Building your Instagram account can be quite intimidating. 😧
You spend a bunch of time thinking of great pictures to take and stories to share. Coming up with witty captions and editing your photos perfectly. Excited to get all sorts of social media exposure for your brand, you make your first few posts and...
Nothing happens... each post gets a handful of likes, you can't get over a few followers, and it seems that maybe Instagram isn't all that it is cracked up to be.
Well, let's take a step back... 🤔
Instagram in 2020 is insanely popular. There are over 100 million posts made per day. With that kind of volume, it makes it tough to stand out in a crowd.
Fortunately, there are plenty of modern Instagram growth strategies that work in 2020. I have personally used these methods to grow accounts to over 1,000 followers in the first ten posts.
Check out these 20 unique Instagram growth tactics to find out how to make your account stand out among the masses and reach your target audience.
Take advantage of your new account boost
If you are starting a new Instagram, then your first posts are crucial because Instagram will promote your first posts for you.
Without any content or history of interactions, Instagram doesn't know anything about your new account. Since Instagram's ability to show its users other content that they like, they need to know about you. How they can find this out quickly is to show your new posts to more people than normal and see how it does.
Instagram monitors the number of views, who liked or commented on the posts, who followed you, and much much more. From this, they can start to build an understanding about your new account. Since Instagram doesn't know you yet, they have no choice but to show your content to people to find out.
Need a basic example?
Take a business that sells baby clothing. When that business makes their first post, Instagram can see that a lot of mothers and mothers-to-be are more inclined to spend time looking at the post or reading the full caption. Future posts will be favored by Instagram's algorithm to reach those audiences.
You will notice the concept of establishing credibility in a specific niche throughout this guide. It's vital to make your first posts as close to your niche as possible to take advantage of Instagram's eagerness to know about your brand new account.
Convert to an Instagram Business account for insights
When everyone signs up on Instagram, they have a normal account with the option to switch it to an Instagram Business account.
If you are new to Instagram Business accounts, start here to get the basics and learn how to switch your account.
While a normal account is fine for most, we are going to be using data that is only available for business accounts. Insights such as the best days of the week and times of the day to best reach your audience are only available if you switch. Having an Instagram Business account also gives you access to their Graph API so you can manage your account even better with tools like Curate.
Earlier, we mentioned the "boost" that new accounts get and it is no exception for Instagram Business accounts. In fact, the "boost" is even better for businesses. Not only does Instagram need to know what your business is about but they make money from companies being successful on their platform. They want you to see good results so you stick around.
If it's possible then you should convert your account and maximize the exposure of the first Instagram posts for your business.
Fill out your profile page completely
This may seem simple to some people but I often see this tip neglected or done poorly.
A strong profile page on Instagram is valuable in a variety of ways. It's another way that Instagram can classify your account depending on what you put in your bio. It's also where you typically convert viewers to followers and is the single place to drive people to your website outside of Instagram.
I won't go into too much detail on what makes the perfect Instagram profile but here are some pointers:
- Make sure you have a bio that accurately describes your brand, uses line breaks for clarity, emojis to give it character and a clear call-to-action for your website.
- Have a short and if possible readable URL as your website and make sure it is a useful landing page for people coming from Instagram to your business. Use link in bio tools to optimize where people go when they click your website link.
- Don't use an undescriptive name, especially for a new account. As an example, if you have a business selling men's shaving razors called Blade then don't just use "Blade" as your name. Tell people what your account is about by using something like "Blade: Straight Razors for Guys"
- Spend time making sure your profile picture is a high resolution, well cropped and pertinent to your brand. It also helps to have it be high contrast to stand out better on comment threads. It's what many people see when they first come across your brand so make sure your first impression is a good one.
- A tip for existing accounts is to delete your older posts if you are starting a new aesthetic. There isn't too much harm in cleaning up your profile if you aren't satisfied with it, want to start fresh or are about to change the style of content.
Tell Instagram who you are before your first post
Before making your first post, it's essential to let Instagram know as much as possible about who your content will appeal to.
But how do you tell them...?
You can do this by following 50 of your closest competitors and similar Instagram accounts in your niche before you even make your first post.
Make sure that the accounts that you follow are established and have plenty of followers and content. Try to select accounts that you see people engaging with regularly. This method will be less valuable if you tend to follow smaller niche accounts that don't have as much credibility in the eyes of Instagram.
Another benefit of following your competitors is you have the chance to appear in the "Suggested for you" section when other people are viewing the accounts that you followed on Instagram.
As you start to show Instagram that the people that follow your competition also like your content, then they will make the relationship and show each other in this section. For this reason, you should follow more established, related accounts in your niche regardless of how old your account is.
Make sure you stay in your lane
Spreading yourself too thin during the beginning stages of your Instagram journey is another common mistake.
You want to let Instagram know that you are in a specific niche with your actions and content and then double down and show Instagram your expertise in that area. Everything that you do from setting your profile, making photos/videos/stories, using hashtags, making comments and following others should be focused on a single domain.
Keep this tip in mind with all interactions you have on Instagram to convince their algorithm that you belong at the top of your specific niche.
Keep eyes on your content for as long as possible
One of the most significant and overlooked metrics that Instagram uses to measure the strength of your account is how long people spend looking at your content.
Here are simple ways how.
All of your captions for your first posts should be written in long-form. That just means you should be writing a few paragraphs instead of a sentence or two. Break up the caption with line breaks naturally but I tend to use them more often than usual on Instagram. It makes it much more readable and people are less inclined to read a wall of text.
Whatever you do, keep your caption above 125 characters and add a line break or two so you have the "Show More" action for your post. It is another action that boosts a person's interaction with your content and tells Instagram they cared enough to stop scrolling and click a button to keep reading.
In today's Instagram, captions that are in the 300+ words range are seeing the best results in terms of engagement so keep that in mind when crafting your captions.
Produce "scroll stopping" content
When I make each one of my Instagram posts, I ask myself one question...
If I was scrolling past this image as an average Instagram user, would I pause and look for at least a few seconds, or would I just keep moving?
This thought process by a viewer starts with the first thing they see as they scroll through their feed, your post photo.
Before a viewer's eyes even get to your caption, you want to try and have your image provoke them to think, "I need to stop scrolling and more read about this."
You can also introduce images that aren't as easy to consume as quickly, like images with some text that requires reading. Instagram measures people's interaction time with your content on the millisecond level so these things add up.
Max out your hashtag usage
On Instagram, hashtags are your #1 way to reach people that don't already know about you.
It's also another easy and powerful way to let Instagram know what niche you are in and who should care about your content.
I recommend for new accounts to use 30 hashtags, the maximum that Instagram allows, on each of their first ten posts. To take this even a step further, you should aim to use at least 100 different hashtags on your first ten posts. Whatever you do, don't use the same 30 hashtags over and over again.
You have hundreds of opportunities in the beginning stages of your account to tell Instagram precisely what you are about with hashtags. It allows you to specifically define the domain that you want Instagram to categorize you in.
Remember to stay focused on a single niche and don't use hashtags all over the map. You want to use many different hashtags but they should all cater to the same audience. Instagram knows about complex hashtags relationships so your content will naturally expand into related topics.
Add your hashtags ASAP
Let's go over how the Hashtag page works on Instagram so you can see how important adding your hashtags quickly is.
Instagram selects 9 of what it considers the Top Posts for a hashtag and displays those at the top of the page. Then every other post after that is chronologically sorted based on when it was posted.
If you add your hashtags immediately when you post, then you will show up in the 10th position (1st position in the chronologically sorted section) on the Hashtag page for every hashtag included in your post. The length of time you stay in that 10th position depends on how many people use that hashtag. As more people use the hashtag, your content gets pushed further and further down.
So what's the downside?
If you don't add your hashtags immediately, then you are removing the possibility of being able to be in those precious first few positions in the chronologically sorted hashtag list.
It's like having your website on the 10th page of a Google search result. There are so few people that will go through that many pages to even see your site. It's the same concept as Instagram hashtags. You want to be "on the 1st page" when it comes to the hashtag feed since people won't scroll through hundreds or thousands of posts to see your content.
Develop and perfect your hashtag strategy
Mastering hashtags is one of the more complex Instagram growth strategies but when executed successfully is one of the most powerful.
Using hashtags effectively isn't as simple as just typing # and thinking of words that describe your post. I go in-depth about various hashtag strategies in other posts but let's cover a core concept.
The post count for each hashtag represents how many posts were made using this hashtag from the beginning of time on Instagram. While it's not a perfect indicator, it's an obvious data point for understanding how much a hashtag is used.
Let's think about how the Hashtag page works. People don't scroll through thousands of images for a hashtag. If there are millions of posts being made for a hashtag, then your content will only be within a user's typical reach for minutes and sometimes even seconds.
Look at both ends of the spectrum. If you use a hashtag like #love with almost 2 billion posts then your post will be in the first few posts for that hashtag for a second or less since so many people use it. If you use a hashtag like #ilovemypuggles with a little over 500 posts then your post will be in the first few posts for weeks or months in some cases.
Every hashtag lives somewhere between these two extremes.
Part of the science is to select hashtags that have enough people looking at it but not too many posts that your content quickly gets lost. As you build your account and your niche domain expertise with Instagram, you can target more and more popular hashtags.
Phew... that's a lot.
I struggled for years with tracking hashtags on Instagram using spreadsheets and manually collecting data so I built Curate to do it for me.
It's worth checking out if you start to encounter the same problems when you dive deeper into hashtag strategies for Instagram.
Diversify your content type
When I talk about making posts on Instagram in this guide, I don't just mean photos. Carousels and videos are posts that are extremely important to getting more engagement time with your audience.
You want people to hit your profile page and spend as much time as possible and click through to more of your content. If you have a simple profile with all similar photos and captions, there is no incentive for someone to stick around.
Compare this to a profile that has a carousel or two with a great call-to-action to get you to click the posts and then swipe for more content. What about a profile that has video's with appealing teaser images so you have users click a post and get some view time.
If you have a brand new account, then you aren’t going to have a long feed of content so this is important in the beginning to increase the time spent on your profile and content. The more videos, carousels and IGTV posts, the better.
I suggest making at least one out of every five posts something besides a photo regardless of your account size.
Early engagement is the best engagement
To put it simply, a like, comment, view, or click that's made a minute after you make a post is much much more valuable than that same action happening three days after it's posted.
Instagram's algorithm heavily favors "recency" when it comes to actions and they have a compounding effect.
The more interactions you get per post, the more Instagram is inclined to show your post to more people. If people are interacting with your post more than normal, then Instagram continues to show it to more and more people. For this reason, you want to get your interactions in as early as possible after you make your post.
But how do you get people to engage with you?
There are all sorts of ways and they all work to some degree, here are a few:
- Spend time making creative content that people will just naturally like. There is no hidden secret that will take generic content and turn it viral. It all starts here.
- Cross post your Instagram content on other social media platforms and websites. Don't only use Instagram as the only way to bring people to your content.
- Whatever you do, actually be active on Instagram. Browse around to find posts to like and comment on in your niche. This will have several benefits but a major one is that you will pop up in the Instagram notifications of people you liked/commented. A perfect opportunity for them to check you out.
- There is always the option to use automation to like and comment for you but be careful. While the bots can be highly effective in the near term, they can have downstream effects of classifying your account incorrectly. Instagram can also flag your account, which will cause a decrease in exposure. Just be super conservative if you decide to go this route.
- Get other people to post about you, mention you and share your content. You might have to get scrappy in the beginning stages and beg friends to help spread the word. You never know which single share or mention could be the one to expose you to a bunch of new potential followers.
Always think about your timing
With every post you make on Instagram, you should be planning ahead and posting it at a particular time.
Why does this matter?
Remember, you want to get immediate engagement on your content. If all of your audience tends to use Instagram at night, don't make all of your posts in the morning. Those followers may still engage with your content hours later, but you want it to be as close as possible to when the post was made.
So how can you see when to post?
Instagram actually tells you.
If you have an Instagram Business account then you have access to Insights in your app. They provide easy to understand visual graphs for when your followers are most active. They even break it down by the day of the week and the time of the day.
Be careful with this data though. If you don't have many followers or many of your followers aren't in your target audience, then the data paint the wrong picture. The more followers you have, the more accurate your time of day and day of the week insights become.
If you aren't on that level yet, then just try and use common sense and consider other timezones when you are coming up with the optimal times for your target audience.
Follow, like and comment on real people after every post
This tactic is a little time consuming but always yields excellent results.
I suggest after you make each post you make that you spend 30 minutes to an hour liking, commenting and even following on real people in your target audience.
You can usually find plenty of these people by browsing the hashtags that you use on your post. How you can determine if someone is a "real person" by looking at their content and then how many followers and people they follow. If anything seems suspicious, then it probably is.
It's yet another way to establish domain credibility with Instagram too.
If you are worried about following too many people and having your account look a little off, then you can always turn to an "unfollow app" to easily clean it up after a while.
Tag your posts with locations and other accounts
More exposure is more chances for you to convert someone from a view to a follower. Showing up in another brand's feed or having your post on an Instagram Location page are two often untapped methods for having your content show up in more places.
The Instagram Location page works just like the Hashtag page in the sense that it has a top posts section for that location and then the rest of the posts are chronologically listed.
Having your post show up permanently on another account's profile page is something that usually has near and long term benefits. Sometimes it's even worth asking another brand if you can tag them via a DM.
Tease with your posts to get follows instead of likes
You want to give viewers of your content a reason to follow along and there are plenty of tricks but it starts with your photo.
Can you see someone saying, "Oh wow, I need to see more of this"?
If a viewer likes what they see in your photo, then they naturally move to the caption. Here is yet another chance you have to give them a reason to follow along.
Teasing future content is a great way to get people to stay tuned for more. Explicitly tell people to follow you since you will be doing something and then actually do it. That something can be a follow-up post, results to a poll, competition, giveaway or a review. Anything that something would be willing to wait for.
This tactic can work exceptionally well if you have a newer account with very little content. You make viewers think that they have caught something cool before it's popular. Take advantage of that feeling.
Provoke comments since Instagram values conversation
Writing an insightful comment that causes more conversation takes time and thought. In Instagram's eyes, comments are one of the most highly valued metrics it uses to determine the quality of a post.
It also has added benefits of drastically increasing the amount of time that a user would spend on your post when they are thinking of something to say or writing an intelligent response.
Easier said than done. Right?
Here are my favorite ways to get a boost in comments for a particular post:
- Ask a question in your photo or caption and have them respond via a comment.
- Create a "versus" style post of two competing items/topic/etc. Have viewers vote by commenting
- Start a poll with a couple of options to engage the community. Don't just make it multiple choice, ask them to choose an answer, and explain why.
- Have a giveaway post where you will send one of the lucky people that comment on the post a freebie.
- Make a user voted competition where you have viewers comment their response to your post and other viewers vote on the winner by liking the comments
Incentivizing a person to comment is critical to any of the strategies above. Whether it's because someone wants to share their opinion or have a chance at winning something, most times people need a reason to comment.
Comment back to everyone as fast as possible
This organic Instagram growth strategy has terrific bang for your buck, and it's pretty simple.
For every single comment on your posts, comment back with a legitimate, thoughtful comment.
Simple right? Let's dig into the benefits.
First off, if you get five comments on your post and you respond to them all, then really you will have ten comments. More engagement is always better for each post.
It's also an excellent opportunity to get that same user to comment again and strike up a conversation. You already know they are willing to spend the time engaging with you since they made their initial comment.
Use this to your advantage and ask another follow-up question or tell a story in your comment back. Don't waste your chance to get more activity by just responding with an emoji or a word or two.
I even "like" individual comments to let the user know I appreciate their engagement with my account. A little red heart goes a long way to making a commenter feel special and connected with your brand.
Again, remember that earlier engagement is better. Don't wait until the next day to respond to your comments. Get notifications and do it immediately.
Use Stories to turbo-boost your posts
Adding to your story is a great way to get more viewers to your posts if done correctly.
The keys to being successful with this Instagram growth strategy are timing, different but related content and tying it back to your post.
Basically, you want to create stories that are related to the post but not duplicate content. As far as timing goes, you want to be adding these stories as soon as you can after you post. In the story, reference a post that you have made that contains extra information, more content or some sort of incentive to go look at it.
It's a bonus if you use different hashtags on your story from the post so you can expose your content to a different audience that wasn't tagged in your original post.
Remember, if you are referring to a series of posts that you will be making in your stories, you can pin them to the top of your profile. Viewers might catch some intrigue and possibly follow you to see more in the future based on your story.
Use tools to help you track all of this
I know this is a lot to keep up with.
It's one thing to understand all the best practices and strategies to be effective on Instagram, but then how do you do all of it and hold yourself accountable?
I kept asking myself that question. I was finding that I needed to collect all of this data, do time-consuming manual work, and stay in tune with the rapid changes on Instagram. There were so many things to keep track of that I didn't know if I was even executing on my social media strategy effectively.
That's why I built Curate.
Directly integrated with your Instagram Business account, Curate will analyze your account from top to bottom to tell you what you are doing right and what you could improve. It then gives you access to personalized data to perform the most advanced hashtag strategies. Also, since you are busy with plenty of other things besides Instagram, it keeps tabs on your activity and lets you know if you should adjust any of your tactics.
It's free to try and helps new and existing Instagram accounts alike.
Instagram is a competitive place if you want to grow your account and boost your following. There are a lot of talented and creative brands but there isn't any reason why you can't be one of them.
Most of the strategies involve letting Instagram know that you are an expert in something and then proving it.
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