Developing InstaConfidence is NOT Instantaneous

Practice, Trial and Error, and Some Level of Talent is Required for Instagram Success.

By: Paul Hickey, Founder / Lead Strategist – Data Driven Design | VP, Digital Strategy – SnapShot Interactive

One look at my Instagram profile and it will show you that I have about 150-ish followers. The number fluctuates on a minute-by-minute basis due to several factors, many of which I fully understand now after actually using the platform for several months.

Admittedly, I’ve been a Google Analytics and Google Adwords geek since 2007, and I’ve built hundreds of WordPress websites and published thousands of blogs since 2006, but have absolutely been painfully late to social media – as a user.

Like many others who work in the digital space, I just haven’t LOVED to spend my free time there. Understandable, right?

I’ll cut myself some slack, to a certain extent.

But honestly, Google Adwords has become a bit over-priced. Don’t misunderstand, still effective, but overpriced, compared to social media apps like Facebook and Instagram.

Quite simply, online brands, brick and mortar businesses, local service businesses and charitable organizations can reach their target audience cheaper and more effectively on Facebook and Instagram than on Google Adwords.

As soon as I fully bought into that. I mean, fully bought in, I realized I had to (granted about 5 years too late to the party), establish some real tried and true strategies and tactics to building content for Facebook and Instagram that will help sell our clients services and products.

Why? 700 million active users on Instagram. People are there. Your target audience is there.

You are there as a user, whether you have 20 followers or 20 million followers, you’re spending time there.

You’re spending time there while watching TV, driving, while in meetings… yes, while driving, while playing with your kids, etc.

You’re there. Your audience is also there.

And if I can’t convince you or my clients of business significance of using Instagram to reach your target audience, that’s totally fine, the fact of the matter is that I had one particular client ask me how to grow their Instagram following. Period.

Certainly, before I could answer that question, and certainly before I could start building Instagram content for clients, I had to understand how to build Instagram content for myself in general, first, and see what happens when I try to grow my own following. Instead of reading about it, talking to people and pontificating about it, I did what I had done in the past with all those other platforms I mentioned – I just started using it and doing it.

Okay, now the single hardest question to answer for everyone, whether for leisure, personal brand building, or marketing your company is – WHAT THE HELL DO I POST?

Honestly, at first, who cares.

If you’ve met me, you know this, but if you haven’t – I’ll tell you – I’m a little different. Before I even decided what I really want to talk about, I just started posting. I was working out every day, running, training for a half marathon, so I freaking took video of myself using my foam roller. I was cooking every meal and eating healthy, so I decided to film myself deciding what I’d want for a snack. One of my worst / best Instagram posts is when I literally tell people to eat a banana when they’re hungry. What a douche.

But that’s beside the point. Here’s what I learned, tried and true, about wanting to grow your Instagram following:

  • When I used about 10-15 relevant hashtags in my posts, I’d gain 5-6 new followers per post. I’ve heard Gary Vaynerchuk say this works for him, and had to try it for myself. It’s insane. My favorite thing about Instagram vs. Twitter is that you can start to type in a hashtag, it will autofill about 10 or so search results while showing how many posts are made using each hashtag.
  • I found better quality followers when I selected hashtags that have thousands of posts, not necessarily millions. It’s temping to want to use hashtags that have millions of posts, because of the sheer volume of eyeballs that can potentially see your post. However, I’ve found that if you can use a hashtag with say 22,132 posts, instead of 2,334,541, your likelihood of being seen/heard/listened to (aka, getting someone’s attention) is higher.
  • Post 3 times a day, seriously. If you’re serious about growing your following, which I have been at certain times, but haven’t been at others (sometimes on purpose as part of the experiment, sometimes not) then you absolutely need post frequency. And honestly, when I don’t post three times a day, my follower count drops off huge.

And here’s what I learned / and am continuing to learn, about want kinds of content to post on Instagram:

  • Stay in your lane. Stay consistent. I’ll explain – when I posted for a month or so about only fitness and healthy eating habits, my follower count was on the rise with very few drop offs. However, one day I realized I didn’t really want to be posting about that stuff. Yes, I was documenting my life, and that was an easy way to create content, and a great way for individuals and businesses to get “un-stuck” and get started, but that particular topic wasn’t for me anymore. What I was really living was my business, Data Driven Design, my relationship with other partners and clients and hiring my own employees, etc. Being influenced and inspired by other business leaders that I have respect for started to become my motivation and not necessarily building the perfect body.
  • Stay true to who you are. So when I started to feel that way, I totally pivoted on what I was posting about. I went from selfie videos and photos of my meals and healthy eating decisions to creating memes about what was motivating me to build my business. Taking inspiration from all forms of who I am; family, pop-culture, hip-hop, business. So that’s still in progress. I’m going to struggle a bit with the three times a day thing, but I know eventually I’ll get there. I’ll grow my 150 slowly over time. I mean, it’s only been like 2 months.
  • The app is fun as hell. I can’t forget this one, seriously. Creating stories, using filters, finding apps like Phonto to overly text on top of images, using boomerang and stickers, etc. has made me more creative and given me a sense of creative inspiration.

Tons of stuff works on Instagram. Photos of cute kids, puppies, good looking people, great scenic landscapes and weather, vacations, family BBQs, etc. Finding your content mix is hard and a good way to start is to document. What I can tell you from experience, is that as your subject matter changes, your follower count will even out and plateau, because people who followed you for one reason before, will unfollow you because now you’re not providing them value in the same subject area. So, after a few months of my Instagram Experiment, I’m starting to develop some level of Insta-Confidence, but have a long, fun journey ahead. Here’s the punch line…

Consistent Content + Posting 3 times a day + using 10-15 hashtags in your posts = Grow your following.

Paul Hickey has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 10 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing and Email Marketing. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.