Boasting over 400 million users worldwide, Instagram is a highly influential social media platform. With a range of active users who engage with images and videos, Instagram provides an opportunity for your brand to reach new audiences.

But how can you utilise this platform to the best of your ability to build an audience and make sure they are engaged? And why should you do it in the first place?

The impact of the algorithm change

A great point of discussion over the past few months is the algorithm change taking place on Instagram.

In March 2016, Instagram announced the feed would be algorithmically ordered ‘in the coming months’. Similar to Facebook, it would be ordered by content-type, a follower’s relationship with the poster and the time since posting. Instagram commented to say there will be a focus on the order but ‘all the posts will still be there.’

This indicates Instagram will take a similar approach to that made by Twitter, with priority given to those seen as most relevant. It also signals the platform becoming advertisement-powered, with more sponsored content in user’s feeds. This means marketers are likely to have to use a mixture of organic and paid advertising on the platform in the future.

To overcome this, accounts are going to have to be more active and engaged with their audience. Encouraging interaction with followers will build the relationship and content factors mentioned in the algorithm considerations, helping accounts to stay visible.

The effect of imagery on consumers

Images have been shown to have an impact on consumers, creating consistency and re-enforcing a brand’s message and identity. A strong and consistent theme, message and aesthetic are what help us identify a Coca-Cola ad from a Pepsi one without reading a word.

By using basic advertising themes brands can enter the world of image-led social media to increase awareness and conversions.

How to build an audience

To build an audience effectively, Seth Godin discusses working on your ‘tribe’. A ‘tribe’ is a group of people who are attached and loyal to an idea, investing and connecting with a joint cause.

To help with building a loyal and engaged following, Godin suggests being niche is not a bad thing. By staying within your niche, you become difficult for others to replicate. By being consistent in your messaging, members of your ‘tribe’ identify with your view and continue their loyalty. They then come back to what they know and what they identify with as an individual. Although this is more challenging to achieve, it is possible, and you can create greater long-term loyalty.

Using persuasion techniques

To ensure we target users in a valuable way for both them and ourselves, we can use Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion. These help us identify with the user and influence them to engage with us.

Principle 1: Reciprocity – obligation to repay

The principle of reciprocity has the basis that if you give something, people feel obliged to repay and give something in return. In the case of Instagram this can be likes, follows and comments.

By staying engaged with others rather than just your account, you can create a greater following. You can do this by liking other people’s photos and following them (this is best done with related accounts to your own initially to start building your ‘tribe’). You can also do it by liking the photos, and following the accounts of, people who engage with your account.

There are some useful tools to help you manage this. Crowdfire is a free web app to manage your followers and follow them back. The app works with Twitter as well, allowing you to monitor two social profiles in one application.

Principle 2: Consistency and commitment – need for personal alignment

This principle is based on the idea of an individual aligning with the ideas you are portraying. To help re-enforce a follower’s commitment to your ‘tribe’ and account you can encourage interaction and comments. By creating a clear message and theme, followers will connect with and join your ‘tribe’ and way of thinking.

By being consistent your followers know what to expect and are reassured by the continued message. Posting regularly will help re-enforce your message and create familiarity, aligning followers with your view.

Super hero friends ⚡️

A photo posted by Theron Humphrey (@thiswildidea) on

This example is niche to their audience, but has a significant following. They are consistent in their postings and tone, engaging followers as they know what to expect from the account and are satisfied when they get it.

Principle 3: Social proof – the power of what others do

A lot of Instagram’s content is influenced by others. If a post has a lot of likes, an individual is likely to want to engage with that post as well. This can be optimised even more by considering when people are likely to see your content and who wants to see it.

Accessing popular and relevant hashtags to your images gives non-followers visibility on your content. This can then turn them into engaged followers. Tools, such as Instagram Stats, are available for optimising for the time of day and day of the week that is best for you to post. You may find your audience are particularly engaged while you are out of the office; with this in mind, you can use tools, such as Only Pult, to schedule your posts. This allows you to organise your posts at once with the automation happening itself.

Principle 4: Liking – the obligations of friendship

This principle is similar to that of reciprocity when applied to Instagram. People like to follow people they like. By being friendly and approachable, followers are likely to connect with the brand and be more inclined to engage with it. This can be done through the text alongside images, as well as the content itself. Lifestyle content mixed with more formal brand related content helps make your brand approachable.

This weeks sign courtesy of my step daughter Lola ❤️😃

A photo posted by Fearne (@fearnecotton) on

With likability in mind, it is important to be genuine in your comments and not appear forced. When reaching out to other users, it is good to respond to other people’s comments and thank those that repost your image to create a community. This is particularly important when people tag you in comments or images.

Principle 5: Authority – we obey those in charge

In the case of Instagram an approachable confidence can be effective in encouraging interaction.

Innocent manages its tone and use of authority very well. Strong and bright imagery used with a relaxed yet knowledgeable tone creates something followers want to engage with.

Avocardo

A photo posted by Innocent (@innocent) on

As links are only possible on a profile page at the moment, it is key to encourage users to this page. The link you provide on here could change depending on a campaign being run or the latest series of images you’ve posted.

Soldsie is a great platform that can turn the profile link on Instagram into an ecommerce platform. This allows you to link to products shown in your recent images so users can find what they want quickly. It also provides analytics on conversions and clicks from the link, giving you insight into your profile’s performance.

Principle 6: Scarcity – we want what may not be available

Reflecting back to the idea of creating your niche and your ‘tribe,’ the idea of scarcity can help create an interesting account for followers.

“Yes, I realise you think this is amazing, but I am not having a fun time”

A photo posted by Insta-Chaz (@instachaaz) on

This account achieves its scarcity factor by posting sketches all crafted on simple post-it notes. This shows that not all concepts need to require a photoshoot to work. Most smart phone cameras are of high enough quality now that they can look professional if enough time is taken to consider the shot.

The best images often contain elements that followers are interested in (you can likely tell this from your theme or brand subject), what followers aspire to or are inspired by. By creating or sourcing quality images and working within your niche, you can achieve what is a niche in itself on Instagram. As with all content, followers can spot if a piece has been thought through and if it is of good quality. Because of this it is important to be consistent and stick to the theme and messaging chosen.

Conclusion

With these principles in mind, you can act on how to shape your Instagram profile to gain engaged and returning users. Quality imagery and content, approachable and genuine comments and replies, as well as considerations around when your users are on the platform itself help create your ‘tribe’ and get users to remember your brand and engage.

Some other tools you can use to help your process include:

  • Instagram Stats – A free platform to get analytics on your accounts. Gives an overview of likes and comments, as well as user reactions and successful tags.
  • Only Pult – A low cost paid platform with a free trial. Schedule posts and view analytics on yourself as well as monitor competitors and interact with your followers.
  • Iconosquare – Paid platform that allows for in-depth analysis on aspects such as filters applied. Also identifies followers you don’t follow and helps to form reciprocal relationships.
  • IFTTT – Free platform to sync actions and trigger posts. Allows you to share images with other platforms at the same time.
CRO