It was December 2016 and the Engine Builder team was huddled at a table inside Primenti Bros. in downtown Indianapolis. It was the night before the PRI show opened that year. We were finishing some last-minute show strategy, but mostly having a heated discussion about whether Engine of the Week was doable – in between bites of enormous sandwiches.
Would it engage people? Would advertisers care? What’s in it for them? Could we write 52 stories on engine builders and their engines every year? Where would we find all these builders? The questions were all valid, but editorially, I was confident we could do it. The sales team took some convincing.
As it played out, it wasn’t even 10am the next day when the PRI show opened that Roberto and I had sold the Engine of the Week program to Cometic Gasket for the year. Little did we know at that time, but this program has since become one of Engine Builder’s biggest successes. I mention all of this because, not only was Engine of the Week started, but it was our foray into Instagram.
Of course, we planned on posting these stories to all of our social media channels, but I started an Instagram page in October 2016 specifically in anticipation of Engine of the Week happening, with or without a sponsor. I put up 20-25 engine photos to kick things off, started following a number of our advertisers and industry folks who were on the platform at the time and we waited until 2017 rolled around when Engine of the Week would begin.
It was very slow at first, but we knew we were giving people good content, original content and awesome images of engines and engine shops. What truly helped was that we remained consistent in posting to Instagram at least twice a week, at the time, and every Tuesday people began to expect to see Engine of the Week content.
We got better at tagging all the shops we spoke with and tagging all the component brands these builders were using in their engine builds, using appropriate hashtags, and we began to see serious growth. We stuck to a routine and never wavered and also never paid to boost posts or gain followers.
By the end of that first year in 2017, we hit 2,000 followers. By August 2018, we hit 5,000. But I was after the coveted 10,000 follower number. It was at this mark that Instagram gave you the capability to add links to stories so viewers could ‘swipe up’ to read. We hit 10,000 by November 2018 and at that point we were using Instagram in many different ways.
Instagram had now become our primary social media in terms of audience. Today, Engine Builder has a tad over 87,000 followers. Not only do we post to our page every single day, but we interact with the Instagram community in comments and in DMs (direct messages). We use the stories to post article links, pose questions or share snippets of information from broader engine topics. We use Link Tree on our profile page to direct people to the EB website and YouTube. What has been invaluable, however, is that our Instagram audience started coming to us to offer up engine builds and content. It became a two-way street.
The amount of engagement and impressions we were delivering each week and each month also helped us begin a Diesel of the Week program in 2019. Of course, it emulates the Engine program, but that has also opened us up to another segment of the market with different engine shops, different brands and manufacturers, different content topics, etc. Because Engine of the Week has been so successful, Diesel of the Week was able to pick right up alongside it, and in many cases, has actually outperformed the regular engine content.
One thing I want to make note of, which other brands may have experienced, is the fact that certain posts were of no interest to our audience. Frankly, if it didn’t include an engine or engine component, our audience didn’t care. It could have been a Pulitzer prize-winning article attached to it, but if the photo was boring or it didn’t strike them right, we got a noticeable decrease in engagement. So, engine photos it was!
Something else we’ve done just this year, to take our Instagram to a new level, has been live takeovers of our IG page. I first saw Gibson guitars do this with their sponsored musicians who would let you into their homes and they would jam out from a chair or their couch and interact with the audience and answer questions. I watched a bunch of these, and it was always a super fun, cool 45 minutes where you felt like you had a one-on-one with that artist.
I knew, based on the relationships that Engine of the Week and Diesel of the Week have provided us, that we could do something similar with engine builders and manufacturers. I started reaching out to engine shops I’ve built connections with that also had a strong social media presence, and I reached out directly on Instagram.
This would be a way for these builders to showcase their shops live, let people see what goes on, what the machines are like, what engines are being built, all the components, they could perform a specific machining process, dyno an engine, answer common questions or address misconceptions – anything. We were going to give them an opportunity to get in front of our nearly 90,000 followers for 30 minutes to an hour.
Within the first week or two of reaching out to folks, I filled up an every-other-week schedule for the rest of 2021. To date, we’ve done five of these takeovers. They’ve all been very eye-opening, interesting, entertaining, educational, and our audience has enjoyed them. Above all else – these takeovers are great content being supplied to us for free. All we do is give them a temporary password to access our page. They get exposure, we get content.
With just five of these live videos done so far, I can already pinpoint numerous examples of topics these builders have discussed that could become content of a different form. What we want to do now, as this continues to grow, is invite manufacturers to also be part of this equation.
Again, I mention all of this to explain how Engine Builder’s Instagram has gone from nothing five years ago to our most important tool today – hands down. There’s still a number of different ways we can use Instagram and I’m excited to see what we do with it next.