There’s a lot of weird stuff on Instagram. But given that half a billion people now use the platform, this makes sense. Want to watch a girl smash her face in bread? There’s a blog for that. Want some high-grade schadenfreude? Scroll through this collection of texts from other people’s ex-lovers.
And if you want to explore “the unique relationship between houses and the cars parked in front of them,” you better believe there’s a blog for that. It’s called, you guessed it, Cars In Front of Houses.
Cars In Front of Houses (CIFOH) is the brainchild of Atlanta-based digital-media producer Rob Birdsong. What started as a hobby in June 2015 has since blossomed into a niche following of more than eight thousand. And while this may be a far cry from other major-league accounts, it’s still an impressive draw. Just think, if your small business had more than eight thousand followers, you’d be psyched.
As for monetization, he puts out a calendar from the best submissions each December, which is sold online and in artsy boutiques in Brooklyn (where he lived until recently). He’s also in discussions with some major automotive companies about a marketing play, but won’t give up much more than that.
If you’re thinking of using Instagram in a more creative way, you could probably learn a thing or two from this guy — whether you’re starting from scratch or just want to increase engagement with the business account you already have.
Be Universal, But Also Be Specific
Birdsong says one reason people like CIFOH is that there’s a certain universal appeal to cool cars, whether you’re an auto enthusiast or not. Basically, his account appeals to both hipsters and the Nascar crowd. To explain this, he uses a bit of marketing-speak.
“You want to create a pillar inside a vertical,” he says, meaning that you want to create something that people are drawn to within a topic in which they’re already interested. “There are a lot of car Instagrams out there, but there really aren’t any cars-in-front-of-houses Instagrams out there. Look for a variable or a hook or a corner of something you’re not seeing out there and go after that space.”
Let’s say you start a flower-delivery service in Portland, and you want to get the word out about your business. Starting an Instagram account that celebrated plants growing in unexpected places (the crevice of a fire hydrant, a shoe) might attract both green-thumbs and photo buffs alike. While you grow your following to people you might not interact with otherwise, you can also point them to your website.
Engage and Participate
Follow accounts similar to yours and engage with them by liking, commenting, and asking questions to the community at large. Birdsong has become an accidental car enthusiast via the amount of auto accounts he follows, and from time to time he’ll repost other people’s pictures if it’s a match for his posting criteria (a cool car in front of a house).
“I’m proactively interacting with other members of the community,” Birdsong says. “I also try to start conversations on my account. If someone leaves a comment, I’ll follow it up with a question. If they say something sincere, I’ll always say thank you.”
Since he doesn’t always know the make and model of a car, he’ll also engage the community by posting a picture and asking his followers. This is another great way to get people headed your way. If you’re trying to build your flower-delivery account, this could mean posting an odd-looking succulent and asking followers to identify it.
Also, flip on the Instagram setting that allows people to tag your account in their posts. This helps get the word out even more. Birdsong does this, and has now amassed an impressive library of user-generated content in addition to what he’s curated himself.
Make it Real
Perhaps the biggest takeaway any small business can get from studying this account is CIFOH’s decision to produce a tangible, real-world calendar every holiday season. Too often, social-media content stays locked inside our phones, so producing a wall calendar actually accomplishes several things.
For one, it creates a revenue stream from the account itself, and annual sales will ultimately rise as you grow your followers. After all, every follower you have is some form of “qualified lead.” Create great content on your account, then offer a product to your followers for a reasonable price.
CIFOH calendars are also stocked in local businesses, so there’s a unique advertising play afoot within the area business community — not to mention those people who see the calendars hanging in their friends’ kitchens.
“This year, the calendars more or less sold out in every store that stocked them, which is a great example of people not necessarily knowing anything about the account, but learning about it through a product in a store,” Birdsong says. “Most of these people ultimately became followers.”
The point of all this is that using social media in 2018 takes creativity, and you have to be thinking outside of the box (or the account) to set yourself apart.