Building your Instagram following is never an overnight task. For you to connect with people online in the most profound ways, the right engagement strategy and value are needed. Classical flutist and marketing strategist Nicole Riccardo joins Bree Noble in a discussion about utilizing genuine human connection when engaging with your Instagram followers and avoiding resorting to spammy and annoying messages. Nicole also shares the best strategies in publishing content on social media for your work to resonate with people, especially when it comes to promotions and events. Finally, she explains how creativity plays in all of these, from coming up with content that provides value to maximizing the features of Instagram, particularly newly rolled out ones.
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Nicole Riccardo: Building Your Instagram Following Through Engagement And Value
I am here with Nicole Riccardo. I’m excited to be talking about Instagram. I know for me, Instagram has been a bit of a stumbling block and maybe it is for you too, maybe depending on what generation you’re in. For me, I was having a little bit of trouble getting into Instagram. I’m excited for Nicole to give us some of her tips. I’ve already learned a lot from her through some of her other content. I wanted to share that with you. Before we get into that, I’d love to have you let them know Nicole. What’s your background? How did you start focusing on Instagram? I know that you have some background in music as well, which makes you a perfect person to have on the show. Let them know a little bit about that too.
I am a classical flutist. I have been doing music-related things since I was in kindergarten. I started with piano, moved to singing, then I picked up a flute, and the rest is history. I do have my degrees in Flute Performance as well. Both my Bachelor’s and my Master’s are in Flute Performance. It’s interesting because now what I do is not super related to that. The way that I got here, when I was in grad school, I started running a woodwind quintet. Through the power of social media, networking, pitching, PR and marketing, I was able to take that group and we went on a tour, and doing guest artists residencies at universities. We got a recording offer from Naxos. We commission new music, the whole nine yards. That was the first thing that got me dabbling like, “I think this is powerful. There’s something here.”You can be professional but still be yourself. Click To Tweet
From there, after I graduated, I did end up doing a normal 9:00 to 5:00 because we’ve got bills to pay. Through that, I did end up working in marketing, doing websites and stuff like that through my 9:00 to 5:00. I did that for quite a while and threw myself into learning anything and everything I could about it. After going to a few different businesses and seeing the impact that it could have, I eventually was like, “Why am I not using this to build my own career and do what I want to do?” That’s what I did. I made the decision. From the time I redid my materials started using social media strategically, it took me eight months, and then I was able to quit my job and become full-time self-employed. A big reason that I was able to do that is thanks to Instagram. That’s where I honed in on and focused on toward building my community, finding my people. That’s a lot of how I was able to build my career.
I love that you didn’t just jump in. You were still doing your 9:00 to 5:00 and you were building your social media presence, your community and all that, and then you moved over, which I think is smart. I’m curious, why Instagram? Why is that your favorite social media platform? What is so special, amazing and great about Instagram to connect with your community of people?
When it comes to social media, there are a lot of platforms out there. When it comes to true social media platforms, meaning a platform that you can go on build relationships with people, build a true community. The way that I view it is Facebook or Instagram. We have Pinterest and there’s YouTube, but those are more search engines. People are going to go to YouTube or Pinterest to search for, “How to get this wine stain out of my carpet?” That’s what they’re using those for, so those are more search engines. For the true social media platforms, we have Facebook or Instagram.
The reason that I prefer Instagram to Facebook is because Facebook unless you already have a massive audience, it’s pretty difficult to organically grow an audience. Especially Facebook pages, that’s pretty much pay-to-play now. Unless you’re sinking a lot of money in ads, it’s not even going to be seen. On Instagram, there are billions of users every single day. It’s a massive audience. Every age range and demographic are also on Instagram, and just the accessibility of being able to comment and message with people back and forth. You can set your profile to public to allow people to come in, get to know you, get to know more about what you do, your life. I’ve found that it’s easy to organically build real relationships there and be able to build a large community a lot faster than you can on somewhere like say Facebook.
It’s very true. I started out on Facebook but because I started out early, I have that community already or you can do a group on Facebook, but page reach isn’t very good anymore unless you’re paying. It makes sense what you’re saying. I’m curious, what would make someone want to follow you on Instagram? Let’s say, as a musician. If I’m on Instagram and I see a post from you, what would make me want to go ahead and click through to the bio, check you out, follow you? What do we need to be doing to be worthy of that?
When it comes to getting followers on Instagram, there are a couple of different factors here, and it’s going to come down to your content, your photos and your caption, but also your engagement. Let’s talk about the content first. Instagram is a visual platform. You want to have eye-catching photos. If you’re a musician like I’m a flutist, if you go to any flutist’s account, it’s going to be a lot of, “Here’s a picture of my flute on top of some sheet music.” That’s what everybody is doing. If that’s all I’m posting, it’s not going to stand out. If you’re scrolling through a feed or scrolling through a flute hashtag, it’s going to look the same and blend in. One of the easiest ways is look at what everybody else is doing and don’t do that. Do something different. We’re all creative. We’re musicians. This is what we do. We always have all of these ideas spinning, so use that to your advantage. Look at what everybody else is doing, and then do something different than that. That’s the photo aspect of content.
We then have the captions. One of the things with captions that I always encourage is write how you speak. A lot of us, especially musicians who have that more formal academic training, I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s and it jump into this box of academic writing, and using all of this jargon and everything has to be professional. Professional is not the same thing as formal. You can still be professional but be yourself. One of the things that I am a huge advocate for is infusing your unique personality. That’s also something that’s going to be tied into your brand. Things that people will remember you for. For me, I’m a flutist. I teach about Instagram. I like digital courses. We love passive income, but who am I as a person? I’m also a dog mom and I also love New Orleans. I am a New Orleanian at heart. Those are the things that I share. Those are the things about my personality that I talk about and open about. It also helps people to connect with me on a more human level.
If all I’m ever talking about is, “This is what I do, this is what I offer, this is what I know about,” eventually, people are going to tune you out. They to have that human connection and get to know who you are as a person. Picking those couple of things about you that are fun, that you want people to know about you, and showing that side of yourself. The fun part about that is then that’s what people are going to start remembering you for too. People tag me in New Orleans things on a weekly basis. I’m getting DMs. They’re sending me things. They’re sending me house listings like, “I found your New Orleans house.” I’m like, that’s what we want. It builds that association and keeps you top of mind for them.
The other side of this with a following on Instagram is going to be engagement. Instagram is one of those platforms where you’re going to get what you put into it, which is why a lot of people get deterred from it. It’s not overnight, and we live in an age of instant gratification. I’m guilty of this too. One of the things I say is I’m like, “I want it like yesterday.” With Instagram and any social media platform, we have to have realistic expectations that building a community, growing your audience, these things take time. You do have to invest some energy and some love into doing it.
Engagement is when you are going out and you are finding your exact target people. Where are they hanging out? What hashtags are they using? What other accounts are they following? Where can you find your people? Engage with them, leave them some likes, leave them a thoughtful and engaging comment, watch their stories. Engage with them that way. Get them to notice you because the reality is, it doesn’t matter how great you are, people don’t know yet. We have to get them to pay attention, and engagement on Instagram is the way that we’re going to be able to do that. We’re showing them love and giving them likes, “I love what you’re doing,” then they are going to come to do the same for you. It’s a lot of reciprocity on Instagram. That’s how you’re going to be able to find your people and start growing your community.
I’m glad that you mentioned that because especially musicians, we get into this mindset of like, we hear about people that something goes viral. They put something on TikTok and all of a sudden, they have a million followers or their YouTube video goes viral. We think that’s what we’re reaching for all the time, but that is 0.001% of people that happens too. We need to realize that we have to put into it as much as we’re expecting to get out, if not more. We can’t just expect to be one of those outliers. First of all, let’s talk about how do you figure out who your perfect person is, your different names, your avatar, your perfect customer, however you want to call it. The person that would love to know about your music and want to listen to it, how do you figure out who that person is? How do you start stalking them on Instagram?The fastest way to get blocked online is to send out spammy messages to everyone. Click To Tweet
For performers specifically, the easiest way to do this is by finding who your music is similar to. Is there a popular artist? Who are your influences? Who are your inspirations? Who are maybe your teachers? Maybe they have a large audience already. You’re then going to find those people on Instagram. Maybe your music is super inspired by John Mayer. He has a massive following on Instagram. There’s a pretty good chance that the people who were following John Mayer and enjoy his music might also enjoy yours. It’s looking for those influences and people that you’re similar to. Go engage with their audience because a most likely scenario, they’re probably also going to enjoy yours.
When you say engaged, should you just be commenting? Should you follow those people? Should you be commenting on maybe things that are on John Mayer’s page and then commenting on what other people are commenting on? What’s the best way to connect like that and be seen?
Engagement is a whole rabbit hole that we could go down on all of the different ways to do this. An easy way of doing this is let’s say John Mayer’s account, we’re going to look at maybe all of the people that commented on his new post because they’re there, they’re showing up, they’re engaged, they’re cheering him on. That’s what we want in our community too. You can go through all of those people that are liking, commenting, engaging, go over to their account and leave them a few likes, leave them a thoughtful and engaging comment. The key here, when I say a thoughtful and engaging comment, ask them a question, engage them in conversation, ask them something that you’re genuinely curious about. Maybe they’re also a musician and they posted some awesome pieces and you’re like, “That piece is awesome. Did you write that yourself?” Something that you’re genuinely curious about.
This is an aside. One thing that I hear a lot about Instagram and specifically engagement are people like, “It feels so inauthentic. It feels like sleazy, scammy and spammy,” but it is only that way if you make it that way. There are some people online that teach that way. You can smell these messages from a mile away. You’ll get the DMs of like, “Girl, tell me about your business.” It’s like, “Get out of here.” It’s so cringy. Don’t do that. Be a human and ask them something that you’re genuinely interested to know more about. Don’t be fake about it.
Don’t hit them over the head with your music without having a conversation first. I have always been getting DMs that are like, “Would you check out my track and share it?” I don’t even know who the heck you are. Why would I do that?
Those are the absolute worst. Do not do that. I have seen musicians do that before. They’ll send me a video like a DM of their YouTube and be like, “Check out my music,” or they’ll leave a comment, “I just released this new track, check it.” That is the fastest way to get deleted and blocked.
When they didn’t respond to my DM, they started putting it in my comments. I’m like, “I’m blocking this person.”
Don’t do that. That is so spammy. I’m sorry but I say this with love, if you’re doing that, you are one of the reasons that people hate Instagram. Stop doing that. Be a human. People have to connect with you. People do not want to get hit over the head like that. It’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s going to create a bad reputation for you and people are going to run from you. Don’t do that. Be a human, be authentic. Leave some likes, a thoughtful, engaging comment. If their account resonates with you and you feel so inclined, feel free to follow them as well. Do not just do this like following everybody, and then go back the next day and unfollow them. Don’t do that either because that is also super spammy, sleazy, scammy, and also going to make people hate you. Let’s not do that either.
The other question that had always baffled me a little bit is when I first started on Instagram, it’s just posts. Now, there are posts, Stories, Lives, IGTV, Reels. Should we be doing different kinds of content in all of these places? Are there certain kinds of content that fit better for certain placements on Instagram?
Yes. What I will say is this is one of the fun parts with social media. When Instagram releases new features, it reworks its entire algorithm. The newest feature is Reels. Instagram Reels are performing well. The Instagram algorithm is prioritizing them. If you are looking to get an insane amount of organic reach, be posting Reels every single day. That is something that I have seen people in the past few months who have grown their accounts by 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 people just from posting Reels. The algorithm is prioritizing those, which is also awesome because as musicians, what we do is audio.
Having access to posting a video of us playing and knowing that it’s going to perform well, and the algorithm is going to prioritize that, that can give you a huge advantage and help you grow quickly. That’s the hot thing. That’s something moving forward to keep your eye on is when Instagram releases new features like that, be an early adopter, jump on board, start using it and pay attention to what is showing up on your Explore page. What is showing up on your home page? If you start noticing, “Every other post is a Reel,” the algorithm is prioritizing that, so maybe post more reels. That way the algorithm will prioritize your posts too. It’s staying on top of that and keeping in mind that when Instagram does release a new feature like that, the algorithm changes to prioritize it.
It makes sense. If I’ve got something that’s happening, let’s say I’ve got an event coming up or something, I’m doing a live stream or hopefully, soon we’re doing live in-person gigs, is it best to post that as a post, a story or both? What’s the best way to promote something like that?
When it comes to promotion on Instagram and any social media platform, I recommend putting it everywhere. The reality is every single person in your audience is not going to see every piece of content that you post. Let’s say Susan is in my audience today and I have a concert tomorrow, and so I put up a post. I put up a Reel tonight, and then I also post in my Stories. Maybe Susan sees my story, but somehow my post and the Reel don’t show up in her feed. By putting it in multiple places, it is going to give you more opportunity to reach more of your audience, which is great. One thing I will say though is don’t post it all at once. Don’t put up a post, and then a Reel, and then an IGTV. Don’t do that all at the same time.
Let’s spread it out a little bit. What would even be something for me, I would spread it out over a week. Maybe every day of that week, every post that you put up is either talking exclusively about your concert or at least has a little P.S. like, “P.S. If you haven’t heard yet, I have my concert on this day. Make sure you click the link about where to get your ticket” or whatever it is. You can mention it at some point in your stories every day. Maybe two days out, you do a little live practice session. Let people see you getting prepped for it. Maybe at the day of the concert, you do a Reel, a little snip from your dress rehearsal. Use your creativity. Get creative with this, but don’t be afraid to put it everywhere because you should put it everywhere. Don’t feel like you’re annoying people, you’re not. People are not going to see every single thing that you post.
That’s good to know. I hear this from musicians all the time, “Why do I need to be on Instagram right now? I’m not doing anything right now.” Maybe I’m in the phase where I’m writing for my album, recording, and I’m not releasing it until later in the year or something like that. Shouldn’t I just focus on that, and then I’ll go on and start doing stuff on Instagram once I’m putting out singles or something? Do you have any advice for like should they be building up some kind of on-ramp?Every single person in your audience is not going to see every piece of content that you post. Click To Tweet
Yes. I have a very strong feeling about this. This is one of my biggest pet peeves because building your community and growing an audience does not happen overnight. I cannot even tell you how many clients I have had come to me saying, “I just dumped in $10,000 or $20,000 recording this album. I was doing this, working on this, and I had a practice, but then it released and nobody bought it,” or “I only got a couple of sales. My mom bought ten CDs and that’s it.” That is the opposite of what we want. The problem with that is they did it backwards. You have to have an audience in place waiting, ready, and cheering you on before you invest money in releasing something like an album.
The reality is a lot of us don’t just have $10,000, $20,000 sitting around in our bank account waiting to make an album with. We have to save up for that, maybe we’re going into debt for that. That’s a lot of money. You have to make sure as the artist, you want to give yourself the best chance possible for it to be successful. We need to practice. We want to make sure we’re putting out high-quality music. That’s the foundation. That’s a given, but in order for it to be successful, you need people to buy it. If you want people to buy it, where are these people going to come from? You can’t just go post flyers at your local Starbucks, “I got an album.” Maybe you get one sale from that, but you’re not going to get a lot of sales from that.
It’s social media. It’s the easiest and fastest way to do it. If you are not using social media to build and grow your audience, you should be using social media right now. Pull out your phone, create your account if you don’t have one. Make the decision that you’re going to start doing it. At the end of the day, it’s your future. It’s your business. Do you want to just sit here and cross your fingers, and hope that you get that viral video like what Bree was talking about earlier? That’s 0.0008% chance of that happening. That’s leaving it to chance. I am not okay with leaving my future and my success up to chance. Instead, that’s why using social media strategically getting on there, having a plan for your engagement every single day, showing up, being consistent, and building that audience and community.
That is an actual plan. That is an actual strategy that is going to attract people to you. It’s going to grow your audience. It’s going to grow your community. That way maybe you build up your following to a couple of thousand even, then you have people there that already know you. They like you. They love what you’re doing. They support you. When you go in with that album that you just dropped $10,000, you’re going to have people there ready and waiting that will buy it from you. If you don’t do this work to grow an audience for yourself first, who’s going to buy it?
I’m so on board with that for sure. For me, it would be one step further that I want them to build that up on Instagram. I want you to have a way to get them off of Instagram onto your email list, so you can even dive in deeper with people and connect with them. Let’s say we did that and we do pretty well with our album, but the rest of the year, we’re doing other things. We’re selling concert tickets, maybe we provide private voice lessons, or we’re doing a Patreon campaign or something. What are the direct links to actual income that Instagram can provide? What is the best way to turn somebody from they’re a fan on Instagram to here’s how you can pay me for something?
I go much more in-depth on this in my Instagram course, but my philosophy on this is anytime you are not directly promoting something, it is a big opportunity to be strategically building demand for whatever it is you offer. Whether that’s voice lessons, buying tickets to a concert that you’re going to do, or supporting you on Patreon, you can get strategic with this free content that you’re putting out. Make sure that it’s going to do a lot of that heavy lifting for you. This is one thing why a lot of people get frustrated with Instagram because we’re not quite sure what to post. It’s like, “It just feels surface level and I don’t know what to say.” That’s what most people do.
If you shift your mindset here, and instead we’re doing this content to strategically educate our audience, and get them into the mindset of, “This is why you should want to take flute lessons. This is why taking flute lessons will help with improving your kids’ test scores. This is why coming to this concert is going to help you have so much more fun in your life.” It’s painting the picture for them because people are emotional. That’s how we make buying decisions. A lot of it is emotional. If you can paint that picture, get them to imagine themselves, get them understanding why it’s so important, how it’s going to help them, and the pain that it’s causing them if they don’t do it.Building your community and growing an audience does not happen overnight. Click To Tweet
Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, you walk out, you see your Christmas tree lit up. You look outside and there’s snow drifting through the window. Imagine you walk out and there’s also this beautiful Christmas album playing, that changes the whole mood. Even just painting the picture with something as simple as that is going to help get your audience into the mindset of why they should want and need what you have to offer. That way, when you do go in with your promotions, you are going to have people ready, waiting, and aligning up around the block to work with you, which is exactly what we want.
I always think of it as trying to create FOMO for them. Highlight some of your best voice students and the results you’ve been able to get for them. One thing we’ve been doing with Women of Substance is shouting out people that we‘re featuring on the show on our stories. People see that and they’re like, “I want to be on that show.” That’s bringing in the new people that want to submit music to the show. Number one, a lot of times, people don’t know everything that you do. They don’t know everything that you offer. I’ve even discovered this and I’m like, “I’ve been around for so long, doesn’t everybody know what I do?” I’m finding out that there are a lot of people that don’t, that just followed me for some random reason. When I’m starting to do some more like “This is what we do” posts and frequently asked questions about what we do in this part of our brand, people are like, “I didn’t know you did that or I want to get involved in that.” I’m like, “How did you not know?” You have to remember that not everybody is focusing on you all the time. You are focusing on yourself all the time, so you know all about what you do, but not everybody else does.
Another thing to keep in mind, especially with Instagram is ideally, we’re consistently growing your audience and bringing new people. One of the things that I recommend doing is at least every nine posts, do an introduction post, whether it’s just introducing yourself or doing something fun like, “Two truths and a lie,” or whatever it is. Reintroducing you to your people because you are constantly going to be getting new people in your audience who maybe don’t know about you yet, or maybe don’t know all of the things that you offer. Even doing something like having story highlights that are very clear on showing the different things that you offer. You want to make sure that you’re not just talking about who you are and what you do once, you need to put that into your regular rotation. That way, all of those new people that are joining you and your community can also start to know how amazing you are, and all of the awesome things that you do.
That’s such a good point. We’ve been doing a brand reset, and I’ve been amazed to realize that people didn’t know we did all these things. Of course, not all of them were here, even a few months ago. I always tell musicians about when they’re performing, and they’re performing to a room where people can walk in and out like a coffee shop or something, always reset the room every 30 minutes and remind them who you are. They won’t know because they just walked in, and so people feel uncomfortable about, “I already introduced myself.” Some people in the room don’t know and other people are not going to be like, “You already said that.” It’s not a problem. I love that idea.The best time to start your online community building is right now. Click To Tweet
I even do that on Instagram lives too. If I’m doing a live, usually every 10, 15 minutes, I’ll do another like, “For anybody who’s just joining, leave some hearts. Let me know you’re here, and this is what we’re talking about.” You have to remind people.
That’s a good point too when we’re doing live streams as musicians. We’ve covered a ton. Is there anything that we didn’t cover yet that you want to make sure that they know about using Instagram as a musician?
The biggest thing is what we touched on earlier. The best time to start is right now. It’s empowering you to take your future and your success into your own hands. You don’t want to wait to start until you already have something to sell, or even until you already know what you’re going to sell. Even if you’re somebody that’s in the position of, “I am a musician, but I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet,” start now anyway just in case. Once you get to that point where you’re like, “I have this idea now and we’re going to start doing this,” you will thank yourself profusely if you have already started. You already have the audience being built up, and your community being formed, and people out there who are cheering you on and supporting you. It makes a world of difference once you have that community there.
For myself, I started a long time ago, but I didn’t have a very good strategy. I know I need to be there, so I’m going to start. I would do stuff and then not do stuff. I’m still glad that I started because it allowed me to build up a base. When I wanted to focus, knew the direction I was going, and maybe pivoted a little bit, there may be a few people that fell off, but this whole core of people comes with you. You always have them. I agree. It’s the whole thing about when’s the best time to plant a tree, get it started right now for sure. Thank you so much for all this awesome information about Instagram. Where can people get in touch with you? How can they follow you on Instagram?
Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun. If anybody has any questions about this and you want to follow along, Instagram is going to be the best place to find me. My Instagram handle is @NicoleRiccardo. You can find me there. Come hang out. If you have any other questions, feel free to DM me and let me know. I don’t bite. I am also not spammy or sleazy.
Of course, you’re not. I would never have you on the show if you were one of those people that did that.
They’re the worst.
While I’m thinking about it, go follow us on Instagram, @ProfitableMusicianLLC, and we can have a conversation about what you learned on this episode. Thanks so much, Nicole. I appreciate you hanging out with me.
Thank you, Bree.
About Nicole Riccardo
Nicole is a professional flutist turned digital marketer that specializes in helping other musicians and creatives get off the freelancing hamster wheel and turn their craft into a career.
Not only is Nicole the President and Founder of a digital media agency, NR Media, she also creates digital courses that give musicians the business and social media knowledge they need in order to build sustainable and profitable careers.