Today’s interview on ITN is with Michael Burke, a 25 year old marketer that moved from Mayo to Manhattan last year, and ended up working as a Brand Manager for one of New York City’s fastest growing social startups.

What is your background briefly?

My background is primarily marketing and branding. I studied business in college, and went on to do a masters in marketing, but not long after that I started working as a marketing strategist at a data visualization startup based in Galway City. After working there for more than a year, I moved to New York City last November, where I began working as a Brand Manager at one of the City’s fastest growing social startups, SelfMade.

Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?

Yeah, helping brands grow and drive revenue through social is where I think my biggest strengths lie right now. In early 2017 I started a brand called Talk Show Entertainment, and was quickly able to grow our following on Instagram from 0 – over 25,000 followers, racking up millions of video views in the process. I thought to myself, I’m pretty good at this, maybe I should teach other companies how to do something similar, and I figured it would be a game changer for them when it comes to building a sustainable business online. It wasn’t long after that, that I connected with the CEO of SelfMade, a startup that helps e-commerce companies create a killer brand on Instagram, and help them figure out how they can generate revenue from the platform. They were based in downtown Manhattan and had similar views to myself in relation to the future of social, so it seemed like the perfect fit.  

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

My role now basically involves me working with 40+ e-com brands, and helping them utilize instagram to the point where they can create leads, and generate revenue from the platform. I develop an individual strategy for each client, but for the most part, I ensure that every brand I work with has a cohesive, professional looking Instagram feed, that all their posts are optimized for shoppable media, and that they are generating positive ROI from highly targeted Instagram and Facebook advertising. As long as every one of my clients are growing on Instagram month over month, and they’re making money from the platform, I’m happy.

How important do you think Instagram is for e-commerce brands going forward?

I think it’s huge. Instagram has released certain features over the past 6 months that signify that it’s making a huge play into the world of e-commerce. Last March they released “Shoppable Posts” whereby e-com companies can now tag products within an image, and with two clicks, you can go from a brands feed, to the “add to cart” section on their website. This June, they then released an Instagram Stories version of this feature, making the experience even more seamless for the user. To compound this, just a few weeks ago, it was reported that Instagram plans to release a complete standalone shopping app, called “IG Shopping”. The likes of a standalone shopping app could be very interesting as it could completely change how brands think about social selling, and possibly put less significance on the traditional website as we know it. I tell my clients every day that if you establish an incredible brand on Instagram right now, it could pay huge dividends down the line.

What is your advice for e-commerce companies trying to build a brand on Instagram?

I always focus on 5 core elements. If you follow these, It’s inevitable that you’ll begin to generate a following and build a brand on the platform.

  1. Create polished, HD content. Even if it means hiring a part time photographer/editor, having high resolution, professional looking imagery across your Instagram feed is the first step in appearing extremely legitimate.
  2. Write compelling captions that resonate with your target audience. Whether humor, sincerity, or educational is your thing, if you stick to what you know, and what resonates with the demographic you’re trying to attract, you’ll be fine.
  3. Use the best hashtags. Taking time to research what type of hashtags your target community on Instagram are using, will amplify your content on Instagram’s explore page 10 X and pay huge dividends in the long run.
  4. Make your feed shoppable. For every post that is product orientated, make sure that post is shoppabe and that if the user taps on an item within that image, that they are given the option to go straight to your website
  5. Remember those hashtags I spoke about? Well, you should take some time every day to like and comment on images under those hashtags. This is the best way to build a community on Instagram and ensures that more people will check out your page.

It takes a little work, but if you invest some time in Instagram, it can be a serious marketing lever.

So you think Social Commerce is going to explode in the coming years?

I think it’s already playing a huge role in how we evaluate products and make purchasing decisions, but I think where we’ll see the biggest change, is the ability to purchase a product directly from your social feed, without having to leave the platform. It makes sense, there are now more than a billion users on Instagram, and a person now spends on average 135 minutes per day on social media, so once Facebook figures out the ideal user experience for social commerce at scale, it will be inevitable that it will become an everyday part of our lives.

What are your thoughts on the founders of Instagram leaving the company just a couple weeks ago?

You can read about it in the media, but it’s difficult to know the real reason behind it. Some say it’s got to do with their stance on how Facebook deals with user privacy, others say it’s got to do with how they reportedly had less autonomy over the past year. Either way, I think Kevin and Mike were the driving forces behind some of Instagrams greatest features these past number of years, and I fear the level of innovation might plateau because of their departure, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Having worked at Startups in both Ireland and in New York City, what are the main differences you’ve noticed?

I think there’s a couple of things. One is the sheer scale of things in the US, and how quickly things grow and change. When I started at SelfMade there were roughly 30 employees at the company, and just 10 months later there are now more than 100 employees. The second is the vast amount of venture capital readily available in the States. It seems like if you have gained some traction, and can prove than you have a certain level of product-market fit, that early stage VC funding isn’t really an issue. In Ireland, it’s obviously a much smaller pond, and I think convincing a VC that you have a business that can expand globally, can sometimes be a difficult thing to achieve.  

So tell me, what is the future for you?

Right now, SelfMade is in hyper growth mode, and I’m extremely focused on how I can help every one of our customers succeed. We’ve really only scratched the surface yet, and looking at how our customers can be proactive about new Instagram features and releases is my primary objective over the next 6-12 months.

How can people find out more about you & your work?

I was recently lucky enough to be listed as one of the 30 under 30 most influential people in marketing, advertising, and social media by the Sociable, so you can read more about me there. You can also follow me on Instagram, and connect with me on LinkedIn to keep up with what I’m doing.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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