Instagram is a great platform that if used well can have a positive impact on sales of your product, applications to your university department, or donations to your non-profit. Instagram is unique because it feels so bare-bones (at least for now!) with its simple grid-view profile and home feed that shows one image or video at a time. It is not as overwhelming as Facebook and could even be a zen-like experience if you are following the right accounts.
Because Instagram is so unique, it takes a different set of skills to grow on its platform. Gaining traction at a basic level, whether that means followers, likes, comments, or click-throughs, can be difficult. While you might want to grow Instagram followers or engagement, the real goal is ROI, or return on investment. You want to grow your followers so that they will hopefully engage with your business directly. Here are some tips for growing your following on Instagram.
1. Use quality hashtags
One of Courtney Seiter’s tips on the Buffer blog is to use quality hashtags, saying “it seems that nowhere on social media are they quite as important as on Instagram.” It’s not just about engagement, either. Courtney mentions, “In other words, hashtags, could be your best bet for growing a fast following on Instagram.”
In a Forbes post, Kate Harrison shared hashtag tips from Rachel Bell and Ross Johnson, who say that 25-30 relevant hashtags should be added to each post.
2. Maintain a strategic posting frequency
For everyone, the best rate at which to post on Instagram will be different. It depends on the industry (restaurant owner? lifestyle blogger?) as well as the audience and the product or service you are offering. You will need to experiment to find that right frequency. Either way, it’s good to have a strategic frequency. “If you’re not posting frequently enough, your followers might forget who you are or why they followed you and are more likely to unfollow you when they see you post,” says Madison of A Joyfully Mad Kitchen. "If you post too frequently, your followers might get annoyed and unfollow you.” She figured out her best frequency by noticing trends in her audience’s engagement. “So if my last photo only has 30 likes and it’s only been 6 hours, I won’t post another photo just yet.”
3. But, don’t be a slave to your schedule
An insightful piece of advice from the Chris Loves Julia blog is that if you don’t have something to post that is on-brand, it’s better not to post. Don’t be so beholden to your schedule that you will post anything to keep the schedule. Julia says, “If I don’t have any quality content to post, if I don’t have a great room shot or tip to share—it’s truly better NOT to post. One average picture can cause you to lose followers, while posting nothing, only doesn’t gain you any followers typically.”
4. Build relationships with influencers
Relationships are key with social media because it is, after all, social. In many industries, networking is important. Find key people who know your industry and have influence with customers. Influencer relationships can help a lot, according to Sarah Williams. “Aside from growing your audience, you can reach out to influencers in your niche and build all sorts of partnerships,” she advises.
5. Don’t buy Instagram followers
One of the least effective ways to grow your Instagram following is to buy followers. You will end up with a lot of accounts that are not in your target audience and do not influence your target audience. The Hootsuite team set up a dummy Instagram account to see what would happen if they bought 1,000 Instagram followers. What happened? Their followers were “a bizarre mix of teenagers posting shirtless selfies, accounts with no posts at all, and more than a few bots…” Their advice: “When you take shortcuts you put your brand integrity at risk. If you buy Instagram followers and your real customers find out, can you expect them to trust you?”
6. Collaborate with others
Don’t just rely on hashtags—connect with people more directly by mentioning them in appropriate ways. Veronika Baranovska shares how important it is to mention others in Instagram posts, such as highlighting non-profits you admire. “It’s all good as long as the cause aligns with your brand values and mission. Take into account that not everyone is monitoring hashtags on social media, so tagging an account is usually a better choice if you want to get noticed.”
7. Include a call to action
Melyssa Griffin advises Instagram users to encourage followers to take action. Give them something to do! Don’t expect that your followers will read your mind. “Ask them to “like” your photo,” she says, adding, “ask your followers to tag a friend!”
8. Be consistent
“Now we’re not advocating that you restrict yourself to one genre,” the Wix Blog advises, “but do make sure your followers immediately recognize your signature style when scrolling through their feed.”
9. Create amazing visuals
“Instagram’s ability to capture people, places, passions, and products has changed the very types of images that resonate with consumers,” claims Stacy Goodman. She continues, “The bottom line: it’s not just about products. It’s about creating compelling visual experiences.”
10. Engage with your competitors’ followers
A tip from Richard Lazazzera on finding and attracting new followers “is by seeking out your closest competitors’ Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry…”
11. Make your followers feel like insiders
Bill Widmer’s advice is to give followers exclusive information. You could give away free trials or products, or even simply share behind-the-scenes pictures and videos.
12. Be genuine.
Don’t post a photo you wouldn’t text to a customer directly. A great quote, an image of your product in a new color, an exciting new menu item, advice for using your product in a specific context—these are all reasons businesses directly message customers. Instagram is a technology platform that enables the sharing of social media, but remember that social media have always existed. Social media are not defined by the technology but by the sharing.
If you are not sure if you’re being genuine enough, look at the image you’re about to post to your audience, but replace the product with someone else’s product, or if you’re posting an inspirational quote, pretend a different company were sending that quote to you. How would you feel? People are people. They want to be inspired, motivated, entertained, educated, respected, acknowledged, loved. What is your content doing for people that will make them want to follow you?
You can do this! Use the tips above and improve your Instagram game. Comment below to share what works for you!