You’ve probably heard by now about the triumvirate of 21st century digital marketing: content, social media, and search-engine optimization (SEO).  But if your low marketing budget prevents you from hiring a specialist to design a unique strategy for you, and you hesitate to shell out on Google AdWords and Facebook ads, here are a few tips that will dramatically improve the three key elements of your digital reach without breaking the bank.

Grab a ruler. Use an analytics app such as Simply Measured or Iconosquare to measure and organize your total likes, most liked posts, average likes/comments per post, follower growth chart by location, and other metrics for your Instagram (as well as Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites). By monitoring the efficacy and reach of each post, you can identify which post styles generate the most user engagement. On Instagram, for example, posts that include food, children or pets and occupy two-thirds of the frame tend to generate more likes than any other content or style.

With a little extra follow-up, you can make these kind of general tips specific to your brand. For instance, take advantage of high-powered analytics websites such as Social Bakers and Alexa.com, which offer thorough free (as well as paid) data and can provide valuable insights about your digital traffic and audience, regional trends or optimal SEO strategies.

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Focus on the visual. According to a Shareaholic.com, between September 2013 and February 2014, YouTube generated the highest post-click engagement and lowest post-click bounce rate of any social media platform. Likewise, while Facebook activity plummets and Twitter remains constant, visual platforms like Instagram and Vine are still on the rise.

Whether you a) have an in-house graphic designer, b) do it yourself using overlay apps such as Mextures or Over, c) outsource it to visual marketing company like Animoto, or d) crowdsource it through a platform such as fiverr.com or freelancer.com, focusing on your photo and (especially) video marketing strategies is crucial. 

Additionally, UGC, or user-generated content, is a great way to shift some of your marketing and content creation to the public.  For instance, using a promotional competition on Instagram and YouTube allows you to simultaneously engage fans and create a database of user-generated visual ads.

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Embrace hashtag campaigns. This is one of the best ways to stand out and engage followers, particularly on a platform such as Instagram. Instagram’s user base is younger than that of Facebook or Twitter, so although a great proportion of users are actively engaged, bland content is quickly overlooked.

To distinguish yourself, develop an idea and a corresponding contest-specific #hashtag.  For example, you could announce a selfie contest with your product, or a best in-store photo contest to generate increased foot traffic. The winner can receive a cash prize or, even better, some of your product or branded apparel. 

Some campaigns, such as Starbucks’ “Behind the Scenes” and Ben & Jerry’s “Capture Euphoria” can be wildly successful without a prize as the objective.  Instead, use non-competitive campaigns to cultivate your brand image and emotional connection with clients, rather than focusing only on direct product marketing.  For example, post photos of your company’s community engagement or social activities like staff barbecues.

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