Building a following on Instagram isn’t easy, but there are huge rewards for brands that are able to get things right.
Not only are you able to form deep connections with people inside the platform’s intimate, visual environment, but you can also find awesome user-generated content you can use to drive sales in your other marketing efforts. Indeed, once you have a highly-engaged audience of people who love your content, you can use shoppable Instagram tools to guide customers to off-platform product galleries, and Instagram’s new ads product to make sales directly on the platform.
With these incentives in mind, here’s a list of 7 great ways to build an engaged Instagram community of your own.
As with any online marketing initiative, you’ll have to determine the goals and Key Performance Indicators before you start, regardless of whether you’re aiming to increase e-commerce sales, community engagement, or your follower count.
1. Seek out the people you want to be a part of your community.
A great thing about Instagram is that the platform almost definitely contains a significant number of people who are already creating content relevant to your brand, thus making them likely to be receptive to your marketing efforts.
You can locate these like-minded individuals by searching for popular hashtags relevant to your industry — a sports apparel company might search for content with the hashtag #NFL, for instance — and you can connect with them by commenting on their photos.
You can also widen your reach by publishing your own content with hashtags that are popular with prospective members of your community, as Target did with the photo below, aimed at dog-lovers searching for images under the #DogsOfInstagram hashtag.
2. Don’t be afraid to focus on your products.
While brands often get taken to task for being too self-promotional on other social networks, a recent study from L2 found that 65% of the most popular branded Instagram posts featured products. Meanwhile, 43% of them included lifestyle photography.
The lesson? You can win big by posting content that shows off how your products are being used in a way that plays into a desirable customer aesthetic.
As an example, this post from Levi’s not only shows off its denim jacket, but also allows viewers to associate the product with the rugged, adventurous lifestyle enjoyed by the people in the photo.
3. Invite your community members to share the spotlight.
One of the best ways to grow your following is to share photos originally created by your community members. This excites the people whose photos you post, makes your brand appear more authentic to the public, and gives users an incentive to create images featuring your products.
All you have to do is find a user who has mentioned your brand in a photo and send them a request to feature the photo on your account, along with a link to your terms of service. Over 70% people have said yes to rights requests from Olapic’s brand partners. They also respond with 2.4 exclamation points on average, an indication of the enthusiastically positive sentiment people tend to have when brands ask to feature their photos.
You can also encourage the creation of more user-generated content with a call for submissions in the caption of one of your images, as H&M did when it asked users to submit photos of their romantic relationships with the hashtag #HMFALLINLOVE. If you search the hashtag today, you’ll see plenty of great photos from Instagram users hoping to get H&M’s attention.
You can gauge the success of these efforts by keeping track of how much user-generated content people are creating that mentions your brand or employs a hashtag you’ve created. These photos can be a valuable resource for when you need photos to market your products, and they’re also a great sign that your community is highly engaged.
4. Watch what your community members are doing and learn from the content they are creating.
Along the same lines, it’s important to make content that fits in with and is inspired by the things your followers are already creating on Instagram. After all, what better way to resonate with your consumers than by showing them that you are paying attention to what they’re doing?
For instance, Coach noticed Instagram’s footwear enthusiasts were taking photos of their shoes while they were still on their feet, and decided to turn that insight into its #CoachFromAbove Instagram ad campaign.
5. Take photos you can be proud of.
You won’t be successful on Instagram unless you’re willing to put just as much work into producing great content as your community members do. To that end, your Instagram photos should cover the basics of professional photography by adhering to the rule of thirds, having a clear focus, and being well-lit.
Looking for an example? Check out this great shot Nike captured:
6. Shoppable Instagram can give your website a traffic boost.
Instagram was originally conceived to be a self-contained experience, and that’s why there aren’t many places for you to put links people can click on to visit other websites.
However, you can drive some traffic to your owned properties by including a link on your profile page that leads people to a gallery of photos from your feed that drive to product pages on your e-commerce site. There, your audience can browse products that have been on featured in photos from your Instagram account, and ultimately, make a purchase.
7. Extend your reach and drive revenues with Instagram ads.
While shoppable Instagram is a good way of dipping your toes in the water when it comes to monetizing your community, the best way of generating revenues from Instagram is to utilize the service’s advertising products.
These ads allow you to quickly scale your reach beyond your community of followers by giving you the same advanced demographic and cookie-based targeting tools offered by Facebook ads.
They also provide a seamless user experience that allows people to click the photo to learn more about a product or download an app. On top of all that, you can make an endless number of Instagram ads just by using the photos posted by your own community.
As an example, you can check out this cool photo of Yankee Stadium that SeatGeek targeted me with, likely because I am a sports fan:
Creating a successful Instagram strategy takes time, money, and effort, but if you follow these tips and stay the course, you should be well on your way to cultivating a dedicated following of current and future customers.
Remember, Instagram is essentially inspiration at scale, a complementary platform to your Facebook feed where people can engage with artistic, inspirational brand media in a creative context. By using your feed to curate moments and experiences from around the world, you give yourself an opportunity to connect with your audience in a way that you just wouldn’t be able to on any other platform.