(a 10 minute read)
Instagram. You all know it. And if you don’t, here’s the gist: everyone’s happy, ”influencers” lurking around every corner, cute dogs are always welcome, it’s basically just the recycling bin of Twitter and TikTok, and-- Wait, no. That’s just one slice of a platform with over 1 BILLION monthly users...and it’s not going anywhere soon. Instagram isn’t only what I just listed - it’s one of the most popular, smartest and most advanced platforms out there and it has one huge bonus that most others don’t have: it’s owned by Facebook. And you don’t ever bet against Facebook.
Everyone of you reading this has probably asked themselves the following question multiple times by now: How do these regular people manage to build a massive following and earn a fortune while you’re doing nothing different? From the outside it seems pretty easy, right? Just take some cute pics of yourself, post them with some smart hashtags, promote the post in your story, keep on doing this for like 3 years and voilà, you’re jet-setting around the world and your whole life is a vacation...Actually, no. It’s much more than that.
Instagram = Hard Work
What I just described is so misleading for so many people because the exact opposite is true. Excelling at something while making it look easy is probably the best sign that someone is a master at what they’re doing. Don’t get me wrong, the principles to master IG (and all other social media platforms, for that matter) are really simple to understand and everyone should be able to apply them - these platforms are specifically built that way. But simple things that have to be done consistently over large periods of time aren’t necessarily easy.
I wrote this blog post to help all of you understand the nuances of IG a little better and to bring you closer to your goals. I won’t be able to go into the smallest details and I won’t be able to list every secret tactic and hidden trick, because this is just a blog post and not a book. And while I’m at it, check out the actual book we wrote about the A-Z of online branding if you want to dive deeper into the subject matter by HITTING THIS LINK. (I know that’s a shameless plug but I just HAD to take this opportunity…)
Instead, I tried to boil down all principles into five main categories and I’ll go over each one of them in the following paragraphs. Before I do, let me say this: online branding isn’t a get-rich-quick thing. It requires hard work, specific strategies and a lot of time if you want to go far - the reason for why so many don’t make it. But with you, I have the feeling that you can prove the naysayers wrong. Now let’s get into it. (and make sure to read until the end because the last step is probably the most important -- I know I know, everyone says that to keep you reading, but this time it’s true)
The 5 Steps To Success
Step 1: Create an account
Step 2: Log in
Step 3: Post some cute pics, add hashtags, promote the content
Step 4: ???
Step 5: Profit!
That’s it, goodbye.
Just kidding. Now let’s actually get into it.
#1) Content Is KING
Let’s get the obvious right out of the way: social media without content is nothing - I don’t have to explain that to you. But there are certain nuances to content that a ton of people and brands simply don’t seem to follow and it shows. Don’t get me wrong, the most important aspect of posting content is, well, actually posting content and doing it consistently. Pumping out one amazing piece and then vanishing for 100 years like the Avatar won’t do you any good, and that’s because of the way the algorithms are built. Let me explain.
The algorithms on all platforms aren’t programmed to filter everything for the most artistic users, they’re programmed to make people come back again and again and again. The most efficient way to do this is by designing platforms in such a way that high quality content gets rewarded whereas mediocre one simply doesn’t get recommended to as many people. Great content rises to the top. And there are three main nuances you have to keep in mind to make sure yours is comfortably sitting at the top.
Make it native.
In my intro I joked about how a large slice of IG is basically just repurposed content from Twitter and TikTok and that’s not a great thing. Sure, making use of Tweets and funny videos can be great if done creatively but you can’t rely on just that. Make sure that your IG is instantly recognizable and not just a copycat of your other socials or worse, the socials of other people. What you can do to limit the amount of work you have to put in is making use of pillar content. I won’t explain it in detail because I’ve already done so in a blog post I wrote about Gary Vee but put short, it’s this: create one larger piece of content that you can then remix into various styles of other, native forms of content and then publish that all over the Internet.
- Make it valuable to others.
The term “high quality” is often associated with the highest production value, the greatest aesthetic and a general sense of professionalism but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While all of these attributes obviously show that someone knows what they’re doing, valuable content simply means pumping out pics, videos and advice that your target audience can identify with and view helpful. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and create groundbreaking pieces of work every other day, you simply have to do what works and do it consistently. Which leads me to…
- Be consistent
As said above, pulling the Avatar move won’t get you far because consistency is key. If you want the algorithms to be kind to you, you have to actually bring people back to the platform again and again, which means you have to post again and again. This is also the reason for why it’s so important to truly believe in what you do so that you’re even able to do it consistently. Standing behind what you’re doing is vital because it’s your backup generator for the moments when your motivation dies out. It will make everything easier. So, don't be like Aang:
For everyone reading this that’s just starting out, here’s what you can do: document your journey. You don’t need to have everything already planned out. Just make sure that your content is native and valuable for your target audience and then keep on posting it consistently. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You will undoubtedly get new ideas, steer your content in new directions and switch things up every now and then. Just document your journey, be sincere in what you do and everything will pay off in the long run.
For the more advanced ones of you out there: stick to what you’re doing, find ways to improve your content bit by bit and start making sure the details are of a high quality as well. You could establish a theme in your feed, stick to a certain schedule, create a new series, think of a consistent color palette, and much much more. Your options are literally limitless because your only limitation is your imagination. But most importantly, don’t stop posting.
#2) The Power Of #Hashtags Done Right
Of course, simply posting your content and then leaving it untouched is not a good strategy to get it seen by as many people as possible. While creating content and publishing it is definitely the most important aspect of building a brand online, it’s just the first step of many. You have to keep on promoting it with all the tools you are given, the first of which - if you haven’t guessed yet - are hashtags.
Some people view them as edgy and look down on them, others view them as spammy and also look down on them. The fact that you’re still reading tells me that you’re neither of those people. And that’s because you know that hashtags are probably the easiest way to get more free, organic reach across the platform. Not making use of hashtags is just a wasted opportunity and I’ll tell you why.
The first thing you have to do concerning hashtags is put them right under your post - you can put them in your description or in your comments, it’s up to your personal preferences. Personally, I always put them in the comments because it makes the post look cleaner as a whole package. But don’t just post any unrelated hashtags you like or basic ones like #postoftheday, #sunny and #me. They have to be specific and ideally sorted in a very particular manner:
Finding the right hashtags takes some time but it’s worth it. You should test a few different combinations of them under your posts just to see how they perform and which ones work best. Once you find a set that gets you good results, keep on using them while also testing out new ones. We always include 5-10 hashtags in the ~500k posts range, 5 hashtags in the 1m-3m posts range and 5 hashtags in the 5m+ posts range. (if you didn’t know, you can look up the number if posts by clicking on a hashtag and it will be displayed there; that’s their range)
This combination will give you more diversity and it’s easier to gain traction in the low post-range ones that then carries over to the larger ones. Yes, it’s possible to include up to 30 hashtags on a single post but most of the time that’s not necessary and can sometimes even lower your performance. If you want, you can also come up with personalized, branded hashtags to create a sense of community with your following which can have wonderful effects, too. But don’t even begin to think that we’re done with hashtags already.
#3) Engage With Your Entire Community
Simply adding hashtags to your posts is just one way of using them for free, organic reach but the more effective way lies in using them to connect. Using the right combination to get better chances at ranking higher isn’t just to get more people to see your posts - it’s to get more interactions with your posts and the same goes the other way around. What do I mean?
When you post something and comments are slowly coming in, make sure to answer every single one of the comments you get (if you have millions of followers, that will be hard to do but those are problems for a different time). But don’t just comment on your own posts. Instead, make use of Gary Vee’s famous $1.80 technique and unleash the true power of hashtags. (video linked below)
Your community isn’t just the people that follow and interact with you; it’s the greater community you yourself are a part of. The strategy is really straightforward and really hands-on. Put simply: what you should do is browse through 5-10 of the most popular hashtags in your niche and simply comment on a few posts each, every single day. If you do that on just 9 posts in 10 different hashtags, all you have to do is comment 90 times in one day. But don’t just post useless nonsense like “Nice”, “WOW!” or worthless emojis without anything else. Try to leave sincere comments that offer some value and that people can preferably respond to. Try being genuinely helpful and caring, compliment them on their progress, point out specific things in their content, ask questions and do anything you’d love to see on your own posts. By doing this, you’re allowing others to engage with your comment, which not only boosts the algorithm but also makes others notice you - something that can help you grow your audience pretty quickly if you stay consistent.
Another thing you should do is follow and interact with lots of accounts in your niche so the algorithm can pick that up and start putting you in the related tab on other people’s profiles. This is a really simple but very effective strategy for even more free reach. What you should also do to strengthen your own community is cross-promote all of your content across all of your socials to create a greater sense of your brand and to make your followers feel like an integral piece of the whole. I could go on and on about ways to use the opportunities platforms are giving us but this post would be way too bloated then…...That’s why you should definitely check out our other socials to continue learning - cheeky cross-promo right there!
But creating a greater sense of community isn’t just limited to what people can see...
#4) It Goes Down In The DMs
It’s simple: make yourself known. DMs aren’t just something to slide into - yes, you can (and should) reach out to people and simply chat with them, be thankful and initiate conversations but DMs can be used for sooo much more. Probably the best way to grow your brand is through collaborations...it’s called social media for a reason.
Gary Vee summarizes this under “get discovered” and he’s spot on. Don’t sit around waiting for others to notice you. Make them. Reach out and ask for collaborations with others, stay active and make more and more people familiar with your name, style and message. Start forming relationships and build on them. The worst that can happen when you DM someone is that they simply don’t bother to answer. Easy, get over it and DM the next person. And the next. And so on. The people that do answer are the ones you should be paying attention to.
And it doesn’t even matter if you’re running a personal account, a fan page or if you're trying to build a business - the method works for all cases. For example, if you’re trying to build a personal brand, you could reach out to others with the same goal and simply keep in contact over time to form genuine relationships. That way you could start awesome partnerships, benefit from each other’s reach and, most importantly, you can grow together with the whole world watching. There’s nothing that compares to being able to look back a couple of months or years and appreciating how far you’ve come...a joy that’s only multiplied if you can share it with someone else.
If personal branding isn’t your thing, there are still a ton of ways you could do the same thing. For themed pages: reach out to similar pages (probably with a similar audience size for the beginning, but the point is growing together so bigger channels can notice you, too) and start promoting each other’s content. It’s free and it can work wonders for boosting initial growth. For businesses: do the same thing. Make use of micro-influencer marketing and reach out to influencers with “smaller” audiences (2k-25k followers) and offer your services or products to them for little to no upfront cost. Do that consistently and watch your business grow as these influencers grow. The higher your follower count rises, the bigger the influencers you’re able to reach out to and you’ll eventually grow exponentially if you do it right. There’s really no downside to it.
In any case, simply provide as much value as you can and give more than you’re asking for. Being kind and altruistic can go a long way in a world where the standard is pretty much nothing. It’s a fresh breath of air.
One other tactic DMs can be useful for is DM engagement groups. This is basically everything I’ve talked about so far but located in one spot. Simply put all of these similar accounts, people or brands you’re conversing with in one group chat and repeat the service for each other to form a strong front that can take the Internet by storm. It’s a long and tedious grind but that just means most people won’t do it. So if you do, you’ll win.
#5) Practicing 1 Kick 1,000 Times
If you don’t know what this title is referring to, it’s a famous quote by Bruce Lee that basically says one thing I’ve been trying to hammer home like a millions times throughout this blog post: consistency is key.
Starting a brand online is easy. Growing it is the hard part. You don’t half-ass it and BOOM, you’re there. You have to be present every single day and you have to give it the full attention it deserves or you’ll lack behind. Nobody starts off as a master in their craft. The saying goes that one needs 10,000 hours of experience to be called a master and that really puts things into perspective. Lucky for all of us, we don’t have to wait these entire 10,000 hours before we see results. Success isn’t just reserved for the elite. You can become successful much sooner and still continue to improve, to learn and to continue being the best version of yourself. You’ll regret not doing it.
Take over responsibility and stop blaming others or luck. Be proactive and worry about the things you can control. Have the guts to quit something if it doesn’t work out or if it isn’t making you happy. Stop sleepwalking through life and take matters into your own hands. Once you’re done reading this, you’re on your own. Will you be one of the people that take all this knowledge and put it to work or will this be just another blog post you browsed through only to end up in the same place as before?
That’s it from me. And now for the obligatory because, after all, this is something for social media and what would it be without shameless plugs: go and check out our IG to learn more about building a brand online and don’t forget to check out our other channels, too, on YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and our Antidote Facebook Forum for even more insights. Other than that, I don’t have much else to say for now. Start taking action.
Until then. Take care.