Rules of Engagement: how to drive effective and authentic Instagram growth

The social media landscape changes weekly, if not daily, and it’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the latest changes.  Instagram seems to be both widely complained about, and sometimes hard to locate official information on the modifications. Users are finding their Instagram growth and engagement levels have dropped dramatically, so the articles begin to pop up everywhere, full of doom and gloom about the platform is changing to the detriment of small businesses and its early adopters. Outsmart the algorithm changes! Have you been shadowbanned? No-one is seeing your posts! They don’t care about their users, only money. The solutions offered can be wide-ranging, confusing and ineffective, too. Find an engagement pod. Join a loop giveaway. Don’t buy likes and comments because it’s fraudulent. The only way to get your content noticed is to get more likes and comments. Use this tool. Try that app.

So how do we drive effective and authentic Instagram growth?

For your account to grow and thrive, the same rules apply now as they always have – smart strategies, elbow grease, the ability to review & adapt, and using all the tools at your disposal. Read on to learn where you should be spending your time and what to stop immediately if your goal is to drive authentic and real growth on Instagram.

Post your best work

With organic reach on the decline, it’s more important than ever to look at your social media accounts on both a macro- and micro-level. While each piece of content is critically important, so is the overall look, feel and voice of your online presence. Keeping that in mind, if you’re posting throw-away content just for the sake of activity stop it right now. By ensuring the quality of your photos, videos and captions are consistent, you’re presenting your brand in the best light, and that’s essential for keeping your existing community engaged as well as attracting new members to your tribe.

Give them something to talk about

Your posts should include a directive for what you want out of the post – be it a question, a poll, an invitation to share or a link to click on. For Instagram, if you’re sharing about a new product or blog post, links in posts don’t work, so utilise your bio link to point followers directly where you want them to go, but don’t forget to update it later.

Interact & engage

It’s called “social media” for a reason. If you aren’t responding to comments on your posts and interacting with the wider community, what’s the point? Channels like Instagram and Facebook aren’t another broadcast medium; their value lies in the power of word of mouth and customer advocacy. Every time someone comments on a post, you have an opportunity to interact, which means the potential to not only convert that comment to a sale but to build a champion for your business, blog or product. Taking this one step further, find out who your neighbours interact with, and consider proactively engaging with those users as well.

Who are the people in your neighbourhood?

Unless you’re starting fresh, you probably have at least a few followers. If you are continually chasing new followers and customers and paying no attention to your existing ones, you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity. Regularly interacting with your existing followers – taking the time to respond and engage, on your content as well as theirs – is the Instagram equivalent of relationship management. Invest in the people who already love you, and they’ll likely stick around for the long haul; show kindness and value to their friends, and watch your business grow.

Stop paying for vanity follows

There’s no question that influence is big business and there are significant dollars to be spent and made, so padding your legitimate audience might seem like an easy-fix strategy to boost your billable content or encourage more people to follow your brand. Large numbers make you look “legit,” right? In the end, those numbers don’t add up to anything of any value – not interaction, not engagement, not influence, not sales. The old saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” applies here – spending your time, energy and money on curating and building an authentic following may seem like the slow way to go, but will be far more valuable in the long run.

Follow/unfollow is shady and damaging

Have you ever come across an ad promising you “real, targeted followers in only 30 days!” for less than the cost of an H&M t-shirt? Most of the time, these tools will use the classic social media strategy of follow/unfollow. Using a set of criteria like hashtags, reference or competitive accounts and demographic targeting, they follow a bunch of profiles, wait a set amount of days, then unfollow everyone. Lather, rinse, repeat. Most of the time they count on unsuspecting accounts who reciprocate the follow not to notice the shady follow/unfollow routine, so their follower numbers go up while their following numbers remain low. If this seems innocuous – consider the users who do track their unfollows. Having a brand follow can be exciting for a potential customer, much like an invitation to a gathering, but finding out a few days later you’ve been ceremoniously uninvited? You’re not only missing an opportunity to connect with a new customer but also damaging any future chance of converting them later on when they encounter your brand in the broader social media universe.

Infuse some personality

Most of the brands and influencers killing it on Instagram have one thing in common – they have their tone and voice nailed. They sell their products without pushing a hard sell; they understand that social can be a long-term play and that storytelling is the number one way to get followers to convert to customers. Using strong imagery combined with personality-packed copy – be it humorous, informative, insightful, vulnerable, sarcastic or emotive – is a surefire way to build your following and engage your audience. Review your most popular content, and chances are, the copy and imagery highlight rich elements of personality. A focus on developing this type of content will continue to drive strong Instagram growth for your brand.

Do hashtag research (and use them correctly)

Understanding how hashtags work is key to reaching a wider audience, and not annoying your current one. That means not #hashtagging #every #second #word in your captions and using a mix of popular and niche tags which are relevant to the content you are posting at the end of your post. We’ll have an in-depth guide on finding hashtags soon, but in the meantime, you can see related hashtags using the “explore” tab, either by scrolling through the top carousel (called “related”) or in the captions of the individual photos under each hashtag feed.

Keep track of various lists in an accessible place (this can be a specific app, a spreadsheet, or a note on your device) for quick and easy access when you are scheduling or posting your content to Instagram.

Understand your optimal post windows and volume

To give your content the best shot at being noticed, it’s important to understand when your followers are most active and engaged, and how much you should be posting. The least frustrating way to do this is through an app, which analyses the success your previous posts and activity of your followers, and suggests optimal times for publishing future content. Using a tool like this takes much of the guesswork out of the scheduling process, so if you’re in the market for a tracking & analysis platform, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial of Metigy here.

Write as though your (millennial) English teacher follows you

Use proper language and punctuation. There’s no reason for misspelling and poor sentence structure when tools like Grammarly exist and are available to use for free. You may not be Shakespeare, but taking a moment to review before scheduling or publishing can make a massive difference to the performance and reception of your post. And don’t be scared of emojis – studies show that 50% of post captions on the platform contain them – indicating broad acceptance of the characters by both brands and users.

Make a plan

Maybe your posting strategy currently goes a bit like this:

1. Realise you haven’t posted something to Instagram in a few days
2. Scramble for the easiest piece of content you can find
3. Throwing it up there and hope for the best

If so, you’re causing yourself unnecessary amounts of stress and not making the most of your time. If you want to free up time in your marketing process, utilise content calendars, create and process images in batches where you can, and scheduling posts ahead of time will help streamline your workflow.

Geotag where appropriate

This one is pretty straightforward: if the content you’re posting is specific to a place/restaurant/store/event, geotag it. This makes your content even more discoverable to audiences who search for that specific place, keeping it alive for longer and increasing the overall visibility of your posts.

Consistency is key

Curating and maintaining a consistent feed, through words and visuals, is crucial to growing any account. Keeping in mind what your followers would want to see and like to interact with, vary the style and composition of your posts to keep things interesting, but maintain a consistent look and feel to your images and copy. By using a specific colour palette, styling, mood, or a particular style of editing, you’ll build an eye-catching profile worthy of following. If you use text in your images, make sure the font and layout is consistent with the previous posts. By maintaining a few consistency rules and benchmarks for quality, you’ll be managing a beautiful and thriving Instagram account in no time.

Ask for permission and don’t steal content

User-generated content (UGC) and reposting is at the heart of the Instagram community. Reposting content is widely accepted and for the most part, appreciated – especially they’ve tagged your account in their original post. Make sure when you’re reposting other user’s content that you have both asked for their permission and tagged them in the caption and photo. Posting “source unknown” or “source: Pinterest” is lazy and most times, a source located in a simple Google Image Search. Stealing content and passing it off as your own is digital theft – if you have to resort to this as a tactic, it’s time to review your whole social media strategy.

Review & Refine

When you’re trying new tactics or strategies, it’s easy to be discouraged when on the surface, things don’t seem to be working or resonating. Navigate this is by setting up monitoring and tracking around on your accounts, and define specific milestones and review dates to determine which activity is working and which isn’t – that way, you can cut out the ineffective activity, ramp up what’s working and implement new approaches to growth and engagement.

Use stories

Using Instagram stories to extend the story you’re telling – think behind the scenes, sneak previews of yet-to-be-released items, what’s happening in your office or on that field trip you’re taking – allows your community to be a fly on the wall. It might seem mundane at first, but with over 250 million active daily users, it’s an efficient way to reach more users, boost your organic reach, and engage with your audience.

Boost your best posts

The unfortunate truth is, sometimes pay-to-play is the practical way to get your account and content noticed by your followers and a wider audience. Promoting your best content, even with a few dollars, should be something you consider trialling if you want to boost your reach. Starting off with a small budget and tight keywords, review your engagement, growth and traffic at the end of the week to the week before determining if promoted posts should be a line item in your marketing budget. It’s likely you’ll see a significant change in all areas which, over time, will drive more business and conversions your way. Chances are, some things you spend money on you could go without (like that last coffee at 4 pm or bottle of water at the supermarket checkout.)

By putting a few of these engagement guidelines into practice, you’ll take your Instagram account to the next level, building a bigger and more engaged audience and with any luck, driving more traffic and conversions to your website or business – whatever that may be.

Does social media strategy & analytics have you stumped? Sign up for a 14-day free trial of Metigy here and see how our AI-driven, deep learning technology can change the way you create, manage and analyse your digital marketing efforts.