Growth on Instagram 2019: Using the Instagram Algorithm to your advantage

Growth on Instagram 2019: Using the Instagram Algorithm to your advantage

Lately, I’ve noticed a growing frustration among my friends on Instagram who aretrying to grow their audience and reach on Instagram. They have a loyal group of followers, but they have a hard time reaching a new audience. I have been there as well, after reaching 1K my account blew up until the end of 2018 when some major changes where implemented by Instagram.

Like the majority, I started researching all the latest Instagram growth tips in search of the holy grail that will triple my follower account overnight, but unfortunately, there isn’t one solution to bring growth and engagement. It wasn’t until earlier this year I found the answer I was looking for. After changing my strategy, I once again started growing a minimum of 700 – 1000 followers a month. This is by no means spectacular, but it’s organic and I maintain my above average Engagement rate.  And that ladies and gentlemen are very important, but I will get back on that later on in the article.

Interested to know how I do it? Well continue reading but if you are looking for one solution fit’s all, you will be disappointed. It will take effort!

What is the cause of lack in growth?

There are many, but in my opinion, there are three key factors that play a role in lack of engagement / growing your audience on Instagram:

Competition

Every day people start a new Instagram account in a certain niche. It’s just a fact that your competition is growing every day. We all are “competing” for a limited amount of digital real estate (the IG feed).

Content

With competition, you need to differentiate. And this becomes more important if you are in a saturated niche. The quality of the content, the frequency of your content, but also the type of content has a massive influence on engagement on the Instagram platform.  For instance, men flat lay’s have a higher engagement rate compared to full body shots of men.

Instagram algorithm

In the end, the algorithm decides what people will see in their feed. So it’s key to understand how this works.

Now competition you can’t change, it’s a fact. Content is something you can influence, but that won’t be the topic of this article. I presume you know you need to make quality content, so I’m going to tell you how one short reference in a YouTube video lead me to an article that changed my perspective on Instagram and growth.

How the Instagram algorithm works


Some of you may have heard of Julian Gutman, I didn’t, but Julian Gutman is the product lead of Instagram and he gave an interview to several journalists in 2018. And it is this article that I found that describes that meeting with Julian. In that meeting, Julian explained how the Algorithm works and debunked a few myths around Instagram working.

Instagram algorithm basics

Did you know that everyone on Instagram has a unique feed? Even if you and I follow the same persons? The reason for this is that Instagram using machine learning that uses your behavior and interaction with others to craft your feed.

To determine what you see they use three key signals

  1. Interest: Instagram tries to predict how you would like a post based on your previous interactions with similar posts. As I predominantly focus on men fashion on IG, 90% of my feed is made up out of men fashion posts. So if you start liking architecture, you will see that it will switch to that in time.
  2. Recency: When was it posted? New before old, as simple as that
  3. Relationship: Are we distant cousins or best buddies? The closer you are to the poster, the more priority Instagram will give that post on your feed. Likes, comments, tagging in each others post are telltale signs that you and the poster are close, therefore you would like to see that post according to the Instagram algorithm.

Next, to these 3 key signals there are 3 other signals that have an influence

  1. Frequency: How often are you on Instagram? Instagram will try and show you the most relevant posts since you last logged on
  2. Following: Can’t see the wood through the trees? Well, there is your answer. The more you follow the more options Instagram has to pick from
  3. Usage: Apparently it takes into account if you do short stints seeing best posts or taking hours scrolling to Instagram. No clue however what it actually does influence?

Key to my growth strategy

Since we now know how the algorithm works, we can focus on a strategy that will utilize that knowledge. What stood out for me is that engagement is key. Why? Well, two of the three key signals are focused on interaction (interest/relation). Interest is all around our likes and comments to posts, same goes for relations.

Next, to that, the engagement on a post also says something about how relevant something could be for the audience on Instagram. So, the higher the engagement on a post, the higher the likelihood something is relevant according to Instagram, the higher you will be shown on the explorer page and / or the top page of a #hashtag in your niche.

Based on that insight I knew a key part of my strategy should be focused on getting a high as possible engagement to be seen as more relevant.

Let’s break down what I do!

My 2019 Instagram growth strategy

My Instagram strategy is based on two key elements

  • Reach
  • Engagement

It’s that simple! Those are the only two that matter for me and are the only two things I try to optimize for each post I make.

So based on what I described before this is my logic:

“The higher my engagement, the more relevant my post is. The more relevant my post is, the better my hashtag performance, the higher the chance of being shown on the explore page and therefore extending my reach to potential new followers in my niche”

So you want to get good engagement to boost your reach.

Extending your reach

Just a small disclaimer, I have used all of the tactics mentioned below, but I’m human as well, so I’m not that consistent with all of them (and pay the price for that). Ok, let’s continue!

  • Hashtags

Hashtags are key in extending your reach to your potential new audience. But I also see a lot of people using the hashtags wrong. Common mistakes in my eyes if your focus is on growth

 Too many big hashtags

What I mean by that is that you are using, for instance, Mensfashion which has millions of post, so your competition is higher. Make a mix of: Large, midsize and small hashtags to spread your chances. Finding it hard to find the relevant hashtags? Research your peers or use tools like Flick to research your hashtags.

Small note: I review my hashtags every 3 months. However I almost every day use the same hashtags without any problem. I only change them if my core hashtags really don’t fit my photo.

The wrong hashtag for your goal

Let’s say your aim is to attract followers that are looking for men’s fashion inspiration, and you want to educate them on buy less but better. Now you could focus all your hashtags around minimalism, sustainability etc, because you will find like-minded people there. But the majority of your potential audience will search on hashtags like #menootd. So make sure, that if growth is your focus, you use hashtags where your audience is.

  • Instagram story tricks

Now a lot of people hide their photo under a big NEW POST gif… in the hopes you will click on the photo and leave a like and comment on the post… yeah, I did this myself as well… And no… this doesn’t really work. But while we were busy putting big NEW POST signs on our stunning content we forgot a few small things to extend our reach. So, next time you post a story make sure you

  • Geotag
  • Add a hashtag through the hashtag option
  • Add two more by just writing them

This is so often forgotten that the likelihood of you turning up in the hashtag story is high. And tada potential new followers can see your post.

  • Repost accounts

I haven’t seen a niche that doesn’t have a repost account. Identify the ones in your niche, reach out to them and ask what they are considering when to repost a photo yes or no. Use that information when creating content and when you post tag the accounts. This has worked wonders for me. Don’t pay to get reposted! Typically those accounts have fake followers and the only result you will see is an empty wallet.

  • Content strategy

Now I’m a strong believer of posting what you like, Instagram for me at least is a hobby. But the type of content that you post has a massive influence on your reach. Why? Remember the interest signal? Instagram tries and predicts for you what you like. It does this based on behavior (likes and comments). It uses the same strategy on determining if something is interesting for you or me to see. Engagement is key here. The more likes and comments, the more relevant Instagram sees your post.  This is also the way how some post goes viral and spread so quickly on Instagram. Luckily it doesn’t mean you need thousands of likes, you just need good engagement in your niche.

So how does this extend your reach? Well if you post content that will ensure good engagement, you increase your chances of Instagram showing it to potential followers on the explorer page and if you are really lucky, due to the engagement on your post you will show up on the top posts page of hashtags. So study your best performing posts. How do they look, when did you post, what hashtags did you use? And replicate that formula! I make sure that every 2nd or 3rdpost I have at least one photo up that I know will perform well based on previous results.

Building your engagement

  • Posting consistency

If you want to grow, you need to regularly engage with your followers. A good way of doing that is by posting content consistently to Instagram. Say you post 3 times a week, that means 3 posts that can potentially reach new audiences. But this will also ensure you have 3 chances of being seen by your followers which will keep them engaged. Because if you like me, If you don’t post in a long time I’ll unfollow you. That being said, you could conclude that this rule means you should go for 5 posts per day per week. Now yes this will definitely help, but is this something you can keep up with? Switching from posting 5 times a day to two times a week may cost you followers and impact your engagement per post. So, I would advise you to post content consistently with good quality in a rate that you can keep up instead of peaks of massively posting and then go silent for 3 weeks.

  • Content consistency

A small but important note, you want your feed to be recognizable for your audience. So make sure the content that you post connects with each other. It’s hard to grow your page if you try and address multiple audiences at the same time.

  • Post time

Finding out the right time to post can make or break your post. And Sprout even dedicated a study to it to find the best time to post. Their conclusion:

  • Wednesday is the overall best day to post
  • Consistent engagement during the week is between 10 AM and 3 PM.
  • And many more facts (including for Facebook posts) in the article

However as in life we often tend to notice, what works for somebody else doesn’t mean it will work for you. To find out what my best times where I used my common sense and insights my planning app Unum generates. In that app, I could see which posts got the most engagement, but it was purely based on information my posts generate.


Luckily Instagram lends a helping hand by giving you insights on what time your audience is most active. Since I started posting at those times my engagement got a significant boost! From here it’s testing what works best for you and use common sense. For instance, I’m in a rush in the morning and afternoon when I commute back home. I therefore, have less time to interact. But I do have sometime around lunch, and I noticed a similar result on my posts. So lunch posts are best for my audience engagement wise, but in the weekend dinner time is better for my posts. So… use the times as a guide and test which ones work best for you.

  • Engagement time

Instagram loves engagement, and good engagement on your post will bring you growth. Personally, I believe the first 30 minutes of your post are decisive for its success. To boost your engagement around your post I advise  you to do the following

  • Use an Instagram story to instruct your followers to put a post notification on for your posts
  • Interact with other posts before and after your post, this will get people “active” and hopefully get them to check back on your latest post
  • Ask questions in your captions to get more comments on your post
  • Try and respond as quickly as possible to comments to keep the “activity” on your post going. As said first 30 minutes, in my opinion, are crucial, so make sure you have some time to respond.
  • DM your posts to closes followers to make them aware of your new post (or get them to put on the post notification)
  • Post your post in an Instagram Story, this will help as another reminder to your followers a new post is up

These are things I do to boost the engagement around my post and help my posts to be seen as relevant in the eyes of Instagram due to the immediate engagement with my post.

  • $1,80 strategy GaryVee

The infamous $ 1,80 strategy for GaryVee might be time-consuming, but definitely helped me when I started out. This is something I don’t do anymore due to lack of time. But highly recommend this one as it focusses on building true engagement. So the strategy from Gary Vee:

  1. Find the 10 most relevant hashtags in your niche to follow
  2. Reach out and comment on the top 9 posts in each hashtag
  3. Continue to like and comment on posts and get to know others in your niche

In short: You will have left meaningful engagement across 90 posts (10 hashtags, 9 posts per tag) which leaves you with 90 new opportunities to be seen by a potential new follower.

Concluding

Well, that is it, this is all I do to ensure good engagement and growth of my account. I hope this will help you as well. If you have any questions related to this article please don’t hesitate to reach out. Finally, I want to say that what works for me doesn’t mean it works for you. It also isn’t a guaranteed success, some post just perform better than others. That being said, applying the above has helped me grown and has brought me a sustainable increase in my Engagement.

Cheers

K

  1. Sep 16.2019 / 9:50 am / Reply

    Very in depth and interesting post. Will definitely look to implement some of the lessons learnt here. Great work.

    Darren

  2. Oct 2.2019 / 4:42 am / Reply

    I love how detailed this was thank you..and I love your account