Since beginning my first entrepreneurial venture in 2016, I knew that a vital part of growing my business and increasing my business’s reach was to be relevant to social media. In recent years, Instagram’s userbase and subsequent value have increased substantially. Since Facebook acquired the company in 2012 for approximately $1B, only seven years later, it has been individually valued at over $100B. This can’t be a surprise considering Instagram has over one billion active mobile phone users.
Now the days of quickly building a following of over 100k fans have quickly come to an end when Instagram implemented their new algorithm which changed the way users view content in their feed. Before this, photos were shown in chronological order, with no preference or adjustments made by Instagram in any way. Nowadays, and I’m sure you’ve already noticed, you probably only see the content from about 10% of the people you actually follow; this is intentional. You see, now with Facebook and Instagram, the algorithm will try to display content to you that Facebook thinks will keep you on the platform. This means that your Instagram feed will show you more content from the people you engage with most, the people who engage with your content the most, and the posts that you will likely engage with outside of your own personal network. This is also the way ads on the platforms work, where ad bidding and cost can increase or decrease based on how well the audience responds to the ad.
So what does this mean for you? Can You Beat the algorithm and make sure your content is being shown to as many people as possible within the Instagram platform? The answer is yes, and in this guide, I’m going to teach you how.
As a creator and as a person who is trying to build your Instagram following, you have to very quickly take yourself out of your own shoes and consider the perspectives of the types of people (audience) you’re trying to attract. Then ask yourself the question, “what is it about the content that I’m posting is going to make others want to engage with me?” and “how is my content unique or different enough to not only stand out in a platform that’s filled with people just like me trying to expand their audience and reach?”
One of the biggest mistakes people and businesses make on social media when trying to grow their following is not creating content that induces engagement. Simple things like asking questions in the caption, posting about exciting, funny, or different subjects then giving yourself an opportunity to ‘make your post about them’ is an easy and effective way to create dialogue in your comments and boost the reach of each post you create.
What do I mean about “make your post about them?” Well think about it, the way social media is today, with people having their face in their phone for the majority of the day, people tend to use social media posts and pages as an outlet to not only live vicariously through but also help to set their own personal expectations for what their life should be like. Not just that, but studies show that when a person gets a ton of likes and engagement on one of their posts, it releases the same chemicals in their brain as some drugs. These endorphins are what drives peoples’ addiction to social media. Not just the interaction, but the opportunity for them to get attention, validation, and a sense of self-worth through their social media page.
A perfect example that I always use and if you’re not a female, you may not be able to relate, but if you’re a male and in for some great entertainment join Mom support or collaboration group on Facebook. Often times, you’ll find these women chattering back and forth about parenting techniques, products, or things their children do offering advice to one another on these various subjects. But if you take the time to look deeper, these groups have A TON of women just making the posts asking for advice on input about themselves.
Queue the desperate and tired Mom, working double duty at home and in the office, who goes into one of these groups and asks about a natural remedy for the common cold. BAM, quickly the post will be inundated with stories and personal accounts of each Mom’s who has had this or that happen with their kids, then the full-blown play-by-play of the stress, emotion, and experience she endured. Finally, at the end of her novel, she may or may not offer the advice that was originally asked for. Soon after, you’ll begin seeing comment replies of women offering their advice in a reply that’s contrary to the information provided by another poster… and the cycle goes on.
You see, this may be a bit of a facetious way of explaining this concept but it totally makes sense – people want things on social media to be about them and as a content creator who’s focused on growing their Instagram audience, this is something that you MUST capitalize on.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a video learning about how to grow my YouTube audience, was to make sure you have a few things:
As an example, there are a ton of Instagram pages that are related to fitness. Actually, a hashtag search for fitness shows a massive 364 million posts. How could you with your relatively small following even attempt to compete with 364 million other posts that are showing the same type of content? You can’t! But if you were to be a bit more specific about the content you’re trying to post, you may find that there is much less competition in the space. Not just that, the people who are engaging with that hashtag will be more likely to get value from your content. So do a search for something specific that you plan to build your page around, then find other closely related hashtags that there may be a demand for. Later on, I’ll discuss hashtag optimization but the idea here is for you to build a page that produces content that will always be relevant and engaging to the types of people you want to attract.
One of the techniques that marketers use is a “customer avatar” the idea here is to draw a picture of the type of person that will be attracted to a specific product or brand. If I’m trying to build a page that has makeup tutorials, I’m not going to target men who are into fishing. Now, this advice is a bit more geared for people who wish to use paid ads (which I’ll be making another Free EBook Guide on), it’s still important for you to understand your target audience, then begin asking the biggest question that will create an Instagram page with high engagement rates and growth: “What problems does my target audience have and how can my content help to solve them?” For those creating entertainment style pages, such as comedy or memes, the value will be entertainment, aka what will make my target audience laugh. For people creating fitness-related pages, your target audience may be middle-aged men trying to lose body fat. So you can create content that specifically helps them to do that in a non-obtrusive way.
The first two points lead into the final and most important part of creating a successful Instagram page – your value proposition. Value Proposition is a marketing term that can be defined as “an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers.” The way I explain this concept for the purpose of growing your page is a bit different. You see, your potential followers are exchanging the most valuable thing they have on social media, their attention. So, if your content doesn’t somehow add lasting value to them through entertainment, emotion, education, or appeal, they aren’t going to build a following that will not only engage with your content but want to continue following you.
Once you’ve answered these three questions, you should now have a really great idea of the audience you plan to engage with and the type of content you wish to produce. Keep this in the forefront of your mind as you begin and continue to procure content for your page. There are a few other hacks that you can implement to help you dial in your target audience to make sure the content you’re creating is engaging and entertaining for them.
Now that you have an idea of who your audience is, you have an idea of what your competitors look like, and you know what type of content resonates well with that audience, you can now begin developing a plan that will most effectively influence engagement from your current and future following. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep the information about your audience and their interests at the forefront of your mind as you begin to develop and procure content. If you’re unsure, make sure you refer back to your “customer avatar” and ask if that photo or video falls in line with what you want your personal or business’s brand to represent. Not just that, just because you have a new and exciting thing happen, doesn’t mean you have to blow all that future content at once, save the photos and videos you take for future posts, that way you can ensure you always have content to continue pushing to your page.
One of the most important things about keeping your following growing and active is to post consistently when I used to do Instagram growth as an agency owner, I would try to post at least once per day. Although many people don’t have the content to post that often, it’s important to have a plan in place that helps you to keep your followers active on your page – my advice is 3-4 times per week at a minimum. Alternatively, posting too often can appear spammy to Facebook – you can get away with 2-3 posts during a single day, but do this consistently and you’ll find that Facebook will punish you by only showing one of those posts to your existing followers, which means, your three posts are actually sharing screen time with one another.
Instagram also has a really great tool built into it for business and content creator accounts called insights, this page will not only show you your recent posts that had the most engagement and quality but will show you the times during each day that these posts received the most engagement. This type of knowledge is extremely useful for you as you’re developing a plan for your page. If you know that most of your post engagement happens during the evenings between 4 pm and 6 pm, you can make sure that you post your best and most engaging content during that time. This is also why it’s important to know the demographics of your audience and where they live – I’m not going to post my awesome new content at 9 am on a Monday right when my followers are getting to work, I’ll wait until they have an opportunity to catch up on their phones during lunchtime or in the evening when they get off.
The other huge benefit of making a plan for your page means you can create content that feeds into future posts and maybe discuss “what’s coming” in your caption or the end of your video. This will keep your audience waiting for more and ensure you’ve guaranteed their engagement when it comes time for you to post that follow up video or photo. As an example, if I’m doing a vacation to Italy and I want to show my followers a visit I did to the Leaning Tower Of Pisa, in the caption I can mention that tomorrow I’ll be doing a video tour of the Colosseum. If my followers are interested, they’ll be looking out for that post.
You can use up to 30 hashtags in your posts and up to 10 on your stories. You can also place hashtags in your bio, which may help Instagram to show your page’s content to people who also follow that hashtag.
Hashtags are an extremely powerful and useful tool for helping your Instagram page become discovered by other users that may find your content entertaining. Since the implementation of the new “Hashtag Following” feature, users’ content can now be integrated and displayed in the feeds of people who are most interested in your page. With that said, the most important and vital thing about using hashtags is to make sure that you’re not using the same set of copy/pasted hashtags on every one of your posts - because since this feature was implemented, users have the ability to tell Instagram that the post shown to them through that feature is not relevant to what they want to see when following that hashtag. This can be very detrimental to the potential of your account for future discovery in the platform. If your posts are repeatedly marked as irrelevant or not engaged with by those who follow that hashtag, you’ll get hammered by the algorithm and your posts will subsequently be shown to fewer people.
Place yourself in the shoes of a person interested in the hashtags you decide to use for your post, is the most relevant? If a person who searches or follows that hashtag sees the post, will they find it interesting and relevant? With hashtags, it’s not about being seen by a lot of people, it’s about being seen by the right people – the ones that will follow you for the long term.
If I’m a travel enthusiast, posting a hashtag that says #globetrotter or #travel may get me a few extra likes and maybe a follow or two, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, use hashtags that are more specific to your niche and the actual photo you’re posting. When I’m in Italy, I can not only tag #touringitaly, but I can also tag the names of the specific locations I’m visiting in each post. Maybe the name of the resort or hotel you stayed at and some valuable insight for people who may be planning a trip there such as a one-sentence review or lesson you learned while staying there.
Here are a few more tips:
According to an analysis by TrackMaven, posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement:
While you should use this as a rule of thumb when trying to generate hashtags for your posts, don’t feel too pressured that you begin to tag irrelevant hashtags for the sake of getting your content in form of more eyes.
There are a number of free and paid tools that you can use to help you develop hashtags for your page and posts, my advice is that though these tools may be useful, it’s also always best to continue doing your own independent research to make sure your hashtag use doesn’t become stagnant and spammy.
Going back to the whole algorithm subject. Instagram rewards people who not only post engaging and entertaining content, keeping users on their platform, but it also rewards them for taking advantage of new and engaging features within their platform. This means you’re using the correct and relevant hashtags, geo-tagging your posts, and consistently posting to your story. The more features you use while you’re active on Instagram, the more the platform will reward you by showing your content that showcases these features.
Stories are a fantastic and useful way of keeping your followers engaged with your content. Have you noticed that regardless of how many people you follow on your own page, you always see the stories on the top of the application for the people you most engage with and watch the stories of? The algorithm works very much the same way that your feed does, so you have an opportunity to gain a consistent 15 seconds of your followers’ day by introducing them to previews of content that you’ve recently posted and they may not be seen, or let them know you have new content coming. Stories are also a great way to post content that you find interesting but may not be “feed worthy.” I personally use the Instagram stories for my business pages to share memes or other entertaining content that my target audience may enjoy – using this method also gives you an opportunity to slyly drop a preview of a new product into your story. That said, marketers typically use the 80%/20% rule with their social media page’s promotional content. Where 80% of their content is engaging and entertaining for their target audience, while 20% can be promotional or sale content. If you’re a brand or business, remember, value comes first – the sales and revenue are always a reciprocal of your page’s content.
Engage with your own followers - One of the most obvious but often overlooked methods for building your Instagram following is making sure that you’re not only engaging with your followers by responding to their comments on your page, but also commenting and liking their posts in return. This goes back to you making the whole Instagram experience about your followers and not yourself or your own following. If a user consistently comments and likes your posts, make sure you take the time to head over to their page, maybe drop them a follow and like/comment on their most recent posts. The average person has maybe 500-1500 followers on their page, most of which are family and existing friends. So if you head over to their page, they’ll undoubtedly notice you and appreciate you for that.
Engage with your competitors’ followers - Although the days of following to unfollow and Instagram bots are over, you can still gain tons of reciprocal engagement by using the same logic those bots use. Another method of gaining followers and engagement on your page is to head over to your competitors’ pages and check out their most recent post comments. If their posts are similar to yours, maybe do the same thing for their followers’ posts. You’d be surprised how much buzz and interest you can draw to your page by commenting on a few users’ posts that follow your competitor accounts. They will likely reciprocate and check you out too! Which means you’re one step closer to a new follower for 10 seconds of your time.
Keep the conversation going – This applies to not just your own posts, but the posts on your competitors’ pages. Join the conversation! Offer your own unique spin on ideas and perspectives shared by other users. If you’re adding value to these conversations, not only will potential followers notice you, but the account owner will too! And depending on the type of account you’re engaging on, this just may give you an opportunity or foot in the door to getting yourself featured for free on large influencer type accounts in your niche.
Before I get into this subject – never pay to be featured on a large page unless you’ve done a thorough amount of research and the influencer you are considering has a proven track record with their other clients. There are a ton of fake influencer accounts that were built with bots and fake accounts that may appear to have a large reach, but don’t provide anywhere close to what they offer. Most influencers work with brands and don’t really advertise on their page that they do feature posts for a cost.
That said, Influencer marketing is probably one of the newest and most effective ways of growing your audience available in the marketing world. Though it seems promising, it does come with some downsides which I’ll discuss momentarily.
If you’re considering working with an influencer or trying to get featured on a big page, make sure you do your research and the page you’re considering falls very closely within your target audience. This should basically be a bigger version of your page, which content that closely matches what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re an avid and active follower for that page, you should have a really good idea of the type of content they post, which should give you a leg up in approaching them. When trying to approach a big page, remember it’s all about the value proposition and there are tons of others just like you who are dying to get that feature. So be real, honest, and provide value to that page owner. Something as simple as procuring high quality and highly engaging images of your own and sending it to them via direct message or DM may be the easiest and least intrusive way of getting featured. Say something like “Hey, my name’s Josh and I’ve been following you for a while. I took this photo of XYZ and I think it would be perfect for your page’s audience.” A straightforward message that provides the page owner with something of value to them and their page. If they agree that your photo is good enough for their audience, they’ll tag you as a courtesy.
Another great way of creating engagement on your page is to join an engagement group (also known as a pod) for Instagram. The idea behind this is simple, you’re within a group of a few other people who consistently engage with each other's posts and even offer reciprocal shoutouts on each other's pages. This technique is something that I have actually synthesized through the Brand Ambassador Programs I use for my businesses. Part of the requirements for being an ambassador is for them to engage with each other and share each other's posts that are relevant to my business. The idea behind this is to create a network of micro-influencers that help to make my brand or company appear viral because many people are sharing my brand’s products at once.
Though the concept is pretty simple, it can prove to be extremely effective in creating the engagement your page needs to boost its performance in the algorithm. If you’re not sure where to start in joining an engagement group, it can be as simple as starting your own via DM with a group of friends. The important part about it is making sure that everyone is respectful by reciprocating engagement. I’ve also done some quick research and found This Blog that provides a more detailed guide on joining an Instagram engagement group.
TLDR: Don’t waste your time and money on Instagram bots and services that offer you “rapid” or “organic” growth for a monthly fee. These products and services may offer the promise of growth, but will only get your account banned, leaving you back to square one.
Not only are these services unethical because they rely on the “follow/unfollow” technique for gaining followers to your page, but they are against Instagram’s term of service and are a huge problem on the platform. This means that Instagram works very diligently to ensure that users aren’t using bots to imitate the techniques I’ve outlined in this guide. Even if your account isn’t banned, you can quickly become shadowbanned, which means your page will not be discoverable by users who do not follow you on the platform, thwarting the hard work you do on hashtag optimization.
I appreciate you taking the time to review my guide and hope that it could add value to the growth of your personal brand or business. The next part of this social media growth series will be growing your Facebook fan or business page audience, which is much more straight forward and simple, though it still offers many of the same concepts.