These days, people are flocking in droves to the Instagram platform and, with over 800 million active users, it comes as no surprise why people who have things to market and sell (like you) are eager to build a presence on this social media platform. Although Instagram has been around for over 8 years, it is more popular than ever! In the last year, Instagram has pretty much obliviated Snapchat with its introduction of nearly identical stories, features, and filters, and it is poising itself to take on Youtube by unveiling a new video uploading feature called IGTV. If you have been lurking in the shadows, waiting to see what this social media platform does before you start taking it “seriously”, now’s the time to crawl of hiding. Since Facebook’s daily usage is dropping quickly, anyone who has something to say or sell SHOULD be getting serious about Instagram literally today.
This is something I felt as a social media marketing professional (and someone who has personally grown their Instagram to over 11k followers) I previously struggled with this platform, despite overconsuming courses, guides, and keynotes about how to grow on it. It wasn’t until late 2017, when all of the hullabaloo surrounding Facebook starting to come to light, that I decided to start taking it seriously because, honestly, I was fearful; if Facebook were to sink, I’d lose my entire livelihood. Nobody wants to be a one-trick pony, so I decided to start improving my Instagram knowledge and make a solid effort to hit a substantial follower count within a relatively short time frame. What I wanted to do is see what was possible as far as strategic growth within the platform in a relatively short amount of time. Like the good student I am, I did my homework before hitting it hard – reading what the current acclaimed “experts” were saying about Instagram and how to hack it for fast growth.
Much to my surprise, a lot of the existing information about how to grow an Instagram following fast that I found talked more about the “content” and less about the actual strategy (what you need to do) behind the platform. There ARE A LOT of great resources by Insta-famous, Instagram influencers (models, bloggers, photographers, etc.) about how to build a visually attractive Instagram feed that highlights your personal brand and style. With the common advice being this: follow a color scheme, treat your Instagram like a micro-blog and document your lifestyle, use professional quality photographs, be inspirational in your captions, and if you are not yet getting sponsored posts, post as if you are, tagging brands etc.
Now, don’t get me wrong; this advice is EXCELLENT if you want to know the general info on how these mega-influential, Instagram model accounts come to exist. I would agree 100% with this advice – for anyone who is hoping to turn Instagram into their full-time career, who is ALREADY in the fashion and lifestyle arena, and IF you really have the time (and money) to invest in this sort of Instagram venture. I am certainly not going to poo-poo on the potential that exists on Instagram just to “do Instagram” – but in the same breathe, I would say that most of these suggestions are not practical for someone with a business (unless their business is going to run primarily via Instagram) or for ANYONE whose goals are outside of Instagram, and who are viewing Instagram as one part of a greater online marketing plan.
It also came to my attention that, for some reason, not many people were actually talking about the Instagram Algorithm.
This is shocking, almost, because, when it comes to understanding Facebook and how to be successful on Facebook, “The Algorithm” is depicted as a mythical beast that must be tamed by the knights of lore – if ANYONE wishes to have success on the platform. It has been “known” in the social media industry for a long time that knowing how to play ball with the algorithm is really the secret to success. Because when you know the algorithm, you get reach – and reach equals visibility, and visibility equals growth. Huzzah! Right?
But, yet, for some reason, people tend to forget about the algorithm when they talk about Instagram. This is ironic on various levels as Facebook is the sole owner of Instagram and they have (rather quietly) been gradually applying the same proven algorithmic rules to Instagram ever since they acquired it in 2012.
And honestly, I have to credit 100% my learned experience with the Facebook algorithm; that allowed me to quickly grow my Instagram following from being stuck (for years) in the low thousands to over 11K very shortly over 6 months!
So, here is what we know about the Instagram Algorithm: 10 Expert Tips That Will Give You a Major Leg Up!
1.) Instagram is NOT (I repeat) NOT in chronological order – and it hasn’t been for years. Instagram stopped showing everything you post to everyone who follows you immediately after you post it officially in 2016ish. People still reminisce about the good ol’ days of chronological Instagram but honestly, with literally thousands of options for “what to show” at any given moment, on any given day it shouldn’t come as a surprise WHY they changed it.
2.) Like with Facebook, your reach (how many people see your post) is determined by the amount of engagement that your post gets when it is initially put up. Off the bat, “it is said” that Instagram posts get reach to 10% of your following. Depending on how many of these people “bite” (like or comment) your organic reach gradually increases. If the first initial batch of people who follow you interact with your post quickly, then your post will be prioritized and become more viral.
3.) On Instagram, comments are weighted A LOT MORE than just “hearts” alone. So it is in your best interest to post captions that include questions that nurture engagement AND make sure that you respond to comments on your posts and carry on conversations with commenters. Ignoring comments (not responding) is a common Instagram amateur mistake. No matter what, you should always respond to the comments. Instagram DOES prioritize genuine comments over emojis or “spam” comments. Don’t worry too much about tricking it. Just comment back like a human being.
4.) Commenting is also the primary way that people can discover you (who do not follow you already) – therefore, make sure that in addition to commenting back on your own posts that you write meaningful comments on other people’s posts as well.
5.) Other places where your posts can be discovered (so that your account can grow): Hashtags (so use relevant, well-trafficked ones), Locations (use a location tag always), Suggested for you (these are suggested viral posts/trending posts curated for each user), and in the followers count of people who you follow (this is another place where people can “discover” you).
6.) The search bar and “keywords” are also very relevant on Instagram, so make sure that you optimize your profile. No more of this @myinitialsandthreerandomnumbers illegible profile names. The more obvious the better. And while we are at it, be blatant and include keywords in your bio. If you want to be “search friendly” these are two simple things that you want to get right!
7.) Even a very active and visible Instagram account is going to have a lot of “drive-by” traffic and people who follow then quickly unfollow – that is, if you just “content dump” and don’t engage back with your followers.
Sort of a side note, but when I first started working on my Instagram, I followed a very strict follow back and ALWAYS engage (leave comments, etc.) rule to try to make sure my new followers stuck around. However, as my account grew into the thousands, keeping up with everyone became impossible. So, instead, I started running engagement games to get my most active people to interact with me, so I could go to their accounts and interact with them…
8.) Like with Facebook, Instagram is a “social network” – meaning that there is a “network” web in place that also impacts who sees what and when. To explain this simply, if your friend likes your post and they have many mutual followers in common with you, then those people also become more likely to see that post.
9.) The algorithm is complex. You won’t be able to beat it with tricks, so you may as well join it…
This isn’t really a “tip” but more a reminder to trust that there are reasons why posts don’t get reach and why others do, and it has everything to do with quality as well as the activity of the profile owner (how engaged and active they are with their followers)… I would say that EVERYONE needs to keep this in mind. Try to avoid DUMPING content as best you can and interact outside of your own account.
10.) What we do know about “the algorithm” is that it looks at a variety of behaviours and builds a data profile around each user: what they are interested in (tech, fashion, clothes), who they are interested in (celebs, influencers, other people in their network), what type of posts they interact with (videos, regular square posts, slideshows, text posts, long captions, short captions) – then, based on what “it knows about us” it shows us content that it thinks we will like. The algorithm’s job (on both Facebook and Instagram) is to keep people on the platform longer so that they can make more money showing relevant ads to the user. THAT IS IT. The algorithm is designed to give you as a user more of what feeds your soul and keeps you keep coming back. Once you understand what “the agenda is” – knowing how to please the Instagram Gods (i.e. the algorithm) is easy-ish.
Alright, so we’ve covered a lot of ground in these 10 points; but, honestly, here is what you REALLY need to know!
If you want more Instagram followers (like real followers and not fake, purchased ones from Timbuktu) then you need to be an active user on Instagram and post content that is designed to “engage” the niche demographic that you are after. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is that it is in your best interest “to engage with more content than you post” initially in the building phase so that your account is highly visible. And, then, switch to a maintenance strategy, where you post high-quality, high-value content that encourages interaction (in the comments) between your followers.
Obviously, the content strategies will be different for each account and dependent on what your purpose is (or what you market and sell). You are going to get creative about what it is you are posting. I’ve learned through my own Instagram growth adventures that the trick is to match the content to the audience that you want; therefore, niche-ing, staying on topic, and being attainable and interactive help.
Lastly – and you should all consider this carefully before you hit your grams hard – is that IT IS a time investment, to say the least. If you want the perks, you’ll have to do the work! Unfortunately, many won’t be able to make the effort – and therefore those who do stick with it consistently (who build their epic following) truly deserve the credit for the work that they put in. And after reading this, if you STILL think that growing a huge following on Instagram is simple and easy… I would compel you to try it for yourself!Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.