Post-COVID-19 Instagram Growth Hacking, and the 1 Thing Not to Do

I have a lot of people reach out to me regarding social media. They want to know how I got verified (the blue tick) on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and especially Instagram. Since having a social media presence is an important piece of personal branding, people ask me things like what to post, when to post, how often to post, and where to post. 

Let’s face it, social media can be confusing, overwhelming, and at times competitive. It makes sense, then, that everyone (including myself) is looking for the latest trends, advice, growth hacks – you name it. 

In a Post-COVID-19 world, with more and more people turning to social media to be social, I am especially interested to step up my game.

It’s a lot of effort, but when done right, social media channels can be a powerful communication and connection tools.

In all transparency, my favorite platform is Twitter. It’s where I spend most of my time, and as a result, where I have my largest following. Facebook, I have never really been excited about, and though I cross-post there, I am never actually on Facebook. I think I have thousands of friend requests that I’ve never accepted, so if you have requested to be my friend, don’t be offended; it’s just not my platform. 

I do like Instagram, but I have had a hard time growing my account. Personally, I have wanted to learn more about Instagram, and I have found that there are always lots of great tips, but few seem easy to implement. 

In my research for best practices, I often feel like I’m wasting my time, scrolling through pages upon pages of self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ ranting on about how you need to create thumb-stopping content and the followers will come.

But what happens if you create amazing content consistently and are still yielding dismal results? 

Welcome to my world (And likely yours).

In my quest for info that will help me to grow my social media accounts (Including more platforms than just Instagram), a wise friend once told me a secret.

“If you want to learn about social media, then look for someone younger than you who is getting more traction than you.” 

And that’s where Laurence Moss comes in. He is a 15-year-old entrepreneur and owner of the full-service Instagram marketing agency Greedy Growth, who is making a name for himself as an industry leader in the Instagram marketing industry. 

Over the past two years, Laurence has built up a staggering amount of Instagram accounts for other people, all while growing his own Instagram network to over 100,000 followers.

If you find yourself, right now thinking, “How does this kid do it?” you are reading my mind. 

Laurence initially found one of my articles on Influencive, 3 Things Holding You Back From Building the Personal Brand You Want. One of the tips I discussed in the article was how to get people to know who you are.

He then reached out to me on Linkedin, to share with me that I was missing some low-hanging opportunities for people on Instagram to learn who I was.

This got me intrigued, and I asked Laurence for some specific suggestions to help me grow my Instagram reach. 

I am a big fan of learning the basics in all I do, whether sports, business, or social media. 

I connected with Laurence, and over a couple of months, he helped open my eyes to a specific series of valuable strategies and tips to up my Instagram game. 

I found value in them, so I wanted to share them with you. 

Whether you’re trying to get more sales, more followers, more likes, more comments, or anything in between, here are 9 things I have learned from Laurence.

Incorporate Better Questions to CoExist With Your Content

Laurence said that “people who are scrolling through your feeds, consume your content quickly.” He went on to explain that to get them to stop, you need more than a shiny image. The reality is that many people scroll through posts with a reckless swiping thumb, and even if they love your content for a brief enough time to stop and click the heart to acknowledge they “like” something, they will surely be scrolling on just as fast. 

But how do you stop them and get them to engage?

Laurence reminded me that it can be as simple as asking a question in your social copy. “If you prompt them and ask them a question,” Laurence says, “then you’ll immediately notice a huge spike in comments, which will make the Instagram algorithm push your content to even more people.”

So, you will start to notice that I will be asking more questions along with my stick figure posts. Don’t be afraid to engage and share your answers with me!

Not All Followers Are Created Equal

Here’s the thing: if you’re just getting started with your Instagram page, whether you’re a personal brand or a business, people will not find your page. 

Let’s be real here: when you start, your “engagement rate” is at zero. The truth hurts, I know. 

And even having posted over 3,500 posts on Instagram, sometimes I feel like my engagement is close to zero. It is frustrating and honestly makes me lose interest in the platform. What does your engagement rate even mean? It means Instagram’s ability to push your content to new people. However long it might take, you need to build up a substantial engagement rate before you reach that “hands-off” growth level. 

Laurence shared with me that this means you need to let new people find your content, and even further, new people who are likely to engage with your content. 

How do you go ahead and do that? 

Laurence outlined how the best way to go about this is to find an Instagram page which posts similar content to you, and start following the people who have liked their posts. They’ll then notice you post very similar content and they will most likely go ahead and follow you, and engage on your future posts.

So the question to ask yourself is, who is your target audience? And if you can’t explain who they are, then you can’t find others who share similar audiences. 

I talk about this a lot in my keynotes and workshops, and I cover it in my 3rd TEDx, called Why No One Cares What You Do. The reality is that you are not for anyone or everyone.

Once you decide target accounts who cater towards your target audience, then the simple hack is to start following their followers. Those followers will, in turn, see who you are, and if your content resonates with them, they will follow you. 

Since I mainly post my stick figure drawings on Instagram, I am going to search out other stick figure artists, and start following their followers!

Engagement Group Myths Busted

If you have not heard of an “engagement group,” think of it as a group of people who are mutually supporting each other’s posts.  

To best understand how they work, Laurence first explained the myths about them. 

Some people believe Instagram will flag your account if you use them, other people think they will make your posts go viral. 

The truth of it? Neither. 

Some people use engagement groups so they can manipulate the algorithm, by making Instagram think their content is engaging with all these artificial likes and comments and therefore recommending it to other new users browsing on the explore page. While this may have worked back in 2018 and before, this is not the case in 2020.” 

To understand if engagement groups will really help you out, you need to understand how the Instagram algorithm works. I turned to Laurence to give a detailed explanation: The one thing Instagram wants is to increase the retention rates of their users, essentially making them stay on the app longer so they can serve the users more ads and make more money. Remember, social media platforms are businesses, and their goal is to make money. I think sometimes we forget this. To make their users more engaged in the platform, Instagram needs to throw the most engaging and high retention content at its users, which is how the “explore page” came about. 

Engagement groups can help, when used the right way. But it is not the only way. 

A better way to ensure an organic and ‘authentic’ way of boosting your content, is to make personal connections on the platform with other people who are likely to want your content. That could look like following then contacting two people a day (at minimum). This is not a mass following tactic. This is a strategy that helps you build personal connections on Instagram. Don’t rely entirely on engagement groups where you make a commitment to like and comment on a “quid pro quo” basis to support each others’ posts. Instead, research and find key people to network with. 

The idea is to connect with real people on Instagram, to spark more organic engagement, which could then lead to higher chances that your posts are seen by more people. Who knows, if you do it right, it might be a key part of getting your posts going viral.

I am going to try to ping at least two people a day through Instagram and look at this tactic as a long-term one.

Push Crazy Traffic Making Your Highlights a Target Destination

So what are highlights and how can you leverage them? Highlights are a space in your profile on Instagram where you can essentially pin Instagram stories so people can watch them forever, even after the normal 24 hours have passed. 

The reality is that if you are verified (the blue tick mark) or have 10,000 followers or more, you can have the option in Instagram stories to allow viewers to “swipe up” to connect them with an external link. 

The better you are, at driving traffic to your links containing your products/services, the more you can leverage Instagram to make income.

My ears perked when listening to Laurence talk about this, because I am in the process of launching a Stick Figure Store.

He explained that the first step is to get in the habit of posting stories on your profile as normal. Once they’re published, you will have the option to add them to highlights. 

“Let’s say you owned an e-commerce store that sold watches, and you had 3 lines of watch types,” Laurence said. “You could create three highlights, each consisting of one story per watch. If a potential customer then went to your highlights, they could select the type of watch and browse through your pre-uploaded visuals of stunning watches. If they decide they want more info, they just swipe up. It’s such an easy way to capture traffic that can be set up in minutes. And the stunning thing? There are millions of brands on Instagram with zero highlights whatsoever.”

But for those who are not verified or have 10,000, you can still leverage the power of highlights to organize your best stories and help it to drive better traffic to your profile. 

Once I launch my e-commerce Stick Figure Store, I will work on better use of my stories and highlights. I always say that you hit what you aim at. So I am going to work on my skills of giving my followers a target to hit!

Sharing Is More Than CaringEspecially From Influencers

When people have established a huge amount of following, they are often called “influencers,” and when they endorse products and services to their followers, they often do “influence” people to click to learn more. 

Pre-COVID-19, the strategy of influencer marketing helped create brand awareness by leveraging other people’s followers. This strategy still applies today, as the world deals with a global pandemic. 

This strategy is especially important if you own or plan to launch a product-based business. It also works well if you have an ambassador program where others can sell your products through a commission-based program. 

Laurence explained that “not too long ago, Instagram released an update that allowed users to share a feed post to their story, so whoever views their story can go directly to that post. If you as a brand had 10-20 influencers each with more than 10,000 followers pushing all of your content, you’re bound to see a massive boost in engagement, which will trigger the Instagram algorithm into pushing out your content to more and more people. When you bring in more actionable metrics like link clicks, it is likely to learn to more conversions and leads to your product/service.”

If you don’t have products to sell, don’t stress on this strategy. I won’t stress on it till my Stick Figure Store is actually live!

Give Instagram What They Want

Personally I have not run any Instagram ads. Part of it is that I don’t want to spend the money when I don’t have to. Laurence acknowledged that many people dismiss Instagram ads on the premise that it means you’re giving in to Instagram’s own revenue generator. 

You can continue to grow your account organically. But it means you might be seen by less and less people. 

The reality is that organic reach is constantly on the decline, and brands are forced to turn towards ads to supplement their growth and traction. If you are trying to run or start a business, ads might be a necessity. Laurence introduced me to the idea that he and his agency has been using for quite some time: Instagram story ads to gain followers. He shared with me that you can use Instagram story ads to drive traffic to an Instagram profile, and from there if the Instagram profile is set up properly, a large chunk of that traffic will convert to Instagram followers. 

Laurence also introduced to me the concept of “deep links.” 

He said, “When someone clicks on your Instagram story ad, your Instagram profile opens up in a web version of Instagram where the user viewing the ad is not signed in, and therefore cannot follow the profile. The solution is using deep links. Just like, it shortens URLs, but it also does so much more. It offers users who click on the link the opportunity to open the link in the app, so using them could quite literally increase the number of followers you’re gaining from Instagram story ads by tenfold. Setting up your “ad plumbing” is crucial, and the links should allow users to have the ability to actually follow you.” 

I asked Laurence what all this technical babble means for me if I wanted to try to gain followers through “deep link” story ads. 

“A realistic example of a low cost per click for an Instagram story ad targeting a worldwide audience is usually under ten cents, going all the way to even one cent,” Laurence explained.” With a 20-50% profile visit to follower conversion rate you could literally start gaining hyper targeted followers for a few cents each.”

He now actually has me thinking about investing in Instagram ads… for the first time ever!

Secret GiveawaysNot Anymore

A popular Instagram marketing strategy among massive brands that want social proof with real followers who actually might engage, too, are using ‘secret giveaways.’ The host of the giveaways are responsible for handpicking massive influencers and buying a prize for the giveaway. 

Once they’ve done that, they’ll pay the influencers, who usually accumulate hundreds of thousands of likes per post, to make a post to push traffic to the giveaway post on the host’s account. 

The people wanting to enter the giveaway want to win the prize, but what do they have to do to enter? 

It’s simple. 

They have to follow everyone the host is following, which could be anywhere from 10-50 people. As a result, anyone on the hosts following list will ultimately gain the same amount of followers as the number of people who have entered the giveaway to win the prize. The people on this list have to pay for their ‘spot,’ which depending on the size of the influencers, could go up to tens of thousands of dollars.

It doesn’t stop at social proof though. If the hosts of the giveaway are clever enough, they can only select influencers whose audience are within a specific category, and then only allow brands of that category to buy spots, meaning that the brands will find their new followers don’t just sit there, they’ll start to engage with their content as they have similar interests. It then becomes a double win for the brands paying for spots, and they could even convert some of their newfound followers into customers of their products and services, perhaps even making a direct ROI.

This does not, however, mean that you need to go out of your way to free up thousands of dollars to spend on an overpriced giveaway that does not even meet your expectations. Instead, you could bunch together some of your friends with a few thousand followers and join forces to promote a giveaway. This will allow you to all split the cost of the prize for the giveaway! If you manage to gather enough friends, you could generate a few thousand entrants to the giveaway, meaning everyone on the following list will gain a few thousand followers.

I might actually try this!

Use the Mother/Child Method

What is the mother/child method?

I sure didn’t know.

“Picture the ‘mother’ account as the brand’s main account, and the children are the multiple fan pages, which are the ‘child’ accounts,” says Laurence. Except it won’t be the fans that make the fan pages; it’ll be you. By attempting to grow all of these fan accounts and subtly linking them to the mother account (your brand), you can push huge amounts of traffic to your brand, and as such grow it.” 

Laurence shared that the best way to optimise this is by ‘mentioning your brand’s username in the fan pages bios’ and ‘tagging the brand in any posts made by the fan pages, which should be niche relevant.’ 

To make this work, he said that you will need a strategy within a strategy. This means that you need to formulate the best way to get the fan pages attention as, without it, nothing is going to be pushed towards the brand page. 

I am not sure if I want to manage more than one Instagram account. But for those that do have the time for this, I can see how it could work. 

Private Shoutouts and Viral Marketing

Ever wondered how meme pages or individuals grow thousands of followers even while they’re private? 

I sure have.

I asked Laurence, and he explained. 

For some of these larger private accounts, those who run them, formulate and orchestrate meticulous and crafty “shoutouts,” commonly known as ‘caps,’ which is short for “captions.”

So how can you better leverage ‘caps’ on your account strategy?

First, let’s understand why they work. 

This specific type of shoutout is not dedicated to a post, or a story, it’s just subtly included in the captions. 

Two meme pages, for example, could do their normal style of post, gathering in a much larger amount of engagement and attention that a spammy shoutout post would, but insert into their captions something along the lines of ‘follow @(other page) for part two of this video’. 

While this may not seem very special, it is actually very lucrative, and practically all of the private big meme pages that exist on Instagram today have used this method in some way shape or form to get where they are now. 

Laurence broke it down even further for me. “It is also important to consider what type of content goes viral on Instagram. For shoutouts, it is best to use video content with back text at the top and the bottom of the video, with a white background behind the text. Emojis will also drive virality, and if you can, ask the poster of the shoutout to include a call to action. Remember to be subtle, so the call to action doesn’t just scare away the post viewers, especially if it just says ‘go follow @account’. Instead, try using a call to action that encourages viewers to comment, and add in your username to the caption subtly, even if it’s just a credit to you for the content.”

I’ll have to really think through this strategy, and interested to start searching for the right type of accounts to consider approaching for a shoutout.

Of the tips Laurence has been helping me with, I found these nine to be the most compelling. But I am also someone who wants to know what not to do just as much as what to do. So I asked what the one thing is that I should not do as I work to build my Instagram following. Without a beat, he said, “Don’t buy fake followers.” 

Don’t Buy Fake Followers

At first, buying fake followers may seem like a good idea. It’s an easy way to obtain social proof, or even clout, without digging into the depths of your wallet. However, Laurence reasoned that there are some “dire consequences that the wider community might not realise.” 

When you buy fake followers, you are essentially digging a grave for your Instagram account. 

As per the name ‘fake followers,’ the followers that you buy do not have real people behind them. They are bots, auto-created and managed in bulk. This means that they are susceptible to being banned.

“Many people may not realise this, but when an account following you gets banned, and the profile disappears, they get taken off your following list,” Laurence clarified.

This means that especially with Instagram’s tight security infrastructure of 2020, the followers you buy will rapidly drop soon after purchase. 

This is where Instagram’s algorithm kicks in. From their point of view, if you buy fake followers, then those fake followers disappear, the algorithm might think that the drop in followers is due to bad content. Accounts that lose followers are not the sort of accounts whose content Instagram wants to be pushing to new people. As such, buying fake followers may result in your engagement rate dropping. This might be impossible to recover from, crippling the chances for future organic growth on your account.

In Conclusion 

Due to the versatile and ever-changing nature of Instagram, there is no set game plan or specific parameters to achieve guaranteed success in growing your following. If I have learned anything from Leonard, it’s that you must constantly A/B test and see what works for you, because what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

That means you can take these strategies as a baseline formula, and tweak them into growth hacking resources that will work for you. 

Instagram is constantly changing. From the type of content that is being favoured by the algorithm, to what Instagram defines as viral content that deserves to end up on the explore page. And as such, your strategy should change too.

But, having a strategy in the first place, is what I have been missing, so I am inspired by this new information, and excited to test some of them out. 

As a brand owner, whether it’s a personal brand or a business, it’s your job to spend time learning and trying strategies until you find what works. 

Laurence said, the only way to do it wrong, is if you don’t invest the time in learning and trying. 

So start to invest your time, and I bet you will see some gains. 

Oh, and follow me on Instagram too

If you have your own Instagram hacks and ideas that have worked for you, please share, so we can all learn together!

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