If you’re promoting your business on Instagram, you know your sales depend on the number of potential customers who see, like, and share your content. You’ll do anything to grow your following, but are you doing the right things? Are you spending time and money on gimmicks while neglecting the essentials? Could some of your tactics be backfiring?
Here are five mistakes to avoid if you want to grow Instagram followers organically.
1. Lack of research.
Creating a successful marketing strategy is impossible if you don’t know the market. Long before you post your first photo, identify the leaders in your industry and start following their accounts. If you’re opening an artisan coffee shop, for example, you can learn a lot by following Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but you should also check out other brands in your niche, including the coffee shop down the street. Study brands in related niches, such as artisan bakeries and craft breweries, to get to know your audience from different angles.
Observe what kind of content your competitors are posting and which posts have the most engagement. Remember you aren’t just copying what others are doing; you’re considering the best features of each account and how you might make them your own. Note which campaigns received the most negative feedback, so you can learn from others’ mistakes. Most importantly, look for the gaps in the market your business could fill.
Starbucks’s Instagram, for instance, revolves around its seasonal menu because nothing drives sales like items available for a limited time. You’d be smart to capitalize on the holidays and post photos of your own pumpkin-flavored or peppermint-infused beverages. However, the flavorings behind Starbucks’s stunning images are mostly artificial. Offer an eggnog latte made with free-range eggs or an infusion brewed with a local orchard’s apple cider, and followers who want to satisfy their cravings in the most ethical way possible will flock to your feed.
2. Overreliance on automation.
When you discover a handy app promising to save you time and effort, it’s natural to be tempted to jump on the automation bandwagon. While some forms of automation can increase efficiency, others cause more problems than they solve.
One of the challenges startups face is attracting followers when they currently have few or none. If potential customers see you already have 10,000 followers, they’re more likely to follow the crowd, so many users purchase followers to prime the pump and give the appearance of popularity before they truly achieve it.
Unfortunately, this quick and easy growth hack can come back to bite you. Followers alone won’t earn you a spot on Instagram’s “Top Post” or “Discover” tab. If you have thousands of fake followers who never like, share, or comment on your posts, your engagement rates will crash. Automating your engagement creates even more issues.
Last year, Instagram shut down Instagress, a bot service that automatically liked and commented on posts with certain hashtags. While this type of automation saved users time, it also placed an undue burden on Instagram’s server, violating the platform’s terms of service. To avoid Instagram deactivating their accounts, users need to refine automation settings to mimic the natural cycle of engagement and eliminate sudden spikes in activity, which is often nearly as much work as liking and commenting manually.
Fake followers can pad your popularity, but only real followers genuinely interested in your brand will buy your product and offer meaningful feedback. Other accounts won’t follow, like, or comment on your account if you only pretend to follow them and post generic, bot-generated comments that sometimes make no sense in context. Any bot can comment, “Good Job!” on a photo from your local bakery, but only you can leave a detailed description of why you enjoy the chewy texture of their bagels or the cornmeal dusting on their 12-grain loaf. Forging partnerships requires a human touch.
3. Lazy hashtags.
According to Iconosquare, Instagram’s algorithm could flag your content as spam if you use the same long list of hashtags on every post. Too much copying and pasting, therefore, could prevent your posts from appearing in your followers’ feeds or showing up in hashtag searches, a phenomenon known as shadowbanning. Focus on three-to-five long-tail hashtags that relate specifically to your photos and add depth to your narrative.
When it comes to effective captioning, more hashtags aren’t necessarily better. Although the platform still allows up to 30 tags per post, Instagram recommends users prioritize their visual content and only use tags that directly support their business goals. Using all the most popular hashtags won’t help if they’re too broad.
Returning to our coffee shop example, using the hashtag #coffee on a photo won’t help it stand out from the other 91 million photos bearing that tag. On the other hand, if your photo features a steaming mug of your daily special at 8:00 AM, by using tags like #arabica, #coffeemugs, #butfirstcoffee, #coffeenerd, and your own brand hashtag, you not only narrow the field but also identify the photo’s subject, the coffee variety, the time of day, the name of your business, and your particular personality.
What’s your recipe for organic growth on Instagram? Share your tips in the comments.