If you’ve ever fallen into the rabbit hole that is Instagram, you know that you can end up looking at photographs and memes from sunup to sundown. In 2019, the percentage of U.S. adults who used the social media platform rose from 35 percent to 37 percent, and the active reported users held steady at approximately 1 billion people.
Along with Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and WeChat, Instagram managed to exceed its 1 billion mark in 2020, according to Statista. But with 1 billion users on the site, including major brands, how can a lesser-known or new company become an Instagram sensation?
These six steps may help.
1. Network with popular Instagram accounts.
Just as you would want to talk to the who’s who at a conference or expo, the same rules apply on social media. If your product is a particular niche, consider leaving a comment on similar brands. While it may seem counterproductive to give your competitors more attention, the bigger goal here is to see if they’ll interact with you—or followers from their account. You definitely want to try this social media marketing technique if/when a similar product and/or company is trending, too. The more eyes on your Instagram page, the better.
2. Use relevant hashtags.
Hashtags operate similar to keyword searches. When users look up hashtags, or a hashtag is trending, the goal is for users to be able to find out more about that particular topic. Just make sure to only use the hashtag when your images are relevant, and avoid using any of these banned hashtags. You don’t want users to consider your company as a spam account and report you. Avoid creating unnecessary and overly creative hashtags that will never be found, and ones that are so overused to the point that your Instagram post would be buried in a flood of other posts.
3. Skip the amateur photography if you can.
While you don’t have to be a professional photographer and know the ins and outs of Adobe Photoshop to start an e-commerce website or social media channel, try to avoid images that are low quality. Because Instagram is so visually dependent, you should try to find the most eye-catching and high-resolution images you can—legally. There are countless photo sites that allow users to utilize images for commercial purposes. Avoid using random images without knowing their licensing agreements. And if you organize events for your own company, be sure to use the best of those, too.
4. Control who can post and interact with your followers.
While social media users cannot always control who initially follows them, they can control how that audience interacts with each other. For startup accounts, spammers and trolls may not be a major problem in the beginning stages. As your Instagram account continues to grow, expect to see more of this.
Spam accounts heavily target accounts with the most eyes on the page, in hopes of being able to reach more people at once with malicious links. Trolls wouldn’t have much fun lighting a fire without a sizable amount of social media users to respond. For this reason, it is important that you have a handle on spam first. Nothing says, “I neglect my social media account” quite like having a flood of nonsensical comments and spam replies straight down each Instagram post.
5. Understand who your audience is and who you want it to be.
Once you’ve either scheduled hours to moderate your Instagram account daily, or hired a social media specialist who can do so, understand who your audience is. If you can, get basic demographics like location, age, race, gender, etc. Why is this important? If you know what your potential clients look like, you can then tailor your images to relate to them.
You can also avoid posting dated images that won’t connect with your users. For example, let’s say you’re interested in your followers’ music choices. You post an image of a boombox or a Walkman and ask, “What’s the last song you listened to?”
For Generation Xers, this has throwback appeal. They may respond with the last song they actually heard on a CD player or cassette, as well as what they are listening to now. Meanwhile Generation Z may not have a clue what either of those electronic items are and how does the question relate. One group goes down memory lane; the other ignores the post altogether. Read your Instagram room. Know who will “get” your posts and when you’re being a bit too clever.
6. Post on Instagram consistently.
SproutSocial has a breakdown of the best times to post on social media for various categories. For technology posts, the best times are Wednesdays between 6 a.m. and 9–10 a.m., and Fridays from 7–10 a.m. The best day is Wednesday, and the worst day is Sunday. Meanwhile, consumer goods—which also do better on Wednesdays and the worst on Sundays—do better in late afternoon hours at 3 p.m.
Media, education, nonprofits, healthcare and other topics have their own best times and days, too. While you may find that your engagement falls right in alignment with SproutSocial’s suggested days and times, it’s not unheard of to see a boost in engagement on other scheduled days. When you first set up your social media account, pay attention to when your users have an uptick in activity levels. Take note of that, and try to start posting at those personalized times and days.
By following these six tips above, you should be able to grow your Instagram audience on a steady basis. Don’t expect to go from less than 100 to thousands or millions overnight. Unless you’re a celebrity (or bought followers), the odds of that happening are slim. But as long as you are consistent and keep your followers intrigued enough to want to circle back to your account, the hashtags, interesting posts and ideal times to scroll around should be all you need.