June 14th, 2017

How to Beat Instagram’s Algorithm and Get More Followers

by Christine Hennessey

Instagram, the wildly popular photo and video sharing app, continues to dominate social media. It doubled its user base in under two years, clocking in at an impressive 700 million monthly users at last count. Its rate of growth has also increased—while it took six months to go from 500 million to 600 million, it only took four months to add another one hundred million. It’s no wonder brands and businesses have been flocking to this powerful platform.

Instagram hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, though. When the company introduced its new algorithm last March, marketers and business owners were devastated. The algorithm meant Instagram would no longer display a chronological stream of content. Instead, it would decide what to show users by considering each person’s interests and social interactions. While Instagram claimed this would improve the user experience, we all know the real reason—brands and business would now have to pay to be seen, much like Facebook.

Unless, of course, you know how to break the code and beat the system. At Sage Island, our team of social media marketing specialists have done the research, experimented with our accounts, and found a tried-and-true system for getting your content seen and growing your community, no matter what your budget may be. By employing the following tips, you’ll be able to do the same.

Keep the “social” in “social media.”

The key word in “social media” is “social,” which means you can’t treat your Instagram account like a bullhorn. Make sure you give as much as you take by commenting on other users’ photos, liking their work, and following people who fall into your market demographic. This can be time-consuming, but it’s the best way to grow your community organically. If you’re not sure how to find the users in your niche, check out popular hashtags, see who the big names in your business follow (and who follows them!), and spend time simply exploring the platform. Who knows—you may even enjoy yourself!

Share great photos that fit your theme.

Instagram is a visual platform, so you won’t gain thousands of followers unless your content is up to par. Invest in a good camera, find someone on your team who has an artistic eye, and practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve got a collection of gorgeous photos, make sure they go together. Look at your Instagram account in the grid layout and see if things flow. It helps to use the same few filters for consistency and branding—if you have multiple people posting, make sure they follow a style guide. For more great tips, check out our recent post, “Create the Perfect Theme for Your Instagram.”

Hashtag, hashtag, hashtag.

Instagram allows users to include up to 30 hashtags on each photo, and it’s in your best interest to use them all! Include a mix of hashtags, making sure to employ some very specific ones and some other popular, more general ones. This will help your posts reach a lot of people and increase engagement, while at the same time targeting the very specific users who will be interested in your business or brand.

Don’t forget about trending topics.

 Humans are creatures of habit, which is why certain hashtags and themes pop up week after week. POPSUGAR has a great round-up of daily hashtags that are popular across platforms. If you’re a business or brand, some of the best ones to include are #MotivationMonday (ideal for entrepreneurs), #TravelTuesday (perfect for real estate and tourism), #WellnessWednesday (medical practices, take note!), #ThrowbackThursday (use your imagination!), and #FollowFriday (give one of your followers a shout out—they’ll appreciate the love!). These themes work the same way as hashtags—when users click on them, they’ll see your posts and your personality.

Ask for something small.

The more engagement your posts get, the more likely they are to show up in Instagram’s algorithm. Therefore, encourage your followers to interact with you by asking a direct question, challenging them to caption a funny photo, telling them to tag a friend, or encouraging them to tap “like” if they agree with a quote you’ve posted. Don’t forget to respond to their replies! This shows you’re active and engaged, and is a great way to form relationships with potential clients and customers.

Use the geotag feature.

Instagram has a location feature that allows you to tag your photo with the spot where it was snapped. The result? When a user searches that location, your photo will pop up, thus increasing your potential reach. This feature is especially great for restaurants and real estate markets, but can also be a useful tool for any business or brand. If you have a store with a physical address, you can tag your business’s location. If you want to reach your wider community, tag your photo with your city. Finally, if you’re a local business, searching your location is a great way to find active users in your area to follow and potentially get new leads or sales!

Change up the link in your bio.

While Instagram has made many updates, they still haven’t rolled out the one we’ve all been waiting for—clickable links within posts. The only place for a live link is the one in your bio, so make the most of it by changing it up! If you’ve just released a new product, published a new blog post, or launched a new website, use that URL as your temporary link. Then, when you post a great image about your accomplishments, you can tell users to tap or click the link in your bio to learn more. This is a good way to drive traffic to a specific site or webpage, and a great call-to-action for Instagram.

Leverage video content for higher engagement.

If there’s anything 2017 has taught us, it’s that video is king. And, now that you can post short videos up to 60-second-long to Instagram, video has become even more powerful. There are many ways businesses and brands can use videos in their Instagram feeds. Record short videos with staff or customers, or share behind-the-scenes footage from company outings (but keep it professional!). Too shy to talk on camera? Instagram’s boomerang feature will allow you to create looping GIFs that are humorous and highly addictive. Experiment with different lengths and formats and see what your audience likes best.

Don’t forget about Instagram Stories.

A blatant rip-off from Snapchat, Instagram Stories are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Rather than live in your feed, they’re found at the top of it, in small circles. This is very convenient, because if you’ve updated your Stories recently, your account will show up as having fresh content, and curious folks will tap to see what you’re sharing. Because Stories are so visible, make sure yours as just as good as the rest of your content—impermanence is no reason to share sub-par content. This is a great place to share special offers, deals, and discounts (especially since they’ll automatically disappear after 24 hours), show off your services and behind-the-scenes snapshots, and be a little more laid back than you might on your main feed, where content lives forever. And, because Instagram Stories are still fairly new, the competition isn’t as fierce—yet.

We hope these tips help you beat Instagram’s algorithm, grow your community, and build your business and brand. If you need help putting any of these suggestions into practice, don’t hesitate to let us know. The team at Sage Island is a lean, mean marketing machine, and we’d love to help!

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