No more second-guessing about how to grow your Instagram, understand how Instagram works and what really matters when it comes to content and strategy. In Part l, Tom and Mike riffed on the many ways you can organically grow on Instagram. In this article, they revisit this topic to give you actionable, step-by-step Instagram formulas for structuring your content, targeting your audience and growing on the platform.
If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:
- Define your audience
- Identify your audience’s wants or needs
- Identify the different kinds of content types to share information
- Determine post time & frequency
- Widen your distribution
- Create highly shareable content
- Track your insights
- Be patient & consistent
- And finally, engage with your people
For all the juicy stories that Tom and Mike have never shared before, click on the topics above or keep scrolling.
9 actionable tips to grow on Instagram
Define your audience
This is marketing 101: To grow on Instagram, you need to first define your audience. Often, people who don’t define their audience have trouble understanding what their content should be. They just end up posting random content that doesn’t resonate with their audience.
Mike & Tom’s target audience: Mike and Tom’s audience are somewhat different. Mike targets primarily freelance designers or small agency owners that are trying to figure out how to develop their career, marketing opportunities, client base, proposals and contracts, and getting themselves out of jams like when a client refuses to pay. This is Mike’s core audience, and his content resonates with them. While Mike’s audience is more on the freelance side and the agency side, Tom’s audience is creatives in general, but with a special focus on marketing. He helps individuals market their brand better. With his skill set, he attracts artists, photographers and other such creatives. He loves helping people build their brands, businesses and communities.
Everyone’s audience is different: Instagram has a new feature where it lets you see which accounts have a similar follower base to you. When Mike looked at his account, there were no accounts that shared enough related followers to match his account. This was surprising because he expected his account to share a similar follower base with at least a few accounts, Tom’s included. But he only found three or four accounts that shared a similar follower base. This goes to show that everyone’s audience is different.
For example: Mike has a lot of entrepreneurs from India and Indonesia who follow him, and they are his target audience. This changes the dynamic a little and narrows down his audience from designers all over the world to designers from select countries.
Define your target audience. Who are you speaking to? Where are they located? What situation are they in? etc.
Identify your audience’s wants or needs
Once you have defined your target audience, make a list of all the problems they may be facing: How can you find clients? How can you price your work? How can you create a foolproof contract? How can you get a project done? How do you know when to hire? Whom do you hire? These are questions that most creatives will probably have when they’re starting as entrepreneurs. Brainstorm a robust list of problems and create content addressing those problems.
However, there are chances that your work doesn’t cater to someone’s problem, especially if you are an artist, illustrator, photographer etc. One of Tom’s coaching students runs the cosmic feminist, an Instagram page that is seeing enormous success on a surface level. She posts content around a certain theme and although she might not be solving a problem, there is a community of people who strongly identify with her and want to feel part of a wider community. Her content is inherently optimistic and helps people feel like they’re part of something bigger. This kind of content strategy is also equally valuable.
Wendy’s rebranding post: Mike gives an example of a post about Wendy’s rebranding and how changing their logo had a huge financial impact on their business. This kind of post can give your potential clients an insight into the kind of work you do. Educate your client and speak to something they might want or need in their business.
Tom & Mike flexing together: Tom posted a picture of him and Mike flexing together. The post was meant to be self-deprecating because Mike is four times the size of him. This was a way to bring awareness to the fact that they were collaborating more and doing the podcast together and also bring a degree of levity to Tom’s page. Sometimes, a silly, well-meaning post is just as valuable because it helps you become more relatable and human.
Avoid chasing likes and engagement by posting attention-grabbing graphics or memes. If that is your end goal, it will quickly become hollow because there isn’t much intention behind it. Identify the kinds of content that might resonate with your audience and start making a list. Then create content around these topics with the intent of helping them rather than getting likes or engagement.
Identify the different kinds of content types to share information
There are many different content types you can use to share your information with your target audience. Don’t be afraid to play with different kinds of content types.
The types of content Mike creates: Mike enjoys creating carousel posts, but he tries not to overindulge. He does infographic and single-image posts. He also likes doing animated, moving image posts. To keep things interesting, he’ll add quotes, movie clips and music to dress his posts up. Lately, he’s been doing Instagram TV content for 40 minutes or more to test how it performs. Sometimes, he does funny posts that give his audience an insight into his private life.
The types of content Tom creates: Aside from all the serious stuff Tom loves posting silly content like him dancing around because he believes it drives that humanity in relationships and helps him stand out. He does tactical carousels of educational content. He also does community case studies that are proprietary content and are possibly some of his most popular posts. He believes case studies with documented results are so much more interesting than vague, hypothesized tips that only sound good. This documentation style content especially if you’re trying to position yourself as an authority figure or an educator is very effective. Tom also posts content that’s meant to elicit engagement and comments – like voting on his profile picture which got him 800 comments. Every few months he also does posts asking his audience to network with each other in the comment section. Everyone starts making friends, some people hire each other, the comments explode and everyone builds a real sense of community.
How Tom’s advice for her coaching student back on the radar: When one of Tom’s students, Vanessa first started building her community she had 700 followers. Tom got her to DM every single follower a note of appreciation thanking them for following her. She also asked them ways in which she could improve and bring more value to them. This resulted in an enormous return rate, almost 50%, and many of them turned into ongoing conversations. This also led to an increase in her engagement and DMs. Her previous clients also began re-engaging with her because she got back on their radar.
Tim Ferris is known as the human guinea pig. He goes through stuff so you don’t necessarily have to. He tests them out to see if they work – whether it be crazy ice sports or difficult training regimes. And people love it because of his transparency.
The takeaway is, keep experimenting with different content types. Don’t just do carousels because you think they allegedly get the most amount of engagement. If you define engagement as people resonating and connecting with you, then maybe carousel posts don’t get the most engagement. They get the most blanket likes because somebody sees a carousel post and they just like it because X person shared it and they don’t even read it before they like it.
Hence, identify your audience followed by their wants and needs. Then break down the different content types you want to do. You can’t do Instagram TV videos right off the bat, but force yourself to do it anyway because it’s so critical to your growth on Instagram.
Determine post time & frequency
Post time: There are three different types of accounts on Instagram. There’s a personal account, which is the default, there’s a creator account and then there’s a business account. If you switch to a creator or business account you can see analytics and metrics on your audience and posts: which posts are doing well, which posts are not doing too well, which posts had the most reach, which posts had the most likes, which ones had the most comments. You can also see where your followers are, their age range, men vs women, and more. One of the most valuable metrics is your prime engagement time. It tells you when the highest quantity of your followers are online – this will allow you to post during that time. For Mike, it’s between 8 and 11 AM. So he tried to post during this time, enabling him to get the best engagement. From his understanding of the Instagram algorithm, an immediate response or traction on your post has massive value. If you post something and it doesn’t get any attention for three hours, it probably won’t get any attention ever. And if more people interact with it, then the algorithm decides to feed it to more people until it has the potential to expand into a much broader audience. So posting during a prime engagement time is super important.
Post frequency: If you’re on Instagram, you should be posting five to seven times per week. That is an active Instagram account. The algorithm rewards your consistency because every day you’re getting dropped into feeds because of it. So don’t try to hack it, and get the algorithm to work in your favour – post at your prime engagement time and post with consistency and frequency.
Widen your distribution
Distribution is one of the most overlooked things in all of marketing. Everyone on social media is obsessed with tweaking and tinkering with their content or refining their logo, but pay little to no attention to how they distribute their content.
If no one outside of your bubble is seeing the stuff you put out, it doesn’t matter how good it is.
Distribution is essentially ways in which you can put out your content in front of a wider audience. To grow on Instagram, you need to figure out how to widen your audience. Here’s a quick fire round of all the ways you can do that:
Collaborations: A great example of collaboration are the Instagram lives that Tom and Mike do sometimes whilst recording their podcast. Mike does a lot of collaborative videos with people and they often end up resharing the videos on their page. This helps distribute their content to both their audiences, which results in cross-pollination and more followers. This works very well for most creatives, especially for artists who end up collaborating on one piece of work. They both reshare the art on their respective pages and end up siphoning followers from both sides.
Influencers: This is a great growth hack – get yourself connected to influencers who have a wide range of followers. Tom has a few students who are producing nature-related illustrations. He’s encouraging them to befriend and network with influential people in the same space. For instance, Kat who runs her Instagram page ‘Drawn to Cats’ wrote to some followers who have a large audience and asked them if she could illustrate their cat. She then went on to tag them on the post and mention them in her stories. With this, there was a huge chance that the influencer would reshare the post because it’s free of cost. By doing this she got a thousand followers in her early days. So if a hundred thousand follow her account, share her work and tag her up, she’s going to see a nice spike in her follower number again. And the beauty of this approach is that it’s completely scalable and repeatable. You can do this with several influencers.
Challenges: Participating in challenges is also a great way to increase engagement. One of Tom’s followers Sonya created an avatar of him as a part of a challenge, he shared it on his profile and tagged her, and it gave her a ton of promotion. Here hashtags play an important role. Once you use a hashtag and it starts getting attention and traction, you are more likely to get more eyeballs on your work.
Commenting: Find hashtags that fit your niche and start talking and building relationships with the people who created it. Don’t ask for anything, just leave nice, insightful, relevant, valuable comments and do it at scale. This is something many of Tom’s community members have gained from. They might do it to a hundred people a day and get 20 to 30 followers a day back. The people have 300 followers or so, so the uptick is enormous. This outreach effort will eventually get traction and result in a wider reach because you’re reaching out to people who are outside of your bubble.
Hashtags: Mike’s friend Danny Bazooka recommends the 10/10/10 rule when it comes to hashtags – use 10 hashtags that have a million posts relating to it, then use 10 hashtags that have close to a thousand posts relating to it and finally use small, customised hashtags that are directly related to you and your work. Let those hashtags be repeatable because it’s going to save you time and effort. Alternatively, you can use some that represent your whole brand and some that are more contextual to the specific piece of content. Check out posts about hashtags and hashtag content by Dave Talus and Calypso Designs to dig deeper.
Other platforms: Aside from Instagram, try to use multiple platforms to engage with your audience: YouTube, Twitter, Email Newsletter etc. Try and completely immerse yourself in the industry you’re trying to serve. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the design industry. It could be the client’s industry or if you’re trying to sell to customers, their industry. Tom’s company has gained many followers because of community hangouts and webinars.
Create highly shareable content
Highly shareable content will allow you to reach people outside of your audience. Remember there’s a difference between good content and shareable content. Mike sometimes creates good content that he knows is not very shareable, and sometimes he creates content that is both good and highly shareable. There is no blueprint for the best kind, but try to figure out what people like to share and pay attention to the metrics.
Don’t care so much about the fact that you didn’t get a whole lot of likes, comments or engagement. Ask yourself: What is the purpose of this specific content? What is the intention? What do you want out of this? If you put out a 40-minute Instagram TV video to educate people, not many are going to watch it. However, chances are, a handful might find it highly insightful and valuable.
Track your insights
This might be tough in the beginning because you will probably get a few comments on each post you put out. This might make you feel like you’re not growing at all. But look at the smaller metrics – even if you grow from three comments on each post to five comments, you are slowly progressing.
Tom made minor tweaks to his content in the beginning and it doubled his impressions and engagement overnight. He realised if a few tweaks that took less than 10 minutes could have such an impact on his engagement. If he did that every once a week, his growth would be phenomenal.
When you see some of these little exponential returns on your effort. that’s when things start getting motivating. Track the micro insights and pay attention to the tiny improvements you make on your posts.
Be patient & consistent
Keep posting until you hit the tipping points. Realise that if your content isn’t resonating with your audience, maybe it sucks. Keep changing it up and tweaking the dials till you find the right thing. Simply having the aspiration to grow on Instagram and then hoping you fit it in is not going to work. You need to set hours each day to post and come up with ideas to engage with your audience.
You have to learn to manage your expectations. Brand strategist Dain Walker shared in one of his posts that he was working on Instagram eight hours a day aside from his day job because he had a burning desire to quit his full-time job. Eventually, he quit his job and now his side hustle has become his main hustle. He works 16 hours a day making Instagram content. Not just for him, but for a whole ton of clients that he works with. But if you can’t afford to put in the number of hours like Dain, maybe try an hour or two every day.
And finally, engage with your people
As mentioned in the first part of this subject, engage with your audience – comment on their posts, reply to your DMS, and respond to comments. That is the whole point of social media.
We’re all in the same boat. You will get the same opportunities to grow as anyone else because of the algorithm. So if your algorithm is hitting you badly and you feel like you’re not getting as much reach as everybody else, understand that it is probably affecting everyone else too. If you can go through all of the above-mentioned action points, you are bound to grow faster.