To help discover some of the secrets to building a brand on Instagram, I spoke to Kiki Von Glinow -- Director of Growth & Analytics at The Huffington Post and the creator of their #DoItForTheInsta newsletter -- to get her top tips for entrepreneurs and creators.
1. Define Your Brand
"Figuring out what or who your brand is is one of the toughest but most imperative steps on your Instagram journey," Von Glinow says. It's important to take some time to think about who your ideal audience is, and what you'll be offering them, to ensure that you're providing value. "Who do you want to be," Von Glinow recommends asking yourself, "and what does that representation of yourself or brand do to cultivate the audience you want?"
And don't be afraid to niche down, she says. Niche is actually a good thing. Limitations not only provide you with a clear mission, but it helps your followers (and potential followers) immediately understand what you're offering. "Audiences have their go-to Instagram for New York restaurant recommendations, their go-to newsletter for running tips, their go-to app for news," Von Glinow says, "So what will you be their go-to for?"
2. Get Thirsty
Often times, new Instagrammers have an aversion to using hashtags; they worry that if they have too many, they might look desperate. But hashtag use is the key to discoverability on Instagram, Von Glinow says.
"One of the major ways to inject your account into the larger Instagram conversation is to get thirsty by hashtagging like a champion." But choosing the appropriate hashtags is key, Von Glinow says.
To get a sense of which hashtags might be most engaging for your niche, check out the tags being used on similar accounts. Then try entering one of those tags in the Search tab to see a list of related tags. If you scroll through those suggestions, you can dig into the full web of related tags. "Try a few and see if you notice an uptick in likes and follows," Von Glinow says. "My bet is you will!"
3. Engage. Engage. Engage.
When it comes to Instagram, Von Glinow says, "build it and they will come" does NOT apply. "You could have the most visually stunning Instagram account out there, but if you don't engage with the community that it's intended for, they'll never see it!"
The key to building a community, she says, is to identify the right kind of influencers and active accounts you see as similar to you or part of your ideal audience, and to spend time engaging with them. "Follow them, like their photos and comment frequently, and it's likely that they'll return the favor," Von Glinow says.
"These relationships go a long way when it comes to growing your audience," she says. Not only does the reciprocal liking and commenting help increase your own engagement, but when users see accounts they like engaging with you, it acts as social proof, offering you third-party credibility and increasingly the likelihood that other accounts will see yours as valuable, too.
4. Stay Consistent
Instagram is not a "set it and forget it" platform. Unlike other platforms, where scheduling tools and auto-optimization can help keep the machine running while you focus on other initiatives, Instagram requires constant and consistent activity and effort.
"Implementing these tactics once in a blue moon isn't going to work," Von Glinow says. "You've got to stick to it!"
A gap of a day or two in your posting cadence or similar lull in outreach will show up as a dip in your own account's engagement. Von Glinow recommends posting at least once per day, and engaging with your community through likes, comments and follows with the same degree of regularity in order to keep things consistent.
Instagram doesn't exist in a bubble, cut off from your real life connections. Leverage those relationships to help foster growth in your Insta-community.
"Create some casual Instagram partnerships with your IRL friends who have a similar Instagram aesthetic," Von Glinow suggests. You can promote each other's accounts in whatever way is most natural. "Start an Instagram story on one account and then encourage followers to finish that story on the other account," she suggests, "or do an in-feed post using an image or video from another account, encouraging your followers to check them out, and have them return the favor." Permission is crucial, of course, and the cross-promotion will be much better if you're truly partnering to support one another.