In 2018, more companies than ever are using the social platform Instagram (IG) to spice up their marketing. The ease of access, quick points of contact and visual inspiration it offers have become key marketing enhancers that influence sales, leads, advertising and customer connection.
Starting an IG social media strategy from scratch can be overwhelming. There are virtually caves full of ‘how-to’ articles on building a following, the pros/cons of original vs. shared content, and measuring the effectiveness of IG and other social platforms that would keep you digitally spelunking for days. Since we’re relatively recent deep divers ourselves into using IG to engage with our brand’s audience, we thought it might be helpful to share some of the “lessons learned” from our own experience in increasing that engagement.
Here’s Our Study, Buddy
We did a little research on tools and techniques like timing, following, sharing and hashtags to see which of those impacts our posts the most as far as greater reach and engagement. Here are a few questions we asked ourselves:
1. Will posting at a certain time get us more likes?
2. Do the number of posts containing a certain hashtag make for better reach? (FYI, in doing due diligence on this, we also found out there’s a really fancy-schmancy name for the use of the former “pound sign” in social content. It’s called an octothorpe. Feel free to impress your friends.)
3. Does sharing someone’s photo (commonly referred to as UGC — “user generated content”)* or tagging someone with a larger following increase our social engagement?
Okay, let’s dig a little deeper here. This screenshot should help:
Timing Is Everything
As far as when you should post, we like to think of our own daily routines, so ask yourself, “When am I most likely to be tapping on the rounded, pink Instagram bauble?” If you’re a diligent worker, it’s not between 8-5, other than a few swipes while on your lunch break. If you’re a responsible driver, it’s definitely not on the ride home (Snapchat lovers, I’m talking to you!).
In the chart above, we compared the “time posted” stats from seven of our posts (some posted around noon MST and others around 4 p.m.). You can see that the majority of our posts at 4 p.m. did much better than those posted around noon. Then we compared our own schedule with our audience to find out when they start to relax and mindlessly flick through their social feeds.
It’s About Time — Zones!
We’ve gathered that our viewers are most active after dinner, between the hours of 7-9 p.m. Picture it: You’re sitting on the couch, phone in hand, letting reruns of The Office play in the background, or laying in bed, waiting for the veil of slumber to creep over you. Half awake, half bored, waiting to be entertained. One could say we’re more apt to tap right before we sleep. In other words, the perfect captive audience.
As the sun drips down over the horizon, the linear pattern o’ darkness and relaxation follows suit. For a company based in Arizona with a primarily North American customer base, that means we want to schedule our posts between 4 and 5 p.m. MST to cover the 2-3 hour difference in prime-scrolling-time zones across the country.
Hashtag! You’re It!
Now, let’s move on to hashtags. Why use hashtags? And does quantity matter?
This study from SproutSocial shows increased engagement from Facebook and Twitter when using 1-2 hashtags, but Instagram is a free-for-all. With IG’s threshold at 30 hashtags, we don’t recommend spamming the living heck out of your posts, but a good #standard is between 10-15 per post. Most of the posts on our chart above had an average of 10-12 hashtags.
We also calculated the number of posts, including each of our selected hashtags …
… and actually discovered that the post with the least amount of hashtag exposure did the best! Not to mention that the page that we shared UGC from had the smallest following of all the shared posts we gauged. Just because the person who originally tagged you in their content doesn’t have a large following, doesn’t mean that you won’t get a great response from your own, and other folks who follow the hashtags you chose for that post.
Vice versa for sharing content from someone with 100k followers. You may be exposed to people who follow both accounts, but it doesn’t gain you a spot on their feed or any additional exposure for tagging their handle in your shared post. However, including that handle is a must. Most people love when you share their pics, as long as you give them credit within the shout out. More often than not, you’ll see a notification for a “Thank You!” comment from the source for sharing. This not only provides validity and consent, but also gives your following proof that your brand is engaging and trustworthy.
Give ‘ Em What They Want (Plus a Little Somethin’, Somethin’)
The last key factor we found for increasing our IG engagement is content. We found out what our following wants to see, and we show it to them often. For instance, our company sells custom blinds and shades. We have plenty of different styles such as Roman Shades, Wood Blinds, Roller Shades, Shutters and Drapes. Current trends in our niche of influence — home decor/interior design — favor farmhouse style and rustic decor. Our Bamboo/Woven Wood Shades complement this style, so we get a lot of outreach from bloggers and a 300-400% increase in likes from followers when we show that style of window covering. The screenshot below from the IG tracking app, Followers Chief, shows our Top 3 Most Liked and Top 3 Most Commented Photos. Four out of six feature Bamboo Shades.
We’ve found that all of these things work together to create interactive and higher-yielding IG posts, but another big tip we have is to offer variety in your feed. In addition to showing your audience what they want to see, don’t hesitate to introduce them to droplets of what they’re not sure of. Increasing exposure of your less popular products/services is just as important as “feeding” your viewers what you know they love. Switch it up! Instagram is your farm; don’t just grow one crop!
Stay Thirsty, My Friends!
Keep in mind different niches or products may yield different results, so IG or any singular social platform may not be the be-all-and-end-all for a successful social media strategy. Equip yourself with a full arsenal of unique tactics for social media marketing. Get ideas from publications like Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner and TechCrunch. Stay vigilant with collecting your own data, experimenting and self-review; you’ll eventually find that ever-so-sweet spot and continue to grow!
*User Generated Content, alternatively known as colominary-created content (CCC), is any form of content created by users of a system or service and made available publicly on that system. (Source: Wikipedia)