10 Tips for Instagram Success
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
If you know me at all, you'll know that I spend far too much of my life on instagram. I would even go so far as to say I'm somewhat addicted to it, and have been for years.
Insta gets a bad rap for so many reasons - many of them perfectly valid - but my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive since I started my first account at the start of 2012.
In the last seven and a half years (I cannot believe it's that long!) I have opened four accounts on insta, of which three I still manage today. As they all relate to different niches and audiences, I treat them all differently, and have found methods that work - and don't work - for growing each of them. (I have a personal account (2.7k), a dog account (7.5k), and a travel account (2.5k), in case you were wondering!)
I should mention that, at this point, I don't make any money from any of my accounts. (I would LOVE for instagram to bring in some dollar because I spend far more hours a week on it than I do at my full time job!) This is something I aspire to, though.
I would feel like a fraud describing myself as an "expert", but I do know the app well, how it works, and effective methods of growing an audience and a community. I'm not going to tell you how to "beat the algorithm" or "gain 10,000 followers in a week", but I can give you ten tips and tricks that will help improve your insta game!
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#1 Genuine Engagement
This is the #1 tip I give to anyone asking for advice - to build a dedicated audience and community, your engagement with others needs to be genuine.
Tips for genuine engagement:
When scrolling through your feed, like the posts that you genuinely like. (People who scroll through their feed and don't actively like anything, you aren't going to get very far, sorry.)
Leave meaningful comments on posts you especially like, or where a question has been asked of the audience in a caption. Even if the comment is short - "I love your dress in this photo!" or "What a stunning view!" - genuine comments can go a long way.
Respond to your comments! If someone leaves a compliment, say thank you! If someone asks a question, give them an answer! At the very least, like the comment - if you think a comment is just spam, or isn't really contributing anything, this is a quick way of acknowledging it nonetheless.
Respond to your DMs! I go through periods of being very good at this followed by periods of being very bad at it. I always prioritise messages from my friends/followers/followees, then get round to responding to those that end up in the "requests" folder. You can end up with all kinds of things in there!
These tips might seem to include a lot of "giving", but being genuine in what you put into instagram makes it far more likely you will receive genuine engagement as a result.
While I would agree with the idea that greater engagement = greater reward, there is a big difference between a lot of genuine engagement and what would be considered spam. The "genuine" in "genuine engagement" is what separates the successful accounts from the less successful; providing meaningful input takes significantly more effort, but I believe it is worth it.
#2 Pay Attention to Who Engages with You
It's easy to get caught up in follower counts and the number of likes on your posts, but - I promise you - there is more to life, and to instagram.
The word "success", that I used in the title of this article, doesn't relate much to numerical metrics. I would far rather have a following of 1,000 people who genuinely enjoyed my content, gave me positive feedback, and truly supported me, than 100K followers who added no value to my content or experience on the platform.
Those who use instagram as a marketing tool find far more success in having smaller, more dedicated audiences. Companies who work with instagrammers are a lot more interested in your rate of engagement than a follower count alone.
(I'm very proud of my *current* 9.3% engagement rate when a "good" rate, by industry standards, is around 1-3%! You can find out your engagement rate, or that of any other social media account, on Social Blade.)
Take note of who engages with you most - they manage the accounts which are going to help you grow. Ideally, these will be accounts similar to yours and within the same niche.
As much as I'd like not to mention the dreaded instagram algorithm, the more connections and engagement you have within your niche, the more instagram will a) recommend relevant accounts to you (i.e. through the "explore" page), and b) make your content more easily available and more visible to others.
Prioritise the accounts you know prioritise you. When a post by one of these accounts pops up on my feed, I will make an effort to provide some meaningful feedback, even if I normally wouldn't have left a comment.
True relationships can be grown through instagram, and I don't just mean ones that exist solely on the platform. I've made a bunch of genuine friends, some of whom I've now met in "real life", through the networking that is so easily done via instagram.
#3 Use Instagram Pods (if you don't care about genuine growth)
This point isn't going to benefit everyone, but I thought I would mention it for those of you who really only care about the numbers. While you might not create a profitable or marketable following, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting more likes or followers.
I have been there - I mean, who doesn't like their post to hit 500 likes within its first hour? It's frighteningly addictive!
I dabbled in the world of instagram pods for a little while, which I consider to be a slightly more ethical way of "buying" likes or followers (with no money involved). I used them to increase the likes I received on my posts, which looked great on the face of things, but I had nothing in common with the majority of these accounts.
There are a lot of different kinds of pod, but they generally work on a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" kind of mechanism. I would spend multiple hours a day (ah, unemployment) liking hundreds of other people's posts - most of which were absolute trash - to receive as many in return. You can get bots involved to automate things, or actually pay for likes and/or followers, but these tactics are questionable at best.
If anyone does want to know how to start using pods, I would honestly be happy to explain if you shoot me a message (feel free to slide into my DMs @ontourwithjen). To those of you who want to grow your audience organically, I recommend avoiding the temptation of these groups!
#4 Post Consistently
This tip is pretty self explanatory - who wants to follow an inactive blog?
The consistency with which you post is up to you, and will vary depending on the sort of page you manage, as well as what works for your audience (which might take time to work out). For example, while I post every day or every other day on my travel account, I can post anywhere between one and five times per day on my dog account.
I have a pretty solid routine on my dog account, which involves featuring other blogs every day, as well as posting content for day-specific hashtags. On my travel account, however, I am more interested in organically growing my audience, and leaving a bit more time between posts allows me to attract as much traffic as possible to my page while the post holds the #1 spot.
#5 Geotag and Hashtag
In order to gain followers and increase the activity on your page, your posts need to be seen by as many people as possible. Hashtagging and geotagging are good ways of doing this, or at least helping the process along.
For me, I've found it does vary from post to post, but hashtags generally account for 20-40% of the impressions my posts make. On some occasions it's been as high as 70-80%.
Regardless of this number, you have nothing to lose by hashtagging, only engagement to gain!
Furthermore, if you're starting a page with 0 followers, hashtagging will allow people to find your content before they even follow you.
You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, so I rarely use any fewer. Keep them relevant, but broad. It's well worth searching the hashtags you intend to use to see how many posts already fall under it - if there are 40 million posts with that hashtag, then it's very popular, but your post will be easily lost as more are quickly uploaded with the same hashtag. If there are only 2,000 posts, then it's not so widely used, but whoever does search/follow the hashtag is a lot more likely to see your post. I recommend using a mixture of hashtags that includes both those that are very popular, and those that aren't.
Geotagging works in a similar way - again, you can check out how many posts have already been tagged at a location. Especially with popular places, there may be multiple versions of the same location, with varying numbers of posts assigned to them.
Make sure you do this in your story posts too! If you search for a hashtag or location, story posts are now included in the results, so make sure you give your story the best chance of being seen! (Check out the video!)
Pro tip 1: When adding hashtags to a post, include them within a comment rather than the caption itself - this keeps the caption a bit less cluttered.
Pro tip 2: After adding your hashtags and geotags to your story post, you can decrease their size until they become invisible, so they are essentially hidden on your page!
#6 Share Content You Love
One good way to engage and interact with your audience - and something I enjoy doing anyway - is sharing content you love. Again, this needs to be genuine, but it shows active support of those you promote, and the favour may even be returned (but don't expect this).
There are lots of ways you can do this. For example, on my travel insta, I regularly share posts that I particularly like (no more than one or two a day, on average), publishing a story post, tagging the user, providing a geotag, and a comment describing what I love about the post.
My dog account is slightly different, and has been essentially built on sharing other people's posts. At the moment my methods of sharing include:
weekly posts from Monday-Thursday, including #MCM and #WCW features (Man Crush Monday and Woman Crush Wednesday, if you haven't come across these!), and #TOT and #TBT features (Tongue Out Tuesday and Throwback Thursday!). These also get mentioned in my story
#FridayFavourites, where I share all the accounts I have decided to follow in the past week in my story
#PhotoOfTheWeek features, where I post all my favourite shots from the past week in my story, with a permanent post for my absolute favourite
and daily features! I generally have a waiting list about a month long at any given time.
A lot of these I have been doing since the page's earliest days, even though I didn't have a big audience. At first I would ask if someone would like to be featured, and even if I only had 100 followers, the answer was usually yes. Finding pages who were also starting out with small audiences also helped, as we could help each other to grow. This is a method I still use today (partly because new accounts benefit from it more, and also because new dog accounts are normally started when a family gets a puppy = very cute photos I want to see anyway).
Irrespective of my intense feature schedule, being genuine in how I interact with other pages is the only thing that has truly allowed me to grow an audience. Of course, you don't need to be as feature-crazy as I am - a little can go a long way!
#7 Use Follower Lists / Comments Sections
"But Jen!" I hear you cry, "How can I find accounts similar to mine? My explore page only shows the most popular accounts!"
Fear not, my friend! Over the years I have searched for new accounts via two sources.
The first one I tried was scrolling through the accounts that my favourites followed. You could also use their list of followers, but you're far more likely to come across bots/spam/fake accounts; if you know someone has chosen to follow a page, it's probably going to be legit.
More recently, while perusing these lists, I only bother checking out accounts which have an active story post (indicated by the purple circle around their profile photo). This demonstrates that they have been active in the last 24 hours - as I said earlier, who wants to follow an inactive insta? If you're trawling through lists of 1000+ accounts, this will help you filter out the best amongst them.
Another source I use now is the comments section of posts on my feed. You don't have to go out of your way to scroll through someone's following list for this one.
For any post I comment on (and therefore am genuinely interested in), I check out some of the other pages who have also left meaningful comments. Again, this demonstrates that they have been active recently, and you are more likely to find pages in your niche.
Inevitably, you will need to follow more people than follow you at first. As long as you remain genuine and active, and post decent content, you're well on your way to building a dedicated (and potentially profitable) audience.
#8 Don't Follow to Unfollow
If you want to build an audience (and have any respect for yourself, to be honest), never follow to unfollow. This involves following a lot of people (multiple thousands, generally) in the hope that some of them might follow you back, and then unfollowing them all.
This popular "tactic" just screws over everyone involved.
There is nothing inherently wrong with following thousands of instas - I believe you can follow up to 7,000/8,000 accounts - but I don't consider it to be a sensible move, even if you believe you *genuinely* like all 8,000 accounts.
(Side note: I don't like to follow more than 1,000 pages on a single account. I follow who I want to follow, and when I hit the 1,000 mark, I make time to "cull" the pages who have become inactive / I'm no longer interested in etc. This helps keep my feed relatively chaos free and ensures I see my most favourite pages.)
Continuing on this theme of being genuine - even if you did genuinely like all 8,000 pages that you follow, there is absolutely no way you could keep up with them all. With a few exceptions, I only ever follow pages I truly love. While you might be looking to build an audience for eventual monetary gain, I promise you will get so much more out of insta if you follow people you honestly care about, and would follow even if it meant they didn't follow you in return. I believe passion should always be prioritised over potential gain, and that applies to instagram too!
Essentially, this tactic is just an attempt to be noticed by the accounts you follow. While it make sense on some level - I know I always check out the pages that follow me first - there are so many other ways to do this without being deceitful.
Liking someone's post (or even a number of their posts), commenting, sending DMs, replying to stories - these are all going to be far better received! I have a greater appreciation for active engagement on my content than a random follow. How do I know you've even looked at any of my posts?
I dedicate time almost every day to have a proper scroll through my feed and catch up with the pages I know I'm interested in seeing. However, I probably spend just as much time - if not more - engaging with posts from pages I don't follow. Both are just as important - not only do you want to grow an audience but you want to maintain that audience.
TL;DR Don't follow to unfollow, you'll look like a douche.
#9 Follow Hashtags
This is a relatively new feature on instagram, and one you should definitely be utilising.
You now have the ability to follow hashtags, which are then found at the top of your following list. This is a great way of finding new and relevant pages to connect with, and also the perfect place to scope out the competition!
Even better, instagram selects posts from the hashtags you follow and incorporates them into your regular feed, making it even easier to access this content.
I also love to use this feature when I'm planning a trip, either to find great places to visit, or just to make sure I hit all the most grammable spots!
#10 Be Active Every Day
For me, with my undeniable addiction to the platform, this comes very naturally, but for others it may not. Make sure you are active on your page every day! Whether that be for ten minutes or ten hours (some of us have been there), make an effort to scroll through some posts on your feed, or respond to your DMs, or reply to your latest comments.
Again, I hate to bring up the algorithm, but it favours accounts that are active. I notice a significant dip in my page's reach whenever I neglect it for a day. It makes sense though - what would be the point in promoting pages that are never used?
As I said earlier, a little can go a long way - using your time on the platform to actively engage with other pages will only be beneficial in the long run.
I think this must be my longest blog post yet! I really enjoyed writing this piece, and I know I could have gone on for even longer, so thank you for making it this far!
Would you be interested in more social media-related posts? I don't profess to be an expert, but I do spend a lot of time online! Drop me a message or DM me on insta if you have any questions, or things you'd like me to go into in more detail - I would absolutely love to turn this into a series if people find it helpful!
As always, comments and shares are always appreciated, and make sure you subscribe to my mailing list if you'd like to be notified whenever I post!