By Caron Shahrestani
Director of Caron Modern Media
Everyone has their go-to app.
My dad frequents Facebook, my cousins Snapchat hourly and as my clients will tell you, I prefer Instagram, through and through.
At Caron Modern Media, our primary service offerings are video marketing and professional photography. With the advent of Instagram videos and now in-feed advertising, it has become the preferred publishing platform for video and photo content within our client base.
No longer the “new app on the block” Instagram, like its parent company Facebook, has released several exciting updates since its inception. A few of my favorites are the landscape/portrait crop, updated videos views, and, of course, the new multi-account menu.
But with new app features and filters come more FAQs.
For a time, I offered in-person Instagram training to my repeat video and photography clients, followed by phone and email updates or per-post suggestions. But as Caron Modern Media grows and my clients commission more content, I realize my social media muscles are best flexed in a blog format.
How to Build Your IG Following Organically
Instagram dominates the social media sphere when it comes to powerfully visual fields like food and fitness. With millions of photos and videos posted every day, Instagram is the place to be for daily inspiration and time-sensitive promotions.
Depending on your brand, you should post to Instagram at least three times a week. That said, only the BEST QUALITY images should make the cut to ensure the most professional gallery. And yet, steady content and a sharp eye are just the beginning…
One in Five mobile minutes is spent on Facebook and Instagram
Instagram is popular among Millenials and baby boomers alike because it’s a mobile application that is almost entirely visual. Modern social media addicts don’t need to know whether you took a photo with your cracked iPhone or your expensive DSLR camera. Instagram scrollers respond to the image because it stood out to them in an endless sea of hashtag search results.
Sixty percent of current users say they learn about products and services on Instagram, 75 percent say they take action after being inspired by an Instagram post — like visiting a website or telling a friend.
– NBC News
Whether by emotion, criticism or curiosity, Instagram users engage most with imagery that is clean, bright and well framed. This rising expectation has heightened the quality of professional photography accounts and flooded Instagram’s galleries with regrams, creating redundant visual competition.
So how do you cut through the clutter?
Specific Steps to Instagram Success
The following list is a tried and true collection of tips for Instagram business accounts. If you want to build an organic following without paying for advertising, try the Top Ten Instagram Tips for Startups and Entrepreneurs.
1. Crop, sharpen and BRIGHTEN every single post in the Instagram app editor.
Familiarize yourself with the more finely tuned editing features of the Instagram app, especially Crop, Brighten and Sharpen. These three tools are often much more effective than the preloaded filters and they allow your gallery to appear more consistent in color-scheme and composition.
If the in-application editing features intimidate you, consider spending more time taking photos. A little time goes a long way in photography!
2. Limit the number of photo collage posts to one-per week (depending on posting frequency).
When one photo simply wont do, a tasteful collage is effective and engaging. Third party mobile applications like PhotoGrid are especially helpful in assembling custom collages that are Instagram ready.
There are differing schools of social media thought on the overall value of posting several individual shots versus one tight, convenient collage so don’t get too carried away. A cluttered Instagram gallery does not a loyal following make!
3. Use between 10 and 25 hashtags in the direct caption of every post.
Similar to Twitter, Instagrammers get many new followers from in-app hashtag searches. The Instagram limit for hashtags is 30, so its crucial to maximize your exposure with relevant terms as often as possible.
But wait! Wont that many hashtags crowd the post?
For some tastes it will, but avoid putting all your hashtags in the comments section as a solution. Comments only gain search result traction for 24 hours or so.
To maintain exposure, separate your perfectly punctuated caption from the tags with pertinent emojis, three returns and a period for each blank line to hold the space. The resulting white space will appeal to minimalists, OCD scrollers and Pinterest browsers alike.
4. Reply to user comments with gratitude and at least one hashtag you haven’t used recently.
Once your Instagram account grows to a certain point, you will see a shift in post engagement depending on the quality of your following. In order to attract followers who continue to comment on and #regram your content, your account needs a reputation for being both responsive and grateful.
Hence, when someone comments on your Instagram content – whether its a single emoji or a question about a photos location – its imperative to respond to them in kind. Not only to give the right impression, but also to gain post traction.
To maximize this interaction, include a unique or non sequitur hashtag at the tail end of your response. Repeating a hashtag in the same post is redundant when it comes to Instagram SEO. Take the time to find a term that will broaden your handle’s exposure.
5. Periodically research relevant hashtags and observe how your posts blend in or stand out visually in popular search galleries.
Using Instagram’s in app search field, take time to look at the 9 most popular images for every hashtag you used in your most recent post. If your image doesn’t appear, take a screen shot of the results and use them as inspiration for your shooting and editing choices. To compete with the stronger accounts, you need to stand out visually in your most relevant hashtag search galleries.
If Instagram industry leaders you idolize are gaining followers with tightly cropped images, compare their galleries to yours from a composition standpoint. Similarly, if the most popular Instagram accounts you follow frequently post GIFS or Instagram videos, consider expanding your content campaign to more engaging forms of content.
6. Create posts with a mix of less popular tags (1,000 posts or more) and more popular tags (1 Mil posts or more).
If you aren’t already in the habit of posting a couple dozen hashtags to every Instagram, the process of posting “in the moment” can become mentally frustrating. An apt analogy for an effective yet spontaneous Instagram post is a pop quiz: even if, in the moment, the test is a total a surprise, the students who study harder score higher on the fly.
Think of it this way: You can either spend minutes on end struggling to compose 20 creative hashtags on deadline, or you can do your homework. Study the hashtags that pertain to your brand, note the thousands or millions of posts that employ them, and then choose a balanced list of more and less popular descriptives.
Save your top 30 Instagram hashtags in a text or email draft and reference them when needed. Update the list any time you experience a drop in average post Likes or Comments. As your following grows, so should your post engagement.
7. Delete all but three (3) of your most unique hashtags when sharing content to Facebook.
While Instagram and Twitter depend heavily on hashtags for search, Facebook users have little patience for hashtags in their personal feeds. A Tweet or IG post can, in many cases, be composed entirely of hashtags and prove extremely engaging. But recent studies show Facebook users are most likely to Like or Comment on a post with three (3) hashtags or less.
For this reason, its best to post your Instagram content first, then select to share the post from your IG gallery to Facebook. Delete most of the tags and consider keeping one to three industry terms that are relevant or unique.
8. If your gallery focusses on a very specific subject or product, break up the more consistent visual content with personal posts or interesting shots of other people.
Some startups and entrepreneurs may feel hesitant to include in-office selfies or photos of happy customers, but the human element is a powerful one. Too many product images, merchandized stock photos or screen shots can make the company seem impersonal and unapproachable (e.g. the complete opposite of what social media UI should be).
You don’t have to show photos of your newborn or the street view of your new house, but consider staff birthday posts, business trip candids, and customer of the month entries. A smiling face and a relevant connection to your brand will help to visually diversify your gallery while attracting more passionate followers.
9. Block and report robot accounts that tag you for “posting spam”.
In the quest to gain Instagram followers, you will encounter thousands of accounts that promise to boost your following FOR FREE. One such scam uses a robot to follow newer accounts and then tag the account handles (@yourcompany) in the comment section of an even LARGER spam account.
Similar to your email spam folder, its best to help Instagram quickly identify and delete these annoying accounts by reporting them as soon as it happens. When you see a spammy tagged comment, click on the account avatar, click the report button, designate thats its the account (not a post) and specify spam. You can also block the account.
Over time, Instagram uses these reports from reputable accounts to evolve algorithms for spam detection and ghost account deletion, so try to do your part. Negligence only allows these Instagram bots to further annoy and pester the broader digital community.
10. Until you reach your ideal following, always follow back.
Like many social media concepts and theories, there are differing opinions on the subject of follow backs. To systematically follow someone’s Instagram account because they followed yours first shows little regard for principles or standards in whom you choose to digitally support. However,for a purely organic social media campaign – with zero budget for in-feed advertising or “boosted” posts – follow backs are essential to growth.
Much like Tip #4 on user comments and responsiveness, follow for follow is not necessarily a scalable solution. Once you garner a large enough following, you can screen your candidates based on promotional advantage, mutual interest or mentorship opportunities. Until then, always follow back.
If your follower to following ratio starts to slide out of your favor, consider third party applications like InstaFollow. This free app helps you identify ghost accounts and Instagram creeps, who will unfollow you almost immediately after you follow them back. As a rule, Instagram will never notify you of an “unfollow” so periodic spring cleaning is crucial to qualifying your following!
Thanks for reading this all the way to the bottom! You rock!
If you’d like to learn more valuable tips for growing your Instagram following, check out our new article on Uploading Videos to Instagram!