The New Rules of Instagram: How to Build Your Following
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It might be hard to remember now, but just a year ago, Instagram was quite different than it is today. Photos still appeared chronologically, links were limited to bios, and Snapchat was the only place to post lighthearted, unscripted videos. The audience-building strategies that worked in January 2016, when timing mattered more than content quality, and followers mattered more than engagement, no longer apply. Looking back on the biggest changes at Instagram this year, here are a few tips for building your following in 2017:
Embrace the algorithm, and focus on content quality. When Instagram’s algorithm launched in June 2016, the abrupt change put many users in a panic. Remember the ‘turn on notifications’ wave? In the end, the shift has proven to be more positive than negative. The shift from a chronological format to an algorithm puts less focus on prolific posting (cheers to that) and more emphasis on thoughtful, provoking images. A well-staged photo that sparks a conversation or prompts hundreds of likes, like Lucy Williams' image above, will now do more to build your following than posting at the “right” time of day or several times a day.
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Keep engaging your followers. The second part of embracing the Instagram algorithm is engagement. Because your content is shown more often to viewers that Instagram recognizes are part of your network, it’s important to put time into liking and commenting on your followers’ accounts. As with your content, think quality over quantity. A few meaningful comments each day will have a greater impact than dozens of throwaway “heart-eye” emojis.
Get active on Instagram Stories. Instagram Stories has become an important feature, giving you greater reach than Snapchat while allowing you to connect with your audience on a human level. While Insta posts often show your flawless side, Stories are a chance to give viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your life, which strengthens engagement. Instagram has also rolled out some exciting features, available only on Instagram Stories that may soon be game-changers, including the chance to link out to websites outside your bio.
Switch to a business profile. Despite initial concerns that Instagram would reduce the organic visibility of business profiles (something that hasn’t appeared to have happened yet), the analytics available through this option have made it invaluable to influencers. By switching to a business profile, you have access to your reach, website clicks and follower activity, including the average times your followers are on Instagram throughout the day. You also have info on their gender, age, and location. To switch to a business profile, just click on your Instagram settings, tap “Switch to Business Profile,” and select your Facebook page. (If you haven’t set up a business page on Facebook, you’ll need to start there.)
As Instagram continues to evolve, remaining flexible with your strategy is key. Focusing on the production of high-quality content, while genuinely engaging with your followers, is the best way to build a dedicated audience no matter what changes Instagram may introduce next year.