The number of businesses in the U.S. using Instagram grew exponentially last year–from 48.8% of businesses in 2016, to 71% in 2017. Instagram doesn’t lend itself to every business in every industry, and it is not the strongest performing social media platform when it comes to conversion. However, where Instagram can really shine is when it’s used as a tool for branding your business—particularly for industries that rely on visual components or online sales.
Instagram reports that 80% of users follow at least one business account, and 60% heard about a product or service through the app. By March 2017, over 120 million Instagram users reported visiting a site, getting directions, emailing, DMing, or calling a business through their Instagram account. And at least 30% of Instagram users have purchased a product they first heard about on the platform.
So how do you make the most out of your business Instagram account?
If you try to find the answer to this question online, you’ll find a lot of answers—some better than others. Some Instagram engagement practices are safe and ethical, others could get your account flagged or removed. Some tips will be helpful, but others are a waste of time.
Go West manages Instagram accounts for major businesses and non-profit organizations. We’ve learned a few things along the way. Today, we’re going to share the real, tried-and-true tips we’ve used that have actually worked for our clients—without violating Instagram’s policies.
How to Increase Engagement on a Post
Increasing engagement on your posts is absolutely crucial if you want to use the platform successfully. While Instagram does have the highest engagement rates of all social networks, reports show that as many as 70% of Instagram posts are not seen.
Instagram revamped their algorithm in June 2016 from a time-based hierarchy to a ranking that puts posts they think you might be most interested in first. This means that posts are no longer displayed chronologically; they are now ranked according to interaction levels in the form of the number of comments they receive. In other words, if you want to get your posts in front of eyes (you do), comments are now more valuable than likes.
But, not just any comments. Comments are only factored into your post ranking if they are more than three words in length. So, a comment consisting of a few emojis or “Love this!” don’t help your post rise in your follower’s feeds. Throwaway comments are useless. It’s as if you didn’t receive a comment at all.
The real key lies in genuine, quality interaction. Don’t be spammy (“Follow me!”). Don’t be too brief. Don’t use just emojis. Engage with the accounts you follow and watch your account build.
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk developed his famous $1.80 Instagram strategy based on the idea that quality comments provide a tangible reward in the form of authentic growth. He encourages Instagram users who want to grow their accounts to offer their “2 cents” in the form of a quality, relevant, non-spammy comment on each of the top 9 featured posts in a given hashtag—totaling “$0.18” in genuine engagement with other accounts. Do this 10 times a day, and you’ll see real growth in your following based on quality interactions with likeminded accounts. Give it a try!
Instagram Followers: Quality > Quantity
Any account with a significant following will have its share of fake followers or bots. Some Instagrammers choose to purchase fake followers in hopes of looking more impressive and garnering a real following quicker. We don’t recommend buying followers, ever. Frankly, this method is easy to spot; when an account has 20k followers but each post has an average of 75 likes, it’s obvious the account holder paid for their following.
So which is better: Less followers with higher interaction rates, or more followers with low interaction rates? Would you rather have 500 followers who interact with your account and care about what you’re doing, or 3,000 unengaged followers who never visit your page or interact with your posts?
By now, I hope the right answer is obvious! Instagram algorithms prioritize posts with high interaction levels. By putting the focus on real, sustained growth, your posts will rank higher in the feeds of real followers who are actually interested in what you’re doing. By switching your marketing approach to engaging with your active followers, you’ll increase your conversion rates (i.e. the number of followers visiting your site or purchasing your products) and build a community around your business. Plus you’ll stand out from all the spammy, impersonal accounts out there using improper growth techniques and failing to genuinely engage their followers.
Top Instagram Growth Hacks
- Ask questions in your captions, or request some information from your audience. Include easy-to-answer questions and respond to your comments in a timely and thoughtful way. TIP: If you can respond immediately to the comments you’re getting in the first hour of your post, that helps your ranking.
- Engage with your current followers just as often as you seek potential followers. Your posts will not show up on your followers’ home feeds if those followers are not regularly interacting with your brand. So, if you work on getting new followers all the time and never interact with your current following, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice by diminishing the interaction levels on your posts. Keep your brand on your followers’ minds by regularly liking and commenting on their posts. If you have some downtime before your post is scheduled to go out, spend that time interacting with your followers and posts that use hashtags within your Instagram community. This can increase the exposure and likes counts on your posts significantly.
- Follow active users. Look at accounts similar to your own, and follow the people who have already demonstrated that they are active.
- Post people. Posts with faces get 38% more likes.
- Post products. It’s more than OK to post products; in fact, 65% of all top-performing posts on Instagram feature products! Live by the 80/20 Rule: Use 80% of posts to engage, educate, and enlighten, and only self-promote 20% of the time.
- Join/create an Instagram Comment Pod. A comment pod is a group of Instagram users who mutually agree to like and comment on all of the group’s users’ new posts as soon as they see them. Comment pods are helpful because they encourage users who aren’t in the “pod” to leave comments when they see other people already interacting with a post. You build momentum this way and encourage real engagement and community. You can start your own pod by DMing related users and asking if they would like to join your comment/engagement pod. Keep in mind that if you host your engagement pod with a group DM on Instagram, it will only allow you to add 15 members to the group message. If you would like to host a bigger pod, your other options are to create a Facebook or Slack group.
- Use hashtags of moderate popularity for your posts. Using popular hashtags does not work. Instead use hashtags that have between 80-500K lifetime posts. These are large enough to know that they are being searched/used regularly, but also small enough for your content to stand out and for people to find your posts before they are lost in the feed. Additionally, dedicate about five of your hashtags for less than 50K lifetime posts.
- Use Geotags. If you have a physical location for your business, be sure to set it up as a custom location and tag it in each post. If your business is worldwide, then use the location that you took the photo in or the city you want to attract customers from. According to Sprout Social, Instagram posts with a location see a 79% higher engagement rate!
- Use Bit.ly to analyze the effectiveness of links that you share.
- Explore relevant hashtags. Try to set aside at least 30 minutes a day to explore hashtags and leave likes and meaningful comments.
Go Forth & Grow.
Now you have everything you need to grow your Instagram account safely, ethically, and effectively. In a future post, we’ll talk about how to turn those likes into clicks and followers into dollars. For now, it’s worth your time to keep growing your audience so you have more eyes on your brand.