Rewind a few years and Instagram was simple, it was straightforward. You would log into the app and you would scroll the most recent posts from friends, family, brands and whatever other accounts you followed. Jump forward to 2019 and it’s a minefield of algorithms, when to post? What to post? How to grow? We have been asking Instagram for years now to give us an option of a chronological feed, but alas, that does not suit the company’s agenda so it just will not happen, so what can we do?
I started my Instagram in 2016, for the first 6 months I ignored it, I started ‘gramming properly in December 2016 as I got an obsession for Christmas scenes. In my first year I grew to 10k, in my second year to 40k, and this year I hit 100k. This growth has been all organic, no dodgy giveaways, no fake followers, just hard work and trying to improve my content each day.
Below are the 5 most important things I believe you need to do to become successful on a platform so many now struggle with.
Engage with others
So many people forget social media is about being social. They get caught up on their own accounts, their own content and engagement, that they forget to interact with others. Why would Instagram reward you for not using the platform in the intended way?
Instagram has the highest engagement of all major social media platforms, whether we like the algorithm or not, clearly it is doing what Instagram wants it to do. With high engagement, Instagram can change brands and small businesses more for advertisement space. So believe it or not, Instagram is not ruining your engagement on purpose.
Whether you are funemployed, in full-time work, on holiday or maybe even just about to have a baby, there are ways to find time to engage with others. This includes liking and commenting on the content from people you follow, things you find on the explore page or within relevant hashtags, or simply just watching stories. So what do you do when you are working 9-6, then drive an hour home before cooking dinner and finally relaxing at 8pm? How do you find the time to engage with all these people? I started my Instagram when I was still employed at a travel specialist. I would engage with people when I was on my lunch break! On the loo, on the train into work (and this only took 4 minutes…), I would engage during ad breaks on the telly, when the kettle was boiling, when Alex was in the loo (I thought it would be a bit rude to do it when we were trying to spend time together). You don’t have to engage with thousands of photos, you can easily find some great content within a couple of minutes.
This engagement not only shows Instagram you are an active member of its community, but it also puts you out there to the people you are engaging with. People will start looking at your content, chatting with you, and you may even make a friend or two.
Create great content
You don’t need an expensive camera to take a brilliant photo, nearly all modern phones have cameras on that are pretty good. Find what you like taking photos of, then take some inspiration from other Instagrammers that are killing it, what are they doing? What advice can you take from them? I’m not telling you to go out and copy them, but I know a lot of people who struggle with how to compose a photo, Instagram is a great place to start for ideas.
Good content will do well, this is because the algorithm rewards those who receive large amounts of engagement in the first moments after posting. You don’t need thousands, or even hundreds of followers, the algorithms are based on a ratio between engagement and reach (unique views) of your photo/video. The engagement will come mainly due to people looking at your photo, being attracted to it, and clicking the like button. People are being more and more harsh with the use of the like button, they just aren’t using it, I am guilty of that too, so we need to find ways to WOW them. Then they will click the little heart without even realising!
It’s important when first starting out you try a bit of trial and error, take some new photos, edit them in different ways, look to see which does best, then you know how to move forward. You don’t need to get stuck in a niche, it is always fun to try something totally different, but don’t forget to regularly check-in and analyse what resonates best with your audience.
So how do you create great content when you don’t know your way around a camera or any sort of editing suite? Start with your phone, follow some basic rules – don’t shoot directly into the sunlight, try and focus on a subject within a scene, check your composition – is the horizon straight? Have you cut off anything out of the frame that should be in it? Hold the phone/camera still when you are shooting to save it from being blurred. If you are still struggling, get yourself onto YouTube and learn there – it’s free!
As for editing, there are a ton of apps out there with awesome filters so you barely have to do a thing, when I first started out I used A Color Story. I now use all my own presets (filters) on Lightroom which you can purchase here.
Edited with my England preset pack.
Post at the right time
Whilst the Instagram feed is no longer chronological, there really is no point in posting in the middle of the night when all your followers are asleep, you will wake up with low engagement and just get down in the dumps, even if it’s your best photo.
Think about where your followers are located, what time will they be awake? When will they be on their phones? Most people post in the mornings or evenings, when followers are commuting to and from work, there is no surprise that most people sitting on trains are on their phones. I no longer even post on a Saturday, firstly I like a day off my phone, and secondly, people are busy on Saturdays. Choose Sundays instead when people are laying on the sofa nursing their hangovers.
Keep up with your analytics
Instagram offers its users a wealth of audience and post analytics through the app. You can gain access to these by changing your account from a personal account to a business or creator account.
You can check the location of your followers, what time of day they are most active, which posts receive the highest engagement and the days you gained the most followers.
Whilst hashtags are not nearly as effective as they used to be, they are a great source of traffic when you make it into the ‘top’. Instagram offers users the ability to filter hashtags by ‘top’ or by ‘recent’. The top hashtags are those that Instagram believes you will like the most, these often come from larger accounts or those with high levels of engagement, but there are often times when relatively small accounts and post make it onto there so it is worth a try!
Users can use up to 30 hashtags per post, any more than that and none of them will work. It is important to use only relevant ones, to save you from having your post reported by an angry hashtag viewer.
If you are struggling to find hashtags that fit your photo, you can search one hashtag, and it will suggest others. For example, if I search ‘englishcottage’, Instagram also suggests ‘thatchedcottage’, ‘englishcountryhouse’ and ‘beautifulengland’. Remember, you don’t always need to use hashtags with millions of posts, it will be harder to be seen, try using a range of large, medium and small size hashtags.
You can download my Instagram strategy for small businesses here.