Hey there, I’m Ashley! I’m guest posting to the blog because I’m the brains behind the Greetabl Instagram account and social media presence, and want to share some first-hand secrets to growing your Instagram following.
First of all, wow, to say I’ve learned a lot while working on growing our Instagram would be an understatement! After countless (seriously countless) tests and trials and errors, we’ve been able to watch our metrics climb, and eventually double and triple. It’s taken a lot of time and effort but I’m so excited to share some simple but really impactful tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Tip #1: Be Real
This is the most obvious and most forgotten strategy on Instagram (and all social).
Engage your audience and talk to them like a friend. Ask questions in your captions, talk about real life, write your caption in the same way you might text your best friend. Utilize Instagram Story features like polls, questions stickers, etc. and plan your content in a way that you can have ongoing conversations with your audience.
An account I think does a really good job of this is @theskimm. They are always showing the behind the scenes of their office – what their co worker’s resolutions are, how they’re trying to get to work in the snow, battling colds and running marathons. All are small details but it really makes you feel like you’re getting to know them.
Example: The photo on the left is a really fun illustration by Nina Cosford you’d want to share with a friend. To make the caption engaging I added a question so our followers could comment with which bun they were. The photo on the right is a customer photo with one of our quote cards. To make the caption engaging I added a CTA so our followers could tag a friend!
In comparison, here are two similar photos without a CTA. The first got a good amount of likes but notice the difference in comments?
Tip #2: Plan Ahead
Your feed should be cohesive, and to do that you’ve got to see everything together. Planning in advance lets you move photos around ahead of time so you can arrange them in a way that you like best. My favorite free Instagram planning app is A Color Story! You can easily move photos around and edit them directly from your feed. For a more detailed schedule, I really like using Later (although it’s not free). You can decide what date it’s posted on, write the caption in advance, auto-publish, etc.
Part B: decide what color scheme your feed should be and stick to it. Use presets in Lightroom to edit all of your photos the same way or use the same filter or two. We stick to all light pinks and blues in our feed and if we want to introduce new colors like for fall or various holidays, I always introduce the new colors gradually and make sure the new color is present in multiple posts along with the regular blues and pinks to balance out the feed.
Example: On the left we brought in browns for fall which I balanced out in various photos through the feed – the donut photo, the puppy, the background of the ‘exist loudly’ photo, but still kept lots of blues and pinks. On the right, I added yellows for spring which you can pick out in about every other photo. Both feeds look like they fit together but the color scheme is just slightly different.
Tip #3: Use Data
Analytics will tell you all of the answers you are looking for to identify your best, most engaging content. Keep track of how each post performs and find out what they have in common. Once you identify the trends, try totally cutting out the content that consistently hasn’t performed and post only what does well.
Something that really helped with identifying trends in the Greetabl feed was taking photos we had posted within the past year and organizing them based on how many likes they had received. When doing this I could visually see all of the photos together that had performed well or poorly and was able to more easily identify any trends I could find. Here’s our group of photos that had received over 1,000 likes. Any trends you can pick out?
A tricky scenario we ran into was that it was glaringly obvious in the underperforming posts that a lot of them contained Greetabl product photos. We couldn’t completely cut out Greetabl photos in the Greetabl feed so we instead tried to make the product photos better mirror what our best content looked like. We added bright backgrounds and colors, simplified them, took them on an iPhone, zoomed them in, etc and it made a significant difference in performance.
Example: On the left is what standard Greetabl product photo looks like and on the right is a Greetabl photo featuring trends from our best performing content: simple, bright colors and is more real life vs. our styled studio photos.
Tip: #4 Test Hashtags
Ah, hashtags. Every Instagrammer’s best frenemy. So here are the basics:
You can use up to 30. They should be a mix of large and small hashtags all targeted to your niche, your target audience and the specific content being posted. The benefit of hashtags: this is the SEO of Instagram and makes your post findable. If you find a really good, super targeted hashtag and your post performs well it could end up as a featured post within the hashtag!
Example: #ihavethisthingwithpink vs. #pink. ‘I have this thing with pink’ has 358k uses (a great amount). The top posts have around 200 likes whereas the top posts in #pink have 4,000 likes. With all this competition, your post can easily get lost.
To find good hashtags, look at which ones similar accounts to yours are using. You can also use the site Display Purposes to generate groups of relevant hashtags. To easily access these when you’re posting, save groups of hashtags by category to the notes app in your phone.
Do NOT make the mistake most people make – do not use the same hashtags on every photo. Your groups of hashtags should be dynamic and changing, with different groups of hashtags for different types of content.
Using different hashtags exposes your content to different groups of people. So, when use the same hashtags over and over, you’re not being discovered by a new audience.
Tip #5: Test Posting Times
Pay close attention to what time, or day of the week your most engaging content was posted.
We found that our top performing posts were all posted over the weekend. Now, when I’m scheduling posts, I make sure to schedule the best content on Friday evenings, Saturdays or Sundays. To best test this for your own feed, take a month of content and vary all of your posting times.
Example: Here are two really similar posts: the one on the left was posted early in the morning on a Tuesday and the one on the right was posted in the evening on a Friday.
Tip #6: Track Engagement Rates
Engagement = (likes + comments / followers x 100). In the two above examples, the first photos’s engagement rate was 417 + 19 /56,200 = 0.77% while the second photo’s engagement rate was 1,880 + 58 / 56,200 = 3.44%
Or if you’re not the DIY math type (relatable), Iconosquare is a great app that will track this for you! We keep track of ours on a 30-day basis so it looks at our average engagement over the past 30 days. I find this to be the best indicator of how engaging our content has been overall.
We’ve also found that the higher our engagement rate, the more our following is growing – which also ties into hashtags! If you have a post that’s doing really well and users are finding you through that hashtag they may also hit the follow button.
More engagement = more discoveries = more followers.
Tip #7: Engage With Your Audience.
This ties a lot into tip #1 which was be to be real
Talk to your followers like a friend and also treat them like a friend. Always, always, always (x a million) respond to their questions and comments. It’s important that your followers feel like you care about them and respect them. They’re taking time to engage with your content, so always respect that and take the time to respond to them. It’s important to remember to give back to your followers not by just responding to them but by sharing value-driven content. Post the sales content, but balance it with posts that strictly give value to your followers.
One of our favorite place for this kind of content is Instagram Stories. Post Q&A’s, educational content, polls, and our all-time favorite – templates! Below were two of our most popular templates. We shared them first at the end of November and they received thousands of views more than any of our average stories, but we didn’t see a huge follower bump. The second time we shared them they received even more views than the first time and we gained almost 1,000 followers in two days. Someone with 1M+ followers shared it and since it had our handle on it, we got a ton of traffic to our page!
Example: A few ways we engaged with our audience when they were sharing these templates was to repost any that we were tagged in (this was a way to say thank you to those who were interacting with us and a way to encourage more of our followers to engage) and to also continuously share them throughout the holiday season. If we would have just posted it the first time and forgot about it we wouldn’t have seen the success later on. It’s important to remember that you have to get content in front of your audience a few times before it will resonate with them and also that 100% of your audience never sees 100% of your content. It definitely takes posting it multiple times.
Mainly, don’t be afraid to try something new! Switch out your hashtags, try posting a totally different photo than usual, post at a new time, try different captions, try out different content. Get to know your audience and test how you can make your content as relatable and engaging as possible.
One of our favorite ways to engage with our audience (as we stated above) is with Instagram templates! Here are a few blank psd files for you to make your own!