14 Tips to Help You Succeed in the New Underground World of Instagram

Instagram has undergone dramatic changes in the way it operates recently. On the positive side, you can now post pictures that aren’t square, you can like comments, there’s Instagram stories and they have improved their editing tools and filters and you can also go live. On the negative side, they have disabled the ability of many 3rd-party utilities that helped you manage your account. Worst of all, they have changed the way their algorithm works and for many, myself included, engagement (likes and comments) has been diminishing.

I was an early adopter of social media and have used social media to help build myself a powerful personal brand. I have substantial active followings on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram. As a result, I am not taking the decrease in my Instagram engagement passively. As I explored around on the Internet, I found all sorts of discussions about what is causing reduced engagement. There are bunch of conspiracy theories that just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. However, there were also some tips and tricks that seemed to be on the right track.

I was inspired by a conversation I had with Pablo Arias, the former Nickelodeon star who appeared on the TV Show ‘Marvin Marvin’, who has also worked with P Diddy, Tai Lopez, Fashion Nova, and was able to create a public Instagram page, couplesofsociety and achieve over 3 million followers. So, I asked Pablo and a few other Instagram experts (with no Instagrammers that use body-image to get likes and followers) to tell me their top tips. Using Pablo’s term, I was hoping to succeed in the “underground world” of Instagram by trying to figure out what was a ridiculous conspiracy theory and what really works to boost your Instagram.

Here are 14 tips from 7 successful Instagrammers that will help you build a powerful and engaged Instagram:

Pablo’s Tips:

  1. Creative Content: Creativity, and the ability to be original is what will most likely gain a potential follower’s attention. Initially appealing to a specific demographic or area of interest will allow you to first get your foot in the door, and begin the process of trial and error. Your content’s creativity will always be the deciding variable in your ability to get a post to go viral. Content will always be king. Making your posts relevant and engaging is the key.
  2. Cross Promote In Your Brand: Find accounts that do similar things to what you are trying to do with your brand and help each other. For example, if you are building a fashion blog, find other bloggers in that space with a similar following and promote one another. If you both have 2,000 followers, the goal would be to both attain 5,000 followers — rinse and repeat.
  3. Show that you Care: A simple and small act of following someone back, liking or responding to their comment can go a long way. Engaging with your followers, and making an authentic effort to show that you genuinely care about them will increase social interaction by the thousands. It shows that you are indeed a real person, with similar interests and likes as your audience, giving your followers the chance to truly connect with you.
  4. Hashtags Still Work: Each post that you publish with hashtags will perform 20% better on average than ones without. As simple as it may sound, hashtags do make a difference. But do avoid ones banned by Instagram and the updated list can be found by simply Googling it.

Allison Mayer: A humanitarian photojournalist on a mission to bring dignity back into the way we tell the world’s most difficult stories. She has 13,000 Instagram followers and is running a very high 10% average engagement rate. Allison says:

  1. Call Ghostbusters: Locate the people who follow you, but no longer interact with you — also known as your ghost followers. Some of these maybe spam or inactive accounts, but a lot of them will be real people who just don’t see your content anymore because of the algorithm. Interaction with these accounts will remind them why they followed you in the first place and bring you back into their feed. It’s a lot easier to convert engagement from existing followers than it is to get new followers or chase engagement with hashtags. A higher engagement rate from those who follow you will increase your credibility within the algorithm and your likeliness to hit the explore page, leading to more followers.

Irina Smirnova: A NYC area based photographer working with entrepreneurs on their branding portraiture, providing what she calls “Power Portraits”. She’s one of the best photographers I know, has 5,000 Instagram followers and runs a nationwide Instagram POD. Irina says:

  1. One Theme Only: Pick a theme for your account focus on it, and don’t just jump all over the place. If your Instagram feed has food pics, memes, pics of the dogs, a video of the taxi driver shouting at the bicyclist and images of a sunrise over Detroit, people won’t know what you stand for and won’t be as attracted to you.
  2. Educate Your Audience: Don’t be afraid to tell your followers and the people you follow exactly how they can support you better. Let them know how meaningful their comments are. Remember there’s a real person behind every Instagram post (usually).

Pablo’s, Allison’s and Irina’s Tip:

  1. Join a POD: This is the one tip three of my experts gave me. Join an engagement pod which is simply a group of 10–20 fellow Instagrammers who agree within the first 30 minutes a post is made, to like and comment (with five words or more) on it. This, according to most sources, accelerates the Instagram algorithm, boosting your post to more people. I’m in a pod and we share our Instagram links via WhatsApp, but most pods use Instagram messenger to communicate.

Desislava Dobreva: Brand Strategist 🎤 International Speaker 🗺 World Traveler 🥇 Founder of the Badass Brand Squad. Des says:

  1. My followers grew from 6,000 to almost 15 000 in just a few months when I implemented my brand colors into my feed — so, especially for entrepreneurs, this brings consistency and makes your feed more aligned with your brand personality.

Paul Mango: A banking executive who is passionate about photography, his family and the outdoors. He has 4,600 Instagram followers and is running a very high 10% average engagement rate. Paul says:

  1. Edit Your Photos: To post your best work edit your photos with a more sophisticated editor than what is in Instagram itself. Snapseed by Google and Photo Editor by Aviary are excellent free editing apps.

Rick Gerrity: Rick is a NJ/NYC based professional photographer, Panasonic Lumix Luminary, Educator, NPPA and PSA member. He is known for chasing photography everywhere in the U.S. in his record-setting, 400,000 miles, Nissan Xterra. Rick says:

  1. Be Original: I like to see what everyone else is doing and try a different angle or perspective. It’s why I enjoy Instagramming close-up portraits of people in interesting places. It’s is a one-of-a-kind moment. And don’t forget black and white is sometimes better than color.

My Tips:

  1. Quality Photos: Maybe because photography is in my DNA, but it irks me when people post poor quality images. How can you expect someone to click the heart for something that they don’t even like? Poor quality pictures are the surest way to get low interaction. Take your time, use a real camera if you can (it’s no longer taboo) and post attractive images.
  2. Don’t Be Like Google: This compliments Pablo’s point about being creative and Rick’s point about originality. If you can find the picture you are posting on Google, you are not going to get a lot of engagement. If you take a picture of a common place or thing, make sure it’s amazing.
  3. Just Do It: Social media is not something you do, it’s a lifestyle. And that philosophy applies to Instagram too. That means posting at least five times per week and liking and commenting on other’s posts every day.

The path to Instagram success may travel through an underground world but you now have a map to navigate it. #JustDoIt