Hey blogger friends!
…Okay, so maybe you are relatively new to blogging and now that you’ve launched your site, you’re learning how you can use social media platforms, like Instagram, to start driving readers to your blog.
…Or maybe you’re a long time blogger and you’ve got the whole social media marketing thing down, but your Instagram is lagging a bit behind the other platforms.
…Or maybe you’ve heard the inside scoop that being an influencer on Instagram can be a pretty lucrative gig and you want in on the secret.
Whatever your story may be, you’ve come to the right place to find answers. Instagram is becoming an incredibly popular and powerful social media tool (2nd to Facebook) for influencers, brands, and businesses… and if you’re a blogger in the market for sponsored posts, there are tons of companies out there looking solely for Instagram collaborations. So blog and other social platforms aside, there’s money to be made via Instagram alone.
But in order to leverage Instagram to get sponsored post opportunities or drive traffic to your blog or both, you first have to grow your following. If you’re like I was, you’ve probably tried for awhile and not seen a ton of success (hence why you opened this post), and you’re wondering, “But how?’
This post is going to help you with just that!
So, before we get into all the tips and tricks, we need a quick Instagram history lesson.
You might be aware that the latest version of Instagram’s algorithm has been a bit of a dousy for all of us entry level influences and small shop owners. Up until recently, Instagram feeds were sequential and chronological–meaning, regardless of your popularity or hashtags or engagement, your post was tossed in line with everyone else’s. For us little guys, that was great! We got the same access and exposure as the big dogs.
But now, everything has changed. Instagram prioritizes posts based on engagement and popularity. Obviously having more followers helps. The more followers you have, the more people who automatically see your post in their feed because they’ve basically said, “Yep, I like their content and want to make sure I don’t miss any of it!” Big initial benchmarks in the Instagram world as far as followers go are:
Another piece of the puzzle that Instagram really values in their algorithm (and thus helps lead to more followers) is post comments, particularly ones over 4 words long. So basically, if person A has has a post with 1 comment and person B has a post with 20 comments that are a minimum of 5 words, person B’s post will get far more exposure and priority on Instagram.
Post “likes” also play a role in the algorithm, but to be honest, it’s a little unclear to me how important they are as far as exposure goes. But, regardless of their role, lots of “likes” on your photos definitely indicates that people like your content! And in the world of sponsored posts and product reviews, that can be a huge plus as brands and businesses search for influencers!
Okay, so all that Instagram algorithm information is great. But you’re probably thinking, “So now what? How in the world do I get people to follow me, like and comment on my posts, let alone comment use 5+ words?!” Yes, it’s a tall order. But the 7 hacks below will help make that goal a reality:
In the fall of 2016, I was stuck at about 1200 followers for what seemed like forever. I’d gain a few one day if I posted something people loved… I’d lose a few the next if I posted something people didn’t love. It was stressful and discouraging and I nearly gave up. But just in the nick of time, I discovered Instagram Pods.
Briefly, Instagram Pods are groups of up to 15 bloggers & influencers that join together in a message group on Instagram (or elsewhere if they want, but for the sake of this explanation, I’m using Instagram direct messages). When any member of the group posts a new photo, they send the post to the group in a direct message. Each member of the group then is responsible for clicking on the post, liking the post, and adding a genuine, authentic comment. This helps the post quickly gain popularity, according to Instagram’s algorithm, and gets the post more traffic!
Also note that Instagram doesn’t recognize the difference between other people commenting on your post and you commenting on your own post. So responding to all the folks who take the time to comment on your posts is beneficial for you as well! And remember to use 5+ words in your reply.
To read more on Instagram pods and how to set them up, check out this post!
Also, here’s a Facebook group where you can find open Instagram pods if you don’t want to start one yourself!
Btw- I’m joking about joining 7 pods. Well, I did… but it’s hard to keep up. I’d start with 1 or 2 and see how it goes!
Hashtags are another really key way to gain exposure and engagement on Instagram. If you are an avid Pinterest user, think of these the same way you think of keywords. They are short words or phrases (without spaces) prefaced by a # symbol as a way to “tag” your photo to indicate what it is about.
You can use up to 30 hashtags on Instagram, but I’d suggest only putting the 1-3 most relevant ones in your post caption. The rest can be hidden in your first comment (more about that HERE).
One key thing to note with hashtags is that generic/popular isn’t always better. For instance, say you have a post about your favorite baby products. While #mom has been used over 22 million times on Instagram (which may seem like a positive) and #motherhoodunplugged has only been used 484,691 times, there is a whole community of folks out in Insta-land who actively engage with the second hashtag. So while #mom is much more popular, it also means your image will be saturated by LOTS and LOTS of other images using that same hashtag. I’ve found much better engagement with more specific, community driven hashtags. Sometimes the accounts that originally created the hashtag will even feature your image on their feed!
Below are a few of my go-to resources to find popular hashtags, but another great way to find the best hashtags in your niche is to spend some time looking through other popular blogger’s content and take note of ones they use often!
Facebook groups where bloggers and social media influencers join together to promote each other’s posts are a life-saver! And can help grow your Instagram really fast. There are daily threads you can join and essentially everyone is responsible for completing the thread by a certain time. Some posts require 100% reciprocation (i.e. commenting on every single Instagram post shared). Some posts ask you to choose 5 others to engage with. It just depends. And many of the groups are also a spot to ask questions and get help from fellow bloggers!
But beware… there are some bad blogger groups out there too. I shouldn’t say bad… just ones where they are REALLY stringent on rules and call you out if you miss a deadline by even a few minutes. (I learned the hard way). So with that in mind, below are my recommended groups to join. The atmosphere in each of these groups is positive and supportive and the rules are clear but allow for flexibility if and when other more pressing life issues arise. I posted a little description of each group below so you know what you’re signing up for!
**BTW- The majority of the bloggers in these groups are female and generally fall into the categories of parenting/lifestyle/food/beauty/health & wellness/travel etc. If you have a really specific niche outside general blogging categories (i.e. mental illness), I’d suggest searching for more specific Facebook support groups!
*Also, side note suggestion: when you first start, don’t overdo it. Start by only entering 3-5 threads in any given day. Get a feel for what groups you like best. If you feel like you have the time to handle more threads, great! But for me, if I go beyond 5 and it starts to eat up my evening, I get really cranky!
Say you are a food blogger with 200 followers and you’re trying to get your tiny little Instagram account seen by the world. Well, what food blogger comes to mind that has (cough cough) 318K followers on Instagram? Oh, that’s right. A sweet girl named Lindsay at Pinch of Yum. So if I were you, one thing I might try is regularly engaging with Lindsay’s posts. This isn’t to get her attention… but given 318 THOUSAND people see each of her posts the moment they go live, if your account name is regularly on the “like” or “comment” list of her posts, there’s a pretty darn good chance somebody might click on it and check you out.
Some key notes: being the first one to like or comment is beneficial (because more eyes see you earlier), but the most recent one to comment is beneficial too because the last comment is the one that currently shows on Instagram posts. And because popular accounts like Pinch of Yum get people scrolling through their photos regularly, even if they aren’t new posts, if your name is commonly the last comment, you’re likely to gain some traction!
Quick Hack: In order to be the first to like or comment on a popular account, I typically Turn On Post Notifications for the account so that I get a ping on my phone any time they post a new photo. If I have time, I’ll quickly “like” it and then open it up for a comment. Don’t stress yourself out over this though. If you see the ping and have a moment, great. If not, you can always catch it later or next time.
One thing I try to do every few days is head to my favorite hashtags in Instagram (#motherhoodunplugged #darlingdaily #letthekids) and check out all the popular and recent posts using those same hashtags. I find photos I’m genuinely interested in, regardless of their popularity, and I comment and/or like the photos. And more often than not, especially if the Instagrammer doesn’t yet get a ton of traffic, they engage right back! It’s a great way to a) support others and b) get a little support in return. Don’t expect the return of course… expectations have a way of ruining nice gestures. But don’t be surprised by it either. It happens a lot!
There are LOTS of options here, but my three favorites are: Follow Fridays, Q & A’s, and Giveaways.
I would be amiss not to mention this final and very key component to growing your Instagram following. If you do follow all six hacks listed above, your account will definitely grow, but in order for it to really take off, you must post clear, quality, and consistent photos.
Instagram is all about the visual. The more visually appealing your posts, the more engagement they will drive. Your followers are also likely to follow because they like the content of a particular post. It’s okay to vary your content a bit, but try to avoid posts in radically different categories (i.e. recipes one day, snowboarding tips the next). You’ll lose followers that way.
Another way to help your followers understand what you post about is to have a clear description of your account bio. Mine says, “wife | mother | christian | entrepreneur | educator | crossfitter | chasing excellence in everything i do” (along with some other blog and contact details). While pretty brief in comparison to some, my hope is that this simple note communicates to my followers that all my posts are about my life as a mother and that I am passionate about health living.
For consistency’s sake, I usually try to include a family member (usually me, my daughter, or both of us) in every photo, even if it’s about a healthy recipe we ate the night before. I mix this up occasionally, which is good, but I try to avoid having every picture look drastically different. If I have lots of things to share that I don’t feel like fit in my feed, I use my Instagram Stories! Your followers will love that more intimate view into your life, so be sure to take advantage 🙂
Check out some of the Instagram accounts below to see examples of quality photos, captions, and account descriptions!
Alright, that’s a wrap! If you start using the 7 hacks listed above, I promise you your Instagram will begin to grow, and quickly! Also, if you want the condensed and bulleted version of this looooong post, snag a $0.50 printable below:
Best of insta-luck, friends!
PS- You can follow me on my Instagram account here! And if you want to leave your profile URL in the comments, I’ll be sure to follow back!