Instagram has grown to become a worthy contender among its social media rivals. In the last six months of 2016 alone, 100 million people created new Instagram accounts, making the total number of Instagrammers reach 600 million worldwide.
Instagram has surely made a name for itself. But with so many Instagram accounts out there, are you making a name for yourself on this popular platform? Standing out from the crowd has become increasingly difficult. How can you convince your audience to follow you rather than a competitor? And for the Instagram users who have never heard of your company, is there a way to draw them in, too?
Some businesses opt to buy Instagram followers. This is a common approach for accounts that focus more on audience perception rather than on building up followers in an honest and creative way. Researchers at Hootsuite tested how effective buying followers really is. Most of the businesses that opted for this approach obtained nearly 1,000 followers within a day, but when they posted a picture, they saw zero engagement. No likes or comments from any of the “quality” followers they had paid for.
The reality is, quality Instagram followers can’t be bought, and shouldn’t be tricked. You need to engage them and give them the opportunities to connect with your brand. This does take a carefully-crafted strategy, but can be done quicker than you might imagine.
Engage with Instagram influencers
When you engage with others’ posts, you are more likely to see them engage with your posts. Following, liking and commenting on as many accounts as you can certainly casts a wide net for more engagement on your page. However, this may not get you the followers you’re looking for.
#TheInstagramExpert, Sue B. Zimmerman, has built up a career helping entrepreneurs create social media strategies that engage audiences. Zimmerman understands that it’s not enough to just build brand awareness, you need to do something to get your viewer’s attention. She recommends not buying followers or using automated engagement, and instead suggests engaging with accounts that have a similar audience as you.
When you engage with these influencers in your industry, Zimmerman says to be genuine, not generic with your comments. A general, “love it,” or, “sweet post,” isn’t going to capture the attention of the influencer or their followers. But if you were instead to comment, “Your project reminds me of a what my team and I worked on last week; could you check it out and give us your feedback?” you provide a call to action and make them aware of your work. Get that influencer to be aware of you, and their followers will follow suit.
And add some personality to your comments! Zimmerman says, “What’s most important is that you are staying true to your account.” Let influencers and their audience see who you are.
Channel a local audience
Don’t underestimate the power of building a local following. Simply by including your location in a post, including a region-specific hashtag (more on hashtags later) or documenting a local event can you draw in potential followers in the area surrounding you. You’ll be surprised by how many people like supporting local businesses. The sense of community between you and your local followers creates a foundation for your following that’s hard to beat.
These local followers, more than just being a number, can provide essential local reviews for your business. Good reviews bump up your SEO ranking and influence the buying decisions of around 90% of customers. When you show local followers the added value your business brings to the community, they will give valued reviews to you and be instrumental in further increasing your Instagram following.
Create a contest
Instagram contests can be another great way to increase your followers and build brand awareness. Their success lies in the simple truth that we all want a little more, and we especially want it if it’s free. Some contests you promote could be totally upfront and require your audience to simply follow your account for the chance to win a reward. Or, expand your outreach and audience engagement and get viewers to comment on your post, or tag a friend or two. One startup, Meowbox, within a year and without any budget got 500,000 Instagram followers organically, in large part due to their monthly Instagram contests.
What are Meowbox’s secrets for an effective Instagram contest? They suggest double-teaming your efforts and working with another instagrammer on a contest. Their audience becomes your audience, and your audience becomes theirs. Plus, together you can offer a better reward for the winner than on your own.
Also, keep your contests short and sweet. If a contest runs longer than 5 days, your audience won’t feel as much of a need to enter the contest right away, and may lose interest or forget about the contest all together.
Schedule out posts at the right time
Instagram feeds follow an algorithm that places posts with more engagement at the top of feeds. What this means for you, is that you want to post right when the greatest amount of people will see your post. If more viewers engage with your post early on, then that post will move to the top of feeds for further engagement. This will also help get your post on others’ Explore page, helping you get discovered by the like-minded audience you are looking for.
It never hurts to test out what works best with your audience. Do weekday or weekend posts garner the most engagement? Do posts at 4 PM drive more engagement than 3 PM posts (some research says they do)? How do they compare with 5 PM, 6 PM or 7 PM posts? Is your audience on Instagram more during their lunch break, when they first wake up or on their commute home?
Once you find that prime time for posting, the next step is to be consistent. Successful entrepreneur, Neil Patel, looking at a study by Union Metrics, says that you shouldn’t worry so much about posting too much or too little on Instagram, so long as you post with the same frequency on a consistent basis. He says that you won’t harm your chances “to maximize engagement and generate followers” by posting too often, until you change your routine and start posting less frequently.
Your followers want consistency. They, like all of us, like knowing what to expect. Give them what they want, when they want it and you’ll find your followers increase rapidly.
Use Instagram Stories to your advantage
Last year, Instagram hit it big with their new Instagram Stories. Similar to Snapchat, the Stories platform lets you upload short videos or a photo slideshow that deletes itself after 24 hours. If you want to promote an event, sale or new product, but don’t want to post it on your account page, Instagram Stories is the way to go.
Stories appear at the top of the news feed, and recommended Stories appear at the top of the Explore page. But again, if you want to get on the Explore page, your content needs to be extremely engaging and needs to resonate with your targeted audience.
Instagram Stories has seen success in large part because audiences are increasingly becoming more engaged by video content. Viewers won’t always stop scrolling for an image anymore, but are more likely to stop and watch a short video. In fact, 65% of Instagram’s ad impressions came from video ads. Before you pay for Instagram ads, try out how much engagement and followers you can build up through your Stories.
#hastags, but done right
Throwing out a million hashtags without the right strategy is just #ridiculous. Large quantities of popular hashtags will connect your brand to many different circles, but for an increase in loyal followers you need to be strategic and smart with what circles you are connecting with. The goal is to find like-minded communities through hashtags, and for Instagrammers in those communities to discover you.
One option is to create brand-specific hashtags and encouraging your audience to share them when they post about your products. But to get your brand discovered by more new audiences, invest time in finding community hashtags that (1) focus on keywords relevant to your posts/brand and (2) have established followings that match your aesthetic. Using a niche hashtag like #accountingsoftwareforthewin doesn’t get you into the community of accounting softwares promoted on Instagram. However, most-searched keywords like simply #accounting or #accountants will. You’ll need to find a balance between these all-too-common hashtags in your market and the more specific ones that target a narrower audience.
What hashtags are your competitors using? Go back to the influencers in your industry and study their posts, which ones get the most audience engagement and what hashtags they’re using in the more popular posts.
Create quality content
Our final suggestion is more of an overarching theme to each of the previous suggestions. The real key to getting more Instagram followers is to create posts that invite audience engagement. Nothing beats quality content when you’re looking to get and engage quality followers. Whether you’re looking to increase your followers by 1,000 or by 100,000, content is always key. Our own Digital Altitude Instagram page, even without paid ads, sees an organic increases in followers each week because our page’s focus is on giving our audience motivating and inspirational content that speaks to their hearts.
With your competition out on the prowl to also create viral content among your audience, you need your content to stand out. Not just any image should be used for today’s post, but an image or video that stops a viewer in their tracks. Post content that invites the audience to interact with you. Contests are a great way to do this, or from time to time regram an image from one of your followers that speaks to your brand image. Or tell a story; there are few better ways for your content to connect with your audience than through a narrative that relates to their struggles and triumphs.
The truth is that “lasting engagement naturally leads to followers.” As mentioned before, the Instagram accounts that get discovered, on the Explore page or elsewhere, are the ones with high levels of engagement. To organically increase followers, work with Instagram and its algorithm, not against it.