Growing & Leveraging Instagram: Pt. 2
Now that we understand the importance of growing your Instagram account and leveraging your following, let’s talk about some tactics to grow your accounts and how you can work with those who already have a following to help you grow your own. The most important thing to keep in mind, is that Instagram is all about story telling. For example, a picture of your restaurant head chef that says “Here is our head chef John,” isn’t going to resonate as well as that same photo that says “John has been the head chef at Tortorellas pizza for 17 years! Want to know what makes our pizza so good? John’s grandmother grew up in Sicilly cooking pizzas day and night for 30 years before they came to America. The sauce recipe is written down on a tiny piece of paper that John keeps in the front pocket of his apron and refuses to show anyone.. in fact, if you ask to see to recipe, John will simply smile and say “If I told you.. I’d have to kill you” in the most playful tone J.” The picture is exactly the same, but the story is different and that’s what differentiates your pizza shop from your competitors and the main chains in town. Tell your unique story and do it in a creative and consistent way, and people will always take notice! Let’s talk about a few tactics, that if combined with great content and quality storytelling, will really help you grow your business/brand.
Growing the right following
- Create Unique Content- Before we get into any growth strategies, it’s important not to overlook the importance of your content. All of the marketing/traffic in the world won’t help your brand if you are posting stock images with sales “calls to action” in the caption. You could have thousands of visitors, but that will simply expose your brand quicker if you are not posting evergreen content on a daily basis. What is evergreen content? Content native to you or your business! Photos of your office location, employee profile pieces, testimonials from customers, photos of your product/service in action. You must find creative and unique ways to tell the story of your company/brand.
- Consistency- Instagrams algorithm rewards consistency! If you are posting at least once/day around the same time frame, Instagram is less likely to bury your posts. Instagram is constantly changing how their feed works, but the best way to make sure your content shows up for your followers is to create engaging/unique content (#1) and to do so consistently. Instagram tends to give us more of what we like (the posts we like) and if you are posting at the same time everyday, those people are more likely so see your content on a daily basis. Think about it like the news schedule. You have your early morning news, the mid-day news, the 6 o clock news and the late news. Why? Because these are the times that most people are home and most likely to consume the content. Put your content in front of people on a daily basis, when they are most likely to see and interact with it, and you are positioning yourself for success.
- Find/Use your hashtags- One of the biggest features that separates Instagram from the other platforms is the discoverability via hashtags. Sure, Twitter made hashtags famous, but Instagram is where you can really take advantage of them. When posting your content, Instagram will allow you to use up to 30 hashtags either in your caption, or simply paste them into the comments section to keep your posts clean. These hashtags should be viewed similar to your Adwords/SEO strategy in the sense that these are your keywords. What is your brand about? Are you a localized company or an entrepreneur looking to attract a more broad audience in your field? I wrote a full article about the power of hashtags and how to find the best ones for your business/brand.
- Don’t overlook copy- People assume that Instagram is just about the picture, but remember in the beginning of the article the discussion of storytelling. Whether you are a business owner, or a blogger, your copy or “caption” is what will differentiate you. The laziest marketer can post a photo without putting any real thought into it. You must let people inside your life and inside your business if you want to break through. Be honest, authentic and unapologetically yourself (at least as much as you are comfortable sharing). One local blogger that does an excellent job of this is Lauren Blake (@wholelivinglauren) owner of the blog com. Lauren connects with her followers and isn’t afraid to sometimes tell those followers when things aren’t perfect! Lauren is authentic, and it shows through with her content and daily story posts. That’s just one of the many reasons she has built one of the biggest blogs/Instagram pages here in Columbus with over 35,000 followers. For many, Instagram has become the most PR versions of ourselves, so for those that are able to lower the walls in their lives and be thoughtful, open and honest with their captions and storytelling, will always win.
- Interact in your niche- You have figured out your own brand strategy, but the organic reach of using the hashtags in your posts, will only take you so far. Think of that as your easy/free resource to help others discover your content. If you are really trying to grow your accounts, you have to go on the offense and start interacting with others. Start with your hashtags and begin engaging with users most recent posts. Start with liking 3-5 most recent posts and consider leaving a thoughtful comment. This is a good number because they are likely to see it in their feed which may cause them to reciprocate, or at least look at your profile. If you are posting quality content, people are more likely to follow you back. This may sound like a long and sometimes tedious process, but marketing the right way takes real effort. We put together a full marketing team that does just this, for hours every single day. It’s called scaling the unscalable! You must commit your own time to growing your brand or hire an intern/social media team.
- Leave thoughtful comments- This may seem pretty common place and self-explanatory, but it’s important to clarify why it’s so important. The Instagram we all know and love has become riddled with bots and automation. Anytime something becomes automated, it creates a huge problem and a huge opportunity. If you begin paying close attention, you can tell which accounts are leaving automated comments and who is actually paying attention. Comments like “Cool” and “Awesome,” or “hey I think we should work together, check out my page” are almost certainly scheduled posts where algorithms are specifically targeting your hashtags and leaving generic or lead driven comments. This may work on the average person, but any savvy marketer knows exactly what’s happening and you can actually lose the right people, instead of gaining them. However, because we have become used to seeing these automated comments, it opens up the opportunity for real people to break through. For example, if you are a food blogger and a top influencer in your market posts a picture of their hummus plate from the trendy new Mediterranean place in town, a comment that reads “Wow this looks delicious, I was there last week and absolutely loved it. Have you tried their feta??” is much more likely to get a response than one that says “Wow, great post.” The first comment didn’t take a ton of extra time or effort, but you can be sure that the first one will get a response far more often than the second. Scaling unscalable practices is the quickest way to break through the noise on Instagram. If you can consistently leave thoughtful comments, people will begin to recognize that you are a real person, interested in engaging in your community and not just another face in the crowd looking for a follower.
- SFS Shout outs- If you are growing your account in a particular niche, chances are there are others that are doing the same. The best way to organically grow your account, outside of one-on-one interactions, is shout outs. Let’s use our food blog example again. In any given city, there are hundreds of food bloggers with accounts ranging from a few hundred followers up to tens of thousands of followers! The great part about that is that those accounts likely already have followers that are interested in food. So if you can just get your account in front of those followers, the chances of them following you are much higher. “SFS” stands for “Send-For-Send” which means if you post their profile, they will do the same. It used to be popular to swap wall posts, however now with Instagram stories becoming so popular, you can do shout outs without it effecting the look of your own account. The best way to find accounts that might be interested in swapping posts is to once again, start with your hashtags. Find the bloggers that have engaged communities and reach out to them via DM. If they have a much larger following than you, don’t expect them to be so excited when you reach out. When you are just starting, you may have to settle for other smaller accounts similar to yours where shout outs may only gain you 10-15 new followers. That’s 15 followers you didn’t have before and you can continue to do these shout outs until the larger pages begin to take notice. If you are following the first 5 steps as they have been laid out, and incorporating shout outs into your daily Instagram strategy, you will begin seeing the compound effects on your audience. The first 1000 followers are the toughest, and as you continue to grow, the growth will start to grow exponentially.
- Collaborations- If you want to get in front of those accounts that have much larger followings, you have to find a way to bring them value. The easiest option would be to pay, of course. However, if you’re reading this, you are probably looking for cheap/free strategies. If you don’t have money, the next asset you can trade is your time or expertise. You have to always keep in mind “Why should this person care?” or “What’s in it for them?” If they have a large following, it’s likely that many people are trying to get their attention and it may be difficult to get their attention. Here are a few strategies to get in front of top influencers:
Podcast- Podcasts have become so popular and for good reason! The podcasting industry has grown 84% just in the last year alone and putting your voice to your brand is becoming that much more important. Maybe the influencer you are reaching out to has a large following on Instagram, but they don’t have a podcast. If you can invite them onto your podcast to provide expertise, you are scratching that itch for them, especially if you have built up a listener base. It will be a piece of content they will be excited about and if you do it the right way, they will likely share the episode and potentially tag your Instagram as well when the episode goes live.
Blog- Everyone loves being mentioned in a blog or article online! If you are having trouble reaching the influencers you want to work with, consider writing a blog post titled “The 10 food bloggers in Columbus you must know in 2018.” This gives you an opportunity to give 10 thoughtful shoutouts within your article. If everyone else is trying to get their attention on Instagram, but instead, you take the time to write about them on your blog, they are much more likely to see it. Obviously you can’t tag them on your blog post, so you will need to email them or DM them to let them know about the article. Don’t get spammy here! Simply write them and say something along the lines of
“Hey (Blogger X), I have always admired your work and have followed your Instagram for ____. I just wrote a blog post about my 10 favorite food blogs here in Columbus and it would mean the world to me if you read it.”
Again, this isn’t the place to say “will you give me a shout out.” You have to write these articles with zero intention of asking for anything. If you ask for the shout out, you are actually much LESS likely to receive it because it will look like you only wrote the article for the share. If you simply ask people to read your content, you may get 6 responses saying they will read it and of those 6 responses, 1 or 2 may share it, but 1 or 2 is a lot more than zero!
Giveaway/Contests- If you are a business/brand with something to give away. A giveaway is the best way to break through the noise of Instagram and to engage with larger accounts. Remember, what is your value proposition and why should they care? Let’s say you are a local beauty/day spa in town. You have a product that local bloggers would LOVE. Who wouldn’t want a free facial or laser therapy treatment? Your product is your opportunity! Consider partnering with a local blogger to giveaway a free facial to one of their followers. The best way to execute this is to have the influencer into your location and offer them free service as well. They will be excited because they are getting a free treatment that they typically would have to pay for. While at the location, they are likely to share your business (remember these are social people that love sharing content!) and if you have a great product/service they will be happy to tell their followers. To take it a step further, consider running a giveaway, where they can post on their wall and encourage others to enter by leaving a comment and tagging 2 friends in that comment. The exponential growth your brand/business will receive for 2 free products/services will more than pay for themselves from the initial traffic and long term brand awareness. Don’t be afraid to use your product, service or talents to help you grow your brand/business.
If these strategies sound like a lot of work, it’s because it is. Anyone that told you that you could grow your Instagram with a quality following, overnight, is lying to you. Sure, if you are just looking for a big number to brag to your friends about, you can buy followers very quickly. However, if your strategy is just to have a large number of followers, you are setting yourself up for failure on the platform. This is about growing the right following and that will take time, consistency and a combination of the strategies listed above.