Instagram has become a hotbed for brand marketing, and it’s easy to see why.
It boasts of massive engagement rates compared to its competitors Facebook and Twitter. While those may have 0.5 to 1% engagement, Instagram’s is 4.21%—no other social media platform currently comes close. With 500 million users on the platform daily, this can translate to millions of people seeing your content and interacting with it.
However, with Instagram’s updated algorithm focusing on user activity first and foremost, organic reach among brands took a nosedive. As it stands today, an audience that doesn’t interact and doesn’t engage with your brand is a marketing no-go. You’ll be relegated to the bottom of their feeds if you can’t get people to participate. Likes, comments, views, and clicks—these are the metrics you want to increase.
This is actually something of a blessing in disguise. You might have a smaller audience than the big brands, but a committed userbase that actively wants to connect with you on a regular basis is much better than a large, passive audience.
When you have people actually coming to you and becoming involved with your content, you’ve got something most companies can only dream of: brand loyalty.
Motivating people to become loyal to your brand doesn’t come easy, but it also doesn’t need to be expensive. Before you take out your checkbook and spend capital on a big marketing push, there are a ton of ways you can increase your Instagram engagement right now—you just have to work at it. Today we’re going to show you just how to come up with content that plays to the algorithm’s strengths and grows your Instagram followers.
Optimal Hashtags will give you optimal results
We’ve all seen them—posts where the caption is filled to the brim with hashtags. Sure, some accounts will try to hide the captions with a ton of spacing, but users have become savvy to these kinds of tricks.
Yes, it’s true that posts with hashtags receive greater engagement. When you decide what to include, you’ll want to be broad enough that you reach a decently sized audience. But there are caveats to this. A shotgun method to get your content on to as many pages as possible simply doesn’t work in our experience. Instagram engagement doesn’t grow by random chance.
On the other hand, if you create an entirely new hashtag that nobody even follows and hope that people pick up on it, the likelihood of your audience increasing basically drops to nil.
Striking a good balance between wide reach and relevance is a tricky job, but it’s definitely doable. The most successful brands on Instagram are able to do it on a regular basis.
The key? Don’t go overboard with the hashtags. Engagement is at its highest when brands add nine hashtags to their posts, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Making sure that each hashtag is relevant and targeted is the other.
There are tons of lists of the “top” hashtags to use, but do you really need to add #love or #coffee to every post? Unless you’re actually in the coffee business, you probably don’t. It’s fine to have a niche and to use that limited audience to the best of your ability.
Instagram already makes it easy to find out the reach of any hashtag through the search function, as well as any related hashtags. Use this feature wisely and you’ll not only have a better chance of actual activity from these feeds, your post will appear much more professional.
Users are incredibly sensitive to brands that try too hard, so the less spammy your posts feel, the better. Give them content that’s actually relevant to the hashtags they follow, and they’ll easily reward you with likes and comments.
Your need to step up your Instagram story game
We all know just how big of a hit Instagram stories are. According to Instagram, stories aren’t affected by their algorithm, so posting more will get your content seen by the most people.
But there are some drawbacks to this approach. We’ve seen brands almost completely forego posting to their normal Instagram feed, which in itself is a losing game. Ephemeral content is great, but it’s just that—ephemeral.
There needs to be content that a user can peruse at their own leisure. So, the question is, what do you post more of? Stories or traditional posts?
We think there’s no reason to choose between the two. In fact, you can use your stories to boost Instagram engagement on your normal posts. Share a story when you’ve put up a new post, and try to get some of that audience on to your traditional feed.
One other thing you need to do is to start using Instagram stories stickers.
With a minimal amount of effort, you can get people participating in your feed. Our favorite is the quiz sticker for increasing Instagram engagement. But the hashtag stickers (just make them relevant, as we said before), location stickers, mention stickers, question stickers, etc. are all great as well. Just don’t go overboard and try to keep a visual aesthetic that’s consistent with your branding.
The best part is that by asking for users to actively engage with you instead of just presenting content, you open the possibility for future engagement. Someone browsing your stories and answering questions is much more likely to like and comment on your traditional posts.
Captions can be the beginning of a real conversation with your audience
While it’s true that Instagram is primarily a visual platform, that doesn’t mean you can completely forego meaningful captions or quotes with each post. All too often you’ll see text that’s either simply a description of what’s in the image, or no caption at all.
Why is this such a big deal? Because one of the key factors that Instagram’s algorithm takes into account is how long people spend looking at each post. That’s not to say you need to take up the whole 2,200 character limit for captions, nor should you waste people’s time in an effort to bump up your numbers.
Bonus: Discover how Home Life Abroad increased their Instagram engagement by simply adding an Instagram follow button to their website.
What it means is that opening a conversation in your comments section is one of the best ways to get Instagram users to stick around, and gives Instagram a reason to put you at the top of user feeds.
Doing that with a meaningful caption and a message that users will feel compelled to think about is one of the best ways to do that.
However, there are some things to remember before you produce your copy. The caption can’t be too long, as Instagram isn’t made for long-form content. It also can’t be just an endless sales pitch, because your audience is sensitive to that. It needs to be relevant to both the image in the post, and to your overall Instagram marketing strategy. Lastly, it has to give your followers a chance to respond with their own opinions and ideas.
Ask yourself: what are we trying to say with this post, and what kind of story are we trying to tell?
It seems like a tough job to keep all that in mind when writing each post, and it is. One way to simplify it is with a call to action. A good call to action will give your audience a reason to interact with you and with the community you’re trying to foster.
A call to action doesn’t have to be complicated. Asking users to tag others who might be interested in your posts, or even just asking them their opinion should be enough.
One last thing—reply to as many of the comments as you can. This is the nuts and bolts of engagement! Each reply will make users feel like you’re really listening to them and really care about what they have to say. Don’t pass up that opportunity to make an impact and build brand loyalty.
Be consistent with your visual aesthetic
Instagram is, first and foremost, a visual platform. Studies have shown that the best-performing brands on Instagram use consistent filters for their posts. That makes sense, as it’s the brands with the strongest visual aesthetic and the best sense of what they’re trying to achieve that meet success.
So, can you just choose a random filter from Instagram’s offerings, slap it on every post, and call it a day? Of course not. We’ll have to be a bit more judicious than that.
The first step is identifying your brand’s message and figuring out what visual style will go best with it. Once you know that (it’s really the hardest part of all this), you can choose a set of three to four filters that fit each mood you’re trying to create in your posts.
If the premade filters available on Instagram don’t work for you, then you can easily choose powerful third-party photo and video editing apps such as Instasize, which allow you much more control.
The key takeaway here is that consistency—from brand message to Instagram filter—will reward you with increased engagement. People will like sticking around on your profile if your feed looks good!
Let your audience see the human side of your brand
When was the last time you followed a brand that was nothing but product shots? Maybe in the infancy of Instagram that would’ve worked for brands, but nowadays users are expecting much more in terms of the content that you produce. Your account won’t grow Instagram followers if all you are is a glorified shop page.
Letting your audience peek behind the curtain, so to speak, is a great way of humanizing your brand and getting people to relate to you.
Behind the scenes videos, employee features, and even Q&A sessions are all easily doable through either posts or Instagram stories.
The question sticker on Instagram stories is one of the best ways to do this, as it allows you to not only answer questions from your followers, it also allows you to share their answers. This is great for building a community, as your followers can see that there are other people like them who are interested in your brand.
The only caveat here is that you need a social media team that is good at running these events and can really connect with your audience. They also need to be able to thread the line between professional and personal—as too formal a voice when conversing in the comment section can seem aloof and can turn off people from commenting. But if you can form and manage a team that can do that, It’s a small price to pay for real engagement.
Instagram engagement isn’t something that happens by chance—it takes hard work, consistency, and a willingness to communicate with your audience. People aren’t satisfied being passive consumers of content anymore, but you still have to give them a reason to reach out. Implement our tips today and we believe you’ll reap the rewards almost immediately.