Instagram is a platform I never really took seriously. Until recently, I would ignore it for months on end, hardly engage at all and complain that it never did anything for my blog.
Twitter, I can do. I've had an account for over 11 years so I know what's up over there (read my post about Twitter here). Even Pinterest I've mastered in the last few years and I now couldn't live without it, blog-wise (if you're struggling with Pinterest, read my post about that here).
I blamed Instagram for never bringing me any traffic, but as the saying goes: a bad workman always blames his tools. Maybe that should be updated to: a bad Instagrammer always blames the algorithm. I just didn't know how to use Instagram effectively.
Recently (thanks to lockdown) I've found myself with a lot more time on my hands to dedicate to Instagram. I've also spent some time learning about how Insta actually works, and implementing those strategies. I've watched YouTube videos, read blog posts and attended virtual seminars. As a result, I've managed to grow my account and engagement quite a bit.
For the past three weeks I've been averaging around 100 new followers a week, which may not sound like much to some, but before I was using Instagram consistently I was getting maybe 10 new weekly followers if I was lucky (I don't know the exact number though as I wasn't really tracking it). I've also been receiving more DMs, more engagement on my stories and made more genuine connections with people.
Are you ready to learn how to grow your Instagram account? Here are my seven top tips and, at the end of this post, five things not to do when trying to make it on Insta. Grab a notepad and pen because there's going to be a lot of valuable information in this post.
1. Switch to a business or creator accountIf you're trying to grow your Instagram stats, it's helpful to know what they are to begin with. Anyone is able to switch to a business or creator account for free and then you'll be able to see all your insights and analytics. As I'm a blogger I've gone for a creator account, although I've had a business account in the past (and there's really not that much difference between the two).
The insights will tell you which of your posts have achieved the highest reach as well as letting you know your audience demographics. You'll even be able to see when they're most active which is helpful for knowing when to post for maximum engagement. It's really easy to set up but let me know if you need help with this.
2. Don't try to 'beat' the algorithmPeople talk about "beating the Instagram algorithm". Well, let me start off by saying that if this is your intention, your strategy isn't going to work. You will not beat it; it will always win. You need to learn how to work with the algorithm if you want to succeed on Instagram.
We all know that the Instagram feed isn't chronological anymore, and hasn't been for a long time. Sometimes it shows me pictures posted three days before. The algorithm nowadays prefers engagement, and the way to get engagement is to make your content engaging.
The cold, hard truth is that Instagram doesn't show your content to all of your followers. If you want more of your followers to see your post, you have to get the people who do see it to engage with it. Once Instagram notices people engaging with your picture, it will know you're sharing valuable content and show it to more people.
Instagram's primary aim is to keep you on the platform for as long as possible. The longer you're using the app, the more ads it can show you and the more money it can make. Therefore, it prefers users who are active, engaged and constantly producing content. It also means that the longer you can keep people on the platform, the more Instagram is going to favour you and your content.
3. Make your posts as engaging as possibleInstagram is a visual platform. This means that it's mainly made up of pictures, and they have to be aesthetically pleasing to get noticed. Boring photos will be scrolled straight past. Photos with a subject in them, such as a person or animal, tend to do really well. Put yourself in your pictures so your audience start to recognise you. Motivational quotes or anything a lot of people can relate to will probably get a lot of shares, meaning more eyes on your post, leading to increased engagement and possibly a few new (and hopefully engaged) followers. Also, tag relevant people and brands in your photos and they might repost you.
Start creating carousel posts. You can add up to 10 pictures in one feed post and people can swipe to see all the pictures one by one. The good news for you is that Instagram counts every swipe as one piece of engagement. If someone stops scrolling the feed when they come to your post and starts swiping to see all the pics behind it, you're keeping them on the app - and your specific content - for longer, and Insta will reward that. Just make sure that all the pictures aren't exactly the same thing, or completely unrelated. This will either bore or confuse people and they'll stop swiping and resume scrolling.
Your caption should be just as engaging as your photo. When writing your caption, try not to write just one sentence or a load of emojis (I've definitely been guilty of this). Your caption should educate, entertain or inspire your audience. Try asking them a question at the end to encourage them to leave a comment.
Finally, always reply to your comments, especially in the first half hour after posting. Those first 30 minutes are crucial as they're when Instagram determines how much value a post offers. If it's getting lots of engagement then they'll start putting it in more people's feeds. By replying to your comments you're doubling the amount of comments your post receives (or more, because the person may then reply to your reply) and getting that engagement up. And it's just good manners, really. If you reply to people they'll be more likely to leave you comments in the future. (I wouldn't bother replying to comments that are obviously from bots or just a load of emojis, though).
4. Post to your story every dayStories are probably my favourite feature on Instagram. I've really been enjoying both creating and watching them recently and I've picked up a few good tips.
Firstly, make sure you post to stories every day, multiple times a day. This will mean that your audience always has fresh content to look at and every time you add to your story you'll be pushed to the front of your most engaged followers' feeds. If you can't manage multiple times a day (let's face it, sometimes we're just too busy) then just make sure you post at least once in a 24 hour period so there's always something up for people to look at.
Mix your content up a bit. Too much of the same thing will get boring and make people swipe away to the next person's story. Show them something different with every slide (or frame, whatever you want to call it). Use a mixture of video, pictures, boomerangs, and something from the Create mode. Just use your imagination and post anything you think your followers would be interested in. Even one of those silly filters that asks you random questions can be fun to watch.
Video stories are a great way to connect with your audience. It offers them a peek into your life and lets them get to know you a little better. You could use your stories as a daily vlog to let everyone know what you're up to, or you could share some tips relevant to your niche - for example, a fitness blogger could share a few workouts for people to do at home. Make sure to add captions to all your talking stories for people who are hard of hearing or just watching with sound off.
As with feed pictures, stories also have to be engaging and encourage your audience to interact. Try adding stickers, polls (e.g. "Which top should I wear today: A or B?") and question boxes to your stories to get your viewers interacting and enjoying your content more. When you mix things up, entertain them and occasionally ask for their opinion, they'll start to look forward to seeing your face pop up in their story feed as they won't know what to expect...but they know they'll like it.
5. Be supportiveIf you want other people to support you, you need to support them first. Start by engaging with the people you already follow. Like their pictures and leave meaningful comments on the ones that resonate with you (according to Instagram, a 'meaningful comment' is one that's more than four words long, but I'm sure you can do better than that. Go for at least two sentences).
Then go and follow 5-10 new accounts that interest you or are in your niche and start interacting with their content. Hopefully they'll reciprocate and you'll start to build a relationship.
Make sure you're also interacting with people in their DMs, but don't be spammy. Only message someone if you have something to say, and don't be fake. If Instagram sees two people talking to each other often via DM, it will know that you're friends and start showing your content to them whenever you post.
Just as with comments, reply to all DMs you receive, unless they're creepy or obviously just trying to butter you up before trying to sell you something/ask you to 'join their team' (I know you know what I'm talking about).
6. Develop a good hashtag strategyHashtags are important for your reach and engagement. You're allowed to use up to 30 hashtags in one post, and most Instagram experts agree that using all 30 is the best policy as it's like having 30 lottery tickets and therefore 30 chances to win big. However, they disagree on whether it's better to put your hashtags in the caption or hide them in the first comment. I've heard good arguments for both ways (as well as trying both) and at the moment I'm still putting them inside my caption. See which works best for you.
Do your research when it comes to hashtags and use the ones that will give your post the best chance of being seen. Use a mixture of large, medium and small hashtags, by which I mean how often they get used, not how many words are in the hashtag. More niche hashtags have a smaller audience but more chance of attracting people who'd be interested in your content, while larger hashtags will be harder to rank for (as thousands or even millions of people are using them and your post will get pushed down quickly) but if you are discovered through one of them you'll get a lot of engagement.
7. Post consistentlyHow often should I post to Instagram? is a question that most creators would like to know the answer to. Are you supposed to post every day or not?
There's no definitive answer, but as a general rule, 3 times a week is enough for feed posts. You don't have to post every day, and definitely don't post just for the sake of posting. It's better to post more engaging content, less often, than post substandard work just to get something up (which could actually hurt your engagement in the long term). For help planning a beautiful feed, check out my post on Tailwind for Instagram.
You should post on stories a minimum of three times a day, and spread these posts out throughout the day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening would be ideal. The more you're showing up on stories the better, really, especially if you're showing your face and speaking to your audience directly.
Those are the seven main ways to grow on Instagram and get your engagement rate up. Now let's have a look at some of the mistakes people make when trying to grow their account.
Five Things NOT to Do When Trying to Grow on Instagram
I've already said at the beginning of this post that trying to 'beat the algorithm' is pointless. Here are some ways that people try to trick Instagram that I definitely don't recommend.
1. Follow for follow. This is when you follow people in the hope that they'll follow you back, or you specifically ask them to follow you back.
2. Follow/unfollow. This is even worse, when you follow people and then stop following them as soon as (or shortly after) they follow you back.
3. Following everyone back. You don't have to blindly follow back everyone who follows you, just to be polite. Only follow accounts you're genuinely interested in to keep your feed interesting and inspiring.
4. Buying followers. Paying for fake followers or likes is one of the worst things you can do. Other bloggers will be able to tell (trust me, it's sooo obvious) and this is actually something that Instagram will suspend or delete your account for.
5. Using engagement pods. This is a group DM where you let everyone know when you've posted new content and they all go and like/comment on it. The problem with this is that it's not organic engagement, and Instagram is also cracking down on these.
There's really no point in having lots of followers if they're unengaged. You won't grow if the people already following you aren't interested in your content and interacting or sharing it. Concentrate first on building a stronger relationship with your loyal followers who already like you and work up from there.
As you can tell, engagement is key when it comes to Instagram, just as with every other social media platform (that's why it's called social media, after all). The more you give, the more you're going to receive in return.
If you enjoyed this post, why not give me a follow on Instagram @nics_healthylife? I'd love to connect with you over there.
There's so much more to growing on Instagram and everything I've written here is just the tip of the iceberg. What are your best Instagram tips? Let's all help each other out and share them in the comments.
Let's get social!