Over 1 billion people use Instagram each month, 81% of people use it to research products and services, and 90% of Instagram users currently follow a business.
What does this mean? The platform offers constant opportunity for brands and businesses. However, many are still failing to get the engagement they should be.
Sure, Instagram is a tricky platform for marketers, influencers and business owners, because you can take two steps forward and then one step back every week, every day.
It’s a platform that requires a lot of your time but can reap the most rewards by way of brand awareness, product/service sales, advertisement and marketing campaigns, monetisation and brand loyalty.
There’s always been lots of discussion around algorithm changes over the years, but the algorithm hasn’t actually changed since around 2014. Instead, it’s the way people use Instagram that has changed, and of course, lots of new features have been added, which are then favoured by the platform as it tries to compete with rivals like TikTok.
What’s actually holding a lot of accounts back is not taking ownership of their content, not engaging, and not covering the basics of what their audience actually want.
With that in mind, I thought I would share some insights into how brands can start having a real impact – whether you are looking to grow your followers or start completely from scratch.
The way Instagram is used has completely changed
The way people have been using Instagram during the pandemic has completely changed the dynamic. Having an ‘aesthetic feed’ no longer matters all that much, because no-one really cares about that anymore. No-one cares if your filters and themes match and users rely more on seeing your post in their feed than actively going to your profile.
While there’s nothing to stop you being on-brand and using vibrant colours to catch people’s attention, and having that ‘aesthetic feed’, one of the main obstacles with content across Instagram and IGTV is that it’s ultimately not a great searchable platform beyond hashtags.
Instagram uses your image contents (a bit like google images), your alt text, your caption and your hashtags to help your post rank, but when your target audience is looking for a specific picture or video, you’re not that easy to find.
I regularly get asked ‘Is it worth turning this content into an IGTV?’ My response is ‘absolutely’, but the reality is not that many people are going to be able to find it – partly because it’s not been proven whether hashtags work on this video post format, but because they’re not searchable.
If people want to find specific longer form video content, they’ll head to YouTube, not IGTV. I always try to create IGTVs in landscape – that way you have another piece of content but it’s easy to post on YouTube too.
The key is to provide value
With TikTok becoming a huge platform filled with short snippets of information (#LearnonTikTok is an incredibly popular hashtag) and ‘I learnt that on TikTok’ being an increasingly used phrase, it’s no surprise the way people now use Instagram is heading down the same path. Instagram, has of course cottoned on to this and is favouring content that provides value, which is why reels and carousels are vital right now.
One of the most valuable metrics on Instagram is saved content. Likes don’t mean as much, so you want valuable, shareable and save-able content.
What can you teach your followers? What can you help them learn? Can you share snippets of information that would make someone want to save it for later? Does your business provide value and how can that be translated into video, image or infographics? These are all questions you need to ask yourself and ultimately can help you plan what kind of content you can put forward.
The most important thing to be able to do on Instagram is stop someone scrolling and take notice. Reels are easily digestible, only 15-30 seconds’ long (now with some accounts able to create 60 second reels) and you can cram a decent amount of information in them. The hard part is knowing exactly how much information to put in them before it becomes too much.
Audience retention is another important factor when growing your account. Consistent content that provides your audience with ‘value’ should be your top priority – remember, you’re making content for them, not you. A carousel about a service or how-to, grabs their attention, keeps them on your post scrolling through the slides and are easily digestible, informative, education and inspiring.
You also need to pay attention to what the platform itself wants to showcase. If you head to the ‘explore’ page, the majority of that screen is taken up by reels. You can easily monitor and react to what is being pushed out most, then replicate those for your brand.
Good content + creating community = growth
The road to thousands of followers is long and hard, but it starts and ends with you.
Use video (yes again!), because people are going to engage more with your content and digest it, compared to a static image – this can be Reels, video posts, stories and lives.
Another key factor for brands is building your community. This is about finding people who are like-minded, interested in your products or services, and want to hear what you have to say, engaging in conversation with them, replying to their comments and DMs and being that approachable brand people can rely on for quick replies and honest answers.
Communities can build pretty organically, but you still have to put in the time; and most of that time isn’t spent creating content, but engaging with others.
The more discussions you’re having and the more you’re speaking with individuals within your market niche by commenting and replying, the more you’ll get back. Find the big players in your market and engage directly with their followers. Follow them, comment on posts and get talking.
Add CTAs to your posts and stories. Things like ‘ double tap if you agree’, ‘want to know more? DM me’, ‘what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments’, ‘save this for later’ and ‘tag someone who needs to see this’ are all ways to encourage engagement.
Personality over products
Even as a brand or business, there needs to be a personality behind your profile which makes it much more relatable. It doesn’t just have to be one person; it can be a team or the whole company – showing behind the scenes and showing that you are people too and will trust you a lot more.
One of the many little things Instagram likes to see is strong engagement with comments on your posts. This isn’t as simple as replying with an emoji, you should be using three words minimum and supporting with emojis, and make sure you’re not just copying and pasting the same response – keep each one individual – Instagram likes it, and your audience will feel more valued too.
You’ll want to find the top 5-10 influencers and make sure their content and what they post about aligns with your brand.
Turn on their post notifications so you never miss their posts, engage with their posts as soon as they’re up, engage with their fans and finally, follow the hashtags they regularly use and engage with other posts on them too. These are all people and posts that align with your brand and can become part of your community.
Pages also shouldn’t be driven by just products or services. Nobody wants to be force-fed pictures of products in every colour variant throughout the day. If users wanted to check which products you stock, they would most likely visit your website.
Reposts of user generated content (UGC), with their permission/usage license of course, can be great – it shows your product in a real setting, being used by real people.
Encourage your community to tag you in their posts, work with influencers to get nice imagery, but also, using the points above, you want to answer their questions too – and this can be done in video and carousel format.
‘What colours does this product come in’ could be asked 1000 times, you can answer that in one playful reel showing the product in all its colour variants. ‘What services do you provide?’ could be answered with an eye-catching carousel with a different service and very short description on each slide. You can even ask your audience directly what they want to see, what they want to learn and what questions they have that you could answer.
Other great places to get content ideas are Screaming Frog, Ubersuggest, SEMrush, Google Trends, Buzzsumo, AlsoAsked and Quora.
Pick the right influencers
Influencers remain a very good route for marketing your brand or business. After all, why spend tens or hundreds of thousands on a complex advertising campaign with photographers, videographers, actors/models, makeup, editors, stylists, social media managers and copywriters, as well as the advertising costs, for a new product, when you could instead send it out to a few influencers, who do all of the above themselves, for a fraction of the price and will likely have a much bigger reach.
This goes hand-in-hand with community building. Once you have the right people on the platform, it’s a lot easier to find influencers within that niche.
This is crucial: you have to pick the right influencers, or you can totally miss the mark with it. You want someone that represents your audience, and this doesn’t have to be huge influencers. You can actually get better influence from an account with a following under 50k, under 10k even.
They have the type of engaged audience who look at that person’s stories every day, like what they post, buys what they recommend and it’s a lot more authentic. Whereas once you get up into the hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, how many of those followers are actually engaging – it could only be 1-2% and they’re not always that impressionable. Engagement rate is always more important than follower count – don’t forget to pay your influencers based on their CPM (cost per mill) for their reach, not for their audience.
If you want to appeal to a very niche audience, then get someone from within that niche. If you want to go beyond that, then be careful not to pick someone that is going to alienate your core customers.
Optimise your profile
Ok, so is there is one searchable element of Instagram: your profile.
Think about SEO. If you’re a brand or are self-employed, you not only want to be in the right business category on Instagram, but you want something in the first line of the copy that tells people exactly what you do/can offer, or what you sell.
· First line: who you are – your name and key words
· Second line: what you do – your niche
· Third: what value you provide/who you help
· Fourth: how to contact you
· Fifth: call to action for link below
Include your location, even if you’re just an online shop. This is beneficial for weeding out the people that would never buy from you. Your profile picture should also be very clear and fit your niche. If you’re a sole trader or self-employed, a picture of you/person behind the account will gain you much more trust than a logo.
You need links, but don’t just have a link to your website. Have a link through to a micro-site or linktree, which can contain multiple other links to relevant pages and can drive traffic to your other social channels, your blog or competitions.
You should also include a way for people to contact you (a customer services email address), because you can’t rely on people using the buttons.
Include anything else that singles you out from competitors in your profile and use your highlights wisely. If you do sell products and you post them on your stories, save them to the highlights with swipe-ups once your followers are increasing. Add the Instagram shop element and make your product posts shoppable.
Three things to remember – it doesn’t happen overnight, social media takes time and effort. You’ll need to invest and make sure everything you post provides value to your audience. Oh, and also remember, a blue tick is literally the last thing you need to worry about – it doesn’t mean nearly as much as you think it does.
Take a step back from your account and really plan what content you’re going to share, optimize your profile and set a schedule for when you can sit and engage with your community. Following all of the above, you should be all set and if, like we try to do at FanFinders, you base your strategy around providing valuable and useful content for your core audience, you can’t go far wrong and you’ll be hitting those milestones in no time.
Jasmine Gurney, FanFinders’ Head of Content & Social
Jasmine Gurney is FanFinders’ Head of Content & Social, specialising in executing social media campaigns and building integrated content strategies. Away from the business, Jasmine uses her status as a DIY influencer to empower others and normalise women with power tools through @ohabode.