As of just last year, Instagram boasted nearly 500 million users. That’s more members than the United States has citizens throughout the entire country, and more than 10 times the population of Canada. Around 15 million of those members are businesses and/or digital marketing experts who use the platform to drive more conversions and sales.
These are exciting statistics. There’s so much potential on Instagram for businesses who are willing to put in even a small amount of effort to grow their presence on the platform.
Just look at these incredible success stories and my very own recent post on Instagram. Brands enjoy around 59 times more engagement on Instagram as they do on Facebook. That number roughly doubles to 120 times if you consider Instagram versus Twitter.
While these numbers might be compelling, they aren’t actually the focus of today’s post. Instead, I want to talk to you about how you can ensure your own success on the platform – specifically, how to grow your Instagram followers.
We’ll also talk a bit about the difference between targeted and mass followers, how you can tell which you’re attracting, and the one common mistake we see businesses make time and time again.
Don’t Buy Followers
I mentioned the one common mistake we see businesses make on Instagram time and time again; this is it. Buying followers may seem logical; after all, following begets more following, doesn’t it? Well, as it turns out, no, not always.
When you buy followers, in many cases what you’re buying is essentially follows from fake or dead accounts. Sellers buy them or create them en masse and then sell them back to you for an exorbitant amount of money. They temporarily inflate your numbers until Instagram discovers the deception and shuts them (and possibly you) down for gaming the system.
But the best reason not to buy followers is also the simplest: they don’t convert, and they don’t support organic shares. This is the marketing equivalent of “empty calories” in nutrition.
Create a Consistent Brand Personality
Rustin Nethercott, a Forbes writer who works for email marketing client Constant Contact, says that successful brands use Instagram “as an outlet to craft and show the personality of their company.” He also states that developing a brand personality that’s genuine, yet relatable to your target audience will let you develop an emotional connection with your brand.
Rustin is right; brands with strong personalities know who they are. They also know who their target audiences are and how to be relatable with them by consistently exuding their personality every time they post.
I’m not just talking about persona; while persona development is an important part of marketing, this is less about your target audience and more about the face you show the world. It includes who you are, what you represent, why you matter to your target audience, and even what themes or aesthetics best represent your brand.
Whatever you choose for your public-facing personality, it’s important to remain consistent. Your goal is to keep your audience interested without inducing boredom, all while revealing your business’s personality along the way.
Keep your visuals, text, messaging, themes, aesthetic and even fonts as uniform to your brand as you can. Find ways to mix up your content without losing that anchor to who your brand really is. Your brand’s theme and personality should always be the anchor that makes your followers say, “Yes, I like that!” or “Hey, me, too!”
Be Helpful, Available, and Interested
Too many businesses schedule in posts and then walk away, never interacting with their followers or other businesses on Instagram. This can give the impression that your business is cold, unavailable, or even impersonal. This, too, can become a part of your brand personality, and when it does, it can cause them to shy away from engaging with your Instagram profile. Like a standoffish person, it’s just not a great way to forge an emotional connection.
Instead, be the “person” you’d like your brand to be. Focus on being helpful, responsive, available, and willing to go the extra mile, even if it’s just to respond to a customer when they’re happy (or unhappy) with your product. Others will see you making the effort, and that social proof often convinces them to follow you, too.
Followers need time to get to know you. They need to see you posting, learn about you, learn your brand personality, and then develop a strong connection to it before they will consistently share your posts. All of this requires constant reminders of your presence. The best way to do that is to post at least once a day (if not more).
Which brings us to the second-biggest mistake businesses make: tossing down a post once a week, usually with a link to a blog, and then calling it a day. If you do this, you’ll certainly exist on the platform, but you won’t hold attention. This can stunt your growth and prevent organic reach.
Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of posting daily? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Curated posts are fine during busy periods. Just be sure it represents your brand’s personality and contains at least a comment on the content directly from your business.
Activate Instagram for Business
If you haven’t already, strongly consider activating your Instagram as a business account rather than a personal account. Doing so gives you access to a whole suite of new features for tracking, analyzing, and even rolling out advertisements to attract new targeted followers to your page.
The analytics tools alone are useful enough to let you investigate each post you make for what works, what doesn’t work, and what you can potentially change.
Here’s the catch: there are a few potential caveats in using Instagram for business. Some marketers believe Instagram limits reach for businesses like Facebook. It doesn’t seem to happen across the board, so it’s hard to base a decision around that alone. Most businesses will probably benefit more than they’ll suffer from making the move.
Instagram does require that businesses link their profiles with an established (or newly created) Facebook business page. This may seem like a drawback, but really, the majority of businesses have Facebook pages already. Extra social media representation is always a good thing!
Determine the Ideal Time to Post
Instagram user activity waxes and wanes throughout the day, the week, and even the year. If you can identify when your target audience is most likely to interact with your posts, you can tailor your posting schedule to meet people when they’re already online.
The natural result here is that your followers miss fewer posts, meaning they’re more likely to see, interact, and share, winning you new organic follows along the way.
Let’s say you want to determine the best time to post for a small niche. You have two approaches: you can turn to past studies like these or experiment with your own Instagram account to find what works best. Your goal is the same: post when your followers are most likely to be online.
As for past evidence, most studies seem to agree that posting outside of regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hours is best. That’s because most people work during these hours, meaning they’re less likely to be browsing Instagram for photos. Instead, you should post between 6 and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends.
When is the absolute worst time to post? There’s no hard and fast rule, but most of experts consider late afternoon the most common posting black hole. This stretch of time certainly seems logical; it’s right on par with afternoon rush hour.