Hashtagging Done Right: Ways to Growth Hack Your Business’s Instagram Following

For some brands, Instagram can be intimidating. So much can be done with this visual storytelling platform that it can difficult to know where to start.

One thing is clear — for brands without Instagram accounts, the time to open one is now. The platform’s internal data provides insights into its effectiveness in successful marketing: Of more than 1 billion users, 60 percent have discovered a product or service on Instagram. Data from Yotpo has even better news: 30 percent of users said they’ve purchased something they first saw on Instagram.

What Doesn’t Work

Using Instagram for marketing is effective, but it takes time and patience. There are plenty of brands that approach Instagram growth marketing the wrong way. Instead of trying to tell a compelling visual story that connects with their target market, some brands focus on simply pumping up their follower count as fast as possible.

Instagram bots and hashtag hijacking are two cheap and ultimately ineffective ways some brands try to boost their numbers. Any Instagram growth strategy that involves those types of tactics will lose customers just as cheaply as they get them.

Tools and Tips for Brands New to Instagram

If your brand is just starting out on the social platform (and wants to do things the right way), consider the following:

1. Master your hashtags.
Rather than hijacking hashtags, include some related to your brand. There are three types your brand should be using: popular, niche, and brand specific.

When your brand uses popular hashtags — these usually have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of posts — it’s exposed to tons of people. Most of them won’t be interested in your brand, but there’s a chance you could pick up a few new followers. Niche hashtags are seen by a smaller number of users, but those users will be more likely to connect with your content. Finally, your brand should create its own hashtags as well. Followers can use your hashtags to have conversations about your brand or upload images related to it.

2. Schedule and monitor.
Maintaining a steady stream of Instagram content can be challenging. It’s best to schedule posts to get each one “published” in a timely fashion. Additionally, monitor your account to stay ahead of problems and to jump on opportunities. Hootsuite and Buffer are two tools that can help: Both tools can help you manage and schedule posts for all social network profiles in one place.

3. Link it up.
Instagram is great, but it should only be one part of a larger social media strategy. Make sure to provide ways on Instagram for followers to connect with your brand on other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. That could mean simply adding clickable lines like “Follow us on Facebook” or “Learn more about this deal on Twitter” to your Instagram captions. Often, Instagram influencers will write “link in bio” to posts if they want users to explore content on other platforms.

4. Stay engaged.
Once a post goes out, the job is only halfway done. To really make connections with fans and customers, brands need to be actively engaged on Instagram. When a user comments, the brand needs to respond. It should also like followers’ posts and repost user-generated content. Interacting with your followers and other microinfluencers in this way will grow a brand’s following tremendously.

5. Optimize your profile.
Your brand’s profile is the face it shows the world. If your username is different from your company’s name, make it memorable and simple, avoiding special characters if possible. Keep a short, punchy bio of around 150 characters, and include one or two relevant hashtags.

6. Make it professional.
Instagram allows brands to have their own business profiles. This type of profile allows users to easily find your brand’s email, phone number, and address. In addition to making your profile look more legitimate to potential customers, a business profile allows brands to promote posts and view insights from followers.

Tools and Tips for Brands Already Established on Instagram

Once you’ve established your brand’s account, it’s time to take it to the next level. Do this through organic Instagram growth. First, learn to interact successfully with your audience. Instagram offers plenty of ways to do this: Like followers’ posts, reply to comments, and repost their comments on a regular basis. Other features — like Stories, Instagram Live, and interactive polls — provide even more ways to boost follower engagement.

Additionally, consider teaming up with influencers; it’s just like making friends with the popular kid. Hand over the reins of your profile to an influencer in an Instagram takeover, which is a fun way to connect with plenty of users. Of course, you can always run ads and sponsored posts on an influencer’s page as well. This typically costs money, but they’ll be much more effective than a direct ad from your brand.

Finally, don’t hesitate to give merch away. Everyone loves free stuff, so it’s no wonder why Instagram loop giveaways are a great way to attract users to your brand’s page. To participate for a chance at a prize, users have to engage in some way: by liking posts, leaving a comment, or following an account. Followers who join through a giveaway might leave as quickly as they arrive, though, so make sure you give them a reason to stay.

Instagram shows no signs of stopping when it comes to its marketing abilities, and it will only get better from here. Be part of the movement now, and watch your startup reap the benefits.

Jon Brody is co-founder and CEO at Ladder, a growth technology and services company that has spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours helping hundreds of companies grow.