Digital marketing is a crucial part of a solar marketing strategy that successfully engages prospective customers, so it’s important to understand the various digital marketing platforms that you can utilize.
In this digital solar marketing series by Aurora Solar, we examine strategies and tools for building an effective online solar marketing strategy including: the importance of a digital marketing strategy, how to build an effective website, choose keywords, and optimize your site for Google. We’ve also discussed how to use social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in your digital solar marketing. In this article, we highlight how solar contractors can successfully leverage Instagram to connect with customers.
Instagram is a useful social media channel for solar brand promotion. Engagement on the platform is high and followers tend to be brand-loyal, making it easier for companies to achieve their business goals. Instagram is an ideal platform for consumers to receive your marketing message without a hard sales pitch. And with its image-based format, that message can be both powerful and compelling in a very short amount of time. However, with 1 billion active Instagram users, it is important to be strategic to differentiate your brand.
What Instagram marketing can do for your solar business
At first glance, Instagram may appear to be just an app for sharing attractive photos. However, it is also an incredibly effective business builder, a “unique opportunity for businesses to gain momentum and reach new audiences.” Additionally, most of its 25 million business users are small businesses, many of which are “blowing up by taking strategic advantage of artsy visual posts, story feeds, and Instagram direct messaging.” This means that the platform can be particularly useful for the smaller, or “long-tail,” solar contractor.
Instagram’s user statistics show that it is an effective marketing platform for companies. Over 200 million users visit at least one Instagram business profile daily. Half of Instagram’s users report that they follow at least one business, and 60% of them say they’ve learned of a product or service through the platform.
Strategy as the first step
Setting goals is an important first step when employing Instagram marketing. Define your target market to inform the choices you make about content. Create comprehensive prospective buyer profiles by analyzing the activity on your other social media channels, like follower feed content and comments, and by performing competitor research on Instagram.
It helps to create goals that are aligned with your business objectives to keep campaigns focused, and use metrics to track and adjust your strategy. These metrics can include follower growth rate, post reach, engagement rate (based on likes, comments, shares and saves), amplification rate (based on shares), conversion, click-through and bounce rates, and customer actions (like providing testimonials).
There are many tools that can help you hone your strategy. Instagram Insights, the site’s built-in analytics tool, can be useful for understanding followers’ basic demographics, when they are online, and the kind of content they prefer. More detailed information like competitive analysis and trends identification can be found with a tool like Hootsuite Analytics.
A posting schedule allows you to effectively engage followers. Keep to a regular schedule so followers know what to expect, and decide on a posting frequency that maintains your brand presence without overwhelming them. Many companies average about five images per week. The best posting time is dependent on your target audience; some companies find that posting Monday through Thursday at any time except between 3:00- 4:00 p.m works well, while others find off-work hours to be equally effective.
Test out what posting times work best for you and use a tool like Viraltag or Sked to schedule posts in advance. Whatever schedule you choose, it is worthwhile to try to find the optimum time to reach your followers. This is because the Instagram algorithm favors “recency” when it determines which posts appear in a person’s feed, meaning that it presents newer posts first.
Optimize your Instagram profile
A well-crafted Instagram profile is a good starting point. When you create your profile, use the 150-character description to convey key information about your business. Make it informative and interesting and avoid a “salesy” tone. Convey your brand personality using voice, hashtags and even emojis.
Your profile picture can be some version of your company logo; just make sure the image is fully visible in Instagram’s circular shape. Your Instagram name and username should include your brand name and variations (like common abbreviations) since they appear in Instagram searches.
Semper Solaris has a clear, unified profile description, logo and coloring.
Connect to grow your following
To create a large, active following, you want to follow and engage relevant Instagrammers. A good way to make your presence known is to engage with the users and brands your target audience follows. Monitor popular industry hashtags and comment on posts, and follow people who participate in discussions. Actively interacting with your own users builds community. Make sure to directly respond to comments and mentions on your own profile without automating responses.
Vivint Solar features both their install and their customers in this post.
Follow and communicate with Instagram influencers to build relationships with their audiences. A solar influencer marketing campaign on Instagram might be as simple as commenting on a user profile like routedelsol (the first team in the world to drive a solar powered van from Alaska to Argentina) to tap into a community interested in sustainability. Or, it could be as involved as asking several prominent solar bloggers to comment on trending solar tech, posting their quotes in image form, and inviting followers to weigh in. You may also choose to partner with a local or national business with a robust, engaged Instagram following to create successful Instagram campaigns that benefit one another.
User-generated content helps build brand ambassadors, something that is always a boon in digital solar marketing. Encourage followers and customers to share their curated content.
Ask customers to share their photos and reviews and show them you care about the people in your community by sharing their photos and crediting them with a tag and caption mention.
SunPower posted this photo of a young man who used solar in a unique way.
In Instagram marketing, hashtags are a great way to make your content easier to find. A hashtag is a relevant word or phrase with the hashtag symbol (#) in front of it that serves to categorize a post so it shows up in a user search. Captions on Instagram are not searchable, but hashtags are. When a user clicks on or searches for a particular hashtag, they see all the associated content. This increases the shelf-life of your Instagram posts because any post you created with that hashtag, no matter how long ago, will pop up in the search.
To avoid cluttering a caption put hashtags in the comment section or push them down in the caption using a series of dotted lines. Create your own original hashtags that capture your unique brand offering. To use existing ones, brainstorm related keywords, and use the Explore tab to research which relevant hashtags are being used. Data analysis apps like Iconosquare can also help you research trending hashtags.
SunPower uses multiple high quality photos at unusual angles to catch the eye.
For easy posting straight from your device, consider posting photos from your mobile phone. Using natural light and employing the camera grid lines for balanced composition can help improve photo quality. Try different angles to find the most interesting version of a shot, such as a bird’s eye view.
Keep in mind Instagram’s image format default is a square within a 612 x 612 pixel frame but that you can alter it if you’d like. You can post multiple photos at the same time to convey a longer narrative. Ideally image size should be around 1024 x 1024 pixels to stay crisp on all devices. Look to edit photos like a pro with mobile photo editing apps like VSCOcam or Enhance that have additional filters or editing options.
Videos can be one minute or less and can include things like customer testimonials and behind-the-scenes footage at a construction site or the office. Use tools like Canva, Word Swag and Over to create photo texts, simple messages or colorful, interesting images.
Semper Solaris employed a simple graphic to communicate a customer testimonial.
It’s also a good idea to promote your Instagram account on your other social media channels and marketing materials by telling followers what kind of content you’ll be sharing or embedding Instagram posts directly to showcase some of your best content.
Create unique and high-quality content
On Instagram, as with most social media channels, you want to avoid hard selling. Digital marketing expert Neil Patel advises to “walk the line between wielding your influence and coming off too pushy, which means you’ll need to get creative with your product photos.” This might mean opting for sharing photos that are attention-grabbing, unique, and full of personality.
SunPower uses a playful photo to promote its brand.
Use the best quality images, whether those are photos, videos or graphics. The most popular images tend to be lifestyle photos, ones that feature life-inspired backgrounds, scenes and models.
Consider creating a particular visual aesthetic for your brand. Your content can have a theme so that photos of products, services, customer stories and behind-the-scenes office life all have a unified look. Some brands develop a recognizable visual identity using colors and filters.
A coordinated color scheme, consistent with its logo, helps Baker Home Energy create an instantly recognizable aesthetic.
Employee-related posts and reposts from employees’ Instagram accounts (with a tag or credit to the original poster) allow you to curate authentic content and humanize your business by allowing followers to bond with employees.
Motivational posts combining a simple visual with an overlaid quote or an uplifting message image are popular on Instagram. They also serve to encourage your audience and amplify your brand’s values.
Trinity Solar includes a repost of an employee’s dog.
Talking about an employee and her family helps CSS Electric’s followers relate to the company.
Storytelling with Instagram Stories is very popular among businesses. It is a tool that allows you to create photos and videos in a slide show format that disappear after 24 hours. Stories are great for how-tos, behind-the-scenes, lists and announcements. You can customize them with editing features that allow you to add mentions that link to other Instagram accounts and your company website and landing pages. Over 400 million people use Instagram Stories daily, a third of the most viewed Instagram Stories are posted by businesses, and 39% of people surveyed reported that they were more interested in a product or brand after seeing it on Stories.
Captions present an opportunity to tell a story that gives a photo meaning and connects with followers. Use a clear, consistent writing style that is in line with your brand and that employs emojis, grammatical guidelines and hashtags. Varying the length is a nice touch; shorter captions can stay under 125 characters to show up entirely while longer ones can be used to present interesting stories (like those often created by National Geographic). Include @mentions and hashtags at the ends of captions.
General Electric’s caption includes a story and several calls-to-action.
You can use captions for a number of things. Try posing questions to followers. Use quotes, offer instructions or promote a contest. Giveaways increase interactions with your post and attract new followers, particularly ones that have requirements like “1. Follow our account 2. Like this photo 3. Tag two friends.”
Additionally, including animated emojis in captions can draw the reader’s eye and add some personality. There are tools to help write captions like Captiona and the Hemingway App. Varying the kinds of images and captions you use can keep things fresh and interesting for followers. Promote events and share exclusive insider access information.
Instagram’s fundamentally visual format can allow you to inspire and connect with prospects in a unique way. With a well-thought-out strategy, an Instagram marketing campaign can round out your solar digital marketing efforts nicely.
About Aurora’s digital solar marketing series
This article is part of an ongoing series from Aurora Solar design and sales software, providing a guide for solar companies to develop a cohesive digital solar marketing strategy to connect with more customers. We explain the value offered by different digital marketing options and highlight concrete strategies to make the most of each.
About The Author
Sara Carbone is a content writer for Aurora Solar, developing educational content to help solar companies work more effectively. She also has her own freelance copywriting business creating tailored content for solar marketing campaigns based on several years of experience researching the industry and working with solar contractors around their pain points and goals. You can follow her on Twitter at @SaraSolarWriter.