Instagram engagement is pretty much the Holy Grail for social media marketers. The platform becomes more popular by the moment, and its users pay close attention to content from top brands.

Many small businesses – from hair salons, to fashion boutiques, to cafés and restaurants – owe much of their success to Instagram. They’ve found users who’ll like, comment, and share their posts, which helps bring in new customers who’d otherwise never have found them.

So how can you do the same? We went straight to the experts to learn how the best in the business get more from Instagram.

indiana-jones-holy-grail-social-media-marketing

We joined Taylor Loren, Head of Marketing at Later, and together devised 10 smart tactics you can use to seriously improve your Instagram engagement.

You can watch the full webinar here:

And if that doesn’t suit, we’re about to break down each of the 10 hacks right here. So keep on reading!

1. Use all of Instagram’s features

As Taylor told us, Instagram’s algorithm actually prioritizes accounts that use all the tools. These robots are getting smarter!

instagram algorithm hacks

And it makes sense. Instagram wants to encourage more diverse and interesting content. The company wouldn’t spend all that time and money developing new technology if it didn’t want you to use it!

So in practice, what can you actually do?

Sign up for Instagram for business

First and foremost, if your brand doesn’t have a “business” account yet, you may want to start there. These accounts give you extra analytics, a more professional aesthetic, and access to ads.

Perhaps more exciting, you get to include links in stories, and a “contact” button on your profile. So if your goal is to drive traffic from Instagram to your site or products, this is a major win.

But business profiles are not for everyone. Later has a great guide to help you decide whether to make the switch:

later instagram business flowchart

Use different content formats

Instagram started as a simple place to share photos, but has evolved considerably since then. You now have stories, videos, carousel posts, ads, and highlights. And by the time you read this, there are probably even more options.

It now makes no sense to churn out the same content, day after day. Your posts will feel tired, and remember, the robots want to see you use the whole app!

One key stat that might convince you: video posts have far higher engagement rates than image or carousel posts:

instagram engagement rates different formats

And while you can’t churn out only videos posts (this would be boring, as well as hard to pull off), it pays to use video here and there to keep your Instagram content interesting.

Check out Instagram’s analytics

If you do switch to a business account, you’ll have access to a whole heap of analytics to help you improve your Instagram performance.

These include:

  • Follower locations
  • Gender of followers
  • Insights into specific posts (to see which worked best)

If you take your Instagram marketing seriously, these kinds of insights can be indispensable.

Use polls, Stories highlights, video, and more

We’re going to look at each of these below. But the more you can use these different features, and vary the kinds of content you post, the better your engagement is going to be.

“Try out the new features as soon as they come out, and you will be rewarded in the algorithm. It’s going to lead to more engagement for you.”  Taylor Loren, Later.

2. Use Instagram Stories daily

Instagram reach seems to be down across the board:

quora instagram reach down

Much of this comes from changes to the all-powerful algorithm. No longer chronological, Instagram prioritizes certain posts in users’ feeds, for a whole host of reasons. And there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.

But one way that you keep your content at the top of everyone’s feed is to focus on regularly posting stories.

instagram stories hacks

They’re right there at the top! So even if users don’t find your content in their feeds like they used to, hopefully they’ll spot it up there.

Perhaps more importantly, Stories look different, feel different, and give you the chance to engage in different ways. Since they only last 24 hours, you can afford to be a more relaxed and personal, which will appeal to some users far more.

Plus, some users simply like viewing Stories more than their feed. So you can be there for those users where they prefer to find you, and still have great content in your feed for everyone else.

“Especially with the decline of Snapchat, this is really where you want to start positioning your business. And it’s a lot easier to get engagement and find success in Stories than it is in the regular feed right now.” – Taylor Loren, Later

3. Explore the different video formats

Did we mention that video generates more engagement on average than other post types? Well consider this your reminder.

Supposing you want to get serious about video, what are your options?

Videos in your feed

These are permanent (unless you choose to delete them). So you’ll want to spend a little more time getting them right.

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A post shared by Tasty (@buzzfeedtasty) on

The good news is these videos will actually be searchable, and you’ll be able to include hashtags to try to help users find them. So it’s worth creating some high-value, unique videos like these, just maybe not as often as you would create Stories.

Perfect for:

  • Tutorials
  • Product announcements
  • Major brand campaigns
  • Anything you want people to come back to and share

Videos in your Stories

As mentioned above, Stories disappear after 24 hours. So you definitely don’t want to post video Stories that you hope will stick around.

But the upside here is that you don’t need such a polished feel. These can feel more “real” and down to earth, and you don’t have to worry that in 12 months you’ll regret the way you presented them.

Perfect for:

  • Footage from events
  • Live announcements
  • Snippets and snapshots to give followers a look behind the curtain

You’ll probably want to use both formats semi-regularly. And which you choose for a given post will depend on what you hope to achieve:

“Really think about the best way to tell your story. Would this video be interesting in a Boomerang or a slow-mo. Take a step back before you create your video…and think about the intention behind it.” – Sandra Chung, Mention

4. Schedule Instagram posts for peak times

This tip is an oldie but a goodie. Google “the best time to post on…” and you’ll find results for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin – basically every social network worth caring about.

You’ll also find advice for all the best times to post to these networks. And since people have gone to the trouble of finding these ideal times – based on all sorts of studies – why not take advantage?

The big difference for Instagram is that, until very recently, you haven’t been able to schedule those posts. So if you wanted to share content at the perfect moment, you basically had to be available to hit “send” whenever necessary.

Not any more. Thanks to an API change from Instagram, tools like Later, Buffer, and HubSpot now let you schedule posts ahead of time. Which means you can be sure that you’re always sharing killer content at the best possible moment!

Getting the time right is more important than you might think. According to Taylor, the Instagram algorithm responds positively to posts that get quick engagement. If your audience engages early with your content, there’s a better chance that that post will appear in more people’s feeds.

And that means even more engagement.

So when’s the best time to post? Well every account is a little different, so the answer is it depends.

Luckily, Later has a feature to help you figure out the best time for you. So no need to guess – just use their tool!

“Posting at the right time is going to hack the algorithm for you, and it honestly will result in more engagement. And we’re talking old-school Instagram engagement – likes and comments.” – Taylor

5. Post the right number of times

Social media can be oh so tempting. Think about it: if you knew that one Instagram post would equal 10 likes, or five visits to your homepage – or whichever metric mattered to you – you may just sit there all day posting as often as possible.

In fact, that’s exactly how some people treat social media.

But, as with so much in life, social marketing does come with diminishing returns. You can’t post an absurd number of times and hope to see consistent results.

You also can’t just post once a week and expect anybody to pay you the slightest bit of attention.

So there’s a balance.

And the only way to find the right balance for your brand is to test it.

“If you’re only posting once a day, try posting twice a day for a week. And then try posting every other day. So if that makes a difference for your engagement…Look at your overall engagement for the week, and figure out what’s best for you.” – Taylor

6. Find new ways to interact with your community

The next tip is all about influencer marketing – a hugely popular Instagram strategy. This tip is for those brands either lacking the money or the willingness to create these paid campaigns.

Instead, why not look at your community – your fans, friends, and followers – and find ways to collaborate.

Sandra gave us four great examples of content types that work well in these arrangements:

  • Behind the scenes: Take followers behind the curtain and show them “making of” moments from your latest products or marketing campaign. Encourage them to participate and respond, and build engagement this way.
  • Takeovers: Let a partner, an employee, or even a customer take control and give their own flavor to your account.
    If actually handing over the account is a bit daunting, you could conduct interviews or close-up videos with people in your network, while still keeping you hands on the phone.
  • Contests: If creating a ton of Instagram content on your own is proving tricky, contests can be a great way to encourage followers to contribute their own. Plus, contests are by their very nature engaging, since you’re typically asking users to do something to enter. So you can expect great engagement rates if you plan your contest well.
  • Tutorials: You want followers to trust and believe in your brand’s expertise and skill. And you can prove your own talents by teaching others.
    Your tutorial can consist of simple tips and tricks, or even in-depth product demos to show followers how you can help them.

These simple content types allow you to connect with followers more easily, which will hopefully encourage them to share your brand with their own communities. A simple, natural way to grow.

“Collaborate with people with whom you already have a relationship on Instagram, whether it’s fans, product users, customers, employees – anyone!” – Sandra

7. Bring in the big guns (influencers)

This is the “pro” version of the hack tip we just saw. Involving others in your Instagram strategy is going to widen your net and bring new followers into your community. So it makes sense, then, to find the people with the biggest, best nets!

Already, influencer marketing has become synonymous with Instagram. The market is growing at an astonishing rate, and brands could be spending $2 billion on influencers by next year:

Instagram Influencer Marketing Infographic Industry Market Size

But does this strategy really work? For brands who want increased engagement, it definitely does. And we have the proof:

Facebook Hashtags social 03@2x 1

That graph shows the best Instagram hashtags over the last year in terms of engagement. And do you see the clear winner?

#ad

Who would even use the tag #ad? I’m certainly not interested in scanning different advertisements, and I don’t really know anyone else who is. But there’s a simple reason why users include this tag in their posts.

FTC regulations mean that Instagram power-users (influencers) need to disclose paid partnerships on the platform. And one way of doing this has been to use the above hashtag.

[Note: Instagram now has a “paid promotion” tag at the top of these posts, so #ad probably doesn’t cut it legally anymore.]

So if #ad is the tag with the most engagements, and influencers are the ones typically using that tag, then influencers must be really good at generating engagement on Instagram, right?

Right. Even when followers know it’s a paid promotion, they likely don’t care. These influencers are really good at what they do.

“Influencers have targeted and loyal communities and can introduce your brand to the right audience. So start tracking them down and working with them.” – Sandra

Learn how to easily find and connect with influencers:

influencer marketing

8. Convert regular followers into “super followers”

Not all of your followers are the same. There are those who stumble across a photo or two here and there, then move on to something else. And then there are the ones who hang on your every update, adore your Instagram content, and can’t wait for the next post.

We want more of these!

And Taylor’s best method for creating more of these is with Instagram Stories Highlights. These are “like content buckets or categories” for your different posts, letting you bundle similar content together.

In short, Highlights just lets you save specific Instagram Stories to your feed, creating an archive for content that would otherwise disappear. These live at the top of your profile (so not just in your daily Stories) until you choose to delete them.

A few clever ways to use this:

  • Create “collections” for seasonal product releases
  • Build categories for your content around specific topics
  • Have different “channels” for audiences with specific interests or needs
  • Separate your key styles of Instagram content (how-tos, behind the scenes, etc)

Sounds ideal. But how does this lead to “super followers?” You’re basically building a resource hub for all your content, giving your followers a reason to come to your profile and explore more deeply.

Instead of a semi-random feed of different posts from basically whenever, you have a curated space that helps followers find (and share!) the content that works for them.

“You’ve now turned your Instagram into this go-to resource that people are going to come back to time and time again. And once you start watching a highlight, it’ll automatically keep playing the next one. So people could be watching for minutes and not leave your profile.” – Taylor

Bonus tip: Use your daily Stories to remind users about your highlights and send them to your profile. You have to tell them they exist!

9. Listen closely to your community

Good social media marketing is a two-way exercise. You can’t just post, post, post, and hope that your content hits its mark.

You have a much better chance of reaching your followers in meaningful ways – plus finding new ones – if you understand what’s important to them.

You can monitor comments, captions, and conversations on Instagram.

The benefits:

  • Understand your followers better
  • Tailor your content to what matters to people
  • Know what people think of your brand and your posts
  • Track wider conversations around your industry and look for trends
  • Find relevant hashtags, and see how people use your own branded tags

“You want to know what your Instagram community is saying, and what they care about. This allows you to be more engaged with them.” – Sandra

10. Use polls in your Stories

Polls are similar to contests in that they’re a direct call-to-action for your followers. And that, by its very nature, leads to higher engagement.

But polls are even easier to create than contests. You don’t need to announce winners or award prizes, and you don’t even really need a good reason to launch a poll.

Plus, followers who vote in a poll are now invested in the outcome. They want to pay more attention to your account to see the result. And this may increase the rate at which followers watch your Stories the whole way through.

A few simple poll questions you can re-use over and over:

  • “Which do you prefer: x or y?”
  • “What kinds of content would you like to see more of from us?”
  • “Which upcoming product are you more excited about?”

But honestly, you don’t really need question suggestions. Is your question quick, and something you’d happily respond to yourself? Then it’s probably a winner!

“Throw in a poll now and then. It’s a way to get [followers] involved in your Story, instead of you just talking at them. You’re involving your audience in it as well.” – Taylor

What does a highly engaging Instagram post look like?

To add a little context, we looked at more than 100 million Instagram posts to see what the top 15% (in terms of average engagements) have in common:

Build those killer Instagram engagement rates

Social media marketing is never as easy as you’d hope. It takes consistent effort, and a little bit of luck, to create something that drives traffic to your business.

At the same time, you’ve never had so many opportunities to reach potential customers – anywhere in the world – from your own desk. So it makes sense to give this your best shot.

Instagram is likely the hottest social network on the planet, full of business success stories and influencers building massive profiles.

Now’s the time to get on board.

For more statistics, analysis, and advice, take a look at our brand new Instagram Engagement Report:

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Patrick Whatman is Head of Content at Mention. He lives in Paris, loves music, and writes his own brand of cultural criticism for fun. Tweet him @mrwhatman where he mainly talks digital marketing, American sports and New Zealand trivia.

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