The past year has been a mixed blessing for social media. With people cooped up at home, social networks have gotten lots of active, spending users. The question is: how do you stand out?
The main changes this past year have been in people’s preferences. Many users are mindful of data privacy and wary of intrusive ad targeting. With public life tightly restricted, many influencer tactics have become passé (We Are Social).
What this means is that next year will be all about community management. To boost your Instagram engagement in 2021, double down on knowing your audience, interacting with them directly — and organically — and, of course, investing in content that keeps them coming back.
How to increase Instagram engagement
Instagram’s content mix is much the same as in previous years. The key to engaging your audience is maintaining variety while playing to the strengths of each type.
1. Shoot for Saves and Shares
Since Instagram introduced the function to save posts, it’s become one of the metrics marketers frequently monitor. Saves aren’t just good for data, though — whenever a user saves your content, that post becomes a potential point of reconnection with your brand.
Saved posts have expanded the potential for so-called evergreen content on Instagram, and shooting for this kind of long-term relevance is a good way to target saves. Content with long-term value — tutorials, guides and other information products — are all good choices.
When targeting long-term value, consider longer captions too. Consider this photography tutorial with an extended caption, for instance.
Targeting personal relevance is also a great way to court saves. This ties into shareability, too — people are more likely to save something if they want to show it to people later on. See how this account uses images that resonate with their audience’s experience (without relying on intrusive targeting) to increase engagement.
Content related to mental health, coping with isolation, and social involvement are all relevant these days, but if you’re posting about it, make sure it’s in a way genuinely relevant to your brand.
That said, content that makes people smile or laugh is always a good idea. Lots of brands have cultivated a following by developing a distinct sense of humor. Online humor that revolves around tagging people (like in the example below) can be great for expanding your audience. Any form of humorous content should work fine, though, since jokes are always best when shared.
2. Talk with Stories
Stories constitute a massive portion of Instagram content. Since stories are temporary and users have to choose to see them, they come with implicit permission to be a bit more direct and a bit more conversational. Make the most of this by posting content with clear calls for engagement.
Stickers are the easiest way to do this. Readily available stickers offer built-in CTAs which you can use as the situation demands.
And while they’re designed to be added right into any story, consider taking time to design a few Instagram story templates that you can use to regularly spur engagement.
Don’t be afraid to combine multiple engagement prompts in a single post. Consider this post, which includes an understated swipe-to-shop CTA, but also a poll sticker.
Even if only a few people actually buy the item just then, the sticker can provide valuable information on your potential customers — all of which is voluntarily given.
The time-sensitive nature of stories also makes them an ideal choice for giveaways, flash sales and other promos that can lead to quick conversion.
Countdown stickers may not get direct feedback the way other stickers do, but they excel at building hype and getting users to watch your profile and posts a bit more closely (as long as you don’t overuse them).
3. Get the Right Video Mix
Video posts have been known to generate reliable levels of engagement, and the introduction of IGTV (as well as its post-launch improvements) have broadened the scope of viable video content (e.g. IGTV supports landscape-format videos).
With watch time up by 250% in 2020, one thing you should absolutely maximize is the use of video previews. A short (around one-minute long) preview video posted to the regular feed is a great way to get new viewers interested in your longer video content.
Making previews is as easy as toggling an option during publishing, but consider planning the preview beforehand to make sure it catches as many eyes as possible.
4. Branding, One Post at a Time
When optimizing individual posts for engagement, don’t forget to spare a thought for building your overall visual brand. A well-coordinated gallery is a great way to make an impression and earn yourself a follow.
There are several ways you can build up an overall visual brand. A relatively simple approach is to incorporate signature design elements, such as colors, typefaces, or even saturation or contrast levels.
A specialized photo-editing app can streamline the process so that curating your gallery need not be a challenge.
Getting the Right Data
Making the most of Instagram data and analytics is a two-sided process. 200 million people visit at least one Instagram business profile in a day!
To leverage that you have to understand both your audience and your brand’s presence. If you want to optimize your engagement, you need to see what’s happening where the two intersect.
5. Time Your Posts for Maximum Effect
The algorithm behind the Instagram feed means that engagement across all content types is quite heavily affected by when you post.
While overall trends can give you a starting point for experimenting in posting times (e.g. the network is most active at midday on weekdays), ultimately, you should aim to find your brand’s personal best times.
Another good way to start is by looking at Instagram Insights. These built-in analytics track your own content’s performance as well as basic data concerning your followers, such as when they’re most often online.
Try posting different types of content at the different times they’re most active and see which gets the most engagement.
“Types of content” doesn’t just mean formats like stories or reels, photos or videos. Pay attention to what responses you get when you change things like caption lengths, in-image text, CTAs/stickers and layouts; see how they respond to standalone posts versus those in a series.
6. Find Your Followers
Instagram users are strongly motivated by hobbies and interests. The platform itself leans into this — and if you want to boost engagement, so should you.
Some third-party apps are dedicated to expanding your reach in this way. Kicksta, for example, offers an algorithm of their own that suggests audiences you may want to target.
Others, like Tailwind and Hashtagify, help you look up relevant hashtags and activities related to them so you can see which tags might be worth jumping onto.
Engage Outside the Box
Part of Instagram’s appeal comes from how streamlined the platform is, but this can have its downsides.
Compared to other social networks, it doesn’t boast quite as many features — so a lot of businesses use third-party social media tools like Sendible to cast a wider net.
7. Expand Your Profile Funnel
Having only one link available on your profile introduces some obvious constraints. To get around this, many brands and businesses design pages specifically to bridge their Instagram profiles with the rest of their online presence.
Several third-party platforms specialize in designing custom, optimized landing pages for your “link in bio.” Sometimes, a narrow focus is best: pages that serve as menus, booking forms, or directories, for example.
Or you could use a more robust platform to design a mini-website (in AMP of course) that springs right out of your profile.
8. Incentivize Interactions
Another way to encourage engagement is to simply sweeten the deal. Contests, giveaways and referrals or affiliate marketing setups are all as viable on Instagram as they would be anywhere else — though having the right tools (like Vyper or ReferralCandy) significantly reduces the amount of work that goes into it.
Each of these methods is flexible enough to incentivize different sorts of actions, based on what you want to achieve. A hashtag contest can get people familiar with your brand, for instance, while tagging contests can get attention from users who might otherwise overlook you.
All of these tactics are contingent on one thing, though: putting them into practice. Implement what you can, see how it works, and refine from there.
And as with all good resolutions, remember that consistency is key — so go at the pace that suits you best, and results will follow.
This post was written by Denise Langenegger. She is part of the team at Instasize – a content creating tool kit for anyone editing photos and online content on mobile.