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“The best Instagram growth strategy is all about creating micro-connections that gradually build into an active and engaged community of followers. Finding and engaging with these connections is the key to creating organic growth on Instagram.”
You can spend thousands of dollars on ads or buying followers to try and build a meaningful audience on Instagram before seeing that it’s a complete waste. At the end of the day, all that matters is that your followers care about your page and engage with what you’re offering, and Buffer is the best Instagram growth service to get you there.
“Your financials look great, but how come you’re at only 320 Instagram followers?”
That’s what our now-client Jamie heard from an investor who was looking into buying her pet grooming brand, back in late 2017.
Not knowing how to answer, she replied, “I’m happy with what’s working, and that’s focusing on Amazon’s fulfillment program.” The investor chuckled and moved on to a question about tax credits.
The deal didn’t materialize, and poor Jamie took a massive hit a few months later when Amazon decided crash the pet product party, by selling lower-priced grooming supplies under its own private label brand, AmazonBasics.
Back then in 2017, Instagram was at around 800 million users worldwide, with 250 million people using the platform on a daily basis. As of late 2020, there are over 1 billion Instagram accounts, over 500 million of which are active every single day.
Jamie first came to us thinking that Instagram is just a place for people to catch up on what their friends and family members are doing.
But in reality, businesses have been—and still very much are— successfully using Instagram every day to drive traffic, build brand awareness, generate leads, and nurture preexisting customer relationships.
In fact, over 60% of Instagrammers say they use the platform—at least in part— to discover new products. And even as of late 2017, 200+ million users were visiting at least one business profile each day.
As for Jamie, she appears to have learned her lesson, and is now running multiple retail businesses with sales being heavily driven by her robust Instagram presence.
But you certainly don’t have to be a successful entrepreneur like Jamie to take advantage of Instagram’s massive upside. Firing up an Instagram account is one of the first things a new business owner should do. What’s more, an Instagram account itself might represent a standalone business.
So whether you’re a veteran Instagrammer or can’t tell the difference between a follow and a like, we invite you to check out our 10-step Instagram growth guide, which we’ve prepared based on our own experience and practice.
This is a two-part guide. In part one, we’re going to go over some basic actions you can take right away to start your growth journey (Step 1). We also introduce you to Instagram analytics (Step 2) and the rules you’ll have to follow when growing your account (Step 3). Finally, we touch on why you shouldn’t use Instagram automation tools likes bots, which unfortunately comprise much of the Instagram growth service offerings on the market (Step 4).
Part two is all about working within Instagram’s own rules to organically, predictably, and sustainably grow your Instagram business account—what we like to call “human-powered Instagram growth.” To grow the right way, we show you that you’ll need to: carefully plan your Instagram content (Step 5); effectively use the platform’s built-in marketing features, namely hashtags and geotags (Step 6); and strive to build meaningful relationships with your audience (Step 7). We’ll then teach you how to leverage the power of both Instagram influencers (Step 8) and cross-channel marketing (Step 9) to skyrocket your growth on the platform. We then give our thoughts on paid Instagram ads, which you may well consider in supplementing your organic growth plan (Step 10).
Instagram growth service for your business.
Let’s dive right in.
To take the first step in your Instagram growth journey, you’ll need to create an Instagram business account—or switch over to one if you have a personal page.
Setting up an Instagram business page costs nothing and unlocks tools and functionality you wouldn’t get with a personal account, including additional calls-to-action and buttons, third-party integrations, and access to the platform’s own analytics tool: Instagram Insights. The business account conversion process is quite straightforward with instructions you can view here.
Once you’re set up, ask yourself the four questions below to check if your brand is well-prepared to embark upon its Instagram growth journey.
Even if your Instagram profile is already set up, make sure you’re operating with a suitable Instagram handle. Choosing a handle that’s memorable and on-brand opens the door to visitor interest and interactions; picking a handle that’s extraneous or inappropriate might slam that door shut.
While it’s best practice to use your company name as your handle, you might not have that luxury on a platform of 1 billion handles already taken.
In such cases, it may be appropriate to add a keyword that describes either your activity, product, or niche (e.g., travel, CBD, pets) or your geographical market (e.g. Europe, Mexico, Bali). If that fails, try inputting your brand name into an Instagram username generator to see if it gives you any good ideas.
Apart from being relevant, make sure your handle is also easy to remember and not overly long. Ideally, it won’t have any hyphens or periods, and will also match your handles on other social networks.
If you’re dead-set on a name that’s already taken, you may be able to contact the owner and negotiate a transfer (note that Instagram’s terms and conditions strictly forbid the purchasing and selling of usernames, so you’ll have to get creative.)
Pro tip: if you hold a registered trademark covering your desired username, and the third-party’s use of that handle clearly violates that trademark, you should be able to recover it by filing a trademark report with Instagram here.
With the effort you put into looking for the right username for your business, the last thing you want is a hard-to-read profile picture that’ll take away from your brand recognition on Instagram.
Your brand logo should fit neatly inside Instagram’s profile picture circle and be optimized for Instagram viewers. If you need to, shorten or abbreviate your logo text to make sure everything fits within the circle, or simply use an icon if that’s how people can identify you.
Pro tip: there’s a strong chance you may need to create a brand-new logo to accommodate Instagram’s unique parameters. Take this time to think about what you want your business to accomplish on Instagram, and use a graphic design platform like Canva to develop one from a template.
Just like Instagram assigns you one handle, it gives you the ability to share just one live URL in your bio. In some cases, you’ll simply want to direct your Instagram visitors to your company website; in others, you might be running a lead generation campaign or attempting to boost sales for a single product, for which you’d direct traffic to a landing or product page.
Either way, you’ll need to make sure the site or page you’re linking to is mobile-optimized. Instagram users will typically be checking your site from a mobile device, so you’ll need to ensure they’re getting an outstanding browsing experience. Mobile users are highly sensitive to load times, so your page speed should be lightning fast.
Additionally, we advise link-tracking by using a custom URL builder like bit.ly. This will help you determine precisely how many visitors or customers your Instagram presence is generating. After all, this’ll be the true measure of your Instagram growth journey.
Pro tip: don’t just throw out a link and expect people to click it simply because it’s there. Use calls to action and emojis to spark your visitors’ curiosity.
The possibilities for crafting an Instagram bio are endless. As you start achieving engagement and earning followers, it’ll be important to test various bio alternatives for effectiveness.
Experiment with messaging that’ll draw attention to your brand and provoke curiosity. We recommend A/B testing your favorite 3-4 iterations—making sure to test each under equal conditions of time and activity. Whether you’re prioritizing link clicks or new followings, sufficient testing will help you see which bio works best for your brand.
Pro tip: when crafting your bio, we advise playing around with emojis. Apart from helping you economize on your limited character count, emojis can help you engage with younger users such as millennials, who form a large part of Instagram’s user base.
Now that your business profile is all set up with the right handle, profile picture, bio, and link, you should next start taking advantage of your newfound access to Instagram Insights—the platform’s native analytics tool.
It goes without saying that data is key to any marketing strategy, so you shouldn’t stop there, as there are myriad third-party tools available.
By defining which Instagram metrics and analytics matter the most to your business, you’ll be able to make best use of all analytics tools at your disposal.
Your Instagram analytics effort should start right from your Instagram app. You can access Instagram’s native analytics tool, called Instagram Insights, by going into the app and tapping the ‘Insights’ tab below your bio.
Right away, you’ll see an overview of your 7-day performance, including the number of accounts you’ve reached, your content interactions earned, and your follower count, as well as percentage changes for each. Instagram Insights also tracks how your content is performing, offering an array of metrics for your individual stories, posts, and videos.
Anyone seeking to grow on Instagram will want to have a clear definition of their target audience on the platform. By simply tapping ‘Total Followers’ at the overview, you’ll immediately get a follower breakdown, informing you of your followers’ top locations (by city and country), age distribution, gender ratio, and times of greatest activity. This information alone can measure your targeting effort, and let you know the precise time and day you should be publishing to reach the greatest number of users.
The metrics and analytics you’ll want to next zero in on will depend wholly on the reasons behind your Instagram growth ambitions. New companies looking to build brand awareness will be chiefly concerned with follower count, impressions, and reach. But businesses primarily seeking to increase sales or generate leads will take most interest in website clicks and conversions. Conversely, if you’re looking to build out and nurture a community, you’d focus on engagement metrics such as post comments and story replies.
For all of the beneficial data it provides, Instagram Insights comes with a set of limitations, any one of which might merit your looking into a paid or freemium third-party analytics tool.
The glaring drawback of Instagram’s native tool is that there’s not much room for date range customization, and that it goes back to only 2 weeks’ worth of data in most cases. This forces you to manually record data to see trends over predefined and extended periods of time.
Moreover, the native tool is only available on mobile devices. Provided your analytics action plan goes beyond taking a bunch of screenshots on your phone, this might make Instagram Insights highly inconvenient to work with.
Third, Instagram itself doesn’t provide all the metrics you might find valuable, such as detailed hashtag tracking, greater insight into your followers’ activity, and the best time to post based on engagement.
There are a variety of paid and ‘freemium’ services you might consider to complement your data-driven growth effort. While all of these differ in cost and functionality, most paid services will generally overcome the 3 primary setbacks cited above.
Unlike Instagram Insights, paid third-party analytics tools will generally:
cover greater date ranges and generate customizable data reports;
be available on desktop;
offer detailed metrics and analytics to suit your growth needs.
A clear definition of your Instagram growth objectives and strategy will help you decide how to best use all of the Instagram analytics at your disposal, and whether you should resort to a third-party service to help you learn and grow.
Now that you’re well acquainted with Instagram analytics, you’re probably itching to start growing your Instagram account.
But before you decide on a growth strategy, you’ll need to be 100% clear on the rules you’ll need to follow when actively growing your account—and on what might happen if you violate these rules.
When publishing content on Instagram, common sense prevails. The platform excels at automatically detecting and taking down content containing nudity, hate speech, terrorism promotion, and the like. Copyright and trademark infringements are also an obvious no-no here.
As a general rule, steer clear of publishing any content a civilized person would deem reprehensible.
Where the platform’s rules get dicey is with respect to what users can and cannot do as part of their Instagram engagement and outreach strategy—and, as you might imagine, Instagram growth requires a lot of outreach.
You’ll of course be very attracted by the idea of Instagram automation tools doing all of this grunt work for you.
As always, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: Instagram takes a clear anti-spam position in its Community Guidelines:
Spam - This is not allowed on Instagram (creating or submitting unwanted email, comments, likes or other forms of commercial or harassing communications).
Why are we so quick to equate Instagram automation with Insta-spam?
Because the Instagram’s anti-spam crusade, which we’ll get into below, is resounding confirmation that the social media giant views spam as that term is defined in modern dictionaries: the sending of the same or similar message to a large number of recipients—and that’s exactly what your run-off-the mill Instagram automation service will try to do.
As of 2022, it’s clear that Instagram is cracking down on the tools most capable of spammy activity: Instagram bots and software-based automation tools.
As part of this automation detection strategy, Instagram sets daily limits on how much activity you can perform, implementing thresholds depending on factors such as your account’s age, size, and overall engagement.
While it doesn’t publish such thresholds, here are some sample Instagram daily limits we saw floating around, and were able to independently verify, in 2022:
In addition, Instagram doesn’t like interaction duplication, so even if you stay within your established limits, it’s always a good idea to personalize and vary your communications to the highest extent possible. Here is an example of blatant comment spam:
Don’t be like Albert.
Whenever your account exhibits such bot-like activity, Instagram will temporarily restrict it for periods of 1 to 48 hours. These temporary bans can be general or specific to the underlying action. Repeated violations of Instagram’s anti-spam policy can lead to permanent removal from the platform.
Even if your account is restored following a temp ban, the punishment may not be over. Instagram is also known to hit bot-run accounts with the shadowban—a scenario where you’re able to make full use of the platform, but where your content’s visibility is either significantly reduced or wholly eliminated (e.g., it might no longer appear on explorer pages or hashtag feeds displayed to the Instagram public).
It is within this context that we turn to our thoughts on Instagram bot services and follower sellers, and why you should avoid them.
Given Instagram’s overt contempt for spam-like behavior, businesses should avoid using Instagram automation services to protect their hard-earned Instagram gains.
But the market for Instagram growth automation is flourishing as of 2022, with many new entrants promising the best Instagram automation tools or the best Instagram bot on the market.
These services promise quick growth that’s attainable only through automation technology, with some services advertising an ability to interact with tens of thousands of stories per day. Others might even say they employ cutting-edge AI software and be completely undetectable by Instagram.
Regardless of such claims, we reiterate Instagram’s zero-tolerance policy on third-party automation tools. In a late 2018 announcement, the platform vowed to continue weeding out bot use:
“Starting today, we will begin removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity. We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use these services and remove the inauthentic activity.”
This came after it forced the permanent shutdown of two of the best Instagram bot services then available: Mass Planner and Instagress.
These two were among the best Instagram automation tools at the time because they didn’t actually create fake accounts with the effect of flooding the platform. But their method of artificially driving up engagement, and making their customers’ accounts appear more popular and valuable than they actually were, had run against Instagram’s core aim of providing a platform for authentic, person-to-person interactions.
For this same reason, buying Instagram followers is an equally poor and risky strategy. Oftentimes, a disreputable Instagram growth service will control thousands of accounts, which it can then direct to artificially inflate your follower count. When Instagram detects a massive spike in followers, without any meaningful increase in engagement to go along with it, you might receive a push notification like this:
Even if you don’t receive such a message after buying thousands of followers, you still end up with what are essentially useless accounts that will most likely never leave a genuine like or comment on your posts. And if your real audience sees you attempting to inflate you follower count in this way, it could ruin your credibility in their eyes.
In any event, bought followers will most likely distort your performance metrics, making it difficult for you to gauge how your real target audience is engaging with your brand.
There’s just no way of getting around the human touch necessary to drive the authentic engagement necessary for sustainable Instagram growth.
And if you’re still considering using an Instagram bot or an Instagram automation service, just consider this: do you really want to give your personal and financial details to a company that thrives on flouting rules and cutting corners?
Such an option clearly doesn’t sound like it’d be the best Instagram growth service for your business.
By now you know that the rules prevent you from employing an Instagram bot or buying followers. Even these tactics were sanctioned, they’d still lead to nothing more than transient, superficial spikes in your growth metrics.
But you’re after a powerful, long-term growth strategy that consistently yields you Instagram followers. You can only get there by posting relevant, high-quality content and implementing an organic Instagram growth strategy.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. But below we’ll lay out five tips to keep in mind as you begin to think about your organic growth strategy (Steps 5-9). You might also consider running Instagram ads to supplement a robust growth strategy (Step 10).
Growing your Instagram organically is akin to running a marathon. This principle applies to all Instagram growth strategies, even those built on viral marketing or reliant on paid Instagram ads.
First thing’s first.
To consolidate an authentic and loyal audience, you’ll need to establish a content plan and follow it over an extended period of time.
A lot of top brands like Starbucks post nearly every day. Others like Nike post infrequently, but with each post aim to generate the most impact impossible. Regardless of what works for your business, you’ll need to define a content plan— and stick to it. Your goal is to have your followers always looking forward to your next post.
Apart from posting, you’ll need to put out a consistent stream of stories and comments to earn attention on an increasingly busy and competitive platform. All of this activity will require advance planning and establishing quotas. But you’ll also need to stay flexible enough to react promptly to current events relevant to your target audience. Brands’ quick reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 are a case in point.
Moreover, your content itself needs to be harmonized to ensure a cohesive feed. Inconsistent messaging and aesthetics can harm your brand-building effort, which might lead to disengagement. Many brands stick to a single filter or theme on all photos, and a uniform writing style on all captions.
Remember Instagram Insights? This analytics tool will be of utmost importance in helping you establish the best times for you to post.
You don’t need to go by what anyone else is doing; best post times vary industry-by-industry and a variety of other factors. For example, a travel agency might plan to post on Fridays and the weekend, as that’s when people are generally more relaxed and open to booking their next trip. That guideline doesn’t apply to a nightclub, which would be better off priming partygoers with event announcements mid-week.
If you have a new account and lack data on optimal post times, we suggest scheduling a series of contextually and aesthetically similar posts spread across 2-3 weeks. Keep a close eye on engagement spikes across that period, and adjust your schedule accordingly.
We also recommend actively commenting on target users’ posts shortly before your own posts are published. The first few hours of a post’s existence are its most critical and when it would most benefit from the extra eyeballs.
Putting out a stream of well-curated content is necessary for growing your Instagram but won’t by itself get the job done. You’ll also need to master and implement Instagram’s tagging techniques and constantly expanding publication features.
Your proper use of hashtags and location tags will be key to expanding your account’s visibility across the platform. We also call special attention to carousel posting— a feature giving you the ability to share up 10 photos or videos in one ‘carousel’ post—as a tool to help you increase follower engagement and gain favor with the algorithm.
The proper use of hashtags is so crucial as to merit its own guide. To maximize your Instagram growth potential, you’ll need to conduct hashtag research and insert your target hashtags at every opportunity.
Because Instagram provides for limited on-platform searching, hashtags are one of the best tools for getting more eyeballs on your content. Crucially, hashtagging allows you to show up in the searches your target audience may be conducting—hashtags to Instagram are what search queries are to Google.
Hashtag possibilities are endless, so you’ll want to zero in on those with strategic relevance to your business.
If you absolutely don’t know where to begin, look up your top competitor and see which hashtags they’re consistently using. There are also third-party tools that can help you optimize your hashtag effort based on details specific to your business and aims.
You can start your hashtag research by opening the search tab in your app and tapping the ‘Tags’ tab. When you investigate a hashtag, you’ll see both your exact search term and a list of related hashtags, most which almost always contain your original term. This is Instagram’s way of suggesting relevant hashtags for you to use.
Because you’ll definitely want to consider Instagram’s own suggestions, start with a broad query and note down the related tags. Especially when starting out, avoid hashtags with over 500,000 posts, as these are ultra-competitive and often too broad to find your audience.
For posts, you’ll want to focus on somewhat popular hashtags in the 50,000 to the 500,000 range, as these will often be specific to your industry and target audience. Select at least 5-7 of these to test out.
You can use Instagram Insights to find out how you’re doing. In each post’s Insights, you’ll see under the Discovery tab how many impressions you’re getting from hashtags. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t give you a breakdown of impressions by hashtag, but you can see if your post got featured thanks to a particular hashtag by opening the top posts for that tag.
We’re frequently asked, “so how many hashtags should I use?” The answer depends. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 per post, so we recommend using at least 10-15 in your posts. Typically, your hashtags go under your caption, preferably with spacing in between to enhance readability.
For stories, you’re able to use up to 3. While you’re less likely to be discovered from in-story hashtags we still recommend using them. Instagram has a special #hashtag sticker for stories, in which you can input each hashtag. Often hashtag text detracts from the story viewing experience, in which case you can reduce the text box to the smallest possible size to still appear in search results.
As your brand presence grows, you’ll also need to develop branded hashtags specific to your business, which you should then incorporate into your posts and stories. This will be an extremely important tool which can be used for community-building, product or event promotion, or collecting user-generated content (UGC).
Tagging a location is equally important, as many users type in location-specific queries when looking for posts specific to that location. Again, you’ll want something with not too much but not too little search volume.
Say you’re an online luxury watch dealer looking to tap into the Wall Street finance crowd. You wouldn’t want to tag your posts to New York, NY, which is perhaps both too competitive and overbroad. Instead, you might want to figure out where your target audience hangs out—luxury hotels, rooftop bars, and so forth—and use the geotags for those locations instead.
If you have a physical store, you should literally put yourself on the map by creating a custom geotag for your business. You’d have to do this via a Facebook Check-In and ensuring you have location services enabled. After creation, you’ll be able to use this location in all your posts, videos, and stories.
Speaking of stories, we can’t understate the importance of geotags in-story. People always want to know what’s going on around them, so they’re perhaps more likely to find you via an in-story location tag than an in-story hashtag. As with in-story hashtags, feel free to play around with the location text box size to prevent distraction from your message.
Beyond hashtags and geotags, Instagram has an array of marketing tools to help you create engaging content that keeps people on the platform.
One such tool is carousel posting, for when one photo is just not enough to convey a single message or showcase one product.
Regardless of what you’re promoting, consider a carousel post to add depth to your message or tell a cohesive story to keep your followers engaged and more likely to be converted. Instagram tracks users swiping through your carousel posts, and the more time they spend on your page the more likely the Instagram algorithm will recommend you to new users.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the ways in which you might use the carousel feature:
In each case, you want to ensure cohesion between the carousel’s individual items in order to make your carousels easily digestible.
A quick, but important aside: carousel posting is a relatively new Instagram feature. The social media giant is constantly rolling out new tools with an overarching purpose in mind: to keep users on the platform. Keep your finger on the pulse, the algorithm is known to reward accounts that not only make use of the full suite of Instagram’s built-in tools and features, but are quick to adopt its newest ones.
Your Instagram growth path will be directly determined by how much effort you put into building meaningful relationships with your followers. It’s very simple: users who interact with your publications and campaigns are more likely to become paying customers. The industry term for this is engagement, which has come to dominate the Instagram growth world.
On every corner, there’s an Instagram growth service touting that it’ll boost your engagement rate. But what is it actually measuring? Typically, it’s nothing more than your measurable interactions earned (likes, comments, and shares) divided by your total number of followers, multiplied by 100%.
But in an Instagram growth landscape dominated by bots and automation, these so-called engagement rates can be easily inflated with auto-liking and auto-commenting. What businesses need to drive sales are meaningful interactions, and this can only be achieved by human touch.
Below we lay out two broad strategies for driving meaningful engagement: personalized outreach and contests.
By outreach we don’t mean spamming our target audience with identical comments and DMs. We’re also not referring to firing out mass likes, in exchange for receiving superficial likes. We’re advocates of personalized direct messaging and commenting as a means of establishing real engagement.
But how do you determine who to reach out to?
The safe bet would be people who are using the very hashtags and geotags that you’re placing in your content. Compile a list of such individuals and formulate a DM outreach strategy based on your business goals.
When you cold message someone, you could start off by complimenting or mentioning their content. Then you could describe why you’re contacting them, before ending with an invitation to engage or an incentive to take action.
For example, an event organizer could reach out to potential attendees who had attended similar events in the past. A cold DM could go like this:
Hey, [First Name], I’m [your name] from [company name]. I saw your recent post from [X event] – it looked like you had a very fun evening! I’m writing because we’re actually hosting [your event] at [place] on [date/time]. We’d love it if you could check out the info on our page and consider attending. As a token of my appreciation, feel free to show this DM at the entrance for a free drink voucher. If you’re unavailable that evening, feel free to spread the word!
Whatever you do, make your outreach thoughtful and genuine, keeping in mind that Instagram users have gotten extremely good at differentiating spam from meaningful communication.
As you get some results from your engagement tactics, you might start noticing especially loyal followers—those who seem to like and leave comments on every single one of your posts. Make sure to keep these superfans fully engaged, as they’ll be the ones most likely to share your content to others and create their own content (user-generated content) that promotes your brand.
You’ll want to shower your super-followers with personalized attention. You can DM them with unreleased content to get their feedback, or send them special promo codes or a free info-product. The goal here is to have them so engaged as to convert them from a mere follower into a brand advocate.
Contests are a powerful tool for skyrocketing your Instagram engagement, generating significantly better results than regular posts. Depending on your business, you should definitely be considering ideas for contests that drive user-generated content.
User-generated content is a very powerful way of expanding your brand’s reach and credibility, not to mention that Instagram users are much more likely to engage with or buy from your business if their friends are doing it too.
When an Instagram user generates unique content about your brand, it is a must to respond quickly and effectively with reciprocation. That means promptly commenting on every post in which your business is tagged, and resharing brand-relevant stories within 24 hours of their being posted.
But you need not stop there. Big names like Starbucks are known to ask their followers to submit creative photos for a chance at being featured. Large-scale UGC campaigns will typically be conducted around a branded hashtag for maximum brand consolidation.
One way you could prompt user-generated content is through a giveaway. It’s simple: you announce a contest and offer to give away a product or service. Users enter the contest by producing original content in accordance with your rules. You can even stipulate that they follow your account, like the contest announcement post, and tag their friends.
Here’s a rough guide for ensuring a fruitful Instagram contest:
Create and publish an attention-grabbing contest post;
Promote the post on IG stories and all available channels, including your other social media accounts;
Closely monitor the contest as it’s running; use branded hashtags to track performance.
Use story polls to let your followers decide between top contenders;
Upon contest conclusion, announce the winner and promote the results in a post and in stories.
The explosion of Instagram influencer marketing has led to an unprecedented volume of sponsored Instagram posts that’s expected to clear 8 million in 2020. Likewise, it’s projected that the global market for Instagram influencer content will be worth over 8 billion USD in that same year.
There’s a reason for these massive numbers: popular Instagrammers allow brands to authentically reach their target audience and in ways traditional marketing cannot. Influencers occupy a special position in the Instagram marketing world. Their followers see them as independent from the brands themselves, giving them credibility when they recommend products and services.
But while there’s massive potential in influencer marketing, selecting the right influencer-partner for your brand is no easy task.
We’ll lay out some criteria to help you move the process along, and describe 6 key steps to ensure a successful influencer marketing campaign.
There being at least half a million influencers on Instagram, it’s tough to know where to begin. Self-designated influencers are a dime a dozen, and just because a celebrity is willing to promote your brand doesn’t mean you’ll get a worthwhile ROI.
You’ll need a partner who’ll have both (i) a genuine and engaged following, and (ii) the ability to tap into your target audience.
After reading our take on Instagram automation and Instagram bot services, you’re now able to tell which “influencers” are probably the real deal, and which are not. You’ll recall that if a page has hordes of inactive follower and/or spammy comments, then chances are good it’s bot-reliant. Associating with such practices will not only lead to a disappointing campaign, but may compromise your brand image.
To ensure your prospective influencer-partner is legit, always check their engagement rates using a third-party analytics tool, although, as we described above, the engagement rate metric is far from perfect. Your benchmark should be 3%, which is roughly the average engagement rate on Instagram.
But to gauge whether your potential partner is suitable for reaching your business’s audience, you’ll have to dig even deeper.
First, you’ll need to be aware of the difference between macro-influencers and micro-influencers. Macro-influencers are typically your Insta-famous non-celebrities, with anywhere between 100,000 and 1 million Instagram followers; micro-influencers, on the other hand, have between 1,000 and 100,000 Instagram followers.
In our experience, micro-influencers generally outperform macro-influencers for three key reasons:
To summarize: in selecting your influencer-partner, you wouldn’t want to automatically discount celebrity or macro-influencers due to their enormous followings, but you’ll probably want to stick with micro-influencers given their authoritative grasp of your industry or niche, their generally lower cost, and their tendency to carry hyper-engaged followers who’ll more likely convert into paying customers.
Now that you have an idea of the type of influencer you should be looking to partner with, let’s go over the 6 steps you’ll need to follow to crush your first Instagram influencer campaign.
For many businesses, particularly B2C brands, no social media platform will rival Instagram’s abilities to consolidate an online community and drive sales. While Instagram should be central to your overall digital marketing strategy, you should use other relevant platforms as potential drivers of your Instagram growth.
Regardless of how well you’ve optimized your Instagram page, not all of your potential Instagram followers will be able to discover you there. The good news is that cross-platform marketing doesn’t necessarily require much work to produce massive results.
Your website might be your easiest starting point. By simply placing an Instagram widget at your site footer, you can start earning follows from your web visitors—many of whom may not have otherwise discovered your Instagram page.
Instagram will play a crucial role in this scenario, enabling you to connect with the site visitors you didn’t convert on first visit. By keeping these undecided buyers in your funnel with consistent, high-quality content, you’ll have a great chance of earning business you might have otherwise lost for good.
Of course, you’ll want to ensure consistent messaging and aesthetics between your site and Instagram page. In other words, your Instagram might be an extension of your online shop, and vice versa.
The same goes for your other social media accounts, though you’ll need to repurpose your Instagram content to best leverage the strengths of each. For example, images you repost on Facebook might need to accompanied by messaging and hashtags that better suit the different demographics of your audience there.
Tweets on Twitter are, of course, limited to 280 characters. You’ll need to adjust by crafting punchy announcements or quickly digestible insights. We’ve seen Twitter successfully employed to share customer testimonials left in Instagram comments, with links back to the original Instagram post.
The overarching objective is to consolidate your global base of followers and customers on Instagram, creating a central platform from which to accomplish your marketing aims.
Beyond reposts and content repurposing, you can create original promotions on other platforms to direct traffic to Instagram. Easy-to-implement examples include discounts for Instagram followers, announcements of exclusive Instagram content, and giveaways with the entry being an Instagram follow.
For example, check out this tweet by a UK-based liquor distributor:
The company announces it’s giving away a limited-edition bottle of gin, but in the process incentivizes its Twitter followers to follow its Instagram page for an extra chance to win. The brand is smartly leveraging its higher Twitter following to spur the growth of its less popular Instagram page.
To summarize, here are our key points from this step:
We’d be remiss to not at least mention paid advertising as part of our guide to Instagram growth.
After all, Instagram ads can support just about any growth objective we’ve mentioned here. You can run ads specifically to generate sales, drive traffic, increase your reach, skyrocket your engagement, or for a host of other reasons.
When you get started on Instagram ads, you’re availed of the same advanced targeting used by Instagram’s parent Facebook. Instagram’s targeting allows you to go beyond standard demographic and geographic data to develop messaging that will uniquely apply to each viewer. You can even target people based on their interests—determined by actions such as past ad clicks and accounts they follow, or based on their similarity to your existing customers (what Instagram calls “Lookalike Audiences.”)
Advertisers can also choose from an array of ad formats, including story ads, video ads, and photo ads. You can now even run ads that’ll appear on Explore pages, allowing your business to appear before users who are in “discovery mode” and typically in search of what’s trending.
Ads can be set up to link to outside websites, or lead viewers into an online store or application download.
Of course, all of this functionality comes at a cost—and ad expense certainly isn’t created equal. Based on what we’ve seen, Instagram ad expense is markedly higher for Business-to-Business (B2B) brands than for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) brands, since people typically aren’t using Instagram to buy business software or tools.
Your cost to advertise on Instagram ads would ultimately depend on various factors, including your particular targeting, placement, format, and time selections.
Just as an example, our client’s recent ad campaign resulted in an average cost per thousand views (CPM) of around $8—a high spend, albeit for a highly targeted campaign in a competitive industry.
For the above client—a large ecommerce brand with a straightforward ads strategy meant to drive sales—this represented an amazing ROI. But for an immigration attorney pursuing an awareness-raising campaign in relation to migrant workers’ rights, paid Instagram ads might not seem as compelling an investment.
Determining whether Instagram ads will work for you requires testing, testing, and more testing— as with any marketing endeavor.
You could always start small by running story ads using one of your most successful organic posts. To keep your Instagram ad cost as low as possible during this trial phase, use the automatic bidding function in Facebook ads and optimize your campaign for conversions to avail of Facebook’s powerful auto-optimization capabilities.
If the immediate or potential ROI appears to justify continued effort, keep refining to nail down your audience and messaging. For those who get them right, Instagram ads represent a very predictable Instagram growth tool.
However, the vast majority of us, at least at the outset, are better off starting with a fully organic growth strategy, especially one that leverages the expertise and scale of a specialized Instagram growth service.
We started our 10-step Instagram growth guide by laying out the present context of Instagram growth in steps 1-4. We described some basic things you can do to get your Instagram growing, as well as the current state of Instagram analytics and the rules concerning Instagram automation. From this part of our guide, we hope we gave clear enough arguments as to why you should avoid unsanctioned tactics like buying Instagram followers or making use of an Instagram bot.
Steps 5-10 then laid out a comprehensive, human-centric Instagram growth strategy that prioritizes real engagement, real followers, and real results. From content planning to hashtag selection to promotions and influencer partnerships, you probably get the picture: searches for the best Instagram automation tools or the best Instagram bot are futile. Sustainable Instagram growth is time-intensive and requires human expertise.
You may want to do everything yourself—after all, nobody knows your business better than you do. But you may simply not have the time or even desire to research your competitors’ hashtags or deal with influencer vetting. Why not leverage the expertise and scale of a team that does nothing but Instagram growth?
To find the best Instagram growth service for your brand, you’ll need to carefully examine your options and ask each Instagram growth agency you’re considering the right questions. Based on this guide, here’s a checklist of questions you should ask:
An Instagram growth agency worth its salt will be happy to provide clear and direct answers to each of these questions, and will work with you personally to develop a growth strategy tailor-made for your brand.
At Buffer, we do just that, and we’d love to hear from you. We employ human experts who design and execute personalized Instagram growth strategies to skyrocket our clients’ visibility, engagement, and sales. Contact us today to set up a free consultation with one of our Instagram growth experts.
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