Do you use Instagram for your business? If not, you’re missing out on a chance to reach 500 million people. Yes, that’s right. That’s how many active users Instagram currently has, and 60% of those users are logging on daily to browse their feed. Not only are they browsing; they’re connecting. According to a Forrester study, today’s top brands experience a 2.3% per-follower interaction rate, far outperforming interactions on Facebook and Twitter (both at 0.2%). In a healthy, well-balanced web marketing strategy, Instagram can be an invaluable part of your focus. But like any area of web marketing, you get out what you put into it. Those who dominate Instagram know exactly how to manage this growing platform. How do you gain followers? How do you make sure target audience sees your content? No doubt, Instagram marketing works best, if you have a few simple tricks up your sleeve to help you succeed. Ready to discover what they are? Let’s roll up those sleeves and get started.
1. #Follow4Follow? Don’t focus on overly popular hashtags.
It used to be that you could gain followers quickly by relying on those most popular and well-used hashtags. Tags like #instalove, #likeforlike, and #tbt (Throwback Thursday, for those not in the know) have now been used hundreds of millions of times. In fact, when you use a super popular tag like this, your photo almost immediately gets lost among hundreds of others appearing at the very same moment. Instagram has simply grown too big to rely on such massive tags. Using these in your photo caption also tends to look spammy, particularly for businesses and brands. Don’t waste time on tags that won’t convert.
2. Use targeted hashtags your customers are using.
Instead of using the largest hashtags, invest some serious time in hashtag research. Many Instagram users utilize hashtags the same way they might use keywords on a search engine. If you know your target market, you can begin to discover what tags they’re using to find information, products, and even inspiration. For example, what should a small boutique hotel business use to reach their audience? Instead of huge tags like #travel or #hotel, this business will want to zero in on more niche-specific tags. They might opt to use #boutiquehotel, #weekendgetaway, or #honeymoon—things their ideal customer is looking for. These smaller tags gain much more traction because they are used far less often, so the hotel has a greater chance of being seen by someone searching the tag. Even better, a hotel could use a tourism-related tag that incorporates their location, such as #TravelNYC or #VisitSanDiego. This approach provides a far better chance of attracting the attention of customers looking for your type of business. If you’re a business that works with other businesses, you might use specific industry or profession hashtags such as #attorney #wellnesscenter #construction, etc. A smart way to be extra targeted without using more inundated tags such as #entrepreneur or #smallbusinessowner.
There is some debate on the Internet about exactly how many hashtags you should be using in your Instagram posts. Some experts say that more than just a few tags in a post appears spammy. Other marketing gurus claim that you should use the maximum allowed 30 tags per post. Which is it? Let’s look at statistics. Posts with 11 or more hashtags are seen to receive 80% interaction—much higher than those posts with fewer tags. Many other reports demonstrate the same thing, with an increase in hashtags correlating to an increase in overall engagement. Really, it’s fairly obvious: you get the chance to find your audience via 30 hashtags. Use them wisely, and you’re only maximizing your potential.
*Pro tip: To avoid the spammy, crowded look of a hashtag-filled caption, reserve your block of tags for the first comment on your post. Paste these immediately after posting, and your users will never even have to see them.
One of the simplest ways to rule your Instagram and gain followers is one that so many businesses ignore: the profile. You don’t have much space to share who you are, so you need to do it wisely. But making the most of that small header section can turn passersby into followers faster than you can say #InstaYay! Use industry keywords in your profile to show up in the search. Share who you are in a fun, engaging way. It’s about breaking down what you’re about into small morsels, and encouraging users to follow you and maybe even check out your website. Oh, and be sure to include your site’s link in your profile. Paired with a solid call to action, you’ll be well on your way to Instagram success. The key to really dominating Instagram as a business is to have a clear content strategy. Your content must provide value to your target market while also showcasing your brand’s unique voice. It may be easier said than done. Avoid being overly promotional, but instead, seek to find an engaging way to show off your brand. The brands that are killing it on Instagram manage to do exactly this; their images resonate fun and joy (Ben & Jerry’s), or turn their feed into a glimpse of a desirable lifestyle (Absolut).
Instagram recently rolled out business profiles which are a great benefit for brands. If you have a business Facebook page, Instagram gives you the option to switch to a business account, linking these two entities. At face value, nothing much changes on the app itself, but the results may be quite substantial. Business accounts get a significant addition: a contact button. For a small business, this could be huge. Customers looking to get in touch with you don’t even need to head to your website, but can instead email or call you with the click of a button. Instagram business profiles are relatively new, but this feature has the potential to turn Instagram into a serious lead-generating machine. Transferring to a business account also provides you with free analytics. See how your posts are performing and get insight into your audience, the reach of your posts, and more. This is a great resource for the savvy Instagram marketer. Lastly, IG for business gives you an easy way to integrate your Facebook and Instagram marketing by enabling advertising on both platforms, reaching a wider audience.
6. Post regularly, but don’t overdo it.
How often should you post on Instagram? Instagram is different than other mediums. A good rule of thumb is to post at least once daily, sharing your images during the times when users are most likely to see your photo. According to Hootsuite, the best time to post is 8 pm for American, Australian, and Asian audiences. There has been evidence that posting several times per day increases engagement for brands, but every business is different. This is why it is so important to experiment with your Instagram strategy and adjust as needed. Using an Instagram business account could be an easy way to track your results, as you can examine when your posts saw the best reach and the most impressions. One thing is clear, posting too often on Instagram can have negative results. Too many posts can dilute your engagement rate. Users don’t like (and will unfollow) accounts that clog their feed, so posting several photos all at once is a definite no-no. And analytics aside, if you’re posting too often, it’s tougher to ensure your photos are all great quality and you can engage with your followers. As in so many other areas, on Instagram, quality trumps quantity. Still need guidance on how often to post? A Union Metrics study showed that most brands are posting 1.5 times per day, and some research shows that posting more often shows little impact on your total engagement rate. All in all, the evidence seems to point to 1-2 times per day as being most useful for brands.
7. Engage engage engage!
One of the #1 ways to gain followers and dominate Instagram is by interacting with your audience. Responding to comments on your photos is a great place to start. This brings your brand to life and lets users know you care. Many customers take to social media to ask questions of a brand, and sometimes even to complain. You can score real wins if you handle these with aplomb and point your customer in the right direction. Engagement needs to happen on more than just your images, however, particularly when you’re just starting to grow a following. Commenting on other user’s images, throwing some likes their way, and even following them can all help bring your brand to their attention. You may want to work with a smart social media expert to help you make the most of your engagement strategies. Targeting the right followers can be a key part of your Instagram growth.
8. Create a community.
As part of your engagement strategy, work on building an Instagram community. There are many ways to do this and to do it well. You want customers to feel involved and connected to your brand. Create a brand hashtag that can unify your images and spread your reach. You can have fun with this! REI’s 2015 campaign “Opt Outside” used the hashtag #OptOutside to connect users. That tag continues to thrive today well beyond the end of the campaign bringing REI more and more attention. Sharing user generated content on your feed is a smart community-building move. It gives your followers the opportunity to get noticed, and it gives you great content! Ask Instagrammers to use your branded hashtag to get featured. You can also use your tags as part of contests and giveaways. Contests remain hugely popular on Instagram, as they are simple for users to enter, and reap amazing benefits for brands. Try out a giveaway or competition for a new product and test the type of results you get. We’re betting on big follower growth and increased brand recognition.
It may seem obvious, but where many brands fall short is in most the basic aspect of Instagram: the images themselves. You should only post your absolute best work to Instagram. Gone are the days of instant, raw shares. Today’s IG feed is curated, beautiful, and flawless. These are the accounts that gain massive followings, and if your brand seeks to do the same, keep it beautiful. You don’t have to be a pro photographer to have a great feed. Consistency in content, colors, tones, and edits can give your feed a smooth, polished look that attracts users. Consider using simple editing apps like VSCO or Snapseed to help you get a consistent look across all of your images.
10. Partner with Instagram influencers.
The importance of influencer marketing can’t be discounted. 92% of people claim to trust recommendations from individuals more than from brands—even from people they don’t know. Instagrammers with huge, loyal followings can help give your brand amazing attention and clout. Consider sponsoring posts with these influencers, who can share your product with their audience and give you increased exposure (at a fraction of the cost of other advertising mediums). You can also host Instagram takeovers, in which an influencer takes over your account for a few days, posting their photos and bringing a fresh touch to your feed. This can result in a big gain in followers, as the influencer’s fans will follow along and learn about your business. In 2016, influencer marketing is where it’s at.
Your Turn for Instagram Domination
With these ten simple tips, Instagram doesn’t have to be an impossible platform. It’s a fairly straightforward, effective medium for showcasing your brand. It’s an opportunity to not only reach your target audience where they are actively browsing and hanging out, but it is also a chance to be creative as a business and have a major impact. This visual platform is, simply put, lots of fun. So go forth, use your strategies, gain followers, and dominate Instagram. How does your business succeed on Instagram? Ever made a social media mistake? What did you learn from it? Share your wins and learning curves in the comments.
Also published on Medium.