The Comprehensive Guide to Growing An Instagram Account in 2020
Growing an Instagram account is all about reaching and retaining new audiences.
The more accounts you reach, and the greater percentage of them you retain, the faster your account will grow. Here's what we've learned from managing accounts for local businesses in every sort of niche:
Growth = # of Accounts Reached * # of Accounts Retained
Reach Formula = Posts + Interactions + Tags + Ads
Retain Formula = Interest 🡒 Scroll 🡒 Follow
POSTS: How much should you really be posting per week?
The amount of content you output every week is vital to your success as a brand on Instagram. Too often, businesses make the mistake of posting way too little. But it's not their fault, we've all been misled.
Intuitively, one post per day makes perfect sense. You will give your fans a daily reminder that your business exists, but you won't clog their feeds. Heck, every social media management agency offers seven posts per week packages that seem like a bargain!
But the Instagram algorithm barely even notices that. Our case studies with accounts as small as 5,000 to accounts as large as 682,000 followers (@Cars) have found that the best number of posts PER DAY is three. That's 21 posts per week, not seven.
The reason for this is that the algorithm likes accounts that consistently produce engaging and high-quality content. That means your audience must engage with every post you put out (easier said than done), and you must post every day for a consistent period. To figure out what times, you should look at your followers' three most active parts of the day, and post then (We usually find them being 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM).
But it may be different for some accounts; every audience is unique. You can find out your optimal number of posts per day by using a spreadsheet. Start the first week by posting once a day, and record your average reach, engagement, and follower growth. Then, post twice a day the week after, and so on until you're posting five times per day (anything more than that and you're entering spam-territory. You DON'T want to be there!). You can find all of the analytics you need for free in the insights section on your profile; there's no need to hire a service if you're only managing your own account. Once you find your ideal number, be consistent with it, and you will grow FAST!
INTERACTIONS: Maximize these as much as you can for B.O.L.T. growth!
To blow up your business account on Instagram, you need as many accounts as possible to interact with you. The best are accounts that you have recently reached for the first time, meaning they recently discovered your business and didn't already follow you.
To have Instagram show your business to those accounts, you must perfect your content so that your current followers are engaging highly. If your current followers like, comment, and share your posts frequently, then Instagram will show those posts off to thousands of new faces.
The interactions that you can measure are likes, comments, and shares through direct messages and stories. You can see how many of these you're getting on each post by tapping "view insights" when you're looking at the post in your own feed/profile.
You can measure your average numbers week-to-week in a spreadsheet to see how your posts are trending. If the numbers are increasing, congratulations! You're doing great! Eventually, Instagram will allow one of your posts to go super-viral, earning you hundreds of new followers (you'll know this has happened when your reach number is 10x more than usual, and you see 100+ people have followed you off of that post alone).
If your numbers aren't increasing, DON'T GIVE UP! The Instagram algorithm actually makes it harder for accounts to grow once they stop producing consistent content. It labels those accounts as inconsistent value-adders.
In the past four years, we've found that when you stop posting, then try to come back, the algorithm puts you in a slump. In the slump, your insights (likes, comments, shares, reach) stay low, even though your content may be the best it's ever been. To break it, you need a SUPER active post in a period of consistent posting (3+ posts/day) to show Instagram that you're back, and you mean business.
As a business owner, the hardest thing about this is time. Creating three or more posts per day can take hours of time investment and can be incredibly stressful. You can have an employee do it for you. Still, you may not have certainty that it will be any better than your own posts if they don't have a good camera and know the Instagram algorithm. Or you can hire a social media agency. The benefit of that is that you'll know the person managing your account has years of experience behind the camera and working with the algorithm. You also have the benefit that the content going out is nothing short of elite. It may appear to be a costly investment at first. In the end, you'll be saving hundreds of dollars on an intern/employee, 30+ hours every week in content creation and time interacting with your fans, though. You'll also have peace of mind knowing your account is in good hands.
TAGS: The hashtag's hotter sister.
Tags can be a very, very powerful tool for growing your Instagram account. Hashtags, on the other hand, are basically defunct. Allow us to explain why.
How often have YOU clicked on a hashtag and scrolled through posts, all the way to the bottom ones with less than 100 likes, to like some random business' photo? Never? Exactly. How can you expect anybody else to act differently?
But tags, on the other hand…people actually look at those. Think about it in terms of human nature. When you see a big account post something with another account tagged, you want to see who's tagged. When you look up to a person or organization, you want to see who they affiliate with.
Suppose you get other businesses to tag you in either posts or stories. In that case, it will motivate their audience to check out your account, increasing your reach. And the same goes the other way. One very effective way to grow your business account is to arrange to cross-promote with other local businesses. This will ensure that some of their customers shop with you and some of your customers shop with them. It's a win-win.
You can also reach out to local influencers. If they share your business on their account, whether through a story reshare, post, or live call (when it announces to all of the influencer's followers that "@influencer is going live with @yourBusiness"), it can have a MASSIVE R.O.I.
As long as you're putting out great content that will make people want to follow your account and your business is cleaned up around the edges, you will find success with tags.
Don't be afraid to D.M. another business or influencer to set up a tagging deal! The R.O.I. is incredible!
ADS: Is it worth it to promote your posts?
When we talk about ads, we're not talking about print ads or TV ads. Nowadays, it's all about social media ads—you have to go where your customers are, after all. Just as we used to advertise on the radio because people were always listening to it, we now advertise on social media because that's where people are going when they have a free minute in their day.
But is it worth it to promote your posts? Should you click that button that says "promote" when Instagram tells you that one picture performs better than 95% of your others? What about when they all say that?
To answer those questions, yes, YES, and DEFINITELY YES!!! But there's a caveat.
If you know your content is valuable (to your audience, not to you), and you have the budget, you should absolutely be advertising your posts. But if you can't confidently answer yes to both of those questions, then you need to work on those two things first.
Also, you should promote your posts that are doing better than the others if you think it's the right type of post that would convert a reached account to a retained account. If it's only a random post, then maybe not. But if you know it's valuable to whoever sees it, and it's a certified thumb-stopper, then absolutely yes—promote it!
And in the case that Instagram is telling you that every post is better than 95% of your last posts, that means you're in a growth wave. Every time you post, you're getting better engagement on your post than all of your previous posts. The algorithm is investing in your account every post, and you're providing it with R.O.I. every time. It's a win-win for you and for Instagram.
If you're experiencing this, it's the perfect time to start promoting your post. You're doing great with your local audience, so why not pump up the numbers and see how you do with a larger one?
The only thing you want to consider with ads is your demographic and your ad spend. Start small (around $5-15/day) and narrow down your target audience. Once the performance is excellent (you're getting the interaction you want, likes/comments/D.M.s/etc.), then increase the ad spend. It's essential to implement this type of A/B testing to get the best results you can. Past advertisers weren't so lucky to have so many analytics at their fingertips—use them!
Retaining The Accounts You Reach
Other "Instagram gurus" may tell you that people care about things like your grid and your follower-following ratio, but we'll be the first to say to you—that's a load of B.S.
How do those things affect the way that the average person interacts with your page at all?
People care about content, nothing else. When you go to a new account, don't you usually click on a post that looks interesting to you, then scroll? Grids may have been relevant when you couldn't seamlessly scroll through posts, but as the app has updated, the importance of an overall "theme" on your grid (the collection of thumbnails people see when they first visit your profile) has declined significantly.
Again, it really just comes down to the value of your content. You want to be posting shareable things. The best way to conceptualize this is to look at your posts from a broader perspective.
Instead of a dog-collar company, post like you're a dog food company sharing general content
about dog ownership. Instead of a pizza place, post like you're the Italian food channel. You have to understand what your audience is interested in and then post that. They probably aren't interested in seeing three slices of pizza in their feed every
day. They're probably interested in seeing a tutorial for making your grandma's famous pasta sauce or how to tie the perfect garlic knot, though. If you're posting on Facebook, maybe something like "The 5 Best Specialty Slices of All Time, Ranked."
Be creative with it. And if you're not good at that, outsource it to someone that is. The R.O.I. will be incredible. When Instagram sees your content's value and consistency, it will show your business to THOUSANDS of new people. It's free advertising!
The key takeaways for retaining people are this: post frequent, high-value content, tailor it to your audience's interests (not yours) and diversify what you post.
Wrapping It All Up
All of these tips can be a lot to remember, but it's like anything else. The first time you walked, it was probably a lot to process—the balance, the synchrony of steps, the desire to go back to crawling. Still, your toddler-self spent a lot of time doing it, and now you're pretty good at it (sorry if you're in a wheelchair, I didn't mean for this article to be offensive).
You're going to feel like a toddler again once you start trying to grow your business' Instagram account, but if you master all of the tips in this article, it WILL be worth it! Just remember to think of ways to attribute your conversions once you start to grow (i.e., "Mention 'Instagram' for $1 off your order").
And if this seems like a lot, you can always hire an agency to do it for you. The benefit of this is peace of mind, knowing your account is in the hands of a local expert, and convenience. You can always hire an intern to manage your Instagram for minimum wage, but you won't know it's any good. When you hire an agency, you get the most value at the lowest cost.
BOLT's services start as low as $100/week for 7 posts/week (which other agencies charge more for!), and we're based in Miami, FL, and Long Island, NY. If you mention this article, we'll even give you 10% off your first month as a thank you for reading all the way down and helping out our SEO!
Regardless, we hope you find success on Instagram. It's truly possible for any business. 390 THOUSAND (390,000) people follow an account that showcases CARPETS for God's sake (@myhotelcarpet), so you can definitely find a couple thousand to follow your business too.