The Hard Realization of Growing an Instagram Account
The (Surprising) Results of Growing an Instagram Following from 0 to 1200 in 21 Days
“Vanity Metrics make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance on what to do” — Eric Ries
We’re all a sucker for it.
Checking our social media feed every 30 minutes (I’m being generous on time here) to see how many people ‘liked’, ‘loved’, ‘haha-ed’, ‘commented’ or ‘shared’ our post.
But after spearheading a project of growing an Instagram following for the Content Marketing company, Grow & Convert, from zero, I quickly realized that
It’s not about the number of followers you get, but the quality of followers you earn.
Unfortunately, I can’t direct you to their Instagram profile since it was “black bagged” by Instagram (it does this to new and veteran profiles, unexpectedly). It’s an arduous task to get it back, but once you do, you could lose all of your progress and have to start back at zero, again.
Ergo, we ended the project early at 21 days, and walked away with lessons learned.
Let’s get into the strategy and tools used:
Step 1: The Opt-In
A Lead Magnet
We had decided to take their most popular case studies about ‘growing an audience’, ‘converting them into customers’, and more — and turn it into a guide book as the lead magnet.
So, a person clicks on the lead magnet, and in exchange for the guide book they provide us with their email address.
We all know this.
To turn these blog posts into a guide book, easily, I used the website Beacon. It came out beautifully, and like I said, it was EASY to use.
Side note: When I had a question, they were SWIFT to respond and walk me through the steps to get me back on track (it was a user error — of course. But they were very understanding).
I know what you’re thinking, “Wow. This shot is sexy as hell”.,
But I didn’t take this picture.
I downloaded the cover page image from Beacon and inserted it into a screenshot mockup provided by Place.to.
I purchased 10 credits ($9) to upload images and use their templates, without their watermark. Nice, huh?
Step 2: Themes & Hashtags
For your first few posts, you want to set the tone of your brand.
What is your theme?
Will it be Entertaining? Informative? Beautiful?
What’s your value proposition?
With Grow & Convert , I concentrated on:
- Inspirational quotes from other content marketing firms and professionals
- “Small Wins” that gave quick instructions for someone to be able to do a task on their own that was not difficult, and would provide value to their content marketing efforts
- A Product Push that advertised recent blog posts published by them
- Funny business quotes
With your theme set, it’s now time to start researching the best hashtags to use that are relevant to your industry using Iconosquare (the pro feature).
If you’re not using hashtags for each of your posts, that are relevant to your industry, and message, you might as well be invisible.
For a Content Marketing firm, I used such hashtags like:
#marketing #strategy #digitalmarketing #contentstrategy #leadership #marketingtips #strategies #hardworkpaysoff #success #business
Did you notice “strategy” and “strategies”?
Strategy is used 296.1K times. Strategies, 26.3K times. So yes, when you’re thinking of the best hashtags to use, research their plural forms as well.
Iconosquare offers excellent analytics for your Instagram profile, even providing such information like the best hour and day for you to post.
Once you have figured your 30 hashtags, save them in the ‘Notes’ section of your phone. This way, all you have to do is copy and paste it into the post.
Hint: Post the hashtags into the FIRST COMMENT. It keeps your posts from looking cluttered AND after 3 (or 4 comments) it “disappears”.
Step 3: The First Posts
Enter Canva & Word Swag
Canva handles all my design needs.
Adios Illustrator & Photoshop!
Whether I’m designing a poster, an infographic, or a social media post (hint, hint) — this is the tool I go back to every time.
Word Swag is an app that let’s you create text over images. The images can be from your personal camera roll or you can use the free images they provide for about every occasion you can think of.
You can choose from over 40 styles of font that capture the emotion behind your quote, meme, or story. This app is EASY to use. It took my design time down from hours to minutes.
Step 4: Content Management
Thank goodness for Later
Later let’s you create a content schedule for your Instagram posts.
Eventhough, you can’t ‘set it and forget it’ like other social media scheduling platforms like Buffer or Hootsuite — if Later didn’t exist you would have to publish each post manually.
And that sucks.
With Later, you can pre-plan your posts, for various times in a day, week, or month — with the context, tags, and hashtags, if you wish.
When it is time to post, it will send you a notification. After that you are copying and pasting.
It will automatically save your context onto your clipboard. So you will be pasting your context into the Instagram post, pretty easily. Publish. Last step, copy and paste your hashtags (that you have already saved in your ‘Notes’ app) as your first comment.
Step 5: Finding Your Audience
The Crowdfire app used to have a feature called ‘Copy Followers’. You would enter in profile names of business’ or brands similar to yours (or even your competitors) and it would give you a list of people who followed them.
“So, if this brand focuses on content marketing…and this person is following them…then perhaps they would appreciate my content as well”.
Good thinking Ace.
It was presented in list form and there was a “+” sign next to each of their profile names. It let you add 60 profile names per hour. So you add 60 profiles you like using the “+” key, until it told you you’ve reached your limit.
I set my alarm clock for 1 hr and repeated the process.
You do this all day, for two days (Or in my case, for about 6–7 hours).
On Day 3, those who did not follow you back — you unfollow, again using the Crowdfire app. This time you go to ‘non-followers’ and there is a “-” button next to their profile. Going down the list 60 times until you’ve reached your limit. I set my alarm clock. Repeat.
This was the cycle for 21 days-ish (I took some weekends off).
Note: I’m sorry to say that as of June 1st, Crowdfire had to take away the feature, ‘Copy Followers’. Even though this feature is not available any more (free, nor paid) I wanted you to know how I did it.
This Isn’t Going According to Plan
So, we have an influx of followers. The numbers are growing each day.
But over time you look at the analytics and the comments and there’s a problem.
- No one is clicking on the opt-in. Yup, zero opt-ins. (???)
- The comments were generic.
Let’s dig into it a little deeper.
Even though the articles we put together received high conversions, comments, and sign-ups on their own, they didn’t seem to capture people’s attention in the guide book offer.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to A/B split test some other opt-in options.
This was especially surprising.
It wasn’t that we weren’t getting comments from people, we were getting between 3–7 comments per post (not bad), but it was ‘generic commenting’.
And what I mean by ‘generic commenting’ is:
- A one word comment like “nice!” or “cool!”
- An emoji, like a “thumbs up”
My assumption with the generic commenting is that people were using programs to try and comment on our posts to grow their following. Yes, you can pre-schedule comments across profiles. That’s a thing.
It was unfortunate that they weren’t interested enough to fully engage with the conversation and leave a substantial comment.
There could be a number of reasons for this:
- They felt as if I was posting “at” them.
- I wasn’t addressing their “pain points”.
- I didn’t encourage the conversation, i.e., “share your opinion in the comments”
It goes to show you that
Building a following doesn’t necessarily mean it will increase engagement, conversions, or your revenue.
If I Had 30 More Days…
Looking at this project, from a landscape point of view, here is how I would have turned it around:
- Ask the audience open questions.
- Share “30 second video trailers” (as I like to call them) of some of the most relevant points in a Grow & Convert blog post that really HITS a pain point of the audience or inspires them to take action.
- Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate.
- Work across platforms. I just read a post by one of the Grow & Convert
co-founders on Increasing Blog Engagement, and for someone who is a heavy gif user in emails — I didn’t think of using gifs for my response on Twitter.
5. A/B split test everything. Study the analytics, the engagement, opt-ins, and really DIG into the comments. Then I would implement like hell.
I would even go as far as reaching out to some audience members, via direct message on Instagram, that really participate into the conversation — and ask them more questions about their pain points and what they would like more of.
Overall my main goal is to:
Produce material that matters — and avoid material that just matters to the ego
WITH THAT BEING SAID…
And putting aside my LOVE for Instagram, would I continue using Instagram to help build up Grow & Convert for another 30 days?
Would I suggest it for a Content Marketing Group?
After 21 days of time and energy put into this project, there were no clicks on the link in the bio (not one.) and the engagement was lack lustre. I got the point.
Don’t try to squeeze water from a rock.
Grow & Convert was doing great before Instagram, and obviously hasn’t skipped a beat since dropping it. They focus their efforts on doling out great blog posts (which receive HIGH engagement, shares, and even full sentence comments. Gasp!), growing their monthly unique visitors (somewhere in the 20Ks — I believe), building their email list (currently in the 5Ks — I think), and enhancing their SEO.
With the value their giving and obvious results that move them to their goals, there’s no point in giving Instagram a second look.
Instagram, without a doubt, is a behemoth platform for growth in revenue and growing your audience for online — and local — establishments. Though for a Content Marketing Group, there are better strategies and platforms available that can render tangible results.
We’re all going to the same place, but we don’t have to take the same road.
So, for the first time, I realize that you can’t always build an engaged audience on the Instagram platform. The lessons we learn.