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Sorry, there are no magic tricks

I was doing a consultation project recently where the lady involved was assured by other marketing companies that if she changed her posting times, or used different hashtags or posted some Reels, her Instagram engagement would improve.

This might be the kind of advice I’d give if a client had already gone ball to the wall on trying to improve their Instagram. But on inspection of the account, follower rate was high and engagement rate abysmally low.

“The other agency got me great results” she said, “until we stopped working together, then the engagement completely stopped, now I’m lucky if I get 5 likes per post, and that’s usually from my friends and family.”

If one was having so much trouble with social media, the temptation would be to not bother at all. But that wasn’t an option for this lady, seeing as her business was an app that promoted other businesses. So in order for her to make money through the app, she needed a big following and needed to be seen to do everything possible to promote it.

I already knew, from 10 minutes in that she was not going to be happy with my advice, and I was no way in hell going to get this job. But I don’t lie.

“Adding Alt text or producing Reels isn’t going to save this account. The other agency have been buying likes and followers for you to inflate performance. The account is essentially broken. As the followers you have will never engage with your content the Instagram algorithm is going to penalise you for having spam activity and a low engagement to follower ratio.”

“So what should I do?”

“The only thing to do is delete the account and start over. That’s not so scary, I recently started a new Instagram account and I get much more engagement on it than I do on other accounts. It’s easier to build new accounts than revive old ones.”

“But I’ve spent thousands of pounds on this account!”

Im Out Bbc Two GIF by BBC - Find & Share on GIPHY

Clearly this lady did not want to scrap years of work, thousands of pounds and start again. And I didn’t really expect her to. It’s really hard to recognise a sunken cost and write it off. It’s the reason why we carry on doing degrees we aren’t emotionally invested in, and the reason why we stay in relationships that we know aren’t right for us.

But spending a lot of time and money on something is not a good reason to keep doing it if it’s not working.

the sales people who promise the most, usually deliver the least.

The reason why so many social media accounts fail is that people expect quick, cheap results. If they come accross someone like me who tells them that it’s going to take over 6 months before they start seeing the results they want. They’re going to go to someone who tells them that by changing the alt text, or meta tags, (or something else that sounds magic but the client doesn’t really understand) they’re going to start getting thousands of followers, instantly. But all those people are doing is buying followers from India. The client, who usually wants the best results possible for the cheapest price, is going to go along with that if they don’t have the years of business experience needed to know that the sales people who promise the most, usually deliver the least.

The reality is that nothing beats good content, but even if you have the best content strategy in the world – if you don’t have an amazing business offer, you’re just rolling a turd in glitter. The best marketers can help you with your business, but if the business isn’t solid, it’s always going to be difficult to get it to grow.

There will always be marketers who will tell you that they can market a bad product, there will always be sales people who will tell you they can sell a bad product with bad marketing – but really, truly, it all needs to be done well. There are just no shortcuts, and if you’ve taken shortcuts in the past it may hinder your business permenantly. As people who bought loads of cheap backlinks back when that was a thing will know.

Cheap marketing doesn’t really exist

Take the long route, work hard on your business. If you don’t have enough money to invest in marketing – then upskill as best as you can and do it yourself before you can hire someone good enough to do it. The most important thing is that you get someone who cares about your business. If you can’t afford to pay someone to care, do it yourself. If you can afford to pay someone to care – make sure that you are giving them an amount that will actually mean they care. Cheap marketing doesn’t really exist, there aren’t many poor marketers. Cheap in marketing usually equals low time spent. If you’re buying an agency for £100 a month – either they will be spending 2 hours a month on that or, they will be subcontracting to someone in a country where that’s a months wages.