Instagram has quickly become one of the most widely used social media platforms available today with over 400 million accounts and well over 80 million photos posted per day. Big brands have also quickly caught onto the potential for Instagram as the platform with the highest measurable quality content engagement rates. Making your account stand out from the crowd is hard work. There is no shortcut to real success on Instagram (or any other social media or online marketing platform in my experience unless you want to get your accounts banned and closed down very quickly) unless you are already a celebrity or major public figure. Success will come down to a combination of strategies including quality content and the ability to maximise exposure for your account by utilising the features of platform to the best of it’s ability.
Outside of my @tassiegrammer Instagram account I also run an online marketing company that consults with many brands and organisations for digital marketing strategies, including social media, and over the past 12 months especially Instagram. I have learnt many things from trial and error over the past few years of how to build successful social media accounts / strategies and I would like to provide you some of the tips and strategies I apply to my own Instagram accounts, as well as those that I teach directly to my clients.
1. #Hashtags, #Hashtags, #Hashtags
“What are hashtags?” is a common question I get asked quite regularly. Quite simply, hashtags are a way to categorise your content and make them searchable outside of your current follower base. Within an Instagram post, hashtags become clickable and a feed of all posts in chronological order that have that exact hashtag can be viewed. Think of a hashtag as a way to discover or organise content from your local region or by the type of content contained within your image. Does your image contain a kangaroo? Then the hashtag #kangaroo may be applicable. Was your image shot in Australia? Then the Tourism Australia hashtag #seeaustralia may be a good choice to add to your image. Using hashtags that matter to your niche or type of content will help improve engagement rates from a targeted audience.
Each image can have a maximum of 30 hashtags. “30 hashtags?” you may ask. Yes this does seem like a lot, but if you want to maximise the reach of your post then no matter how big or how small your account may be, I highly recommend using the full 30 on each image. What I personally do is create blocks of hashtags in a notes application like Evernote on my phone and copy and paste blocks that are applicable or suit the content of the image into the post as a secondary comments. Based on the content of the image or location that is was shot in, I will use different hashtags on each image. It does not matter how big or small your account is, if you use 30 hashtags you are potentially maximising the exposure for each and every individual post you make.
There is a lot to choosing the correct hashtags to maximise exposure for your account including ensuring they are relevant to the content you are producing. I will cover this in more detail in a future article.
2. Top Posts / Trending Hashtags
Approximately 6 months ago Instagram started to introduce a “Top Posts” section at the top of every individual hashtag search. Based on the current configuration, there are 9 trending posts for every hashtag. Instagram do not make it public knowledge of the exact trending post algorithm to prevent people being able to game the system through dodgy tactics. To get into the trending posts section you will need to get a certain amount of engagement on your post within a set timeframe, which needs to be greater than other posts on the same hashtag. So effectively as a base rule, the bigger your account, the more likelihood you have of generating enough engagement to reach the top posts.
So how does this help smaller accounts? Well firstly, targeting hashtags with less traffic and a smaller amount of engagement / post (as well as highly niche specific hashtags which are more likely to have people engaging with your content) within the top posts section is the exact tactic that will need to be used here. Knowing your account size and the amount of engagement required on any hashtag will allow you to tailor your hashtag targeting to suit. There is no point in only targeting hashtags that require 1000+ likes (or likes + comments) to get into the top posts if your average engagement rate is nowhere near that high. Mixing up your hashtags to include those with a lower rate of required engagement (but still being applicable to your content) will help to maximise your exposure. If your content is able to surface as a top post, you will get more engagement as a result of your posts being highly visible across hashtags. Targeting hashtags with a tiered approach of a larger percentage of smaller hashtags with a mix of bigger hashtags will help your posts gain engagement momentum, and at the same time maximise exposure for your account, therefore allowing people to find and follow you.
It is very important to research the hashtags you are going to be using and compare these to your account size and average engagement rates if you want to reach the top posts. Over time your account will grow and the use of smaller hashtags will become less important. But until you get the audience size required to reach the top posts on larger hashtags, this strategy will help you to grow a targeted audience and higher engagement rates for the type of content you are producing.
3. Be Part Of The Community
Instagram is one of the most supportive of all social media communities. Getting out there and being part of the community is a great way to increase exposure for your account. Liking, following and engaging with other people’s content is a way to “announce” your account to others and to build relationships with people who are producing content you like. Leaving comments on content you can relate to will quite often lead to you generating more followers yourself. The average person loves it when they receive a compliment for the content they create and will quite often thank you for doing so. Each and every comment or like you leave elsewhere is also generating a larger “footprint” and opportunity for others to find your account. So while hashtags are hugely important for maximising exposure for your posts, leaving comments and liking other content will also in turn potentially generate even more exposure for your account. Use hashtags yourself to search for content you like. If your particular tastes are for long exposure photos, do a search for #longexposure or similar hashtags and engage with the content you really like.
4. Engage With Your Audience
So getting an audience is one thing, but keeping them is another. Generating quality content that people want to see whether that is through amazing imagery, incredible stories or both is the key thing to a higher engagement rate on your content. But once people do start to like and leave comments on your posts, it is very important to engage with them in return. I see it time and time again where people leave really nice, supportive comments or genuine questions on posts only to never have a reply from the person or organisation creating the content. Thanking people for taking the time to leave a comment is one sure fire way to improve the chances of them doing so again on your next post. If people ask questions about how or where a shot is taken, reply to them. If someone wants to know the camera settings used, take the time to give them the information they are asking for. Obviously the bigger your account, the more likelihood there is of there being a lot more comments to reply to. But the Instagram community as a whole notices these things, and over time you will receive many more comments and build great relationships with the people who choose to follow and engage with you.
5. Post During Busy Times
Knowing the time of the day that your audience is most likely to be online is a huge factor in people seeing your content. This strategy is simple – the more accounts people follow, the more content that is likely to be in their feeds. Instagram have what is called a Linear Feed (apparently) which means that every piece of content produced by the accounts you have “subscribed” to by following it will appear in a chronological order sorted by the most recent post first. By knowing the times of the day that your audience is most likely to be checking their feeds, you are maximising the opportunity to have your content as close to the top as possible when people start to scroll through their feed. From personal experience through a lot of analytical research on many accounts, the busiest times of the day are first thing in the morning before people start work, or around 6pm – 8pm when people are starting to settle down after coming home from work. Sunday nights typically tend to be the busiest time of the week. This is a trend that occurs throughout the world, so working to those times will help to ensure your content is surfacing at the times people are most likely to be using Instagram.
6. Know Your Audience
Why exactly has a particular person chosen to follow you? More often than not, it is because the follower can relate to, or really appreciate the style of content you are producing. Knowing your audience is something that you will learn over time. Tailoring your content around what people are wanting to see is without a doubt one of the best ways to take your account from nothing to awesome in the quickest possible time. You can learn a lot about your followers by literally looking at their accounts. You will also be able to work out quite quickly who in your follower base leaves comments and tries to have a discussion with you. But knowing where they are from and what time of the day they are likely to be on based on their location is also a very important piece of information which can help maximise your account exposure. There are quite a few analytical tools appearing on the market now that can help break down your audience demographics. The one that I use most often is Iconosquare. You will learn a lot about your account and get a lot of key information about who your audience is and where they are from tools like this.
7. Know Your Image Sizes
Instagram recently introduced the ability to post non-square images to the platform, which has given photographers the world over far more options with the type of content they create. I know from personal experience that when Instagram was only allowing square images to be posted, I had to adapt my photography style to suit the requirements of the square format. When the new sizes were introduced there was a lot of debate within the community about whether the changes were a good thing or not. My personal opinion is that choice is always a good thing. Through a lot of research and analytics of images across many accounts posted in the various sizes I have noticed something which I feel is very noticeable – and that is the Portrait 1080 x 1350 image size generates a lot more engagement than the Square or Landscape formats. I believe this is simply because the images fill the majority of up to date mobile phone screen models better than the smaller landscape and square formatted images. If you are noticing different, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
The “optimised” image sizes are as follows –
Square – 1080px x 1080px
Portrait – 1080px x 1350px
Landscape – 1080px x 566px.
8. Quality Hubs Are Your Friends
In much the same way as correctly utilising hashtags and engaging with your audience can improve exposure for your content, having a “hub” repost your images with credit back to your account is yet another awesome way to gain followers. So what is a hub? In Instagram terms a hub is an account that reposts content that is generated by other users, generally with a highly targeted niche or location based focus. But you own the copyright to your images I hear you say? Well yes of course you do, but the overall benefits of improving exposure for your account really are worth having quality hubs reposting your content. Having a quality hub account showcase your work to what is potentially an entirely different audience than you have can generate incredible exposure for your images, therefore potentially leading to a boost in follower numbers and also an increase in likes and comments across your previous and future posts.
Unfortunately though, just as there are very good hubs that do the right thing and credit your images correctly, there are also many accounts that repost other people’s images without their knowledge and without directly crediting the content producer. This is illegal, and in both cases, whether you are being credited or not you do have the rights to request your content be removed from any account. Weigh up the potential benefits of the increased exposure and ongoing relationship with the hubs that do the right thing and you will most likely agree that it is well worth it to have your content reach a much bigger audience, and again increase your overall account “footprint” and the chance of people who are interested in your content to find, follow and engage with you.