March 15, 2022

How I Grew One Brand’s Organic Reach on Instagram by 1707%

Memes are some of THE most shareable content on social media. Here’s how one brand leveraged them for massive organic reach on Instagram.


What if your brand could attract thousands of new customers without spending a dime?

It’s possible!

How do I know?

Because I did it.

In 2018, I started leveraging custom-created Instagram memes as top-of-funnel content.

What is top-of-funnel content? Top-of-funnel content doesn’t go for the hard sell. Instead, it’s designed to earn brand awareness by giving value to the audience in the form of education, interaction, or sheer pleasure. ToFu content is any content that benefits the consumer first. The sales conversions come later.

As the Senior (and sole) Content Writer on a tiny marketing team, I was aware of my company’s massive monthly spend on social media ads. And, as ADHD brains often do, I got curious:

Could I achieve significant organic reach on Instagram without spending a dime?

To test the idea, I developed an Instagram-based campaign of custom-branded, meme-style content that delivered astounding organic reach results.

Keep reading to learn:

  1. Why I prioritized the Instagram platform
  2. What inspired the cheeky “meme” format
  3. How I developed the brand’s Instagram voice
  4. Which tools I used to create and publish daily content as a one-person social media “team”
  5. How I defined and measured success
ShootProof's Instagram feed, created by Anne Simone from 2017 - 2021, displayed on a laptop

#1: Why Instagram?

• Because our digital marketers were focused on Facebook

The company: ShootProof — a SaaS platform offering galleries, contracts, invoices, and sales tools to professional photography businesses.

At the time, ShootProof was enjoying huge success with Facebook ads, so most of my team’s financial resources went into Zuck’s already-burgeoning pockets.

That left Instagram relatively untapped, which would make it easier for me to measure organic reach growth.

• Because our audience was on Instagram

If anyone loves Instagram, it’s photographers! The photo-centric platform is heavily used by professional photographers, which made it the perfect place to publish photography business-specific content.

#2: Why memes?

• Memes are familiar

Everyone and their grandma knows what they’re in for when they see a meme. Whether it’s photo-based or text-based, audiences are primed to feel something when a meme graphic enters their feed.

Left: “Go on, start a photography business. Nonna is already disappointed in you anyway.” | Middle: “I have a week’s worth of editing to do in two hours because I have the time management skills of a pineapple.” | Right: “If one more client asks for a payment plan I’m going to scream set that up for them in an easy-to-pay ShootProof invoice and enjoy that monthly cashflow.”

• Memes are meant to be ultra-relatable

ShootProof’s products solve numerous pain points for professional wedding and portrait photographers. The meme format allowed me to acknowledge those pain points with edgy honesty and cheeky humor.

• Memes are super-shareable

We all share content that makes us laugh, cry, or lose our ever-lovin’ minds. Add ShootProof’s branding to the content, and we had shareable micro-ads flooding the photo-sphere.

A ShootProof Instagram meme written by Anne Simone. It says, "You don't have to be available 24/7. It's okay to mute your phone, close your email, get plastic surgery then push your car off a cliff an vanish mysteriously."
“You don’t have to be available 24/7. It’s okay to mute your phone, close your email, get plastic surgery then push your car off a cliff and vanish mysteriously.”

#3: How I crafted ShootProof’s “meme voice”

Though I can’t reveal ShootProof’s precise statistics, industry data reveal that the wedding and portrait photography workforce is dominated by women in the 25-45 age bracket. With the demographics nailed down, I had a pretty good idea of what my primary audience was watching, listening to, eating and drinking, planning, worrying about, and trying to manifest.

I leaned into four guiding principles when writing for organic reach on Instagram:

  1. Use “meme speak.” For me, this meant crafting copy that mimicked the style and cadence of the most popular meme content being consumed at the time.
  2. Never talk down to our audience. Professional photographers are a scrappy lot—I know because I was one. “Solopreneurship” is NOT for the faint of heart, which made ShootProof’s followers the perfect audience to embrace snarky commentary and inspirational wisdom.
  3. Be solution-oriented. This meant that every meme had to be balanced with links to our educational articles, quick tips in the post descriptions, and ongoing engagement with every comment and DM.
  4. Prove our values. Publicly stating the brand’s values would help ensure a following of “ideal customers.”
A ShootProof Instagram meme written by Anne Simone is displayed on a phone alongside the post's analytics, which show organic growth on Instagram. The meme says, "Wedding photographers don't wear black to look more professional. We wear black to cover our sweat-soaked photographer bods while shooting your chic summer wedding at kill-me-now o'clock."
“Wedding photographers don’t wear black to look more professional. We wear black to cover our sweat-soaked photographer bods while shooting your chic summer wedding at kill-me-now o’clock.”

#4: Simple tools for a social media content team of one

In my role as Senior Content Developer (Writer), I single-handedly managed and created content for ShootProof’s blog (two articles a week), social media (daily, unpaid Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), and weekly newsletter.

Efficiency was critical.

Here’s what I used to launch and sustain the ShootProof Memes campaign for over two years:

Adobe Spark and Figma

I created the first wave of ShootProof memes in Adobe Creative Cloud Express (formerly Adobe Spark). But I’m so not a designer!

After I had proof that the memes were successful (even with my low-rent layouts), a ShootProof marketing designer created a series of editable templates in Figma. This was a brilliantly simple way to ensure consistent, high-quality, brand-standard content.

Iconosquare

I tested several social media scheduling platforms before settling on Iconosquare. Their reports were, in my opinion, the most detailed and user-friendly available. Because of Iconosquare, I was able to quickly and easily pull success metrics without spending hours on spreadsheets.

A ShootProof Instagram meme written by Anne Simone says, "Those clients who are like, "I want a pro photographer with $$$$$ gear, a luxury studio, and a celeb clients list." Meanwhile they're also like, "Can I pay you with Legos and Barbie shoes from my vacuum?"
“Those clients who are like I want a pro photographer with $$$$$ gear, a luxury studio, and a celeb clients list. Meanwhile they’re also like Can I pay you with Legos and Barbie shoes from my vacuum

#5: How I defined and measured success

The phrase “objectives and KPIs” sends an icy chill through my rules-repulsed soul. But, of course, that is exactly how I structured my success measurements.

Objectives and KPIs

My primary objective was to increase brand awareness among photographers by developing and priming a relevant audience whose needs aligned with ShootProof’s solutions.

To measure the success of this first-phase objective, I kept my KPIs simple:

  • Increase ShootProof’s organic reach on Instagram by 10% month-over-month (or an 885% increase over two years.)
  • Leverage social proof through shareable, branded content to drive loyalty and reduce churn.

What were the final organic reach metrics?

The ShootProof Memes strategy allowed me to surface relatable topics that earned likes, shares, comments, click-throughs, and new customers.

ShootProof’s Instagram following grew from approximately 5,200 followers at the start of 2017 to over 30,200 engaged fans at the end of 2019.

Then, incredibly, ShootProof’s fan base crushed my original reach growth goal. Between 2017 and 2019:

ShootProof’s organic reach on Instagram increased by 1,707%!

ShootProof's organic reach on Instagram is measured in a graph that shows 449% year-over-year growth in 2018 and 229% YOY growth in 2019.

Our most-viewed/liked/commented/saved/shared posts?

The memes.

The most common sentiment found in the comments?

“ShootProof gets me.”

Do you know what makes these numbers particularly exciting?

Because, as I included product-focused content back into ShootProof’s feed, the audience was happy to slow their scroll, read, and click.

ShootProof’s fan base had converted from simple customers to brand ambassadors.

A product post on Instagram announces ShootProof's new feature for photographers.

On social media, play the long game.

Social media is a moving target. That’s what makes it fun, intriguing, and so incredibly exasperating at times.

What worked from 2017-2019 might not work today—even with the same audience. But the principles behind the ShootProof Memes method remain true, whether you’re building paid ads or pursuing organic reach on Instagram:

Treat people like people, and deliver value with every post.

I’m not saying social media marketing doesn’t work. I’m just saying a big budget isn’t the only way to get results.

Now drop a comment below, and tell me about the social media strategies that have worked for your brand!


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