Instagram isn’t an easy platform to use. The mobile restrictions and lack of a posting API means you need specialized hardware – or at least a company smartphone – to run with it. Meanwhile, the site’s emphasis on images and short videos means you need visual production skills, which often means hiring a photographer or graphic designer on staff. For that much investment, it had better be worth it.
And it is! Instagram has one of the highest engagement rates out of any social media site, though your niche does matter. This holds true even after the study from a few years ago saying as much, which caused a massive influx of brands hoping to capitalize on it. Usually, this tanks a social media site, as the site bends over backwards to adapt to business interests, removing the social value people used it for in the first place. Not so for Instagram; owned by Facebook, they don’t need to cater to small businesses, even in mass.
It’s no surprise that a lot of businesses, new and old, large and small, want to get started on Instagram. It’s also no surprise that many of them have no idea where to begin. So, here are my top tips for starting and growing an Instagram profile from day one.
Fill Out Your Profile Completely
Profiles are public displays of information and your most recent posts. You need them to be public. You need a recognizable username. Your profile photo should be on-brand, not just a random picture or high engagement photo.
Your bio can include a call to action, and should have a link to a homepage. Hubspot recommends running it through a tracking referrer like a pro-level bit.ly shortener. They also have a good profile guide here. Feel free to check it out.
Link to Other Social Media Profiles
You only have space for one “website” link in your profile, so don’t bother using it for another social profile unless you absolutely need to. Instead, link to other social profiles in your posts on occasion. Don’t do every one in each post, and don’t add a link to ever photo, just mix them into the rotation as part of a series of different calls to action. Other such CTAs can include tagging friends, sharing posts, clicking links, and buying products, though save the last one for only rare occasions.
Post At Least Once Per Day Consistently
Just like with Facebook, you get more exposure the more often you post, and you drop in exposure if you haven’t posted in a while.
This is in contrast to how Instagram used to be a few years ago, when you could pick up an old account and come back where you left off. These days you need to post consistently, and I recommend at least once per day. You can post more often if you like, but you need to be consistent above all else. You can post three times a day if you want, so long as you do so every day.
As bad as hashtags are on Facebook, with Instagram they’re like Twitter tags on steroids. It doesn’t matter what your personal opinions on them are; you need to use them in your Instagram posts. They’re also a complex enough subject that I’m just going to direct you to this excellent post about the different types of hashtags, how to find them, and how best to use them. Don’t just take my word for it; they have data.
Pretty much no matter what niche you’re in, there are going to be people on Instagram already in that niche, posting about that kind of content. Rather than competition, these people are both resources and your audience. Share their content with your fans! You can benefit from their work and get them to thank you for the exposure at the same time.
Ask Users to Tag Their Friends
One of the possible calls to action you can use on your posts is to get users to tag their potentially interested friends.
The lifespan of an Instagram post is pretty short; it shows up in hashtag feeds briefly and it shows up on the feeds of your followers, but in both cases it can be pressed down by new content fairly quickly. By having users tag their friends, each new comment is new exposure, and it can chain into new followers fairly quickly.
Use Filters, Or Don’t
Should you use a filter or not? If you’re taking professional photos and editing them on a computer, it seems like a filter would just detract from the finished product. However, filters have some ineffable effect that make fans of that filter flock to a post. Every year or so, someone does a study about the best and worst filters, so feel free to look around. Don’t forget that the ideal filter changes based on niche, so find good case studies, not assumptions.
Host Photo Submission Contests
Instagram is unique in that most of your followers will be content producers as well, even if that content is just selfies and pictures of lunch. This means if you run a contest where the user has to submit an image, you’re going to get a much better response on Instagram than you will on other social media sites or your website. People are just so much more interested in creating relevant images.
Feel Free to Use Emojis
Instagram is a very casual platform, even for brands.
This means you can feel free to use emojis (appropriately) in your captions without fear of looking unprofessional or damaging your brand. Trust me, it’s fine. You’re not the only one doing it. Just go ahead and use some, so long as you’re not using them out of context or spamming them.
Dabble in Video
Video production is incredibly difficult, and as a brand, you can’t afford to be super casual with it and produce sub-par videos. It actually takes a lot of work and editing to make a “casual” behind the scenes video look casual and impromptu without sounding incredibly scripted. If you think you can pull it off, try it out, but don’t be surprised if videos don’t have a huge reception.
Engage With Other Brands and Fans
More than just about any other platform, Instagram encourages engagement with others in your niche. Reach out to other brands and like their content, comment on their posts, and consider partnerships for mutual growth. Find content in your niche not posted by brands and engage with those users as well. There are zero drawbacks to reaching out and initiating contact with people posting content you like.
Engage With Engagement On Your Posts
When people leave comments on your posts, read them and find the good ones. A lot of people will just leave an emoji response or a one-word post, and that’s fine. You can safely ignore those. When people ask questions, leave insightful comments, or just put more effort into their responses, make a reply of your own. Thank them, respond to their questions, and generally have a conversation with them.
Use Geotagging in Exotic Locales
Geotagging will help your content show up in the feeds of people nearby your location, whether or not they follow you.
It’s a great thing to add if you have events you travel to, locations you visit, or offices around the world. If every single photo is going to be tagged with the same small town over and over, though, it doesn’t really benefit you much to do it more than once or twice a month.
Look To Your Competition
You probably have competitors on Instagram. Rather than fighting for their space, you can use them as a resource. It’s actually a good idea to monitor what they’re doing and figure out ways you can hijack their followers. In fact, it’s such a good idea, I wrote a post about exactly that subject. Look to what they’re doing and poach their followers for yourself.
Collaborate with Instagram Influencers
There are people who have built up significant followings on Instagram despite not being brands or having social presences anywhere else. These people are explicitly Instagram influencers, and they are excellent sources of potential fans. Reach out to them and talk about partnerships and sponsorships; if they even just share some of your content, you can get a lot of value out of it.
Spend a Bit on Instagram Ads
Instagram ads use the Facebook ad platform for the moment, which is great because it has a ton of options you can take advantage of and they’re generally pretty cheap.
However, keep an eye on this; Instagram has announced some ad changes, including being able to make ads through the app directly, so there might be some shakeups in this arena in the near future.
Establish a Brand Theme for Content
You know what your brand is and does, so you should concentrate your photos on that kind of thing. Sportswear and apparel companies showcase people in their apparel living their lives in interesting ways. Red Bull has their adventure branding and generally posts content of people in action. You can do the same.
Interestingly, when you’re a new user on Instagram, you have the best chance to experiment and broaden your horizons. Find what people like the most and narrow your brand down from there. You’ll be able to find a focus more easily if you’re open to change in the early days, and don’t alienate followers you haven’t found yet.
Post Behind the Scenes Content
One of the great benefits of Instagram is how casual it is, and that opens you up to a lot of “exclusive” behind the scenes action. Showcase how your product is made, highlight special employees if they approve, and generally give your audience a look at how it’s done. There’s a reason people love TV shows like How It’s Made.
Repost Great Content Occasionally
On Twitter you can post the same thing a dozen or more times over the course of a month and get good engagement and traffic every time.
Instagram isn’t quite that forgiving – users don’t want to see the same post multiple times in their timeline – but you can still share the same great content more than once. I tend to reserve reposts for top-tier content, though, and I recommend that you do too.
Study Photography, Color Theory, and Case Studies
There’s a science to everything. With a visual platform like Instagram, you can put a lot of visual science to work for you. In addition to elements like the “best filters” case study I linked above, you can learn about how different colors affect engagement, or the psychology behind likes, or any other element you care to look into. I guarantee someone, somewhere, as performed some kind of study about content on Instagram.
Be Patient: Growth is Slow
It’s not easy to get thousands of likes right away. Growth on any social media platform is generally slow. Don’t abandon the site because you aren’t growing explosively. You should only really be concerned if you aren’t getting any followers at all. There are plenty of techniques you can try to get more followers, after all.
Once you have a strong foundation for your profile, and as long as you keep up posting and don’t do anything against the terms of service, you should be able to grow over time. Reading articles like this may make it seem like you have to keep a lot of different factors in mind with every post, but at the end of the day, all that really matters is that you’re posting good photos consistently every day. All the rest is just optimization.