With more than one billion users worldwide, Instagram is undoubtedly a well-known social media application with a lot of reach. Launched on October 6, 2010 with the founder’s photo of a stray dog, the app is filled, of course, with memes, cute pet photos and other entertainment-oriented content, but it is also a valuable marketing tool that can play an important role in your small business’s marketing strategy.
Statistics indicate that business owners are taking advantage of Instagram’s clout—71% of businesses use Instagram to at least some degree. Perhaps more importantly, 81% of Instagram users (meaning consumers with personal Instagram accounts) turn to the platform for information on products and services before making a purchase. This includes everything from doing research on products and services to getting the particulars on promotions and sales to finding links to websites and contact information. All add up to a potential goldmine for small business owners interested in updating their digital marketing campaigns with proven e-commerce strategies.
Simply being on Instagram (e.g. signing up for an Instagram business account) isn’t going to get you very far, though. You need to actually use it in a way that will pay off. How can you do this? Multiple factors are involved, but one of the most important factors involves your followers. Not only who is following you (although that can be important, too), but how many are following you as well.
Why does it matter? That’s because followers beget more followers, along with more shares, more visibility and ultimately (hopefully!) more sales. Learning how to gather followers isn’t necessarily instinctive, but once you know the ropes it will feel like second nature. Do you have just a handful of followers, or are you working with a sizable list of actively engaged folks who regularly view your posts?
If it is the former, here are four actions you can take now to increase the number of your small business’s Instagram followers:
1. Use hashtags strategically and effectively
A hashtag may appear to be nothing other than a random word or phrase with a pound sign in front of it. In reality, hashtags are your business’s best friend—at least in terms of getting an influx of Instagram followers.
What is the purpose of hashtags?
Hashtags provide a chance to connect your business to a cause relevant to your brand, a promotional opportunity or a trending topic by catapulting a post into the search results related to said hashtags so your business is easier to find (the sheer volume of content on Instagram means a lot of great posts get buried without them). When an Instagram user enters a search term preceded by a hashtag into the search field, posts that include that hashtag will appear (coffee connoisseurs may search for #espresso, whereas someone planning a vacation may search for #travel).
As a business owner, you can research hashtags that apply to your business and include them in your Instagram posts to increase the potential for views, likes and additional followers (examples include hashtags like #nationalsmallbusinessweek or #smallbusiness). You can also create custom hashtags for special events (like a seasonal sale), and advise customers to search for and follow those hashtags on Instagram.
How many hashtags should you use?
The number of hashtags you use in a post is all up to you, and that decision will depend greatly on the hashtag protocols in your industry. Instagram’s hashtag limit is 30 per post. You certainly don’t need to take it that far if you don’t want to, but you may want to consider using at least one—data supports the idea that posts with hashtags receive more consumer engagement than those without. The sweet spot? Around five hashtags per post.
Tip: To help establish brand recognition, create a hashtag specific to your business name and/or brand and encourage followers to use it when mentioning your business in posts.
2. Invest in Instagram ads
If you’ve never considered capitalizing on the power of Instagram advertising, now may be the time to give it a try if one of your objectives is to gain more followers. Often more affordable than traditional forms of advertising, like radio or print, Instagram offers a lot of flexibility in terms of how you format your ad. You can take an existing post and morph it into an ad, you can produce ads in Instagram Stories, you can create shoppable posts and so on. The cost to you, as the advertiser, is click- or impression-based and varies a lot depending on several factors.
How do ads help increase your follower count? Instagram uses algorithms and data to target folks who show interest in products or services like yours, even if they aren’t already following you. As they scroll, your ad appears. Not all will follow you but, thanks to targeting, some probably will.
Tip: Another advertising option? Sponsored posts. This involves partnering with (i.e. paying) an influencer to promote your products or services in their own posts or stories. Because their followers presumably consider them a credible source, their endorsement may result in more followers for you.
3. Host contests and giveaways
Instagram users love contests and giveaways and, as a small business with an Instagram business account, it may be worth your time to sponsor one. Why? Because a contest/giveaway provides an opportunity to quickly and easily gain followers. Contests and giveaways also allow you to engage with your current followers in a way that encourages them to help you spread the word about your business.
Setting one up isn’t hard. It all starts with determining what it is you want to give away and setting contest parameters (be aware that Instagram has several rules about contests that you’ll need to adhere to). Since your goal is to gain followers, however, you’ll want to make sure that those parameters help get you there.
A few ideas:
- Encourage followers to tag a friend for an additional contest entry.
- Make the contest open to followers only.
- Collaborate on the contest with another business or influence (cross promotion for the win).
4. Engage with followers (and potential followers)
Maybe you do this yourself, maybe you hire a social media manager to do it or maybe you assign the task to an employee. In any case, one of the best ways to increase your Instagram following is to actually use Instagram as the communication tool that it is.
This starts, of course, with posting regularly, but it doesn’t end there. You also need to make sure your followers know you actually see and hear them. How?
- Reply to their comments, questions and concerns.
- If someone tags your business in a post, thank them in the comments.
- Follow them back—especially those that like and/or comment on your posts regularly
- Comment on other users’ posts.
- “Regram” (i.e. share) posts that you think may interest your followers (unlike Facebook and other social media apps, Instagram doesn’t make this easy—you’ll need to use a third-party app or take a screenshot if you want to share another account’s post).
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