Social media platforms change with alarming frequency these days.
For years, Instagram was a haven of chronological posts that almost guaranteed engagement as long as you timed your post correctly and shared something interesting.
But that reality is no more.
Recent changes offer users more control over their feeds, which means it may be getting more difficult to engage with your audience.
Instagram’s users may be able to see fresher posts, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever see your content.
That means you’ll need to change your approach if you want to stay at the top of the Instagram pile.
And to do that, you have to know what actually works for other brands who have cracked the code.
This post will give you nine ways to do just that.
But first, you have to understand Instagram’s current landscape and how it affects your brand.
Breaking down the Instagram landscape
In 2016, Instagram announced their efforts to favor the moments you “care about the most” in your feed.
Since then, marketers have been looking for ways to optimize their content and stay ahead of the Instagram algorithm to keep engagement levels high.
As you’re no longer guaranteed to show up in a chronological feed, you have to find a creative way to stay in front of your online audience.
And as the press release indicates, Instagram’s current algorithm filters content based on your user’s previous behavior.
So in theory, the more your audience interacts with your brand, the more they’ll see your posts.
That isn’t exactly great news for most marketers though.
The overwhelming tendency is to treat engagement as the number one metric on Instagram, and all of these changes have caused engagement to go down.
So success on Instagram requires brands to find new ways to continue building engagement and follower count.
But to start engaging with Instagram users in the first place, you have to know who they are and what they’re like.
First and foremost, Instagram users are predominately young.
Your audience is primarily millennials for now, and they have different shopping patterns than previous generations.
And perhaps even worse, the average user misses over 70% of their feed.
That means even your best content isn’t guaranteed to be in front of your audience no matter what you do.
So if it’s so hard to get views and engagement, why focus on Instagram at all?
To understand that, you have to understand the raw marketing power of visual engagement.
According to research, visuals are a more retainable form of sharing information and news.
We retain vastly more information from things we see, which means visuals are important.
That makes Instagram, which is a primarily visual channel, an essential part of many brands’ digital presence.
Brands that create visually-appealing or artisan items often rely on Instagram to engage with their audience when blogging.
They use Instagram as an essential piece of their social media sales funnel, so success on this platform is life or death.
And studies have shown that people buy items they see on social media all the time.
More than 42% of social media users have made a purchase simply because they saw it in their feed.
So finding a way to break the algorithm in your favor and increase your engagement can help your brand push sales through Instagram.
And to do that, you have to create content that resonates with your audience and fosters interaction between your followers and your brand.
Thankfully, there are plenty of proven methods that will let you accomplish that on a regular basis.
The nine solutions in this post are data-backed and brand-approved methods for boosting engagement.
And the first one you can start using right now.
Solution #1: Use Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories is the Snapchat-esque element of Instagram that allows users to create and share content that disappears after 24 hours.
Launched in late 2016, it’s quickly become a favorite of brands and users alike to share their days with their followers.
By October 2017, more than 300 million users were creating Stories on a daily basis.
Plus, more and more marketers are using Stories to help drive engagement with their brand.
But are Stories actually an effective way for brands to engage with their audience?
According to this case study, the answer is yes.
The designer brand Revolve has used Instagram Stories to create and share powerful campaigns on their profile.
In the case study linked above, they launched their #Revolveme campaign.
The point of this effort was to find and share user-generated content that centered around their brand.
Customers could purchase clothes and then upload their own photos with the hashtag #revolveme in hopes of being featured in the brand’s Stories.
While you might think that most of the Stories they share look like professional models, the reality is that they’re all user submitted.
That means they’re not only sharing their audience’s content, but they’re also getting free, high-quality content at the same time.
And the results speak for themselves.
According to the study, the brand started having an average of more than 66,000 impressions on each Story.
With an exit rate of only 6.27%, it’s clear that their efforts were successful.
And since the brand is still sharing the #revolveme Stories, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll drop the campaign anytime soon.
So if you’re struggling to boost your engagement, start sharing your own Stories.
Solution #2: Hire a professional
Not everyone is destined to be a photographer, and that’s okay.
But Instagram is a visual platform.
Therefore, visuals are the heart of your work.
So if you’re not the best photographer, you may actually be hurting your brand’s performance in the long run.
And to make matters worse, you may not even have a camera that shoots a good picture according to today’s standards.
Just look at the quality difference in these two images from an iPhone 6s and an iPhone 8.
This iPhone 6s image might look good at first glance.
But when you post it next to its successor from the iPhone 8, the differences really stand out.
The newer phone offers brighter colors and much better focus.
But if you’re stuck with an older model phone, chances are your audience will notice in your image quality.
So you have a few options when it comes to hiring a professional photographer.
You can certainly find someone local or even see if someone already in your organization has a talent for photography.
Or, you can turn to the online gig economy using a site like Upwork.
These freelance Instagram marketers can help guide the imagery that your brand uses to help you engage with your followers.
And since they all offer something a little different, you can probably find someone who matches both your needs and your budget.
But does a professional photographer actually make a difference?
According to Vulpine Interactive, it certainly seems so.
Vulpine Interactive was working on the digital presence of one of their clients called Sixthreezero Bicycle Company.
When they first started working with them, they noticed that the photography on their Instagram wasn’t quite on-brand.
One of the first recommendations they made was to change the photography and optimize their Instagram, which involved hiring a professional.
By combining their new Instagram approach with some other website initiatives, Sixthreezero saw a 300% growth in website traffic over seven months.
So if it helped this brand to hire a photographer, it’s worth looking into for your own business.
Solution #3: Stay true to trends
If you’re in an industry that changes a lot, you know how hard it is to stay current with just those trends.
So when you start exploring new trends in an unknown arena, it can get overwhelming very quickly.
And every year sees plenty of visual trends change and evolve as they go.
Just check out some of these images that are considered a part of this year’s trends.
This image is meant to be a powerful visual that attempts to make a statement.
It’s dramatic, tells a story, and makes the viewer wonder what’s actually happening here.
But just look at that picture in comparison to this one:
They couldn’t be more different.
The second photo is deadpan and almost static compared to the first, yet both are considered trendy.
While it may not suit your personal style, learning and adhering to these visual trends can help you engage with your Instagram audience and stand out from the crowd.
What’s more, you can also look at established trends on Instagram that other brands have seen success with.
60% of the top brands use the same filter and lighting for all their Instagram photos. It’s about creating a photo strategy.
Just look at Gucci.
There’s consistency and strategy behind both.
Two of Condé’s publications, Vanity Fair and GQ, were able to drive traffic and see a return on investment after partnering with Dash Hudson by harnessing visual storytelling.
Condé Nast’s Director of Digital and Social Strategy, Rochelle Stewart, says, “Instagram is a natural fit for us as it allows our brands to tap into what they do best — visual storytelling, beautiful photography, imagery that is both inspirational and aspirational.”
It’s clear that creating a visual strategy for Instagram is crucial.
Posting with a consistent filter, images with faces, and tagging your location can help you engage more and stay in your audience’s feed.
You can even base your Instagram filter on your location if you want to get specific.
The point here is that other brands have noticed trends through trial and error that you can take advantage of.
If you focus on following these established trends with your own Instagram, you’re more likely to see the results you want.
Solution #4: Fire up live video
Live streaming is quickly becoming one of the most important things your brand can do.
According to a recent study, video streaming currently accounts for more than two-thirds of Internet traffic.
That means it’s not only being created in vast quantities, but it’s also being consumed as well.
And since 2016, Instagram has allowed brands to launch their own Live videos natively on their app.
The results have been more than most could ever imagine, including the people behind the Old House Vintage Market profile.
In just one event, they gained 1,151 followers.
That’s almost 80% of their current following, and they got it in less than one day.
They even went back and re-recorded the video on a phone to make sure they could keep it.
If a small brand like this can use Live video so effectively, imagine what it could do for a brand that already has thousands of followers.
By engaging with a larger audience on Instagram, you encourage interaction and push yourself to the top of the news feed.
It doesn’t even have to be planned either.
Just fire it up and share what you’re doing right now or look for ideas that you can share.
As long as you can engage with your followers, you can grow your brand and crack the Instagram algorithm.
Solution #5: Post at the right time
If you’ve been around social media for a while, you’ve likely seen study after study that seeks to find the perfect time to post.
Instagram has plenty of those studies, and they’re definitely worth your time and attention.
According to this post from Sprout Social, Instagram sees the most traffic during the midday periods in the middle of the week.
That may mean that plenty of people are sitting at their desks browsing Instagram, but it also means you should be looking to highlight your posts at those times too.
But don’t take the above image as the final word on when you should actually post.
The above graph looks at engagement, not necessarily posting times.
To find that out, you have to take a look at what CoSchedule has cooked up.
This points you in the direction of posting early in the morning and just before rush hour traffic hits.
If you post in times where there’s too much congestion (or not enough), you could potentially miss out on engagement due to heavier filtering.
Posting for off-work hours seems to be the solution favored by brands that use Instagram, which means you may be sharing your content at the wrong time.
Instead, follow the advice above and try to find the times that give your brand the greatest amounts of engagement.
Solution #6: Reach more people with hashtags
If you’re like me, you’ve probably scratched your head a bit when it comes to hashtags.
While it seems like everyone is using them, they’re not always beneficial when it comes to social media.
But Instagram is an altogether different matter.
The uniqueness of Instagram’s visual platform makes it the perfect platform to utilize hashtags.
When a user clicks on a hashtag from a post they’re viewing, they’re taken to a page that shows more custom hashtags.
For example, check out this recent post from actor Chris Pratt:
In it, he uses #farmlife.
When you click the hashtag, you’re taken to a list of every post that’s used that same hashtag.
This invites the user to scroll through, find more images they like, and engage with more profiles.
So using popular hashtags appropriately can help you extend the reach of your brand and find new audience members.
And to do that, I highly recommend using a Chrome extension like Hashtest to help you find high-volume hashtags.
All you have to do is input the hashtags you’re thinking about and it will give you instant feedback on how useful it is.
When you find the right hashtags, include them in your posts on a regular basis.
Your images will have greater reach, and you can appear more often in more feeds over time.
Solution #7: Use an influencer
When it comes to influencer marketing, no other platform comes close to Instagram.
By far, influencers love to create and share brand collaborations on Instagram.
The visual, product-driven nature of the platform makes it the perfect place to create and share content that followers want to engage with.
That means you can use this trend to your advantage by finding influencers who are interested in your brand.
And influencers are seeing some major growth in just the past few years alone.
With new influencers and creators continually coming on the scene, the opportunities for your business are plentiful.
Take a look at how the ASOS Insiders campaign utilized influencers to help them sell their product.
This campaign focused on an exclusive group of young adult influencers who were hand-picked to show off the ASOS brand clothes.
By tapping into the audiences that these influencers already had, ASOS created a global phenomenon that’s still very much alive today.
As of right now, ASOS has more than seven million followers on their Instagram account.
That means with every post they share, millions of viewers have opted in to see their content.
But you don’t have to have a huge budget to pull this feat off.
You can find influencers with thousands of followers who would be willing to help share your brand.
It’s one of the fastest growing Instagram marketing areas, and you would be wise to start using it for your own efforts.
Solution #8: Share user-generated content
We looked earlier at how a brand used user-generated content in their Stories, but the application for user-generated content is much larger than you may have previously imagined.
Studies have shown that sharing user-generated content makes your brand more authentic and humanizes your company.
That means that the more you share the content your users provide, the more they’ll feel that you’re actually relatable and worthy of their attention.
What’s more, it’s seen as “helpful” or “invaluable” to 99% of marketers.
So sharing more user-generated content is the perfect way to help bring your brand back down to earth.
If your audience sees the opportunity to feature on your page, there’s a much better chance they’ll want to interact with you and create content for you.
Over the course of their study, they discovered that they were also saving five to ten hours per week on creating content.
And more importantly, their engagement went up by 21% over their original content.
Simply by sharing more of their user-generated content, they were able to see measurable improvements in their Instagram page’s activity.
So save time and boost your own engagement by utilizing your own audience’s content.
You’ll likely find that this strategy can help you see the same type of success in your own efforts.
Solution #9: Host a contest
Instagram contests are the final tactic that can help your brand beat the algorithm and increase your overall engagement.
And according to the State of Instagram report, 39% of businesses plan to do more contests in the coming years.
And when you look into the success that some brands have experienced, there’s no wonder why more businesses want to try this approach.
In this contest, Adidas asked its followers to create images that were inspired by their brand.
The best photos were then invited to model in a professional photoshoot, and they even got Selena Gomez to help them spread the word about the contest.
As a result of the contest, Adidas generated 71,000 mentions of the #MyNeoShoot hashtag and gained 41,000 new followers.
So using a creative contest for your own brand can lead to similar results.
Just make sure you establish clear rules, or the whole process could backfire.
Even if you don’t gain thousands of new followers, you’re almost guaranteed to get engagement from your current audience.
And that means you’ll be one step closer to breaking the Instagram algorithm, which means more reach and more engagement.
Instagram is a highly versatile platform that allows brands to engage with and sell to their online audience.
But changes to the algorithm in the last few years have raised a lot of questions about what actually works.
And with engagement being the number one goal of most Instagram brands, finding innovative ways to engage is more important than ever before.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways that your brand can consistently engage on Instagram.
Utilizing Stories can help you create a brand that’s always on and sharing.
If you’re lacking in photography skills, consider hiring a professional to help you bridge the gap.
Staying in tune with recent trends will also help you know what type of imagery seems to work best for your audience, which will be more appealing in the long run.
And creating live video can help you stay in the limelight and boost your brand in ways you never imagined.
Then, by focusing on posting at the right time, you can increase your overall engagement and always be present when your audience will see you.
Don’t forget to utilize hashtags, and make sure that you’re looking for influencers who can help promote your brand.
If possible, share user-generated content to humanize your brand and be more relatable to your followers.
And finally, don’t hesitate to create a contest that promotes sharing and engagement even further.
You have plenty of options to choose from if you want to see success on Instagram.
All that’s left is for you to create your plan and execute it.
What are your favorite Instagram engagement strategies?