Instagram is the fastest growing social network on the planet, holds the highest engagement rate (of any social platform) and is helping brands thrive all over the planet.
In other words, simply having an Instagram profile for your brand isn’t enough, you need to analyse, optimise and grow your audience.
The best way to do this is by posting regularly, and whilst this might not sound like rocket-science, reaching the highest number of people with your posts is.
But before I give you some KILLER tips for hitting your full Instagram potential, it’s absolutely crucial that you all have Instagram Business Accounts.
By upgrading your account (for free) to a business account you are able to track and analyse the success of your posts, stories and profile, allowing you to analyse your success, implement the tactics that worked and drop those that failed.
If you haven’t got a business account yet, get over to our step-by-step guide and set one up!
The Instagram Algorithm
The reach of your posts is 100% dependent on the Instagram algorithm, so it’s pretty important you know how it works.
The Instagram Algorithm dictates where on the newsfeed your posts will appear. If you publish something that it doesn’t like, hardly anyone will see it.
There are a whole host of signals that affect the algorithm’s rank placement, but there are 3 that you all must know:
- Engagement: This denotes how many people have interacted with your post by saving, commenting, sharing and liking. The higher your engagement, the higher you’ll rank and the more chance you’ll have of appearing on the explore page.
- Speed of engagement: Having high engagement on your posts is the first sign of success, but if you receive that engagement in double-quick time, you’ll rank even higher and get much more exposure.
- Recency: Newer posts tend to rank higher than old ones.
There are other factors that appeal to the Instagram algorithm, including ‘time users spend viewing your posts’, ‘how often users engage with your posts’ and ‘location if tagged’. As we work through the tactics, I’ll explain these in more detail…
…but for now, really think about how you can prime your posts for the top three (I’ve listed above).
Let’s get knee-deep in Instagram reach boosting tactics:
Engagement Boosting Posts
If Instagram’s algorithm prefers posts that have high levels of engagement, it’s your job to do everything you can to get it!
I have seen so many brands on Insta who post (near enough) the same thing over and over again. This might appeal to users initially, but after a while, they become disinterested by the same post type and this causes engagement levels to drop.
There are a number of post tactics you can use that will instantly boost your engagement rate. I’ll list a couple in just a moment, but before that, it’s important that you understand how important variety is.
When I say variety, I’m not suggesting that you regularly switch your posting strategy. Variety should come in the form of your post type, whether that be a product post, behind the scenes shot, location photos or (very importantly) videos.
Yes, you’ll find winning tactics that your posting strategy should definitely lean towards, but always remember to keep variety in mind.
Ok, that’s enough of a lecture, here are a couple of post types that generate tons of engagement:
- Contests: Brands often run contests on Insta and as an entry requirement, users must comment, like and share the post. This post type asks users to engage and if you pick a good contest, you’re guaranteed a high engagement rate.
- Questions/choices: Asking users a question in your post prompts followers to respond with their answer in the comments. You can also use split images of two choices and ask for your followers’ opinion.
The great thing is that once a user has spent a long time engaging with one of these posts, your next post is likely to rank high on their newsfeed (because the Instagram algorithm thinks they like your stuff).
Before you go away and start posting contests and questions everyday just remember about the importance of variety. Use these post types when you want to give your engagement levels a boost.
Time of Day
As I mentioned earlier, speed of engagement and recency are two very important ranking signals…
…the best way to optimise your posts for these factors is to post at the right time of day.
And contrary to many brand’s beliefs, the best time to post is not when you find time to hit the publish button.
You must focus your post publishing time around your audience. Instead of being lazy by posting only when you want to, you should post when your target audience are most likely to be online (and ready to engage).
There are a number of ways of doing this. The first thing to consider is how well you know your target audience. Whenever we work with a client (or market ourselves), the very start of our marketing efforts begin by creating a picture of our ideal customer.
This ‘ideal customer’ isn’t made of broad demographics (e.g. 20-30 years old), every single characteristic is definitive. It’s the person that our clients really want to work with (as their customer’s) and by building a very specific avatar of them, we are able to target them much more effectively.
When you have a full understanding of your target audience, it’s time to test, analyse and optimise. This means honing in on 3-5 times of day to publish. Spread your test over a few weeks, varying your posting time each day of the week.
BTW: the day of the week will also make a huge difference to your post reach, so make sure you test different times for each day!
After you’ve spent some time testing, go into Instagram Business Manager and analyse the reach of your posts. There should be at least a couple that stand above the rest.
Use these as a ballpark and continue to test around them until you find your optimum times.
If you’d like to organise your posts and understand more about the optimum times to post on all of the world’s biggest social networks, get our free Social Media Posting Planner!
Video is the internet’s fastest growing content medium and its popularity continues to soar year after year.
There have been several studies into the engagement rate of photos vs videos on Instagram. And whilst many of them claim that photos generate more engagement, they’re not all strictly correct.
Photos are known to receive more likes, as they allow Insta users to fly through their newsfeed, tapping the heart button on anything that appeals to them. But videos are thought to get more than 2x the number of comments.
Comments are REAL engagement and whilst I can’t be sure (because Instagram won’t share the information with us!), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Instagram algorithm preferred comments to likes when it comes to ranking posts.
Another amazing thing that video forces users to do, is spend more time looking at your post. For example, if you see a beautiful photo, you might spend 5-10 seconds taking it in, but if you’re faced with a 1 minute video that catches your attention, you’ll have to spend more time watching it.
The longer you can keep people looking at your content and therefore on the Instagram network, the more the Insta algorithm will like you! If it’s good for them, they’ll show it to more people.
Try to mix video into your Instagram posts. You’ll reach more people, appeal to new users and build your brand’s relatability.
This tactic is so ridiculously simple that I won’t dwell on it too long, but if you’re hoping to increase your post reach, this will definitely achieve it.
When you post something on Instagram, you should also publish that same image/video on your other social networks.
Instagram allows you to automatically do this on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Cross posting on Instagram and Facebook is a commonly used tactic.
I strongly recommend cross posting your very best content, but don’t do it for everything.
If you cross post everything, your social feeds will all look the same and you’ll find that some followers won’t join your audience on Insta because they already follow you elsewhere (and receive the exact same content!).
Content tagged with hashtags reaches more people than those without. Simple.
Instagram allow up to 30 hashtags per post. It’s important that you use as many as you possibly can (at least 10), focussing on a mix of three types of hashtag :
- The most popular hashtags in your niche: Use a free tool like all-hashtag.com to discover the top hashtags in your industry. These have the highest number of followers, reach and views, but are highly competitive.
- Relevant trending hashtags: Trending hashtags are short-lived but they receive high levels of engagement, views and will definitely increase your reach. Use the ‘live’ section on all-hashtag.com to find the hottest hashtags of the moment.
- Branded hashtags: These are tags that include your brand, product or content name. When you first start posting with branded hashtags they will have little to no effect on your reach, but as you grow, develop a community and encourage your followers to contribute, they can help build an intensely loyal tribe of die-hard followers.
Hashtagged posts are discoverable in Instagram’s ‘explore’ and ‘search’ features, so it’s crucial that you use them on all of your posts, including your stories (more on these soon!).
To place a hashtag in your stories, simply add text to your image and hashtag it as you normally would. This will increase your chances of being seen by more people, than just placing hashtags only on your posts.
Learn more with our Ultimate Guide to Instagram Hashtags.
User Generated Content
User generated content refers to posts that are created by other people (usually your followers), and are published on you profile, or under your branded hashtags.
They do amazing things for your following, reach and audience connection.
By curating and posting the best of your followers’ content, you immediately increase your chances of engagement, particularly the invaluable ‘share count’.
When you post somebody else’s content on your brand’s page, more often than not, that user tags, shares and likes the post, and their followers will do the same. This can be the beginnings of a snowball effect.
As well as this, it creates strong bonds with your following, proving trust, relatability and connection. It shows you as a brand who actually care about their audience and this can have powerful effects on your reach and following count.
The more user generated content you post, the more followers will try to contribute to your page, effectively increasing your brand’s content without you even posting or creating anything new!
But be careful when using this tactic. Ensure that every post you curate is high-quality and relevant to your page. If you already have a branded hashtag that is regularly used by others, pick out the best content from here.
Instagram are owned by Facebook (the kings of social media advertising) and they’ve ploughed a ton of their knowledge into the photo sharing app.
An Instagram ad places your post in the newsfeed of people who are not part of your following, instantly increasing the reach of your post. This boost in impressions will generate more engagement and also boost the organic reach of your post and your chances of appearing in the ‘explore’ page.
There are two ways of running an Instagram ad:
- Hitting the ‘Promote’ button that appears beside the ‘view insights’ button underneath your post.
- Using Facebook Business Manager and editing the placements of your boosted content.
Either option will increase your reach, but if you use Facebook Business Manager you can be much more targeted with who you show your ad to.
If you would like to put some money behind a post to increase your exposure, I’d recommend using the insights tab in your Instagram Business account and choosing the post with the highest engagement in the last 7 days.
500m+ accounts use Instagram Stories everyday…
…are you? And if you aren’t, why not?
Stories appear at the top of the newsfeed and are the hottest growing feature on Instagram. They receive high levels of views and can be used to keep your audience engaged with your brand.
Stories disappear after 24 hours, but they can be saved and pinned to your profile. A great example of this is NatGeo, who use their pinned stories as mini-episodes. These provide users who are exploring their account a great example of their content. If you’ve got a great story, do the same!
As well as engaging your audience and staying fresh in their mind, you can place a hashtag on your story, which, if you’re lucky, could increase your reach.
A huge part of increasing your reach is nurturing your existing audience, stories are an amazing way of doing this! If you’d like to post more Instagram stories, but are lacking in ideas, check out 13 Instagram Story Ideas for Businesses (That Will Grow Your Following) .
Quality Over Quantity
Posting loads of content every day is a commonly made mistake. Many brands assume that the more they post, the greater their reach will be.
This isn’t the case.
The Instagram algorithm works on the factors listed at the start of this tactical guide, so if you publish tons and tons of posts, you will exhaust your audience, guaranteeing low engagement and tons of unfollows.
If you’ve ever followed a brand who have spammed your newsfeed with loads of posts every day (and then unfollowed them as a result), you’ll understand why this is so important.
Creating tons of content takes time, so if you are using this strategy, spend that time creating quality content.
Really analyse your posts before you publish them. Do they fit your branding? Are they good enough for your audience? Will they generate engagement?
When it comes to content, quality will always beat quantity. For instance, I could’ve written this post in two minutes, moving these sub-titles into a bullet point list without any explanation about each one…
…but I haven’t, because I focus on growing my audience by providing them with quality, detailed content.
BTW: if you don’t agree, check out how many shares my posts get!
You must adopt the same mindset for your Instagram account. Don’t post for the sake of it and don’t publish anything that is sub-par because you’re lacking content. Create something that people will actually want to follow.
Those are my top tips for boosting your reach on Instagram.
As the social network grows, competition continues to soar and the best way to get ahead of everyone else is to really understand the platform and how it works.
When you fully understand what the Instagram algorithm prefers to rank on the newsfeed, you’ll be able to create an Instagram posting strategy that plays into its hands.
Look at your current profile, posts and the size of your following, have you been doing everything you can to nurture your audience? What tips can you use to boost your post reach?
Test, analyse, optimise. And don’t stop!