Updated: Jan 25, 2021
The social media environment is dense with individuals, corporations, organizations, and artists all trying to get noticed. With millions of competitors, it is a tall order to grow your audience.
Though it may be tempting to pump money into boosting your content early on, it is often money thrown away. In our research, we have found that the most successful approach is to grow organically until a strong following emerges of between 1,000-10,000 followers and at least 500 engagements - at this point, the quality of your content and appeal will have brought in your natural fit; the people that are most excited about your content, and with their adoration and support you will also greatly benefit from how the algorithm looks at your handle. At this point, if not before, you will really want to begin to grow using ads as well as organically.
How is it done? How does someone get to a milestone like 10,000 followers, 1,000 engagements, 100,000 views - how do you reach the algorithm in order to get exposure? Well, here is a guide to help you develop some serious organic traction.
What Are Your Goals?
The first thing you need to consider when diving into instagram marketing is what are our goals? It is easy to lose sight as to why we are on social media in the first place. It is easy to get wrapped up in sheer numbers like a high score board, and for many that will be their goal - the highest traffic metrics - but if your Instagram account represents a business, it is likely that the Instagram handle really isn’t about the numbers, is it?
Awareness is key and social media has a lot of potential in bolstering awareness, but for many brands and businesses, what Instagram really needs to be about is your brand, your image, your personality. Rather than focusing too strongly on growth using the platform, for those that can afford it, you will find focusing rather on building your audience and engaging in the development of a strong community is another strong and viable goal for an Instagram handle.
It is important, especially for brands that already have outstanding awareness, not to lose themselves in pursuing followers and engagement if it really doesn’t satisfy a practical goal.
Make Good Content
The first thing you need to understand is that, for organic growth, especially when establishing a channel or handle, you need to provide something truly novel, something entertaining, something alluring - you really need good content. It is the first and most important ingredient in a good organic growth strategy. Investing in creative individuals that are also capable of negotiating the technical while accessing the psychological - if we really examine content, it begins to make a significant statement regarding ourselves.
So, the first really major piece of advise in this, the ultimate guide to organic Instagram growth is to invest in the creatives and focus on creating something people really like. Now, a lot of other lists will include consistency first, and there is certainty that consistency and productivity are rewarded, in the end, if you create things that you are really investing in yourself, it is more likely others will invest as well. Now, this doesn’t have to mean harder, in fact, ideally it would be very much the opposite - I propose really contemplating how you create your content and what really defines it. Try to use your content as a means to communicate to your audience deep nuances of the character of your brand - having good content gets noticed.
To be clear, there may be a bit of hyperbole to the title…
It would be difficult to create a single, comprehensive list or reference in this format or really any at all. The Instagram algorithm is interacting with real human audiences. Though you really need to be impressing and engaging those human beings as a means to acquire more followers and therefore, ultimately, influence more individuals, but the algorithm is in the way.
The algorithm in the case of Instagram - as is paralleled in many forms in the digital space - is an enigma yet a bad liar. It betrays its intentions in transparent ways sometimes, and what is often revealed, or at least seems to be, is that these algorithms take great liberty in playing kingmaker. The algorithm will be something that will always complicate the path, but if you are producing content humans like to observe, if you put in the work, you will grow.
How To Fight The Algorithm
The algorithms of all these platforms will present a nemesis at some point or another in your social media journey. Sometimes this will be coincidence, sometimes it will be due to technical aspects of your handle, and sometimes it will be the direct result of intentional suppression of accounts which pay little or nothing toward their ad budget.
It is a bit of extortion, but the first piece of advice for keeping the evil algorithm’s dirty engagement stealing tricks, is once you are really growing into the thousands and tens of thousands of followers you must be incorporating organic with paid ads if Instagram is a platform which you have determined to be essential to your target audience. If you are not paying the piper, you are likely being somewhat hidden by the algorithm - in fact, you certainly are.
Now, mind you, Instagram insists that it will always display all of the relevant content the user subscribes to - that if you scroll far enough you will see all of the content you follow - but how far you may have to scroll is not insignificant.
In 2019, Instagram went from a “reverse chronological” feed to an algorithmic feed, a fact that they eventually were forced to acknowledge in the following tweets.
So, why did they bother getting rid of the reverse-chronological? Why is it that they control my preferences more than the user does? Why?
If these algorithms were merely to improve engagement and enjoyment of the content, then the filters and prioritizations the algorithm performs would be available for the user themself to manipulate. If the benefit was to the user, they wouldn’t have needed to create this costly algorithm - it exists for one reason and one reason only; to empower and enrich those that program it. This is a strange reality we find ourselves in…
Now, outside of incorporating ad spend to your marketing, there are several other means to improve how the algorithm prioritizes right there in those messages and upon further digging -
Image quality. Make beautiful, creative images.
Use stories. They aren’t directly involved in the algorithm according to Instagram, but they greatly improve engagement between you and your existing audience.
The algorithm likes a healthy dose of video content.
The algorithm likes when you use their “go live” option
Create engaging captions - often emojis are favored by the algorithm believe it or not
Creating a contest, a giveaway, or event on Instagram
Hashtag your content well.
Post your content during optimal days and times.
Be productive - the algorithm rewards active and prolific users!
Comment and reply - be an active user as well as a content creator
Essentially, the more you do - the more complete your profile and diverse your content, the more likely you will be looked upon with favor by the algorithm, however, this is a difficult thing to do.
Do you best, don’t worry too much about yesterday, chug forward and keep creating content.
Lastly, this is not a comprehensive list of how to develop organic social media marketing, but rather a basic outline.
Each step is intended to add a layer of depth and effort to an online presence and is not meant to be used in isolation.
On average, any post, image, or video that is posted to a social media platform will require an average of 1-2 hours of work to create. It is important to realize that although this guide is long, it is still an outline of the basic steps needed to develop organic social media marketing.
An important aspect of developing your social media goals is to focus on long-term rather than short-term gains. Rather than trying to work toward the stuff that results in an instant blip in engagement, especially in the beginning, be thinking about what your brand identity to be rather than thinking about the size of the audience too much. Short term gains don’t necessarily make trends - try to trust the strengths of your inspiration enough to avoid chasing the low-lying fruit but not too much as to be impliable. Short-term gains are quick and easy, but can lack substance. Long-term gains are harder and more time consuming, but have a higher chance of adding value to your audience.
Additionally, long-term gains will also mean that your fans will engage more. As such, you should develop a focus on customer service. Acknowledge comments, be polite and friendly, and give “@” replies, mentions, and retweets whenever possible. This will begin to build your reputation as a reliable source and provide value to your audience. Also, be sure to never post when you are angry or emotional, as it will reflect in your tone and content.
It is important that you do not get disheartened and that you understand that the initial organic growth requires patience and fortitude. Keep track of your growth, because it may seem sometimes you are not growing, but with a good strategy, concept, and content, as well as ambitious outreach, you will grow.
It is important to keep in mind that the process of developing your social media account will be a long and sometimes arduous one, but it can also be quite fun. Try to keep it fun - your audience and your psyche will thank you. There will be trials and tribulations, and at times it may seem hopeless. It is in these moments that you must remain determined and persevere through the development of your social media profile. Well, now let's get to it. Be realistic and be brave!