The worst kept secret in social media marketing is Instagram.
Instagram has more than one billion monthly active users (and 500M DAU). This creates huge potential for brands looking to get their content out to some of the most engaged audiences in the world.
Whether your brand's Instagram content and engagement aren't as successful as you'd like them to be, or you're looking to learn new strategies around how to get more Instagram followers, you've come to the right place.
Today we're exploring 8 proven growth strategies to get more Instagram followers that actually work. We'll spare you the hacks and tricks and focus on the real tactics utilized by some of today's most prominent brands on Instagram.
1. Use the Instagram Algorithm to Your Advantage
Understanding how the Instagram algorithm works is the first step in improving your Instagram content and growth.
Brands can expect a mere 2-10% of your audience to see your organic posts within the Instagram Feed. This has resulted in countless marketers scratching their heads wondering where they went wrong. There are a few reasons for this decline, including:
- More content than ever before: There are more pictures, videos, Instagram Stories and GIFs for audiences to scroll through than ever before
- Removal of the chronological Feed: The Feed is no longer chronological. This means that users are shown what they’re most likely to engage with first, which doesn't necessarily include brand content
- The 10% Rule: Did you know that as soon as you publish a new post, the Instagram algorithm will only show the content to 10% of your followers as a test? This helps the algorithm to gauge the quality of your post and content – the more interactions it gets within the first ten minutes, the more likely it is to then be shown to the other 90%
Luckily for brands, there is a way to use this knowledge to your advantage. In order to do so, you'll need to capitalize on the following algorithm ranking factors:
- Engagement: Likes, comments, shares, views of videos, live videos, Stories, and saved posts are all critical forms of engagement
- Direct shares: Instagram counts direct shares as high-quality engagement
- Relationships: Instagram wants to show content that they are most likely to engage with, therefore increasing time on the platform. Content from friends and family will always rank well
- Relevance: Simply put, this is post relevancy per person
- Time: Time has more to do with consistency than it does the time of the day
- Searches: Frequency and total volume of search terms factors into content that is displayed
- Time spent on post: Instagram measures how long someone spends reading, watching, or engaging with individual content
In the following strategies, we'll explain exactly how to take what you now know about the Instagram algorithm and turn that into engaging content (and new followers).
If you want to learn more about Instagram marketing, then check out our Marketer's Guide to Instagram or our recent webinar on how the Instagram algorithm works.
2. Leverage Popular Hashtags (They Still Work)
One of the most time-tested ways to get more Instagram followers is through the use of hashtags. For years hashtags on social media have served as an essential tool for discovery and have allowed brands to extend their social reach.
But using hashtags in your Instagram posts is one thing, using the right hashtags is a completely different story.
Huge brands such as Shopify use popular and branded hashtags in nearly every single one of their Instagram posts to increase their exposure and follower count:
But which hashtags should your brand use? Similar to Twitter and other social media sites, Instagram users choose certain hashtags over others. If you use the most popular Instagram hashtags within your photos, videos, and Stories, you’re much more likely to reach new followers and be discovered.
One of our favorite free tools is AllHashtag, which shows the most popular hashtags on Instagram at any given moment. We also keep a close eye on peers and competitor Instagram accounts using the Meltwater platform to analyze which hashtags they are using and which ones are getting the most traction. This provides brands with invaluable insights that you can only get firsthand.
Finally, keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post, but we recommend using anywhere between 3-15 hashtags in order to maintain authenticity (non-spammy) and maximize follower engagement. We also keep an ongoing list of the most popular hashtags of the month/year so that our team can easily schedule them with our Instagram content.
3. Share User-Generated Content (UGC)
Have you ever stumbled across a brand's Instagram account and wondered how they have so many followers and where they got all of those amazing images from? Great content and user engagement is certainly something that all brands strive for, but it remains one of the biggest challenges in marketing.
That's where user-generated content - or UGC - comes in handy.
The easiest way to think about user-generated content is this: brands taking the best-of-the-best influencer content from around the web and featuring it on their own social channels or other platforms while giving credit to the original creator (user/influencer).
Arguably one of the best brands to ever utilize UGC is REI. They've been featuring influencers in their community for years and now boast more than 2.3 million followers on Instagram alone. In tandem with their hashtag campaigns #OptOutside and #REIPartner, REI makes their content fun, relatable, and engaging with UGC.
First and foremost, you’ll want to decide what you would like the content to reflect on your brand. Of course, this can and will change over time as you discover new things about what your audience loves.
Here's a list of questions to get you started on what types of user-generated content to feature:
- What compelling stories do our users have to tell?
- What makes your brand or product unique?
- What is the ideal way that I would like others to see our brand or product?
- What does our community love to do the most - personally or professionally?
From there it's as easy as reaching out to Instagram users and influencers for permission to use their content for cross-posting on your account. You'll be surprised at how often they say "yes"!
4. Double Down on Instagram Stories
I don't know about you, but I find myself browsing Instagram Stories just as much - if not more - than the Feed these days.
Insta has more than a billion monthly active users, but did you know that 86.6% of those users post Stories content daily? That's downright incredible and a no-brainer for your brand when it comes to increasing your followers.
Instagram Stories can be a powerful selling tool for brands looking to expand beyond typical Feed content and into a more dynamic medium. And one of the best parts about Instagram Stories is that brands can use features like hashtags, location tagging, polls, countdowns, follower and account tagging, stickers, link tagging, GIFs, filters, and more to increase exposure.
Here are a few pro tips to increase your Instagram followers with Stories:
- Post between 2-7 Stories in order to maximize "completion rate" - how many Stories your audience watches before dropping off
- Post 4-7 days per week in order to stay on top of your audience's mind without overwhelming them with too much content
- Post during busy social browsing times, including 6-8 a.m., 10-12 p.m., 4-6 p.m., and 8-10 p.m. EST
- Post user-generated content from your community to Stories to help diversify your content
Instagram Stories are a great way to grow your followers.
5. Promote Top Content & Products with Instagram Ads
In 2015, Instagram ads were born and marketers have never looked back. Using the Facebook advertising system, brands can reach a massive, highly-engaged follower base.
Instagram offers a variety of campaign options depending on what you are trying to accomplish with your ads. Brands can select from objectives such as:
- Brand awareness
- App installs
- Video views
- Lead generation
Brands can then create an existing or new demographic to target based on attributes like age, location, interests, pages followed, language, behaviors, and much more. Brands should experiment with a variety of user types and demographics until they find a combination of creative imagery + targeting that works.
Faherty Brand utilizes a combination or Instagram Feed and Instagram Stories ads to promote their best-selling products and important seasonal product releases:
When it comes to Instagram ads it's all about the creative. In order to truly be successful, brands should consider a variety of media types, including photos, carousels, videos, and GIFs.
GoPro, for example, has created a culture of adventure around their brand. Every visual they use in their Instagram posts and ads reflect once-in-a-lifetime experiences. By using these vivid, adrenaline-inducing images on their Instagram account, they’re able to feature their product without blatantly promoting it.
Not all of your advertisements need to "sell" your product. Brands can use social platforms like Instagram to engage consumers in ways you wouldn’t normally be able to. Social media is one of the best places to build your brand and implement a strong social media marketing strategy.
6. Host a Giveaway
One proven strategy to delight your audience is to run a giveaway. Instagram giveaways allow you to offer something for free in exchange for an Instagram follow, like, comment, or share.
When done correctly, giveaways can help you increase awareness of your product or service, cultivate a loyal follower community, and reach a completely new audience (think friends of friends). One of our favorite brands, Amika, is known by their community to run some incredibly exciting giveaways. And they're simple to enter!
Running a successful giveaway requires:
- Setting a goal
- Establishing the rules for entry
- Choosing a worth giveaway gift
Your giveaway should somehow contribute to a business goal for your brand.
Do you want to reach more relevant fans? Do you want to increase social media engagement with customers? Drive more sales? Decide on a goal that contributes to your wider business strategy, then decide what your goal is worth to you and create a budget that fits.
Next, your giveaway should make it easy for your audience to enter, while also making it worth the effort for your brand. At the very minimum, ask your audience to follow your Instagram account, like the post, and tag a friend in the comments.
Finally, you'll want to choose a prize that is truly worthy enough to excite your audience and entice them to take action. The total value should be at least $100 and can be anything from your own product, an experience, or a free service.
7. Post Content Consistently
Like most other social networks, two of the most important factors for a successful strategy are:
- What content you’re posting
- How consistently you’re posting content
The how often is just as important as the what when it comes to growth. Your Instagram profile should pouring over with great content on a consistent basis.
Why? Because your Feed isn’t only based on who your brand follows, it’s also based on the accounts and types of posts you’ve engaged with historically. The more the Instagram algorithm thinks a user will “engage” with a certain type of content, the higher it will appear in the Feed.
In other words, what someone sees is a combination of every single action and behavior. The accounts they follow, the accounts they interact with the most, the people they are tagged with in photos, and the type of posts that they like, comment, and watch.
Brands like Stumptown Coffee post about once per day, which is pretty common among brands with 10,000 or more followers. They've grown tremendously over the last few years on social, now with more than 500,000 followers across all of their channels:
This sort of growth potential is why consistently showing up and posting great content is so important. It sends the necessary signals to the algorithm that your brand needs to grow your Instagram followers.
8. Create a Memorable Brand Story
Many brands post engaging content to Instagram, but fail to tell a brand story that connects it all together. Everything from your username and Highlights to the filters you use with your photos and videos help to paint the picture of your brand's mission.
For a brand to grow its Instagram followers, it’s necessary to not only to relate, but to embed itself into customer identity that goes beyond its product offering. Put simply, audiences must feel like your brand speaks directly to who they are as a person. Creating a memorable on-brand story consists of the following elements in your content:
- Voice & tone
- Themes and styles
- Color and visual schemes
- Copy and hashtags
Retailer brand Huckberry is in the business of selling products online (commerce), but they're also a lifestyle business. When visiting their profile it becomes immediately clear who their target audience is:
Like the uber-talented creators and writers at Pixar once said, “Great stories are universal.” Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience.
One way to find out if your brand’s story is easy to follow and compelling is to tell it to a friend or family member who has never heard it before. Watch their faces as you read it and try to see where they pause and what questions they might have.
Simplify and refine until you’ve struck gold.
Next Steps: How to Get More Instagram Followers
Instagram is the ideal social platform for building and telling your brand story in an engaging and authentic way. As shown above, there are a variety of tactics and strategies that will work to help brands increase engagement and grow their Instagram followers.
But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember what really matters in all of this: the relationships brands build and the communities they create through social media content.
A robust social media platform can help your brand maximize success across every important social channel. Meltwater’s online social media management software makes it easy to publish campaigns, engage with your audience, build a community, and streamline reporting across social media channels.
Harnessing in-depth media intelligence and insights will help marketing teams make more informed decisions that will take your strategy to the next level.
There's never a better time to start than today.