Instagram is my social media soul mate. I’ve been on the platform for over three years, and it’s hard to imagine a day without it. It takes all of the clutter of Twitter and the “I really don’t care about your life” updates from Facebook, and simplifies your experience into a visually engaging feed of highly filtered photographs, ahhh. It’s everything I’m looking for when waking up in the morning, killing time on the train, or drinking wine post-work.
Mindless, visually engaging updates from friends, brands, and celebrities; yes I’m in full-blown Insta-love. And clearly, I’m not alone. With over 400 million users, Instagram is the fastest-growing social network amongst adults in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center.
Now that the majority of consumers are Insta-obsessed, marketers have been scrambling to keep up. For many the territory feels unknown and intimidating. You’ve mastered the art of the 140-character tweet and you’ve devised a strategy to reach customers through the cluttered Facebook news feed, but Instagram is like starting from scratch. Marketers are ashamed to see their follower count at 10 people after 4 weeks of posting updates.
Here’s a few tips to get your act together and start generating a much higher, less-embarrassing follower base free of charge.
#1: Use Trending Hashtags
#DUH. You know what hashtags are unless you’ve been living under a rock. You probably use them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Google+ (if you’re into that). Nowadays, most wedding events are even branded with a couple’s hashtag. Why? Because of Instagram. People post pictures and rather than stalking unknown attendees, you can see all of the Instagrams through the common hashtag page.
But, which hashtags should you use for your business? Popular ones. Shockingly enough, the hashtag #ourcompanyisthebestandyoushophere isn’t going to get a lot of traction. Instead, use the search icon to see which hashtags are currently trending.
Check out the brand below that did just that with the trending hashtag #veteransday (this was on Veterans Day, of course). Not only did they take a powerful topic and hashtag, but they made it relevant to their brand offerings:
If you’re not sold on the day’s trending hashtags, check out which tags your competitors are having success with. If you have a hashtag in mind, but are unsure of the volume, search for it yourself to see how often users are utilizing it.
Time and time again we’ve heard that how over hashtagging can be harmful, so how many hashtags is too many hashtags? An interesting study from Buffer, which analyzed a set of users with 1,000 or fewer followers, found that interactions are highest on Instagram posts that use 11 or more hashtags. “Don’t sweat your amount of Instagram hashtags,” says Buffer’s Kevan Lee. “They could be your best bet for growing a fast following on Instagram.”
With that said, use common sense. You don’t want your 50+ hashtagged post eating up a follower’s entire mobile screen.
#2: Tag People in Your Posts
I’m not talking about your mom or some rando on the street. Tag people you either want to connect with for partnership reasons or people who you believe fall into your target buyer persona(s).
Someone who does this really well is oats enthusiast (who I happened to study abroad with in college), Rachel Mansfield. I literally watched Rachel grow her Instagram following from the ground up, and with almost 20K followers and a beautiful blog, the brand she’s built is really impressive. One thing I’ve noticed about almost every one of her mouth-watering posts is that she tags other bloggers or food brands in her Instagram posts.
I’ve even seen this result in other bloggers re-posting her content to their large Instagram audiences or sharing her recipes on their sites. Partnerships can evolve from the simple tag of a photo, which will often greatly increase your reach and follower base. It’s pretty remarkable!
Do some research to determine who to tag and then start including these brands or individuals in your relevant posts from time to time. Make sure you mix up who you’re tagging to not annoy potential connections.
#3: Like & Comment on Others’ Feeds
This one’s pretty self-explanatory and shouldn’t be understated. It’s worked on myself multiple times. For instance, my boyfriend and I often truck up to his family’s house in Camden, Maine for summer weekends, and when a new restaurant in town liked one of my Instagram photos from a weekend excursion we decided to dine there after browsing through their Instagram profile and checking out their menu online.
Moral of the story? Interact with your target audience and followers will ensue!
#4: Include Your Location
Speaking from the example above, without including the location “Camden, ME” in my post, the chances of the restaurant finding me, liking my photo, and making us aware of them were likely nonexistent. Using geo-tagging when creating a new post will help people find your brand. People often search for photos by location, myself included, so ensuring you’re tagging the location of the photo, especially for high-popularity locations (think Central Park or popular downtown hang outs), is a simple way to expand your reach.
#5: Promote Your Instagram Everywhere
You’ve likely built up a presence on other social networks, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Vine, or Periscope. Think about the strategy you used when growing those channels. Did you promote them on your website with social share icons? Did you include links on your blog to your social channels? You should be doing the same with Instagram to grow awareness.
Start off by connecting your Instagram account with Facebook to upload the fan base you’ve already built. Run Instagram campaigns across your most popular social channels to build more exposure. Encourage your employees, partners, and brand followers to get involved by sending out reminders that you’re on Instagram. Send a company-wide reminder to add a link to your company Instagram in employee email signatures (this is especially important for customer service, sales, and whoever else is interacting with leads and customers). Include your Instagram handle of your business card and LinkedIn profile.
Also, create your own unique business hashtags and unique hashtags for specific campaigns, and ask your employees, customers, and partners to use them. “KitKat uses the tag #haveabreak to incorporate their fan’s photos under a tag that praises their catch phrase. The nearly 12,000 posts are right on target,” says MadeFreshly content manager, Rachel Daley.
Be aggressive about exposing everyone who touches your brand to your account. If you fail to get your account in front of people, growth can’t happen.
Now that you have all the secret tips and tricks at your fingertips there’s no excuse to not grow your following. Before you know it you’ll have a larger fan base than Kim Kardashian, so get to work!
Featured Image: Image by Margot da Cunha
All screenshots by Margot da Cunha. Taken November 2015.