March 15, 2019
With over 1 billion people on Instagram every month and half of them logging in every day, Instagram is no longer something to be ignored. Especially when you consider that the majority of users fall below the age of 35. (stats)
If you’re a brand trying to reach this demographic, or if you just want to grow your following personally, Instagram is the place to be.
And, on top of that, Instagram generally offers higher levels of user engagement than other social media platforms.
The good news is that it’s still early as far as technology platforms go, and lots of people aren’t there yet. If you haven’t started yet, it’s definitely not too late to jump in. In fact, lots of people there aren’t operating efficiently so you can easily grow and catch up and pass the others to gain prominence.
So, great, you know why you should be on Instagram. But since you’re here, you likely know that already.
The real question is “How do I use Instagram to grow an engaged community?”
Because knowing where to be is totally different than knowing how to be there.
With so much online and users deciding in less than 3 seconds if they will stay, how do you capture attention and build engagement?
So let’s talk about the key things you must do in building a culture of engagement.
Theory vs. Reality
Before jumping in, it’s important to differentiate between theory and reality. There are all kinds of theories floating around about how to grow your Instagram account based on assumptions for how the Instagram algorithms work.
The problem here is that Instagram algorithms are very complicated and are changing all the time. So some trick that worked yesterday may not work anymore. In fact, accounts that were built using some of these tactics end up being severely punished when the algorithms change.
I don’t work in theories. I build around reality. What actually works: yesterday, today, tomorrow, and for years to come. It’s not about trying to trick or fool the Instagram algorithms. If you play that game you might see initial results but it will come back to bite you in the end.
Remember, at our core, we are trying to build community and engage with real people, who have real interests and real needs. Anybody can build a bot farm, but what good does that actually do? A bot isn’t going to buy your product. If you’re chasing theories, you’ll always be a follower. You’ll be jumping from whim to latest whim and updating your practice after every Instagram update. If you focus on reality, you’ll become a leader. Others, include the Instagram algorithms, will be looking to you to find out what works and how you are being successful.
Do you want to follow? Or do you want to lead? Set the theories aside for a while, and let’s talk about what really works.
#5 Create quality unique content.
There’s several things to unpack here.
First, unique content. Stand out. Be different. What makes “you” you? Where do you shine? Why do you get up every day? Take it and run with it! Don’t just do the same old thing. And if you are, then put your unique spin and flair on it. Make it uniquely yours.
Second, quality content. Much of the internet is bots. If you want a bunch of bot followers, then post tons of whatever you want and they will come. But if you want engaged real people, consistently post great content and see growth happen consistently over time. Don’t be misled by the word “quality.” Quality doesn’t mean “perfect” or “takes you 5 hours to make.” By quality, I mean “fitting to the situation.” Depending on your niche, some of the best quality stuff is just being stupid, or just being real. Quality content is content that is crafted with your followers in mind.
Third, create content. Instagram thrives on new content. If you’re not adding something to the equation, people aren’t going to engage with you.
There’s tons more we could talk about with content, including choosing creative engaging captions, timing, asking questions, hashtags, how to get to know your followers, taking advantage of caption character length, feed vs. stories, pictures vs. videos, and so much more. If you’re interested in more ideas, check out my Instagram Engagement club – it’s free to join and you get a bonus just for signing up. Members get ongoing new ideas and simple actions steps that you can take and implement. Click here. You might also want to take a look at my review of a powerful video story creator tool. Go here.
#4 Promote other people’s content.
“Wait!” You say, “I’m trying to get engagement, why promote somebody else?” Hang with me here.
These are psychology hacks. And believe me, it works. It works for personal accounts or if you’re promoting a brand.
This does two things for you:
1) Gives you great content which you need (what we just talked about). Yes, you need to create your own content, but you also can use other people’s content as well. (Remember if you use someone else’s content, you need to get their permission first and include appropriate credit with your post. Most people say yes because you’re giving them more exposure and saying their content is valuable.) (There are different ways to accomplish this, you can get more pointers as a club member.)
2) Others will begin to promote you and your content more. And here’s the thing, it won’t just be the ones that you promoted. Of course they might promote you back, right? But it’s bigger than that. When other people see you promoting others they are more naturally likely to like you and promote you. You prove that you’re not full of yourself and that you care about others. Even more, it gives them an incentive to promote you because, who knows, you might promote their content next.
Promoting others takes on several forms, from simple shoutouts and tags, to what’s called Regramming (using content from other people). Need ideas? Join the club. My Instagram club, that is 😉
#3 Do giveaways and contests.
Real people love to have fun. We’re captivated by incentives. (Almost) everybody likes the chance to get something for free.
“But I don’t have anything to give away.” Don’t overthink this. Just think “let’s play a game.” You can have a contest without actually giving anything away. Of course, more people will respond if there’s something in it for them, but just having “fun” and a chance to “win” is enough if you are engaging people.
Like other things I’ve mentioned, there’s tons of possibilities here. Too much to cover right now. Use your creativity or let me know if you would like more ideas. Methods include asking for likes, comments, regrams, or photo challenges. Prizes can be anything from a car, a trip, a toothbrush, a used stick of gum, or being the winner’s best friend for a day. The specifics will depend on your particular niche, followers, community, and goals.
Remember, it needs to be fun and enjoyable for your followers. And it needs to reinforce the actions you want them to take after the contest is over. (Do you want them to like your posts? Do you want them to interact with your hashtags? Do you want them to…?) You will also need to follow applicable rules related to contests.
#2 Be a big fish in a small pond.
Competing over the most popular hashtags may seem like a good idea because that’s where everybody is, but if you want to build real engagement over time choose hashtags that fit you and your followers. Instead of quickly disappearing or never showing at all from the biggest hashtags, you’ll quickly jump to the most prominent position by taking over relevant moderate or lesser used hashtags. Sure you may not get as much exposure, but you’ll connect more with the people most interested in your content, and they’ll come back time and time again.
But being a big fish isn’t primarily about hashtags. It’s about positioning yourself as a leader in your niche. That will happen easier and faster if you shrink your pond. Instead of talking about pets, you could focus on dogs. Or instead of dogs, Cocker Spaniels. Instead of social media, Snapchat. Instead of sports, basketball. You get the idea. The more specific you get the faster you will be able to grow to the top of that niche. Once you reach the top, then you can expand your niche further and continue your progress.
Another thing I’ve also found to be true is that the more specific and narrow you are, the higher levels of connection and engagement you will find in the community. Sure, people may follow you if its about sports, but they will LOVE you if you’re all about their favorite team. In my own experience, one of the most engaging communities I’ve participated in is parkour. If you run the tests to see what the most popular topics or the trending hashtags are, its not there. It won’t give you the most followers or the biggest groups, but talk about loyalty and engagement. And that’s actually more valuable in the long run. Your community is likely in a similar situation, a sub-set of a larger group that may not get much attention. And if you find it, you’ll quickly rise to the top and become a leader in your class.
#1 Be a friend.
This should go without saying, but it amazes me how many people forget this most important point. It’s like that old saying “to have friends you must show yourself friendly.” Or perhaps even better, the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.” If you have a personal profile, be a friend. If you operate a brand account, be a friend. This is about them, not about you.
Are your followers your focus? Listen carefully. I’m not asking if getting more followers is your focus. I’m asking if your followers are your focus. If you’re so busy getting new followers that you forget about your current followers, you will fail. If you’re so busy thinking about what you want and what you like, you will never achieve your full potential. If you put the most important things first, you will get new followers in addition to keeping your current followers happy and engaged.
Make your followers your primary purpose. Get to know your friends. What do they want? When are they on? What do they like? Ask questions. Show interest. Respond to them. Engage with their stuff. Practically speaking, respond to all your comments. Answer all your DMs.
If possible, use a personal account: you, your name, photo, etc. People like to interact with people, so unless you have a very distinctive brand or you build that distinctive brand, you’ll get better results by being a person. If you do need the brand account, try using both a brand account and a personal account, so you can still make the kinds of connections that only happen with friends.
Part of being a friend means being real. There’s enough fake stuff and fake people online already. Don’t be another one. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t spam. It might work for a while but real people get real tired of it real quick and leave real fast.
Whether you are doing this personally or for a brand, social media is all about building connections, and people connect with and engage with friends. Engage with others. Enjoy them. Help somebody else out. Don’t just look after number one. Sometimes we are afraid to share with others because we think it will take away from us. But actually when you build healthy relationships, share, etc., with others you will find that it helps both you and them. If you keep to yourself, it will end up hurting you. If you help others you will find that it benefits you in the long run.
A friendly word of caution: Participate with people who will reciprocate. Some people just want and never give. If you find yourself in a situation like that, stop that relationship immediately.
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Summary and further resources
Most of these hacks are fairly simple at their core. The truth is that most of the time simple is best. We have a tendency to get carried away with all the fancy and extravagant that take more time but don’t have much ROI. You might “know” what I’ve said, but you likely aren’t doing it effectively. My goal in this article is to help you connect with the most important, to get things in proper perspective and to build a solid foundation. If you found this valuable, I have a lot of more great content exclusively for members.
You may have noticed something as you were reading. I introduced the article as how to gain 10,000 engaged followers. But I never mentioned with any of the hacks how many followers you would get. That’s because it isn’t really about reaching 10,000 engaged followers. If you apply these principles well, you’re set up to grow to 10,000 and even more. But how many followers you have should not be your focus. You don’t need a certain number of followers to be successful. Enjoy, appreciate, and engage with the followers you have already. Put first things first, and you’ll be happily surprised at the results! 😀
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