How would you like to grow your following on Instagram without paying a single penny? In this episode, discover a complete strategy for getting better results from your Instagram without using advertising. I’ll talk you through 5 specific steps that you can use in your own business to build and audience on Instagram that has a direct and measurable impact on your business.

 You have to be focused on your customers, not your competitors.

Start by making a list of key things about your ideal customer and how they use Instagram. Do you already have a customer persona? Use that. If not, download the free template and make one!

With your persona in hand, it’s time to go looking for Instagram accounts that match your customers and see what kind of content they post. Do they use hashtags? Which ones? What type of accounts are they following – are there patterns? Are there businesses there that are your competitors?

Follow these accounts from your business account. This will give you incredibly useful access to notifications about the type of content and accounts they like to engage with. What people post, and what they engage with, are often very different, so you have to look at both. In the Instagram app, tap the Heart button to view your notifications page. At the top there, you’ll see a second tab, which says “Following”. The insights here are so incredibly valuable to your business!

“What are my competitors doing?” is an easier way to research. But “What do my customers care about is much more PROFITABLE.”

Research hashtags before you use them

Now you’ve got a wee list of hashtags from your audience, start looking at the Hashtag galleries to see which ones are good. Size is an important factor, and so is the subject.

If it’s too big, you’ll get lost in the crowd. It’s not a cohesive community, and there are too many people there who aren’t going to be interested in your business anyway. If it’s too small, there’s no audience to see it, and it’s not so much a community as it is a teeny tiny echo chamber. Ideally you want tags between 1,000 and 500,000 posts.

In terms of the subject, look first for local tags for your particular subject or niche. You want to find local communities of people who will be interested in your products or services. These people are the most likely to buy from you. For example #ScottishPowerlifting is a great one to use for strength coaches in Scotland. If you don’t have any luck here, no worries, try the next one instead.

Then look for more general local hashtags used by your potential customers, that are linked to who they are and what they’re doing, not necessarily what they are buying. Because they are less ‘niche’ then sometimes it can be easier to find communities of a useful size. The #EdinburghMums hashtag is a great community of local parents, not specific to a particular type of business.

Finally, look for non-local hashtags which reflect your ideal customer without restricting them to an area. You still want these to be and feel like a community of like-minded people, but you’re not restricting them to a location. Where these are the only hashtags you can find, your marketing strategy will need to have more strands than just an Instagram account, or you’ll be really struggling to find enough customers to sustain your business.

When you’re using hashtags, use different combinations each time (so you don’t look like a bot) and see which combinations bring you the most attention from accounts not following you, and which have the biggest impact on your audience size and reach. That information can be found in your Instagram Insights.

Select image types that appeal to your customer base and represent your brand.

Once you’re dialled into your potential customers, through their activity and through hashtags, then you can start to use this information to make decisions about your own content on Instagram.

What types of pictures work well for you? You might post selfies, product shots, lifestyle, videos or stills, people or no people, super glam, super relatable, text and graphics, etc etc. There are all kinds of styles of content on Instagram and there’s no generic content mix that will work for every business. You have to work out your own approach. Experiment with different types of content and see what get’s the most reach, engagement, etc.

Make sure some of your content lets people know who you are and what you’re about, as well as putting the business out there for people to see. You don’t need to get super personal, but making sure people know who you are and what you look like is a good idea – people want to know who’s behind the business. If that doesn’t fit into the plan you have for your feed, use stories and save story highlights for people to flip through to get to know you a bit better.

Comment on posts and ask people questions

One of the benefits of including some of your own personality and humanity in your business profile is that it allows you to form friendly, reciprocal relationships with your audience and potential customers. Reciprocal is important, we don’t want to be creepy!

Have a look at influencers, and engage and comment with their content. Think also about people running businesses that you could collaborate with, or that you aspire to, or that are in a different local area – basically who aren’t your direct competitors. You can get in front of potential customers by forging connections here as well, and as long as you stick to being friendly and reciprocal, you won’t put people off.

Post as often as you can, but keep it high quality

The last bit of advice is to post high quality content as often as you can. There’s no magical benefit to posting frequently, it doesn’t necessarily give you a boost in the algorithm! Rather it’s just that the more often you post, the faster you will learn what your audience likes, and the more opportunities you’ll have to get in front of them, and to get yourself out there. If you only post once a week it’ll be really hard to grow an audience. But on the other hand, if you’re posting every day and your posts are mostly contrived or irrelevant, it might be time to dial it back. Quality is much more important than quantity, but quantity is still relevant – so do your best to balance the two. 

Get in touch

Thanks for joining me today to talk about Instagram strategies to grow a following for free. Instagram is one of my favourite topics, so if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, feel free to get in touch. Send me a direct message on Instagram @thewhinco. Or you can send me an email through the contact form. I’d love to feature some listener questions in future episodes!