2020 is the year of Instagram. The platform ranks among the top 6 leading social networks worldwide according to Statista with 1 billion monthly active accounts. Bloggers in various niches have used it to reach thousands of followers and boost interactions on both their channels and blogs.
Whether you decide to make Instagram one of your main social media marketing channels or just a minor traffic-generation platform, learning how to use it will only work to your advantage.
I interviewed a few bloggers who used Instagram successfully to grow their audiences and asked how they did it. In this post, you will learn about the ways they made Instagram work for their marketing efforts.
1. Start with the Basics
Sheila Flores, Instagram power user @sheilaflores__ with over 20k followers, gives you a few brutally honest tips to get started with a punch:
Tips from the Pro: Sheila Flores
Before you start growing an [Instagram] account, you need to be clear about your niche. When you know what your account is about, you’ll know which followers are interested in what you have to offer. Then, create an attractive bio with your name and what you do, [and] focus on posting quality content. Be constant. Stay in your niche. There’s no point in having an account about beauty and then posting a picture of a random cat.Use hashtags, but not those like #followme or #like4like; use the ones related to what you’re posting. That way you’ll attract the right people and not spammers.
The basics in a nutshell:
- Be clear about your niche
- Be clear about your target audience
- Create an attractive bio
- Post quality content regularly
- Stay in your niche – don't derail
- Use the right hashtags
The next points will expand upon and explain these basics.
2. Understand Your Target Audience
You can't exclude an accurate analysis of the audience you want to reach on Instagram if you want the platform to work for you – and most of all, you have to find out if at least a slice of your target audience is actually on Instagram.
Mark Verkhovski, owner of the American Webmasters Association (AWA), lays out the strategy AWA uses to make Instagram work for their brand:
Tips from the Pro: Mark Verkhovski
Instagram is a unique platform with a major focus on giving businesses the opportunity for rich, visual storytelling. Many web professionals do not realize that Instagram is not only for young people but is a great platform for marketing that utilizes visuals. So they don't really pay attention to this social network.
We use a strategy of posting entrepreneurial images branded with our website name and logo. This resonates well with the youth as many of them are website owners and webmasters. One viral Instagram image can get you thousands of followers and potential clients.
Our Instagram strategy [involves]:
1. Understanding who our target audience on Instagram is
2. Designing visuals in a way that truly resonate with our audience
3. Boosting our posts with an ad for brand visibility
4. Monitoring, measuring and tuning our social campaign
5. Growing our list of followers and email subscribers.
Understanding your audience is vital to your campaigns and visibility, and it's the only way to make all your work from #1 worth the effort.
Tanya de Kruijff, blogger and creative artist at TwinklyTanya.com and owner of the Instagram account @twinklytanya, emphasizes coherence as an essential trait of your feed:
Tips from the Pro: Tanya de Kruijff
Make sure your feed is coherent. People who are interested in my art won’t care about what I had for lunch yesterday. I love feeds that choose a certain color scheme, or something recognizable such as a custom background or props.
In my own feed I always use a white background combined with an accent color, and flowers as props. It’s like a signature, I want people to recognize my pictures as mine, before seeing my name! That’s the best way to brand yourself.
Once you have identified your target audience on Instagram, make sure the visuals you share in your feed make sense for your followers and keep them engaged and interested in your future updates. Creating a series is also a good way to do this – something you already do for your blog, and it will work on Instagram as well.
Gap did this and had amazing results.
3. Leverage Your Bio, Photos and Stories
Your bio, your photo and the newest items in your feed, including Instagram Stories, are the first things an Instagram user will see upon loading your profile, so they better make an impression if you want people to follow your channel.
Influencer roundups expert Minuca Elena explains how you can write an effective bio to attract followers and direct them to your blog, and discusses the role of personal images in your feed:
Tips from the Pro: Minuca Elena
Each social network attracts a different type of audience. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are a great fit for bloggers that rely a lot on visual content. Sites from niches like fashion, travel, home decor, gardening, food, photography attract a lot of traffic to their blog.
Pay attention to your bio on Instagram. Write your mission statement (your niche in which you are blogging, what type of readers you aim to help and why or how). You can fit all these in just a couple of clear sentences. Also, remember to include a link to your blog in your bio.
You can add some personal images to bond with your readers (like photos where you use certain products you promote, images from blogging conferences from your niche or just friendly selfies from time to time).
Be careful to not overdo it. You need followers that are attracted by the topic you blog about.
Tanya de Kruijff also gives specific advice on how to handle the live link back to your blog in the bio – and keeping it the same at all times isn't always the right way to go:
Make sure this isn’t a generic link to your blog’s homepage. First, your audience wouldn’t have a reason to click on that link. Second, they would have to find their own way once they were on your blog. People's attention span on the Internet isn’t great, so we should make it as easy as possible for them.
Share the link to your latest blog post. With bit.ly you can make this URL shorter and you’ll be able to see how many people actually clicked on your link. Then, make sure you have multiple calls to action to click on the link. The most obvious [place] is your profile – say something like: “click below to receive a free printable planner” – but also mention your link in the pictures you share.
For example, if you’ve shared a picture of a gorgeous-looking pumpkin pie, you could write: “Would you like a piece of this pie? Then follow the link in my profile.”
With this method, you will have to change the link in your bio a lot, but it will be so worth it. People will actually follow the link [and even] people who have been following you for a while will have a reason to keep clicking on your links.
In 2016, Instagram updated its algorithm to only display the photos that it deems more interesting in newsfeed, generally the ones that got the most engagement (likes, comments, views) the most quickly, and in the niche or genre users mostly engage with.
That opens up to interesting marketing strategies to try on Instagram:
- Leverage Boomerang videos (videos that play backwards after playing normally for a few seconds, a fun Instagram feature that users love)
- Schedule posts to go live at the best times of the day your audience is most receptive
- Post niche content that you know will attract their attention
- Quickly reply to comments or at least “like” them with a “heart”
Also, switch to a Business account if you haven't already, so you can check more statistics and have better marketing data handy.
Instagram Stories, the app that allows users to post photos, videos and livestreaming events that expire after 24 hours, a la Snapchat, has undergone a dizzying growth over the last year. Instagram Stories beat Snapchat in 2017 with a boom of 300 million daily active users and its interactive features like a poll and a Swipe Up option to visit links (if you have 10k+ followers) make it easy for users to interact with brands. Besides, Instagram users can always reply to Stories via Direct (Instagram's own messaging system).
The best way to leverage Instagram Stories for your brand is to use it for quick polls, time-sensitive offers and news you want your followers to read within the next 24 hours, and brand event livestreaming sessions like Q&A, speeches and meet-ups, and even hold webinars with other experts.
Stories are also vital to the frequency of your updates in your followers' newsfeed: the more users respond to your Stories or interact (e.g. vote in the poll), the more of your posts they'll see on their feed.
4. Build Relationships with Other Instagrammers
Other Instagram users may or may not be your competition, but you can never go wrong by building relationships – whether they lead to new followers (and blog readers) or partnerships.
Sheila Flores recommends that you find accounts that share the same niche interests, and dedicate time to commenting on their visuals:
Once you’re happy with the look of your profile, it’s time to start growing [an audience]. My suggestion is to engage: find accounts with [the] same interests as you, like their pictures, comment on as many pictures as you can.
Smaller accounts are more likely to follow you if you show interest in their posts, but it’s also important to comment on bigger accounts. That’s because these profiles have a lot of views every minute, and if those people see your comment, you’ll probably get visits from them as well.
Flores explains the importance of comments further, and why they're your best bet for building genuine relationships and quality traffic:
Liking and commenting on other people’s posts are the best way to engage and create relationships. Show real interest, not just one-word comments. If they are really interested in engaging with you, they’ll get back to you. Make sure you reply to all the comments on your pictures. Show you’re active and interested in your followers.
Another tip is to ask questions in your post. That way you’ll encourage people to comment on your pics.
And again: stay in your niche. It’s important to engage with people interested in what you’re posting. That will make you get loyal followers that like what you do. Defining your sector would also [include] you as a suggested user to follow for those instagrammers that start an account in the same niche as yours.
Tanya de Kruijff shares the liking and commenting strategy that worked best for her, and the mistakes she learned from. She says:
Always react to people who have commented on your picture. Actively seek people in your niche by browsing relevant hashtags, and like and comment on their pictures. [This is what] I found out working best:
1. Don’t like just one picture.
Visit their profile and like at least three of their pictures. Only then will you stand out between all the other people liking their latest photo.
2. Comments work better than likes.
I always try to comment on at least one picture. It doesn’t take too much time, and chances are you’ll get a reply.
3. Always make your comments personal.
I thought I was doing great by commenting stuff like: “Oh, it’s so pretty!” Or: “Wow, that’s adorable!” Little did I know that my comments could easily be mistaken for bots. Unfortunately, Instagram is full of bots. These are accounts that use generic comments and send these to every picture with a certain hashtag.
They say stuff like: “Nice shot! / Cool! ? / That’s awesome!” or they just comment with a smiley. The thing is, I often commented with a smiley, too! I had no clue people might mistake my comment for a bot. So what should you comment, then? Well, anything detailed usually works. For example: “I really love the stripes on your skirt!” Or: “I always wanted to visit Prague, I hope to follow your footsteps one day!”
4. Ask questions.
Commenting, in general, is very valuable, but if you really want to connect, ask a question preceded by a compliment, [if possible]. People like it when you show interest in their work, and most of them are happy to answer any questions about their post. [Comments] are valuable conversation starters.
5. Use Facebook groups to promote yourself (in a genuine way).
There are Facebook groups which exist to promote your blog/Instagram.
Be sure to not just to drop your link! Engage with the other members. Also, make sure you are active in other groups in your niche. I always post my Instagram pictures in doodle or planner groups. When I do, I always make sure I put my Instagram handle in the corner of the picture. This keeps people from stealing my work, but it also imprints my handle into the minds of people in my niche. If they love your picture, they will visit your Instagram for more.
If you do all of this, you will find yourself establishing some very nice and valuable relationships with other bloggers. It may seem like hard work, but it really doesn’t have to take up too much of your time, and in the end it’s all worth it.
In addition to like-minded instagrammers in your niche, reach out to niche or industry influencers. If you blog about the same topics and you show your value, they might want to support you and provide exposure.
However, keep in mind that influencers with thousands of followers might not interact with you at all, at least not at first and not if you aren't in the same network(s). You might indeed get better chances with small accounts instead. In Tanya de Kruijff's words:
Engage with small accounts, or accounts with an equal follower/following count. Instagrammers with 15K followers may reply to your comment, but it's not likely they will visit your account, let alone follow you.
They simply get too much attention to be able to keep up with all of it. Smaller accounts get fewer messages, so they are more likely to notice you. Also, they are more likely to see you as an example [to follow] and therefore start following you.
5. No Live Links Doesn't Mean No Promotion
Since Instagram doesn't allow links in posts, adding links and CTAs to graphics (infographics style) is essential. For example:
Sheila Flores, like Tanya de Kruijff, suggests that you leverage the live link in the bio and direct your posts to it:
I think [adding live links] would be a great upgrade, but as that’s not possible right now, I’d suggest putting [your new blog post] link in your bio.
Then post a picture and explain in the caption what [content] people can find on your blog. I’d put “Link in Bio” and my username right after that (example: @name). It’s a way to make it easier for people to go back to your bio and click on the link.
Also, take advantage of your other social channels to share and repost your Instagram images and videos. You're going to be able to add live links on your other channels, thus boosting your visibility and getting more conversions for your special content.
6. Brand Your Images and Videos
Because Instagram is a visually oriented platform and you can't add live links to your blog content, it's vital that the images you add to your posts be heavily branded to be effective.
See this example from McDonald's:
The use of colors, fonts and presentation are unmistakably McDonald's and users will remember this video for being about a McDonald's product.
7. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage
Using hashtags in posts on Instagram is the way you get found and make connections, but it will work even better if you interact with other instagrammers using the same hashtag before you post yours.
However, you will want to avoid crowded hashtags, just like you want to avoid high competition keywords when optimizing your blog posts for search engines.
Tanya de Kruijff shares a strategy to pick the right hashtags for your content:
If you want people to notice you on Instagram, you can’t go without [hashtags]. But not only do you need to use them, you have to use them correctly. Just adding generic hashtags like #travel, #food or #cats won’t do you any good. Those hashtags are being used so frequently, that your post will vanish into the depths of Instagram within seconds.
You should research which hashtags work well in your niche. You can do this by simply entering a hashtag in Instagram’s search bar.
For example, I share a lot of my doodles on my feed. If I type in #doodle in the search bar, it shows this hashtag has over 13 million posts. Completely useless.
But it also shows a bunch of other hashtags starting with the word doodle. #doodledrawing for example, which has 9,457 posts. That’s perfect! If you’re starting out with your account, I would advise about half of your hashtags have between 1.000 and 10.000 posts and the other half between 10,000 and 100,000.
Just finding the right amount of posts in a hashtag isn’t enough, though. You need to click on the hashtag to see what kind of pictures people share within this hashtag. Does your style fit in this hashtag? Some results might surprise you. In my case, #doodlesofig with 43,643 posts seems perfect.
But when I click it, I see this hashtag is filled with… dogs! Labradoodles to be exact. The people browsing this category would care less about my drawing being among the furry pups.
So, be sure your hashtags have between 1,000 and 100,000 posts and that your photos fit their content and style. Oh, and you are allowed to use up to 30 hashtags. Use them all!
From 2017, hashtags no longer work in comments for display in search results. They must be placed in the caption of the post for them to be searchable and followable (yes, now users can follow hashtags like they do accounts!).
8. Make It Easy for Brands (and Yourself) to Advertise On Instagram
You may want to make money with Instagram, getting brands to advertise on your channel, and at the same time you may want to go out and find Instagram accounts to advertise on to boost your traffic and up your branding efforts.
Ivan Kostadinov, head of paid search at Local Fame, suggests that you
Tips from the Pro: Ivan Kostadinov
Be more active and post more often or at least on a regular basis because people are really into checking beautiful content on Instagram.
Also hashtags are kind of a big deal. Every niche has its own syntax – a bunch of words that people use to describe this particular content.
So it is wise to search for those terms and [include] them into the Instagram post [so] if someone wants to check related posts he'd rather just click on the listed hashtags instead of typing (it's quite a hassle sometimes because #somehashtagsarereallyreallylong).
The advice given in the previous points applies. You really want brands and businesses to pick you for their influencer marketing campaigns.
Also, as I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you may want to advertise on Instagram yourself, and for that case, Kostadinov brings up work done for his client as an example:
Our goal was to create a better presence on Instagram and we had to find a food blogger that had a considerable amount of real active followers in this social network. As you can see @poppy_loves_london has 28k+ followers and thousands of people like her posts on a regular basis, she is quite active as well and her followers like her posts and approve of her food preferences.
We were also quite persuasive when reaching out to her and actually we didn't contact other bloggers since it was either her or no one else – her Instagram [account] is that good.
So yeah, if you're aiming at increasing Instagram presence go for influencer marketing but make a great research because you don't want just any blogger/influencer, you need the right one.
Like Kostadinov, be selective in your search for the right Instagram account to advertise on, because the more targeted your outreach, the less you will be wasting time, money and resources on promotional campaigns that won't work.
If you don't want to do targeted outreach manually, you can still advertise on Instagram's news feed.
9. Get Active on Bloggers' Communities
As Tanya de Kruijff explained in the interview for Point #4, and as I mentioned in my free traffic methods post here at WHSR, there are Facebook groups dedicated entirely to Instagram promotion.
One of the biggest and most active groups in this sense is Instagram Posse, a community for instagrammers to help each other grow in engagement and follower count. As of September 2016, the group count is at 9,000+ members in the Beauty, Travel and Parenting niches. Instagram Posse works to users' advantage with Comment Pods to build engagement, 30-day challenges and account critiques.
The group has its own hashtags on Instagram to boost community engagement. Indeed, hashtags also make for on-platform communities and plenty exist for bloggers: #bloggerslife, #problogging, #businessbloggers, #bloggingbootcamp and so on.
Be careful with the requirements and rules every community comes with. For example, Instagram Posse has rules against self-promotion, ‘follow me' requests and business solicitations. Other communities will allow some self-promotion, but you will still have to follow the host's rules.
Keep an eye out for Instagram contests and linkups, too – they are good opportunities for networking. You can create groups, contests and linkups yourself.
10. Use Instagram Search Wisely
Search for hashtags, influencers (often, they have a verified icon next to their names, like @businessinsider) and small accounts in your same niche or industry.
The first result in Instagram search will always return the most active hashtag, followed by the most active accounts. It's a good idea to start with these top profiles and then narrow down to hashtags and accounts – generally linked in the posts you will find – running on smaller numbers.
Needless to say that your search on Instagram should focus on hashtags more than on accounts, because hashtags are the center of Instagram's activity and where you will find people in your niche.
How to Boost Your Instagram Follower Count?
In June 2016, Neil Patel published an interesting infographic on how he earned his first 1,000 followers.
The infographic reports interesting statistics, including that the per-follower engagement on Instagram is 4.21% – a lot higher than on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to the advice already given in the post you are reading, the core of Neil's guide comes down to:
- Have at least 7 images up before you start promoting your Instagram channel
- Connect your Instagram account to Facebook for wider coverage
- Like a lot of other instagrammers' posts and write @mentions in comments
- Post a feed of Instagram posts (by hashtag) on your site
- Post on Sundays for more engagement
- Last but not least, your effort will pay better if you publish lifestyle and personal images (company and blogging events will be your bread and butter on Instagram)
Indeed, the best content you can publish on Instagram is related to social events, lifestyle photos and any visuals involving people and everyday objects.
Aaron Lee from PostPlanner also posted a case study of their Instagram follower growth, and you will notice that most of the advice given reflects the points discussed in this post.
A remarkable tip from Lee's post is:
Sometimes businesses try to create their own hashtags, which usually doesn't work. If your business doesn't have a huge following, just use popular hashtags like #tbt, #photooftheday and #love to promote your posts.
He also suggests you run a contest to increase engagement and exposure, a good idea once you have a loyal following (at least 100 users).
I would add that you can still create your own hashtag, but always include it with popular and relevant hashtags that will help it reach exposure. You already read similar advice in this sense from the interviewees quoted in the previous points, even though their experience with hashtags differs a bit.
In #9 you learned that communities and Facebook Groups exist to help you network and boost your follower count naturally via interaction and relationships. Sheila Flores, that I quoted multiple times in this article, is one of the successful instagrammers who use Facebook Groups to build their following – indeed, I met her on the Instagram Posse group (mentioned in #9). As of September 2016, her @sheyfm account counts 13k+ followers.
As a tip, I'll recommend you stay away from the shady practice of buying followers. Instagram users tend to frown upon it, so their trust in your channel is likely to take a nose dive if they notice a trend in that sense. Targeted outreach is still your best bet.
Instagram Analytics: Measuring Your Success
When you upgrade your Instagram account to a Business profile, you will be given analytics tools (Instagram Insights) to measure your Instagram success.
Each post and story gets its own metrics and you can also retrieve statistics on your followers (location, hours and days they're most active on Instagram, gender and age distribution) and the way they interact with your content. The visual factor is strong so you can get an overview of your engagement at a glance.
The screenshots above show a few features of a Business profile with Insights: your profile page tells you how many unique visits your received in the past 7 days, while a single post comes with engagement numbers (likes, comments, saved items to collection) and the global reach of that post.
You can also use Google Analytics with this hack to measure how much referral traffic from Instagram you receive to your blog, and how it increased since you started working your Instagram marketing plan. You should see the percentage and number of referral traffic from the Instagram increase.
Finally, you can manually collect data as explained in the article I wrote in May about social media and blog metrics.
The data you want to collect from Instagram comprises:
- Overall engagement (most liked/commented/clicked visuals and most engaged time of the day)
- Conversions (increase in sales/downloads/pageviews since you shared branded content on Instagram)
Come back to your spreadsheet monthly or at the end of an outreach/engagement campaign to see what changes your efforts brought into play.
Pearls of Instagram Wisdom (Takeaway)
To sum it up, Instagram is a great platform to use for your marketing efforts if your target audience is visually oriented and you can produce attractive, friendly images to support your brand.
Sheila Flores reminds you that your Instagram success is based on exposure:
Instagram is a social network with more than 500 million users around the world. Think about how much traffic you can get to your blog if you use it the right way! And how do you get traffic? Having exposure. And in order to do that you need to have this clear: define your niche, share quality content, engage and be constant. Follow these steps and in no time you’ll have a great exposure.
But exposure alone won't do the job. You need to provide value for the viewer or follower. Flores adds:
Find accounts you like and show interest for their posts: like and comment. If they care about their account they will reciprocate. It takes time for a new instagrammer, but if you do it the right way your following will be increasing faster everyday. And that means that every picture you post will gain you more exposure. Once you get a big exposure, your account will be of a great value.
The value you provide needs the support of quality, branded images and/or videos for it to attract users' eyes and lead them to your blog. You also need hashtags that help drive targeted traffic to your Instagram content. Minuca Elena says:
Include high-quality images in your blog posts and brand them with your logo and the title of the post. Include a clear call to action when you share them on Instagram. Use relevant hashtags that will help you attract the right readers. Don't use hashtags that aren't related to your content just because they are popular. Also, be careful to not have too many hashtags. Three or four for each photo are enough.
And you need to share (branded) content that speaks to your audience's desires and needs. In Mark Verkhovski's words:
Our biggest success has been with creating engaging images that speak to our audience. Memes, inspirational quotes, pro tips, infographics – these are the visuals we use to impact the target audience. All our images are watermarked with logo and website name which promotes the brand recognition and drives traffic to our site.
Also, likes and comments. Liking and commenting are the heart of all relationships on Instagram, but they only work when they are genuine. As Tanya de Kruijff shares:
I comment a lot on other people’s posts. Very often these comments are reciprocated with comments! Also, Facebook groups really help. I always participate in threads where you have to like and comment on a few pictures in each other’s feeds.
But what’s equally (or even more) important: I never participate in follow4follow threads. They may seem appealing, because you’ll get lots of new followers easily. But having followers who do not actually care about your feed, is Instagram suicide. Instagram will think your feed is not interesting enough to show to your followers. The more people engage with your content, the more people in your followers list will actually get to see your posts in their feed.
About the power of visuals on Instagram, she adds:
Post pictures that will feed the curiosity of your followers. Your posts should be little teasers for your blog articles. It depends on your niche how to do this the best way. If you have a food blog, you could post your recipe on your blog and a picture on Instagram which makes your followers crave for this recipe. If you have a travel blog, you could show your audience a stunning picture of New York’s skyline by night and let them visit your blog for bars and clubs you’d recommend. If your blog has a more abstract subject, giving advice about blogging for example, Instagram might not seem like the most logical platform to promote yourself. But even then you can! You could share quotes from your articles and use the description as a mini blog. If they want the complete, elaborate advice, they will have to visit your blog. The possibilities are endless.
Last but not least, a technical tip (still from Tanya de Kruijff):
Now, hashtags will only expose your pictures to your chosen audience. In order for them to actually like and follow you, you need crisp clear and bright pictures. Use a good camera, bright and natural lighting and edit your photos before posting. Don’t worry, the camera doesn’t have to be a fancy DSLR. I shoot 99% of my current pictures with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. For editing I use the free app Photo Editor Pro or the edit options in Instagram.
Making Instagram work for your marketing efforts is not as scary as it might seem, after all.