Outsourcing: aka Strategic Avoidance of Things You Hate

When I first started my business, I thought my head might pop off with the number of things I had to keep on top of. A year on and I’m still not sure how many balls I’ve got in the air, (and I don’t want to pause to check in case I drop one!).

But I’ve recently realised that sometimes it’s more expensive to do it yourself – and I’m not just talking about financially.

Math and I have never been friends, and while I can reckon, reconcile and many other things starting with ‘r’, I don’t enjoy it, it’s not my forte, and anything related to numbers is going to take a lot longer than I’d like. (Shit, that reminds me, I need to update my cashbook!) Those tasks are the ones that frustrate me most as a business owner, so they’re the ones I’m most likely to avoid doing (see earlier comment about cashbook!).

And in my experience, the things you avoid are the things that are most likely to come back and bite you in the ass.

Because owning a business was never on my bucket list, I’m very much learning as I go along. I figured the end of financial year would be a steep learning curve, and I spent more than a few nights worrying about getting it wrong. But while financial returns are an essential part of my business, they’re not part of my purpose, or my reason for starting this business.

The strategic decision was clear, so I reached out to a small business accountant, leaving me free to focus on my business’s core purpose. Something that would take me an hour of sweating and swearing, will take someone that loves numbers ten minutes. If I value my time (and I do- and you should!), then it’s a pretty simple ‘cost/time calculation’. But I like to factor in how much I hate the thing I want to outsource too.

Math used to give me a headache even before the chronic migraines, and while I’m absolutely capable of doing it myself, I know it would take me ages and I’d just get pissed off.

So I’ve decided to prioritise the things I enjoy and/or am good at, and outsource the rest. Hell, there has to be some perks to being your own boss right? And it means I’m supporting another woman out there running a small business- giving someone else the opportunity to focus on their core purpose too.

So figure out which aspect/s of your business that you hate, and find someone who loves those things to outsource to. It may not seem cheaper in the short term, but I can guarantee it will save you money and sanity in the long run.

And if this is how you feel about content creation, I know just the Pixie who could give you a hand.

If this is how you feel about content creation, I can help

Embracing rest:

why I hate the growth mindset.

I’ve decided to focus this blog on mental health, because we don’t talk about this shit enough. It’s almost impossible to function, let alone to work or run a successful business when you’ve hit the skids emotionally, so let’s talk about it. I’ve just returned from an amazing weekend of learning and connection in Wellington, where I was asked to speak on a panel about mental health. I have no counselling or psych training, so my qualification to talk about this is that I’ve been through a lot of shit, and I’m willing to talk openly and authentically about what I’ve learned from it.

When shit gets challenging, managing our mindset is almost as important as dealing with the issue itself. Managing my chronic pain has taught me this again and again: I know I can’t stop the pain but I can manage it through pacing and rest, and it’s easier to manage if I can stop the downward spiral of thoughts like “this is my life now”, “this pain is permanent”, “what if this time it doesn’t ease off this time?” etc. As with any other challenging situation, a pain flare means managing both my pain and my mood carefully, it’s one of the transferrable skills that makes me so resilient. Because it’s not just what happens, it’s the story we tell ourselves about it that counts.

Everyone loves a buzzword, so most people in business know about fixed and growth mindsets. A person with a fixed mindset is paralysed by challenges, while a person with a growth mindset uses them as opportunities to grow.

On the face of it, the growth mindset is laudable. You win or you learn. If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L means ‘First Attempt In Learning’. If you get ‘no’ as an answer, remember that N.O. means ‘Next Opportunity’. Business networks are teeming with these kinds of messages ad nauseam.

The growth mindset started gaining traction around the time that I was born, and over the years it has become a ‘go-to’ tool to help people ‘transform’ their businesses and their lives. But it has a fundamental flaw: the growth mindset feeds our collective addiction to productivity. The obsession with the idea that to be a worthwhile person you have to be growing, learning, achieving or being otherwise productive- at all costs. We’ve been conditioned to think rest equals laziness. We’re rewarded financially and socially for being resilient and productive. But the main thing that drives this is fear- that we’ll miss out, that people will judge us, or that we’ll lose everything. It’s become a kind of self-sabotage or flagellation- we’re so wound up and under pressure that we crave validation from others, in the hope that feeling so shit is somehow worth it.

Productivity has become the default measure of success- and capitalism is to blame. Companies save money when our productivity obsession lets work eat into our home life, because they don’t need to employ as many people. There is still a cost- but it’s employees that are wearing it.

In my opinion, (and quite apart from being essential to our wellbeing,) rest is actually the key to success. There is so much value in the space we give ourselves to rest.  Space to breathe, space to think. Sure, you’re not ‘producing’ anything, but the cognitive processing that happens when we take a breath is crucial to innovation, to problem solving, and to not dying young from a heart attack, or suicide. Because we can’t carry on like this. Our addiction to productivity is literally killing us. Our mental health statistics are shocking, we’re all completely burned out. We wear our ability to push through our lack of sleep and our high stress levels as a badge of honour. The social expectation that to be successful we must be working full time, running a successful side-hustle, raising a family, etc is one of the key contributors to our mental distress. For most of us, work-life balance doesn’t exist: we answer emails at all hours, we eat at our desks. Our society just doesn’t value rest- it’s seen as sinful idleness instead of something vital to our wellbeing.

But rest can be your superpower- if you’ll let it. Rest gives you the space to grow and recover, both physically and mentally. It improves the quality of your productive hours, giving you more energy and space to be creative. It gives you time to think and respond to challenges, instead of running on adrenaline and reacting off the cuff. It helps prevent you from getting rundown, so improves your immune system.

Invest in rest.

So even if it feels scary, make time to rest. Do fewer things better. Value yourself enough to say no to things. Quit the things that don’t serve you, not because they’re hard, but because they suck. After all, if you’re this good running on adrenaline and 2 hours sleep, imagine how good you could be if you were well rested! Take it from Bindi- rest is the key to success!

Eat cake, not humble pie

How modesty is harming your business.

As a rule, us kiwis aren’t the best at celebrating our successes. Tall poppy syndrome is very real, and self-depreciating humour is our cultural go-to, even when we’re doing ourselves a disservice. People (especially women!) are socialised to fade into the background, and taught that modesty is more appropriate than confidence. But to be honest? I’m so tired of it.

Why is it that we can spend hours enthusing over our friends and their work, we can pay other people extravagant compliments, or leave them glowing reviews, but as soon as we have to talk about what it is WE do, especially if we do it well, we clam up. The words won’t come, and if they do, we’re sure they’re trite, awkward, obnoxious, or arrogant. Who wins when we don’t own our awesomeness? It isn’t us, that’s for sure!

While socially acceptable, our distaste for tooting our own horn can actually harm our businesses. Not only does trying to not sound ‘up ourselves’ result in stilted, boring copy, it also means that we’re less likely to connect with the right people. How are your customers going to find you if you’re not willing to tell them about why they should choose you?

So here are my 3 tips to help you promote your business with passion and enthusiasm, without feeling like a conceited fraud.

  1. Show, don’t tell

This is the number one rule of writing, but I think it’s applicable to most things in life, including self-promotion.

If you’re just starting out, your best advertisement is making sure that whatever you do, you’re doing it well. That way you know that when you say you’re awesome, you’re actually awesome. Positive recommendations through word of mouth are vital to your business, so make sure you go the extra mile for people and over-deliver.

And make sure you give credit where credit is due, especially if the credit is due to yourself. The only thing worse than modesty is false modesty.

2. Tell the truth

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people market themselves as something they’re not. Don’t try and be what you think your customers want you to be, or you’ll attract the wrong people. In our marketing saturated existence, most people can spot inauthenticity a mile away. Honesty is the best policy, and the fastest way to surround yourself with the right people for your business.

3. Listen to understand, not to reply

Ask for feedback, and be willing to integrate it. This is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Asking your customers for feedback can show you what it is you do well, which can help you feel validated when you promote yourself. But it can also help you work out where you need to improve. (I use a simple customer satisfaction survey I created on google forms.)

If you’re still stuck, imagine that you’re telling someone about your friend’s business instead, or get a friend or customer to write you a testimonial. It’s so much easier to compliment others! And if you’re still tearing your hair out, consider outsourcing. Feel free to contact me and I will be your personal cheering squad!

How do you measure success?

Spoiler alert- it doesn’t exist.

Want to know a secret? No one really cares about all those ‘things’ you’ve achieved. I’m a multi-award-winning writer and magazine editor, I’ve been published in many prestigious literary journals, I hold several national dance titles, I’ve toured the world performing sell-out shows, and now I own my own business. But I was also recently made redundant, I’m living with chronic pain, I haven’t performed in over a year and my business isn’t looking to turn a profit any time soon. So sure, by some measures I’m successful, but by others I’m a downright failure. So which is it?

We’re taught to create SMART goals for our businesses (and ourselves!) because we’re all addicted to nice, upward-trending graphs of clear and quantifiable things- like profit, or how many people are on your mailing list.

But do you think your customers care about how many sales you’ve made? And if not, what do they care about?

I touched on the fact that society likes easily measurable success factors in a previous blog, but I want to dig deeper- because when we just focus on the easily counted things we miss out on the things that actually matter. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of our obsession with rewarding people for achieving that ‘thing’, regardless of who they climbed over to get there and I’m damn tired of the idea that money is more valuable than people. I’m increasingly convinced that success is more about the journey of how we get there than any specific goal, measurable or otherwise.

Success isn’t any one thing- and failure isn’t either.

The people you look up to don’t think they’ve succeeded. Anyone achieving anything is always looking forward to the next goal. I have friends who are inspiring, critically acclaimed novelists and poets, and they’re still out there working on their next project.

Because true success is not static, it’s the ongoing willingness to show up and do your best, and to try and fill other people’s cups while you’re at it. That’s what I’m about. When I was eleven my best friend’s mum died, and this quote, read at her funeral, has stayed with me ever since.

Look, I don’t give a shit about the numbers, profit targets or a concrete business plan, I want to know things like- am I doing something that has value? Am I, in some small way, making the world a little easier, a little brighter for someone, have I made someone feel less alone? Will the people I’ve done work for come back because they value what I’ve produced for them, will they recommend me to others? Don’t get me wrong, I’m aiming to cover my living expenses (so I can keep my rescue dogs in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, ha!) too, but that’s not the core mission of my business.

So set goals, but make sure you’re balancing your vision and core values with your profit targets. You can easily measure how many followers you have, and how many times someone has reacted to a post. But do you know who your loyal customers are? Do you know who is referring friends and family to you? Are you doing what feels right, have you found your purpose, are you living your values?  Do your goals feed your vision? Because if they don’t, they aren’t SMART, they’re short-sighted and a bit stupid. If you asked your customers why they value your business, what would they say?

(If you’d like to talk more about how to imbed your values into your small business, and communicate them to your audience, flick me a message!)

Cultivating Connection

 5 easy ways to reach the right people

Engagement is a beast with many heads. It’s no longer enough to identify your audience, and have good copy or fancy pictures, you need to know why they’re engaging with your brand. You can craft your communications to build strong, authentic relationships, through positive, mutually beneficial interactions. But it’s easy to shoot yourself in the foot if you’re not careful.

During Halloween last year, Forest & Bird ran a campaign where you could ‘adopt’ a pekapeka (New Zealand long-tailed bat). For a $60 donation you would receive a plush toy, adoption certificate, information sheet and a magazine, with all of the proceeds going towards restoring pekapeka habitat and eradicating pests. In our house we are all about rescue animals and conservation so we were easily the target demographic for this: people who care about bats, who can’t commit to ongoing financial support but still want to help. I saw the post on Facebook, which popped up around the time of their successful ‘Bird of the Year’ competition. Adopting a bat was cool, quirky and very much on brand with what I was used to engaging with.

But since then I’ve been receiving letters with ongoing requests for cash. The ‘urgent’ request for money during lockdown felt insincere and bad taste. The latest missive sports a graphic photo of a dead dolphin, and the guilt trip of numerous calls to action, which come over a bit aggressive for my liking. These are way outside the context of our relationship, and the opposite to the kind of content I want to engage with. It kind of feels like going on a date and receiving an invitation to your wedding the following day. You’re expecting one thing but get blindsided by another. (Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to opt in to that kind of hard-sell, and be romanced a little before being asked to open my wallet.)

There are a few things happening here. Either Forest and Bird don’t have the ability to segment their donor database, or they don’t understand the importance of doing so. Either way a re-think of their engagement strategy is in order because it’s not enough to know that I’ve engaged with them, the important thing is why and how I have done so. I’m well aware that they’re trying to move me through their donor cultivation cycle/pyramid etc, but I’m just not the target demographic for these vaguely threatening demands for money to protect ‘nature’. Adopting a bat appealed to me because they made great gifts, and I knew my money was going to a specific cause that I care about. It made me feel positive towards the brand, and likely to support similar things again. But now I haven’t even read this letter that runs SEVEN pages, and I’m already annoyed because sending out reams and reams of thick, colour printed paper isn’t sustainable. Straight away I’m wondering about how much of my ‘important’ donation is being spent on shit like this, and on salaries for people to put it together, instead of on all these things they want support for. It doesn’t feel authentic to me.

Their message is coming through loud and clear. Unfortunately for Forest & Bird, all I’m hearing is that they see me as a number. I don’t feel valued. I feel like a prospect instead of a person. In the words of Simon Cowell, it’s a no from me.

It’s easier to fall into this trap than you might think, so here are 5 easy things to keep in mind to avoid a similar fate, and cultivate meaningful connections with your audience.

  1. Be authentic
    I cannot stress this enough. Authenticity ensures that you attract the right people into your orbit. It makes it easy to reach the right people if they’re already interested and engaged in your business
  2. Relationship is Queen
    If you approach comms, engagement, and advertising with the express intent of getting more likes, followers, or sales, you will be wasting your money. It’s not how many followers you have, it’s about how many of them actually believe in your business and engage with your content. Put in the effort to play the long game- there may be less reward in the short term but loyal, returning customers will help you thrive in the long run.
  3. Listen to your community
    Your audience will tell you what they like and what they don’t like, you just have to be willing to listen. In interviews Dave Grohl describes fans of the Foo Fighters as fellow members of the band, and makes sure they get a say in what goes onstage or onto a record. Treat your audience as contributing members of your business, and give them a say. Look at which posts move people to interact, and use that to your advantage. Give the people what they want!
  4. Be creative and original
    By all means check out what your competition is doing, but if that’s where you go for inspiration you will inevitably end up a poor imitation. If you want to be a business that leads in your field and inspires with their innovative approach, you need to stick your neck out and try some new things. If you make a mistake, at least you can take the credit for it!
  5. Don’t sacrifice content for convenience
    When was the last time you opened an email newsletter from a brand you like on Facebook? There’s a reason these things go into a folder called spam: automated posts, mass replies, newsletters and other ‘set’ content can come across as insincere. Used badly, scheduling apps can create distance between you and your customers. A scheduling tool can make your life a lot easier, but be careful not to rely on it too much. You want your audience engaging with you, not the robot.

If you think your communications and engagement could benefit from a different approach, I’m happy to help, just flick me an email thewordpixienz@gmail.com

(Disclaimer- Forest & Bird are an amazing organisation that does great work. This isn’t a criticism of them, just their old school engagement strategy.)

Levity is not your enemy:

the case for having a laugh.

Managing corporate social media is a battleground. In my experience, the people at the top take both themselves and their brands much too seriously. They’re double the danger to innovation: both very risk adverse and pretty clueless about how social media works.

On the one hand, I get it. If, for example, you’re an institution subject to academic rigor, there are reasons to be worried about whether or not people take you seriously online.

On the other hand, while execs are trying to use social media for marketing, most of us are just trying distract ourselves from the tedium of our lives. Obviously this is a generalisation, but on the whole we’re all bored shitless, and we use social media to escape. If it’s not interesting or amusing, we’re scrolling on by, and if you keep posting tedious, irrelevant crap, we’re unfollowing you. (I was going to put a graph here but you all know how I feel about statistics.)

‘Figures of authority’ may have the hardest time striking the right balance on social media. It’s a critical touch point for audiences they may not reach otherwise. Content needs to be engaging enough that people interact with it so it shows up in as many feeds as possible, but serious enough to get the point across.

I think us kiwis have a slightly easier time with this, because our cultural norms around social structure aren’t as hierarchical as some countries. For example, many kiwis wouldn’t hesitate to approach our Prime Minister for a chat or a selfie, and as a rule we don’t generally stand too much on ceremony around titles either.

So it really grates when people at the top of the chain, who don’t even have social media accounts, act like social media experts, dictating how social media should be used. This is often accompanied by insinuations that by lightening up a little online, we’re not serious about our jobs, or about representing our brand professionally. (Once, I was reprimanded for using the word ‘bloody’ in an Instagram post about the weather. Apparently swearing is ‘unprofessional’. (Tell that to Australia or Toyota!))

Timeless classic

But instead of having a whinge about all the cool stuff I was prevented from doing in my previous roles, I thought I would keep it positive and share some local examples of organisations where reputation is critical, but they’re still nailing social media.

Civil Defence Waikato

This organisation is responsible for making sure we don’t die horribly in a natural disaster. It’s absolutely vital that people take them and their advice seriously. It’s literally life and death. So how on earth do you make posts about the weather interesting?

The first thing they did was give their social media a distinct and relatable voice. They created an ongoing narrative thread with reoccurring characters and colloquialisms. They created a community vibe by cracking jokes and taking the piss out of other cities and districts.

People engage with the jokes and funny drawings which means they see more from WDC in their feed, so when it really counts WCD has a captive audience for life-or-death updates like flooding, earthquakes, tsunami etc.

It’s been a bit dry recently with COVID19 and I think some staffing changes. There was a cartoon posted that coincidentally looked like a cock and balls, followed by a post ribbing the new social media guy, but when I looked just now to take a screenshot for you, it was gone. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Waikato Police

I’ve noticed that recently Waikato Police are introducing a bit more flavour into their posts. The key messaging is the same, so it’s still very much ‘on brand’, but their recent diversification in tone means they’re reaching more people.

It’s not all doom and gloom reports about criminal activity, or admonishments for breaking the law.

They blend serious police business with feel good stories and jokes pitched at the right tone for their audience.

They also create community and provide opportunities for people to become part of the narrative by requesting assistance in locating missing persons and updating people on outcomes.

Community building

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this brilliant campaign to help keep kids safe online. Tough subject? Yes. Risque? Yes. Engaging? Hell yes.

It was great seeing our politicians, and authority figures sharing the hell out of this video, and others in the series.

Who do you think does great social media and why?

Shitty Statistics

and why you shouldn’t “boost your post to reach more people!”

Maybe it’s just because Math and I are not friends, but I am increasingly skeptical about my social media stats. If working in a corporate space taught me nothing else, it taught me that data is infinitely massageable. Just get your lil asterisk caveat in there and you’re good to go. Like the ads where they claim “91% of women saw a difference in just 14 days”, but if you read the fine print they only asked 36 people. Yeah it’s technically true, but is it an accurate reflection of the product’s benefits? Probably not.

We already know that algorithms are dictating our engagement levels. They are the real influencers. They are why when I googled Garnier earlier to find an example of a shitty statistic, an ad for their BB cream instantly appeared in my fb feed.

Or a more concrete example: this morning I posted a photo of Briggle and Bindi to Instagram, and shared it through to facebook. Here’s the ‘insight’ that Facebook offered me in the first 15 minutes. Call me a cynic, but if nine people have reacted to my post, then surely I’ve reached at least nine people?

Never forget that Facebook wants your money. They use our cookies so advertisers will spend money to ‘reach’ us. They also intentionally limit our organic reach so that we will give them money to ‘boost’ our posts. Just over 2k people like and follow Tinkerbelle the Wobble Dog and a post with only 75 reactions is ‘performing better’ than 85% of my posts?

The truth is that on most cases, boosting your posts is a waste of time and money. I don’t trust their engagement ‘data’, and neither should you. And even if the data is somehow correct, there’s no surefire way to know that you’re reaching the right people.

There are plenty of these kinds of ‘how to’ guides floating around to try and help small businesses hack the algorithm that are kind of useful but ultimately miss the point.

Yes, more engagement is the key to reaching more people. But to reach the right people you need to be creating content that is relevant to them, that makes them feel something, which moves them to engage with you.

Keep your values at the center of what you do, be authentic and don’t be afraid to have fun with your content. Stop worrying about the numbers and start being real. Figure out what your story is and start telling it. And if you’d like a hand with that, you know where I am.

Finding your sweet spot

or, how to discover your authentic voice.

We are taught from an early age that being smart and getting an education is vital. It’s the way out of poverty and struggle, it’s the pathway to success. Over all else, society values your capacity for knowing things, your IQ, and your cognition.

I always thought that this was because it WAS the most valuable thing, so my head injury last year triggered a bit of an existential crisis. My identity was so wrapped up in my intelligence and cognitive abilities and my ability to work like a demon, go the extra mile and hustle hard, so who the hell was I and what value did I have if I couldn’t rely on those things anymore?

I spent months trying to unpick this, my brain providing a whole pile of unhelpful black and white thinking: Unemployed = unsuccessful. Neurofatigue = stupidity. Unable to work full-time due to pain = terrible, worthless person.

But I realised that society values intellect not because it’s the most important thing, but because it’s the most easily measurable and rewarded. How many questions did you get right on the test? How much is your yearly salary? How many people saw this post?

And this tunnel vision is where we go wrong in comms and marketing (and in life!). We go to university, attend conferences and webinars and read scholarly articles to learn how to be successful communications and marketing types. We pour over our ‘insights’ and other engagement metrics. We’re continuously prompted to “boost this post” to reach X number of people.

In the words of Maya Angelou:

And it’s pretty hard to make people feel something if you’re only seeing them as a number.

So take what you know intellectually and centre it within what you know in your gut. Forget about ‘doing it right’ and make sure it feels right.

Because if it feels right it probably is right.

And that’s when the right people start showing up more often.

Fuck Marketing

Or, how to cut through Marketing Fatigue

Since my head injury, I consider myself to be a bit of an expert on fatigue. I’ve spent over a year in a constant state of exhaustion on all levels. As well as making me physically drained, the injury temporarily disrupted my brain’s circuitry system, meaning that even tasks that would normally take no energy (like reading, using a computer or watching TV) were suddenly extremely draining. And neuro fatigue isn’t solved by an early night: I’ve had to completely reconsider where I spend my energy and make more time for rest. I have a limited number of spoons to spend now, so I’m not going to waste them!

But you don’t need to have a head injury to know what it’s like to be completely and utterly over it. Not only are we all swept up in the capitalist circus trying to prove our worth by achieving ALL THE THINGS, the barrage of advertising is constant and everywhere- sponsored posts, pop ups, emails about ANOTHER sale, it’s even in our messenger inbox now.

There is no escaping the relentless pressure to spend money, and nothing makes you feel less valued than being treated like a prospect instead of a person.

It’s not that people are necessarily fatigued by your brand, but that they’re fatigued by the consumer system itself. We’re all financially stressed and cautious about spending money. We’re all experts at tuning out the digital ‘junk mail’ that clogs our lives. So how do you cut through it all and actually engage with your customers?

There are a million blogs on how to reduce marketing fatigue, with guidelines about making posts relevant, individualising content and structuring post frequency, but I’m yet to find one that digs more deeply into WHY people are tuning you out.

When I took on one of my previous roles the handover I received on the various social media presences consisted of “don’t post more than twice a week because people will get bored”. This blew my mind- if content is creative and relevant it doesn’t matter if you post once a day or once a month- people are going to engage with it. The number of people that you ‘reach’ is much less important than who you reach and it was instantly clear that we weren’t reaching the right people.

The best way to make sure that your marketing is relevant is to have the right people engaging with your business. This is where online ‘like and share’ competitions can actually harm your business in the long run. If you attract people to your page by tempting them with prizes, you will attract people who like free stuff- not the people who like your product. In order for your content to be engaging, you need an audience that cares about you and your brand. And that’s where I can help you.

The best way to make sure that you’re engaging with the right people is to be authentic and communicate well. Go with your gut, because if it feels right, it usually is right. This blog for instance, will be a lot more personal than other sites, because most of my knowledge comes from finding shit out the hard and painful way. Besides, I can’t advise people on how to be authentic if I’m not willing to do it myself!

So take a rest from your touch point and sales targets. Re-centre your values and purpose so you’re sure that you’re doing something you believe in. Stand tall on the rock of yourself and tell your story.

When you remove or deprioritise the goal of making sales, you’ll find that you’re attracting the right people to your business. And over time you’ll grow a community that are just as invested in your business as you are, who will want to support you without you having to ask for it.

Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

What your Instagram #TopNine can teach you

I’m lucky in that the purpose of Tinkerbelle’s social media presence is to entertain above all else. Without the pressure of sales and engagement targets I have been free to experiment without constraint, and post the content that feels right. It has been a really organic process right from the start, with what my followers want being at the center of what I do. But if this isn’t true for a brand you’re managing, there are ways to work out who your audience is and what they want- and the Instagram #TopNine is a great place to start.

Take Tinkerbelle’s #TopNine2019 for example. At one glance I can see what my audience likes:

  1. Briggle dog
  2. Throwback posts
  3. Snoot closeups
  4. Milestones
  5. Humour

Of course it’s never quite as simple as that. The context of these posts is also important.

Briggle dog

Last year we had a major health scare with Briggle. There were several months of frequent vet visits, new medications, and Briggle being generally unwell. Even if I had wanted to ‘hide’ what was going on with him, I couldn’t as he lost quite a lot of weight really suddenly. But I’m always pretty honest about what’s going on in our lives, so I was never going to try and pretend things were fine.

I think there are a few different things going on here. First of all, the account originated when we adopted Tinkerbelle, who was paralysed in her hind legs. We spent the first few years taking her to hydrotherapy, acupuncture, doing physio exercises and uploading her progress to her social media. So I know that my audience love stories about the underdog overcoming obstacles.

I also know that in three of the instances he shows up in the #TopNine he is accompanied by Tinks and Alfie, so I know that it could be more accurate to say that my audience love photos of all three of my kids together.

And finally, I have a larger collection of hashtags that accompany Briggle posts than I do for Tink or Alfie, including #Pibble, #PitbullSmile and #EndBSL (breed specific legislation). It’s likely that more people find a Briggle post in their ‘discover’ feed than they would one of Tinks or Alfie, so those posts may be picking up more engagement from people who don’t actually follow us. So now I know that hashtags are important to drive new followers to my content.

Throwback posts/Snoot closeups/Milestones

Everyone loves #PUPPYSPAM and puppy dog eyes. We get a hit of dopamine when we see cute things so it’s no surprise that these posts are popular. But it’s the story that I tell with these posts that makes them effective. You can’t just post cute photos of animals if they have nothing to do with your brand, and expect to engage the right people.

In this instance we have a throwback to Tinkerbelle’s first time at the beach, a throwback to the ‘ultrasound’ we had when we announced we were adopting another dog, and pictures of the kids with my new ring on their nose. So I know that my audience likes content they can relate to.


Tinkerbelle is the sassiest dog I have ever met. She has opinions, and she’s not afraid to share them. She’s also a fiend around food. Because her account is in her voice, I’ve tried to keep it true to her personality. So we have a photo of Tinks yelling about the #heckinbath, a video of #TinkerbelleTriesThingsTuesday (a tradition that came about because she will eat anything), and our take on this meme.

So I know that my audience like to be entertained, and that something funny is a great way to brighten up their days.

What does it all mean?

Because I run this account just for fun, the only thing I use this knowledge for is to give my followers more of what they like. But if you’re running a business or brand, it might help you identify both what is working for you and what is not. Can you tell what your audience likes, or is it quite random? And perhaps most useful of all, what kind of posts are missing?

While the #TopNine is most popular at the end of the year, you can still check it against your current insights by clicking the three line menu in the top right corner and choosing ‘Insights’.

Let me know how you get on!

Ngā mihi,