Feed The Monster - 5 Ways on how to beat the Instagram algorithm
Updated: Mar 24
The most common questions I get as a digital marketing manager and Instagram “expert", are “ What’s the easiest way to gain Instagram followers?” or “How do I grow fast on Instagram?”. I find both questions naive. Just as any other job, the followers are the income for the work you put into the platform. Social media, Instagram included, if used for business purposes, needs a specific amount of daily work in order for it to thrive. Is it perfect? No. Is it always enough to just put in the work? No. But should you keep trying and be consistent? Absolutely, yes!
I started my journey as a digital marketing manager right after college. I was introduced to the platform and the concept of influencer marketing back in 2014 when everything was still colors and rainbows on Instagram, and follower gain was not as painful as it is today. In the beginning, I was just killing time by browsing the platform and collecting as much content as possible produced by other users. I’d re-share that content on the few accounts I had created on the platform. The process of logging in and out of every single account made it so difficult to manage them at the same time. I would spend hours upon hours on something that I wasn’t even sure what was good for. The only thing I remember from that period was the high that came with each new follower. Every single one of them would convince me that the content I was re-sharing was worth following. But all this was before Instagram, which today counts more than 1 Billion monthly users, decided to change its features as often as a girl changes her outfits.
Going back to that common question - how do I grow fast on Instagram? - I'd say that if there’s something this job has taught me is that there are no shortcuts. You should stop trying to figure out the algorithm and start working along with it. If you want to build a foundation and community that it is solid enough to support your purpose, you need to put in the work every single day. Instagram, is a SOCIAL media platform, with the “SOCIAL” part being the keyword. So what’s the most important thing when it comes to social? On top of my head, I’d say relationship building, first and foremost. And as we all know, building a relationship, of any kind, from scratch, takes time and a lot of patience. Therefore, whenever someone asks me that question, I advise the following:
1. If Instagram is part of your digital marketing strategy, set clear and quantifiable KPI-s - Key Performance Indicators. Write them down. Plan strategically around them. Go back periodically and check your progress. A very handy tool I use to keep track of my KPI-s is Trello and its vision boards. But, if you are just starting, a journal would do just fine, or any note-keeping app on your iPhone.
2. Know your audience. Before even starting to plan an Instagram strategy, make sure you know who you wish to attract into your account. Paint a clear profile of the prospects you are trying to convert into followers/fans/customers. After all, we are all trying to “sell” something on each social media platform. Your potential audience needs to be customized for all intents and purposes. Without a targeted audience, your efforts will most likely go to waste and it’ll take you longer to build the desirable follow base. A tool I use, to get an idea of who I want to target on my new Insta-adventure is the Make my Persona free tool by Hubspot. Just as creating a custom audience for Facebook or Google ads, the same way you should treat your Instagram audience.
3. Plan out your content - Editorial Calendar. Although it may sound fancy, an editorial calendar is a huge help when it comes to delivering and keeping track of content, especially when Instagram is not the only platform you need to take care of. As I often say, I need to feed the “monster" - that being my Instagram accounts - daily for it to keep a balance between gaining and losing followers. As GaryVee rightly shouts - quantity over quality! Post as much content as you can. Be as diverse as possible with the ways you share your content. There are four ways you can share content on Instagram nowadays: permanent posts that go in your gallery (you can post single pictures or videos, or a mixture of them in the same post by using the carousel feature); stories that last 15 seconds; IGTV that lasts up to 15 minutes and live streaming that can last as long as you wish. These are all ways you can communicate with your audience and I can’t stress this enough: leverage every single one of them, constantly.
4. Engage, engage, engage!!! Don’t just stop and stare. You build trust by giving trust. Interact with your followers, answer their comments, make them feel appreciated and heard. As Dale Carnegie says in his book “How To Win Friends and Influence People”: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” - and I consider social media a language. Reply to comments, positive or negative, with grace and with the person behind the comment in mind. Tag that person in your comment, re-share content from your followers and give credit, and show gratitude when they share your content with their audience. In the end, this is all but a game of sharing.
5. Last, but not least, I recommend to everyone that enters the platform with a purpose in mind, to be openminded. Be prepared to adapt and adopt. Social media and its evolution are hectic, especially when it comes to Instagram, which is constantly altering and adding more into its features. Keep an eye on the new trends and embrace them. If they seem to not be in tune with your tone and voice, find a way to go around them.
In conclusion, I’d like to add that although you might feel like there’s no easy way out of this, the journey teaches you so many things about you as an entity (person/influencer/business) and about your audience as well. Social media has become vital to customer success and it’s on its way to becoming a vital tool into testing and discovering new business ideas. Keep in mind that Instagram needs food - content. Be consistent and persistent. Great results will come before you expect.