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Never underestimate the power of a hashtag. With the algorithm constantly changing, hashtags have consistently remained a best practice to expand the reach of your posts. But like everything else related to social, hashtags must be used strategically. Keep on topic and be selective using the “Goldilocks Rule” of hashtags: not too broad (#TGIF) and not too unique (#SparkYeahItsFriday). Same with phototags and geotags. This boosts visibility and gives users another resource to click through to see how others are using your product — not just the brand.

I had the pleasure to interview Martin Stoll. Martin is the founder and CEO of Sparkloft Media. He focuses on the continued fundamental changes within social media, and its impact on all aspects of our lives, personally and for organizations of all sizes and industries.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I previously worked in the airline industry, which like social media, is ultimately about connecting people. After many years in travel, I branched out to develop a social software company, which, after a slight pivot, resulted in today’s social media-focused agency, Sparkloft Media.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

Sparkloft Media has been involved in social media since 2006, and my experience in the social space began with the medium’s conception. When we started our company, brand pages did not exist on Facebook; you had to be “friends” with your favorite product. Of course, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitch weren’t even a consideration for taking up hours and hours of time on newly released “smart phones” in those early days. We were one of the first to concentrate solely on social media marketing. Today, Sparkloft Media has grown into an organization with more than 50 social media experts, who do nothing else than think about, engage and develop social media every day. As the CEO and founder, I have the privilege to work with and learn from my amazing team, daily.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

The most interesting thing I’ve learned in my social media “career” is the realization that social media can be used to make predictions for future user/consumer behavior, at a much more affordable cost, in terms of both time and money. Every single person using social media creates publicly available digital data. A few years ago, the tools that ran in-depth analysis on this data were prohibitively expensive. Today we have the tools to analyze the massive amount of data and can identify relevant signals our clients and their brands can utilize for a more effective program. For example, it’s easy to make predictions about what the next “big thing” for vegans will be. We can build a panel of the 1,000 most important vegan bloggers, analyze billions of social media data points and see emerging themes without actually clicking and reporting on random blogs or social media accounts. The insights we gain today, using publicly available social data for core business decisions are fascinating and a huge opportunity — an overall interesting concept that has changed the way we do business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I will share a mistake that was one of the biggest learning lessons for us, but it was anything but funny.

A long time ago one of our airline clients, for whom we managed social media, accidently sent an email to their entire database — millions of people — telling every single recipient they had been upgraded to gold status in their frequent flyer program. The internet celebrated on all social channels for a couple of hours before another email was sent explaining this was a mistake. Of course, things became extremely interesting following that second email… Sparkloft Media ran community management on the main social channels and, from detailed experience, a brand can only apologize so many times. While most people understood that it was a mistake, a select few users were unable to cease expressing their frustration over social media — in some cases, for weeks!

What did we learn? As a brand, as a business, you must know who your most loyal customers are, and play close attention to who your biggest fans are on social media. Those are the people who will come to your defense if you are unfairly attacked. Your loyal social media followers are able to say things that you cannot say as the brand; a third-party validation. It’s more important than ever to know who those people are and foster a great relationship with them — you’ll never know when you may need them in your corner.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

Social platform success depends on the business. As a general statement, Facebook is the most effective platform for B2C businesses because of the unparalleled targeting options for paid social. Instagram works the same way for advertisers and is growing much faster than Facebook, but it does not have the capability to drive traffic to a website. For B2B instances, LinkedIn works well, but users can’t expect quick results or effective shoestring budgets.

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Native platform features are your friend

Yes, native platform features ARE your friend. Use them. It’s surprising that many businesses try to overcomplicate campaigns by spending hours developing super-curated content, when Instagram can do most of the work for you. Remember, authenticity is key. When you stick with what’s already familiar with your followers, you are more likely to come across as genuine and trustworthy, rather than recognized as an ad. Instagram Stories, the fastest growing area of Instagram with 400 million active users, provides an immersive, full-screen, mobile-first experience, complete with native stickers, text and effects to seamlessly integrate into your content strategy. Brands taking advantage of these features tend to see more successful posts.

2. There are no shortcuts to quality

There’s no surprise that social media, when used correctly, takes up significant time and effort — something especially true for Instagram. It might be tempting to save time cross-posting between platforms or signing up for tools that auto-like posts or auto-follow accounts. Don’t. Do. This. Your followers will see right through these old (and frankly annoying) tricks. Even worse, your account can potentially be shut down for using third-party services.

3. It pays to pay

All major social platforms require a solid strategy for paid social, and equally strong budgets. The upside: within the Facebook ecosystem, which includes Instagram, businesses are offered unparalleled targeting options. For clients who have e-commerce and channel attribution capabilities, we continue to see better conversions from social than from display or search. The trick is to really define audience segments with targeting options in mind, and then develop specific content for each audience.

4. Tag it — Hashtags, Phototags, Geotags

Never underestimate the power of a hashtag. With the algorithm constantly changing, hashtags have consistently remained a best practice to expand the reach of your posts. But like everything else related to social, hashtags must be used strategically. Keep on topic and be selective using the “Goldilocks Rule” of hashtags: not too broad (#TGIF) and not too unique (#SparkYeahItsFriday). Same with phototags and geotags. This boosts visibility and gives users another resource to click through to see how others are using your product — not just the brand.

5. Social commerce

Shoppable posts, shoppable stories, and shopping collections. Instagram users have been provided fantastic new ways to interact with their favorite brands. And even better, these features actually provide positive results. If you sell physical goods and don’t have a shoppable Instagram yet, set one up immediately. If you do, make sure you’re using it to its fullest potential. Remember, 75 percent of users take an action after seeing a business post, whether they click through to a website, shop or tell a friend.

6. Test, learn, optimize, evolve

The Instagram you know today will not be the same a month from now — who knows what will happen next week! The platform continues to roll out new features, transforming the photo-sharing app into an engaging and highly-effective marketing platform for businesses. As Instagram evolves, so do user expectations, and so should your channel strategy. Take time to test and learn. Establish internal benchmarks to better understand your audience’s likes and dislikes. Put the time and effort in to completely optimize your platform.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Movement is a strong word, but I certainly have a vision for a change that can be driven by social.

The social media world has a huge impact on our lives: e-commerce would be different without ratings and reviews, Wikipedia would not exist, the Arab Spring or #MeToo movements may not have reached their strong global awareness levels without social media. The world is so much more connected, much more transparent, and so much more informed because of it.

At the same time, social media has its downsides — misinformation spreads quickly; cyber-bullying, swatting, etc. Social platforms like Facebook or Twitter rightfully get called out for not doing enough to fix these issues.

We have a responsibility as social media users, to be more thoughtful in how we use these podiums. Better judgement must be practiced before we like or share. I would love to see a “movement” for a more responsible use of social media on the user level.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

It’s difficult to limit my choice for a lunch meeting to just one influential social personality. To make this meeting as efficient as possible I’d like to invite Taylor Swift to talk savvy business deals, Sheryl Sandberg to talk about the future of social platforms, and Michelle Obama to discuss life, in general. To meet the 1:1 ratio, I’d invite my two daughters to tag along and participate!

Martin Stoll on why you should never underestimate the power of a hashtag was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.