10 things I’ve learned about Instagram in my first year
I’ve been using Instagram for just over a year. After a faltering start, I think I’ve got into my stride. I have learned some things along the way – some on my own and others through lightbulb moments listening to other users.
Now I want to share my Instagram tips for small business with you and help you to love Instagram as much as I do. Follow what I learned in my first year and you’ll soon see how it can work for your business.
1. Don’t sweat the numbers
Everyone’s focussed on how many followers they have. It seems like it’s a race to reach xx number. The important thing is engagement. One of the things you need to remember about Instagram, or any other social network for that matter, is that you want it to help you access a wider audience than you have. That doesn’t necessarily translate into more followers. By this I mean this:
If you have 10 followers, who comment on and like the majority of your posts, you’re going to be seen by those 10 followers’ networks.
On the other hand, if you have 10,000 followers who do nothing, then you’re talking to thin air.
Do you see? The number of followers isn’t as important as the interactions with the followers you have!
2. Giving and sharing and having and receiving
I’m a big Friends fan, and one of my favourite scenes is when Joey is going through his speech for Monica and Chandler’s wedding. You know, giving and sharing and having and receiving!
What I’m saying here is that you need to give to receive. You need to do the hard work of commenting and liking on other people’s posts so you can be seen by them. Don’t expect them to come to you! Once they’ve seen you giving them the Instagram love, they’ll reciprocate.
The other thing to remember is what you share needs to matter to your followers. Yes, you want them to read your latest blog post, enter your competition, or any number of things. But if they don’t care about it, they will just scroll past it. So, when you post, ask yourself what’s in it for your followers.
3. Train the algorithm
All the major social networks have an algorithm. It’s a programme that decides whether or not what you’ve posted is interesting enough to show up in people’s newsfeeds. I knew this, you probably know it too. But Janet Murray (who is brilliant, by the way), said it in a way that made me put down my pen and say “Oh, yeah” out loud. I was listening to one of her podcasts, and she said you have to train the algorithm.
What does that mean in reality? Well, you have to do the work to encourage people to like and comment on your posts.
How do you do this? Ask! If you know a certain post will interest a few of your followers, tag them in it and ask them what they think. Don’t do this all the time though, because it gets annoying!
Alternatively, get together with some like-minded businesses and form a pod. Every time you post something, share it with your pod so they can comment on it and like it. Now, as with point 2, above, you have to give to receive! So make sure you’re commenting on their posts too.
4. Have fun and build relationships
Remember the word ‘social’ in social media? I’m not saying that you should replace all your social interactions with social media, but you do need to be sociable and have conversations. What’s more, it can be fun.
I joined an Instagram pod and whilst I was in it, I noticed it was a very supportive environment. As well as sharing our posts for others to comment on, we also share our frustrations, celebrations and other news. It’s a place where the people understand exactly the challenges facing small business owners. In fact, it’s through being in this pod that I’ve found a great graphic designer to work with. She’s called Bhavini and her business is called B81 Designs.
5. All work and no play…
Because Instagram posts can only be made from smartphones, this social network gives you the opportunity to engage with your followers on a personal level.
For me, it’s easy to share something personal in a moment. For example, since moving into my house, I’ve tried my hand at gardening. Because I’ve been working at home, not only have I been able to garden at times that suit me, I’ve also been able to enjoy the fruits of my labour by working in the garden. These types of posts are kind of work related, but also let my followers have an insight into the person behind the business.
If you’re the only person in your business, don’t hide behind a brand. Let people see who you are. Even if you have a team, give them time to shine. People will buy from you if they trust you. What better way for them to do that than find out more about you?
6. I have opinions and I’m not afraid to share them!*
Think about when you’ve been asked for your opinion or advice. How did that make you feel? Did you feel like an expert or someone who’s trusted?
Take that feeling and imagine your followers feeling that way too. How can you achieve this? Ask them for their opinions. Launching a new product? Ask them to help you name it. Planning a webinar? Ask what content they want to hear about.
People love being asked what they think. By giving them short, defined options, you’re helping yourself with some free research! Just don’t overdo it.
*This is something I said in a leadership course once, referring to myself. That’s a story for another time!
7. Hashtags, hashtags, and yet more hashtags
When I started using Instagram, I’d use one or two hashtags. But did you know that Instagram is the one platform that is very hashtag-driven? In fact, you can use up to 30 of them. The knack is finding the ones that work for you.
Do your research and find the hashtags that are relevant to your business – think of what you’d look for if you were your customer. Make a list and save it so you don’t have to keep finding them.
I tend to use about 11 hashtags consistently. Then I add others as and when, depending on what I’m posting. So, if I post about my latest gardening exploits, I’ll include some garden-related hashtags.
Just don’t make every word of your post a hashtag. That’s spammy and puts people off. Add the hashtags to the end of your post.
8. Be consistent – show up!
I post once every day. You should really post more on Instagram. But once a day generally works for me. One weekend, I managed not to post anything. All my engagement stats went down and I lost followers. So, you need to be consistent. You need to show up every day. And not just with the posting either. You need to share the Insta love too, by commenting and liking others’ posts.
One of the best ways to do that is to plan. Yep, if you have a plan and you know what you’re going to post about, you just do it. So, get writing. I use a planner (actually, Janet Murray’s planner), but you can use whatever you feel comfortable with.
The other thing that’s helped me immensely is to schedule my posts using Hootsuite. Now, Hootsuite will only let you automate your picture posts. You can still schedule videos, but you will get a reminder at the time it’s supposed to be published and you will need to publish it live.
9. Be recognisable
I’ve read a lot of articles which talk about deciding on your Instagram look. What it boils down to is making sure your brand is recognisable. So, if you’re creating images (I do) to post, use your brand colours, fonts, and your logo. If you’re going to use a lot of photography, say if you’re a product-based business, think about the composition and background for your photos. Look at them in isolation and ask yourself if they would be recognisable as yours if they weren’t on your Instagram page.
10. Use great images
Instagram is very image driven. Shaky, blurry photos won’t cut it on this network! If you are going to take photos with your phone, make sure they are good enough quality to be shared on your Instagram account. The big thing I’ve learned here is close-ups work really well. So, get in close and make sure the photo is clear.
If you’re creating images, use a good tool (I like Canva) to help you create something that’s the right size and uses great photos. Canva also lets you use photos that you’ve taken. In fact, the blog image at the top of this page was created with Canva.