Let’s put this notion to rest before we even start–you don’t have to be Instagram famous for your brand to see the best results.

Learning how to be successful on Instagram isn’t just about follower count. Instead, success comes from engaged audiences and great content. It might seem overwhelming to think about ensuring a successful outcomes when you’re just starting an Instagram marketing strategy, but you’ll find that the same approach of careful planning will help you here.

That’s why we’ve put together a simple but highly effective five-step guide on how to be successful on Instagram. Follow these Instagram success tips to boost your strategy.

1. Plan Out Your Content Strategy

You probably already know it’s not enough to post a few photos or videos, and wait for the audience to come rushing in. Instead, you have to build a content strategy just like you would for any other marketing campaign.

Here are a few specific guidelines for Instagram:

  • Research the bests posts in your industry and track your competitors. Find 5-10 competitors (such as similar brands) and document their top posts within the last few months. Mark all commonalities: product-related, bright colors, photos of people and other themes, and see what works. You don’t just want to copy other accounts, but this will help you get a pulse on what’s grabbing attention in your niche.
  • Start building a plethora of content around a similar theme or idea.  You’ll get greater consistency in your quality and message by planning out enough posts that could provide at least a month or two of content. Adjust them to your social media calendar and ensure each post has a consistent vibe.
  • Try to be as unique as possible with your content. While that’s easier said than done, a creative play on Instagram works and there are plenty of reliable ways to get inspiration for Instagram post ideas. Whether its the endless table by Reynolds Wrap or the consistent bright color theme of Bioré, themes work.
reynolds kitchens instagram profile
  • Invest in photo editing tools for your content. Whether it’s Adobe Photoshop or VSCO, your content has to be stellar to grab audience eyes. Beautiful, breath-taking photography always gets your viewers’ attention.

It might seem like a lot of work at first just to build out content, but the rewards are worth it. Better content leads to more engagement. When followers genuinely enjoy and look forward to what you post, you’re increasing your chances of converting them to a lead or customer.

2. Use Branded Hashtags

As a brand on social, you need some form of marketability. It’s a thin line between being promotional and resourceful. According to our 2016 Sprout Social Q3 Index, 57% of users unfollow brands on social because they’re too promotional.

q3 sprout index graph

To avoid being overly promotional but still market your brand, consider branded Instagram hashtags. An important stat to know is seven out of 10 hashtags on Instagram are branded. This means your hashtag has to be unique, memorable and engaging.

For example, Thrive Market uses the hashtag #letsthrive to promote user-generated content on Instagram. The hashtags works as a source of interaction between the brand and users. Instead of a promotion, you’re simply highlighting your users.

Instagram success pro tip: Remember to fully inspect your chosen hashtag as sometimes it can be associated with something else. Avoid the embarrassment and be thorough with your hashtag campaign.

Run Instagram Hashtag Analytics

It’s critical to know how your hashtags perform so you can make adjustments before it’s too late. With the help of Sprout Social’s hashtag analytics tools, you can easily gain insights into your top keywords and most engaged hashtags on Instagram.

sprout instagram hashtag repot

Additionally, you can see if your keywords are sticking with your Instagram audience. Sprout can pull hashtags commonly mentioned with your brand in its Trends Report, so you gain context into what people say about your brand. Analyze your results or compare hashtags to know what works best.

3. Have a Call to Action

Here’s a question every company should ask themselves about its Instagram strategy–what drives users to follow and engage with your brand? Like we mentioned before, having gorgeous photos certainly helps attract users. However, how will your audience know what the next step is if you don’t have an appropriate call to action?

Instagram captions are essential for a successful account. They give your audience everything from context for your products and services to essential calls to action to drive conversion forward. For example, Bucketfeet, a shoe manufacturer, uses Instagram captions to highlight collaborations and new or limited designs.

This caption does a great job of highlighting the design’s limited edition run to nudge users to purchase now. Captions also provide great opportunities to use your newly developed branded hashtags and spread awareness.

Don’t Forget Your Link

Instagram is unique because it allows only one link located in the user bio. It’s a common practice for your captions to lead viewers to the link in your Instagram bio. That’s why your link should be as relevant and fresh as possible.

It’s a very common best practice to link to a custom Instagram landing page, which typically features a lot of easy-to-find links to recent content, products or services mentioned in your feed. You can use an Instagram-specific page builder or create and update your own–either way, you’ll ensure users have access to a plethora of highly relevant content that lines up with what they’ve seen in your recent posts and moves them into your marketing funnel effectively.

evernote screenshot

Evernote does this to promote its latest collaborations and speaking events. In this example, the company posted a link that directed users to the SXSW speaking sessions, but also had a direct button to get Evernote as well.

By using a unique landing page, you direct users from specific Instagram content to an actionable page that’s aligned with the intent of that post.

instagram management gif

4. Engage With Instagram Users

If you’re relatively new to building your brand on Instagram, it’s essential to take small steps toward building engagement. However, smaller brands can start following their fans or those considered “power users.”

At the same time, use your space to engage with users and follow them if they produce content relevant to your industry. Urban Outfitters regularly posts user-generated content from artists, photographers and collaborating designers.

Some of your biggest fans might already be producing great Instagram content. Try to see how they can collaborate with your brand to work out for both parties.

Avoid Robotic Interactions

No one really wants to talk to an automated message, so avoid robotic replies. Even big brands like Dr. Pepper find the time to respond back to followers with quippy and fun responses. It doesn’t have to be a full on conversation, but replying can do wonders to your Instagram engagement.

dr pepper example

According to our Sprout Social 2016 Q2 Index, one in three users will go to a competitor if they’re ignored on social. This should mean everything to your business on Instagram. Unanswered questions leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.

So make sure you’re willing to put in the effort to respond to those in need. If you want recommendations and good reviews, be ready to use Instagram as a source of information and connectivity.

5. Connect With Influencers

As we previously mentioned, many brands incorporate user-generated content to connect with users, collaborate on content and promote one another’s Instagram. But these people don’t need one million users or have to be a celebrity to help you gain more exposure.

Instead, brands have to find their niche social media influencers that can actually increase engagement and the discussion around your company. Here are key steps for finding influencers on Instagram:

  • Use BuzzSumo to find your industry leaders and follow them. This is a great way to find lesser-known influencers with a core demographic following in your specific industry.
buzzsumo camping example
  • Engage with influencers and don’t jump straight to asking about collaborations. Comment on their content or ask a few questions that are related to your industry. Then you can ask the bigger question.
  • Start small. More likely than not, top tier influencers have already been contacted or possibly have a process in place for collaborations. Start on the smaller side and build your way up to those who have massive followings.

It’s smart to nurture and value your connections because just like your audience, influencers deal with robotic messages all the time. Try to build real relationships by meeting up at industry events or asking to host joint webinars.

There’s a lot of ways to connect, but if you do it right, your successful Instagram account will be a source of entertainment and information for your audience.

Update: Instagram made changes to their Graph API in 2018, which may affect functionality mentioned above. Read here for more information