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As a business owner with an Instagram page, you’re probably obsessed with stats…How many followers, likes, and re-grams is my bar or restaurant getting on Instagram?

You envy the Instagram pages with 5- and 6-figure follower counts. You stare at posts with hundreds of likes, wondering if there’s some magic trick you just haven’t learned yet.

Spoiler alert: There is no magic trick.

However, there are proven strategies that can increase your success on Instagram. That’s exactly what Jason Plummer – founder, owner, and home bartender extraordinaire of Barrel-Aged Dad – shared with us in our latest Ask the Experts series.

Q) Jason, let’s cut to the chase. You’ve found success on Instagram. In just 3 years, Barrel-Aged Dad has amassed over 13,000 Instagram followers. How did you do it?

Thank you for the compliment, but technically that’s not considered a large following these days! I’ll answer your question about how I’ve reached that number in a minute.

But first I want to explain what type of category my page falls into. I would be considered a “micro influencer.”

That’s someone with under 20,000 followers. Both people and brands are seeing much more value in micro influencers. That’s because we have the capacity to actually engage with our followers.

Let’s talk about the Kardashians. They have millions of followers, but their rate of engagement is likely under 1%. When a Kardashian responds to a comment on their Instagram, it’s probably not even them – but a social media manager.

To me, success on Instagram is more about my ratio of engagement with my followers than it is with how many likes I have.

As a bar or restaurant owner, prioritize engagement over everything. That’s the most important piece of advice I can give you!

Respond to every single comment made on your Instagram page. Answer every direct message. And take time to visit your followers’ pages and interact with them! Like their photos. Re-gram their posts (especially if they take a great photo while at your business).

I’d also recommend that as a bar or restaurant owner, you seek out micro-influencers in your area to see if they could promote your business. I’ll talk more about that later.

Q) Ok, so Barrel-Aged Dad isn’t going to rival Kendall Jenner’s numbers on Instagram. But for the average independent bar or restaurant, 13,000 followers in 3 years is a lot. We need to know how you got there!

I know this will sound strange, but I think the reason I’ve built a large following quickly is because that was never my goal. It’s sort of a paradox: To get more followers on Instagram, you should not make it priority.

Your goal should instead be on creating meaningful, quality content that provides value. I do this by sharing artful photos of cocktails, recipes, and general mixology content.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders in social media today is Gary Vaynerchuk. Although he has 5.5 million followers – which you could say is a big success on Instagram – that’s not his priority. Gary said…

“I don’t want to have the biggest account. I want to provide the most value and help the most people.”

Q) For a bar or restaurant owner, isn’t the whole point of being on Instagram to promote their business?

Yes, of course. However, to experience success on Instagram – and get results for your business – you can’t solely talk about your 2-for-1 pitcher specials or always take beauty shots of your signature cocktails. In fact, you should never post anything that resembles an advertisement on Instagram. It will fall flat.

Q) That makes sense. Then what other kinds of content should a bar or restaurant be posting instead?

As a bar or restaurant owner, you have a unique “behind-the-scenes” perspective. So, share it! Maybe you are sourcing produce for your culinary cocktails from a nearby farm or farmers market. Take your followers on a journey with you by taking a photo of the farmer or the raw product on the market tablet.

I’ve found a lot of success on Instagram by documenting my process when creating cocktails. This post about the honey I used in a cocktail had over 11,000 views. It’s an example of storytelling success on Instagram. I wrote a longer, personal post about my love/hate relationship with bees.

Then I gave the recipe for the cocktail – which was a way of providing value, too. Consider occasionally giving customers a recipe they can try at home. Trust me, they won’t ditch your bar or restaurant just because they can make one recipe at home!

Q) In that honey cocktail post you shared, it’s a photobut the honey is moving. So, it’s also a video. What is that called and how can a bar or restaurant owner re-create that effect?

Right now, video is king and an excellent strategy for driving success on Instagram. What you’re seeing is called a cinemagraph. There are Android and iPhone apps that simplify the process of creating cinemagraphs.

Q) Could you just record a short video on your phone and post it to Instagram? Do you see success on Instagram when you do that?

A casual video is definitely a great way to bring variety to your Instagram page. However, I think Instagram Stories works best as a tool for capturing those candid moments.

You can record a short video of your bartender explaining the inspiration behind a new cocktail or what they love about a brand of gin or bourbon they’re using. In fact, success on Instagram often comes from seeking out content ideas from others around you. Maybe your bartender has a video idea?

I even use Instagram Stories to even share things that are completely off topic from the focus of my page, which is mixology. And that’s ok. If a person only talked about one topic – all the time – you’d be bored, right? The same goes for your Instagram page.

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Q) On the Barrel-Aged Dad Instagram page, your photos are so professional and wellperfect! Do you take the photos? Or, did you hire someone?

I take all the photos. I’m actually a creative director at an advertising agency, but photography is a hobby and I’m proud to be self taught. About 3 years ago, I purchased a DSLR camera – a used Canon Rebel – for about $300. I watched a ton of YouTube and Lynda.com tutorials. There are over 200,000 photography how-to videos on Lynda.com so the information and help is out there – you just have to make time.

I also studied other brands and people who were having success on Instagram. With my advertising background, it did help that I had a designer’s eye and understand what goes into a well-composed photo.

Honestly, today’s smartphones are good enough to reach success on Instagram. I just bought the iPhone X because the camera’s portrait mode is amazing.

A friend of mine in San Diego has a great Instagram page and all of his photos are taken with his iPhone

Q) What is your most-liked Instagram photo? Why do you think it was successful?

This photo of a Negroni had over 2,000 likes. First and foremost, I think the stunning orangish-red color was very eye-catching along with the texture from the strawberry and orange garnish.

As most people in the bar biz know, clear ice in cool shapes from squares to spheres is very trendy right now! With cocktails, your glassware, garnish and ice choices make all the difference.

Q) You seem to have struck a great balance on the Barrell-Aged Dad Instagram page. For ever 5-6 photos of a cocktail, you’ll show a picture of a person or something differentwhy is that?

It’s all about finding a balance that works for your brand – and speaks to your desired audience. Beware of having a monotonous Instagram feed that’s all one subject…like only beautiful cocktails.

Don’t forget the human element. That’s what social media is all about.

Be sure you feature people: whether it’s your bartender, a customer (with their permission), or you! There’s a Georgia Tech study that shows photos with faces on Instagram get 38% more likes, and 32% more comments.

Q) Some Instagram experts say that success on Instagram is all about having a specific look or filter. Do you agree?

It’s important that you stay on brand – but don’t need to go overboard. Right now, there are a ton of Instagram pages that are overdoing it. We’ve all seen an Instagram grid that’s all in a millennial pink hue. That can get a bit tedious.

I really appreciate the look that the Death and Co. Bar in Denver and NYC has achieved. With over 130,000 followers, I’d say they’ve found success on Instagram with their approach.

Their Instagram feed has a darker, edgier tone but they definitely mix it up with photos of cocktails and people. No matter what the subject matter is, there’s a definitive brand persona that’s carried through everything they do: from captions to photos.

Q) How often should a bar or restaurant be posting on Instagram?

I aim to post at least once a week. I think that’s a good goal to strive for. Don’t think that quantity equals quality! It’s more important that what you post is something you’re proud of and that connects with your audience.

A fair warning: to experience success on Instagram requires a time comment. Since Barrel-Aged Dad is known for high-quality photography, I do spend about 2-3 hours setting up a shoot, styling, taking the photos, and then editing them. I also spend about as much time responding to comments, and researching ideas for new content.

For inspiration, I use the “Explore” page on Instagram that shows me content relevant to what I’m already liking and following. It’s like Pandora. The Explore feature “learns” what you like, and shows you new content.

Q) We didn’t forgetyou said you’d explain how a bar or restaurant can use influencer marketing on Instagram!

Yes, many businesses are seeing success on Instagram by asking micro-influencers to promote them. Remember, look for other Instagram pages that have a great rate of engagement. The amount of followers isn’t as important. You could even discover that you’ve already caught the eye of an influencer.

Check out the pages of those who like and follow your page. If you see someone with a few thousand followers, and that person regularly engages with their followers, reach out. See if they could come in and share their perspective on your bar or restaurant. Of course, you will need to pay them or offer them a free meal in exchange for featuring you on their Instagram feed.

Q) Is there anything that won’t earn success on Instagram?

Yes. Never, ever buy followers or likes on Instagram. Instagram’s algorithm can often detect that you’ve done so, and will penalize your page by not showing it to others.

Thank you for sharing your advice with our readers. We wish you tons of success on Instagram in the future, even though we know you’re not in it for the likes!