5 key tactics that increased our campaign’s presence on Instagram without paying for ads

Lyka Cabatay
Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

Instagram is not just for selfies, cute dog photos, memes and travel photos — it’s a great place for like-minded people to find each other. It’s also the place to discover influencers interested in your cause. 50% of the world’s NGOs have an Instagram profile and for good reason — Instagram says that it now has 800 million users, 500 million of which are daily active users.

When drafting our campaign strategy for CleanSeasPilipinas, we chose to establish an Instagram account to reach more people, attract volunteers, tell inspiring and thought-provoking stories and share progress. Here are 5 of the key tactics we’ve applied to grow our audience and attract genuine followers:

  1. Use hashtags to find and engage your audience: You’ve got to find people who are already interested in the things your nonprofit is already doing. Insta-stalking is great but in the interest of saving time, a great trick to find authentic followers is to do a quick media scan of commonly used hashtags with high engagement on the platform.
Click on the magnifying glass at the bottom of your mobile and type in words to find out similar and related hashtags to find your niche crowd — the more specific you are, the better!

Pro tip: It’s fairly common for people to use more than 10 hashtags to their posts to expand their possible reach, so don’t be afraid to do the same! Instagram allows for 30 hashtags to be used on each post so hashtag away!

2. Long form copy Instagram is more than just eye candy. It’s an opportunity for nonprofits to tell engaging stories, share facts and figures, results and even news.

A beautiful photo can be made even more impactful if your followers get to know more about its context. What was happening when the photographer took it? If your visual is an infographic, where can your followers learn more? Always put a shortlink version in your bio because photo descriptions don’t allow for hyperlinks.

3. Practice social listening Sprout Social defined this as the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords, phrases, brands or industries, and leveraging your insights to discover opportunities or create content for those audiences. Instagram now allows you to follow hashtags, which makes it easier for you to know what your community of interest is talking about. This allows you to get insight into what kind of content yields more engagement. Spend at least 30 minutes a day checking out what your community of interest is doing before planning your content for the week- practicing social listening and jotting down your insights is a great way for you to get your creative juices flowing before starting on your own content.

4. Engage with your community — and be sincere about it! You’ve probably seen a lot of accounts leaving spam comments on your posts — those are probably generated by a bot or a paid social media service that uses AI. These applications use keywords or hashtags to find you, leaving scripted messages in an attempt to boost their engagement metrics. Sadly, they‘re never as good as the real thing. Try this: take a minute or two and leave a thoughtful personalized message if you plan to drop a comment. This makes all the difference when trying to build relationships especially if you’re trying to build a real community of followers. What’s the point of having half a million followers if most of them aren’t real? Having high vanity metrics may look impressive to your board, but at the end of the day, basic truths remain: quality over quantity is more meaningful, and real relationships take time and effort to build. Slow and steady wins the race!

5. Instagram stories This feature has allowed us to engage with our followers and tell stories in a whole new way. Instagram stories are meant to be spontaneous, allowing you to be a little bit more personal. Now, the feature is becoming more interactive! You can do quick polls, entertain questions from followers, share breaking news, and so on. With the highlights feature, we are also able to save these stories on our profile for visitors to browse if they want to learn more about our work.

Check out our campaign’s Instagram page here.

Lyka Cabatay

Written by

Focused on communicating for nonprofits. Digital Media Consultant @UNDP, Social Media Manager @CleanSeasPilipinas

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