It’s Indescribable! It’s Indestructible! Nothing can stop it!
IT’S...the Instagram algorithm.
If the recent changes to Instagram make you feel like you’re in a horror movie, you’re not alone. When feeds stopped being chronological everyone was a bit spooked. At our recent co-ed meetup, The Science of Social Media, we asked interior designer, Cara Irwin (@goldalamode), hair stylist, Lena Piccininni (@lena_piccininni), and photographer, Rob Warhurst (@robwarhurst) to shed some light on their best practices for Instagram excellence.
Some things haven’t changed; hashtags are still very important to the algorithm and very effective when used correctly. With 30 hashtags at your disposal, it’s important you’re using each one to target your audience and describe your brand effectively. Cara reminded us to have a mix of broad and niche topics.
Cara: “Definitely use a couple of popular ones, but it’s also important to use some that aren't that popular. If you’re using a hashtag that has a million photos, your photo is going to be viewed for two seconds. It’s going to get buried.”
When you use Instagram’s search feature, you can enter a hashtag and see how many posts are made under that tag.. However, there are also related tags suggested for you based on that initial search. Be sure to go through these to get ideas for other ways to connect to your brand, product, or customer. When you’re thinking about hashtags, get in your customer’s mindset. Who are they? What are they searching for to find you? What kind of communities are they involved in?
The algorithm does not like when you use the same bunch of hashtags for each post, so doing some research can help you add some variety and reach new customers.
Engagement & Community:
Interacting with your followers on their posts and contemporaries in your field makes you seem approachable. People want to buy from people they like. When you engage with other posts, not only do you stir up interest in your product but you give people an opportunity to get to know your brand. Also, it’s just neighborly!
Lena: “I always say if you want to get love you have to give love. You can’t expect everyone to like and comment your stuff and you not do it back. That means a lot to people.”
It sounds counterintuitive, but it can’t hurt to collaborate with people in your field. You’re all working toward a common goal. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
Cara: “A lot of decor bloggers make our own hashtags. Someone will say, Hey I’m making a new hashtag, do you want to post about it? We’ll repost you if you use it.”
Lena: “There’s room to eat for everybody, so no matter what industry you’re in, support other [businesses like yours].”
Building a supportive community can only benefit all businesses involved.
Consistency and Timing:
The panel couldn’t talk enough about consistency and it turns out the algorithm likes it too. Being consistent instills confidence in your followers and shows new customers that you’re a trustworthy person in your field. Even so, it can be hard to know when to post and how often, especially when certain days seem to garner different results.
Cara: “Some days, mornings are better, sometimes nights are. It’s seasonal too, people are doing different things at different times of the year. Especially on holidays, people aren’t really online. Know who your following is, and what they’re doing.”
Try to see what is organic to you and the demographic you’re trying to reach. If you’re selling to parents, they may be more likely to interact with you after the kids are at school or after dinner. If your audience loves the nightlife, they may not be around Friday evenings or weekends. Instagram analytics (for business accounts) can help you know what times are best to post and what regions your followers are from, so you can accommodate those time zones as well.
Content & Authenticity:
While it’s been said before, it bears repeating, be yourself. Just because a certain look or demeanor works for one brand, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for yours. In fact, doing so can quickly turn off consumers.
Rob: “Ignore the trends. Have you ever seen an account try to do something really trendy? You can kind of see right through it. If Taco Bell was doing an above the shot food display and paired it with some kind of meme-y caption, it’s cringey. It shows lack of self-awareness. Since when did Taco Bell get such an attitude? Make references to what’s going on in the world or pop culture, but without doing anything that would be outside of your brand’s norm.”
Instead, be aware of what might appeal to your customers in the context of your brand’s aesthetic and personality. The most important thing is to be true to your core values. This may mean getting a little vulnerable at times. Don’t be afraid to lift the social media veil and post a picture of yourself on your feed or use Instagram highlights to be a little silly. It goes a lot farther than hopping on the latest bandwagon.
Our panel had mixed feelings about Instagram Ads, but if you’re looking to try them out, here are some questions to ask yourself as you set up your campaign.
What are you promoting? Are you trying to make people more aware of your brand or are you trying to reach a new demographic? How much are you willing to spend overall? You’ll never exceed the amount you set for your budget, but if it's your first campaign it may be a good idea to start small as you test the waters.
Jennifer Chavez (Moderator; The Helpful Rabbit): “Do it right now, especially the way the prices are, it’s not expensive. You may spend $20 or $30 for the week. I’m all about it.”
It can be scary watching your following numbers rise only to fall for no explained reason, or to plateau even though you’re doing everything right. One thing our panel all agreed on was not to worry about the numbers.
Lena: “A lot of my goals on Instagram have changed over the years. I feel like years ago I wanted my number to be so high. Now, I’d rather have less followers that I can get more networking with and more jobs, than to have more followers and nothing. I think everyone’s goal should not be the number, but rather making your page more consistent.”
Cara: “I work with brands and PR and they honestly don’t care what your number is. They would rather work with someone with 500 followers that gets a ton of likes and a ton of comments, than someone who has 100,000 followers but no engagement. I just think the engagement is what’s important. I would say, don’t even look at your number.”
Rob: “In the beginning I was kind of about numbers, but eventually it got to the point where business was the priority. Yeah, a bunch of people are following, and that’s awesome, but I want to work, I want business.”
Followers don’t always translate into sales. What really matters is building that community, fostering engagement and genuine content. These things combined will establish you as an expert that people can trust and want to buy from. Throw in a little extra effort considering your analytics and you’ll have nothing to fear from the Instagram algorithm.