I've spent a lot of time discussing blogging, and the importance of blogging, recently, but today I wanted to focus on another of my favourite platforms; Instagram!
You probably already know that I'm a big fan of Instagram (come follow me @oliviabossert!). I've been using the app since 2011 (when it was first launched) and that makes me feel a little bit terrified. It also took me an extremely long time to use the app for business purposes (and I kick myself for that a tiny bit) but in all honesty, up until two years ago, I didn't really realise that I SHOULD be using Instagram strategically.
So, what even is an Instagram strategy, and why do you need one?
Well, much like you create a strategy for your blog (creating an editorial calendar, deciding on your topics of discussion, curating it, consistency, etc), you can do exactly the same thing with Instagram, and that's what we're going to focus today's post on.
Instagram is a huge platform. In fact, there are 600 Million people currently using Instagram! 51% of those users access the app every day. I think you get the idea, but there are a lot of people on Instagram, and that means, there are a lot of people YOU want to do business with on Instagram, too!
Now, it's easy to think that you can just post to Instagram when and if you feel like it, have a rough idea of what you need to post, but the truth is that if you don't get some form of a strategy in place, you won't be using the app to the best of it's ability. There is so much you can do, and so much to know, that without sitting down and thinking about how you can use it to your advantage for your business, you'll quickly drown in it!
"Does my business even need to be on Instagram?" I hear you say.
The answer is yes. Point blank, YES. Whether you're a baker, a florist, a fashion designer, a farmer, Instagram will have something to offer you.
If you're a business, and someone goes searching for you on Instagram and they don't find you, I guarantee they'll find it a bit odd. In fact, more and more now a days, people are no longer searching for websites, they're heading straight to Instagram and searching for businesses on the app... I do!
"But what about the algorithm? Is there even any point in it anymore?"
Again, yes. The algorithm has made everyone's job harder (even businesses with 2 million + followers!), but despite that, I still firmly believe that Instagram is a place to be. You just need to understand how to work the app.
So, let's get into the nitty gritty of it all!
1. Understanding the Algorithm
What is an algorithm? This is hard for me to explain, because I'm not the best with these things myself, but basically an algorithm is a list of rules a computer is told follow in order to solve a problem. So, somewhere in Instagram-land, there's a massive computer (or 100), watching what you do, and depending on what you do, it decides to make the app do something else.
*confusing, I know* Because I'm so bad at explaining, here's a link to a video that explains it all much better! *This is actually the most basic explanation ever... because it's for kids!*
Here's the honest truth: no one will ever fully be able to understand the algorithm. The only people who do, are the people working at Instagram itself. The algorithm changes all the time; being tweaked little by little by the people at HQ to make the app work better (or worse - I'll let you decide).
However, there are a few rules we DO know, and that is that Instagram is looking to share ENGAGING content with it's users.
Engagement is measured by the amount of likes, comments and shares an image gets. It is dependent on time (ie. when you posted), how fast people commented, who commented, who liked, how quickly they liked... the list goes on and on.
Therefore, the aim of the game is quite simple: you are ALWAYS aiming for engagement, above all else.
The catch is that engagement needed grows depending on how many followers you have. To explain: if you have 100 followers, and 50% of your followers comment on your photo, you've got 50% engagement, which is really high. However, if you've got 1000 followers, and only 50 of your followers comment on your photo, your engagement is significantly lower. This is why having a huge following on Instagram is not always as useful as you might think!
2. Knowing What To Post
Know your Niche: If you're a business owner, you've got a niche of some kind. If you're in the wedding industry, you're going to want to post things relevant to love, weddings, and celebration. That will reflect your business, and help you to attract the people who you want to do business with!
Post What People Like To See: The likelihood is that you've already got an Instagram account right now, and if you do, you can easily see what photos people have enjoyed seeing the most by checking which ones got the most likes, and comments. If you're new to Instagram, spend a few weeks posting and then review what people have liked the most. I think you'll know what I'm about to say but... post more images like that!
Make It Flow: You know those accounts that are all pure white, perfectly curated and beautiful to look at? They tend to have huge followings, and for good reason: they're naturally engaging. I'm not saying your account needs to be PERFECT like those, (mine certainly isn't) but your feed should flow. When people click onto your account, they should feel it is curated, aesthetically pleasing, and with some thought put into it. They'll be instantly impressed, and will be far more likely to hit follow.
Post engaging captions: Obviously is a hugely visual platform, but it is also important that the captions you post are engaging. This is hard to do, but once you get the hang of it, it's much easier. The key here is to never leave the conversation closed, you want to give people the possibility to reply to something, comment on something, or leave their opinion. A great place to start is ask a question. Examples could be:
- What blog posts do you like to see from me?
- Where do you get your inspiration from?
- Where should I visit this weekend?
Before you click "post," think to yourself: what can people respond to this with? Is there anything that they can say? If the answer is no, go back to your caption and think again. It doesn't have to be super crazy in depth, but one of the best ways I like to think of it is: what's going on in the photo? What was happening on that day? Is there a story behind this image? Is there anything going on in my life right now that I can talk about?
You want to share a STORY. If you think of your captions as stories more than just captions, you'll be most of the way there towards creating engaging captions.
Share yourself: This is a controversial one, and not everyone always agrees with me, but I'm a big believer in sharing more than just your business with your audience. I regularly share photos of me, so that my audience know what I look like. I also share a few details of what's going on in my life. That being said, I am selective on what I share. I don't think you need to share the things which make you uncomfortable, quite the opposite in fact! But I do think it's good to share aspects of YOU as a person, because people are far more likely to be able to relate to that, and therefore to you and your business.
3. Knowing When To Post
Consistency is the name of the game! Just like blogging consistently, you want to be posting to Instagram consistently as well. You don't need to post every day (although I would encourage you to try), but if you decide you're going to post 4 times a week, stick to four times a week, on the same days, so that your followers (and Instagram) know when to expect you posts.
Before the algorithm was in place, posting many times a day was encouraged. In fact, I used to post 3 times a day! But since that algorithm was introduced, posting less is actually the way to go. I post now only once a day, sometimes twice, and see much better engagement. Instagram no longer shares posts chronologically, it shares depending on what the user likes, so therefore, if your friend logs on 12h after you've posted, and they regularly like your content, even if you posted hours ago, you should still show up on the top of their feed. If you post too many times a day, Instagram will prioritise your latest post. You need to give each of your posts enough time to gain traction and be seen before you share a new one, and essentially, cancel that one out!
4. Using the right hashtags
Instagram allows you to post 30 hashtags per post. Use them, and use them all. Hashtags are how users discover new accounts to follow, so if you're not using hashtags, you're limiting yourself to who already follows you! I know they can look ugly, so post them in your comments.
I also strongly advise having different sets of hashtags for different topics. If you're an iPhone user, use the Notes app to collect hashtags relevant to your niche, and keep them stored there for easy access whenever you post. I have different collections for different kinds of posts ie: a Lifestyle set, a Travel set, a General set (for posts which don't really have a set category), a Portrait photography etc, the list goes on (I'm a hashtag nerd).
You can search for hashtags in many ways. The easiest is to look at what other people in your industry are using, and use the same ones. Another way of searching for new ones is to type in one that you use, and on the top of your screen, you'll see Instagram suggest more relevant hashtags. Use those!
You want to have a spread of different engagements within each hashtag. For example, if you use #thatsdarling, that hashtag currently has 12 million posts to it! That means that it's being very heavily used, and your post won't last at the top of that feed for very long. However because so many people use it, it's a very engaged hashtag, so its worth using.
It's also worth using smaller, more niche hashtags. In my case, I love the #cornishcreatives tag (created by my girl Anna). There are very few people using this tag, but it's very relevant to my business, and I know people will search for it. If I consistently show up in that feed, it's worth me using it!
Another top tip is to sign up to Me & Orla's monthly newsletter, where she shares hashtag's shes discovered! It's amazing!
4. Returning the Favour
Like most things in life, you get out of something what you put in. In the case of Instagram, you'll only grow, and gain traction if you put in as much as you take. You need to spend time every day commenting, liking and engaging with your followers, and new accounts. This is how people will discover you, continue to love what you post, and engage with you. I suggest 10 minutes a day, at least.
5. Using Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories is the "Snapchat" of Instagram, and I'm a HUGE fan. In fact, I think it's the best update that Instagram has made, ever. Yes, you should be using Instagram Stories to it's full potential.
Using Stories means that you can share the behind the scenes of your business. You can share more of you. You can share the images that don't necessarily fit your "theme" or "grid" without feeling like you'll never be able to share them.
You can also get even MORE opportunities for engagement, because you have proper conversations with your audience; ask them questions, ask for feedback, etc. Leaving your Direct Messages open is highly recommended, if you feel comfortable doing that, because I'm finding that people are actually far more likely to speak to you in private that on your photos.
I've yet to use Instagram Live, mainly because I'm too shy and scared to do so, but I KNOW I should be, because Instagram favours those who use all of their features. If you're brave enough, definitely utilise the Live option, because nothing is more engaging than live video!
There you go! A MONSTER of a post on Instagram. There's so much more to be said, so please let me know if you'd like me to go into more depth on any of these, and I'll be sure to do so. Please also comment with your Instagram profiles in the comment section so that I can see what all of your accounts are!