February 23, 2018 Megan Erickson

Surviving Instagram in 2018

Instagram has over 800+ million engaged monthly users. The photo-sharing platform is on track to hit a billion users this year, and currently boasts an estimated $100 billion market value. And while it falls behind its parent company, Facebook, in size and value, it outpaces Facebook’s engagement rates by over 15%.

While using Instagram may seem as simple as posting an image and calling it a day, the Instagram algorithm plays an important role in determining what each person sees when they open their phone. These parameters are an ever-changing puzzle, but if you understand how to leverage the rules you can take your Instagram—and your business—to the next level.

You won’t reach 100% of your audience. 

As a baseline, Instagram puts your content in front of a (somewhat) random grouping of users that make up 10% of your following. From there, it’s a race to get as much engagement as possible in the shortest amount of time. If your post shows an early burst of engagement, the algorithm determines that it’s content relevant to your audience, and puts it in front of more people. How do you get those infuriatingly necessary bursts of engagement? Read on.

Golden hour isn’t just for sunsetsBy posting at peak traffic periods, you increase the chances that your engaged followers will be online and ready to give your post the boost it needs to climb higher on the feeds of your followers. Users who regularly interact with your content are prioritized in the first 10%, so make sure you’re playing into their schedules. Trampoline’s prime posting time is Saturday at 1:00 pm, followed closely by Sundays at 2:00 pm. As a rule, weekday posts are optimal around 4:00 pm.

How do you know when prime posting time is? For the average user it’s as easy as trial and error. A safe bet for most accounts is early afternoon or late evening; times when people are taking a break or unwinding after a long day. Avoid the morning or right after the work day ends, people are traveling and not on their phones. Hopefully.

Shadowbanning; not as scary as it sounds. Ever wish you could put someone on mute? Instagram went ahead and did it. Shadowbanning is Instagram’s way of dealing with accounts that they consider spam. It’s a temporary ban that stops your content from appearing in search results and on most of your followers feed, a measure that the algorithm thinks will improve the average user’s experience. Engagement drops off dramatically, new followers will slow to a stop. Luckily, many of the ways you can avoid shadowbanning are also great for engagement (coincidence? Think not.), read on to find out more.

Think those hashtags through. The beauty and the nuanced headache of the new algorithm (which will probably have changed by the time I finish writing this) is the key role that hashtags now play. The days of engagement pods, purchased followers, and bots are screeching to a halt, and in their place rises the era of savvy hashtag leveraging. Where hashtags like #like4like #instagood #photography used to be a safe bet for legions of bot likes, now the only thing they’ll accomplish is a quick and silent shadowban on your account. A few quick hashtag tips below:

  • Five is plenty, less is better. Five relevant and well considered hashtags will do far more for your post than 30 irrelevant ones. The average amount of hashtags on posts made by accounts with over 100k followers is just two.
  • Don’t reuse hashtags too often. Want to gram something with #graphicdesign 12 days in a row? Instagram will flag that as spam, earning you a shadowban. 
  • There is strength in (small) numbers. Whatever you do, do not use hashtags that have over a million existing posts. There are few quicker ways to get shadowbanned, and by using a collection of hashtags with depths of 5,000–500,000 existing posts you drastically increase your chances of being seen in a search.
  • Don’t put hashtags in the comments. If you’ve been on Instagram in the last year, you’ve seen users commenting on their own posts with lists of hashtags. There’s logic in this approach—relegating the hashtags out of the caption and into the comments cleans up your post, diminishing the risk of a “read more” scenario. Starting in January of 2018, Instagram no longer includes images hashtagged in the comments in the search feature. All your hard work putting together strategic hashtag groups ends up wasted unless you keep them in the caption.

Engagement goes both ways. The best way to drive engagement is to engage in-kind. Spending an hour or so each day interacting with your followers through likes and comments is essential to a well-rounded social presence. While likes are great for getting the burst you need to climb the feed, genuine comments are even more valuable. In an effort to cut down on bot comments, the algorithm has deemed comments less than four words to be spam comments which don’t count toward engagement in a valuable way. If your followers are commenting less than four words, it’s no big deal, you can boost your own engagement numbers by replying back to them within the first hour with a four-or-more reply. Bonus points if your reply facilitates a conversation in your comment section. YOU get a comment, YOU get a comment, EVERYBODY GETS A COMMENT!

Utilize the valuable tool that is Stories. There has never been a better time to use the Instagram Stories feature. Instagram has positioned itself as one of the most valuable tools on the market for businesses, and Stories are more important than you may think for keeping your engagement numbers up. The new algorithm rewards accounts for posting stories, so dust off that iPhone and get to boomaranging!

  • Temporary by design, permanent by choice. The introduction of the Story Highlights feature took stories from a 24 hour blip to a permanent feed of dynamic content. Take your audience on a tour of your office, show them the behind-the-scenes process, or let your staff take the Story for the day and give a birds eye view of what it’s like to be part of the team. Want to feature a glimpse of everyone on the set of a video? Let it live for 24 hours. Want to give a tutorial that explains the basics of logo design? Save it to your Highlights—your followers and your engagement will thank you. 
  • People will watch, and that matters. Instagram Stories don’t live in a vacuum from the rest of your account. More stories equals more engagement, which in turn equals a higher placement on the feed.  
  • Prioritize interactivity. Tools like polls and hashtags allow you to get more engagement from each audience member, utilize them!
  • It’s all trackable. Like every other aspect of Instagram, Stories are trackable. Experiment with different tactics and styles and keep track of the swipe-through rate for each. You’ll be amazed by how much of what you thought was boring content is actually engaging, and vice versa.

Post it and leave it alone. One of the easiest ways to ruin your feed positioning is to edit your post in the first 24 hours. Making any changes to the caption will automatically kick you back to the bottom of your audience’s feed. You have two options if you spot a typo: ignore it and pray everyone else does too, or delete the post and repost it with the edits. Third option: proofread.

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