Instagram For Indie Dyers Part Three: Visuals

When it comes to what to post on your Instagram feed, you want to put a little thought into it. Think about it. When you look at someone's profile, you see a whole grid of images. You want to look at your posts and ask, do they all work together? Do they provide value? 

There are several ways to approach the visual aspect of your profile. Of course, you want to showcase your yarn. However, having every post be like "Just listed X in the shop!" can get a little repetitive-- and over sales-y. Yes, you want to promote your yarn and your shop, but trying to sell in almost every post isn't going to make you stand out. 

 

@twistedfinch is a fantastic example of a visually consistent profile. He has a slightly moody atmosphere to every image, which tone down the bright colors but in a seductive way. What is so impressive is how every single image is carefully planned out and staged. Yarns aren't just posted on their own; he takes the time to make flatlays of them, adding props to make the image tell more of a story and to be visually enticing. In the first post image, the third photo, he's actually managed to make the yarn be part of the photo...without being obviously the main focus of the photo. Japanese characters, a coffee cup, foliage, embroidery scissors, old spools of silk thread, and the dark blue cloth are carefully arranged around the yarn, which is set coming in at an angle. That angle draws your eye immediately, and draws your eye down to the props. Notice the color theme-- the dark brown of the coffee and the indigo blue cloth are the perfect complement to the smoky deep purples and blues of the yarn. 

In the second post, he's got a lighter palette, but it still manages to fit in with the images as a whole. Notice the geometric staging of this post-- the angled tray set just in line with the wood planks of the table, the yarn horizontal coming in on the right, and the perfect amount of grey green foliage for visual balance. Yarn bits, snips, and baby's breath give the yarn some context. 

The Pomfest post is really the only post that doesn't seem to fit in, however...

 

The Archive Feature

The Archive Feature

Instagram now has a handy little archive feature. Rather than deleting unwanted posts, you can archive them. If you put any back, they'll appear in their original chronological location. 

This is huge. I've just gone through and archived several posts that didn't visually fit to me. Having this ability to edit your feed without having to delete posts makes things a whole lot easier!

 

@uschititia doesn't have quite as much balance, but she consistently uses a light background for her yarn, which, although brightly colored, have a touch of quiet moodiness so that no one color is jarringly brighter than the rest, and there is a delicate feminine touch. She also has all her yarn placed in a visually captivating way in the posts. On the first post above, she also places her skeins at a diagonal coming up from the lower right corner. The touch of flora breaks up the space just enough to balance it.

The last post is my absolute favorite, though; I hope she does more photographs like these. It could almost be the cover of a book. I love how the yarn takes up only a third of the screen, and all are horizontal. I'm also partial to those colors, so that might bias me a bit! The props echo the colors in the yarn. Even though the yarn takes up less space than in other photos, it's such a well balanced and styled photo that it actually makes the yarn stand out. I'm going to be making a note of that for myself! 

 

 

Those were two very carefully curated feeds, with every photo being carefully staged. What if that just doesn't suit your style or that idea sounds more like a hassle than a strategy to you? Not everyone has the discipline-- or the desire to create such feeds. 

So let's look at a completely different profile, the one of Indie Untangled. It's not so visually "perfect"; each post has its own thing going on. That, however makes total sense here, as Indie Untangled is an advertising platform to connect buyers and indie dyers. One of the things that Indie Untangled does so well is using user-generated content, as you can see above in the re-post posts. It's a great way to give a nod to the dyer or knitter themselves, but also to show off what the yarns that Indie Untangled sells is used for, as well as pattern and color combination suggestions. Reposting is a great way to show off what customers have knit or spun from your product

There are several third-party apps that re-post-- it's not available yet natively to Instagram. I use Repost for Instagram, which is available for both iOS and Android. It automatically inserts a watermark on the image with the original creator's name, so they're always credited. It's a good policy to ask before you re-gram someone else's post; aside from being polite, it makes sure you avoid any possible legal hassle by someone getting upset you've reposted something of theirs. Plus it makes them feel very flattered! Be aware, however, that you won't be able to repost if the original poster has their account set to private. 

 

Last but not least, we have the Instagram account of Sweet Georgia Yarns. Their slogan is passionate + relentless + unapologetic color, and their account clearly shows that off. It's not as painstakingly repetitively styled as the first two profiles we looked at, or use a lot of user-generated content, but that's because it just wouldn't suit them. Their feed is cheerful and happy...and colorful! It completely shows what Sweet Georgia Yarns is all about. 

The Creative Color Vignette post is ingenious for pairing the swatches with the most perfect foodie flatly. As one commenter said, it's a clever way to introduce new color combinations. It's a very graphic-design approach, which I personally love. 

Do you remember the color wheel image that Purl Soho used to have in their ads? The rainbow of mini-skeins is such a good use of color and presentation-- the mini skeins forming the spokes of the wheel of the bamboo plate they're on. It stands out to me as being one of the best posts; the circular image is one that I don't see very often, as most yarns tend to be displayed in a more horizontal or vertical way. Almost every post has some amazing pop of color, although as a whole nothing looks garish or out of place. To me, it gives off a very nurturing sensibility; one can't help but feel happier when looking at the feed. 

You'll notice there aren't too many, if any, posts of kids or pets. Giving a peek into your world is great, but really start to look at your posts with a critical eye. As I believe I said in the first part of the series, you can have more than one Instagram account, so you could easily keep one account carefully curated, in whatever way fits your style the most, and a second one that would be a more personal one, where you do post pictures of your kids or your pets or your plants. Or, an alternative is to post those photos when you feel the need but archive them a couple days later. Or not-- do what feels best to you. 

I think that to me, the most important takeaway that I want you to get from this post is that it doesn't always have to be Sell, Sell, Sell...at least overtly. Of course, if you're excited about something you just listed, and want to post it, then do so! Just consider creating variety with your posts so that you're telling the story of your brand...however that may manifest itself. 

Above all, be true to yourself. I love looking at the perfectly styled feeds, but that just wouldn't suit my personality or my product. I have become far more selective, though on what I post, to keep the balance.  

Instagram for Indie Dyers Part Two: Applying Analytics

Now that you have a business profile and access to analytics, what do you do with them? 

First, you need to be aware of the Instagram Algorithm. Much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone, Instagram is no longer chronological. The algorithm works to show only the best content to the most people. That means good content is key. Gone are the days of posting five times a day to reach people. Less has become more when it comes to posting.

Instagram displays posts "based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post." So the algorithm determines which posts it thinks you will be interested in seeing based on your activity. It's similar to Facebook in that way...which isn't surprising, seeing as Facebook owns Instagram. 

When you post on Instagram, IG will serve that post up to a small amount of your followers. How they respond will determine how high the post ranks in other followers' feeds. If someone you follow has engaged with the post, it will also rank higher. No matter how popular, however, IG takes into consideration how relevant they think the content of the post will be to the user. The algorithm knows what genres users have interacted with in the past. Instagram also combines that with hashtags to figure out what to show users as well. Hashtags will help you reach users that aren't following you yet. 

Is your head spinning yet? 

This is where analytics come in. 

So here are my posts sorted by Engagement. Unfortunately, because of my stupid attempt to deal with what I imagined was "shadow banning" by switching back to a personal account temporarily, when I switched back to a business account, I'd lost all my previous analytics. Obviously the more data one has the better. 

Engagement is the combined likes and comments on your post. Since we want high engagement, we not only want likes, but comments, and one way to do that is, in your caption, always ask a question. 

 

The post with the highest engagement.

The post with the highest engagement.

As you can see, I had a good dialogue going on, asking my followers to suggest colorways to me. Make sure you respond to every comment-- besides being good manners, it helps the engagement-- you are literally engaging with your viewers. 

 

 

The post with the second highest engagement.

The post with the second highest engagement.

On the post with the second highest engagement, I also have asked a question, this time asking my followers what they are planning to buy in my update, as many have been buying from me or at least seeing my fiber and yarn for years. That familiarity is a great advantage for me, because there is so much history to mine. 

 

The post with the third highest engagement rate.

The post with the third highest engagement rate.

On this post, that has the third highest engagement rate, I don't ask a question, but I tell a story. Think of your IG posts as mini blog posts, and tell stories. Maybe the history of the color way, maybe some musings on knitting or spinning or some story of your life. There are a million options, but try to have more than "Just put these up in the shop!" 

Also, really look at the photography. The top three posts have vivid colors and interesting perspectives and angles. Piles of yarn are always fun to look at. You want your posts to be eye-catching, because remember how Instagram first shows your posts to a small selection of your followers to see how it does?

Why people engage with your posts will vary, but really try to reach out to your audience. These top three photos weren't top three engagement because they were just pretty pictures. They were the top three because I reached out to my audience and I know who my audience is. 

 

Posts sorted by reach.

Posts sorted by reach.

So let's go to reach now. Reach is the number of unique viewers who saw your posts. Unsurprisingly, the two posts that had the highest engagement also had the largest reach. However, reach isn't just from likes and comments; it's also based on how your hashtags perform.

 

Hashtags will be the next blog post, but you can see what hashtags I used. Since these posts had high engagement, the likelihood of them showing up in hashtag searches increased. Notice how I switched up the hashtags between the two images. You can use up to 30. There's debate about whether or not hashtags in the comments will affect the reach, but I split the two. I don't really know if this helps or not, but it doesn't seem to hurt. I decided to try it after someone said it seemed to work out for her on The Manly Pinterest Tips Podcast.  (Listen to it. It's good.) I do the dot dot dot so that there isn't a glut of hashtags immediately after my caption. 

 

 

The third highest reach post...video. 

The third highest reach post...video. 

Here's where it gets a little interesting. The post that got the third highest reach is not the post that had the third highest engagement rate. Why? The answer is video. Video appears to be the most powerful form one can use in social media these days. There are actually 7 key factors in the Instagram algorithm. They are:

  1. Engagement
  2. Relevancy
  3. Relationships
  4. Timeliness
  5. Profile Searches
  6. Direct Shares
  7. Time Spent. 

Notice that last one. Time Spent. What is going to capture a viewer's time? Video is going to trump still image every time. Try to give some value with your video. This video is a how-to on braiding spinning fiber. It's simple, and just shot with my iPad, but I'm giving value by showing my technique. A how-to video is likely to get repeat views by someone. The above factors, by the way, are from the Buffer blog post on the Instagram Algorithm, and I highly recommend checking it out. 

 

Let's get into the Followers information. The more posts you have analytics of, the more insight you will have, which is why I'm kicking myself for that brief switch to a personal profile. Above on the left, it's showing me the days my followers are the most active on, which is Thursday and Saturday. However, keep in mind that this may change as I get insights on more posts. Another reason these analytics are so valuable! 

On the left, it's showing me the time of day my followers are the most active each day. 

We'll take one of the most popular days, Thursday. According to the bar graph, on Thursdays my followers are the most active at 1 p.m. That means I should make sure that on Thursdays, I post at around 1 p.m. Remember, how your post performs in the short time after you post it is going to decide the amount of reach it will have. 

See why analytics are so important? They give me important feedback about my posts, so that I can have a better sense of what content performs the best and when. If we go back to the 7 key factors, number four, timeliness is how recent the posts are. That's why you want to schedule your posts strategically. 

There are third party apps you can use for analytics, like Iconosquare, but, although I actually use Iconosquare myself, I still like to be able to easily see throughout the day how my posts are doing.  Hopefully this post helps you up your Instagram game! 

Instagram For Indie Dyers: Part One.

Indie dyers are competing in an over-saturated market. That's just the truth. So how do you make yourself stand out? 

We're lucky in the sense that there are so many more marketing channels today than ever, and one channel we have that many other industries do not, is Ravelry. Advertising on Ravelry is affordable, and everybody is doing it. 

What very few indie dyers are taking advantage of is Instagram. It's not that indie dyers don't have IG accounts, it's that many of them aren't using them as strategically as they could. This will be a multi-part series, because there is just so much to say!

 First, if you're using a personal account to post about your business, switch to a business account. It takes only a second. Simply click on the little gear symbol up at the top next to Edit Profile, and click, under Business Settings, "Switch to a business account". 

Why? Multiple reasons, but the most important: Analytics and ads (ads will be another post). Analytics provide invaluable insight. To access them, tap on the little bar chart icon in the top right corner. 

 

With analytics, you can learn about your followers, what your top posts are, when your followers are on Instagram, website clicks, and much more. 

 

What you see when you click on the bar graph

What you see when you click on the bar graph

When you click on the bar graph, it takes you to the above screen. You can see your total impressions, reach, profile view, and website clicks, not to mention your top posts and stats for your Instagram Stories. All you have to do is to swipe right up at the top. 

 

Post insights

Post insights

Here I can see my top posts from the last 30 days. I can click on the blue links at the top of the screen for more filters, like arranging posts by engagement or comments. With this, I can analyze the posts and try to see what made some posts more popular than the others. 

 

Follower insights.

Follower insights.

I can see the actions of my followers in Insights as well. The graph shows me how many of my followers are online at times of the day. I can also see what days they're most on. These insights help me figure out when is the best time for me to post. 

 

More follower insights. 

More follower insights. 

I can also see the gender percentage and age percentages of my followers. Unsurprisingly, 92% of my followers are women. If I tap any of the blue bars, it will show me the percentage numbers. 

This is all valuable information! You want each post to do as best as it possibly can, and analytics will help you plan out future posts. If you have a personal profile, you don't have access to these. I briefly switched back to a personal profile when I was stressing about "shadow banning", and it was such a stupid move, because I lost all the analytics I had, and my amount of information now is relatively minuscule to what it was. 

There's also the fact that a business profile just looks professional. If you are going to be serious about being an indie dyer, then you need a business profile. You can have more than one accounts; you can have your business account, and you can also have a personal account.

 

 

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See that Email bar? You want that. The more ways people have to be able to contact you, the better. Yes, people can direct message you, but not everyone wants to or feels comfortable doing so. 

And if you don't like the business profile? You can always switch back to a personal account.

Yarn Bases I Dye: Sources

I have to preface this post with a nod to the source that really kicked me in the pants to write it-- Marcus Sheridan. Watch this video and read this book. It just might inspire you as well. 

 

Although there are a lot of places these days around the world to purchase undyed yarn and fiber for dyeing, I've settled down on two suppliers, Wool2dye4 and Ashland Bay. Now that I live in Portland, Ashland Bay is literally a 20 minute drive away from me! I order from them because their quality is consistent, their customer service is excellent, and their prices fair. I also have to admit that I get my Ashland Bay orders really fast now that I live so close, and it was still pretty fast in the Bay Area, so that is a huge bonus. 

For way too long I tried to dye ALL the yarn. Lace, fingering, dk, worsted, with silk, with cashmere...all of it. The reality of it though is that my dye process is extremely time intensive and I even before I had a second career, I couldn't keep all of it stocked, in all of my colorways. If you are running your business on your own, I highly, highly recommend you pick just a few bases and weights and stick to them. Don't try to do it all. It's impossible. 

Both of these suppliers have wholesale minimums, Wool2dye4 per order and Ashland Bay an opening order minimum, which was $250 but may be different now. 

These are the ones that are solid products:

High Twist Sock (Aquatic colorway)

High Twist Sock (Aquatic colorway)

High Twist Sock. Superwash merino. I tend to use this base just for my mini-skein sets because I like how my dye job works on it, I like the gloss, and I like the drape. Although I do the sets in American Sock as well, I'm really heading towards just using this base. Simplicity and efficiently are what enable one to be able to offer multiple colorways and keep them in stock. This yarn is sold from Wool2dye4, and is under the name Sheila's Sock. I purchase it on cones because of the mini skein sets, but they also offer them in skeins

American Sock (Confetti colorway)

American Sock (Confetti colorway)

American Sock. Superwash merino. I actually didn't love this yarn at first, but I love it for multi-colors. The colors are just incredibly vibrant and it is 100% American made, which is super awesome. I also buy it on cones.  Ashland Bay sells this yarn under the name Tahoe

Silky High Twist Sock (Peacock colorway)

Silky High Twist Sock (Peacock colorway)

Silky High Twist Sock. I also purchase this one from Wool2dye4. It has all the properties I like of the High Twist Sock, with the bonus of 20% silk. It doesn't come on cones, but comes in skeins of both 100g and 150g. I only use the 100g skeins. It's sold under the name Diamond Sock

And that's actually it! I do occasionally dye up other bases from Ashland Bay, but I'll write about them in a separate post. (Spinning fiber is easy-- Ashland Bay all the way.) I am so much happier with a pared down list, because as I also teach Pilates and try to do some art when I can, I simply don't have the time to dye more...and still have a semblance of a life. 

Why am I writing this post? Because almost all dyers, including me up until now, won't share sources, and it's stupid. Why? One, because of the internet. With a little patience and digging, you can pretty much find out anything. Two, because of this:

People don't buy your yarn for the yarn. They buy the colors you dye,
which will always be unique to the dyer. 

 

Here's a secret-- there are only a handful of North American suppliers that widely supply popular yarn bases to indie dyers, the 3 big ones being Wool2dye4, Ashland Bay, and Elitespun (Amtex).  They also advertise on Ravelry. We are already using the same yarn! (unless you get yarn custom milled for you, which is a whole other topic that I hope to have a guest post on, because I know nothing about it.) You know that 80/10/10 superwash merino/cashmere/nylon blend that appeared on the scene and everyone was going crazy about it? Elitespun. It was pretty easy to see that the same specs show up on multiple differently named yarns from different dyers. So I find it amusing when I'll see someone on Ravelry complaining about how one dyer's yarn pills and people will then rave about how similar yarns from the dyers they love feel so much better and pill so much less. They are talking about the exact same yarn. 

Look, I get it. It's a saturated competitive market out there and you cling to anything you think will give you the edge. If you read this post and think "yeah, but I still am not going to share my sources", despite my rather harsh criticism above, I totally understand and respect that you think that is the best decision for your business. I do hope that it makes you stress about it a little less and to see that what gives you the competitive edge is your talent. 

(ETA: another large supplier is Henry's Attic. The last time I checked, 2-3 years ago their minimum opening order was $1000 and I found them rather rude. So I'm biased. But they do have nice yarns.) 

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Hot Tips Tuesday: Stability.

"Start from a place of stability if possible. If you go all in and it doesn't work out quickly, it's quickly going to become a train wreck of freaking out. Either have a lot of money saved up, or start it as a hobby, because "I'm going to lose the house if this doesn't work out" is going to cause bad decisions. You'll end up doing whatever it takes to survive one day more, even if it dooms any sort of long term viability." 

 Mil-spec Monkey

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