With more than one billion active monthly users worldwide and more than 120 million in the United States alone, Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for guides and outfitters. On this platform, you can reach a vast number of potential clients—all for the cost of just your time. But therein lies the rub for many of us, right? Time. Who has any to spare? You are busy fielding calls, updating your fishing or hunting report, rigging gear, loading ammo, cleaning boats, tying leaders, writing follow-up emails with potential clients and oh, yeah, guiding all day. The thought of having to master a social-media platform seems daunting. There’s no denying, posting on Instagram can be a time-suck, but it’s also well worth the effort—especially if you follow basic rules of engagement.
Before we get into how to best manage your Instagramming sessions, let’s first take a quick look at content strategies. Everyone’s business is different, but generally we all want to attract new customers to our operations. In my experience, the best way to do that is to provide value for people. Sure, “hero” shots of customers with big fish or animals don’t hurt, but you have to remember that there’s an awful lot of that on IG and, to make yourself standout, you need to make the viewer feel like you have something worthy of a click, comment or share.
The main way I do that is by throwing tips onto my feed. I operate a fishing charter so I don’t give away my juicy secrets, but I’ll offer up some little tidbits that will help people catch a fish on their own. You have to remember that a lot of people who hire guides and outfitters likely spend a lot of time on the water as do-it-yourselfers. If you can give them a little nugget they can use on a future trip, you can rest assured that they will come back for more.
That’s what I mean by providing value. Over time, you’ll become a trusted expert in your field to your followers if you keep providing them with quality content. And when it comes time to book their next guided outing, guess who they are going to call?
Again, you don’t have to give away the farm here. Just simple tips, like which load you like best for long-range shots on windy days or how to spool a spinning reel properly without twisting the line. People eat that stuff up! There are so many things we do as professionals that are completely second nature, but recreational folks would find extremely helpful.
Mixed in with the tips, posts, and success shots, I also like to include some behind-the-scenes stuff. For example, I’ll occasionally give folks a sneak peak into my non-fishing life. Maybe it’s a post about the adult baseball team I play for or my family outing to cut down a Christmas tree. The more that people can connect with you and like you, the more likely they are to book a trip with you and not somebody else.
There are three main subjects you should avoid posting at all costs: politics, religion and off-color jokes. It’s bad business to alienate or offend customers, and you can lose lots of potential new (or regular) clients with one offensive post.
Keep your Instagram feed clear of all of that stuff and people will appreciate it. There are plenty of other places on social media where they can find it!
Set a Schedule
Okay, so now you have some ideas for content, now let’s dive into this whole posting business. As I mentioned before, IG can be a huge black hole of wasted time if you let it. That’s exactly what the creators of the platform designed it to be. They hope you come on in for a quick visit and then get sucked in by all the pics and videos of big fish, bikini girls, people doing dumb stuff on dirt bikes, cats doing cute things, and all the rest.
This is where discipline is crucial. To be an efficient Instagram user, I find it useful to set a time of day that I always post and a time limit in which to do it. Think of it as a task that needs doing and not a recreational activity. Be all business—there’s no time to browse or wander. Get in and get out!
It’s easy to get bogged down by all the photo adjustments and filters that Instagram offers, so be careful there. There’s no one tip that’s applicable to all photos, but if I feel one of my shots needs a little extra oomph, I’ll generally bump up the saturation a bit. Just don’t overdo it!
While the red cheeks of a rainbow trout may look awesome with extra saturation, too much can make people’s skin in the photo look unnaturally red or pink. Sometimes, I will add a little of the Vignette option to make the edges of the shot more dramatic and the Structure adjustment can add some depth as well. Other than that, I don’t spend much time with editing photos.
On the Filters tab, you’ll find twenty-something different settings and trying your photo out in all of them is kinda fun—but it’s very time consuming. Most of the time, I just post my photos without using any filters, but there are times that they will definitely make your photo “pop” more.
According to canva.com, the most popular filters on IG are Clarendon, Gingham, Juno, Lark, Mayfair, Sierra, Valencia and Walden, so if you want to speed up the posting process you can try some of those.
After your photo, you’ll have to add some text. This is probably the hardest and most time-consuming part for people. Without getting too technical here, Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes the order of the posts that users can see in their feeds and that allegedly has to do with many factors, including having compelling captions. What exactly the computer is looking for is anyone’s guess but it stands to reason that if your content isn’t interesting, people aren’t going to read or find value in it.
So what do you write about? Tell people a good, quick tale about how the monster fish almost got away in a logjam or how that big buck popped up out of nowhere behind you. Accounts of funny incidents are great, too. Harrowing stories of barely making it through the giant rapid or getting charged by a wounded boar help build the mystique of you and your brand—but use them sparingly. Too many near-death experiences may convey to followers that it’s risky going on a trip with you.
Whatever you write, it is extremely important to be honest at all times. Of course you should post stories of the really good days, when the birds were flying and the fish were biting. But you also have to let people know when you struggled, too. The social media consumer is very savvy these days and can sniff out a BS’er pretty quickly. In this game, reputations are hard to come by and if people start thinking you are trying to pull a fast one on them, they will quickly move on to one of your competitors.
As far as captions go, there’s certainly a fine line between too little and too much verbiage here, but from what I have learned through research is that there is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
A one-word or short-sentence caption doesn’t hold people very long, and one that’s a mile long is more than most readers are willing to commit to. Get to the point quickly and be sure of your punctuation and grammar. It seems like a small thing but misspellings, a lack of capitalization and improper word use are like subliminal signs to some potential customers that you are sloppy and not detail oriented.
In the world of social media, hashtags are more than just a trendy Millennial term. In fact, they are one of the keys for expanding your business’ reach. Simply put, a hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by the # symbol. Hashtags allow people to find new content and accounts to follow. They work like this: Say I post a pic of one of my clients with a nice king salmon. At the bottom of the caption, I might add hashtags like #kingsalmon, #kingsalmonfishing, #chinooksalmon, #Sacramentoriver, #sacramentoriversalmonfishing, #salmontrolling, #guidedsalmonfishing and my own personal one: #fishwithjd.
When folks are looking for content on IG, they will use the hashtag search area to look up things which interest them. If they happen to be on the hunt for one or more of the hashtags in my post, Instagram may show them my post. Again, the algorithm ultimately determines what shows up in a person’s feed and hashtags are only a part of that equation. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject and the experts don’t always agree on the optimal number of tags to put in a post. Some say to use the maximum allowable number of 30 but you’ll probably find it is often hard to come up with that many that are truly related to your post. Other social-media pontificators say that just a small handful that are specifically targeted to the subject of your post is the way to go.
What I do know is it’s important that your hashtags be relevant to your subject matter. If you try to attract a wider audience by including some of the top IG hashtags like #love, #fashion, #happy or #cute to a post that features none of the above, Instagram may actually reduce the reach of your photo.
Adding hashtags to a post gets tedious in a hurry. One way to save time is to come up with a list of ones that pertain to things you often put on Instagram. For example, I have a few basic sets like “Salmon Fishing,” “Steelhead Fishing,” “Striper Fishing” and so on. Under each one of those I have a pre-made list of pertinent hashtag terms. I have those handy on my phone and computer so all I have to do is simply cut and paste them into a post.
Generally speaking, I try to avoid loitering around on Instagram after I get done posting. If I don’t make a point of getting out quickly, I’ll often blow an hour just looking at random stuff. That being said, however, to grow your brand you will have to invest some time on the platform.
By just posting and doing nothing else, your account will probably grow, but very slowly—unless you are Taylor Swift or one of the Kardashians. One thing the experts often preach to increase growth is interaction with your followers. When someone likes or comments on a post, be sure to respond back. That type of engagement helps you build a rapport with your “fans.” It is time consuming work but essential to increasing your influence on Instagram.
Another way to build your audience is to follow IG accounts and hashtags that are similar to yours. Engaging in conversation will help increase the awareness of your brand. It all takes time and energy so, again, set up a specific time and duration to accomplish this task.
JD Richey lives in California and runs JD Richey Sportfishing. Find him on Guidefitter at guidefitter.com/JD-Richey.
From the Summer 2020 issue of Guidefitter Journal.