What Is Instagram Live? The Complete Guide to Going Live in 2020

What Is Instagram Live? The Complete Guide to Going Live in 2020

Instagram Live is literally a shortcut to the top.

Here’s how: Instagram Live works as part of Instagram Stories, which now has more than 500 million daily active users.

instagram stories usage

What’s more, Instagram Stories are displayed at the top of the feed, so they’re far more likely to catch users’ attention than regular content.

It gets better.

When you use Instagram Live, you’re bumped to first place in the Stories that are shown above the feed.

Instagram Live 1st Place

So forget about losing out to Instagram’s algorithm – Instagram Live is a shortcut to the front of the line.

And that’s just the beginning.

How can you harness this phenomenon to capture attention, make connections, and build your brand?

In this article, I’ll take you step-by-step through everything you need to know to produce a successful Instagram Live stream. You’ll learn all about Instagram Live’s features and settings, as well as how to plan and promote your broadcast.

Buckle up.

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What is Instagram Live?

Instagram Live is a feature that works within Instagram Stories and allows users to broadcast live videos to other users on the platform.

Instagram Stories are shown at the top of the feed. Any accounts that are currently live will include the “Live” icon.

Instagram Live in StoriesTo view an Instagram Live video, simply tap on the Story thumbnail. The image below of John Mayer performing on Instagram Live shows the viewer’s interface.

Instagram Live John Mayer

So why should you use Instagram Live?

The Power of Instagram Live for Businesses

More than 500 million people use Instagram every day. 

That’s a lot of eyeballs.

Instagram has 500 million daily active users

The platform has 1 billion monthly active users. Additionally, according to Instagram, 50% of users say they follow at least one brand on the platform.

But here’s the best part:

According to Instagram stats for 2020, at least 80% of Instagram users rely on Instagram to decide whether to buy a product or service.

Okay, so Instagram is a powerful marketing channel – but what about Instagram Live?

Instagram Live

Remember, Instagram Live bumps your content to the first position in Stories at the top of user’s feeds.

This is awesome.

What’s more, followers who haven’t turned off Instagram Live notifications will get a message telling them when you go live.

Instagram Love Notifications

This notification can be a huge help in exposing your broadcasts to more of your followers.

Plus, your audience can submit their questions and comments on your video in real-time. This can be a great way to get insights and feedback directly from people who matter to your business.

Moreover, you can now post Sticker Q&A’s into your Live Instagram Stories.

Before, it was overwhelming to go through all the questions in the comments during a live session, but now a simple question box allows you to easily sift through questions to answer throughout the live video.

Sticker Q&A's Instagram Live

You can take advantage of this feature by posting a Question Sticker on your Instagram Story before hosting a live session on Instagram. 

Once Live, tap on the “question mark button” at the bottom of your screen to start answering.

To top it off, after you’ve finished broadcasting your Instagram Live video, you can post it to your Story, where it will be available for 24 hours.

Still, Instagram Live’s potential goes far beyond these tactics.

For example, you can stream Instagram Live to both mobile and desktop users.

For the purpose, you just need to go live, and Instagram will place a magenta-colored “Live” button at the right of your account in the Instagram Stories panel.

So, when someone opens Instagram on the web and views the Instagram Stories panel, they’ll know that you are hosting a live session.

Accessing Instagram Live from Desktop


Instagram Live video does away with the crevasse that sits between those who broadcast and those who consume. It provides intuitive real-time interactivity and collaboration. This means it’s the ultimate tool for building strong relationships with customers.

It’s no wonder 80 percent of people would rather watch a live video from a brand than read a blog.

All in all, Instagram Live is a powerful way to reach and engage with your target audience.


How to Use Instagram Live

Now that you understand the potential of this marketing tool, let’s take an in-depth look at how to use Instagram Live.

First thing’s first:

Step 1: Set a Schedule

Like many things in life, consistency is key.

To reach more people and build strong relationships with your audience, you need to go live regularly.

The best way to do this is to set a schedule and stick to it.

For example, if you plan to go live every Thursday at 7 pm, you can promote this weekly event to your audience. Then, in time, your more engaged followers will look forward to each Instagram Live video.

Step 2: Identify Your Goal

To get the most out of your Instagram Live videos, it’s important to know exactly why you’re doing them.

In other words, what are you hoping to achieve from your broadcasts?

Perhaps you want to strengthen customer relations, grow your following, increase email signups, or boost sales of a specific product.

And although you might like to do all of those things, it’s best to prioritize one per broadcast. That way, every part of your Instagram Live stream will be aligned with achieving your goal.

It’s also important to make sure that your goal is in line with your overall marketing strategy.

Once you’re clear about your aim and the main call to action that you’ll use throughout your broadcast, you can determine how long you want your broadcast to be, and which topics and themes you’ll cover.

Step 3: Choose a Format

Ain’t nobody got time for “ums” and “ahs.”

By sticking to a format, viewers will know what to expect and you’ll have a basic framework to keep things interesting and moving along.

Here are four popular Instagram live stream formats that you could start with:

→ Host a Q&A Session

Q&As are simple to execute and extremely effective. The entire format is about collaboration with viewers.

By openly responding to questions in real time, viewers can find the answers to the questions they’re most curious about while getting to know the people behind the brand.

→ Launch or Announce Something New

If you’re launching a new product or service or announcing some big news, why not make it a party? You can promote the launch, interact with your followers, and maybe even give away some prizes!

→ Take Viewers Behind the Scenes

Humans are innately curious beings, and we all love to know what goes on behind closed doors. Thankfully, there are tons of ways you can take viewers behind the scenes, such as:

  • Show your audience how things are made
  • Take them on a tour
  • Introduce them to the team
  • Show off the set of your latest video

→ Do an Interview or Collaborate

Collaborating is a great way to create engaging content and grow on social media. It’s a win-win situation: You promote your collaborator to your followers, and they promote you to theirs.

Plus, Instagram Live is perfect for collaborations as the app lets you go live with other accounts – more on this in a minute.

→ Do Something Unexpected

If you typically record Instagram Live videos in your home or office, consider surprising your audience by going live from an exotic location.

Or, come up with a competition during the broadcast and give viewers a chance to participate and win in real-time.

By using an element of surprise in your Instagram Live sessions, you’ll leave people intrigued and wondering what you’ll do next. 

Step 4: Promote Your Stream

Don’t just go live and hope people show up. Instead, whip up some excitement beforehand.

This can be as simple as posting on your other social media accounts or sending an email to your list about your upcoming Instagram Live stream.

For example, Sassy Antler Boutique shared this Instagram post to promote one of their Instagram Live streams:

Promoting Instagram Live

When it comes to promotion, having a regular schedule is extremely helpful.

That way, you’re not just promoting a one-off event, and you don’t have to drum up an audience from scratch every time you go live.

Step 5: Access the Instagram Story Camera

Okay, now let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts.

As I mentioned before, Instagram Live is a feature within Stories. To access the Story camera, tap the camera icon in the top-left of the screen or swipe right.

Instagram Stories Camera

The first time that you use Instagram Stories, you’ll need to enable your phone’s camera and microphone access.

Enable Access Instagram Live

Step 6: Select Instagram Live

The Instagram Story camera allows you to create and share nine different types of content.

  1. Type
  2. Live
  3. Normal
  4. Boomerang
  5. Music
  6. Focus
  7. Superzoom
  8. Rewind
  9. Hands-free

Use the sliding menu at the bottom of the screen to select “Live.”

Instagram Stories Live Setting

Step 7: Configure Your Instagram Story Settings

Before you go live, you’ll want to check your Instagram Story settings. To do this, tap the settings gear icon at the top-left of the screen.

Instagram Stories Settings

Here, you’ll see Instagram’s “Story Controls.”

The first setting allows you to hide your Stories from specific people, and underneath, you can choose who can reply to your Story.

As a business, you’ll want to make sure that replies can be sent by everyone, as this will allow you to better interact with your audience.

Instagram Stories Messages

Next, Instagram lets you automatically save your Stories to your camera roll or your Instagram archive.

If you don’t want to use up valuable phone space, just turn on the archive feature and you’ll be able to view your Stories in the archive when they disappear after 24 hours.

Save to Stories

The last feature allows you to automatically share Instagram Stories to your Facebook Business page.

Take advantage of this opportunity to engage your Facebook followers without having to create more content on Facebook Stories.

Share Your Story to Facebook


Step 8: Go Live on Instagram!

Tap “Start Live Video” and Instagram will notify your followers that you’re live. To double-check that you’re live, look for the “Live” icon in the top-left corner of the screen.

Instagram Live

If you’d like to check how long you’ve been live, just tap the “Live” icon and it will show you the timer.

Instagram Live Time

Step 9: Switch Between Camera Views

Today, nearly all smartphones are equipped with both front-facing and rear-facing cameras.

Instagram Live allows you to switch between these cameras while you’re live – just like you would on a video call with a friend.

This is awesome.

When you’re live, you’ll often want to share what’s happening in the moment, and your reaction and comments.

So don’t be afraid to switch it up to keep it interesting!

Instagram Live Camera View

Step 10: Go Live with Another Account

In August 2017, Instagram released the “Go Live with a Friend” feature. It enables you to add another Instagram account to your broadcast.

This feature is especially useful for conducting interviews or collaborations.

To go live with another account, tap the icon featuring two smiley faces and select who you’d like to go live with. Then tap “Add.”Go Live with a Friend

The other user will receive a notification telling them that you want them to be in your live video. They can then tap “Go Live with @yourusername” or decline the invitation.

Go Live with a FriendPlus, if any of your viewers want to join your Instagram Live video, they can hit the “Request” button in the comments section.

When this happens, you’ll see a notification for each request in the comments section.

Simply tap “View” and then accept or decline the request. If you accept, you’ll have a moment to prepare before the screen is split in half and you are live together.

Go Live with a Friend

The icon with two smiley faces will also have a red number showing how many requests you have.

Just tap the icon to see both requests and current viewers. Here, you can either accept a viewer’s request or invite a viewer to join you.

Step 11: Use Face Filters

Your Instagram Live streams won’t always go according to plan – it is live after all.

So, if you encounter a slow patch or you feel the excitement drop, take advantage of face filters. This feature lets you inject a little fun and humor into your broadcast.

Instagram Live FiltersTo use them, tap the smiley icon with the stars. Then scroll along to find new filters to try!

Instagram Live Filters

If you’re looking for a safe bet, start with the puppy ears face filter. Instagram revealed it to be the most-used face filter followed by:

  1. Sleep mask
  2. Bunny ears
  3. Love with heart-shaped darts
  4. Koala ears

Instagram Live Effects

Instagram Live streams are all about connecting, engaging, and relating to your audience in real-time.

So don’t forget to interact in the comments.

Instagram Live Comments

If possible, have someone dedicated to answering comments during the broadcast. If this isn’t possible, you can still ask viewers to submit questions and answer them as you go along.

And don’t forget to address commenters and thank some individual viewers by name for joining the stream.

Plus, you can try and use a few Question Stickers to see if it improves your overall engagement.

These simple techniques can be extremely powerful.

Not only will you receive more comments, the dynamic will become more intimate and you’ll also make viewers feel valued. At this point, it’s not you broadcasting to them – instead, it’s a collaborative conversation where you’re all hanging out together.

Step 13: Share Your Instagram Live Stream

While you’re live, make sure to ask viewers to share your live stream and invite others to join you.

If there’s someone in particular that you’d like to share your Instagram Live stream with, you can notify them directly.

To do this, just tap the paper airplane icon and select who you’d like to share your Instagram Live with. Then add a message and hit “Send.”

Instagram Live Share with a Friend

Step 14: End Your Instagram Live Video

Before you go, be sure to thank viewers for tuning in.

This is also a good time to present a call to action, such as asking viewers to sign up to your mailing list to be notified about future Instagram Live videos, or to follow you on Twitter where you’ll answer questions for another 30 minutes.

When you’re ready, just tap “End” to finish your Instagram Live video.

Ending Instagram Live

Step 15: Save and Share Your Instagram Live Video

Once you’ve finished your broadcast, you can save your Instagram Live video to your phone’s camera roll by tapping the “Save” icon.

Save Instagram Live

This can be useful if you think you might like to use snippets of the Instagram Live video in future content. Plus, after a few broadcasts, you can compile the best clips to create an Instagram Live trailer which you can use to promote upcoming broadcasts.

Keep in mind that only the video is saved, and not interactions like comments, likes, and views.

Next, tap “Share” at the bottom of the screen to add your Instagram Live video to your Story so users can view it for 24 hours.

Share Instagram Live

If you don’t want to share your Instagram Live video to your Story, just tap the toggle and choose “Discard,” and your live video will disappear from the app.

Once you’ve shared your Instagram Live video to your Story, followers will see the “Play” icon added to your Story image.

Instagram Live Replay

Then, they can tap your Story to watch the video and see comments and likes from the original broadcast.

Cool, right?

They can also tap the right or left side of the screen to jump forward or back 15 seconds or tap “Send Message” to reply. If you share multiple Instagram Live replays, viewers will see arrows at the top of the screen to easily jump between videos.

Lastly, when watching your own replay, the number of viewers shown will include everyone who saw it live and in Stories.

Step 16: Post Your Instagram Live Video to IGTV

Until May 2020, you could only share Instagram Live videos as Stories, but they’d be broken up into 15-second clips and disappear after 24 hours. 

Today, you can share your Instagram Live video to IGTV as soon as the broadcast is over, courtesy of new updates to the video application.

The option comes at a time when a number of creatives and users are turning to Instagram Live in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether it’s a yoga lesson, a recipe class, or a virtual concert live video has become an important channel for creators and audiences to connect with each other. 

Given this increase in consumption of live video, sharing your content on IGTV is a great way to reach new audiences and extend the availability of your broadcasts.

To share a recording of your Instagram Live video, select the “Share to IGTV” option after your broadcast ends, select a cover photo for the video, and hit publish.

share Instagram live videos to IGTV

When using IGTV for Instagram Live, keep these things in mind:

  • Your viewers will be recounted once you share the Instagram Live video to IGTV.
  • Live video recordings won’t include any comments or reactions from your original Instagram Live video.
  • There’s no way to trim or edit your live broadcast before posting it to IGTV.

Despite the few shortcomings, sharing live videos to IGTV is a great way to archive your content so your audiences can catch them more than 24 hours later.


Instagram Live is a fantastic tool to reach and engage your audience in a compelling and intimate way.

And with live video becoming a larger part of people’s daily communications, getting to grips with this powerful medium now is certain to pay dividends in the future.

For best results:

  • Plan ahead of time. Make sure you know what you hope to achieve, what call to action you’ll promote, and what format you’ll use.
  • Make sure to promote your Instagram Live stream before and after the event.
  • Finally, have fun and don’t worry too much about making mistakes – remember, it’s live!

“It’s important to remember that viewers aren’t expecting to see a Broadway actor recite a powerful monologue,” says Jasmine Star, a marketing and branding consultant.

“Don’t feel the pressure of perfection (namely because perfection doesn’t exist in the online streaming world), and instead opt for: 1. Clarity of message; and 2. Approachability.”

Go for it!

Before you leave, have you used Instagram Live before? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

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Thomas J Law

Thomas J Law

Thomas is a B2B content writer specializing in SaaS, ecommerce, and digital marketing. To learn more about how Thomas can help you achieve your goals, visit his website at tomjlaw.com.

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Everything You Need to Know

Everything You Need to Know

Mobile website design is essential.

Why? Because mobile devices are revolutionizing the way we connect, and as a result, the way businesses operate. In fact, the majority of web traffic now comes from mobile devices.

“Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub, but also the bridge to the physical world,” said Thomas Husson, the Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. “That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations – it will transform your entire business.”

In other words, you need a mobile responsive website.

But what is a mobile-friendly website? In this article, you’ll learn all about mobile-friendly websites and see nine of the best mobile website design examples. Plus, you’ll learn how to find out if your website is mobile-friendly.

Let’s get to it.

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What is a Mobile-Friendly Website?

Simply put, a mobile-friendly website is a site that is designed and optimized for hand-held devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

And mobile responsive design is the process of creating a website that adapts to the screen size it’s viewed on.

Here at Oberlo, we have a mobile-friendly website design. Let’s compare how it looks on desktop and mobile.

In the image below, you can see that the desktop website has plenty of space, the page elements are arranged side-by-side in places, and the text is relatively small compared to the size of the screen.

Oberlo Desktop Website

On the other hand, when you view the website on mobile, the page elements are stacked on top of each other in one long column, and there’s less space around each element. Also, the buttons are bigger to make it easy to tap them, and the text is larger in relation to the page size to make it easier to read.

Oberlo Mobile Website Design

“The rich and interactive experiences we have come to expect on mobile apps have created new standards and expectations for all digital media including the web,” said Raj Aggarwal, CEO of mobile marketing company Localytics. “The result is websites are evolving to become more app-like in their rich functionality.”

The Importance of Mobile Website Design

Let’s cut to the chase: In the last quarter of 2019, smartphones were responsible for a whopping 52.6 percent of global website traffic.

This means mobile device use now dominates desktop computers.

Plus, the number of mobile devices worldwide is expected to grow to 16.8 billion by 2023.

Mobile Devices Globally

As Cyndie Shaffstall, the founder of marketing company Spider Trainers, said, “Mobile is not the future, it is the now. Meet your customers in the environment of their choice, not where it is convenient for you.”

Mobile devices are also changing shopping habits.

According to Google, 59 percent of shoppers say that being able to shop on their mobile devices is important when deciding which retailer or brand to buy from.

Plus, 70 percent of smartphone owners who made a purchase in-store turned to their mobile devices to research the purchase beforehand.

If that’s not enough, Google’s algorithm prioritizes mobile-friendly websites in the search results.

In March 2020, Google said, “To simplify, we’ll be switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites.”

If you’re wondering what this means, Google developer advocate John Mueller explains:

“Currently, Google looks at the desktop version of a site and then bases how it will rank the mobile site according to that information. Once this update rolls out, the opposite of that will happen. Google will begin looking at your mobile site and from that, will rank the desktop site.”

The update officially will come into play in September 2020, but 70 percent of websites displayed in the search results are already being ranked based on this mobile-first indexing algorithm.

Google Statistic

Finally, many users load mobile websites using slow, weak phone connections. As a result, brands must create a mobile website design that loads quickly.

All in all, the world is now mobile-first – and that’s why you need a mobile responsive website.

8 Design Tips from the Best Mobile Websites

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at eight mobile website design tips that you can use. Plus, you’ll see real-life examples from some of the best mobile websites on the web.

1. Use Large Buttons

Mobile-friendly websites need to have buttons large enough for users to tap them without having to zoom in.

Additionally, there needs to be space between hyperlinks. If links are placed too close together, users might attempt to click on a link and accidentally click on a different one. 

Shopify uses large buttons and puts plenty of space between hyperlinks on its mobile website design.

Shopify Large Buttons

So, when you design your mobile responsive website, keep spacing in mind, and make sure that every hyperlink can be easily clicked.

2. Make the Text Large Enough to Read

This one might seem a little obvious, but it’s also crucial to mobile-friendly website design.

Users should never have to zoom in – or scroll left or right – to read something. The text should always be large enough to read comfortably.

In the example below from Beardbrand, you can see that all of the text on display perfectly fits the size of the screen.

Beardbrand Large Text

Make your text large enough on screens of all sizes so users can easily read what you have to say.

3. Simplify Menus

Desktop website menus have a lot of space. They can take up an entire bar at the top of the screen, and have extensive drop-down options, all without hindering the user experience.

This isn’t the case on mobile devices – there just isn’t enough space.

Mobile-friendly websites should use simple menus that present an overview of the website. Users can then use categories, filters, or the search feature to hone in on what they’re looking for.

Most mobile-friendly websites use the hamburger symbol – consisting of two or three horizontal lines – to indicate a menu.

Let’s check out a good example from one of the best mobile websites, Kylie Skin

When users tap the two-line hamburger menu in the top-right of the screen, they’ll be shown a full-screen menu with large buttons and text.

KylieSkin Mobile Menu Example

When creating a mobile responsive website, keep your menus simple to make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for. 

4. Provide a Simple and Intuitive Search Feature

Your website’s search feature is especially important to mobile users.

As mentioned above, simplified menus can make mobile browsing easier. However, they can also make it more difficult for users to find a specific item.

To make it effortless for users to find what they want, place the search feature front-and-center.

Shopify user Gymshark places the search function in the top bar of the page. There’s also an intuitive filter function to make it easier for users to find specific types of products.

Gymshark Search and Filter Features

The key takeaway? Make a simple and effective search feature part of your mobile website design.

5. Make it Easy to Get in Touch

If a customer is looking for your contact details, they might have run into trouble – which means they’re likely already a little frustrated. Don’t add insult to injury by making it difficult to contact you.

Especially when 84 percent of consumers consider customer service to be a key factor when deciding whether to make a purchase.

Customer Service Stat

Here’s another great mobile website design example from Shopify user Bremont. This luxury watch brand places a chat icon at the bottom-right of the screen, which makes it quick and easy for website visitors to contact a representative.

Bremont Contact Options

If you can’t offer live chat around the clock, consider linking to a Facebook chatbot, or simply provide a contact form that users can access via a “Contact” link in your menu.

6. Create Simple Forms

Users may be more inclined to fill out a long form on a computer because the screen is larger and it’s easier to type with a keyboard.

On mobile devices, forms need to be shorter with large text fields and buttons.

For example, if you’re asking users to sign up to your mailing list, you shouldn’t ask for more than a first name and email address.

If you need to include more questions, make them quick and easy to answer.

In this mobile website design example from Shopify user QuadLock, you can see large fields with simple form requirements. There’s even a drop-down menu to help users provide information about their inquiry.

QuadLock Contact Form

In short, make sure your forms are short and sweet.

7. Create Eye-Catching Calls-to-Action

A call-to-action – also known as a CTA – is an image, banner, or piece of text that literally calls users to take some form of action.

For example, you might prompt users to sign up to your mailing list, learn more about an offer, or purchase a product.

This marketing tactic plays an essential role in mobile website design.

However, it can be challenging to create compelling calls-to-action with such limited screen space to play with.

In this mobile website example from Shopify user Luxy Hair, you can see two banners featuring calls-to-action. The first one promotes a new product that comes with a free gift, and the second prompts users to learn more about the brand’s free shipping and 90-day exchange policies.

Luxy Hair Calls-to-Action

When creating CTAs for your mobile-friendly website, make them stand out by placing them above the fold where users can see them without having to scroll down.

8. Avoid Pop-Ups

Let’s face it: Most people hate pop-ups. In fact, if you Google “I hate pop-up ads,” you’ll find almost 48 million results.

"I Hate Pop Ups" Google Search

No wonder Google rolled out an algorithm change in 2017 that penalizes websites that serve specific types of pop-ups on mobile devices.

These days, your search rankings are likely to suffer if you:

  • Show a pop-up that covers the main content
  • Display a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before they can access the main content.
  • Make the top of the page resemble a standalone interstitial and place the original content underneath.

Pop-Ups That Suck

That said, some types of pop-ups shouldn’t affect your rankings negatively, such as

  • Interstitials used to meet legal obligations such as age verification, cookie consent, or GDPR.
  • Login windows to access private content, such as email or content that is behind a paywall.
  • Small banners that are easily dismissable and “use a reasonable amount of screen space,” such as the app install banners used by Chrome and Safari.

Pop-Ups That Are Okay

Bottom line, mobile pop-ups frustrate users and can hurt your search rankings, so only use them when absolutely necessary.

How to Find Out If You Have a Mobile-Friendly Website

If you’re wondering whether your website is mobile-friendly, it’ll only take a moment to find out with Google’s mobile-friendly test tool – just input a link to your website and click “Test URL.” 

This tool will evaluate how mobile-friendly your website is and give you a detailed breakdown of what you can do to improve it.

Google's Mobile-Friendly Test

Summary: Mobile Website Design in 2020

A mobile-friendly website is one that is designed to work well on smartphones and tablets. And now that the world is mobile-first, your website should be too. 

In summary, here are eight mobile website design tips:

  1. Make buttons big enough for people to tap them.
  2. Ensure that text is large enough to read without users needing to zoom in.
  3. Simplify your menu to make it easy to navigate on a small screen.
  4. Place the search feature front-and-center and allow users to filter search results.
  5. Make it effortless for users to contact you.
  6. Create forms that are simple and quick to use.
  7. Place calls-to-action above the fold, so that they’re prominent.
  8. Avoid frustrating users with pop-ups unless they’re absolutely necessary.

What are your thoughts on mobile website design? Have we missed any great mobile web design best practices? Let us know in the comments below!

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Thomas J Law

Thomas J Law

Thomas is a B2B content writer specializing in SaaS, ecommerce, and digital marketing. To learn more about how Thomas can help you achieve your goals, visit his website at tomjlaw.com.

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Organically Growing an Instagram Account to 6000 Followers in 2 Months

Organically Growing an Instagram Account to 6000 Followers in 2 Months

As the lockdowns started all over the world, I found myself with a lot more spare time. While the pressure to learn new skills and make the most of the lockdown seemed a little unhealthy, I wanted to channel this new free time into something constructive.

Around the same time, a friend of mine was furloughed and went from working a 40 hour week to nothing. Although we had discussed working together on a store for months, the timing never seemed to work. But then, thanks to a worldwide pandemic, we suddenly had nothing but time.

Over the next few weeks, we transformed an old online store I had started months before (and quickly abandoned). We changed niche, purchased a new domain, imported new items, and optimized all our product descriptions for search.

With our store looking much better than ever, we wanted to establish ourselves within our niche community. Although we had written a blog that was starting to rank, we needed a quicker way to make an impact, so we started posting on Instagram.

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Building Our Instagram Account

Using the Instagram account I had set up for my original store, which had just 40 followers, we deleted all previous posts, transformed the profile, and started posting as much content as possible.

The wins started coming in.

We started our Instagram project on April 20, with 40 followers leftover from the old account. By May 15, we had 500 followers and a ton of engagement thanks to our hashtags. Two days later, the Instagram algorithm blessed us, and somehow we gained 800 followers overnight. Our account then quickly gained momentum and currently has 6,860 followers — all in just ten weeks.

gaining 6000 followers in two months

Sure, our following is nothing compared to mega influencers, but our Instagram account is so low maintenance that gaining this following in such a short space of time feels like an achievement worth celebrating.

And, what’s more, we’ve even had sales through our Instagram profile. We never expected that to happen – and it all happened for free.

Building a social media presence is not something that every ecommerce entrepreneur wants to focus on, but I believe that it can help your business. If you’re curious to learn how to bulk up your profile, read on to learn exactly how we did it.

Research Your Niche and Community

After thinking about our options, we decided to create a niche store focussing on products that would have broad appeal to a younger age group who enjoyed social media trends.

After importing products that we knew this group would like, we also decided to add items to appeal specifically to a smaller niche within the group. We discovered this small niche through social media and, after some research, realized we would have few competitors. We used social media to get to know the niche and to get an understanding of what they would like.

social media apps on an iphone

Although I won’t reveal our specific niche, you could easily find your own by looking at discussion forums or social media. Think of communities with a particular interest or aesthetic but are currently underserved. You should also dig deep to find sub-cultures. For example, it’s easy to find communities who love building computer setups, but why not get more specific and solely target the mechanical keyboard enthusiast community.

Because all our product pages were search engine optimized, we knew people would find our most popular products. But for our more niche products, we wanted to become embedded in the community and realized Instagram was the key.

Find Hashtags to Help You Make an Impact

After deciding to dedicate our Instagram to a specific niche, we wanted to make sure those in this community would discover our new account. And the best way to do that on Instagram? Hashtags.

We found that the best way to find relevant hashtags was to start with the most apparent tags and use them as a jumping point. These hashtags all had a high number of posts, which was great, but also meant that other users might dominate them.

To avoid our posts getting lost in the noise, we looked at influential accounts in our niche to see what hashtags they used. There are also websites to help with this process, but we found manually searching worked best for us.

Different levels of hashtag popularity

After spending time collecting the different hashtags, we ended up with a small list that included the most popular hashtags through to those that only had a couple of thousand posts. Our idea was to dominate those smaller hashtags, gain followers, and earn favor with the Instagram algorithm to be shown more prominently on the more popular hashtags. It was a tactic that soon paid off. Even if we were unable to grab a spot in the ‘top posts’ section of a popular hashtag, we had uplifts in traffic from totally dominating the smaller hashtags.

Post Multiple Times a Day

Even with a carefully cultivated list of hashtags, no Instagram account will gain a following unless you post a lot of content.

To jumpstart our account, we signed up to the scheduling tool Buffer. We took advantage of the 14-day premium trial, meaning we could schedule as many posts as we wanted in advance. This allowed us to schedule posts for entire weeks, getting all the work done at once. By the time the trial ended, we already had the beginnings of a good follower base.

Using Buffer’s free account, we’ve set up five different time slots for posting and aim to post between three and five pieces of content per day. This regularity means we stay on users’ radars. If someone doesn’t follow us the first time they see one of our posts, they might when they see the fourth or fifth.

We tend to post simple pictures to our profile, and a lot of our content is gathered from Pinterest and credited where possible. However, depending on the community you want to target, places such as Reddit, Twitter, or TikTok can be treasure-troves – or simply make original content.

Post What Your Followers Want – Not Just Ads

If you’ve ever used Instagram, you’ll know how annoying it is when a profile posts nothing but sponsored content or advertising. Nobody follows someone on Instagram for constant ads, and you should avoid doing this with your store’s account.

We wanted to make our profile a place that reliably provided the type of content our niche wanted to see. In doing this, we hoped that when we did post our products, our audience wouldn’t mind because we’d built up a good relationship. However, this can be difficult if you don’t know a niche particularly well.

If you aren’t sure what your audience actually likes, be sure to do some serious research. You could also consider hiring someone who already has a better understanding, which is what dropshipper Burak Dogan did. After entrusting his Instagram account to his sister, she grew his store’s account to almost 37,000 followers.

Once you have a good grasp on the type of things your community likes, be sure to post a lot of that content with just a sprinkling of ads mixed in between. We leave between three and ten posts between any posts advertising our products to overwhelm or annoy our followers.

Because our store has multiple products, we can cycle through different products in our product posts without repeating, avoiding annoying our followers. However, if you’re a one product store, you might need to get a little more creative with how you post your items to keep your product posts looking fresh.

Engage with Your Community and Followers

Screenshots of happy follower comments

Engaging with followers is one of those things that seems like extra work, but we’ve found it an excellent way to connect with our followers, a.k.a potential customers. After all, it’s hardly fair to want to take from a community without giving back.

While it’s hard to prove whether this has helped our following grow, we believe our interactions have helped retain followers and better establish our profile and brand.

Our community loves to comment on our posts, especially if we’ve included a call to action or question in our caption. We try to like all comments and reply when appropriate – occasionally, our quick replies even catch followers pleasantly off guard. We’ve been open to posting content from followers and often follow those in our niche. Our tone of voice is polite, and kind, and it’s resulted in a kind community of followers.

Engaging authentically with the followers is a tactic that store owner Courtney White swears by. Her genuine and friendly approach has resulted in the growth of a fantastic community for her store, Finer and Dandy. She has even taken this to the next level and works with Instagram users as affiliates for her store, shunning Facebook ads altogether.

Fine Tune With Analytics

Screenshots of Instagram Insights

When we started posting to our account, we did what seemed like the right move. However, after a few weeks, our Instagram Insights began filling up with data. This meant we could dig into how our followers were receiving our posts.

Using the information in Instagram Insights – available to any business profile – we could see precisely the engagement, reach, comments, followers, impressions, likes, and website clicks each post was getting. We could see that our product posts resulted in website visits and that specific themes in posts outperformed others. For example, pictures of home interiors consistently perform better than posts with animals. This was the opposite of what I had thought (who doesn’t like animals? Our audience, apparently).

Screenshots of posting times for the account

We also used Insights to fine-tune our posting schedule. Right at the bottom of the Audience tab in Insights, there’s a section called Followers. This shows the average times your followers are on Instagram – both the hours and the days. Here we discovered Monday was when most of our followers were online, and Tuesday was the lowest day.

We were also able to see our followers were most online between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. US Central Time. Because most of our followers are from the United States, this made total sense,. Using this information we adjusted our scheduled posting times to match when most users were online.

Things We Should Have Done Sooner

As with anything, there was always going to be things we wished we did sooner with our account. Here a few things that we eventually started doing that would have been better to implement from day one.

Make Our Posts Shoppable

For the first seven weeks of running our account when posting products to our feed, we told our followers to click the link in our bio. Although this worked, we eventually realized we should have also been tagging our posts with the products. Because our store was linked to our Instagram account, tagging the products was super simple, and it was a shame we didn’t do it sooner. Now any time we post a product, we tag the item in the post as well.

Set up Posting Schedules

I’ve mentioned our posting schedule a few times in this article, but it took us awhile to put this in place. In the beginning, we were manually setting the publishing time – even if we were posting at the same time every day – which took longer than was necessary. It’s an excellent reminder to take advantage of all the features in any scheduling platform you use.

Creating a Link Directly to Our Collection

Our store currently gains visitors through traffic from social media and search. However, the Instagram audience generally buys different products to the search audience. As a result, our store’s homepage is a mix of products that mostly caters to the search audience.

After a few weeks posting products on Instagram and directing followers to click the link in our bio, we realized that anyone following that link would go to a homepage filled with items different to those on our Instagram account. We wanted anyone following the link to quickly find the product they had seen on Instagram, so we swapped it for a link to a specific collection instead. The collection contains all the products we post about on Instagram and fits the theme of our Instagram profile. This makes it a better experience all round for potential buyers.

Plans for the Future

'what's next' on chalkboard

Overall our experience running a niche Instagram account has been fun. Although I’ve covered a lot of content in this article, our account is very straightforward to run. Because we know the type of content our community enjoys, we can easily schedule posts. Then it’s just a matter of checking in and interacting with followers.

Our Instagram account has already made us a tiny amount of money from orders. The traffic that comes to our store from Instagram provides excellent data for our Facebook Pixel. This will all be extremely useful if we decide to run Facebook ads in the future.

In the coming weeks, we hope to grow the account to over 10,000 followers and make use of Instagram Stories. Once a business account has 10,000 followers, it can use the “Swipe Up” function in Stories, adding another exciting aspect to our Instagram experiment.

If you plan to use any of the tips from this article or have your own – let me know in the comment section below, I’d love to hear them.

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Allanah Faherty

Allanah Faherty

Allanah Faherty is a content marketer at Oberlo. Allanah is passionate about empowering entrepreneurs through useful and interesting content, as well as movie trivia and cats.

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6 Ways To Drive Traffic To Your Business

6 Ways To Drive Traffic To Your Business

Trying to increase website traffic to your online business can feel impossible when you’re first starting out. No matter what you try, nothing seems to work. Things get even more frustrating when you start wasting money on advertising that isn’t driving any returns.

Don’t worry—driving traffic doesn’t have to be this hard. All it takes is some guidance and a little elbow grease.

How to Increase Website Traffic

Whether you’re at the bottom of the hill and you’re not entirely sure how you’re going to make it to the top or you’re halfway there and you just need a little pick me up, this post is for you.

Start with these 6 ways to drive traffic to your online store:

  • Partner with Influencers
  • Post to Forums
  • Utilize Content Marketing
  • Run Contests & Giveaways
  • Interview Influencers
  • Get Featured in Local Publications

And while these 6 ways are just scratching the surface of the many ways you can drive traffic to your online business, they’re a great place for any merchant to start building traffic to their ecommerce site.

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. It’s time to pull back the curtain on these traffic generation strategies.

Partner With Influencers

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Partnerships

Influencers are the bread and butter of the online marketing space. They’re free to talk to, typically have a large and engaged following, and can drive tons of highly engaged and targeted traffic to your site. Remember: Engagement is more important than raw numbers because they have a greater ecommerce conversion rate.

An influencer is anyone who has a significant influence on a large group of people, either on social media or via email. In his guide to influencer marketing, Jason Quey says there are 5 “flavors” of influencers:

  • Celebrities
  • Authorities
  • Journalists
  • Connectors
  • Bloggers

Each of these types of influencers has a different reach, associated difficulty with contacting, and level of ability to build a relationship with and grow your online store. In order to partner with influencers, you must first target the people you want to work with. When looking at influencers, try to focus on people who are:

  • Highly relevant to your products, but not competitors
  • Have a large and engaged social media following
  • Have a large email list
  • Have a high domain authority on their website or blog (you can check DA with Moz for free)

You can use free tools like Influence.co or BuzzSumo to help you find influencers in nearly any niche or industry.

Once you’ve picked 3-5 influencers to partner with, you need to start building a relationship with them. It’s not as simple as sending them an email and saying, “Hey, can you help me sell my stuff?”

Start with the two things all influencers love:

  • People who engage with them (and their content)
  • People who help them become even more influential

In order to get on an influencer’s good side, follow them, and engage with them on their social media profiles. Here’s how:

  • Like and share their posts
  • Comment on their posts with something funny or insightful
  • Link to them from your blog if you have one

Once you’ve spent at least a week engaging with them, it’s time to finally reach out and see if they’re willing to work with you.

If you’re new to this, it might seem a bit daunting—don’t worry, as long as you show them you truly care about the relationship, people typically want to help you.

Here’s an outreach template you can mold to fit your needs:

“Hey, [Their Name]! I’ve been following your content on [social channel or website] for a while now, and I love what you put out. In fact, [key takeaway from something they did or said. For example, “I learned was able to drive 3,000 visitors by reaching out to influencers thanks to your article on driving traffic”].

I’m the owner of [your business]. I sell [products]. I think you’d be a perfect fit for them!

[Offer them a free product to review or a percentage of profits for any products they sell for you. For example, “I wanted to offer you the opportunity to review our products for free. If you write about it, awesome! If not, I understand. Would you mind if I sent you XYZ product?” or “I wanted to offer you a spot on our affiliate program. We offer 10% of the profits from every sale you send our way. Would you be interested in trialing the product to see if it’s the right fit?”]

Thanks for your time and consideration,

[Your Name]”

Post to Forums, Groups, or Q&As

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Forums

To drive traffic, you have to go where people are hanging out. Forums, groups, and Q&A sessions are, by definition, places where people are.

Some of the places you can post to include:

Let’s break them each down so you’re not going in blind.


Reddit can be a scary place for inexperienced marketers. The crowd there is typically far less forgiving than most other places. They can just smell bullshit a mile away.

That said, don’t be scared. There are plenty of best practices to keep you from being on the sharp end of the Reddit rage sword:

  • Be as Transparent as Possible: Reddit users can tell if you’re being sketchy, lying, or just abusing the ability to post.
  • Only Post High-Quality Stuff: Don’t write a crappy blog post and share it there or just share a link to your landing page. If you’re going to share a landing page, you better make sure it’s really unique, interesting, or entertaining.
  • Only Post in Relevant Groups: Posting your puppy products on a subreddit (subtopics within Reddit) for book readers will get you banned real fast. Unless you’re posting it to a forum post about puppy books or something.
  • Follow Reddit Rules & Subreddit Rules: Every subreddit typically has its own set of rules, separate from Reddit’s official rules, that you must abide by. Some subreddits allow links to your own content, others will kick you out for it.

LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn groups can be a great way to drive traffic to your online business because many of them are active (we’re talking tens or even hundreds of thousands of members) and you can target groups based on your niche.

These are our tips for using LinkedIn groups:

  • Join as Many as You Can: You can join up to 99 groups. Take advantage!
  • Try to Find Highly Relevant Groups: Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with how they’re related, either. If you sell headphones, expand your search to tech enthusiast groups and music enthusiast groups, for example. Semantic relation is still a relation!
  • Don’t Just Post Your Own products: People hate spam. They’re in the group to build relationships, not to see another version of your store. Post other people’s products, cool articles, and your blog posts.

As with all the marketing tactics on this list, focus on building relationships. People can tell when you’re being genuine vs. when you’re just trying to get them to open their wallets.

If you’re wondering what groups to join, here are 10 LinkedIn Groups for Ecommerce Professionals. Keep in mind, however, that these are more for learning than for promoting your stuff.

Slack Groups

We love Slack. We use Slack to manage our online business as well as communicate with our team. Certain Slack groups allow you to promote your products or your blog, as well as network with influencers and connect with your customers! Here is a list of Slack groups you can join based on your interests.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups have the same best practices as Reddit and LinkedIn, the key difference, however, is that Facebook groups give you much easier access to the people in the community. You can see who the members are, message them directly, and promote your content and products once you’ve developed a good rep there.


Quora is a nifty little tool that allows you to answer questions posted by anyone about anything. Of course, you can also ask your own questions, but that’s not how we’re using it to generate traffic.

There are 3 steps to using Quora as a promotion tool:

  • Search for questions relevant to your industry
  • Answer those questions as thoroughly as possible, with a link back to your product/website
  • If you’re really crafty, promote your answer to your new Slack and Facebook buddies to get your answer upvoted and seen, thus driving even more traffic

Content Marketing

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Content Marketing

Content marketing is about using content to promote your business. The easiest way to go about content marketing is by starting a blog on your site. It’s a pretty diverse field so we’ll briefly cover three tactics in this section:

  • Starting a blog
  • Guest posting on relevant sites
  • Syndicating your new content to other sites

Let’s kick it off!

Starting a Blog

A blog is an online business owner’s best friend. It’s a way to drive free traffic, be seen as an authority in your niche, and build relationships with influencers and customers.

To start off a blog right, you need 3 things:

  • A consistent blogging schedule (likely once a week)
  • A list of ideas to jumpstart your writing
  • A desire to start writing!

If you’re going to invest time into a blog, we highly recommend starting off with keyword research. Much of your traffic from blogging will come from search engines, so you want to go in knowing how to get higher search rankings.

Guest Post on Relevant Sites

Guest posting, or guest blogging, means writing blog content for another person’s blog with your name on the post. If you’ve never heard of this tactic, it might sound pretty crazy. Why waste your time writing good stuff for someone else when you can just write for your own blog?

Here’s why:

  • You get backlinks from high domain authority sites, giving you better search engine rankings which can lead to increased traffic
  • You get traffic to your website whenever someone clicks on those links
  • You gain authority in your industry by appearing on authoritative blogs

Syndicate Your Content to Other Sites

Content syndication means getting another site to “republish” your content on their own site. Again, this might seem crazy at first glance. Why give away the content you worked so hard to create? For the same reasons you want to write guest posts: You get to steal their traffic, get backlinks for SEO, and gain authority.

This tactic is a little more advanced, so we highly recommend you read a guide like this before trying it. Two things that are very important when syndicating content are to:

  • Wait at Least 2 Weeks Before Syndicating a Post: This gives search engines time to properly index your content and credit you for it.
  • Include a Canonical Link to the Original Content: (The code looks something like this: <a target =”blank” rel=”canonical” href=”yourlinkhere”>Anchor text</a>). This points search engines to rank your content first.

If that sounds complicated, but if you’re working with a blog or website that regularly publishes syndicated content, they’ll likely know what the proper procedures are.

Run a Contest or Giveaway

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Contests

Everyone loves a good contest. The best part? They’re basically free and highly effective. Keep in mind, however, that giveaways usually only provide short-term traffic.

That said, you can do a few things to keep that traffic coming back and increase customer retention overall. But first, let us teach you the basics of a great ecommerce giveaway.

Every great giveaway needs 3 things:

  • A Clear Goal: Driving traffic? Growing your social following? Collecting emails?
  • An Awesome Prize: Cash, free products, a trip, etc.
  • Promotion: Get it in the hands of influencers, current customers, and more

Once you know why you’re running a giveaway, what you’re giving away, and who you’re going to promote it to, it’s time to build the contest.

First, pick a good tool. We recommend ViralSweep. Check out our ViralSweep Review to learn how they make running giveaways and sweepstakes easy.

Next, begin promotion:

  • Reach out to influencers to have them help you promote it
  • Send an email to your email list about the promotion
  • Share it on your social media accounts—not once, but several times
  • Promote it on your homepage

When you have a winner, announce it to everyone (with the winner’s consent, of course). Showcase them on your site. Get a picture with them, if possible. By making the winner feel important, you’ll inspire them and others to continue entering in contests as well as provide social proof to your other followers and customers.

Interview Influencers on Your Site

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Interviews

Influencers hold some serious power to help you get traffic. That’s why we’re talking about them yet again. Before we dive too deep though, there’s something you need to know: Interviewing influencers probably won’t give you an immediate or amazing traffic boost.

This strategy isn’t short-term or a quick win. The purpose is more so to:

  • Build a long-term relationship with key influencers in your industry to get them to consistently work with you to increase website traffic and promote your products
  • Inspire your audience with amazing and emotional, inspirational, or helpful information
  • Learn from the best in the biz

Now that’s out of the way, let’s sink our teeth into how to find influencers.

When looking for influencers to interview, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  • Look for influencers that are relevant to your industry or niche
  • Look for influencers that tend to share the interviews they’re in

Once you have the right targets, it’s time to connect. A word of warning, however: Don’t just blindly send influencers emails. Do your homework first!

You should take the time to:

  • Follow their social media profiles
  • Read some of their blog posts and even speed read one of their books
  • Comment on, share, and like their social media and blog posts

Once you’ve done the work to show you care, send the outreach email asking for an interview. Here’s an outreach template from the SmartBlogger’s guide to interviewing influencers, tweaked for ecommerce:

“Hey, [Name]![Comment on their work, how you know them, what you’ve learned from them, etc. Make it original and prove you’ve actually read their material.]

Would be willing to do a quick 30-minute interview sometime in the next few weeks?

I run a [blog/site] called [blog/site name and link]. I help [target audience] to [attain xyz goal (either via your products, your content, or both)].

I recently came across something you wrote/said here: [link to what they wrote/said] and I’d love for my audience to hear your take on [topic]. [Explanation of why it’s important.]

I’ve also interviewed/am planning to interview [drop names of other major influencers you plan to interview.] I’d love to include you as well!

The interview will be pre-recorded (make sure you pre-record it), so we can talk whenever it fits into your schedule and I’ll make sure to keep it under 30 minutes. (Also make sure you stick to your word on this time limit!)

I’ll send you my questions ahead of time so there will be no surprises.

Just tell me a few times that would be good for you, and I’ll be happy to set it up.

Thanks! 🙂

[Your Name]”

We highly recommend reading their guide to find out how to do your research before the interview, how to structure the interview, and what questions to ask.

Get Featured in Local Publications

Ways to Drive Traffic Through Features

Local publications can be a very easy way to get (potentially free) traffic and publicity. Local papers and online publications are almost always looking for local businesses to feature and the bar for getting featured there is much lower than bigger national publications.

First, put together a list of local publications:

  • Find local newspapers using USNPL. Search for your county and city, surrounding counties and cities, and state-wide to give you plenty of options
  • Find local radio stations with Radio-Locator
  • Find local TV stations by entering your zip code in TV Guide
  • Find local websites using Patch Network and local business coverage sites using Business Journal
  • Add yourself to a service like Help a Reporter Out for the opportunity to be used as a source in journalistic content

Next, get the right contact info. You don’t want to waste your time talking to the people who have no power to get your business covered. Here’s how to find their contact info:

  • Check their website
  • Connect with them on LinkedIn
  • Use a tool like Email Hunter or Norbert to guess their email
  • Call them and ask

When you reach out to them, don’t be surprised to receive a low response ratio. It’s normal to send a follow-up email or two.

Note: We recommend waiting at least 5 days before sending a follow-up email — give them a chance to respond. If they still don’t respond after your follow-up email feel free to follow up again (about 3-5 days later) and politely let them know that if you don’t hear back from them you’ll assume they’re not interested and you’ll take them off your contact list.

Some tips to ensure coverage:

  • Donate to a local charity. News outlets love covering charity donations
  • Sponsor a local event or get involved with a local cause
  • Pitch a feature of your business to a local talk show
  • Send out press releases to local journalists

Just be ready for the additional traffic and customers that are likely to come your way!


The steps outlined in this guide have driven tens of thousands of visitors to our ecommerce sites in the past, and continue to work to this day. You don’t have to try every method at once. Pick one, master it, then come back and tackle another. Bookmark this page so you don’t lose it. We challenge you to pick a method and go implement it right now. After all, taking action is ultimately what leads to results.

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A Guide to Brand Storytelling [Free Worksheet]

A Guide to Brand Storytelling [Free Worksheet]

Think about a story you love—a documentary, a podcast episode, a novel. What about that story makes it stay with you? Chances are it moved you to feel something.

A brand story contains many of the same elements that draw you into your favorite book or film. And it’s a story that serves a similar purpose. It has characters (you, your customers), a conflict (personal or customer pain point), rising action (your journey to solve that problem), and a climax (the launch!). Most importantly, it leaves the reader or viewer with a feeling. 

If you think of brand storytelling in terms of just storytelling, you free yourself from the constraints of what you think a brand story should be and allow yourself to write the story you want. There are no rules here—but there are plenty of guidelines that experienced storytellers use to catch and keep attention. Join us in coloring outside the lines, won’t you?

Meet the storytellers

A brand’s story is often closely tied to a founder’s original vision for their business or one they uncover along the way. As a result, they’re often the only people capable of sharing their brand’s origin. So, I spoke with the practitioners—founders who have successfully used storytelling to engage and build audiences and grow their businesses. Here they share their personal journeys and experiences, alongside their best-kept secrets for crafting a compelling brand story.

Charlotte Cho

Author, licensed esthetician, and co-founder of Soko Glam and Then I Met You

Portrait of Charlotte Cho holding skincare products
Charlotte Cho

When Charlotte took the leap and launched Soko Glam in 2012, she had no business or beauty experience. She seemed an unlikely founder—at first blush. But it was Charlotte’s unconventional approach that came to define her now widely respected brand.

Soko Glam is, in many ways, the manifestation of Charlotte’s personal skincare journey. She took her audience along for the ride as her business got off the ground, candidly sharing her ups and downs and building a following through genuine storytelling. In 2018, she launched her own skincare line, Then I Met You, a brand built around an ethos close to her heart.

Lauren Chan

Model, former fashion editor, and founder and CEO of Henning

Portrait of Lauren Chan

Lauren moved from Canada to New York to work as a plus-sized model before transitioning to journalism—where she later became a renowned expert on plus fashion.

Dismayed by the lack of clothing options in her size, Lauren launched her own plus brand, Henning, in 2019. For six months, she thoughtfully built a community around the story of the brand, before officially releasing any product. Her own experiences are tightly woven into the brand’s “why.” 

Ashley Jennett

Mom, registered nurse, photographer, and owner of The Bee & The Fox

Portrait of Ashley Jennett standing in a field with her children
Ashley Jennett

For Ashley, a nurse by trade, her online t-shirt business happened quite by accident. It was a brand born out of a creative partnership with her best friend as they visually documented their lives and travel. The Bee & The Fox launched quietly with kids’ tees but caught a swelling wave of attention when it introduced its Mama Bird shirt for women. The business is now Ashley’s full-time job—on top of being a full-time single mom. Her story of motherhood and passion for speaking up are evident at every touchpoint—even across the fronts of the shirts themselves.

I also consulted Karlee Bedford, Head of Brand Marketing for our Brand and Communications team at Shopify, to get some expert insights. Karlee brings to her role at Shopify more than a decade of experience building and growing brands in the advertising industry.

What is a brand story?

Before we talk about brand storytelling, we should talk about brand—a term that often gets confused with “branding.” “Brand is so much bigger than a logo or a guideline document,” says Karlee. “Brand elicits a feeling.” She refers to Seth Godin’s definition of brand that describes it as “a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, put together, impact a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Let’s take two seemingly similar examples: Nike and New Balance. While their products may not differ very much functionally, “they behave differently and have very different perspectives,” says Karlee. “Consumers in the market for sneakers have a different feeling about what each brand offers them emotionally.”

Brand is so much bigger than a logo or a guideline document. Brand elicits a feeling.

Karlee Bedford

Brand storytelling uses narrative to shape and communicate the essence of your brand to your customers. It is a mix of facts (the who, what, when) and feelings (the why) that tell the world what you’re about and why they should care. A good story infuses a brand’s values: what do you stand for? 

A brand story can become the North Star for a growing company; a beacon that guides what a company does in addition to what it says. It can act as the foundation of a set of brand guidelines that keep your mission, message, and voice consistent, even as you scale.

Your brand story, like any good story, should be captivating, human, and honest. It should make people feel something. That feeling then becomes the catalyst for a desired action—join, donate, follow, sign up, buy.

Why take a storytelling approach?

The 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life tells the life story of George Bailey, a man who gives up his dream to do the right thing, only to find himself broke and miserable. But then! When it all seems quite hopeless for poor George, we meet Clarence, an angel sent to help our woe-stricken protagonist. A Christmas miracle! Clarence shows George a world without George that is, frankly, much worse than one with him. An awakening. Not a dry eye in Bedford Falls. Fin

I’ve seen this film at least two dozen times. It’s a family tradition, and without it, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same. The story, for me, is the magical reindeer dust on the entire holiday experience. Nope, it’s not the eggnog and rum inducing these warm and fuzzy feelings—it’s the power of storytelling. Neuroscience agrees. 

One Berkeley study found that the brain produces a neurochemical called oxytocin—sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”—when people watch or hear a moving story. Oxytocin creates feelings of empathy and compassion, and higher levels of the hormone are shown to produce generosity and trust. 

Storytelling is an opportunity to emotionally connect with consumers.

Karlee Bedford

For a brand, that’s good news. “Storytelling is an opportunity to emotionally connect with consumers,” says Karlee. “It offers the consumer more than just a product or service—it offers them an experience.” If you can move your audiences to feel something it’s easier to build trust and an initial connection, laying the foundation for turning them into a customer.

Lauren’s experiences were integral to her brand story because it’s rooted in her most vulnerable moments. She launched mere months before the onset of COVID-19 and the escalation of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Right now we need to be deeply human,” she says. And because Henning was built upon that premise, it was natural for the brand to use its voice. “It makes sense to focus on community and conversation.”

Storytelling “can affirm our own beliefs and perceptions, but more often, it challenges them,” says writer and historian Cody C. Delistraty. This is a cornerstone of The Bee & The Fox, a brand that aims to inspire conversation. “The heart of the brand is always going to be in the content. It’s in what we stand for. It’s the organizations we donate to,” Ashley says.

Authenticity and trust

“Relationships between humans take time to build, and the same is true for brands and their customers,” says Karlee. “It requires spending time together, sharing experiences, having conversations, and building trust over time.” 

Portrait of Lauren Chan
Lauren’s own story is at the center of her brand’s story. BFA

Lauren believes the people your brand serves should have a seat at the table, making decisions. “Part of the reason that plus-sized brands have largely failed in the past is that they’re not founded or run by plus-sized people,” she says. “And it’s evident.” Lauren is her own customer, so she’s able to share a common experience with them. The authenticity shines in her brand story and visuals. 

Charlotte’s authentic self also plays a central role in both Soko Glam and Then I Met You—and their stories. For her, gaining trust meant being candid about her own lack of credentials. “Most people buy skincare lines because they come from a dermatologist,” she says. “Hey, I didn’t even wash my face a couple of years ago.” Charlotte used blogging as a way to share lessons from her personal skincare journey—and that vulnerability resonated with a growing Korean beauty fandom.

You can’t sell authenticity and you really can’t teach it.

Ashley Jennett

Even as Charlotte has gained hard-won experience—authoring a book on skincare and earning her esthetician licence—she maintains an enthralling level of transparency with her audience through the ups and downs. “I speak about this openly, even on my social,” she says, “about how stressed I was for the launch of Then I Met You.”

One of the frequent pitfalls in building a brand, says Karlee, is “inventing brand benefits, rather than mining and uncovering their genuine purpose and values.” Insincerity is hard to hide. Bold messages and firm stances won’t read as authentic no matter how many buzzwords you use. “You can’t sell authenticity and you really can’t teach it,” says Ashley.

You and your brand

You, the founder, bring your brand into being, but let’s be clear: you are not the star. You are the narrator, the supporting character, the story device that lets the main character shine. Your customer? She takes the lead.

Your story becomes the structure upon which your customers write their own.

But, your role is critical. Your story becomes the structure upon which your customers write their own. If they see themselves in your struggles and triumphs, you’ve cast them a role in the center of your brand’s story.

The decision to put your name and face at the center of your brand story is a personal one. For many reasons, you may choose to be more removed. While Ashley’s About Us page on The Bee & The Fox’s website tells a beautiful and personal story, her own face and name are obscured. Instead, the faces captured in the brand’s photography are representative of the brand’s diverse customers.

Image of a model wearing a hat and a t-shirt looking back over her shoulder against a background of treesImage of a two models wearing coats and sunglasses against a sky background

Image of a model sitting on a car wearing a t-shirt that reads
The Bee & The Fox

In Lauren’s case, she tells me that Henning did need a face. “Our business is one that is intensely emotionally driven. Plus-sized fashion—for people who have been marginalized by this industry—is even more emotional,” she says. “It required a human being, it required warmth, it required understanding and community.”

Answering your “why”

A great story always has a “why.” It is the main character’s raison d’etre, the driving force behind the journey to the what or the where. In a brand story, that “why” could be a pain point—a gap in the market that you aim to fill—or fulfillment of a passion. The answer to “why did I create this?” could become the jumping off point for your story.

When Lauren was working as an editor, she met with some of the biggest names in fashion—while wearing clothes that didn’t express her style or make her feel confident. “I was limited to cheap, crappy clothes,” she says. “I was literally having wardrobe malfunctions at work and skipping meetings because my clothes were embarrassing.”

Lauren’s frustrations, she understood, were personal, but also shared by many women who wear plus sizes. Her “why” was ensuring that other women didn’t have to experience the same. “When plus-sized women only have one type of fashion and they aren’t able to express themselves, they’re not able to feel authentic,” she says.“The effects of that are just mentally detrimental.”

Free Worksheet: Brand Storytelling

Use this handy exercise as a guide to help you craft a compelling brand story and build a loyal audience through the power of storytelling.

Story elements

The principles of telling a captivating story are roughly the same across mediums. It’s the quality of what’s expressed, not the format, that determines whether a story resonates.

We can employ and learn from the same storytelling techniques that film directors or novelists use to hook their audiences. I know, literal decades may have passed since you were last expected to painstakingly pick apart The Old Man and the Sea. But understanding the underlying elements of a well-told story is useful as a checklist of sorts.

📖 What are the elements of a good story? Generally, a narrative consists of:

  • Exposition: characters, setting, and details that help the reader visualize the story
  • Conflict: a crisis or tension point that may change the course of the character’s path
  • Rising action: the lead-up to the climax
  • Climax: the defeat, rebirth, or aha moment; the inception of something new
  • Falling action: also called dénoument or resolution

✏️ As an example, let’s use these story elements to create the basis for Henning’s story:

  • Characters: Lauren, plus-sized professional women (her customers)
  • Setting: New York, offices and spaces where professional women operate
  • Conflict: Lauren couldn’t find clothing that represented her inner self outwardly
  • Rising action: she began to have wardrobe malfunctions and miss meetings, and the lack of appropriate clothing options affected her psychologically
  • Climax and resolution: she became fed up with the options in plus fashion and decided to launch her own brand. Henning grew an audience based on its authenticity and commitment to designing clothes for plus women, by plus women

The Hero’s Journey is a popular story format that mirrors the path of many entrepreneur types and may be an ideal framework for you. It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey took a circular journey and found himself back where he started, changed by his experiences. Show the destination, show where it all began, and then bridge the gap.

Another exercise to try is mapping your story out on Disney’s story spine—a framework upon which many of the company’s films are built: 

Once upon a time… 

And every day… 

Until one day…

And because of that… 

And because of that… 

And because of that… 

Until finally…

And since that day…

The moral of the story is…


The best inspiration will likely come from the stories that have moved you in the past. What are some of your favorite movies, books, podcasts, or other brand stories? What do they have in common? What storytelling devices do they use effectively to inspire feeling?

The customer as the hero

Screen shot of a Then I Met You post on Instagram
Customer faces and stories are often highlighted in Then I Met You marketing. Then I Met You

Remember to focus on your story’s central character: your customer. As you craft your story, hold them in your mind and let their needs and pain points guide you. “If you can’t communicate who you are as a brand and the type of person who would identify with your core values, then you won’t be able to sell it to them,” says marketing professional Joey Ng.

Incorporating our customers’ interpretation of our brand has been such a big cornerstone of Then I Met You and has allowed us to thrive.

Charlotte Cho

As you grow, incorporating your customer’s story into your brand will become more natural, so long as you create a dialogue with your audience—as they begin to share their experiences, you can gather these stories and use them to build upon your own. Lauren had this in mind for Henning before she even had a product to sell. She knew customer voices would help shape the brand’s foundations, and she now includes some of her best customers in photoshoots.

Charlotte opted to act as the curator of the stories her customers were already telling. She discovered that her fans were creating their own art—unprompted—around her products and brand. “They sometimes take better photos than we do!” she says. Then I Met You recently launched an art show and competition to highlight some of this work on the brand’s site. “Incorporating our customers’ interpretation of our brand has been such a big cornerstone of Then I Met You and has allowed us to thrive,” she says.

Visual storytelling

Great storytelling is determined by form, not format. The right medium is the one that best supports your brand narrative: could you tell your story through video, audio, photography, or design?

Lauren says that visual storytelling is important to Henning. Her customers are successful women “who want to represent themselves in a chic and sharp way.” To attract that audience, Henning is very deliberate about its voice and visuals. “I really wanted to create a brand where these women could immediately see that they belonged here.”

Blonde model wearing a beige trenchcoat Hands adjust the belt of a brown trench coat

Blonde model poses for a photoshoot wearing a black coat

The brand speaks to a group that has historically been ignored by the fashion world—customers need to see themselves represented in Henning’s story. “Fashion images have long dictated what women at large in this culture think about themselves,” says Lauren. “When we only see one type of woman in fashion—thin, white, Eastern European, young, and tall—everyone else suffers negative psychological effects.”

When and where to use story

The most obvious place to tell your brand story is on an About Us page. It’s a dedicated space on your website designed specifically for this purpose. You can use a combination of written narrative, video, and visuals, all on a completely blank canvas.

But, great marketing is about meeting your customers wherever they are, even before you get them to buy. Storytelling is a powerful tool to build brand affinity and trust at some of these earliest touchpoints, such as social media posts or ads. And don’t forget to remind current customers why they support you—tell your story on packaging and add a personal touch to your customer service communications.

🎙️ Where to tell your story (and some examples of brand storytelling to inspire you):

Screen grab of Soko Glam's About Page or the brand's online store
Charlotte’s own voice is still central to Soko Glam’s brand story, even as the company has grown to include more voices. Soko Glam

Storytelling as you scale

As the founder, you draft the first version of your story, closely controlling the consistency of your message. But as your brand scales, you may start to delegate some of the storytelling to partners, freelancers, agencies, or staff. How do you ensure that you keep your voice and story steady and true to your original vision?

This became an issue for Ashley as she began to work with a marketing team. She started to see communications popping up in her feed from her own brand that felt like they were coming from someone else. She realized that it was an area of the business that she couldn’t fully let go. “I have to have that control,” she says. “Having our voice on anything and everything that we put out there is absolutely essential to me.” Now, Ashley has a closer relationship with her marketing team’s work.

Ashley hired a former neighbor to handle her customer service, because it was important to her that this critical touchpoint was handled by someone she knew intimately.

It was just very deeply important to me to have something strong to reference. That North Star is very clear to us.

Lauren Chan

Lauren’s approach was to anticipate scaling. She worked on the brand for months before launch. That work resulted in assets like a brand style guide that helps align anyone she brings onto the team. “It was just very deeply important to me to have something strong to reference,” she says. “That North Star is very clear to us.” 

For Charlotte, scaling and expanding the number of voices that represent her brand has been a positive experience. The brand is still relatively small, she says. “It’s not like we’re Sephora or Ulta.” Therefore, Charlotte is still intimately involved with the brand’s messaging. But other faces and voices have started to emerge in some of her videos and blog posts. “My curation videos used to be just me,” she says. “But now I have people from the team come and host with me.” 

How tell your brand story

Display of Then I Met You products on a row of shelves against a blue wall
Then I Met You

First, this is your story. Delegating the entire task of writing your brand story could be a mistake. Sure, the professionals can help polish your story, but you should be heavily involved in this process. “We can’t outsource our voice,” says activist and entrepreneur Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart. “It’s our heart, it’s our soul, it’s our story.”

What does your brand believe? And why does your brand exist? From there you can define your audience’s core desire and the emotional offering that fulfills that audience’s desire.

Karlee Bedford

I attended a workshop in 2019 presented by storytelling pro Louis Richardson. “It’s not about getting them to buy,” he told us. “It’s about getting them to believe.” With that in mind, let’s get writing. 

1. Start with the basics 🔤

“Define your conviction and purpose,” says Karlee. “What does your brand believe? And why does your brand exist? From there you can define your audience’s core desire and the emotional offering that fulfills that audience’s desire.” Only then, she says, can you start to dive into the finer details, like voice, tone, and design.

2. Ask questions 🤔

If you’re not a natural storyteller, start with brainstorming exercises to get the creative juices flowing. Answer the following questions (point form is fine at this stage):

  • Why does your brand/company exist? Why did you start this business?
  • What’s your personal history? Include what’s relevant to your entrepreneurial journey or the inception of your brand.
  • Who are your main characters? You? Your target customer? Mentors? Partners?
  • What’s the setting, if relevant? Is place important to your brand? Why? (This is important for brands that focus on a local community or were inspired by travel, for example.)
  • Where’s the tension? What action followed? What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What’s your mission? What do you aim to accomplish through this brand?
  • Who’s your audience or ideal customer? Be specific. What do they currently believe? What do you want them to believe after engaging with your brand and story?
  • How would you like others to describe your brand to a friend?
  • What do you stand for? What are your personal values? How will those be reflected in your brand?

For a simple template, access our free worksheet:

Free Worksheet: Brand Storytelling

Use this handy exercise as a guide to help you craft a compelling brand story and build a loyal audience through the power of storytelling.

3. Listen to your community 🎧

Your story should be authentic and relevant, says Lauren. And though your brand story should be personal, it shouldn’t necessarily be created in a vacuum. “It shouldn’t just be driven by you,” she says. “Get out there and talk to your community to understand the collective experience of the people that you hope to speak to.”

Storytelling helped our community understand what we care about. How we’re actually living our ethos of giving back.

Charlotte Cho

4. Write a story, not a list of facts 📚

“Your About page is an interview,” says marketer Melyssa Griffin. How would you describe your brand in conversation to an employer or friend? Use a basic story structure outlined in this article to connect the answers to your questions above in a way that is conversational, engaging, and well-paced. And remember to read it aloud—is this how you would speak? “Infuse the things that you stand for,” says Ashley. If you’re passionate about your story, it will be reflected in your writing.

Charlotte weaves very personal storytelling into Then I Met You’s product development and campaigns. Her honeydew lip mask’s ingredients were inspired by her grandmother, who would serve the fruit to her when she was a child. And when she, like many entrepreneurs, stepped up to help support those affected most by COVID-19, she focused on grocery workers, inspired by her dad, who works at a grocery store. “Storytelling helped our community understand what we care about,” she says. “How we’re actually living our ethos of giving back.”

5. And the moral of the story is…? ❤️

Many good stories end with a moral or lesson. Think of any of Disney’s films. For brand stories, let’s refer to this as a call to action. Your story should always have a takeaway for the reader that is actionable. 

Remember that the story’s goal isn’t always to compel someone to buy—at least not yet. But what other action do you want the reader to take? Should they follow you? Complete a survey? Read more into the causes you support? How will you keep the audience engaged and nurture them further into your story? Maybe the takeaway is simply a feeling you want them to have.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,” Maya Angelou once said, “but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Seeking feedback—and when to act on it

Woman in a hat and t-shirt that says "Nobody's Perfekt" stands against a background of trees
“Nobody’s Perfekt.” The Bee & The Fox

Working with an editor is a great first step to ensure that your voice is presented in a polished and professional way. If you don’t have the budget to hire a pro, any second set of eyes will do. Better yet, share your draft with several friends who will give you honest feedback, along with people who resemble your ideal customer.

Once your brand story is out in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Seek feedback from your customers constantly. There are several ways to gather this feedback:

  • Run surveys or polls delivered on social, on your website, or via email marketing.
  • Pay attention to comments, feedback, and reviews shared across your various channels.
  • Ask questions of your audience directly in social content (less formal than a poll or survey).
  • Offer free consults via video or chat—you can learn as much from the experience as your customer.

While it’s important to take in feedback, know when to act on it and when to let it lie. Not every customer is your best customer, nor are they a brand advocate. You’ll need to know when to stick to your values.

Ashley’s brand encourages discussion around the topics that are important to The Bee & The Fox. Sometimes things get heated. “I always keep the brand open to free speech,” she says. Occasionally a comment will rub her core community the wrong way. “People will say, ‘Can you please just block this person?’ or, ‘Just take this person’s comment down,’” she says. “And I will never do that. I’m OK being divisive.”

Feature illustration by Cecilia Castelli

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Pin Your Way to Profit With Pinterest

Pin Your Way to Profit With Pinterest

Evolution of Pinterest

Aleisha: Kate, you are a Pinterest expert. Tell me a little bit about how you got into this scene and how it’s evolved over the, well, years that you’ve been producing the show?

Kate: Yeah. So I’ve been producing this show for four years and I’ve been doing Pinterest marketing for seven, and it has changed a ton, I feel like every other day. But I originally got into it because I was doing Facebook marketing and a lot of people were trying to switch to Pinterest marketing to diversify where they were getting traffic from. 

But nobody could really understand it, they were like, “This feels really weird. I use it personally, I don’t know how to use it professionally. Can you help me do that?” And I just kind of landed in this opportunity to teach people how to use Pinterest for their business.

Aleisha: Did you realize it was gonna blow up the way it has now as a platform?

Kate: No, I didn’t, actually. I know that Pinterest is very unique in its usership. It’s different from traditional social media. It’s really search and discovery. So for that, I think it does present an element of confusion to people like, “What do I use Pinterest for? Why do I need it?” So I thought it would just be this little sleeper. 

But really during this time when we’ve had the COVID epidemic, it has exploded because people at home are searching for ideas and Pinterest is the best place to go for that, so they’ve had steady growth. But this year has definitely accelerated their growth.

Aleisha: That’s so interesting, ’cause a lot of platforms, I know we’ve been talking about podcasting, has taken a bit of a hit because no one’s commuting. We’re not listening on the bus or in the car as much, so podcasters have had to adjust to different levels of listenership or at least different patterns in it. But of course, people are home. They’re going nuts, they wanna make something or do something, and Pinterest is a huge inspo platform, I suppose, for craft and activities as well.

Kate: Yeah, and really just being able to dream. I think when you’re at home and you’re not able to travel or you’re not able to plan for what you had in the future, it gives you an opportunity through the images that are on the platform to really step into a different world and dream about what could be in the future. 

And this is how Pinners normally think. They gather a bunch of ideas onto their boards and they revisit their boards when they’re ready to take the plunge to purchase. So in a time where we have a lot of time on our hands, Pinterest is the place to go to dream and kind of exit what the existence is now or improve on something that maybe you’re looking at your kitchen and you’re at home all the time, thinking, “This kitchen is horrible. It’s time for an update. Let’s go to Pinterest to see what this could look like.”

Kate on Pinterest being the place to dream

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What Sets Pinterest Apart

Aleisha: Let’s go back to the absolute beginning. If we’ve got listeners who have never been on Pinterest who don’t really understand what it’s about, I think everyone has a set of preconceived notions of what Pinterest is depending on their friendship group. I run a side hustle selling wedding planning books so I know a lot of people in my community were pinning their weddings. But then I’ve got a lot of friends who are renovating their homes and have boards that are exactly that, all about their dream kitchens or their dream bathroom. 

Let’s talk about what Pinterest offers as a platform, especially compared to some of the other types of social media out there ’cause it is really different from Instagram and it’s really different from Facebook. Let’s dig into what makes it that different.

Kate: Yeah, such a great differentiator there too. Facebook and Instagram are very much like in the moment. If somebody posts something, it usually lasts about 15 minutes to 30 minutes before it kinda falls off. We don’t see it anymore. 

Whereas Pinterest is a place to collect ideas or post things that you love and then people can save that to their board, and that’s pretty much it.

There’s no conversation, so that’s the one differentiator is… Pinterest is… The joke is, it’s the place for introverts. You can really be in your own world. You don’t have to listen to the noise of conversation. You can really get into anything, right, like there’s everything on the platform, so we think of it a little bit like a visual Google. So you go to Google and you search for things and you get text. But when you go to Pinterest and you search for things, you get pictures. And so people wanna engage with what things look like, so they can put it in the context of their own life. 

So that’s really the biggest differentiator. Pinterest is a search and discovery engine, and Facebook and Instagram are social media platforms

So we wouldn’t put Pinterest in the social media bucket, we would put it in the bucket with YouTube and Google.

Pinterest for introverts, says Kate

The Basics of Pinning

Aleisha: Looking at Pinterest as a marketing tool, it’s hugely powerful. But I actually… We get a lot of emails saying, “It’s overwhelming. I don’t know where to start. How many Pins do I need to pin? What size and shape are the images? I don’t know where to start.” 

And I get it. I go onto Pinterest and sometimes go, “Oh, there’s a lot of stuff here, it feels like there’s a lot to do. I don’t know what to do and I just leave.” Or I pin things, and then I’m like,” I gotta go. Gotta go.”

Kate: Totally.

Aleisha: What are the basics of Pinterest marketing? If you are fresh to the platform, you’ve got a white screen with nothing on it, which can be pretty overwhelming for a new Pinner. How do we get started? And what should we be pinning, first up?

Kate: Okay. So first up, you wanna have a Pinterest profile or a page. They’re the same thing, they’re just referred to by those two names, and that is the place where it reflects your brand. So I have Simple Pin Media, and that is talking all about Pinterest marketing tips, blogging tips

You wanna build that out first with boards, so those boards will be what we call like these buckets where you can put your content in to show to future readers, future people coming to your site.

So that’s number one, you wanna fill up your boards just simply by putting a name. Let’s not even talk about creating Pins yet, just name your boards based on what you think people are searching, and we always tell people, “As you begin to build boards, think about…” So if you’re skincare, we have a client who works for us who sells skincare. If she has her boards laid out to talk about night creams, eye creams, all of those different things that she actually creates and can put both her products and her blog posts on, that’s the direction she’s going because as a new user, I wanna land on it and go, “Oh, this person is all about skincare. Let me learn more.”

So then number two is the images. The images are quite possibly the biggest part of Pinterest, and the images are different, of course, than every other platform. They are vertical images, they have a 2:3 ratio, which means 600 by 900. We build them using Canva, which is a free tool. And think of this image like a billboard advertising. Somebody is simply scrolling by on what’s called a home feed on Pinterest and they are looking just at images. So what is it about your image that’s gonna stop them or tell a quick two-second story about what they will find if they click on your Pin? 

So for example, with the skincare, we might have even in the bottom right, something that says, “Shop Now,” with an image of the actual eye cream and a descriptor of it. 

So that’s really a big deal, is figuring out what your images can represent in the way of your branding.

And then the third component is that search component. What are people searching to find your particular product or content? So for me, if they’re searching Pinterest marketing tips, I would put that in the Pin description underneath that Pin image to say, “Here are five ways to get your Pinterest marketing started for business.” 

So I always tell people, take it in the part of one, build out your profile to make it look like your brand. So I would be able to go on and see exactly what you do. Number two, work on your images, and then put those on Pinterest and they lead back to the content on your site. 

The Pinner is naturally trained to move off the platform to get what they want. 

Whereas something like Instagram, we stay on Instagram, we stay in stories, we scroll through the feed and we really don’t ever leave. But Pinners know they have to leave to get what they want. That’s why you wanna make sure that those images are just enough of a teaser for them to go, “I want that face cream,” click on the Pin image, go to the website.

3 steps to getting started with Pinterest, according to Kate Ahl

The Pinner’s Journey

Aleisha: And do we need… When we’re looking at this then as a brand or someone that is pinning and that has… Let’s just stick with the face cream, it’s a really good example. If I’ve created the face cream. It’s Aleisha’s face cream, it’s very good quality, we love using it, and I’ve got some nice images. 

Do we need to create a whole brand story in that initial moment or it’s just that one pin that’s caught someone’s eyes? Is that important to then create the page, ’cause I read a lot about all of the different boards and how often… And we’ll get into how often we should be pinning ’cause I know there’s a whole other topic that we should be talking about. 

But should people be going to the page, like a homepage, and seeing all of Aleisha’s skin cream, or is it just about that single image that piques their interest and then takes them directly to my store?

Kate: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the Pinner usually operates in two ways. Everybody on Pinterest has what’s called a home feed. This is where Pinterest brings Pins from people you follow, what you might be interested in, what you’ve searched for, or promoted Pins, which is paid advertising. 

So if I’ve ever searched eye cream and I maybe don’t follow this particular retailer, Pinterest is gonna go, “Kate’s really interested in an eye cream, let me show them this image and see if she engages with it.” That’s the first layer of engagement. 

So I might never go to the profile. I might only see the image, which is why the image is so important. 

And then there’s that second layer of search where I go to Pinterest and my intent is to search for eye creams. Again, both of those things, I don’t have to follow you. You just have to have relevant content for the platform. 

The profile doesn’t make a huge difference ’cause very few people go there, the biggest difference is your image.

Aleisha: So we don’t need to be lingering and spending a lot of time creating these brand profile pages and putting a lot of work into that.

Kate: Exactly. And one thing to note too is that a lot of Pinners don’t really always feel compelled to follow people. Like on Instagram, we wanna follow somebody ’cause we really wanna know everything. Pinterest is again, like Google, where they say, “We want whatever search results get pulled up for you to be very specific to what you want. We don’t wanna give you anything you don’t need.”

Pinterest profile vs image

Aleisha: Yeah, that’s interesting. So for us, I suppose, we spend a lot of time building our stores and making it pretty and making sure everything is branded in a way that is appealing and also connected to all of our other social media. With Pinterest, it’s just that one image that will work. 

So looking at that, then, let’s talk about that image. If it’s Aleisha’s skincare, what should we be thinking about to make it appealing to get them to click off Pinterest and actually make that commitment to leave Pinterest where they were having a good time and they were doing a lot of work there, and then go, “This is worth that extra click,” ’cause the click, as we all know, the click can sometimes be easy, but sometimes it’s like, it’s a real commitment to leave.

Optimizing Your Pin Image and Description

Kate: Yeah, it is. And so it’s such a great question, and I think it requires… I always tell people, “You’re not gonna get your images right on the first try. You’re gonna have to keep testing them.” But one of the common factors is really going back to that billboard advertising. What is the hook in it? What is the amazing difference this skin cream is going to make for me? 

It’s not necessarily even the brand or the type, it’s… Your eye cream is, or your face cream is gonna make me, like, 20 years younger. I mean, of course, nobody’s gonna promise that, but you get where I’m going with that…

Aleisha: I’m ready. I’m gonna promise like, “Aleisha’s skincare cream, 20 years younger.” I’m gonna be a millionaire.

Kate: A millionaire. So you wanna have something that is kind of clickbaity, but true, obviously. And so something that… It’s always that thing of, “Okay, how is it gonna serve the Pinner?” And so you wanna put those few words, probably no more than four to five because they’re not gonna read a lot, that’s another thing. They’re gonna make the connection that it is face cream, they’re gonna read the benefit to them and that compels them to click. 

And we see a lot of shop owners just describing the product, maybe using too many words and it’s like, “Well, I don’t need that. I don’t know why I need that.” So you’re writing things that demonstrate why they need the product or how it will benefit them.

Aleisha: So we’re not keyword-stuffing in that when we’re looking at that sort of short description ’cause I sometimes see people that do these really chunky descriptions, and it’s like, “Ugh! I can’t be bothered to read it.” We just need to be clear and concise in that description box.

Kate: Correct. So there are two places where we see the text that you can put it. So, on the image is what we refer to as “text overlay.” That should be four to five words, very, very brief. And then we have what’s called the Pin description that’s right below. One to three sentences is completely appropriate and no keyword-stuffing. You said it exactly, you want it natural-sounding, kind of like if you were sending a text to a friend. “Try this face cream, it’s amazing. I’m 20 years younger.” 

But the text on the image itself just needs to be very punchy and poppy, and your pin description goes much more in-depth. And that pin description you should remember is really written for the algorithm, for the algorithm to be able to read what it is and who they would potentially show it to.

Pin image and description text checklist

Recommended Pin Image Dimensions and Content

Aleisha: So when we’re looking at planning our Pins and just finding… Let’s just say we start with five great images, a lot of the Pinterest images, I think that seem, well, from my observation that get me to click off the page are aspirational and are lifestyle images, not necessarily just product photos on a white background.

Can you talk a little bit more about the sort of images and also the dimensions because I noticed some people pin long images and they’ve got a lot more detail in it. Other people are pinning Instagram-style square images, which don’t seem to be getting… They’re not being delivered to me as a user as much. Does Pinterest punish you for not using… Well, for using different formats?

Kate: Yeah, they do. They don’t use that word “punish” or “demote,” but they will obviously say, “Here’s our ideal.” And their ideal is 2:3 ratio, so that could be 600 x 900 or Canva is 735 x 1102, or we even do 1000 x 1500. 

Pinterest will automatically resize it to fit their screen because it’s 2:3.

Now, you can go 600 x 1260, which is an oddball way, it’s not 2:3. You can still do that, but Pinterest has said, “Hey, if you go over 1260 to create what we call Giraffe pins because you wanna take up more of the feed, we will not show it to people.” So they are very clear about that.

Aleisha: Alright.

Kate: Square, however, they say it’s okay to do 1:1. But what we’ve seen is what you said, the square does not get good engagement. So if you stick with 2:3, whatever Canva gives you, you are right in line with their best practices. So stick with that, don’t go outside of 2:3.

Aleisha: And I think for people that are new to this and Canva.com, it’s an Australian invention, so I’m always proud to talk about it.

Kate: Oh, yeah.

Aleisha: The idea with Canva is, I love that you can then create one image, and then with a click of a button, you can convert it to different formats. So I think it’s a time-saver, but also something that you can say, “I want this Instagram to be Pinterest,” and then it will instantly convert it and then you might have to make some small changes to the format of the… If you’ve got text and everything on the image. But it’s so simple to do, isn’t it? It’s not…

Kate: Yeah, it’s really simple with that. And I think an important thing that you just noted which I want people to not do is quotes, which we often use on Instagram, don’t translate well on Pinterest, because what happens is, if you have an infographic or if you have a quote, people will save it, but they will never take action on it, because everything is on the pin. 

So if we’re talking about… Especially product sellers, I see this mistake happen a lot, is that you can pin the product image, which might be a square, I think sometimes people do wanna see things up close sometimes, but they wanna see it in its environment.

So here’s an example. I was just looking for brass drawer pulls for my kitchen. And I know there are a lot of small sellers that make their own, so I not only wanna see this drawer pull up close because I can’t go into a store and hold it, but I also wanna see it on a cabinet. So if you can give me an image that shows it in action, if you will, and then up close, you have two different Pin images there, but it serves the Pinner in both ways. I can see up close what this brass drawer pull looks like, but I can also see it on a white cabinet. And people will often search for that to say, “white cabinets brass drawer pulls”, because they need to visualize it.

So if you’re a seller, be thinking of both lifestyle shots and product shots.

Quotes and instagram images don't work well on Pinterest, says Kate Ahl

Aleisha: And I sometimes see that people make… I’m gonna say this wrong, it’s not like a montage, but when they do multiple images in the Giraffe pins, the long pins.

Kate: Yeah. It’s distracting.

Aleisha: Yeah, yeah, I find it… And especially if I’m looking on my phone, I’m like, “Ugh! It’s too much stuff happening.” If I’m on the desktop, I suppose I’m a little bit less icky about it. So you agree, these are not what we should be doing.

Kate: Yeah, and you made a fantastic distinction that I think all of us need to recognize is that almost 90 percent of Pinners are on their phone. Very few are on their desktop. They might be on an iPad, which is a little bit bigger, but the majority of the people, they’re gonna be on five or six-inch phones. 

So when you do groupings, let’s say you make sandals, and you have them in four different colors. Or, we actually work with a company as a client, they’re a custom tile company. So they might have four different colors of this particular tile. So we will group those together in an image, but we will do a shot of the kitchen where this tile is in one color.

And then below we will do the four colors to show the options because we recognize that somebody might not want the brown option, they might want the blue. But if you get too many beyond four or five, if you have eight or nine or ten, you’re right, you can’t see it. So use your extra, I guess, those extra collections to expand on a color or a feature about the product because the main part of the image is seeing the product in action. Below are the options. Just don’t go more than four.

Aleisha: Yeah, you don’t want it to be blowing people’s brains with going, trying to zoom in, “Oh, what is this? This is weird.”

Kate: Yeah.

Pinterest SEO

Aleisha: Let’s talk about… You mentioned earlier that Pinterest is akin to being a search engine. And talking about that, I suppose we have to look at SEO, which is obviously hugely important. How do you rate that against Google SEO and looking at driving traffic back to a store, compared to doing Google AdWords or putting money into advertising?

Kate: Oh, such a great question, and I think with… One, Pinterest SEO is gonna be a little bit different ’cause they don’t have the same tools that Google SEO does in the targeting and you can’t go super deep with Pinterest SEO. You can go pretty deep if you’re gonna do promoted Pins, which is the paid advertising platform on Pinterest. 

But I would say you have to remember that the Pinterest person is dreaming for the future. So we talk about the timeline to say, okay, if I’m going on a hiking trip and my hiking trip is in three months, I’m gonna go on to Pinterest and I’m going to find my hiking boots, backpack, all of that kind of stuff. Well, then two weeks before the trip, I’m gonna go revisit that board and I’m gonna then go to Google or Amazon to buy the products. And then when I’m on the trip, I’m gonna post on Instagram. 

So we have this… As far as SEO, you wanna be thinking, not necessarily about how I’m gonna target them in the moment, but how I’m gonna catch them in the dreaming phase. 

And so you have to be thinking what terms are they gonna be putting into the search bar to find something potentially for later. 

Whereas Google, with Google SEO you can really drill down and get a lot of great information. You can do all the AdWords and all of that. With Pinterest, it’s a little more… It’s… “Loosey-goosey” is probably the best word for it. You go onto Pinterest and there’s the search bar at the top, you click on that and you start typing, and it will give you what’s called search prediction. Those are the most popular search terms on Pinterest. And then you click on them and you have these boxes that highlight at the top that are called guided search boxes. Pinterest has said these are the keywords that are most popular on our platform. You should use them in your board names and your pin descriptions. And that is how your pins will be surfaced in the search feed.

Catch Pinners in the dreaming phase

Aleisha: That’s so interesting. So just to go back, let’s repeat that ’cause that’s a really big bit of information if you are starting from scratch. You should be… Before you pin anything, I’m assuming you should be then searching as to how you would imagine your customer, your target audience would be searching for your product and then using those keywords in the board names and also the descriptions.

Kate: Yeah, correct, exactly. When you’re at the building your profile stage, so if you’re just new, we always tell people, “Go into Pinterest and search using that search bar and start writing down terms and also look at what the competition is out there. Look at these search results. Why do you think Pinterest pulled up these pins high up in the feed? Do they have the search term in the Pin description?”

It doesn’t have to take hours, I would suggest probably just taking about an hour, and then you can start to create your board names from this. And then as you create your Pin images and you put them on to Pinterest… 

So for example, like this eye cream, you might have a very strong distinguisher about your eye cream. Maybe it’s organic. Maybe it is plant-based only or something like that. Use differentiators like plant-based or vegan or natural to set it apart from a generic search like eye cream.

Pinterest Strategy: Posting and Frequency

Aleisha: Great. Tell me about the apps and things that we can use to shortcut perhaps the pinning of our Pins but also re-pinning other people’s Pins, which seems to be a big deal. Is it a big deal?

Kate: Well, no, actually.

Aleisha: Good. Yes, Kate.

Kate: Yes. You don’t have to worry about it and Pinterest has confirmed this. You can only focus on your own stuff. Now, okay, so this is gonna get into a little bit of how many pins per day and what your strategy should be. So if you’re first starting out on Pinterest, you’re building your profile, just getting your Pin image strategy really up and running. I would always tell you, “For six to eight months, you’re gonna throw spaghetti against a wall just to see what the Pinner likes.” 

And so what that means is you’re going to maybe share other people’s content. We try to make it not competing, obviously, just ’cause you need to share some stuff to fill up your boards. 

But your primary focus is to look at who’s engaging with my content, who’s saving it for later, or who’s clicking on it.

And so you can do a minimum of five pins per day. You don’t have to do a ton. But we always tell people, “At least have some of your product, some of your content going on to Pinterest daily.” It’s kinda like we’re feeding the beast. And then as you get… And by the way, as far as tools and apps, Pinterest does have its own native scheduling tool.

Aleisha: Oh.

Number of Pins per day, according to Kate

Kate: It’s very clunky. I would never use it because it just takes so much time. So we actually use a tool called TailWind, which is a great scheduling and analytics tool. It allows us to schedule, which they have a smart schedule, so it makes it really easy, and then you can also see what type of engagement your Pins got and how your boards are doing. 

So we use this for our clients because it makes it so efficient for us to schedule ahead. So if we sit down on a Sunday and we have five pins per day going out to these boards, we can schedule it. Now, this is where people get super confused and they’re like, “What? You want me to share how many? To what board?” 

The biggest thing that you need to know is that Pinterest doesn’t penalize you for sharing your pin more than once. 

They do say, “Hey, don’t spam the platform 50 times a day with the same Pin.” But it’s okay for you to put your eye cream on maybe your brand board, or an eye cream board, or a plant-based facial care board. If you have boards where this eye cream could go maybe three or four times, you can put them onto those boards and it’s not going to be a penalty. 

Pinterest doesn’t like it when you pin the same thing over and over and over again, back to back to back, so that’s why if you don’t have a lot of content, we tell people, “It’s okay for you to add other people’s pins to your boards, just be very intentional about the ones that you’re choosing to make sure that they’re really serving not only you but the Pinner that might engage with it.”

Aleisha: Yeah, because you do not in any circumstances on any platform want to look like a spammer ’cause it just turns people off and it certainly doesn’t make me as a consumer want to then click on your stuff.

Kate: Yeah, yeah, correct.

Pinners Demographic

Aleisha: Tell me about who is using Pinterest, because I was looking at some stats and I found one stat that said that 71 percent of Pinterest users are female. But then I’ve also read quite a lot about men now moving to Pinterest, especially after COVID or during COVID. Is that true?

Kate: Yeah. It is definitely far more female and it used to be 80 percent female. So now we see it dropping and as Pinterest has expanded internationally, we see a greater use among men. 

And so I think what I saw is that on the international platforms, usage is about 50 percent male. Yeah, which was crazy. 

So I think that more males are using it and they use it differently in the sense that, well, sometimes it could be for recipes too, but there are just different ways that men and women use it, but the advantage and the common thread is that you can save a bunch of ideas for later and unless you’re maxing out the bookmark tool on your computer, or I don’t know how you would even save on your phone when you go somewhere else, besides the notes feature…

Aleisha: Yeah.

Kate: I think the biggest thing to note is that it’s really useful. It’s really helpful to remember stuff and categorize it for later. So you are correct, it’s… And now their users are above 330 million, I believe.

Aleisha: Wow.

Kate: And they are expanding pretty rapidly on the international platforms.

Types of Pins

Aleisha: Yeah, just before we go, let’s just go through the Pin options available because I have been seeing quite a few video pins appearing in my feed. Do we all have access to Pinterest video or is this only something for certain users? And also what are the dimensions? We’re not having to shoot in long Giraffe form, I’m assuming.

Kate: Right, yeah, video pins is a great one. We have a post, I’ll actually send it to you. We did a podcast and everything on the dimensions for testing, so I can’t rattle them off of the top of my head right now, but you can create what’s called a square video, that’s the first dimension. And then you can also do a vertical video. And so that would have a little bit of text at the top and then the video moving at the bottom. 

The other thing they just released, in fact, this week is what’s called Story Pins. This is really interesting, and it’s a pretty new development because it allows you to talk about something, but you can’t link to it.

Aleisha: Oh. That’s interesting.

Kate: Very, very odd. I would say this is a little bit more of Pinterest’s push to get people to stay on the platform because like I said, people are primed to leave. So we’ll see how that plays out. I did a podcast on that, but I can get you a link too as well, so Story Pins, Video Pins, regular Pins. And then we also have what’s called Carousel Pins, those aren’t talked about a whole lot, but those are linkable and they’re multiple frames, like four to five, that you can swipe through. 

So for product sellers, for product sellers, I really recommend starting with really nailing your static pin image, because those regular pins are predominant in the feed. Video pins have been showing up even more so these days, but I think with Pinterest’s big push towards Story Pins, those are gonna start showing up more in the feed, a ton, in fact, in my feed, I probably had 10 when I opened up today.

Focus on static pin images if you're a product seller

Aleisha: Wow. So with the Story Pins, just to go back a little bit…

Kate: Yeah.

Aleisha: If we can’t then use it to link directly to the site, we just need to hook them with the story pins to make them come back and explore our feed.

Kate: Profile.

Aleisha: Yeah, the profile a little bit more. So that’s when we should be focusing on saying, “Hey, Aleisha’s skincare, it’s gonna make you 20 years younger in seconds,” and I’m going to jail. But it’s the idea that, so for that then we probably should be focusing more on making sure that page has information and this is then going to get them to explore to then click on the pin and take them to our site to buy my skincare.

Kate: Yeah, and it’s a good place to showcase testimonials.

Aleisha: Oh, good.

Kate: Because then you could do the before and the after of that skincare, you could talk about… You could show the person a brief testimonial. You can do some fun stuff with it. Or if you don’t wanna write a blog post, this is another thing that we came up with. 

If you don’t wanna write a blog post and you wanna do something real poppy and maybe just a quick tutorial with your product, that’s another way to do it too.

Aleisha: Fantastic. Yeah, being able to talk to people through how to use your product, we were talking about outsourcing in a recent episode of the show and just saying how valuable… On a storefront, if you have a product that’s a little bit complicated or it needs you to click through multiple images to learn how to use it, then a video obviously just keeps people’s attention span. I’ve got a goldfish attention span. Like, it is quick now. I’ve been ruined… I’ve been ruined by the internet. It’s like if you can’t tell me, no, I’m gone, I’m out.

Kate: Yeah, totally. You bring up a great point. In your shop, if you’re having to show multiple images and vantage points, think about how you could put that into a Story Pin. And that’s a great example right there.

Showing different vantage points of images

Aleisha: And let’s talk a little bit about what you offer because I think a lot of people will be listening to this, sort of going, “This feels like a lot to do. I’ve already got Instagram, I’ve already got Facebook, I’ve already got the store.” If you were to work… We love talking about outsourcing. If someone were to come to you and ask to work with you and help create a Pinterest profile and a brand story, how does that all work?

Kate: Yeah, so there are lots of different ways that we can work with people. One, we can set up a profile, we can do daily management, we can create images, and we also offer image consultations. So if you feel like you are pretty artsy and/or creative and you wanna do your own images, but you just want us to consult, we do that, we do promoted Pins, paid advertising too as well. 

We can really help you with really any area of your Pinterest needs we can do for you, and then we also have a place where we can teach you. So like coach alongside, that’s our membership community, where there are several shop owners in there as well, who are trying to navigate a lot of the changes, ’cause Shopify and Pinterest have a great integration. But they’ve been changing it up lately with the verified merchant program. So some of it is just us troubleshooting like what direction this is going. 

So anything that Pinterest related that people need, we do varying on levels of experience and also the level of where you wanna outsource ’cause not everybody wants to outsource management. Some people really wanna keep it in-house, but they need help with images.

Aleisha: Sure, well, this is good. This is very good, Kate. Simplepinmedia.com is where you can get in touch with Kate and also subscribe to the Simple Pin podcast. How many episodes you… I think you’re into the 190s now, is that right?

Kate: I am. My 200th episode is in just a few weeks, I cannot believe we’ve been talking about Pinterest this long. But they keep us on our toes and so we have more to talk about.

Aleisha: Well, that’s amazing, so be sure to go and check out Kate’s podcast because as you said, they’re in-depth episodes where you really go into specifics about what everything we’ve just talked about. 

This was a really great crash course today, Kate, and I know that our listeners will be jumping on to Pinterest right now, taking their lifestyle photos and hopefully driving more traffic, especially people sitting at home going nuts wanting to buy your thing, and hopefully it will lead to great success. 

So thank you so much for coming on Start Yours, Kate, hope to have you back on the show again and we can maybe go into something a little bit more hardcore.

Kate: You bet, any time.

Aleisha: Let’s do it.

Kate: Okay, thank you.

Aleisha: Thank you.

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