The Ultimate Guide to Growing an Audience on Instagram

December 1, 2015

The Ultimate Guide to Growing an Audience on Instagram 2How many times do you scroll through your Instagram newsfeed and stop at one of your favorite lifestyle accounts. It’s quite possibly a picture of a girl just like you wearing cute clothes and walking down the street holding her son’s hand quoting something abstract about motherhood and mentioning “oh BTW, like my photo to get all the shopping details.” You look at this photo and think two things: 1. I love her and wish she lived closer because we would just instantly be BFF’s and 2. Why don’t I have an account like this too.

To be perfectly honest, it’s as simple as you think but more time consuming than you are aware. However even though it’s more time consuming than you would expect, it’s still a very feasible project to take on even with limited time. It’s not going to pull you away from your day job and it’s really not all that time sensitive. It lends you the ability to grow it at a rate you determine and spin it into whatever you want it to become.

Best Practices for Success When Setting Up An Instagram Account

 

legos in my louis instagram account

In this post I’ll share with you some of the most valuable tips I have when setting up a public Instagram account. I started my blog first as an Instagram account @legosinmylouis and in the 9 months since conception have grown over 10K real followers. The large and quick following I gained wasn’t on accident and it wasn’t just that people liked my Instagram pics. By following best practices I was able to make it easier for people to find, follow and engage with me. But more importantly, I’ve created a really stable foundation for growth. I could write a whole book on everything I know about content and social media marketing (it’s also my day job) but today I want to start on page one, best practices for success when setting up a new Instagram account.

1. Identify Your Target Persona

What’s a target persona?  A target persona is in short your target customer.  Not in the broad sense of “I want to target moms, and people who like fashion even if they aren’t a mom, and older moms.  A target persona is really narrow and should be closely defined.  An example of a good target persona would be this.

Target Persona: Sarah. Sarah lives in California and is no more than 1 hour from the beach.  She has two kids who are elementary school or younger and likes to take them out alot. She herself is active on her private Instagram account.  She likes to follow fashion but doesn’t actually shop all that much. She will make buying decisions based on the information she finds through social media.

The more detail you can put into your target persona and even name them, the easier it will be to guide your content.  You aren’t excluding people who don’t fit this exact mold, you are going to gain them along the way too. But what this allows is for you to always craft your brand towards the person that you think will most likely convert.  It’s a really common marketing tactic at a corporate level and it wouldn’t be uncommon for a tie breaker decision to be made by someone interjecting, “Well which would Sarah like more, lets go with that one.”

2. Find Accounts You Want to Mimic

There are two paths to success either do something that hasn’t been done before, or do something that is already being done but just do it better. For the sake of this argument, let’s assume you’re the latter of the two. Most people will go to the key players in the industry and say I want to be just like them. We want to be Amber Fillerup of Barefoot Blonde or Rachel Parc of Pink Peonies, take pictures of our everyday lives and rake in close to a million dollars a year in affiliate sales and sponsorships. But looking that far down the road and having blinders to the climate around you won’t necessarily get you any closer to the next step.

Make a list of the 4 accounts you want to be like.

  1. An account you want to be like at the top tier (over 100K followers)
  2. An account you want to be like at a high tier (around 30K followers)
  3. An account you want to be like at a mid tier (around 10K followers)
  4. An account that you want to be like in the next 6 months (around 3K followers)

No only follow all four of those accounts but study them. Pay the most attention to what is happening to that fourth account. Sometimes you can learn a lot more from your peers than you can from your successors. The landscape was probably very different when those 100K accounts started. Aside from the market being much more saturated, pretty much everything is drastically different. As a result it’s imperative that you look closely at what is working for the accounts that are growing side by side with you, in these market conditions and with a similar growth curve.

3. Know Your Objective

Your objective should be burned into your brain before you even go to set up your account. What are you trying to accomplish. This isn’t the ideological “Who am I? What will the message of this account be?” that’s a totally different more personal conversation. The objective I am talking about is a goal. Is your goal simply to gain followers? Well, that’s ok as long as you just have an Instragram account and nothing else. If you have a blog then the amount of followers you have on Instagram means nothing because your objective is actually email signups on your blog. If you are selling a product it doesn’t matter if you have 100K or 10K followers, what matters is website conversions to your product page.

If you can see where I am going with this, most people put entirely too much emphasis on Instagram followers which, depending on what your intentions are is a completely arbitrary number.

4. Don’t Buy Followers or Likes

If are you really trying to grow your Instagram account into something that you want to monetize I can’t stress to you enough how much buying followers or engagement can compromise you. Why is this?

  1. Your audience data is ruined forever – If you don’t already know this, Facebook owns Instagram; as a result the landscape of Instagram is really starting to change. Audience data is basically the Wizard, Facebook and now Instagram is Oz. Audience data is something that you would never think about in the early stages. Instead you see this shiny apple in front of you where for $20 you can get 10K followers and you take a bite. What happens if you do is that you’ve forever ruined any information you have about your audience and your analytics is poisoned.
  2. Buying Followers Hurts A More Important Metric – If you are measuring success by followers you are simply using the wrong benchmark. The number that is much more important is engagement rate. Engagement rate is what percentage of your audience is engaging with your content.  If you have an account with 50K followers but are only getting around 200 likes on your photos, your engagement rate is .005%. To a potential partner or sponsor, there is a big red flag that you have a large but unengaged audience. They most likely would take more interest in another account with 1% engagement or even better one with 2% engagement.
  1. It’s a slippery slope of expenses – So you might read this and say, “Oops, too late. But’s it ok, I’ll just go and by post likes too and then my engagement numbers are evened out”. While I will credit the resourcefulness of your solution, it can quickly get in the way of your monetization when you now are carrying an ongoing reoccurring monthly expense.
  2. You will constantly be losing followers – Instagram is constantly trying to clear out bot accounts.  Sweeps are ongoing but can also happen at once too.  Several years ago Instagram did a massive overhaul to clear out fake accounts and many of the top fashion bloggers lost hundreds of thousands of followers in seconds . . .oops!  On a more relatable scale, even if you buy a small amount of followers you are going to constantly struggle with losing followers.  Losing followers is much worse than having slow growth of followers.  Losing followers implies that people don’t like you content, whereas having fewer followers simply means that you are still gaining exposure.

I know many of your still can’t be lured away from the vanity number of followers. Trust me, I get it. Friends aren’t asking what your engagement rate is they want to know how many people are following you. Just remember though that the people who have the keys to really impact your cashflow and social influence, will know you’ve faked it.

5. Use Hashtags

No preaching here, this is a simple and clean way to spread your posts. If you aren’t familiar hashtags, they are are what I consider “the filing system of Instagram”. They are a great way to get your posts in front of interested users. If you use #momproblems it’s almost guaranteed that your target persona is both using and searching that hashtag then stumbling across your account. If you don’t use that hashtag there is little opportunity for that individual to find you. Don’t be afraid to use hashtags (wisely).

6. Put Your Hashtags on a Second Line

This is so simple yet so valuable. Don’t put hashtags on the comment you are making on the photo, put them on the second line right after you post. The difference in ranking that Instagram gives a hashtag in a comment versus on a subsequent comment line is nominal in comparison to the benefits it gives in terms of readability of your posts.

By putting it in the second line the big paragraph of hashtags it disappears into the “read more comments” when you hit a 5th comment. Still serving the same functionality as if it was in the post comment, it’s just hidden and making for a much cleaner read. See for yourself in the example below.

7. Use Quotes

People love quote posts. They are an easy off topic way to get attention to your page. I’m always baffled by how many likes my unoriginal quotes get in comparison to original content. Don’t post them too frequently because it will affect the look of your page but every dozen posts or so it’s a nice way to attract some traffic to your page.

8. Focus on Your Whole Page Not Just Individual Pictures

When an Instagram user is making the decision to follow you and click on that follow button, what are they seeing? Many people overlook the account view and how all your posts look together on your page. That is what a user is seeing when they are deciding to follow you.

The easiest way to follow your usual processes, without over thinking the framing of your photo, is to just use a consistent filter that is appropriate for your message. Here are a few examples that work well and parallel their brand.

9. Community Engagement is a Major Factor in Gaining Followers

When asked about Instagram success I always say there are two factors that will drive the success of your social media endeavors 1. Good Content 2. Community Engagement. Good content is a given so let’s talk about community engagement.

We’ve already established that to get found on Instagram people need to be:

  1. Looking for you.
  2. Finding you through a hashtag

But there is a third way to get found that most people don’t think about. Outbound engagement. If you were to like or comment on a post, that person now knows you exist and there is a high likelihood that they will go check out your page. Also, by leaving a comment their followers are now seeing your name in the newsfeed.

10. Have a Good Name

Having a good name is often overlooked but in my opinion very important. My name @legosinmylouis has attracted a lot of positive attention from like-minded moms. When I comment on photos I actually capture a handful of new followers from the followers or the photo I commented on . Legosinmylouis is an interesting name and when people are commenting right above or below they are engaged enough in that person’s post they want to see what other people are saying and who is saying it.

11. Always Give Credit Where Credit is Due

This is social etiquette 101 but something worth reminding as you start your venture. You can’t just take other people’s pictures and pretend that they are you. With fashion and lifestyle posts it’s so easy to just find a pretty image on Pinterest and want to post it without saying if it is or isn’t you.

To be perfectly honest, I did this a bit in the beginning. Then I came across a photo of mine that someone posted as their own and the whole thing was put in perspective for me. Aside from the fact it’s not fun watching someone else pretend to be you, I had something to gain by them having said “photo credit: @legosinmylouis” I could have gained followers. Instead out there was a bunch of people who liked my content but had no idea I existed because they thought that photo of mine was someone else.

So am I saying not to curate content? No. Curate away but always say “photo credit: @insertname”. Also, it’s never too late to fix it if you need to correct past wrongdoing.

12. It’s About Your Followers Not About You

If you want to gain followers you want to make sure that you are creating content that is relatable and engaging for them. An easy way to do this is through the copy you use in your photo comment. Easiest way to do this is to use the word YOU instead of I.

13. Always Share to Facebook

You don’t have to be actively involved in growing your Facebook audience but you should be posting your Instagram content there. It just takes one click each time but you are populating that platform for when you are ready. As we already mentioned above, Facebook own Instagram and using the two in conjunction especially with paid campaigns is very powerful. Basically you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by sharing your posts to your business Facebook page.

14. Spend Wisely

I’ll touch on this lightly but from the start pay attention to your costs. In the beginning you’ll see all these services that seem like a silver bullet to success and they are just $10 here and $20 there. Any if you are trying to do a fashion blog you can make yourself broke trying to buy outfits to shoot and maybe even pay someone to take your pictures, and then your website costs. The whole venture can get as expensive as you let it. In most cases those silver bullets aren’t as effective unless you have your ducks in a row. The price you pay for the clothes and the photographer won’t be recouped in affiliate sales. Ultimately you can run at a loss each month trying to make money.

15. Defer Monetization at the Start

Most people above who are quickly spending money are trying to make money quickly. As a new account spending money to make money is a bad model without any track record for success. If you are starting this as a pet project I would recommend giving yourself a year to decide how you want to make money from your account. Maybe you’ll lose interest before the year is up, maybe you will morph into something completely different than you intended. If you keep your overhead costs low or non-existent for as long as possible, you will be in a much better place when you do decide what your revenue stream will be.

16. Focus on 1 Action at a Time

I was helping a friend with an account and the first post has 5 competing actions to take on it. It was a post with 5 tags in the body and 5 hashtags and a call out to follow me. People need one clear action to take per post. Either say nothing and just write your comment or specifically say “like if you ….”. Any time I do a post where I ask someone to comment or ask them to like if… those actions are greatly increased. It’s not worth doing every time but keeping clear actions for them to take is key.

17. Remember This Isn’t Your Personal Account

You need to train yourself to know the difference between what is personal account worthy and what is public account worthy. In my case I fall victim to thinking that my kids are so darn cute they are public Instagram worthy. Unless they are doing an activity that other moms would think is interesting, they generally belong on my personal page. Drawing that distinction and making sure that they are featured but not front and center makes a big difference to my audience. The same could be said for almost any category.

18. Limit How Much You Post

Posting once a day is sufficient for most accounts. Posting more than that gives your followers too many changes to decide that they’ve seen too much of you in their newsfeed. Let the quality of the content drive you but let it drive you only once a day.

19. Draw the Line Between You and Your Brand

Know from the start if you are the brand or if your brand is the brand. In the lifestyle category most people are the brand using their full name and their username or “their brand” by “insert their name”. That could be exactly what they want because they are trying to gain equity as an individual person. However, I would argue that there is more value in building your brand as a brand. My name isn’t on Legos in my Louis, I’m not the author of the posts, Legos in my Louis is. It’s not because I am hiding behind the screen but because I am trying to build equity for Legos in my Louis not for Betsy. In my opinion the potential for growth of a lifestyle brand that isn’t tied to an individual has a much higher ceiling than one that is for example Betsy’s Legos in my Louis.

Summary

If you have made it this far, you rock! You literally just digested 9 months of Instagram growth expertise and are going to be that much farther ahead as you launch your own endeavor. Let me know if you try and of these tips and find success too. I know that they have worked for me and client accounts but I would love to see how they improve your growth and engagement.

Got questions?  Leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer.

In Gratitude Legos in my Louis

 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Valerie February 22, 2016 at 11:48 am

    This is a great post! Love your advice, specifically about knowing and gearing your content toward your desired audience. It’s so simple but it’s easy to lose sight of. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Legos in my Louis February 22, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks Valeria! Glad you found it resourceful.

  • Reply Jordan Infascelli March 4, 2016 at 11:47 am

    What a great post! Can’t wait to apply this to my account for my swimwear line. So many helpful tips. Thank you for sharing!

    • Reply Legos in my Louis June 6, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      So glad you found it useful!

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