How to Find, Engage & Grow Your Audience on Instagram – Ad Free

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How to find and engage a following on Instagram

Instagram has quickly taken the social media world by storm. With more than 300 million users who share more than 70 million photos and videos each day, Instagram has grown from a network of close friends sharing photos to a global community of consumers and brands sharing moments and telling stories as they happen.

Just like its popular peer networks, Instagram has gradually added ads to the mix. Much to early adopters’ dismay, gone are the days of the ad free feed. But that doesn’t mean you have to jump on the paid social bandwagon to make the most of Instagram for business. Not yet, at least.

One thing has remained the same. Instagram is a visual discovery gem. As an early adopter myself, I love the app for this very reason. And I can name several places, blogs and products that I first discovered here – and now loyally follow or own.

It’s not surprising that Forrester found brand engagement to be highest on Instagram, coming in at 4.21%. To put that number in perspective, Facebook and Twitter came in at a measly 0.07% and 0.03% respectively.

Here are three ways to find and engage your target audience on Instagram the old fashioned way – completely ad free.

1. Target niche groups and communities with hashtags

Hashtags have been a primary mode of user exploration from day one. In June the network boosted the discoverability of hashtags with a new Explore page aimed at making discovery “immediate and effortless”.

Identify popular hashtags and use them to gain visibility among your target audience. Finding the right tags can take a little research, but utilizing the most relevant and widely used will garner the best results. Here are a few ways:

  • Find competitors and peer organizations and check what they’re using.
  • Use Instagram’s search feature – plug in key terms and phrases and go from there. Oftentimes one hashtag will lead you to the next.
  • Identify active users in your target. Are they using tags that are relevant to you and what you’re about?

Within the global Instagram community there are many niche groups that use hashtags to communicate. These are gold if you can find them. For example, here in Maine there is an active #igersmaine photo community. This hashtag would be a great way for a location or venue with scenic appeal to gain visibility. A more global example of a niche hashtag might be #dogsofinstagram. This would be a good fit for a retailer that sells dog toys and products.

2. Share the love with @mentions

The best way to tap into the already bustling Instagram community is by interacting directly with your peers and target audience through @mentions. Identify popular accounts that your audience already follows and @mention them in a relevant and authentic way. Chances are pretty good that the mentioned account will repost your post to their followers. Boom – you’ve just reached your target audience and deepened your community roots. Rinse and repeat.

3. Add context of place and brand with location tagging

If there is a local aspect to your business and the photo you’re sharing, be sure to tag the location. Tag photos taken at your location to strengthen the connection between the content and your brand/business name when they get extra exposure and play in popular hashtag feeds. Tag photos taken at popular locations to increase your exposure among users that are browsing memories and events captured at specific locations.

There you have it. Three easy-to-execute tactics for building your Instagram audience and boosting engagement. Of course, as with any marketing endeavor, you should be operating with a social media strategy to guide you. Keep tabs on how you’re doing and what’s working. Check out one of my favorite Instagram analytics tools – Iconosquare.

Despite the addition of ads, the shining star appeal of Instagram remains – a real-time newsfeed that allows for 100% organic reach, no restrictive newsfeed algorithm…yet. We shall see if the Facebook-owned network goes the way of its parent. For now, let’s enjoy the reach and exposure possibilities.

Have questions or just want to grab a cup of coffee? Drop me a line.