The rise of Instagram has given birth to a lot influencers over the past several years.  A lot of businesses have benefited from the platform and a ton of money is being made strictly from Instagram followings.

This post will serve as a guide for entrepreneurs that want to get more exposure and work directly from Instagram.

Why Instagram?

Why should you be on Instagram, especially if you’re a entrepreneur?  First of all, because it’s primarily a visual platform.  Another great reason is because that’s where people’s attention is right now.

When you walk around city streets or are at your favorite restaurant, do you notice what people are looking at?  Rarely at each other anymore; they’re looking down at their mobile devices.

If you look closely and examine just what people are looking at on their phones, the majority of the time it’s social media: Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter (Facebook too).

“Attention is the only asset.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

If you know anything about marketing, you know that the main goal is to get a return on investment (ROI).  So, you really shouldn’t be caring about how many impressions you can get because it’s all about converting people into customers.

That’s why attention is the most important.  There’s a lot more people on Facebook than Instagram right now but the engagement on Instagram is a lot higher.

instagram highly engaged audience, infographic

The above graphic shows that brands get 58X more engagement for free versus what they get on Facebook.  There are many, many case studies of accounts that have had rapid growth on the platform.

One of them is Foundr Magazine who grew their account to 179K followers and 20K email subscribers in as little as 7 months.  They’re just a digital magazine and have really leveraged the power of Instagram.

The Beauty of Instagram

The beauty of Instagram is as follows.

It’s a beautifully designed mobile app that strips away all the excess garbage that apps like Facebook have.  All you have is an image from edge to edge on your mobile device, with a few buttons on the bottom.

You can easily double tap to “like” a picture or press the speech bubble icon to leave a comment.

Instagram doesn’t work like the rest of the Internet, with hyperlinks.  All links stay within the Instagram app except for one link, per profile. In the bio of each user there’s a space to put one external link.  So, once you’re in the app there’s a good chance you’re not leaving.

Another great thing is that everyone gets to curate their own feed and actually see everything from everyone they’re following.  The new algorithm updates will curate the feed for you but not quite like Facebook. Instagram will be doing this on a case by case basis and will slowly roll out the update.  As of now I can still see across several accounts, all of the posts from the people I’m following.

I feel that Instagram is rolling out their algorithm a lot different than Facebook.  In the sense that they’re not only considering your relationship with your followers but also leveraging things like hashtags, top posts and related posts, something Facebook doesn’t have. I’ll talk more about the importance of hashtags later.

Another thing about the platform is that you can only follow a maximum of 7,500 people but can have millions of followers.

The engagement levels on Instagram are far higher than almost any other social network as I mentioned before.  By marketing on Instagram you are where the attention is: on mobile apps.  Almost 90% of time spent on a mobile device is on apps.

mobile app usage data

If you’re a content marketer, you’ve sat down for hours on end and written blog posts to only get a few people to read them.  Unless you get a post on a site that gets a ton of traffic, that’s always the case.  Instagram is a great place to share content updates with your audience and drive traffic to other places, like your blog.

That’s just one option though.  You can also natively publish micro-blog posts on Instagram.  Longer form captions on Instagram get a lot more reach, so it’s really a great strategy.

Lets talk about the real reason why everyone really wants to be marketing on Instagram: making money from the platform.

Potential for making money on Instagram

There are so many business models in general, the same goes for Instagram.  People have really gotten creative with the app and in the past few years influencer marketing has become a main channel for large companies.

Influencer marketing is when a company syphons the audience of a huge account on Instagram to push an offer.  Accounts with hundreds of thousands and even millions of followers really have a huge impact on the platform.

They are known as the “influencers”.  Many of them charge for “shoutouts” on their accounts, ranging from $10 all the way up to $20,000!  A shoutout is basically a feature on their page, which can be a promotional post and even include changing the link in their bio.

There are even agencies that represent influencers now so the potential for making an income is very high.

Another use of influencer marketing is leveraging “sponsored posts” for your product.  For instance, celebrities with large followings often do this. They’ll share a post with your product to their audience.

The above post is an example of this. Where Maxim model Ashley Sky does a sponsored post for Your Tea.  Investing in a few of these posts is a great idea if you have a product to promote.

Doing some research on hashtags and influencers that match up with your product will be of great benefit to your Instagram strategy.  I’ll talk more about this later but now let’s get into how you can get started the right way on Instagram.

How to get started the right way on Instagram

Anything that grows starts with something small. Plants grow from seeds. A lion grows from being a cub, and so forth.

The same is true with technology, specifically, social media.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms today that’s used both for personal interests and business. In order to succeed in this platform, you need to start from the basics. What are the basics?

  1. Profile Picture – this is part of your branding so, make sure you have a clear image. Here’s how to choose a great profile picture:
    • Make sure you choose a high quality image of yourself if it’s a personal account or your logo if you want to represent your business.
    • If you’re using a profile image with text in it, see that the text is readable and very visible, and that it fits the small profile circle provided.
    • If you want, you can use the same profile picture you have on Twitter or Facebook.

Here are some examples:

instagraminstagraminstagram

Bottom-line: People follow accounts that look genuine and professional.

  1. Username – appropriate usernames are engaging. Choosing a username that is vague or that looks like a 10-year-old chap created it will not get much attention. If possible, use your business name or your name. Others choose usernames depending on the purpose behind their Instagram account.

Do you know your account can rank higher on Instagram solely based on the username you choose? Here’s how to maximize your reach with your username:

  • Select a username that’s easy to remember and that’s directly related with your niche or, what your account is all about. For example, if you’re going to post celebrity headshots, choose a username that says something about that such as, “inspirational_quotes” or “motivational_quotes”.
  • Again, if your account is for your business and you have a business name, use your business name (i.e. John Smith Photo)
  • Brand your account with your username.
  • Include your username on every post (watermarking up to you).
  • If possible, use the same username in your Twitter and Facebook accounts.
  • Extra tip: Look for a big brand that you can leverage. Example, let’s take “@quotes” as example. This account has over one million followers.

When someone types in “quotes” your account will come up as one of the options. So, let’s say your username is “@words_inspire” (this is not a real account, any match is coincidental) then, you should use a name that says, “Quotes for Life”. Just by using the word “quotes” in either your name or username, it will rank your account higher than those accounts without that word in their names.

quote search instagram

Don’t get too hung up on choosing a name for your account or even your company. A name doesn’t mean anything until it actually does something for people. That’s what people will remember. For example, nobody knew what the word “Google” meant before they came out.

Choose a name and move on.

  1. Bio – although the bio length is limited, you can still craft one that will catch the attention of visitors to your feed. Here’s what you can do to write an attention-grabbing bio:
  • Provide a link that your visitors can click to learn more about you and your business. Remember that you only have one place to enter this information. Also, make sure that your link does not look like a spam link.
  • The bio limit is 150 characters so make every word count.
  • People will want to see what they can get out of your product, service, or page so mention the benefits (free stuff works best).
  • Don’t forget your call to action. This will prompt your visitors to do something about what they’ve just read on your page (i.e Press link in bio for free guide).

Those are the three basics things you need to have before delving into posts, follows, shares, and other activities on Instagram.

Relevant Posts to Grow Your Account

After you’ve set up your account and covered the basics, it’s time you start posting. But first, you need to start with planning. Think about what you want to post. Determine the “atmosphere” you want to convey to your audience. It is better to spend hours in planning your content than rushing in and posting irrelevant stuff.

For some people planning ahead works great, for others planning “on the fly” works just as well. It really depends on your skill set and the time you’re willing to put in. I do everything for my Instagram account from my iPhone. There are great apps out there that make the process quick and painless.

Since Instagram is a visual platform, it’s important that you find great images that go with your theme or your purpose. You can take free stock images from websites like Colourbox or Flickr or take your own photos with your phone’s camera or a digital camera. The bottom-line is to post clear, crisp, and solid images aside from them being relevant to your chosen niche.

Also, word of advice, beware of re-posting other people’s images and not giving credit to the owner. If you’re not sure who to credit at least mention, “Credit to owner”. Do this to avoid copyright issues and possibly getting sued.

A great way to search for free images is with Google Image search. When you do an image search you’ll see an option at the top that says “Usage rights”. Then a dropdown menu will allow you to filter the images by “Labeled for reuse”. These images you can use.

google image free search

Another strategy I’ve seen a lot is to use images from big Instagram accounts that post a lot of beautiful images and credit them (tag and mention them in the caption).

Although, I mentioned quotes above as an example there a lot of other things to post on Instagram.  It all depends what your business is about.  Just make sure to have high quality images and/or graphics on a daily basis.  As I mentioned before the focus doesn’t have to be on the image, it can be more about the caption you’re sharing.

Posting Strategy

There is no definite posting strategy or technique that you can use to grow your Instagram account. The keyword here is “consistency”. If you wanted to post twice a day – say, one in the morning from 7AM and one in the evening from 7PM – then make sure you stick to that. Some would post every 3-4 hours and others would post every 5-6 hours.

Your posting strategy can be affected by different factors like your work schedule or personal schedule. In order for you to be consistent, you must determine which time of the day you can consistently post. Are you able to post during your lunch break, while commuting to work, and while commuting from work? Then stick to that.

Before you choose the time it’s a great idea to look at analytics if you already have an Instagram account. A great free tool is Simply Measured, which works for several social media platforms. That way you can post when your followers are online and get better engagement.  Another one is Square Lovin.

square lovin

Another free tool is Prime for Instagram. It’s an app that analyzes your Instagram and gives you the best times to post for everyday of the week.  This is a mobile app.

prime for instagram

Once you’ve decided on the time of the day and how many times you’ll be posting, it’s time you plan what you want to post in those hours. For example, if you choose to post twice a day, morning and evening, you could post a quote every morning and then a business-related post in the evening or vice versa. Or you may choose to post three quotes consecutively then followed by a personal post, then a sales post.

You get the idea? So once you’re all set, stick to your strategy. If there’s anything you see you can still improve, don’t hesitate to do so.

Another great tip is that the more you post the faster you’ll grow. But, it’s not so much about quantity; you need to post quality stuff. If people see you’re posting a lot but it’s sub-par content then they’ll quickly unfollow you.

If you want hyper-growth for your account then I recommend posting 6-10 times a day spread out, 2-3 hours apart from each other.

Gain More Followers

For your account to grow, you must gain more followers. As mentioned earlier, you need a solid account that has a clear message of what you’re trying to do – what your business is or what you’re all about. You cannot start to gain more followers without first making sure these basics are covered.

So how do you start to gain more followers after you’re done with the basics?

  1. Engage with other accounts by liking and/or commenting on their posts.
  2. Send a “thank you” message or something similar to those who followed you and use that message to say something about what you do. Create curiosity so that they are encouraged to engage in a conversation with you.
  3. Use hashtags but don’t spam hashtags. Some people are not fond of hashtags but if you are growing your followers, this is one great way to speed it up. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags per post; not using all of them is missing out on an opportunity.
  4. Utilize share for shares (S4S). Share someone else’s post for free and mention them in the caption so they get notified that you’ve shared their post. You will not only gain a new audience but will also gain a “friend” who’ll probably do share for shares for you without cost.
  5. Follow other people and they’ll follow you back. Instagram has a limit to how many accounts you can follow/unfollow in a day (400 actions). So you can start by following 50 people a day and I’m sure you’ll get follow backs in no time.
  6. Run contests on your page that will get engagement from your audience. This requires planning on what contest to host and what prizes to give.
  7. Post giveaways or freebies. If you have a free e-book or free product, make sure you create a post for it. Everybody loves something free especially when it’s something related to what they do and what they need.

These are seven ways to increase your number of followers and engagement on Instagram. Feel free to explore other options.

An overall tip is use social media for what it’s for. Meet people and network. “Like Bomb” people’s accounts, meaning you like their last ten posts to get their attention. Show love and you’ll get love in return.

When doing S4S choose accounts that are in your niche and have a similar number of followers. You can also do paid shoutouts with the many, many accounts on Instagram that offer this. Just look for bigger accounts that mention it in their bio, send them a DM. S4S is crucial to your growth on Instagram and a lot of great networks have been created on the platform because of this.

Backup Plan

Whether you like it or not, you will not always be available to maintain your Instagram account. That’s why you need a backup plan. Your first option is to set your Instagram posting on autopilot. With the help of scheduling tools, you can achieve this.

Some of the scheduling tools you can try:

  1. ViralTag – works for social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. You can easily schedule your posts in advance from your computer. You need to create an account and you are given 15 days free trial. That’s $29 per month after the trial expires.
  2. Crowdfire – also a good scheduling app, which you can access through your computer or set up on your phone.
  3. Hootsuite – another website app that’s been around for a while. You can add up to three social media accounts for free. More than three accounts would require you to purchase a premium account.
  4. Mass Planner (aff) – helps you automate things like following and liking posts. Works with most social media platforms. A lot of resources available on their blog to use the service at it’s best. About $10 a month.

Although these tools are great, there’s no guarantee that at one time, some of their features would fail. And in growing your Instagram account, it’s important that your tools work most of the time if not all the time.

These tools will not do the actual posting for you but will send you a notification on your phone to open Instagram with the photo and caption you’ve prepared ahead of time.

By using scheduling apps like these three mentioned, you can still keep posting consistently and on autopilot even when you are loaded with many projects. With the help of these apps, you can go on a vacation, a business trip, or finish another project without worrying too much about content creation everyday.

If you are not confident in pre-scheduling your Instagram posts using schedule apps, you have an option to outsource management to a virtual assistant. A social media virtual assistant knows what works and what does not work in social media based on previous work experiences. He/she can be a great investment for growing your Instagram account, thus, growing your business.

Two fantastic autopilot tools are Instagress and Mass Planner. These tools can automate things like liking, following and unfollowing. Although, they offer auto-commenting, I don’t recommend using it because your account can get quickly banned. Don’t use it!

If there’s anything that should be done by a human on Instagram it’s commenting and direct messaging. I personally don’t like sending an auto-message to new followers but it has worked for others in the past. So figure out if it’ll work for you or not.

Best Practices for Growth

As suggested by Foundr Magazine, a digital magazine for entrepreneurs and startup founders, you can get real results by doing the following:

  1. Remember that posting is a very big part in growing your account. If you can post every two hours or six to seven times in a day, that would be great! The more you post, the more you grow!
  2. On top of those six to seven posts per day, do approximately three or four share-for-shares.
  3. Don’t forget to use videos, too. People love videos so these can help you grow your account faster. And you can post maybe twice a week or once a week. Instagram gives priority to videos.
  4. Don’t get sidetracked! Be consistent.
  5. Engage with your audience, your followers, and those you follow. Ways to engage are mentioned above where you comment, send message, or like their posts.

Build Your List

To build your list, look for people with great numbers of followers in the same niche as yours. Start a conversation with them. Comment on their posts. Share their posts and mention them in the caption. Ask for their expert advice.

You can’t really leverage an account that has less following than yours so look for accounts that have more followers.

Don’t be afraid to push your products. Doing product push can get you 100 to 1000 signups weekly. To do that, you need to lead people to your landing page or website using a sales funnel. Remember that links don’t work on your posts.

As much as possible, offer products to your followers but not as often as you post quotes or other valuable posts. Sometimes you need to ask people to do something like opt in because if you don’t, they won’t even think about opting in or they won’t realize they need to opt in until you say so.

If you really want to leverage Instagram for sales, aside from posting great images, make sure you do three to four product pushes every week aside from your everyday posts and share-for-shares.

Utilize Direct Messaging 

Come up with a call to action message that will create curiosity. Send that call to action message through DM and wait for their response. When they respond, make sure to build rapport and build relationships. Lead people to your landing page once they have connected with you. Know when it is the right time to close the sale.

Conclusion

Overall the potential for growth on Instagram is really endless.  If you are consistent and develop a good strategy you will grow continuously.

If you engage and network with people on the platform on a daily basis doing S4S and so forth you’ll experience much faster growth.

This is the real way to grow because not only do you gain followers quickly but you also increase your engagement.

Let me know if you found this guide helpful and if there’s anything you think I should add to it.  Feedback is welcomed in the comments below.

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram.

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