Referred to as “the king of social engagement” by Forrester, Instagram enables brands to share photos and videos with fans on a platform that boasts an average per-follower engagement rate of 4.21%. As you create an Instagram marketing strategy for your brand, engagement should guide your plans for content, community management and more.

To help you on your way, we’ve gathered some of the best Instagram marketing tips for growing an authentic and engaged following. Read on for our take, and add your own advice in the comments.

1. Be Consistent

Post fresh content on a regular basis, establishing a frequency for new posts that keeps your brand in front of the people who want to see it. You don’t need to post like clockwork, but keep your feed active by posting at least once a day—sharing new photos and videos daily will help build your following and give fans something to enjoy. Locowise found that brands typically post 2.3 times per day, with larger profiles posting even more frequently—7.24 posts a day on average.

2. Optimize Your Profile

Your profile is the first thing potential followers see when they click on your handle, so make sure you put your best face forward. For the profile photo, use your actual logo or avatar so people will immediately recognize your brand, and make sure that the dimensions are square with enough room around the edges to allow for Instagram’s circular cropping.

The link in your profile is your one chance to have a live link on the platform, so think carefully about where you want it to point. Many brands use Instagram to drive traffic to their blog or site by linking to it in their bio, then including “link in profile” in each post’s caption or as a custom geo-location. People may be shy about commenting on blog posts, especially if they need to log-in or include an email address, but they are quicker to engage on Instagram through likes and comments.

If you plan to curate content tagged with a specific hashtag, include the hashtag in your profile to raise awareness among new followers—just know that it won’t be a clickable link (on the mobile app), the way it would be in a caption.

3. Start a Conversation

Through analytics and social listening, you can learn a lot about your followers’ interests and the types of content that resonate with them. What big events are they celebrating this time of year? How are they using your products in unique ways? Use a combination of photos, videos and captions to tell stories that elicit emotion or spark a discussion. Once you have kicked off a discussion, make sure you are moderating the comments and responding to questions that arise, like Whole Foods does in this example.

4. Make the Most of Your Captions

Your visual content should be the star of the show, but captions add depth to the story. Don’t fear the hashtag—using relevant hashtags in your captions helps new people find your brand. While Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags in a post or comment, one study found that posts with 11 hashtags receive the most interactions.

Identify a few hashtags relevant to your content themes that you will use regularly, as well as hashtags commonly used by your target audience and others in your market that you can use for outreach. Both hashtags and @mentions in captions have been shown to increase engagement, so consider using an @mention when appropriate to credit UGC photographers, featured photo subjects, brand collaborators and others.

5. Respond to Comments & @mentions

Part of encouraging engagement is simply being engaging: taking part in conversations, responding in a timely manner and offering fans a chance to connect. While a comment that merely reads “😍” may not require a reply, do respond to Instagrammers who ask questions or leave thoughtful comments on your photos—and make sure you include their handle so that they receive a notification. Take it one step farther and monitor your notifications to learn when other users @mention you in their captions and comments, and share your gratitude with a like or comment of your own.

6. Show Customer Appreciation

Visual media offers unlimited creative opportunities to thank your customers and fans. Express your gratitude by engaging with photos customers share or showcasing them on your website, using captions to explain what was special about their photo. You can also surprise and delight your customers by turning Instagram milestones into an opportunity to celebrate.

When Huckberry, a men’s gear and clothing deal site, reached 100,000 followers, they ran a giveaway and shared the photo below thanking everyone who has joined them on their Instagram journey.

7. Share Exclusive Offers

Another way to show appreciation for your followers is to share Instagram-only deals, contests and discount codes through the platform. While cross-promotion can work well for some of your content, providing platform-specific offers gives people a reason to connect with your brand on Instagram in addition to other social networks. If you would like to share exclusive deals with specific people, you can use Instagram Direct to send specific offers or rewards directly to individual users or groups of up to 15 users at a time.

8. Create & Monitor Branded Hashtags

Branded hashtags serve a few purposes: they are a way to organize and track photos related to your brand, they allow you to run and measure campaigns, and they give fans a way to join a larger conversation when sharing their experiences with your organization, products or services. Regularly using hashtags in your own captions, as well as incorporating them into replies to comments when appropriate, teaches fellow Instagrammers which hashtags to use and when, ultimately helping raise brand awareness.

Not sure what hashtags to use for your brand? Our #SproutChat community weighed in on how to create successful hashtags.

9. Use & Engage With Popular Industry Hashtags

To find out which hashtags others are using, search for words and phrases relevant to your content—and be ready to fall down the rabbit hole from there. Find the hashtag you want to research, look at posts using that tag, then examine the captions to see what other hashtags are used alongside. Start using those hashtags in your own captions, and make sure you include monitoring and engagement for key hashtags in your Instagram marketing strategy.

10. Curate Content From Your Fans

Who said you had to create all of your own Instagram content? By monitoring branded and industry hashtags as well as your @mentions, you will hopefully find fans organically sharing their experiences with your brand. Encourage them to keep sharing by Regramming their photos, adding a unique caption that tells other fans how to get their own photos featured on your brand’s feed. Just be sure to get permission and give attribution when sharing content created by someone else.

Hyatt, the global hospitality company, uses photos by fans to show different experiences at their properties around the world. Their Instagram feed is full of tropical getaways, breakfasts in bed, interesting architecture and views, including many photos shared by customers.

11. Host a Contest or Promotion

One way to connect with new followers is to host a contest or promotion. Brands often ask for people to enter by leaving a comment tagging a friend—a practice that may help your brand connect with new people in your audience’s networks. Before hosting any kind of promotion, make sure to comply with both Instagram’s promotion guidelines and applicable rules and regulations governing your promotion and prizes.

12. Follow Related Accounts & Connect With Influencers

If you want to grow your brand’s Instagram community, there are several ways to connect with others who share with related interests. Instagram’s Explore feature (accessible via the magnifying glass icon) suggests accounts for you to follow as well as photos and videos you might find interesting. You can also search for popular hashtags in your industry. Use these discovery tools to start following new users, especially those are are influential in your industry, and start liking and commenting on their posts.

13. Monitor Location Tags

When viewing a post on Instagram, users can click on the location (if one is listed) to see all other photos posted from that place. If your organization hosts or participates in events in different locations, add your photos to the photo map, and monitor who else is posting in those areas. Especially during large industry events, like conferences or exhibitions, location monitoring is a great way to identify accounts of people and brands with similar interests.

14. Cross-Promote Instagram Content

While your audience on Instagram may be different than your following on Facebook or Twitter, people who follow you elsewhere are likely to be interested in what you’re sharing. Make sure your customers and followers know that your brand is active on Instagram by cross-promoting your content. Instagram allows you to share to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr directly from the platform, but don’t hesitate to link to your account from your website, blog and elsewhere too.

15. Assess & Adapt

To increase your engagement and reach new followers in an authentic way, continuously assess your efforts periodically to find out what’s working: what type of posts have the highest engagement rate, which hashtags have the most active communities and what type of impact building relationships on Instagram has made on your brand’s presence.

Instagram is a newer platform for many brands, but the potential for engagement alone makes it an exciting part of your social media marketing strategy. As you apply these tips to build an active, engaged following, let us know what successes and challenges you find along the way.

Download a free PDF version of “15 Ways to Engage on Instagram” below.