Instagram may have only come onto the scene in 2010 – six years after Facebook, five years after YouTube and four years after Twitter – but it’s arguably the most dynamic social media platform, both in terms of innovation and growth. As a social media and digital marketing trainer and coach, I’m always updating my slides, and this is especially true for Instagram. Well, Instagram has changed its algorithm yet again, and this time however, it might not be all bad. Here’s what you need to know about the latest changes and how to use Instagram like a pro to keep that engagement high.
Instagram 2018 Algorithm: ‘Personalised’ is the Word
The last Instagram update left a good part of the app’s 1 billion users (note, was 800,000 in September 2017) scratching their heads about how to keep up engagement. While some proposed using less – or more – hashtags, others swore by the timing of posts on keeping engagement high.. Yet more believed that Instagram had put an X on some users with a shadow ban, thereby restricting the visibility of their content. As I found out during Deutsche Welle’s 2018 Global Media Forum in Germany earlier this month, the new algorithm removes most of the uncertainty.
According to Heiko Hebig, Instagram Partnership Manager for Central and Northern Europe, with the new algorithm, your Instagram feed is no longer chronological. Instead, every single Instagram user has a personalized feed based on their usage, interests and interactions. The Algorithm shows you content that matches your interest, has recently been posted, and is by accounts you tend to engage with. For instance, if you visit my Instagram profile frequently or comment on my stories, you’re more likely to see more of my Instagram content. If you’re consistently searching for Africa Travel photos on Instagram, you’ll be seeing more travel content on your ‘Explore’ feed, which 200 million people use daily. That said, if you follow thousands of people, it will be easier for you to miss important updates from your favourite accounts. To avoid this, turn on post notifications for those accounts.
What does this mean for Instagram account managers? How can you ensure that your Instagram content is liked, commented on, viewed and shared (engagement); that your content is visible (impressions) or that your audience continues to grow organically? Or to put it simply, how do you use Instagram like a pro? Here are some things to try immediately.
Quality & Relevant Content
Focus on publishing quality content that is relevant to your audience. As much as possible tailor your content to your audience, and don’t just autopost. Even if you do decide to schedule content to your feed, make sure you curate it by putting some thought into it. The more you do this, the more they will engage with your content, and the more likely your content is to show up in your followers’ feeds, on the ‘following’ stream or even the ‘top content’ streams.
“It’s about the quality of your content and will you be able to shine next to your competition…Differentiate from whatever your competition is doing. Be better, be different.” – Heiko Hebig
If there’s anything the last few years has taught us, it’s that people love watching videos. And who wouldn’t? It’s alive, more real. For Instagram, that means videos on your feed and also IG stories, which has ended up being a great asset for Instagram (although Snapchat did introduce that innovation). More and more people are watching IG stories so using the stories feature frequently helps ensure that your content is more visible as people engage with the platform throughout the day. That said, don’t forget to post videos directly on your feed as well. With the introduction of IGTV this week, video will definitely continue to be very important – especially since you can now create 15 seconds to 60 minutes worth of video content per post (versus 60 seconds for each IG story).
Yes, IGTV falls under video, but it’s spanking brand new, so it deserves a headline of its own. And by brand new, I mean it was announced by Instagram just this week! Is Instagram coming for YouTube? It sure looks like it! Not only is IGTV made for “creators”, it’s also got longer video upload lengths: up to an hour worth of video content! Why is Instagram going the “TV” route? Well, millennials are watching less and less TV, opting for digital video streaming instead (guilty, here), so yes, it’s quite strategic. I ran a number of polls to see what people think about IGTV – not surprisingly, the IGers seem to love it, while the Tweeps are a bit overwhelmed. How do you get IGTV? Simply update your Instagram app to the latest version (50.0) or download the IGTV app. While you cannot record video directly with the feature – this isn’t IG stories – you can upload previously recorded videos. Just make sure it’s in vertical format or it’ll be automatically cropped.
— Jemila #SisterhoodMatters 💫 (@jabdulai) June 21, 2018
For now, IGTV has a very simple interface with a search bar, a browse panel featuring suggested channels, popular channels and a tab of videos you’re watching. You also get to set up your own channel and upload videos with a name and short description, which people can then comment on. A notification is sent to you on Instagram each time someone does) and you get insights on the number of views per video. The videos don’t disappear. That said, I’m sure Instagram will add on more features – video editing, anyone? – in due time. What I’m most excited about when it comes to IGTV? Content. Oh, it’s about to get real creative and interesting in these streets Of course, we’re yet to see how IGTV plays out, but I’m going to reckon a guess and say it’ll be a hit.
Make It An Experience
The world is gradually moving from products and services to experiences, and that is true with virtual reality as it is with Instagram. Use as many of the tools and features available on Instagram to make your content feel as real as possible, especially where IG stories and IG Live are concerned.
For stories – make sure you are telling a story (duh!), as much as possible. Consider having about 8-10 stories in a day and don’t be shy, show your face. I really love the Poll feature that IG stories offers because it allows me to engage with my followers and get a sense of what they think about different issues. It’s also a great starting point for further conversation in the DMs, which could be good for businesses looking to enhance customer relationships.
For live videos – think intimacy. Invite your viewers into your world, get vulnerable if you can, go behind the scenes. How long should you run a live session for? About 20 minutes, but remember to leave the first 5 minutes for your audience to tune in. Keep copyrighted music to a minimum though – Instagram stops live videos which feature copyrighted music for more than a few minutes.
Publishing video to the feed – When publishing a video, get to the good stuff early and make it understandable even with the sound off. Try to upload videos in square or vertical format to enhance the viewing experience of your followers. Also, videos tend to reach IG users who don’t necessarily follow you, so use your caption wisely to give a good sense of what the video is about.
Tag Your Content
Hashtags and geotags – two key features of Instagram. Geotagging is basically linking your photo or video to a specific location – it could be where you currently are, where you have been, or a place relevant to the content you’ve shared. Most of my content is focused on travel, so I like to tag most of my old photos with the place I took the photo. Many people use hashtags in their Instagram captions, but probably not as effectively as they should. Focus on including relevant hashtags. Brand yourself or your business by creating custom hashtags specific to your business, and use some of the more generic community hashtags as well. Also, make sure the hashtags are actually relevant and don’t just max out the 30 hashtags allowance for each post. As Hebig put it:
“Every picture, every video can be described with two or three hashtags. Some people really overuse hashtags and think it will do magic. It will not. Focus on relevance…Don’t use 20 or 30 hashtags, even if the system allows that, it will not add any value.”
As much as possible, try to use all the content creation tools available on the Instagram app: the photos, videos, stories. While there is no silver bullet on the ideal number of times to post in a day, there are some trends that might offer guidance: post to the feed about 2-4 times a day (photos and videos) and post about 3-8 story segments a day. Remember, the feed is no longer chronological, so time of day doesn’t matter as much.
A recent feature, many Instagram accounts and marketers are still figuring out how to use highlights. The basic explanation is that you can use it to create “content buckets” of your stories and feature or spotlight them on your profile. To ‘highlight’ a story, just click on the ‘love’ button at the bottom right of each story you create. You will be prompted to either create a new highlight or add it to an existing highlight. Try to keep them focused and to about 10 max, otherwise what’s the point? You can see below for a screenshot of my story highlights.
Get Creative, Forget ‘Pretty’
You’d think that users of an app focused on visuals would care about how pretty, balanced or attractive a feed looks. Apparently, not. Trends analysed by Instagram indicate that people aren’t so concerned about accounts having a “theme” or “aesthetic”. Why? Well, most people don’t actually check out profiles, they interact with your (single) posts in the feed. So again, focus on optimising your content – quality and relevance – and don’t be afraid to get creative with infographics, quotes and even screenshots. Oh and in case you didn’t know, it’s possible to zoom in on photos on the feed, so small text is a go too. That said, if you care about aesthetics, nothing is stopping you either.
Link It Up
If you’ve already succeeded in growing your audience to over 10,000 or have a verified IG profile, you have a great opportunity to link up your Instagram with your blog, website, or other social media channels. Make the most of it. Beyond including links in your IG stories, you can also put a link in your bio. Why is this important? It allows your audience to get to know more about you and actually gain an interest in your story beyond a single post or story. Don’t yet have 10,000 followers? I’m sure “see link in bio” sounds familiar. Change up the link in your bio often and include a call to action in each of your posts to have them click that link.
The average IG user apparently refreshes the feed about 15 times a day, spending about 35 minutes on the platform daily. By applying any or all of the tips above and keeping in mind how the new Instagram algorithm works, you have an opportunity to not just get those eyeballs, but also to engage and build a real IG community or tribe, without spending any ad currency. Take some time to tinker around, experiment, and have some fun. How’s that for some instagood!
Want to learn more about how you can make Instagram work for you? Sign up for a personalized training or coaching session with me.
Jemila Abdulai is a digital strategist and social media trainer, policy consultant and the creator of Circumspecte. Follow her insights and exploits on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.