9 Expert Tips for Driving Instagram Engagement

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Additional reporting by Danielle Fallon and Dan Casarella.

Social media marketing is a top marketing tactic today, with many businesses utilizing their social accounts to engage consumers on a more personal level. 

One of the most popular platforms businesses use is Instagram. At the end of 2017, Instagram put the number of business profiles on its platform at 25 million, and that number has skyrocketed since then.

Related article: 10 Best Practices for Instagram Marketing

How does Instagram engagement grow my business?

If you have a phone, you can start growing your business instantly. Instagram is a great application to help you grow your brand awareness and engage with your customers. While it might seem as though liking posts and responding to comments may be more of a social strategy than a business one, every little thing you do on Instagram helps build your brand. 

There are over one billion Instagram users, with that number increasingly monthly. It’s a platform that is always accumulating new users with returning users discovering new accounts. Investing in an Instagram marketing strategy will pay off because you can continually find new people to reach out to who can help grow your business organically.

Most business Instagram posts have less than a 1% engagement rate. This means that a majority of the people who see your content will not like or comment on it. That’s why it is so important to meet users where they are. If customers see that you are an active account, that is consistently replying to comments or posting stories highlighting customers, then they’re more inclined to directly engage with you. This could be in the form of sharing one of your posts, sending a comment or DM, or buying a product through Instagram’s shopping post feature.

What is the Instagram algorithm?

One component that business owners are always concerned with when it comes to their Instagram marketing strategies is the algorithm. In the simplest of terms, an algorithm is the application’s code for making sure that users see content that most catered to their preferences. 

Because Instagram tries to show its users what is most relevant to them, marketers and business owners need to make sure they are appearing in as many feeds as possible. The algorithm decides what Instagram posts, Stories, Reels, and IGTV videos appear in users’ feeds and their Explore tab. It makes these decisions based on the user’s relationship with your account, their interests, how frequently they use the app and for how long, and how many people that they follow. 

Instagram’s algorithm doesn’t explicitly prioritize any one type of post, but it helps to post content that gets a lot of engagement such as a photo carousel or video. It also rewards businesses and creators who post consistently (which is where having a content calendar comes in). Businesses should not try to “game the system” by buying followers or information apps, as the algorithm can tell when you are which will affect your organic engagement.

Further Reading

Instagram’s algorithm is constantly changing — and so are the strategies brands are using to keep their content appearing at the top of the news feed. To learn how to optimize your content for the Instagram algorithm, check out this guide from Hootsuite.

Related Article: Why It Takes Time To Build A Social Media Following

9 Tips from Social Media Experts

Instagram has many features you can implement, from Stories to live-streamed IGTV videos, to help you connect with prospective clients and customers. If you’re wondering how to increase Instagram engagement for your business’s profile, try these nine suggestions from experts.

1. Post vertical images.

“Lately, I have been posting as many vertical images as possible. To take full advantage of Instagram’s layout, vertical images take up the most real estate. This way, the entire image/post is taking up most of the viewer’s phone; and as a result, they will be more engaged.” — Andrew Forino, Architectural Photographer

While Instagram originally allowed you to post only square images, you now have the option to post vertical images to the feed. A little extra visual real estate can make a big difference in catching people’s eyes, especially if you’ve got the only portrait photo in a sea of squares.

If you’ve got a great vertical picture and want to show it off, here’s how to do it: when creating a new post, select the small crop icon in the bottom left corner of the photo, then adjust it in the grid how you like. This will change the shape from its usual square to its proper full-size orientation.

Related article: 6 Canva Tips to Improve Your DIY Marketing Visuals

2. Personalize your comments/conversations.

“Use [your] name when talk[ing] to them! It shows you did research and it personalizes your convo.” — Lundyn Majstorovic, owner of Sea Turtle Social

Personalizing your comments and conversation is a great way to connect with your audience and promote continued engagement. Use names (either theirs or yours!) and any information they’ve shared with you within conversation. It will feel more personal than a generic response, and it shows you’re genuinely interested in building a connection with that individual.

3. Be engaging and thoughtful.

“Being engaging is the first step. If you are leaving thoughtful comments, people notice and reciprocate.” — Laura Burden, founder of Burden Brand Management

While you do want to promote your product and service, that’s not what your entire social media presence should be about. Rather than “sell, sell, sell,” your first priority should be engaging with other users in a thoughtful and personal way.

How personal you get will depend on your business and your own comfort level. What’s important here is connecting with your audience and showing there’s a human being behind your brand.

4. Respond to customer comments.

“[A] business should directly get involved in the comment section with customers. This way, the customer knows that their opinions matter and are acknowledged by the business.” — Syed Irfan Ajmal, MD and founder of SIA Enterprises

People often use the comments section to ask questions, share concerns and express their feelings toward your products and services. Take the time to respond directly to customer comments; it shows your customers that their opinions are important and that you’re there to help and support them.

When responding, be sure to answer any questions they might have, validate their concerns if they have them, and share in their excitement. Even a simple “like” goes a long way in acknowledging your customers. Depending on your business, this may only take a few extra minutes each day – but it makes a huge difference in engagement.

5. Have a frequent, consistent posting schedule.

“Consistency is by far the top way to improve your engagement rate. If you stay consistent on delivering content your audience wants to see, they will continually come back for more.” — Lexi Weigl, business coach for virtual assistants

Consistent, frequent posting is one of the best ways to boost your Instagram engagement. Creating quality content that resonates with your audience is #1, but your audience also needs to know what to expect and when to expect it. Once they do, they’ll be more likely to return to your page to see what you have to say.

The ideal frequency will depend on your business and goals, but be sure to be consistent – that is, developing a posting schedule that you can stick to in the long term.

6. Spark discussions.

“Engagement is a two-way street. It isn’t about talking at people; it is about a discussion and recognizing where there is potential for a mutually beneficial relationship. You can’t expect consumers to engage with your art or your product if you aren’t providing them with something of value.” — Mark Macaluso, poet and musician

If your posts are “talking at” your customers, they may absorb the information, but they’re a lot less likely to engage with it. Use your posts to spark discussions with others, and head to other pages to spark discussions with them as well.

You may find that your product perfectly meets the needs of one of your followers, or you may connect with a professional whose services complement yours. Either way, you won’t know that unless you start those conversations.

7. Use curated, relevant hashtags.

“Hashtags are another super important thing when trying to get new engagement and followers. But something I read up on is that the hashtags should be relevant to the post itself. If they aren’t, then the hashtag is ultimately pointless.” — Andrew Forino

When done right, hashtags help you reach a wider audience of people who may be interested in your brand. But posting the wrong hashtags can not only alienate your followers but can even work against you in the Instagram algorithm.

A good place to start is seeing which hashtags others – both your competition and target audience – are using. You can also use Instagram’s “related hashtag” feature or even come up with your own branded hashtags.

Lightning Lesson

Using trending hashtags exposes your content to a wider audience and improves your chances of attracting new followers. Try searching for your chosen hashtag directly in Instagram to find out how popular it is and discover similar hashtags you may want to use.​

8. Define your brand voice.

“It’s equal parts value-giving and engaging, and doing it all with your own distinct voice.” — Rehnuma Choudhury, The Conscious Copywriter

There may be several other Instagram users who offer a similar product or service to yours – but what sets you apart is your voice, your experience, and what you have to offer. Make sure that carries through in everything you do, and you’ll be well on your way to building a loyal following that’s eager to engage with you.

9. Create content that resonates with your audience.

“One of the biggest learning lessons for me was distinguishing between what I wanted to create versus what my audience wanted to see more of. Initially, I had a plan in place […] but once I started receiving feedback from my audience, I completely rearranged it. So, listening to and communicating with your audience is key!” — Sadia Saleem, founder of Social Buzz

Perhaps more importantly, consider what kind of content provides the most value to your customers. Put yourself in their shoes, or if you’re not sure, ask them directly! Share posts that will resonate with your audience – and take their feedback into account when creating future content. If you create content your customers genuinely want, they’ll be much more likely to engage than if you’re simply posting for yourself.

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