It's hard to imagine the leather goods company ThisIsGround ever being baffled by Instagram. Its photos are genius, the lighting hits its wallets just right, and the products are arranged with the reverence of a scrapbook. It's like a portal into creative director Mike Macadaan's mind, though he freely admits he's still learning.
Clearly the brand is doing something right--it has 11,904 followers and counting, and receives 45 followers and 500 likes per post on average. And that's even for product previews that offer a look at new designs but no launch date or any other details.
Here's an inside look on how the company's Instagram strategy fell into place.
The Big Idea
ThisIsGround launched in downtown Los Angeles in the winter of 2012, when a friend needed a concept for storing cables. Having just eaten tacos for lunch, it dawned on Macadaan that the shell was the perfect shape for the job. He quickly got to work, and the first cord taco, or cordito, was born.
As a single dad, Macadaan, who previously founded a tech studio called Science, wasn't ready to commit to another business. But the cord taco, which he'd been crafting by hand and selling for $24.99 on sites like Etsy, was an overnight hit. Pinterest, Refinery 29, and Apartment Therapy all loved it, and by May 2013, sales had peaked on Etsy alone. Macadaan knew it was time to scale up production and secured the help of a die maker.
After holding a 30-day campaign on Kickstarter, Macadaan secured enough money ($30,000) to commit to ThisIsGround. Then after bringing it into Science and tapping an adviser, ThisIsGround landed a meeting with Apple to demo its products. After winning the tech titan over, the Cord Taco 5-pack began selling for $24.95 on Apple.com.
Instagram, Minus the Hype
With the business taking off, Macadaan and his colleagues didn't pay much attention to Instagram. "We didn't really have a narrative that we were trying to follow," he says. "A couple days there'd be some interesting pictures, then there'd be a picture of James Franco. It was like, What?"
He figured the brand would "slowly and organically" build a community, but pretty soon it was clear that the random posts, which looked they were each coming from different brands, weren't working.
In March, Macadaan and his team agreed to stop hyping their products. Instead, they would let the Instagram community do it for them. "We reached out, invited them to participate, had meetings, phone calls, and in-studio visits. We said, 'We'll gift you our products in return for being open and giving us feedback on new assignments.'" From there, he let the shutterbugs do their thing. He never gave suggestions--"the reality is they have their own style"--but freely offered praise and asked for high-res images to use for marketing.
"The [photos] we repost do okay [on our Instagram feed]," Macadaan says, "but when someone else posts, it doesn't get any better than that for us. Their community is introduced to our product."
Why It Works
One adventurous user with 200,000-plus followers, @Justhanni, boosted ThisIsGround's followers by a thousand just by posting a shot of a brown leather planner with the caption, "Went for a hike today."
Macadaan says he conceived the idea by examining data. The key metrics on Instagram, he says, are your number of followers, reposts, when people mention friends in your comments--"that's when you get into exponential growth, because their friends are following it"--when someone's tagged in a photo, shares it to Twitter and Facebook, and/or likes and comments on it, though the latter is really "more for optics." That's "almost like people believe [what you're selling] when you see those."
ThisIsGround still shoots its own photos so the feed has a healthy mix of original and reposted shots. Over time, Macadaan's found the aesthetic that gets the most engagement is a something of a cross between a solo adventurer and a coffeeshop-dwelling hipster. "Another is, 'I'm a writer and I've jetted off to a cafe to write,'" he jokes. "Some of those still life shots on Instagram can get an insane amount of likes."
So why does it work? "Viewers have an idea that they should be part of that world; these pictures are inspiring," Macadaan explains. "It seems achievable, like I can do it, too."