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In just two months Rare Mags has built a committed and engaged Instagram following of nearly 2500. In this interview we meet the owner Martin Wilson, he shares his insights on what it takes to grow a thriving Instagram community.

Name: Martin Wilson

Instagram name: @rare_mags

Started on Instagram: May 2018

Followers: 2463

Profession: Owner and Manager of Rare Mags Shop in Stockport


Tell us about your Rare Mags?

We sell rare and hard to find magazines from around the world – titles such as ‘The Modernist’, ‘Kinfolk’, ‘Oh Comely!’ and ‘Kennedy Magazine’ are just some of the titles we feature. I run the shop with my girlfriend Holly and we opened in June this year.

What works for you on your Instagram account?

It’s slightly early for me to say ‘what works’ as I’ve only been doing it for two months. The number of views and comments we receive on posts goes up and down – it’s really unpredictable.

So far, what seems to be popular are the wider shots of the shop spaces. People are curious about the space. Also just a shelf full of products seems to work.  People like to see where things are happening and the people behind the business.

Followers also want to know what’s in a new issue of a magazine. And they want to know when it’s out and available.  Or they want to be introduced to a magazine that they’ve never heard of. 

The algorithm is of course challenging, but I find it quite interesting trying to fight the algorithm.  I work on building personal interactions with our audience to try and bypass it. This encourages people to come back and look for our content regardless of whether they are being shown it. I think the relationships you have on Instagram are much more akin to the interaction that you would have face to face with someone and that helps to build loyalty.

Where did you find your followers?

It’s been weird.  I’ve been really blown away by the amount of followers we’ve attracted.  And I’ve spent long enough looking at them to see that they aren’t bots. Also our audience interacts well.  I’m actually not sure how they found out about us. Starting with a kickstarter back in March helped to raise our profile.  But that doesn’t account for the majority of our followers. There were a lot of people talking about us when we opened. Because our business is unusual I think the news spread by word of mouth. And being new in a relatively quiet area allows you to stand out. People were perhaps hungry for something niche like this in this Stockport. Although we do have a UK wide and global audience because people can buy online.  

Luckily we’re not reliant on one stream of audience/customer.  I’ve not got a business background. We relying on people who are really into this thing. Being niche attracts a much more committed following.  

Is Instagram your main promotional tool?

Yes – it’s quickest and easiest to get the most response.  A few weeks ago we were really badly hit by something on Instagram – perhaps it was the algorithm or an update – but our feedback dropped off by 80%.  Thankfully at Rare Mags we have Twitter and other outlets to communicate through, so we could still get through to our audiences. But for other small businesses that rely on Instagram it can really screw them if the platform is hit.  It’s a free tool and it’s really powerful. It’s so unusual that we’ve got people basing their livelihoods on something so intangible. There’s no contract and no come back. Some of us would rather pay for a service than work with a free platform we can’t rely on.

On our Twitter and Facebook page we don’t get as much response.  Twitter is better than Facebook – we have conversations with similar businesses and local businesses – it’s much more freeform.  I use Facebook to post events and I just duplicate information from other platforms. Facebook is just revolting – I think it’s a horrible looking page. Instagram is so well designed that it makes your stuff look good.

I get a lot of business from Instagram. 55% of our online web traffic is from Instagram.  And some of the other 45% may also originate from Instagram.

Rare Mags Martin in front of Rare Mags.

Martin in front of Rare Mags

What do love about instagram?

    • The ability to put together a set of images that work individually and as a whole.
    • The instant feedback – likes /comments – that’s useful.
    • Instagram influences products we choose – people request magazines every day
    • I use it to research products.  
    • I get to have real conversations with our audience and to collaborate with our community. People help me and send me stuff.
    • I like the direct interaction on Insta. I can do a dm and sort a deal out there and then.
  • It takes seconds to compose a photo and it’s all edited on my phone. 

Have you got any advice for small businesses using Instagram?

    • People don’t think that their day to day is of interest, but that’s exactly what is interesting.
    • If you’re struggling for inspiration – just take a photo of something – anything!  But don’t over-process the picture.  Wait for a nice bit of light to take a good photo.
    • Find your voice and write good copy that’s interesting and unique to you and instantly recognisable as you.
    • Be descriptive, if you’re not a natural writer – get someone else to do the copy. Or find a way round it if you can’t write – perhaps use very short captions?
    • Have hero accounts you follow to get ideas for composing pictures or captions.
    • I take inspiration from Oi Polloi – they have deliberate and descriptive copy for all their communications. They have a very distinctive character. 
    • I also like Common Bar – their tone and interactions are really irreverent – it’s so good if you can see a post and know without looking who it is – that’s the goal.  And posts from Common Bar are instantly recognisable.
    • Hashtags – personally I don’t go wild, I have my usual ones I use.  I find the aesthetic of lots of hashtags is ugly.
    • Use local hashtags – I use #stockport #stockportoldtown #lowerhillgate #stockportsoho #makingstockportsexy
    • Have a repeated format to give consistency and to make your posts recognisable – nearly all my photos are just of magazines on the shelf or a magazine cover taken on my floor or on the stone street outside.
  • Big up local businesses – I will regularly mention businesses in Stockport like the Plant Shop and SK1 Records. It’s important to support your local community and hopefully you’ll get the love back.
Rare Mags Instagram Gallery.

Rare Mags Instagram Gallery

How much do you use Instagram everyday? 

I spend about an hour a day on Instagram.  I arrive at Rare Mags at 10am and look through Instagram – I’m a serial liker of things so that’s when I do a lot of liking.  After that I don’t look at Instagram very much throughout the day.

I probably post 2/3 times a day and I post a lot of Instagram stories every day – sometimes too much!

What are your favourite accounts?

Apartamento – there’s a nice complimentary vibe between their account and their magazine.

Kennedy magazine – I like the feel good apsect to their gallery.

Plant Shop Manchester – is engaged and funny. I feel like Emma’s striving to show the best of what she’s doing.

Zine tent – share great indie publications from across the world and they have a strong aesthetic.

Siop siop I love their green screen films and their stories are great. They are really on it.  And I enjoy all their of welsh language references.

Dick Vincent – is an illustrator – he’s prolific and has a huge following. His stories have become much more personal recently – he uses them to share his artistic process.

Other Instagram Interviews

I hope this interview with Martin has given you some insight into what it takes to build a true and sustainable community on Instagram, if you want more inspiration you might also enjoy my interviews with influencers Rabya Lomas and Susan Earlam.

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