If you are a new brand, business, blogger, or nonprofit on Instagram, it’s not so easy to break in.
Instagram has become a platform for its users to showcase their personality and to express themselves. It is a place where they can document their lives one image at a time and feel like a celebrity while doing it. They can discover people and brands that they care about, and engage with them.
Being an everyday user is easy. Log in and scroll through your feed, like a few pictures, click around, maybe post a picture if you’re doing something “picture worthy,” then leave the app.
Competition is stiff, and you’re fighting with big brands to get your audience’s attention. Hmmm. So how do you start from zero (nothing, nada, zilch, nil) and grow your audience to 10k, 50k, or even 100k? It’s not rocket science, but it will take dedication and time.
Here are 10 things we do to build a brand at Parachute Media to grow Instagram accounts:
1. Understand your audience.
Know who you are targeting. If your audience is men ages 18-24, get a feel for when they are online and how they act when they are online. What are they buying online, what are they searching, and what times are they most likely to engage with content? This information is crucial to your posting strategy. But you also have to know what type of content they want to see. If you are creating a fitness/lifestyle brand for women, they may not want to see beer pics. Post a picture of a mom in a yoga pose with a toddler on her back, and you’ll get results.
2. Post quality content.
An image is worth 1,000 words. Before you post, ask yourself, “If I didn’t put a caption on this picture, would people know the message I’m trying to convey?”
Focus intently on the content you post. Be selective. Images should be clean and crisp, high quality and beautiful to look at, whether it’s dogs or food. The goal is to drive home a feeling. How can your audience relate to the picture? What reaction do you want your followers to have? We suggest being overly literal on what your brand stands for. Once you’ve got a few thousand followers, then you can post images with your products and start pushing a call-to-action or a cute dog with a Camping With Dogs collar, for example.
Whether you are choosing to use unique content, curated content, or free images, make sure they are high quality!
3. Posting consistently.
Post content 2-3 times per day, every day. Yes, every day. A brand is not built on luck – it takes work and consistency. Your followers will get used to seeing your content and will begin to search it out. If you consistently post at the same times for a year, you create a baseline. Then, when you deviate, you can start to see how engagement differs. What are they seeing the first time they scroll through? What is their morning routine? Their evening routine? You can test when engagement starts to drop. The change in behavior shows when they have the mental bandwidth to see a post and engage. Take the numbers and apply it to a person’s routine. This really shapes how and when you post moving forward.
4. Consider time zones.
Do people on the west coast have a dramatically different morning routine? Probably not, but they are 2 hours behind us central folks. And that two hours makes a world of difference when posting to Instagram. If you notice that most of your followers are coming from the West Coast, post your content to reflect THEIR engagement times, not just when it’s convenient for you.
5. Use one hashtag again and again…and again.
#Campingwithdogs. That’s the ONE hashtag we put in the captions of our posts. It’s also in the bio of our account. The message is “use #campingwithdogs to be featured.” You only need one great hashtag that identifies your brand. We see brands using 10-20 hashtags in the captions of their posts…don’t do this. It clutters and devalues what you have to say. Instagram will naturally cut off your caption so it fits nicely in news feeds. Don’t let Instagram determine what gets seen. Be brief and clear in all your captions, and include one hashtag.
People forget that the hashtag (see the history of it here) was invented to create segmented groups, and now it has turned into a way to create entire micro communities and searchable terms within the millions of users and billions of pieces of content. They aren’t to simply add personality to your posts, although they can. When your hashtag is searched, users should see your content. If you are a young brand, try riding streams that move slower, meaning less volume of content. There are less eyes, but more engaging eyes. When you get above 20k fans, it makes more sense to use hashtags with larger streams.
6. Put other helpful hashtags in the comments.
To piggyback on #5, one hashtag isn’t enough to place your content in the searchable communities that thrive in Instagram i.e. #hashtag. Use the next comment line under your caption to place the rest of your captions. If you’re receiving over 5 comments, nobody will even see these. It’s more discrete. You can include up to 30 hashtags but we recommend that you use quality over quantity. This is where knowing your audience will come in handy. What hashtags are they using? Reach fans (and soon to be fans) by showing up in multiple hashtag searches! Ride larger streams of content and expose your brand to more people.
7. Focus on brand narrative.
Brand narrative is extremely important to building a brand. Knowing your audience and how they communicate combined with your unique personality and consistency creates a strong brand narrative.
What stories are you consistently telling? In the beginning, a brand has to be overly literal about what the brand is about and what they want their customers to do. Every piece of content needs to reflect your brand. The images you choose along with your captions tell a unique story that only you can tell. Do it well (and consistently), and you will be rewarded with a fan base that understands what you are all about.
Another brand that we’ve built from scratch is Camping With Cats. The brand found success in humanizing cats the way we all do, tapping into the cats angsty perspective using haikus to tell the story. With witty captions, high quality images and UGC (user generated content) the brand has soared to over 56k followers since October of 2015.
8. Engage with users who use your hashtag.
Search your hashtag, and engage with those users. When a user puts your hashtag in their caption, they are inviting YOU into their news feed. Whoa, what a privilege. Seriously, they are asking you to engage, so why wouldn’t you?
Click on these posts that are using your hashtag and then do something. That “something” could be liking the post, commenting on the post, or reposting their post. Put the time in. Like, comment, and repost until your thumbs turn blue. Action shows that you are paying attention. Your fans will love it, and they will keep using your hashtag. Fans want to know that your brand is human and they want to see the one-to-one communication. Engaging fans who use your hashtag is an excellent way to build brand loyalty one user at a time. Once your hashtag gains some traction, search it every day and engage.
9. Engage with lateral communities.
Find out where your fan base hangs out, and go there. Are there other hashtags you can jump in on to get your brand out there? Our Camping With Dogs fans love Bark Box. If you are a fashion brand, find out what makeup brands your audience is into, and comment on those images. For local businesses who want to grow, find other local businesses that are compatible with yours, and reach out to do some brand awareness.
You will grow your fan base by going where they are and engaging consistently!
10. Find influencers, and help them grow their following.
Connect with influencers and help them build their brands. When you start out, an influencer is an account or brand that has more fans than you and has great engagement. There’s one more characteristic…their fan base has to be your audience. For example, it makes sense for Camping With Dogs to build a relationship with an individual influencer that loves camping, has a dog, and posts regularly about it. It doesn’t make sense to build a relationship with a fashion blogger who hates the outdoors.
Connect with influencers via direct message and let them know that their brand is awesome and that you’ll be sharing their photos from time to time. Get on their account and like their posts and comment on them. Their fans will most likely see the comment rather than the like. The idea is to gain fans by exposing your brand to the influencers followers.
It’s important to help them grow their following as well. Repost quality images and give them credit by tagging them. Use your own caption to match your brand narrative. Your influencers will most likely follow you and share your content if you are promoting their brand. You have to be willing to promote your influencers giving them followers to get followers.
Invest time into getting to know influencers in your market and build relationships.
Bonus: Be a beast.
Did we mention working your thumbs until they turn blue? Consistency and time are the two factors that will build your brand. Consistently use the right brand narrative, clear and beautiful images, your hashtag, and build relationships! The market will let you know if your brand will survive or not, but give it your best!
Are you fired up to grow your Instagram account? Go and conquer! (and tag us to let us know)