Instagram is probably the most popular way to share snapshots of your life. Most likely, it occupies a significant portion of your smartphone’s screentime report — guilty. And, if you’re in brand marketing, Instagram is presumably one of the social channels you’re most excited about to build a passionate and engaged following.
A quick history lesson: The Instagram app was launched on October 6, 2010, and racked up 25,000 users in one day. At the end of the first week, Instagram had been downloaded 100,000 times, and by mid-December, the number of users had reached one million (Investopedia). Today, the popular app is owned by Facebook, and by June of 2018, the platform hit over 1 billion monthly active users — a number that continues to grow.
When measuring social media success, often people look to audience size. While increasing and growing your followers is great, if they’re not engaging with your content, then it’s just a big audience — bigger isn’t always better.
In previous years, Instagram engagement was all the rage. According to Hootsuite, social media engagement is simply the measurement of comments, likes and shares.
A lot of time, energy and money is spent creating content and nurturing a buzz around that content. While comments, likes and shares can be considered vanity metrics, at the end of the day, these metrics are important indicators for how well a brand’s content is resonating.
As brands continually look at different social media platforms and where it’s best to publish content, factor this into the equation: an average image on Instagram gets 23% more engagement than one published on Facebook, even though the latter has 2X more monthly active (BusinessofApps).
With numbers like these, you can see that Instagram is a very effective channel in terms of social media engagement, but what steps can you take to increase your engagement on the platform even further?
UNDERSTAND THE ALGORITHM
Algorithms — we don’t really like them, but we have to understand them and work with them. Part of the Instagram algorithm that affects how often and when your post is seen by followers is the time spent viewing the post.
While beautiful images and videos are essential on Instagram, experiment with longer attention-grabbing captions to increase the time followers spend viewing your post. Effective social media captions may also prompt them to like, comment and share it. Encourage your followers to tag friends in the comments and ask them a specific question to continue the conversation.
The algorithm also pays special attention to photo quality, consistency and variety of content, such as a mixture of photo and video so don’t be afraid to mix it up. Some other ways to increase engagement based on the algorithm are to go live often, run contests or giveaways and pay attention to what time you’re posting.
INCREASE YOUR REACH WITH HASHTAGS
Hashtags are a great way to widen your reach. The Instagram Explore page allows users to discover new relevant content. An important factor in the algorithm is the use of targeted hashtags to categorize content. Instagram Insights even gives you the ability to analyze the effectiveness of your chosen hashtags and shows you how many users discovered your profile through them.
How many hashtags to use is always the next question that must be answered. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags in a post, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Select hashtags that are popular and relevant to your post, keeping in mind that sometimes less is more. Hashtags will bring additional attention to your post and have the ability to increase your followers based on shared hashtags and common interests.
In its breakdown of how to use hashtags, SproutSocial shared that using nine hashtags receives the best engagement, while some successful brands use 15 or more. A wide range of relevant hashtags will allow your content to be easily searchable and increases your chances of getting onto the Explore page — the Instagram engagement jackpot.
INCREASE YOUR REACH WITH GEOTAGS
Another key component of Instagram is geotagging — documenting where you are in the photo. You can be precise (the exact restaurant you’re dining at) or broad (the neighborhood the restaurant is located in) when geotagging.
Adding a geotag to your photo increases your visibility because the tagged photo is forever a part of that tagged location. Every time someone searches for photos that were taken in a specific location your tagged photo will be displayed in the search results. Just as hashtags group together content based on relevance, geotagging organizes content based on locations.
A quick word of caution — if your profile is public or you have a lot of followers, be careful of when you share your location as this information is viewable to all who follow you.
EDIT YOUR PHOTOS
A well-edited photo can turn an average image into an extraordinary image. Less is more is the mantra you should always keep in mind when you’re composing, capturing, and especially editing photos.
In the early years of Instagram, selecting a filter was probably the hardest and most important decision to make before sharing. Now, there are hundreds of photo editing apps you can use to make your photos picture-perfect. From selecting the best filter for your photo to adjusting the white balance and tonal contrast, there’s an editing app for every level of expertise.
ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE
Instagram isn’t necessarily what you’d consider a traditional networking tool. However, the key to using Instagram to build your network or bolster your brand is to encourage engagement.
For those who leave a nice comment on your photo, acknowledge them with a reply or a simple tap of the Instagram heart. Follow your peers and brands within your industry, like and comment on photos that inspire you and send a direct message to someone you want to engage with. In doing so, you’ll build a meaningful follower base and who doesn’t like a little affirmation.
START A CONVERSATION WITH STORIES
Stories serve a different function than a traditional static post. Over 400 million people use Stories daily. From following along with your favorite brands and influencers to connecting with friends, the Stories feature allows several different types of engagement.
The power of Stories lies within the exclusive, personal experience that connects your organization to its followers. Since the posts you create in this feature are time-sensitive, there’s a sense of urgency around the content. Use the Questions sticker to gather responses from your audience in real-time, take a Poll and share the results or add music to a Boomerang to engage with your audience. These features allow you to create truly unique content that will leave your followers wanting more.
There are several different categories your potential Story content will fall into: tutorials, user-generated content, behind-the-scenes and special announcements. You can also use Stories to draw attention to a new static post — followers will often see a Story before a static post. Using stories to redirect their attention to your page to check out the new post is an excellent way to get greater post engagement. The same rings true with static posts — don’t be afraid to point your followers to your Stories in the caption.
PROTECT YOUR REPUTATION
Regardless of why you post, it’s important you protect your reputation. Just as with any social media platform, be careful to not post anything questionable. What you caption your photos and even whom you follow can affect how your brand may be perceived.
These tips are important to remember and start implementing to help you organically increase your engagement on Instagram. However, even if you implement every one of these tips but are inauthentic, it will all be for nothing.
All people — including your Instagram followers — crave authenticity and can sniff out fakeness pretty quickly. Users want to engage with relatable, reliable and thought-provoking content which will flow best from an open and honest point of view from your brand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Skaggs is the co-founder of BODDHI Branding, a creative agency with a vision to authentically and creatively construct stories to help your brand grow. Digital and social media, branding, recruitment and content strategy are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Dedicated to giving back Chris also co-founded Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, Thrive Global, CBS Radio, Recruiter.com and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.