The Best Tools and Tactics for Growth Hacking on Instagram

Introduction

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Though I’ve had a personal Instagram profile since 2012, I began my Instagram education in September 2016.

This education came from my friendship with Matt Tsai who runs @goldenretrievers.

Matt started his account with zero followers in September of 2016.

As of November 2017, his account has over 800,000 real engaged followers.

We’ve maintained a daily conversation about entrepreneurship and internet marketing since 2011.

But since 2016, we’ve mostly talked about growth hacking his account.

As Matt has pioneered these strategies, I’ve implemented many of the successful principles with my wife, Jasmine’s, account and now, this blog’s account.

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned here on the blog.

Is Instagram Even Worth Pursuing as a Blogger?

As a blogger, Instagram might not seem like the best social platform to focus on.

Why?

Instagram is a highly visual platform emphasizing photos and videos.

And many blogs don’t have highly visual content to share.

But even though a blog might not be as suited for Instagram promotion as say, a fashion line,

Instagram referral traffic is still some of my most valuable traffic.

Just look at the low bounce rate and longer session duration of my Instagram visitors in the last month.

Instagram-traffic from google analytics

Gary Vaynerchuk’s popularity on Instagram is another example of the fact that your brand

doesn’t have to fall into the stereotypically successful brand categories on Instagram.

So whether you think your brand is well suited for Instagram or not, I hope this post helps you grow a large and engaged following as quickly as possible.

Understanding the Types of Instagram Accounts

Most Instagram accounts fall into these categories:

Brand Accounts: A brand account is straight-forward like Coca-Cola or Chipotle.

Personal Brand Accounts: These profiles are still business focused but revolve around an individual like Gary Vaynerchuk or my wife’s account.

Personal Accounts: These are the typical profiles you find on Instagram. Your friends and family usually have this sort of personal account to curate their lives with no hopes or desires for monetization.

Curation Accounts: My friend Matt’s account, @Goldenretrievers is a great example of a curation account where Matt doesn’t create original content. Instead he curates and shares photos or videos of golden retrievers.

Keep in mind the type of profile you want to have and the type of profile you want to reach.

These factors are important for determining both the type of content you create and the type of audience you attract.

How to Determine What Sort of Content You Should Post on Instagram

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You can’t have a successful Instagram account without consistently posting high-quality content.

And although what qualifies as “good” content might be up for debate, high-quality content is less debatable.

The best way to discover the sort of high-quality content you should create is to look at other successful accounts in your account category and niche.

Make sure the accounts you emulate represent brands that became famous because of their Instagram account.

Some personal brand accounts, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s, have millions of followers because the owner was already famous.

You can neglect Instagram best-practices and still have a large and engaged following if you were already famous before you started an Instagram profile.

So if you’re a fashion blogger in the personal brand category, find other successful fashion bloggers in the personal brand category who started from scratch and earned a large following.

How to Create High-Quality Instagram Content

Regardless of your niche or profile type, these tools will help you create stellar content for your profile.

1. High Resolution Content

The best profiles have high-resolution content from great cameras.

Jasmine uses the Google Pixel and recently the Pixel 2 which both have excellent camera quality.

But any recent smart phone should have a camera that has great quality.

Pexels and Burst: If you rely on stock content for your feed (like I do), having access to high-quality images is a must. Pexels and Burst are great resources that provide high-quality images free to use commercially. Also, Pexels provides stock video as well. Regardless of the stock platform you choose, make sure you have the legal right to use their content.

2. Lightroom Editing

If you’ve ever found Instagram profiles with feeds filled with photos that mysteriously achieve a similar color tint or “look,” you’re probably looking at the handiwork of Adobe Lightroom.

Lightroom is a photo-editing program that enables you to tweak every aspect of your photos’ coloring and lighting.

You can even use it to create your own presets and lighting filters to give your photos a similar look and feel.

This is what several “Insta-famous” travel and style ‘grammers use like Aggie with @travelinhershoes or Lisa Homsy.

3. Other Content and Editing Tools

Here are some other great tools for editing content:

Snapseed: This Google-owned photo editing tool is great for quick touch ups and for making sure your shots have perfect alignment.

Canva: If you’re planning on overlaying your images with text, Canva is a fantastic (and free) tool to use for this.

It’s an incredibly simple drag-and-drop web app for graphic design. And it comes with thousands of presets.

VSCO: This is a stand-alone photosharing app.

But many Instagram users share photos edited with VSCO to Instagram because VSCO has great filters and editing tools. It’s worth checking out.

Corel Video Studio: Instagram seems to be following in the footsteps of its owner, Facebook, by prioritizing video more and more.

As video becomes more important on the social media landscape, video editing will become equally important.

I’ve used Corel Video Studio for the past decade to edit video. It’s both powerful and user-friendly.

Check it out if you plan on using video on your Instagram profile.

Hashtag Basics

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After using the above tools to create high-quality content, now you’re ready to promote it.

The way to do this is with hashtags, (Instagram search terms you can use to tag your photos).

As of now, Instagram allows you to put 30 different hashtags on your content.

I recommend using every single one of them to maximize your reach.

So how do you find the best hashtags for your profile?

Again, look at other successful brands in your niche that have built their profiles from scratch.

What hashtags are they using?

Those are the ones you should probably use as well.

Advanced Instagram Hashtag Tactics

When you have <5,000 followers, it’s unlikely you will see spectacular engagement on your content

But once you start seeing 100+ likes on your content and a handful of comments, you can start optimizing your hashtag use.

How?

When you click on a hashtag you typically see something like this:

instagram top posts for entrepreneur

Notice the top posts for this hashtag.

How do top posts get there?

According to Instagram expert Eduardo Morales, it has to do with the engagement these posts receive within the first 10 minutes of publishing.

So how do you take advantage of this to get in the top posts section of a hashtag?

First, you need to measure the average engagement you receive within the first 10 minutes of posting your content.

Say you receive receive about 50 likes and a couple of comments 10 minutes after publishing.

If you can find a hashtag whose top posts have about 50 likes and a couple of comments on them, you have a good chance of ranking for that hashtag.

Once you do that, you’ll receive even more exposure as people search for that hashtag and see your content in the top posts.

The process of finding relevant hashtags you can rank for and measuring your engagement in the first 10 minutes is tedious.

But it’s worth the research as long as you can optimize your engagement.

Final pro tip: Many Instagram users post their hashtags in the first comment of the post instead of the photo’s caption.

Why?

It looks a little cleaner if you can’t see the hashtags.

And if you put 10 or so dots on separate lines before posting your hashtag list like so:

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#hashtag #hashtag #hashtag

Instagram will collapse your comment so that your hashtags aren’t visible to a viewer.

How to (Actually) Automate Your Content Publishing to Instagram (No Push Notifications Required)

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Now that you know how to create spectacular content, it’s time to automate the publishing process.

Once you automate posting, you can focus on more important aspects of growth.

Nearly every app that promises posting to Instagram for you doesn’t actually do this.

Instead, they send you a push notification with the post prepared but you still have to hit the publish button.

Why?

As of now, Instagram doesn’t allow third party programs to automatically publish content.

So fair warning: the tool I’m about to recommend is technically against Instagram’s Terms of Service.

It’s called OnlyPult and it’s wonderful.

It automatically publishes both images and stories to your profile.

You just schedule the content and it publishes it when you’ve scheduled it.

Onlypult also has a first comment feature.

So if you take my advice above and put all your hashtags in the first comment instead of the caption, you can use OnlyPult to do this for you.

It has tons of great features and analytics.

I highly recommend it.

Maximizing Instagram Post Engagement

After reading the above section, you already know how important engagement is for your content to be visible in hashtags.

Plus, as Instagram continues on its growth trajectory, more content will be uploaded to Instagram.

And with more content comes more aggressive filtering as Instagram’s algorithms decide what content ranks on the feed.

So how do you make sure your content isn’t lost in the feed?

The simplest way is to end your caption with a call to action.

Most successful brands do this on Instagram by ending their caption with a question or with something like:

“Tag a friend!”

This prompts followers and viewers to engage with your post.

But the way the Instagram pros maximize engagement is with “a pod.”

If you haven’t heard of these, pods are basically Instagram group chats where users agree to like and comment on each other’s posts to boost engagement.

If you’d like to join a pod, check out Alex Tooby’s Facebook group where she and her community curate pods for different niches that you can join.

How to Gain Real Instagram Followers Quickly

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Posting high-quality content with excellent hashtags and maximizing engagement with pods will get you real followers organically.

But you can speed up the rate at which you get followers by following others in mass.

You see, a certain percentage of Instagram users will follow you back when you follow them.

So by constantly following (and unfollowing) Instagram users, you can radically increase your growth rate.

How do you decide who to follow?

If your blog is about selling SEO services (B2B), then you most likely run a brand account or personal brand account.

And you should aim to acquire other brand, personal brand, or curation accounts as followers.

Why?

These accounts are most likely your target audience and potential customers.

So follow the followers of other successful accounts in your niche and some of them will follow you back.

If you run a personal brand account with the goal of affiliate sales on personal fashion (B2C), then you should try acquire a following of personal accounts because they are more likely your target audience.

So you should follow the followers of other successful personal brand accounts in your niche.

Keep in mind:

It’s better to follow the followers of 10 accounts with 10,000 followers than 1 account with 100,000 followers.

Why?

The larger an influencer’s following, the more fake accounts and people not likely in your target audience are following them.

So try to find a variety of micro-influencers instead of one big influencer whose followers you can follow.

Not only will you follow more real and relevant accounts this way, you will also diversify your efforts and increase the likelihood of success.

Automating the Following/Unfollowing Process on Instagram

Before you set out to do all of this following and unfollowing manually, check out NinjaGram.

NinjaGram is a desktop app that allows you to automate the following/unfollowing process according to specific criteria.

You can also apply filters and time delays to this process to ensure you follow the perfect audience without Instagram blocking you as a spammer.

In my case,

I set up my Ninjagram to only follow people who are following more people than are following them.

Why?

These users have demonstrated they are interested in following a volume of people.

So maybe they will follow me.

I also set a random time delay after every action between 40 and 100 seconds and a 20 minute break after every 100 actions.

Depending on the age of your account and a variety of other factors, you may have to tweak these time delays to prevent getting blocked by Instagram.

But I’ve used these settings with great success to follow people all the way up to Instagram’s follower max, 7500.

Then I use Ninjagram to unfollow everyone who’s not following me back.

And I repeat this process over and over again.

The Purpose of Social Media Automation

In my opinion, the primary purpose of social media automation is to boost your own interaction on the platform.

So instead of spending a lot of time creating and posting content, you can spend your time interacting with others.

In other words, automation should help you emphasize the “social” in social media instead of the “media” in social media.

Automation can also help you take extended time off from day-to-day operations so you can focus on the big picture of your business or take a vacation.

However, automation cannot remove you from social media (nor should it).

After all, social media was designed for social purposes.

If you automate and then ignore the platform, you probably won’t get the results you want from it.

Video, Early Adoption, and the Future of Instagram

capturing video on mobile

As I mentioned above, Instagram seems to be following in its owner’s steps emphasizing video more and more.

Likewise, Instagram seems to reward early adopters of new features like stories, video, and more by featuring their content more prominently.

Though I don’t have any data to back this claim, the logic makes sense.

Social media platforms make more money when their users upload more content.

Why?

More content attracts more users and keeps users on the platform for longer.

So if you are posting a high volume and a variety of content, adopting Instagram’s new features, and using video, I believe your Instagram profile will grow more quickly.

Conclusion

I hope this post has given you some unique tools and tactics you can use to grow your Instagram following.

What tactics have you discovered through growing your Instagram account?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

In the spirit of full disclosure, links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you decide to purchase anything through the link. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. In fact, sometimes I am able to offer a lower price (or bonuses) not available elsewhere. Your support in purchasing through these links empowers more people worldwide to blog with less worry and less hassle and enables me to continue to provide free blog content and to provide for myself and loved ones. Thank you! 🙂
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