In a world full of paid ads in your Instagram feed, there are still many ways to grow your brand’s following without spending a dime with the platform. And that goes for both businesses and individuals alike. With organic growth in any sector, engaging a user is everything. Posting just for the heck of it just adds to the clutter of a timeline – just think about how quickly you can scroll from one post to the next.
Much like any of the mainstay social media platforms, Instagram is a whole lot more than just that as we’ve entered a new decade. In 2020, we’ll see Instagram continue its transformation into both an e-commerce platform and a long-form video platform, along with a new focus on conversion through influencer marketing.
More than any other platform, remember what Instagram does best: content display. It’s a channel that will reward your engaging content more than any other, in between the memes, pics of family and that latest meal that Karen had at the hottest restaurant in town.
Who's using Instagram?
Let’s take a look at who’s using the platform, because it will give you a great idea as to why you need to pay attention to Instagram as an avenue for your brand. In no particular order, according to Hootsuite: It’s the second-most downloaded free app in the Apple Store; 1 Billion people use Instagram every month, including 500 million who use Stories every day; more than 112.5 million users in the United States; 37% of American adults overall use Instagram, with 67% of 18-29 year olds and another 47% of 30-49 year olds.
And perhaps the most eye-popping stat of all … Instagram users will spend an average of 28 minutes per day on the platform. That’s a lot of time for them to find your brand.
Content that resonates on Instagram
There are quite a few different ways to post content – whether it’s a ‘feed post’ or a Story or going Live and even IGTV which presents a great home for longer-form video content. And on each of those, this platform allows you to get very creative.
Think about behind-the-scenes opportunities or perhaps a “how it’s made” type piece of content. Then there are interviews and step-by-step tutorials. And as it goes for any post on any social media platform, you only have so long to catch a user’s attention. Make sure it’s engaging, especially because sharing on this platform is slightly different than a Retweet or a Facebook Share. We’ll get into how the organic followers are found in a second. One quick thing to ALWAYS have in the back of your mind when creating a channel growth plan: just because it’s trendy, doesn’t mean it’s for you. If memes don’t fit your brand, don’t post them. If the next social media challenge makes absolutely no sense to what you value, don’t do it. Simple enough, right? Always check yourself against your brand’s voice or guidelines.
Photos and videos should be engaging and communicate value. Use the 60/40 rule as one of the best tips to grow your Instagram audience: for every 10 pictures, six should be of your product/service, and four should be of lifestyle, engaging photos or videos, relatable quotes and user-generated content.
Tips to grow your Instagram following
More than any other platform, when you aren’t spending money on advertisements, hashtags are still king to be discovered by new users. Hashtags can help you gain 12% engagement, on average. But put some strategy into the terms you are using in them. The more broad the hashtag, the more competition you have when it comes to being discovered by a new user. You should be aiming for hashtags that don’t have too many posts, and where the featured top posts have, on average, a similar number of likes that you get on your own posts. Selecting hashtags this way makes your post more likely to stand out and feature in the top posts associated with the hashtag.
Part of that hashtag strategy is not to use all 30 that Instagram allows. Research hashtags where you can be discovered and use between 10-15 – any more than that and you’ll look like a spammer. Oh, and don’t just copy and paste what you used yesterday. Shake things up and perhaps have a few different groups of hashtags to post on any given day. You don’t want Instagram to mark you as spam.
In addition to using hashtags on your own posts, consider tracking your key hashtags and commenting on posts from related accounts. This can help expose your brand to a new audience. By offering valuable thoughts on insights on related content, you will add another avenue for follower growth.
The best Instagram bios have a few things in common: they give the reader a clear picture of what the brand is about, include something that piques the reader’s interest, such as a relatable detail or humorous line, and prompt the reader to take a specific action. Your name field is one of the few places on Instagram that can be searched. That means it can also be optimized for SEO. Unless your brand is already a household name, use the 30 available characters to state your industry, niche or service after your name. This way, your profile will rank higher in the search results when people search for your keyword on Instagram.
With so many daily users (we mentioned 500 million above) – you’d be remiss to forget about two of the newer features on the platform, at least when it comes to brands. Using hashtags in your Stories and IGTV videos can expose your brand to large audiences, if you’re lucky enough to get your story featured in the hashtag’s highlight reel.
We recommend using the full 10 hashtags for a greater chance of getting featured. Avoid making your Stories look cluttered and spammy by shrinking the hashtags and hiding them in the background or behind an emoji or gif.
Geo-tags allow you to tag a specific location in your posts. Once tagged, this is another place where your content can be discovered by curious users. What some might not know is that you don’t always have to tag the location where you’re actually in. If you want to build your following in a specific location, you can tag that location instead of where you are. If your goal is to just grow your account, try tagging a popular location, such as New York, to see if that brings in more views.
This isn’t just a term for how often you should post. What your content looks like matters just as much. Be clear on what kind of visual style your brand is going for and what kind of posts are on brand. Having a consistent style should extend across your entire profile, from your visual style, to the way you set up your bio, and the tone of voice you use in your captions. Make sure your style aligns with your brand overall. If you’re a men’s deodorant brand, your look and feel is going to look a whole lot different than a diamond jewelers. Or, at least it should.
A brand that holds contests can grow exponentially faster than ones that don’t. A giveaway rewards followers and incentives new ones. Select your budget, the prize and the goal of the contest. The best entry methods are commenting, following, posting and hashtagging. Ask followers to comment on a specific photo or a series and to tag at least one friend for double exposure. Count each tag as an entry. Seek to collaborate with a complementary brand in your niche. For posting, try to collect as much user-generated comment as possible so you can create a gallery and embed it on your site. Doing so will increase engagement and drive sales. Generate a brand and giveaway-specific hashtag to include, as well.
Any and all of these tactics can help you to grow a following on one of the world’s most popular apps. Especially with the platform shifting toward more direct e-commerce (ie. click this shirt to buy it, etc.) – there’s a massive amount of value in executing a successful Instagram strategy, with no investment in advertisements.
The 6 quickest ways to grow your Instagram following are;
- Use hashtags
- Spruce up your bio
- Embrace Stories and IGTV
- Use geo tags
- Post consistently
- Run giveaways
For any individual looking to establish their own brand, obviously the more followers you have, the better chance you can make some money as an influencer. But it’s about more than just followers – of course it leads right back to engagement. Brands are willing to pay thousands for folks with high engagements to post about them. And it’s only going to get more ‘authentic’ as platforms continue to move away from overproduced, TV quality content.
It can take months of consistent effort to build an engaged audience on Instagram. No amount of optimization will help if you aren’t consistently providing your audience with high-quality content. Focusing strictly on numbers can also distract you from what’s really the core of Instagram – it’s a community. A very valuable community.