line is that people would rather be entertained than educated or informed. That’s it. Fold whatever content you produce into an entertainment wrapper.”
Rule #1. Wrap whatever content you’re producing into entertainment.
According to Instagram itself, Stories are much less refined than Posts so they are perfect for captivating real moments of your real life.
There are several facts that favor stories for personal brand buidlng:
- Less refined, polished content shortens the distance between the poster and the viewer;
- Vertical format is perfect for mobile devices and that’s how people consume Instagram content;
- 15-sec video limit is easily overcome by an unlimited number of stories that can be posted as opposed to the post videos (1 min tops).
So, use Stories as your main medium as they are perfect for making your viewer feel closer to you and appreciating your lifestyle.
Rule #2. Use Stories to create situational content. Also, they are perfect for mobile devices.
The Posts should be used as more of a hand-picked photo album as opposed to Stories which are great to document your day-to-day life. Denis Lagutenko’s account is the bright representation of that idea.
Here, you’ll find hallmark events of his professional and personal life in the form of polished, hand-picked images. It’s vital to note that even though the purposes of building a personal brand are usually professional, giving your followers a glimpse on your personal life makes you more relatable and trustworthy.
So, rule #3 says:
Rule #3. Use Posts to highlight hallmark events in your professional and personal life.
As opposed to Stories which are great for situational content.
Talking about the visual side of things, Denis’ Posts have an articulated style: black and white tones with a glimpse of fluorescent filters. We can’t say if a professional social media designer was involved, but all the pictures are definitely made by a professional.
Since the posts are not erased in 24 hours, as stories, and stay in an account for years, it’s important to pay attention to the impression that the user gets when opening your account. So we would recommend creating a unique, custom style for your Posts and be consistent with it.
Even though Stories are more situational, Denis manages to keep them in-style, too. One of his specialties is the fonts and layouts of the text.
Users who watch 50-100 stories a day will know his stories from the rest as his style is utterly recognizable.
Which takes us to the next rule.
Rule #4. Create a unique visual style for your Instagram content.
Denis Lagutenko: “Creating unique imagery for an Insta account is really important. Imagine people tapping through 50, 100 stories a day. Can they tell, at a first glance, that this particular Story is yours? If they can’t then there was no point in posting it to begin with. You need to imprint your image in the minds of your followers, both on Stories and in Posts. So, create a unique style and be consistent with it when posting”.
The visual elements that can be branded don’t require any designer input. Here are the main elements on Instagram content that deserve branding first hand:
- Create and use custom text holders
- Incorporate your brand colors into all content you produce
- Create custom gifs
- Use custom covers for Saved Stories groups
For example, here are the covers that Denis uses for his Stories groups. There, his followers can find saved stories grouped around one topic: Media, Conferences, Travel, Tips etc.
- Create a unique style for your account
- Stay consistent in style when posting
- Use only professionally taken images for your Posts
- Watch how the images mix together
How to keep an audience engaged and active?
And as we’re done with the visual component, it’s quite important to answer one more question: what kind of content should one post to engage the audience? To keep them active?
Denis Lagutenko: “Just document the moments of your life. But don’t make your followers silent witnesses. Make them part of your life, establish channels for feedback. Simply adding Yes/No voting buttons or an emoji slider makes people feel that you care for their input. That’s what matters the most in establishing a connection”.
Here are the simplest techniques to keep people interacting:
- Yes/No questions. If taking another example from Denis Lagutenko’s Insta, he uses this technique several times a day. This way, he keeps their followers engaged as answering doesn’t require any effort yet makes them feel heard.
- Open questions. When people have the chance to speak their mind, they are likely to do so, especially if you post a controversial question.
- Answer review. When answering questions asked publicly, people are curious of what other people answered to that. Making answers public (without mentioning who said what) is a super-engaging technique.
- In his Posts, Denis used to ask open questions and offer a small cash tip for the best/funniest answer. Even though incentivizing comments might seem as a dubious approach, people did seem eager to exercise in humor.
Concluding the story
Denis Lagutenko: “When doing influencer research, people imply that you need to identify your target audience and the influencers that it is connected to. This is not wrong, but there is something missing there. It’s just a bit too simple. The truth is, your target audience often doesn’t actually exist. You have to create it.”
The hows of this approach include creating a strong, recognizable visual style for your Instagram account, incorporating content production into your daily routine, being social — tagging your peers, using hashtags and capitalizing on your online relationships, and, most of all, keeping your audience entertained.