People love to look at your products. The old adage may say “Never judge a book by its cover,” but consumers are naturally attracted to the various colors, shapes, sizes and appearance of the products seen in a hobby store. If you sell attractive merchandise, especially if you have an online store, consider joining the social-media sites that were built for images. Enter Pinterest and Instagram—two free, unique platforms where users can see your products and be inspired to purchase.
Pinterest is a virtual bulletin-board website where users can save and share links with images called “pins” to collections they make called “boards.” The site allows users to easily group similar content in an intensely visual way. This content could be, for example, a photo of an R/C truck with a link to where to buy it. Launched in 2010, Pinterest is the second-highest referrer of traffic to websites, just behind Facebook. Hobbies, crafts and do-it-yourself projects are incredibly popular on the site. Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann summarized the company as a “catalog of ideas” that inspires users to “go out and do that thing”—which sounds like the place for your products.
Instagram is a mobile app for photo and video sharing where users can follow brands while posting their own pictures. The app was created in 2010 and has gained a tremendous amount of popularity in the last few years. In 2015, Instagram hit 400 million monthly active users. According to The Next Web, 47 percent of Instagram users rank the platform in their top 10 channels used for product discovery.
These platforms are used for different reasons, but both are capable of getting your products in front of new eyes.
First, let’s discuss setting up an account with each platform and starting off on the right foot. Then we’ll dive into how you can make your presence—your company—stand out and flourish with the use of images.
The basics of Pinterest
Don’t gloss over setting up a profile, no matter how basic it seems. On Pinterest, key words are crucial because they are searchable, so the more detailed you are the easier it is to find you. When filling in information about your store, choose descriptive words that highlight the nature of your business. Describe the products you carry and services you provide.
On Pinterest, people create boards to store content they like. You’ll need to create boards related to your industry. If you’re a general hobby store, individual boards might be called “Paints,” “Drones,” “Scale Models” and “Radio Control.” A more specialized store may want to break it down further. For instance, if you sell a lot of scale models you could have more specific boards like “Aircraft,” “Armor,” “Figures” and “Real Space.” There is no limit to the amount of boards you can make, so create and organize in a way that makes sense to your visitors.
With your boards created, it’s time for the fun part: posting content. The content posted to boards is called a pin. Each pin consists of a picture or pictures that link back to the original site the post came from. Think of these as being visual bookmarks. Using a mixture of your own products and promotions, as well as material from other businesses and users, you’ll quickly fill up each board with relevant content. The idea is that users who visit your page can click on the board of their choice and scroll through all of the pins you place there. If they like what they see, they will follow that specific board or your whole profile.
These boards should be inspirational. The people who click on your “Radio Control Helicopters” board should feel excited to buy, build or start flying one of their own. And that’s when they will click on your product pins and be directed to purchase from your store.
While Pinterest is the perfect platform on which to showcase your merchandise, it’s also important to prevent your boards from looking like big advertisements. That’s where sharing content from other users comes in. As you begin to follow other accounts and boards, your home page will start to show the content those users have been pinning. If you see a pin you like, you can share it on one of your boards. Your followers will then see it, too. It will retain the original attribution and link, and the original poster will be notified. This helps build respect among your Pinterest community, freshens your boards with new material, and brings your page to the attention to those who posted the pins—and chances are they will like your pins the same way you like theirs.
You don’t have to stay on Pinterest to find new pins. If you’re on a website and find an image, article or video you want saved to a board, you can pin it from there. Many Web pages include a “Pin” or “Save to Pinterest” button. There are also browser add-ons to streamline the process and give access to a wider variety of pin-able items.
One note about Pinterest: Unlike other social-media sites, your pins are evergreen. They will always be searchable and are liable to appear on other users’ home pages well into the future. While this is usually a good thing, it can also be annoying to those who are shopping for a product, only to find that the link you posted is out of date. For this reason, it’s a good idea to clean up your boards once a season.
Like all social-media platforms, Pinterest success doesn’t happen overnight. You should plan to spend the first two to three months after you create your account pinning everyday. This may sound tedious, but the work should be easy once you get the hang of it. If you aren’t interested in or inspired by your pins, your viewers won’t be either, so post only what is truly pin-worthy. Pinterest is an enlightening and creative space, so getting online once a day in the beginning should be a pretty happy task. Another nice aspect is that once you’ve built up a following, you won’t have to babysit it. People are unlikely to unfollow you if you go a while without pinning, and you’re likely to gain exposure with every pin you do add.
The basics of Instagram
Instagram is the fast-paced mobile sibling of Pinterest. While it’s not a referral traffic powerhouse, it’s still an influential tool for informing users about your products and services while reaching new people.
It’s easy to set up a profile; Facebook owns Instagram, so you can sign-in with your Facebook account. Furthermore, you don’t need to worry about going as in-depth with your profile description as you do on Pinterest.
Instagram users typically spend only a few seconds with each post because their feed is constantly being updated with newer and newer content based on whom they follow. Users will scroll past these posts, liking and commenting as they wish.
A post on Instagram is usually made up of one image (or a collage) followed by a short description with the inclusion of a link. At a quick glance, Instagram may seem like a visual-based Twitter (see the August 2016 issue for an article on using Twitter). Like Twitter, Pinterest users utilize hashtags and mentions to make their posts more searchable. Posts can also be tagged to a location via the GPS in your phone. Unlike Twitter, there is no character limit, meaning you can include more tags and mentions if it’s appropriate to do so.
As on Pinterest, you’ll want to follow groups you find interesting. This might be other businesses, people, celebrities, conventions, manufactures and others that are involved with your industry. You can interact with these users by liking and commenting on their photos.
A huge advantage to Instagram is the photo-editing software built into the app. These edits are called “filters.” With a few taps, you can straighten a crooked image and adjust the lighting, contrast and saturation to properly draw the viewer’s eye. There are other fun settings as well, such as vignettes, colors and “tilt-shift” (selective blurring of the image to replicate a narrow depth of field). Experiment with these settings on your posts but don’t go overboard. Instagram posts should be artistic, not distracting. You can either take a photo and immediately post it, or choose one from your phone’s library.
Another useful feature is the ability to post short videos, so try recording some action scenes at the same time you photograph products or events.
What goes into a good Instagram post? Of course, you will need a good photograph of the item or product you wish to showcase. Once you take one and edit it to look the way you want, write up a description to let people know what it is. A de-scription should include hashtags and mentions to help users find your posts. For example, if you’re posting images from iHobby Expo, you could tag your images as #ihobbyexpo or #ihobby2016 and include relevant people and companies. If you follow this formula for every post, you’ll soon attract the attention of potential customers.
Great images are a must
While these two platforms are used differently, the common denominator between them is the use of imagery to attract viewers. It’s important that all the images you upload are well framed and of high quality. This does not mean you need to have gone to art school or have extensive training in design or photography, as the digital age has created numerous avenues for the average user to create stunning photography. All you need is good lighting and a camera. While a DSLR camera will give you the most versatility, you can still get quality images from a point-and-shoot camera —or even a smartphone—as long as you have a well-lit environment.
Regardless of what you use to take the photographs, you’ll need to have a firm idea of your brand and what the images need to convey to your customers. Since you’re in the business of fun and recreational activities, you’ll want your photos to show that excitement. Avoid using stale images of products still in their packaging. Instead, take the merchandise out or show people using it. Sell the excitement of the product via the picture. Whatever makes that product entertaining is what you should show. Below are a few ideas for both still images and videos:
• Drones flying across the sky.
• Images taken from a drone.
• A train layout being set up.
• Muddy R/C cars during a race.
• An R/C car mid-trick.
• A model tank being painting.
• A model-aircraft collection.
Above all, always put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Ask yourself what they would like to see. What would inspire and get them thinking about your store? A picture is worth a thousand words, and you want three of them to be “I need this.”
Elizabeth Nash is associate editor of Model Retailer.