Instagram is a great site to use if your brand or product is able to be promoted visually. Yes, some businesses find it harder to use than others will, but if you can make use of it, it’s a great source of engagement and conversions.
I’ve discussed various methods of growing Instagram in the past. Today I’m going to give you methods you can use to steal the followers your competitors have already accumulated.
Identify Your Competitors
The first thing you need to do in order to steal the followers of your competitors is identify your competitors. Now, chances are, you already have a pretty good idea of who your competitors are in a general sense. However, there’s a circle made up of your brand competitors, and a circle made up of your niche competitors on Instagram, and those two may have very little overlap.
To identify your competitors, start by making a list of the brands and companies you know are your actual brand competitors. Coke might list companies like Pepsi first and foremost, but might include smaller beverage companies like Jones Soda as well.
Next, go to Instagram and try to find the profiles for each of those competitors. Any brand that doesn’t have a social profile can be cut from the list. Any brand that has a small profile that is obviously abandoned or ignored can be removed as well. You’re narrowing it down to just the brands that have active presences on Instagram here.
Now make a list of the most important industry keywords you would want to target. Use Webstagram or any Instagram search application of your choice and search for those keywords. What you’re looking for are accounts on Instagram that will be competing with you for the niche, but who aren’t brands that compete with you for sales. These may be anything from fan curators to enthusiasts.
You normally don’t have to worry about these people as competitors. Some of them will even be happy to share your content. However, you can use them as a source of ideas and as a source of followers both directly and indirectly. Consider them sharing your post to be a bonus.
You can also follow your competitors and your curators, permanently or temporarily if you want. When you follow them, Instagram will suggest other large accounts in the same niche, which you can investigate and follow as well. Through this chain, you can get dozens or hundreds of good recommendations, depending on the size of your niche.
Now you should begin with your campaign of courting followers.
1. Ask Brand-Agnostic Accounts to Recommend Your Content
Some of the accounts you identified in the preparation step should be accounts that meet the following criteria:
- They have significant followings, at least a few hundred thousand real users.
- They frequently post, curate, like, and share content in your niche.
- They are not associated with any brand and are managed by fans.
These are brand-agnostic because they are not run or tied to any given brand, which means they can pitch for and share content from your brand in a beneficial way. They are also firmly within your niche, which makes them good targets for just about any form of follower poaching.
Your goal here is to approach these accounts and convince them to periodically share your content or mention your brand. I recommend that you follow them first and spend some time liking some of their pictures and leaving a few comments. Then send them a private message and ask them about promoting your brand.
Some of these accounts will already have an established process for this, and may be interested in charging you money for the privilege. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but you will have to decide for yourself whether the price is worth the potential followers or not. Some users will be skeptical of tying themselves to your brand and you may be able to convince them to do so with an offer of money. Some will be happy to do it for free, and some will ignore you. In either case, you can move on to other means of stealing followers.
Part of the preparation step involved creating a list of common industry keywords. Look for the keywords with the most traffic and start to browse them on a regular basis. What you’re looking for is decent content posted by users who don’t already follow you. When you find this kind of content, give it a like.
This passive like will encourage the user to check out your profile to see who it is that liked them. As such, this tends to be more effective on accounts that engage frequently and that don’t have a ton of followers themselves. These people are most likely to actually check their notifications. The more followers an account has, the less any given piece of engagement means, and the less likely they are to check it or check the profile of the person who performed the engagement.
3. Follow, Like, and Comment on Individual User Posts
This option is just like the previous, except it takes things one step further. Richard Lazazzera, formerly of Shopify, performed a small-scale test with a pool of 300 users. For 100 of them, he followed them and recorded how many of them followed him back. For another 100, he followed them and liked one recent piece of their content. For the final 100, he followed them, liked a piece of content, and commented on that piece of content.
The third method, with three types of engagement, was the most beneficial and had a 34% follow-back rate. It makes sense. The more engaged the user feels you are with them, the more likely they are to return the favor.
What you should do, then, is go out of your way to find accounts you want to have follow you and perform all three types of engagement. I recommend liking and commenting on a piece of content and then following them, which is a more organic order of operations. If you’re feeling excessive, you can experiment with then liking and commenting on another piece of content, as if you found their content and engaged, moved to their profile and followed, then found the other piece of content.
Where do you find these users? The same way as the other methods. They can be the users you found in the preparation step, or users you found through browsing hashtags, or even just followers of your competitors. This one method will work on just about any user, so long as they actually pay attention to the sort of engagement they get on the site.
Branded hashtags are hashtags used by brands that are normally just for their use. They directly reference the brand or some part of the marketing of that brand. You can use this to your advantage by riffing off of their hashtag or their marketing. Poke a little good-natured fun at them, submit something strange to one of their contests, or otherwise make yourself visible to the users who use that hashtag. If you’re clever enough, you should be able to be noticed.
Branded hashtags will have users beyond just the brand, and you can attempt to use method number three to poach them, but you’ll have to be careful. Sometimes the users will be hardcore brand fans, and won’t want to give you the time of day. In these cases, it’s wasted effort.
One great way to use branded tags is to watch for customer service requests. When a user is dissatisfied, they’ll generally mention and tag their complaint in a way that strives to make themselves visible, so their complaint can be addressed. This is a great time to step in and offer yourself as a replacement that doesn’t have the same problem.
5. Create Content Responses to Competitor Content
One way to gain exposure and followers in your industry is to start a good-natured – or not so good-natured – advertising war. For the prime example, look at the Audi-BMW-Bentley ad sequence shown here. In this case, Audi started the war by calling out their competitor, but you don’t need to wait for someone to call you out. You can look for advertising content created by your competitors and you can riff off of it, making yourself look better and pointing out flaws in their marketing.
The goal here is not, ironically enough, to be the Bentley in the equation. Instead, you want to be the one ribbing on other people, to get as much attention as possible. You’re not likely to get wrecked by a competitor unless you make an easily exploitable gaffe, or you cross a line from good natured to malicious.
All of this gets you exposure on the feeds of the brands you’re targeting and can get their followers to follow you as well.
6. Take Inspiration from Big Accounts and Reference Them in Content
For this method, instead of directly referencing or replying to the content created by your competitors, you simply do something similar but better. Sure, you probably had them in mind when you created the content, but by playing off of what they produce, you reach many of the same people for the same reasons.
You can actually do this with brands that have nothing to do with your industry, so long as they are large enough. For example if Oreo posts a an image like this one, you can make a similar image with your product in the same place:
It works with a foodstuff, but it’s an amusing juxtaposition if you’re a company selling shoes. Poke fun at yourself by referencing their image and writing a description about how it doesn’t work so well for your brand.
7. Pay for Instagram Shoutouts
Most of the methods on this are free to do, and only require simple social interaction to accomplish. This one is a paid option for when all else fails. Again, refer to your list of high follower industry accounts, ideally those without a brand attachment. Send them messages and offer to pay them a one-time fee if they will post a shoutout to your brand. This is essentially like paying for a one-time one-run ad, reaching hundreds of thousands or even millions of potential followers.
How much would a single shoutout cost? It really depends on the account. The more followers they have, the more they’re going to want in exchange, both because they probably already have people offering and because their shoutouts are worth more. However, the price will also vary depending on what you want them to post. Some will charge a minor fee for a simple mention in a photo description, while others will be more willing to post an image and caption you create for a larger fee.
The only decision you have to have to make here is how much you’re willing to pay. After you’ve purchased a few, you will have an idea of what sort of conversion rate you can expect, and you can compare it to simply buying ads. If ads are cheaper and better, you might as well just go with them.
At the end of the day, every method you use to post content in your industry is going to reach many of the same people your competitors are reaching, and will be designed to get those followers to follow you. Whatever success you find, continue to monitor and iterate on that success to get as much out of it as you can.