First of all, how do YOU define INSTAGRAM growth? More followers? More real followers? Better engagement?
In short, there is no use in gaining a lot of followers and drop your engagement rate at the same time. Engagement rate is not an officially defined metric, but in this context – think of it as your number of likes and comments divided by the number of followers. The engagement rate has impact in so many aspects and I will try to show you some of those aspects and why it is so important to monitor the engagement rate closely.
Many social media tools, and most likely even INSTAGRAM themselves, use engagement rate to rank accounts. We don’t know much about the top-secret INSTAGRAM algorithm, but it is generally considered that posts with high engagement end up higher in the feed. The higher up in the feed, the greater chance to get even more likes. Looking at it the other way around – the lower down in the feed, the…Well, you probably catch my drift. You will end up in a vicious circle.
If you are interested in posting shoutouts or ads in your feed, a low engagement rate will not be in your favour. If YOU were to place your hard-earned money on buying an ad, would you spend it on an influencer that really engages his/her audience or an influencer with many followers but hardly any comments? Stupid question, I know. Still people exchange money for ads on low quality accounts!
You have probably already guessed that accounts with a high engagement rate have quality followers and inspire other quality followers to engage. This is a sweet spot you want to be in. High engagement attracts more real followers. This is why this blog post focuses on better engagement before more followers.
1. Use hashtags
Hashtags have a direct impact on your engagement and this is very easy to verify. Post images without hashtags for a week. Post images with hashtags next week. Then check your engagement rate. You can see your engagement rate for each post or in a chart when using SocialGimp.
I did a small (and not very scientifical) test the other day, just for my own amusement. I used a newly created account, @socialgimp_com, where I recently posted an image of a hashtag together with caption including 9 hashtags. After 2 days I archived that post and posted the exact same image again, this time with 30 hashtags which is the maximum number of hashtags allowed by INSTAGRAM. I waited 2 more days and then compared the results.
The result for the last post speaks for itself, but do your own proper tests and try out different hashtags. It is well worth that extra time to do some hashtag research. Testing on a small account has its advantages. It is very easy to manually assess who likes and follows your posts so you know that you target the right audience.
Here are a few simple tips on how you easily can find and manage your hashtags using SocialGimp.
- Use “Tools / Tag search” to find similar hashtags (also displays popularity).
- Check your own previously used hashtags under “You / Hashtags”.
- Check a competitor’s previously used hashtags under “Others / Hashtags”.
- All saved hashtags can be found and managed under “Tools / My hashtags”.
- Most lists are downloadable to csv-format.
2. Consistency versus Frequency
INSTAGRAM is a different beast compared to Facebook and Twitter in terms of consistency / frequency.
Frequency matters to Facebook and Twitter accounts but has limited impact with INSTAGRAM. I have played around a bit with a few accounts and it seems as if it does not really matter to post once or twice a day. Sure, posting twice a day draws more attention in total, but nowhere near twice as much. You should ask yourself if it is worth the extra effort to create double the amount of great content for just a small increase in results. At the same time, you will discover that posting more than twice a day will most likely affect your engagement rate negatively. Engagement rate is important, remember?
Consistency on the other hand, matters to INSTAGRAM accounts. If you think you can take some time off and stop posting while you go backpacking in Indonesia for a while – think again! It will take forever to get to the same engagement rate again. Your followers will quickly lose interest and leave you for more interesting accounts. I have experienced this first hand on a 25k account which went from 5-600 likes/post to less than 200 likes/post when I lost interest for a couple of months. It is really hard to get back to where I was and I doubt I will recover this year even.
How often you should post only you can tell. Since consistency matters along with great quality images you should consider how often you can produce meaningful content in the long run. This is not a 100-meter sprint, it is a marathon and all about endurance. I have personally gone from 1 post per day to 1 post every second day on a few travel related accounts which seems to work for me, both in terms of results and my work load.
You can assess your posting consistency with the Consistency chart (below) at SocialGimp – Aim for a flat-line and avoid spikes. Compare the chart with the Engagement rate chart and you should spot a correlation between the spikes and a significant drop in engagement.
3. Get inspired
This is in many ways the most difficult and subjective tip in this blog post. How do you determine if an image will go viral or if it just will disappear in the flow? There are several factors why some images perform so much better than others – image quality, unique content, composition, if your image sparks emotions just to name a few. And let’s face it, the outcome of every tweak you do with hashtags, consistency and whatnot is based on how great the image is itself. You can’t build a successful account based on bad-quality images no matter what your secret sauce is!
To find out which images that will go viral is something that some people seem to know intuitively, especially photographers. Just take a look at one of my favourite account, @ilhan1077, owned by Turkish photographer İlhan Eroğlu. He spoils us with amazing images which consistently have a high engagement rate well over 3% which is fantastic for such a large account. But what differs his very best images from the average? Let’s study some of his posts sorted by number of likes:
Even the images with average engagement look beautiful, but the top 10 ones are stunning and really stand out!
What can we learn from this? Well, first of all we need to realize that we are competing with everyone else for attention and in that respect mediocrity does not belong here – at least not if your goal is to reach out to as many people as possible. I am sure that from the 1,7k images İlhan has posted, he has done a lot of filtering from thousands of other great images already. Perhaps that intuition is a result of lots and lots of hard work that you as an audience never see? In fact, posting a bad image may even cause harm to your account, making your engagement rate drop and followers to go somewhere else.
If you are in a position where you are reposting images from other’s INSTAGRAM accounts, sorting these accounts on likes is a very easy way to select the very best images from every account. The engagement pattern will follow your repost well. If choosing an image which originally had 1k likes will give your repost 100 likes, then an image with originally 2k likes WILL give your repost 200 likes. So, it really makes sense to do this very quick research if you are in the business of reposting!
Lastly, review your overall theme and don’t stray away too far from you niche. It is ok to evolve your account into something better than you started out with – we all learn, right? Many successful accounts have rebranded themselves over time, but this does not mean that jumping back and forth between different themes every week is a very good idea. Your followers will be puzzled about what your account is about and – you guessed it – lose interest. So, think through what amazing story you want to tell your audience and stay in it for the long run!
– Olof, SocialGimp Sweden –