Jul 27, 2021
DMI member Barmak Bahrehmand submitted this unique piece on lessons we can all learn from the Instagrammers of Iran. And if you want to feature in the DMI library, share your own work for publication!
The writer Isabelle Allende once wrote, "We don't even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome."
Flash forward to 2021, and you should go to Tehran, the capital of Iran. Here, you will see what years of isolation and International sanctions have brought to the country. You might expect to see much despair and anguish. But aside from that, you will in fact, see a nation that has masterfully overcome its present-day problems.
How? Well, to answer that we need a metaphor: When a person goes blind their other senses flourish.
Take Instagram for instance.
For reasons unknown, Instagram is not banned in Iran. Accurate statistics are hard to find, but according to the English-language daily, Financial Tribune, Iran had the world's 7th largest Instagram user base in January 2018, with over 24 million users.
International restrictions do still apply to Iranians who use Instagram and not all features are accessible: in particular, paid sponsored ads are not available. So, to grow their profile the only choice of Iranian Instagrammers is to use the platform’s organic features.
The result? Well, let’s just say that Iranians have become masters of organic Instagram optimization.
When I talk about Iran, I talk about a population of over 80 million people. I can count hundreds of Instagram accounts that have over one million followers. And many of them have over 10 million followers!
You can find all kinds of accounts, such as Sadaf Beauty (3.5 million followers), Bahareh Salehnia (3.1 followers), footballer Ali Karimi (8.2 million), and comedian Hassan Reyvandi (16.8 million followers).
Iranian cuisine is famous around the world for its meticulous and highly-flavored dishes. For this article, I have hand-picked nine special recipes that Iranian marketers use to nail Instagram.
Many of these are rooted in Iranian culture and traditions. Enjoy reading them and I am sure you'll pick up some tips to lead you to more traffic and followers of your own.
Scenario: You want to grow your profile but you can't use sponsored content or any kind of advertisement. Your business is not performing well, so you’d have no advertising budget anyway.
No problem. Here is what you need to do:
Don't pay an influencer with over 100,000 followers. Instead, find 20 profiles that each have a follower base of around 5,000, ideally all in the same sector as you.
Establish a relationship with each of them. Tell them that you'll share their posts if they share yours. In the digital marketing world this process is called cross pollination.
If you’re successful, you can expose your profile to around 100,000 new people. Without paying a penny.
One marketer who used this tactic told me that an Iranian travel company did just this and quadrupled its user base within three months.
Iranians know how to tell a story. This goes back, well... far back. To Scheherazade, the heroine and storyteller of the tale known as The Thousand and One Nights, which was a Persian story before it became more famous as an Arabian tale
Scheherazade was able to keep the Shah (Shahriar Shah) fascinated by her tales for one thousand and one nights until the Shah fell in love and spared her life.
And this is exactly what today's Persian Instagram experts tell their fellow Instagrammers. Build the suspense and keep on telling your life stories every day to keep the churn rate low.
And the secret to a successful story? It should have real-life characters. With, ideally, you as the protagonist of each story.
Each story should start with a dilemma. For example, "I wanted to go to work but somebody had parked in front of my building." (A picture of it without showing the license plate) could be the first photo in your Instagram story.
The story could go on... "I didn't have Aladdin's lamp to hand, so... I called a tow truck to come and take the car, but..." (A picture of the tow truck could be the second picture). The story could be resolved as: “The car was taken away and I got to work late but at least I got to avoid my boss all day.”
Like all good Instagram stories, at every stage of the story, you should engage your followers. Questions such as "Should I move the car myself or should I call the police?" go a long way.
Some Persian Instagrammers post up to 40 stories per day. And they say, "It works."
Pro tip: Your stories should always resonate with your followers’ emotions and their own experiences.
And remember, good engagement will lead to wider reach. So, your posts will be shown to more people.
Post a video of a celebrity on your Instagram page, then compliment and tag them. They might regram your post as a story on their profile. If they do, thousands or even millions of their followers will see you.
To become persuasive enough follow these guidelines:
Let’s break down this recipe a bit:
Follow this recipe and your growth will be guaranteed.
In Iran, taxi drivers are very good at conducting IDI interviews (In-depth interviews). “Where are you going exactly?”, they’ll ask. “Why are you going there? How is that? Can you tell me more?” and your interview continues until you finally get out.
Apply this approach to your marketing activities, and, in no time, you will end up knowing lots about your audience!
How do you do this? By running UGC campaigns.
If you have a luggage company, ask your audience to send you pictures from a trip. If you run a supermarket franchise, ask them to send pictures of the food they make with your recipes. You have a beauty salon? Ask your followers to send you video clips of their putting on lipstick.
Keep on asking your audience for opinions. For every move you make and every breath you take on your profile, they should tell you what they think about it.
Later, you can use all this data to better target them and add value to the products that you offer. Values that touch their needs.
Family is king in Iran. It is the center of everything. And we even expand that boundary a bit further: our neighborhood is king. And if we live in a small village, our village is the king as well.
Iranians extend that culture to social media.
Our top Instagrammers build tribes. Admirers gather around a celebrity. They fight for him/her and are ready to even troll others who loathe their chosen celebrity.
To build a tribe, you need to be generous to your audience. You need to be consistent with your postings so that your fan base always gets something from you.
You need to be nice to your fellow followers. You should even give them credit by sharing some of their posts and stories.
Some Instagrammers share their followers' posts, stories, comments, and even their direct messages. You could say that they build these small, village-like communities where people gather around a post and comment and talk about an issue.
I don't know whether I can say that Iranians are bossy. But, when it comes to social media, they definitely want you to do things for them all the time.
Like a company asking its Instagram followers to share their campaign ad on their own profiles and sending a screenshot of the posts back to them to enter a contest.
These calls to action are typical of Iranian social media and that’s a good thing.
They constantly ask you to do things or comment. One call-to-action at the end of an Instagram caption for a Huawei ad reads: "Any questions, notes, comments, kisses?" And yes. Lots of comments were indeed kiss emojis. :* :* :*
Iran lies at a crossroad of cultures and is undergoing a huge transformation as Western and Eastern values collide.
The way we eat, how we dress, consume media, and travel have all changed in the last 20 years. Because of this clash, opinions are voiced and many people encounter each other in new ways – amplified even more today through social media.
An analysis of Instagram profiles shows that controversial posts usually have the most engagement.
So, maybe you should start some controversial and talkative debates on your profile. Any current talking point would do, like saying, "A friend of mine thought the BBC did a good job when it interviewed Princess Diana even if the reporter deceived her to get the interview."
And the comments will pour in.
Here are some of Iranians’ favorite talking points:
The reasoning behind this recipe? Spice up all these news topics with a pinch of conflict and voila! You’ll get lots of engagement.
But that’s not the end of it.
You should also ask your audience to comment on others who comment on your posts. This is the best way to heat things up. Of course, this tactic needs monitoring. Because sometimes you see threads of comments with lots of less than savory words.
If you can control it, go for it.
Again, if you want to increase your reach you should first increase your engagement rate. And creating a conflict is your ticket to wider reach.
Iranian's modern way of life is still weaved from old traditions. Traditions like showing respect to fellow citizens by applying "Taorof." Taorof is the Persian way of showing respect. It’s complicated but basically it’s something that you don't mean but you say or do. Only non-Iranians who know Iranians have a good grasp of it.
For the sake of this article, I’ll explain one aspect of Taorof.
Iranians are sociable. If you see a neighbor walking down the street you’d stop and chat, ask about the family. You might even invite them home for a cup of tea, even if it is 9 am and you’re both heading to work. This is classic Taorof in action and we can say it’s the real-world equivalent of a double-tap on your Instagram post. In Iran, we double-tap almost all posts from our friends or acquaintances.
But, if you want some real engagement, “Toarof” won’t be enough. You need to go for comments, shares, and saves. These will count as true engagement. So this is why Iranian Instagrammers ignore these double-taps and bombard you with all the tricks they can to have you comment on their posts and share and save them.
So, the lesson of this tip: Ignore likes! Instead, do your best to get comments, shares and saves.
If you want it all - engagement, followers, conversion, and retention - in one basket, organize draw contests. In Iran, the most prized treasure is the iPhone 12.
Draw contests can harm your profile if you don’t do them properly. Your follower base should increase during the contest but you don’t want them to vanish right after. People might follow you just for that iPhone 12 and not for your content.
So at the end of the day, I don't recommend using this recipe.
There’s your taster of how Iranians use clever ways to increase their follower base on Instagram.
Iranians might not have access to many different digital platforms found in other parts of the world. But just as a blind person sees with their ears through hearing, Iranians have learned to reach their audiences at all points of the journey by mastering the art of Instagram.