11 practical ways to set up Instagram for success
So many articles about Instagram growth promise huge results in short time periods. A simple Google search reveals the “secrets” to getting 10k followers in 6 months. Or how one person (a child of wealthy parents with a private jet to take pictures in) garnered hundreds of thousands of followers in just a few weeks! I wonder why.
Let’s be real. Many of the tips are somewhat useful. But most are either difficult to follow without immense resources. Or, ‘tips’ are so vaguely described you have a hard time understanding what the “Influencer” actually did.
So I’m here to share some real, practical, you-can-do-this-right-now advice to make sure your Instagram is ready to go and set up for success.
This article contains the following sections
- Why is Instagram relevant to me and my business?
- Who the hell I am and what I’ve done with my Instagram
- The 10 tips to make your Instagram stand out (plus a bonus!)
- Tools to make your Instagram life a little easier
Why is Instagram relevant to me and my business?
Put simply, Instagram is a behemoth. In 2018, the app hit over 1 billion active monthly users. No matter who you are looking to connect with, there’s a solid chance they are on Instagram.
Pictures help you tell stories
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. On Instagram, a good picture could be worth a thousand clients. How’s that for social media marketing?. Instagram revolutionized visual storytelling with an app that all but forces visual consumption. If you’re on the app, you’re seeing pictures. This is fantastic news for your business.
Photo captions make your message more clear
With every picture you have the opportunity to write a micro-blog. With 2,200 characters available per Instagram post, you get the chance to visually and textually tell your story.
Comments make engaging easy
Comments are how conversations happen on Instagram. People can comment on your pictures to ask questions, share some love, provide feedback, or even tag other people who need to see the content.
Since Instagram started threading comment conversations in 2017, you can engage with followers on a one-to-one basis. You can also comment on other people’s posts, increasing the chances they will follow you or engage with your content.
Direct messages (DMs) make things personal
People you follow can DM you at any time to ask questions, provide feedback, or share some love. People who don’t follow you can request to message you – you can either accept or deny the request, ensuring your inbox stays spam free.
Hashtags are a content discovery engine
Using hashtags (putting “#” before a word or phrase, without spaces) is how content discovery works on platforms like Instagram and Twitter (and, perhaps less successfully, Facebook and LinkedIn).
While Twitter originated the hashtag as a discovery tool online, Instagram arguably perfected the practice. Using the right hashtags is like going to a specialty store just for your potential clients – everyone you want to talk to is right there.
I want more sales from Instagram. What do I have to do?
Every piece of advice I’m sharing in this article is a tool I have personally used (except one, which I note below) to build my Instagram following and engagement.
Have a personality
The other way you could say “personality” is “theme”.
Whatever you do, sell, or talk about, pick a consistent theme for your Instagram. This doesn’t necessarily mean only doing one thing. As an example, fitness influencer Chad Hargrove chose a theme that not many fitness people do – he kept his shirt on. Instead, Chad uses a mix of:
- Educational infographics (made on Canva for free)
- Videos of him doing workouts to show his clients technique
- Screen grabbing his tweets for text post education
- The occasional selfie or other type of post
This mix brought Chad from 900 followers to over 100,000 in a year and a half. Further, Chad drives 100% of his business revenue from Instagram. He doesn’t get paid to post – his posts pay him through client acquisition.
Know why you want followers
I know you just read that and went “Um, more money. Duh.” and you’d be right to say that. But what I mean by “know why you want followers” is know your end game.
This typically splits into three categories for businesses and entrepreneurs:
- Marketing channel: Do you want to use Instagram to drive people to a place, other piece of content like your blog, or just make them aware of your brand
- Sales channel: Do you want to encourage people to buy either direct from your profile (with Instagram Shopping or sending them to your online store)
- Revenue channel: Do you want to build an influencer following and get paid to post on behalf of other brands on top of original content?
After identifying yourprimary Instagram objective (even if you eventually want all three), it helps you know what kind of posts you want and how you need to engage.
- Marketing channel: Higher frequency, fun, engaging posts. Spending a lot of time engaging on other profiles as well to build your brand
- Sales channel: Education for your customers on not only the products but their benefits. Spending strategic time engaging on other accounts (see tip 5)
- Revenue channel: Post all kinds of content to test in order to show proven engagement metrics (link clicks, impressions, follower growth, and proven ability to be a sales or marketing channel)
Post consistently, however frequently that may be
Some guides will tell you to post multiple times per day, which many influencers do. Kylie Jenner, for example, posts between 1-3 times a day. But, as I mentioned earlier, I got solid engagement posting only 1-2 times per week.
Frequency of posting depends on what kinds of posts you plan out. Try these benchmarks to get you started:
- Selfies and other non-educational posts – 2-3 times a week
- In-depth storytelling (which can include selfies/team pictures with good reason) – 4-7 times a week
- In-depth educational posts like infographics or product images – 1-2 times a day
As you test posting frequency, make small adjustments until you find the frequency that works for your audience and gives you the balance between highest engagement for the lowest number of posts. After all, each post takes time, effort, and thought. Even if it’s only about 10 minutes per post, adding an extra post a day will cost you 60 hours a year (a full work week spent on unnecessary Instagram posts!).
Once you have a frequency that works, keep consistent. If you see a drop in engagement and want to adjust, move slowly to your new frequency and maintain consistency once there.
Consistency helps with:
- Follower engagement since followers will know when to expect things
- Follower growth if you post at the right times (see “business account” below!)
- Post visibility when Instagram anticipates you’re making consistent contributions to the social network
Have a consistent post style
Similar to having a consistent personality and post frequency, keep a consistent style.
Style of your pictures contains factors like:
- Filters you use
- Order of pictures
- Length of text you put in images
Consistency of style is less about any one individual post and more due to users looking at your whole profile. The default profile view is tile pictures. If the style is too inconsistent, the visual is weird and it may turn potential followers off. This is especially true for brands with a very visual identity, as many of your followers may engage because they like your style. Drastic changes could lead to a drop in follower numbers.
Like and comment on other people’s posts
Liking and commenting on other accounts’ posts is the digital version of striking up a conversation with a potential lead or customer. That being said, you don’t want to engage on random posts. Similar to how you want the right people to find you, you want to engage with the right people.
Try this framework to get started:
- Look for accounts of companies and brands similar to yours
- Look for accounts of companies and brands who cater to a similar audience to you
After you’ve identified those accounts, look at who they follow and begin to engage.
When engaging, keep in mind:
- Liking and commenting should be genuine. Asking for a followback can appear crass
- Join a conversation that’s already going on, sharing some love or tagging a friend who needs to see the content
- Like freely, but be aware to not bombard their notifications with likes on every single one of their posts. I aim to like anywhere from 3-10 pictures on someone’s account when I’m engaging for the first time
There’s also tertiary benefit if the accounts engage back (even if they don’t follow) – their followers can see the engagement. That means you may still gain more followers even if the one account in question never follows you.
Like and respond to every comment on your posts
You should like and respond to every comment you get (unless it’s a nasty one – in which case scroll to the “cleanliness” tips for your Instagram page).
There are two reasons this is a good idea:
- You never know who could become a customer based on an engagement. Be genuine in your community building and your community will reward you over time
- You automatically double your comment count, improving the analytics on your post
I usually respond in kind to how someone commented on my posts: emojis get emojis (often the same one(s) in different order), text gets text. If someone writes in a different language that I don’t understand, I usually just sent a simple smiley in response.
Once your following starts growing and engagement gets higher, you may only want to respond to the first 50 or as many as time allows.
Only follow back if you actually like the content (with one caveat)
Follow-backs are the premise of someone following you only if you follow them back. Ideally, this could help you gain a lot of followers fast. There are millions of images with hashtags on them like #followforfollowback or #followbackinstantly.
I personally have a problem with these tactics because they are against the spirit of the “social” part of “social network”.
- Follow back schemes often end up with disengaged followers
- These schemes often end up with you following accounts you don’t like (and thus don’t engage with)
- Follow back schemes can make it look like you bought followers if you have a ton of followers but limited engagement
- Part of building credibility on social media is having a strong follower to following ratio. If it’s too low (eg you have 1,000 followers but follow 990 people), your account may be considered spam
The one caveat to this rule is some companies may opt to follow every customer. If you choose to follow this strategy then do it manually and dedicate some time to engaging with their content.
Leverage good hashtag climbing to supercharge engagement
Hashtag climbing is when you dominate small hashtags in order to be a good competitor in big ones because you demonstrate engagement. Shh, don’t tell anyone: it’s the number one secret I’ve used to blow up my engagement rate.
Instagram allows you up to 30 hashtags per post, so you have some leeway. Keeping all the hashtags relevant to your post, look for 1-4 you can use in each of these traffic numbers:
- 1,000 – 2,000
- 2,000 – 7,500
- 7,500 – 20,000
- 20,000 – 50,000
- 50,000 – 100,000
- 100,000 – 250,000
- 250,000 – 750,000
- 750,000 – 1.5M
When you search hashtags on Instagram, it will tell you how many posts the tag has. You can also use a number of free Instagram hashtag research tools to help you find the right hashtags.
After you post your image with a relevant caption, put all hashtags in a comment immediately after. When you do this, two things happen:
- Your photo gets logged on all the hashtags you use
- Your photo automatically has two comments – the initial caption you put and the comment you uploaded with hashtags, helping engagement metrics on your post
Resist the urge to use tons of massive hashtags unless you already have a large following. In order to dominate the top hashtags (ones with over 1.5M posts), you have to get a lot of engagement very quickly. If you don’t have that on your account yet through followers, it’s likely your image will get lost in the mess of the big hashtags and you won’t generate engagement from this.
Using big hashtags incorrectly was the biggest mistake I made early on with my Instagram. I thought I needed to be #blessed at all times to get a lot of likes. Instead, my posts got drowned out by every influencer on the planet. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Get an Instagram business account
Opening an Instagram business account is easy. All you need to do is convert your current page into a business page. You do not lose any of your existing posts when you do this but you gain analytics for all future posts (not past ones, sorry).
Instagram business account analytics help you understand your page better and make better decisions, offering data such as:
- Follower geography
- Your followers most active times/days on Instagram
- Reach information about how many people saw your posts
- Link clicks and other advanced engagement metrics
The process requires that you link your Instagram to your Facebook and that you have a unique Facebook Page for your business. However, if you don’t have a Facebook Business Page, Instagram will make one for you, for free, automatically. You don’t have to use Facebook as a tool if you don’t want to, though you can.
Maintain your Instagram page’s cleanliness
Like any community, in real life or online, it’s not all roses. Sometimes people will troll you. Sometimes you post a picture and a week later realize it’s tacky and no one liked it. It happens.
Don’t be afraid to delete crap comments and rudeness from your page as soon as you see it (hold your thumb down on the comment and the option will appear). It’s not your job to provide a forum for all morons on the internet. Your page is about showcasing your brand, so don’t be afraid to clean up house.
I personally check a few times a day cause you never know when someone is being gross. But for accounts just starting out you can do it ad-hoc by checking your notifications as they come in.
Bonus: Instagram stories
Instagram stories are great for showcasing “fleeting” content. This could mean a sale reminder, a popup to share a new post notification with your audience, or more classic engagement techniques like live Q&A’s with followers.
Fitness influencer Chad Hargrove does frequent Instagram stories where he answers fitness questions from his followers. He provides insight, advice, or his opinion based on experience and research. They can be great for your brand.
The reason I included it as a bonus is because I have not used Instagram stories yet. So in that vein of being honest with you, I won’t profess to know it all. Instead, here is a great guide from Buffer on how to use Instagram stories.
Tools to make your Instagram life easier
You can run your Instagram solely from the app, but sometimes you need more functionality or need more in-depth information. For that, there are tools to help, such as these ones:
I’ve used all three of the above platforms and personally think Buffer is the easiest to use.
Post creation and editing
- Layout app (Google Play and Apple Store)
- Boomerang (Google Play and Apple Store)
- Repost app
- Flixel – Cinemagraph tool
- Canva – No-code design tool
Out of these tools, I’ve used Layout and Canva. I’m familiar with Flixel, but have not used it.
I have never used hashtag research tools, instead preferring to use the built-in search on Instagram. I use a specific hashtag strategy (which I’m explaining in another article!), so I find I don’t need these tools to get great engagement from hashtags.
High engagement on Instagram comes from balancing formula with humanity
Hopefully, this guide will help you supercharge your Instagram engagement no matter your following. Growth and engagement on Instagram is a great way to build a brand, get more sales, and connect with your community. The best part is anyone with a smartphone can learn how to do it.
Remember, though, growth is not instant. It requires work. Tools make it easier, but you still have a responsibility to engage (if you want success, that is).
I’ll finish off by saying sometimes, you get a post that doesn’t do well. You put lots of work into it and it flops. You barely get any engagement. It’s happened to me before and continues to happen to this day. As I’m writing this, I’m looking at one post I thought would do really well that got 3x less engagement than some of my other ones.
When this happens to you, and I promise you it will, laugh it off.
Growing a brand anywhere, and especially on a platform like Instagram, is not about getting a winner every time. It’s about building a system that produces winners with increasing frequency. If you’re improving and learning with every post, then success is inevitable with hard work and time. You got this.