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Instagram is my favourite social media platform. Really, what's not to like? You get all of the best '3 C's' - an opportunity for creativity, connections and community.
In the last few months of 2016 my account started to take off, and I ran a successful eCourse, Instagram for Health Bloggers for the first time in December 2016.
After all that, I feel like my Instagram knowledge absolutely ballooned; There's so much to share that will help you grow your account, so I put my top tips into this post and I hope you enjoy.
Here's 9 Instagram tips I personally use that have helped me grow my email list, connect with new customers and clients and form genuine connections within the health blogging community.
It sounds kinda obvious, but the absolute key to social media (and in particular with Instagram) is to be social. Bloggers who carve out time to make connections with their peers and target audience will get ahead.
Make engaging with your peers and target audience your #1 priority on Instagram, and you'll find your online popularity (or cred) will take off. It's easy to read this and brush it off, but I guarantee those who do it will get results.
2. Post HIGH QUALITY photos
Instagram is a visual platform. That fact can't be ignored. Yet so many people post photos that are dark, pixellated.
This will work against serious offenders for two reasons:
- The people following your account are less likely to like your photo - the likes go to the good photos
- Instagram's algorithm is a smart cookie. It uses a computer engineering thingy-ma-bob called a 'neural network,' which is basically an artificial intelligence megahouse that gets smarter and smarter with the more data (photos) that are uploaded to Instagram for it to analyse. The algorithm can detect and predict a poor quality photo if from darkness, pixellation and bluriness, and you bet ya it won't show that photo to as many peeps in your audience.
Moral of the story? Make your pictures purdy. I love this post by Planoly which shares how you can create a well-branded feed (for next to no $/£) when you're ready to take your feed to the next level or curated perfection. I'm not there yet ;)
3. be yourself
Ever heard the adage 'your vibe attracts your tribe?' Well, like all way overused quotes and sayings, there's a truth behind it. Straight up, people can sense when others aren't being themselves. So for Instagram success, just be who you are.
The point of social media isn't to prove you're anything special, it's to be relatable to the people who matter: Your tribe. The best way to grow a community of engaged followers is to be yourself. Naturally, like-minded folk will find you. This means you can breathe a sigh of relief and stop trying to figure out how to be like that competitor you're always stalking (ahem, watching)
4. Ask (the right) questions
So we've already established that engaging on social media is the key to success, but how do we get people engaging with us on our own posts? The best way is to ask questions - but not just any old questions.
If you think about the following examples, which do you think will get the best response?
The Paleo diet is proven to reduce disease and increase wellbeing. Will you start eating Paleo today?
Personally I've found that eating Paleo has helped me lose weight, regain my energy and develop a love for whole foods. I started it because I was impressed by the literature on eating an ancestral diet, and since I started I've been about 98% Paleo. It's not for everyone though. Who else here is a Paleo diet? For those who are, have you had the health results you were hoping for?
The first example feels really impersonal and like it was half-heartedly manufactured to generate comments. The trouble is, it feels awkward - how are you supposed to properly answer that? If you read that somewhere, would you jump in with your thoughts? If it takes me more than a few moments to think about it, I probably wouldn't.
The second example on the other hand, is personal. It shares the writer's story, their point of view and THEN asks the audience to share their opinion and experience, with some context around where the author stands. The question is more thought-provoking and easier to form a response to, so my money is on option two as a more 'commentable' caption.
5. Schedule in advance
Scheduling has to be about my favourite Instagram hack. I'm not sure about you, but for me doing anything on the fly on a regular basis is a fast-track route to overwhelm and exhaustion. Also, I don't want to spend my whole life on social media, but when I keep organised and the boundaries strong, it's a fun and necessary part of online business.
There are plenty of schedulers out there, but the one I like and have used for yeaaaars is Later.com. You get 30 posts per month free, which is enough for most small business owners, and you can upload, write and schedule your posts in advance, as well as using the 'feed planner' feature, which allows you to rearrange the order of planned posts for the most visually consistent look.
If you sign up through this link, you'll get an extra 10 free posts per month, bringing your total free monthly posts to 40. I also get 10 free posts when you use that link (no monetary compensation) though I now have more monthly posts than I know what to do with, lol! - just keepin' it real.
6. post when your audience is online
The average life of an Instagram post is around 4 hours. That means, after you send a post, for the next four hours it will hang around in your audience's feeds. After that time? Well, your audience might miss out on your post, which means that for best engagement results, it's probably smart to send your posts live at the times they're most likely online.
Would you agree that most people are on their phones either before work, around lunch time and/or after work? Right, so to start, it would make sense to think about who your audience are (i.e. what kind of lifestyle do they live) and where they are (i.e. what timezone) and schedule your posts to suit those times.
For example, my audience are primarily from Australia, the USA and the UK. So I post most often at UK nighttime, because it's usually the next morning in Australia, and either earlier that morning or lunch time on the East and West coasts of the US. That way I ensure my posts reach most of the people in my audience because everybody's awake.
You can either look at your Instagram analytics by either:
- Going to your own feed, then clicking on the little bars up in the top menu next to your name. This will give you a whole host of handy info, like what time most of your followers are online, their age, locations and gender. Scroll to the bottom for time / day insights.
- Through your Iconosquare* account. This is what I personally use to check all my analytics, as it's so detailed, and easier to get a weekly overview than through Instagram's analytics, which show's you the best times for the specific day of the week you're on at the time you check your stats. Below is a screenshot of my ideal posting times according to Iconosquare. The darker squares are the most ideal times for my account, and when you hover over each square it tells you the average engagement rate for posts shared at that particular time, for that particular day of the week.
7. Learn from your past
In The Lion King, Simba could only move forward when he was finally willing to look at and accept his past. If you're a smart cookie, you can improve your Instagram game by looking at your past too.
I use Iconosquare to look back over my previous best performing posts. Then, I look for patterns in my results to understand what it is that might have caused a certain post to get more likes, or more comments than others. This intel then helps me plan for the future. My best posts always tend to be food photos,; What does this tell me? My audience are a hungry lot ;))
How do I do this? Again, I use a program called Iconosquare*, because the analytics are super useful!) It's really fairly priced to begin with, but you can get 20% off when you sign up to Iconosquare through this link*.
8. Don't bot comment
The following is an opinion piece. Wait a sec while I ascend my pulpit.
Love 'em or loathe 'em, Instagram bots look like they're here to stay. But one thing I would never suggest is using a bot to post automated comments on other people's photos. This one is a personal opinion, and you're free to disagree.
My opinion is that the point of Instagram is to create authentic engagement, and that's done through real comments and interaction between people. I can understand why brands, especially big brands, might choose to do it - it's one way to get found without you becoming a slave to Instagram to do it all manually - but you really have to ask yourself: 'In a world where brand affinity is everything, am I making the right impression?' If the answer's yes, and it works for you, then carry on your merry way.
However, as a prospective customer, a bot comment is an immediate fail in my eyes. They're almost always easy to recognise, they're not at all thoughtful and I've seen instances where they've actually been offensively insensitive to people who have shared something heartfelt or vulnerable.
I'm all for people doing what's right for them; especially when you're a business owner. Finding options that save your time so you can still grow your presence while spending more time on your actual work (seeing clients / creating products) is important, but for me, seeing a fake comment on one of my photos does irreparable damage for an individual and/or brand, and they usually get an instant delete, a bookmark in my mind and sometimes I might even block them. I would love to know your thoughts on this (though Hakuna Matata y'all - let's keep it thoughtful and courteous please ;)
9. Use hashtags (the right way)
Hashtags do get a bad rap in some circles for looking spammy or needy. But I say anything that's going to save your precious time by improving your reach (and for free, I might add - not much comes free these days!) is worth capitalising on.
So what's the go with hashtags?
I'm assuming you're familiar with Instagram so I'm going to skip hashtags 101. To get the best hashtags that will help grow your account, you need to do hashtag research.
This involves understanding what tags your target audience are using and searching. Tags below approx 10,000 uses (all time) are likely to not be popular enough to get you much of a response, and those over 1 million move so fast through the hashtag feed that your post will be lost to hashtag explorers, often within seconds (there's a loooot of people on Instagram, remember!). So aim for hashtags roughly between 50,000 - 700,000.
You can find different hashtags by starting with a keyword that your audience might be searching, for example, 'Vegan'. Vegan itself has more than 35,500,000 uses at the time of writing this, so it's safe to say that the only likes you're likely to attract from using that hashtag are ones from Instagram bots. Buuuuuut, when I type in vegan in the hashtag search, a whole bunch of other vegan hashtags pop up, each telling me how many times it's been used. #veganrecipes only has about 260,000 uses, so it might be a good one to start with. When I click that hashtag from the hashtag search, all the posts with that hashtag appear. Up the top, there's also a 'related hashtags' bar, which is perfect for searching for more relevant hashtags. Keep going with this approach until you have loads of appropriate and targeted hashtags, then store them for regular use.
If you're interested in getting a head start with your hashtags, I've compiled the 30 best health hashtags all into the one document, which you can download for free here. Not every single one of these 30 will be suitable for you, but you can pick out the ones that are, then do your own research to find more that relate to your niche.
30 best health hashtags
Get more engagement and followers with the most effective Instagram health hashtags.
Got any questions about Instagram?
Or want to share your thoughts on bot comments? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.