10 Things I Learned While Increasing Instagram Engagement

By Madeline Farquharson

It’s completely understandable why “how to get more followers on Instagram” or “how to increase engagement on Instagram” are popular search terms. Everyone is looking for a hack or a quick way to make social media efforts worthwhile. But there’s a reason that some of the accounts with the most sustainable engagement took time to get there.

In my 6 months of being an active Instagram presence (or trying to be one), I’ve learned a few things. In 4 months, I’ve broken the 1K mark organically, which seems like nothing until you try to do it yourself! The 2 months unaccounted for were accrued in the time it took to plan and suss out my prospective brand so that I wouldn’t constantly be caught in the snag of “what next?”

The total of 6 months I’ve been thinking about or executing on my Instagram has been spent testing, failing, learning, and trying to figure out all the secret rules that Instagram never really tells us about but silently penalizes if we breach. Please keep in mind that these tips are not a one-size-fits-all; almost nothing on Social Media works like that. But these are practices and tips that I have found to be successful for me and through the observations fo some of my favorite accounts.

10 Tips To Increase Instagram Engagement

1. Put Your Hashtags In Your Caption.

My engagement and reach nearly doubled once I started putting hashtags in my caption and not hiding it in a comment. The overall look may be a bit cleaner, but people are used to hashtags now. Being spammy with hashtags is less about location and more about volume. I’ve also noticed that Instagram favors my posts that have under 20 hashtags in total and doesn’t like it when hashtags are in different places. But that might be a foolhardy assumption based on observation.

2. Engage, Engage, Engage.

20% of your growth will be as a result of your own content and hashtags. 80% of your growth will be from engaging in other people’s content . Whatever time you spend on Instagram, make sure that this ratio holds. That being said, it’s also crucial for you to engage with your own content. Respond to as many comments as you possibly can. This is great not only for bumping your engagement on posts through things like comment count but also for building a solid following and community around your brand.

3. Set Goals That Matter For Your Business.

You can be getting loads of likes and Instagram engagement, but sorely lack sales. For the vast majority of us small business owners, likes do not equal dollars (and soon likes won’t even be part of the equation at all). If you’re getting a lot of likes but not a lot of traffic to your sales page, something is wrong. Look at the goals of your page: Is your Instagram a brand exercise? Are you trying to increase revenue for your business? The answers to these questions will yield unique guides for measurement. Don’t get caught up in the wrong version of success because your goals are not clearly defined. It’s also important to note that your goals and strategy may change over time. Always keep the big picture in mind and make sure that you’re pushing your efforts in the right direction instead of spinning your wheels on something that has no real value to you.

4. Stories Are More Valuable Than Static Content.

After Instagram Stories surpassed even Snapchat in daily active use back in 2017, most Instagram personalities caught wind of how valuable this Instagram feature is. Now, nearly 3 years later with daily active users doubling to 500 million, Instagram Stories isn’t a “want to” but a “need to” for anyone who wants to maintain a strong presence on the platform. In fact, if you had to prioritize quantity on your feed or your stories, I would say that your stories would win out every time. It’s not that your feed isn’t valuable; it is. But where your feed holds and maintains your brand, your stories help your followers connect with it (and more importantly, with you ).

5. Know Your Niche. (A.K.A. Do Market Research!)

While you’re gawking at all those beautiful photos, take notes. Both big and small players in your industry aren’t always competition: they’re a great source of inspiration! Look at other accounts critically. What are they doing right? If you look closely enough, you’ll find that most social media strategy is available just by looking beyond the follower count. Some things to take into consideration are growth tracking of other accounts, strategies and campaigns ran on the account and unique ways that they account stands out among the rest. Pro tip: many successful businesses will often post case studies in the aftermath of their success (a cheat sheet for you!). Keep in mind, though, that social media strategy is not a one-size-fits-all pattern. It’ll be hard work of trial and error and figuring out what works for you.

6. Optimize Your Profile.

Ah, the art of A/B testing. Nothing stays the same for long (until it starts working...but even then). For whatever reason, so many people overlook the value of keeping your Instagram profile fit and fresh. Your profile can be laced with keywords, hashtags, relevant links and more. It’s definitely more than just a dump for cute emojis and a pin on your location. During weeks when your content is stable, try a couple of different versions of your profile. See if some changes may help people want to follow you more when they visit. The feed isn’t the only thing they’re looking at!

7. Upflit Other Brands And Accounts.

Don’t let jealousy stop you from shining light on other accounts. Featuring other accounts is good for two reasons: it helps your followers discover more great content (a win) and builds a great relationship and rapport for your account (another win). It is way too common for brands on Instagram to have tunnel vision with their own content. Whenever someone shares my content, it means a lot to me. This goes back to the point also on engaging with other accounts. Sharing on your stories is an amazing way to uplift the talent around you, share it with your followers, and strengthen the community built within your niche.

8. Be Creative.

Alright, I know. This is easier said than done. It’s easy to do a giveaway; everyone likes free stuff. But actually, be creative with your campaigns or content. In the crafting world, xoxb_stitches did a campaign that was a stitch marker swap. The swap had no monetary cost to Britt, but it got people involved and attached to her account. Plus, it was a really enjoyable community-building initiative to be a part of! One of my other favorite accounts, wyldflowercrochet, does medicine cards on her stories frequently. This obviously isn’t related to crochet, but it helps to connect to the maker, and it’s a part of Heather’s brand (which is closely tied to nature!). There are hoards of ways to stay within your brand but be unique and creative in that space. Do something original, interactive, and you’ll see just how many appreciate a break from the mundane!

9. Plan Ahead, But Not Too Far Ahead!

Stocking up on content can be really healthy and make your overall life a lot easier. When I first started my Instagram, I insisted on having 4-6 weeks of content built out and prepared at all times. While this might be reasonable for businesses with fewer posts or in certain industries, it can have a major negative side effect. If you don’t plan with purpose, those photos from 2 months ago will be stale. There are times when I share what I’m working on in my stories but then that finished piece doesn’t end up on my feed for 2-3 weeks and the hype I generated just fades away. Of course, there’s a delicate balance with teasing and revealing, but make sure you’re not so organized that you inadvertently create a disconnect between your followers and your current projects. Keep it fresh.

10. Stay Human.

If you get too obsessed with numbers, your followers can tell. There are times when I really have to tell myself to mellow about the numbers; it’s only one piece of the puzzle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get excited when a post performs especially well or when you hit landmark follower counts. It just means that your ultimate goal of connecting with your audience and being authentic should always reign over everything you do. Don’t overthink the process. Instagram is built on humans sharing content with other humans. Social media is built on the foundation of a way to connect in the online world. The best companies and personalities are the ones that feel real. Inauthenticity is hard to get away with these days, so it’s better to just be yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about how to build a great Instagram strategy that applies to any business, I would really recommend the free online courses that Hubspot Academy provides. Whether you’re looking for general a Social Media online course or specific channel insights, they’ve got you covered. I am not at all affiliated with Hubspot; I just really appreciate the resources they put out there to help people grow professionally.