Updated: Mar 28, 2022
Before I start, I want to make it understood that I am NOT an expert at social media marketing. I have stumbled and bumbled my way up to 17 thousand followers over the past 2 years and grow about 100 followers per day currently. It has all been through trial and error, but I am often asked for tips so I am going to publish this article so that it is available to anyone who asks.
To begin, it is helpful to understand the different types of Instagram content and how they work. Reels, at the current time, are the best way to grab people's attention and "reel in" (pun absolutely intended) new followers. Then you keep them with feed posts and stories that provide value and entertainment.
When you make a reel, you have a few choices about the sound that will accompany it. You can use music to match the vibe of your reel, you can use a trending audio that someone else made (these are the lip-sync reels that you tailor to your niche), or you can make an original audio by speaking yourself (and it's possible to add background music if you'd like).
Personally, I like to use a mix of these. Don't be afraid to try something and have it flop. Some of my silliest, shortest reels have been the most popular.
This reel got over 2 million views. I don't even show my face and it uses an older song that is not very popular anymore.
This reel also got 2 million. It's a remix but with mostly original audio (it's just me talking)
This reel is an example of a lip-sync to a trending audio and got 155 thousand views.
** Please note that not every reel goes viral! With 17 thousand followers, my reels typically get around 5 thousand views.
Keep it short (7 seconds seems to be the magic number)
Add value: teach people something, surprise them, show them something they've never seen before.
Ask a question, either in the reel itself or in the caption
Go reel-mining. Spend 10 minutes scrolling reels and save your favourites, then recreate them but make it bees!
Feed posts are the OG Instagram content. They won't get as many views as reels, but you can do things to make them more engaging so that they are seen and shared by more people.
Now, I love a pretty picture, but the fact is they disappear quickly from the algorithm-based feed because people don't engage with them enough. Use an app like Canva (the free version is great!) to add text to your photo instead of hiding in the text in the caption, then just ask a one-line question in the caption to boost your engagement. Here is an example of a feed post like this that recently performed really well for me.
Carousels are also great for engagement. They're the feed posts that you need to swipe through to see stuff on each slide. Those swipes let the algorithm know that people are paying attention and your post is shown to more people. Canva has lots of carousel templates too! Here is an example of a recent carousel.
Stories are not going to win you any more followers, but they are the very best way to interact with the people who do follow you and keep them coming back. Show your face (but keep it short - the app will only do 4 stories in a row before it cuts you off and makes you start again and I find that a good place to stop). Make your stories engaging by using the poll and quiz stickers. Question boxes are great too but people are more likely use the simpler formats.
On the topic of polls, don't give people a negative option! Make the choices morally equivalent. Think about it - do you hit "no, I don't like this" on someone's stories? I don't - I just don't answer if my honest answer isn't what I know they want to hear and then they've lost a bit of engagement.
Also, make sure you share all of your reels and feed posts to your stories! The views count so there is no need to do the old cover-them-up trick (I recently read that that makes the viewer feel like you care more about the algorithm then about them and that resonated). Plus, it's a good chance to get some more engagement by using a poll or quiz (bonus if the quiz makes them go to the original post to find the answer!).
Couldn't tell you; I don't use them. I am sure they add to your reach if used properly. I'm just too lazy.
In my experience, paying to 'boost' a post has not worked at all. I still try it occasionally as I tweak the type of content I want to boost, but so far it has never paid off for me.
Go Forth and Create
I hope that some of that was helpful.
Be yourself, make Instagram work for you and not the other way around (if you aren't having fun, ask yourself why you are still doing it!), and be creative!