How do you know what to post on Instagram?
Since my partner and I started our business profile this question came up time and time again on forums and YouTube comments. As I was new to the platform myself this was an important question to know the answer to. With the recent changes in the Instagram algorithm, growing organically on Instagram is more challenging than ever and old hacks like buying followers and using automation bots not only don’t work but will get you penalized or blocked (just don’t do it!).
While there is a lot of despair around this subject, I feel the opposite. This is a great opportunity as it levels the playing field for everyone, meaning your account will only grow based on its merits and how you interact with the platform. In this article, I will break down 8 key focus areas that will drive organic growth on Instagram in 2020. I should preface that this list does not comprise my original ideas and is instead a compilation of the most mentioned strategies and insights I have encountered in my research.
#1 Choose a specific niche and sub-niche
If you are just starting a personal or business profile then a bit of brainstorming is recommended. Before you start it is wise to narrow down what the main niche/industry you will be working in i.e. ‘travel’ or ‘fitness' etc. From here you want to narrow down further what your focus will be within this niche. For example, Milly (my partner) and I are a couple who travel, so our sub-niche is ‘travel couples’. Having a niche and sub-niche is a good place to start but if possible you should take this a step further and be even more targeted with your approach. To continue with the previous example, adding ‘fitness’ (sub-niche 2) to the ‘travel couple’ sub niche so our profile will be targeting fitness-focused travel couples. The narrower your focus the more the Instagram algorithm will favour your profile for specific search terms and the more likely it is to recommend your profile to similar accounts. This will mean you increase your chances of attracting people who are interested in and likely to engage with your content.
Tip: Reverse engineering the process - think about what it is you want to say with your post and let that guide what photo(s), captions and hashtags you use. Remember to keep consistent with the theme and colour scheme of your profile so it is crystal clear what your brand is about.
#2 Produce high-quality content
This one is pretty straightforward if your content is bad no one will want to engage with it and your account will not grow. Unfortunately, the only way to produce high-quality content is through practice, you have to put the hours into your craft if you want to see results. This may mean writing an extra blog each week, spending countless hours trying to figure out video editing or going outside and making a film every day. One consistent theme of successful influencers is that they were pretty much all terrible when they first started and it took several YEARS to master. Having the mindset that growing your social presence is a project that will take years to build takes the pressure off the present and will help you focus on incremental improvements.
Tip: Don’t get emotionally attached to any post. When you are making a post that you think is very good and it gets a suboptimal response, often this leads to disappointment and self-doubt. Instead, take a purely objective lens and let your audience tell you what content they enjoy and then just do more of that! You can also check out the pinnacle profiles for your niche to get ideas and inspiration.
#3 Write engaging captions
There is a lot of noise around the importance of a lengthy insightful caption if you want to get more organic engagement on your posts. While I can’t comment on the importance of the length of the caption you write, actually saying something people care about is very important. A good way to approach this is to first research what the key topics of conversation are in your chosen niche and secondly brainstorm ways in which you can educate or provide value/insights on these topics. By far the most important part of a caption is the end; ALWAYS put forth a question for your audience. This will make it very easy for people to comment on your post and feed the conversation you are trying to start. If you are an aspiring content creator or influencer, integrating (and @mentioning) brands in your captions is a great way to start building credibility (more on this in #5).
Tip: Use emojis liberally! These will help add some visual stimulus to boring chunks of text and better convey the emotion of your words.
#4 Use specific hashtags
Hashtags play a vital role in the Instagram ecosystem and can make or break your account. Put simply, hashtags will help Instagram determine the subject matter of your post, from there its algorithm will determine whom to display it to. It is very important to use hashtags that are relevant to the content you are posting, again the threat of a shadow ban or being blocked looms large for repeat offenders.
Tip: Use a tiered approach:
- 10 Small hashtags (under 30K posts)
- 10 Medium hashtags (30-200K posts)
- 4 Large hashtags (200K-1million posts)
- 1 or 2 Massive hashtags (1 million posts and above)
How it works: If your post gets high engagement on the lower hashtags it will have increased exposure on the medium ones and then the large ones and so on. Setting hashtags up this way will give you a higher chance of virality and at the very least exposure to a wider audience. Using software such as Hashtastic greatly reduces the time spent researching hashtags as it allows you to select the ones with the lowest DPAC scores that are relevant to your searched hashtag.
#5 Geo Tags and Tags
Simply put, geotags and tags stamp a physical location on content. Brands can see the various locations their content is tagged to and leverage this data to improve marketing strategies. If you are a content creator or influencer (or aspiring to be either) tagging brands is a great way to show them you exist and to start building a relationship. When you are in a position to monetize your account through paid promotions or projects you will already have a history which distinguishes you from the competition. For a more in-depth explanation check out this link.
Tip: Make a 'Brand Tracker' list on excel, google docs or a CRM with the brands you would like to work with. Include contact information, social details, previous touches and tags so you will have a full history to utilize when the time comes to pitch them.
#6 Build a Community
Instagram has always been a very community-focused platform which aims to bring people together around a love for visually stimulating content. With the visibility of likes disabled countries (including Australia), comments are now the only engagement metric that really matters. We have already gone over the importance of captions so I will not spend too long on it here but writing engaging captions and producing engaging content generally, is one side of community building; ‘producing’ content.
The other side is ‘appreciating’ and simply refers to spending time (ideally daily) responding to comments on your posts as well as commenting and writing DM’s on accounts within your niche. By doing so consistently you will notice that people will start engaging back on your posts which will result in more comments and the algorithm favouring your content. While it can feel mundane and even forced at first, investing time each day to write thoughtful comments (not just ‘LIT 🔥🔥🔥’ or 'Beautiful❤️') will also help you build a network of people or businesses you can collaborate with in the future.
Tip: Write 2-3 comments as well as a personalized DM to each new account you are following, this will help you stand out amongst the crowd.
Instagram stories are a great additional tool to showcase your content. Stories are short (15-sec max) videos or photos (7-sec max) which can be used to tell your audience a story (pretty self-explanatory). To help users get the most engagement out of stories Instagram has included multiple ‘stickers’ which include polls, questions, @mentions, location tags and more. Hashtags can also be used although it is recommended to hide them by pinching your fingers together to minimise them and flicking them to the side of your screen so they are not visible. This will drastically increase the watch-ability of your story without sacrificing the precious exposure the hashtags will give you. Tags and Geotags are equally as important on stories as your feed and will help you build relationships with brands in your niche and get them to engage with you. Brands may even repost your story or send you a grateful DM because it is great social proofing for them, who doesn’t want free press!
Tip: Treat this feature as if you were telling an actual story with a concise beginning, middle and end so your audience can follow along; this will keep them engaged as they become invested in the story's timeline. Have a rough idea of what each stage of the story will be about BEFORE shooting will make the process much easier and quicker.
IGTV is ‘more YouTube than Netflix’ and unlike Stories, they do not disappear in 24H. Aimed at filling the longer video gap on the platform and attracting vloggers from YouTube and Snapchat, there are currently no ads being displayed on IGTV. This is because the feature is still in its infancy and Instagram is seeking to increase engagement on it before bombarding users with ads. I have not personally used this feature but early adoption of any new platform or feature on social media is often rewarded with a huge organic reach so it is definitely worth learning to use it before it becomes popular.
Tip: You can repurpose your longer Facebook or YouTube videos and post them on IGTV, giving your brand another channel to fuel growth.
It takes a lot of work to master any social media platform and Instagram is no exception. With that in mind if you are serious about growing your social following and capitalizing on the massive opportunity to monetize before the platform is saturated, investing time into the focus areas above will certainly help you do so. It should be noted that whilst this article focused on Instagram some of the principles above can be used to increase organic growth across other social media platforms.