Here’s everything you need to know to make your brand succeed on Instagram this year
Every time you catch up, it changes again.
The things that used to work on your Instagram before, now fall flat. Follower growth has stunted. Likes have waned. Posts that used to drive engagement are now just met with virtual tumbleweed.
So what’s happened? The likelihood is that somewhere, behind the scenes at Insta HQ, an algorithm has been changed. What that means is, the previous recipe for success no longer applies.
Nothing like an update to keep you on your toes in January, eh?
Here’s everything (well, almost) that you need to know about how to succeed on Instagram this year.
Understand the algorithm’s ranking factors
On Instagram, there are 6 key factors that influence the algorithm for feed posts.
Once you understand how all 6 of these factors work for you, you’ll start to see the benefits.
Interest, for example, is all about how you behave on Instagram presently and historically. It’s not just based on who you follow, but the accounts you have liked posts from, the hashtags you have engaged with, the comments you have left and the photos you are tagged in.
From a user perspective, combining all of these factors will allow Instagram to curate a timeline that holds your interest and keeps you scrolling.
From a brand perspective, though, how do you harness all of that data? How do you keep anything useful?
The only way you can keep sending interest signals to the Instagram algorithm is to be present. There aren’t any tips or tricks for this factor.
You’ve just got to keep posting high quality content consistently, making sure your content is present on the feed for users to engage with. After all, you can’t win the game if you don’t play.
This counts for stories as well as grid posts – as both post types count.
Make sure you have your content planned out in advance, and that you are posting to a consistent schedule, whether that’s once a day or twice a week.
Whatever works for you and your brand, keep it disciplined and make sure there are no gaps with plenty of forward planning. Each post sends healthy signals to the algorithm and each like, comment and save reinforces those.
As a user, you’ll likely always see the posts of your friends and family above any other content on your feed.
This is because the algorithm considers your ‘relationship’ with these people in a really direct way – focusing on:
People whose content you like (possibly including stories and live videos)
People you direct message
People you search for
People you know in real life (tagged photos)
Which is great for you as a user, but what about your brand?
What this creates is the absolute need for you to generate not only a large audience – but an engaged one.
You want an audience of repeat engagers, who love to like, share and comment on your content. Each time they do, your brand and their account will start to be tethered together through these relationship factors and your content will be ranked higher on their feeds.
In reality, the only way you can create this engaged audience is through the quality of your content – carefully considering what you are posting and the action you hope to prompt. Are you asking questions to encourage comments? Are you asking for opinions? Are you providing relatable or humorous content which encourages people to tag their friends or share to stories? Are you providing content that gives useful information that people may want to save and view later?
The answer to all of these questions should be yes, in any strong strategy. With the right balance, of course.
Now Instagram doesn’t show content in chronological order any longer, but that doesn’t mean the time that you post isn’t a relevant factor.
Every brand has an optimal posting time – usually when your demographic is most active and when your content has the highest relevance to the audience (i.e those beautiful breakfast snaps in the morning!). Experimenting by posting at different times is the best way to determine this.
Try a few times, and watch your engagement closely. You should start to see patterns in terms of times of day, and days of the week, that you can note down as your best performing post times.
Stick to these with posts moving forward to give your content the best chance of being seen.
Tied into this is just a note about Frequency, which is very important from a user perspective but not so much for a brand.
This just lets you know that Instagram is aware how regularly you open the app, and therefore how many posts to serve you.
The more often you use the app, the more chronological your personal feed is likely to look. Conversely, the less often you open the app, the more your personal feed is likely to show content Instagram’s algorithm simply deems to be of greatest interest to you, no matter when it was posted.
Most brands have, historically or even now, aimed to grow their follower numbers. Sometimes, this is done with the aim of building a highly-engaged community of like-minded people who are affiliated with the brand and everything it stands for. In these cases, organic follower growth can be achieved through hard work, a strong understanding of what your target audience likes, and high quality content.
Other times, the people behind the brand will see follower growth as something of a vanity project and may well have used ‘quick and dirty’ tactics to grow followers.
Perhaps your brand ran ‘follow to win’ competition after competition. Perhaps it even dabbled in the purchase of followers from one of many sites that offered them, back in the day.
If your brand has done either of those things, it’s definitely time for a cleanse. You need to go through and slowly remove your ‘ghost’ or ‘bot’ followers – which you can do through the profile itself and seeing which have engaged with your content the least.
Whilst this is time consuming, it’s an important step in the overall health and growth of your account. You have to take a step backwards to move forward on this issue.
Well, if you keep all of these followers, the likelihood is that they will never engage with your brand, and this will impact your engagement levels. Lower engagement levels negatively impact your algorithmic ranking, meaning that your real life followers might not get the chance to see your content as often – no matter how high quality it is.
Put simply, building your followers at the expense of your engagement level is a false economy akin to buying a snack to post a great photo on Instagram, and then throwing it straight in the bin because you don’t like it. It might make you look great on the surface, but you’ll still spend all day hungry…
As mentioned earlier, the more time people spend on Instagram, the higher the possibility that they’ll exhaust the ‘recent’ posts and be served up Instagram’s ‘suggested’ content – posts aimed at keeping people scrolling way beyond the content their followers have up that day.
Aside from this, they may also want to visit the ‘Explore’ page to see more content too. The Explore page is becoming a more advanced feature of Instagram, and a great way for users to see more than just those that they follow. It now has even more advanced search functions, including not just hashtags but keywords too, which will only increase its popularity.
For your brand, both of these features provide opportunities. Ways to reach your audience beyond just followers.
To give your brand the best possible chance of having its content appear on the Explore page or Suggested Posts list, make sure all of your content is tagged with an appropriate location and use five or six hashtags that are incredibly relevant to your content. In time, the rest should take care of itself.
Optimise for saves
Did you know that Instagram has begun testing the removal of likes as an engagement metric? It began worldwide and across the USA last year, and ultimately stopped displaying the number of likes a post got for everyone apart from the poster.
We don’t know whether they’ll ever retire the count of the traditional double-tap heart fully, but either way, it’s a good idea to start optimising your content for saves rather than likes alone.
Saves, created via the small bookmark at the bottom of each post, are a handy way to collect and keep your favorite posts. You can save these into collections too, so that you can easily access posts at a later date.
Instagram saves are a strong indicator that your content resonates with your intended audience – after all, why would they save it for later if they didn’t find it valuable?
But how do you create save-worthy posts, I hear you ask!
It’s all about providing real value with your posts – through high quality content, factual information, tips and tricks and longer, rich captions filled with useful content for users to learn from.
Utilise the newest features
This isn’t just one for Instagram, though it certainly works on that platform too.
One of the best ways to make sure your content is sending those healthy happy signals to Instagram’s algorithm is to use its latest features.
The development teams at the core platforms work incredibly hard to develop, test and roll out new features. They want them to be used, and used regularly enough to justify their work and prove their value on the platforms.
So use those new stories, stickers, polls and more. Trial what works with your audience, and keep an eye out for new ones as they are released.
Building the use of these into your strategy for 2021 is only likely to pay off in the long run.
If you’d like to explore the implications of these changes on your Instagram strategy, or need some support with your own management, email me at Shauna@ilkagency.com