Have you checked out your competitor on Instagram recently and noticed how well their posts are performing? Almost every post is flooded with engagement. They’re getting hundreds of likes and comments, while you struggle to get even a handful of people to leave a comment. And when you do get comments, they rarely go beyond generic “This looks great” or a random smiley face emoji.

What magical formula are they using to get Instagram engagement? Is there a secret code you’re missing out on? Are they really that much better at Instagram marketing than you? You want to crack their Instagram strategy and make it work for you, but you’re not sure where to start.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 12 things your competitors do to increase Instagram engagement, that you might be overlooking.

1. Actually Engage

We’re starting this list off easy. To drive more engagement from your followers, you need to interact with them. Social media isn’t a one-way street. If you want to build an engaged audience, you need to acknowledge your followers. Remember, every comment you get means someone took the time to stop, look at your post and share their thoughts. After all that, why wouldn’t you respond?

If you want to build up engagement, know that it takes time and you need to start conversations on posts other than your own. Asking questions, responding to comments and replying to Stories are some of the few ways you can engage more with your audience.

With comment threading, it’s even easier to know which ones you’ve missed on your posts. Not to mention, Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox can help you easily check off comments you’ve already responded to.

instagram smart inbox

As your account starts to grow and you get more comments, you might not be able to respond to everyone. But that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely.

You can still Like comments or just try to reply to as many as you can. Ted Chin creates captivating edited images and videos. Despite having hundreds of comments on each post, he still takes the time to engage with his followers as much as possible through quick replies and plenty of emojis.

instagram engagement example

The takeaway is whether you get three comments per post or 300, take the time to reply and you’ll have a much easier time getting Instagram engagement.

2. Duplicate Your Best-Performing Posts

What works for you might not work for someone else. Take a look at your past months’ best-performing posts. Is there a common theme among your top performers? Perhaps the photos are bright and have blue tones. Or maybe the camera angle is from the side instead of above.

Use our Instagram dashboard to find your top-performing posts. Then look for commonalities between the posts and try to incorporate more of them in the future.

top instagram posts report

Here’s an example of a brand that found what works with their audience and integrated it into their strategy.

Camber Coffee is a coffee roaster. But every few posts, they share something unrelated to coffee such as landscape shots or nature-related photos. This might seem like an odd strategy for a food and drink company, but they’ve consistently posted like this long enough that it’s become part of their brand.

3. Post Instagram Stories With Call-to-Action

With verified Instagram accounts, you might have the opportunity to add links in your Instagram Stories. If you don’t have the option yet, you can always refer to the link in your bio or a different CTA.

Creating CTAs in your Stories prompts your fans to take notice of the product and gives them the opportunity to learn more. It increases engagement on your Stories and potentially increases clicks to your website.

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Anthropologie uploaded images specifically designed for the Stories format and themed it around pants. Each product had a See More link at the bottom that people could instantly go to for a purchase.

More laid back in their approach, Framebridge used Stories to promote a blog post. It was linked for each part of the Story.

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Furthermore, the Stories were timed with an Instagram post that also featured Pepper.

4. Promote Across Networks

It goes without saying that the audience for your Facebook Page might not be the same as the audience on your Instagram account. Chances are that some of your Facebook audience is on Instagram, but they just don’t know that you exist there yet. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle some cross-network promotional posts to encourage more followers.

Dwell used a Facebook post to not just promote a home tour, but also to mention that more details could be found in their Instagram Stories. Instead of the usual “Follow our Instagram account!”, they offered something more enticing for their audience. For their existing Instagram fans, the live tour was still interesting content.

5. Be Strategic With Instagram Ads

When Facebook added Instagram into their Ads Manager, new targeting possibilities opened up. Sure, you can boost a post or promote your account, but you could also be more nuanced and strategic about it.

Take advantage of the customization by using retargeting and custom audiences. For instance, if you visit a shoe company like Toms and begin to interact with their posts, it’s possible that you’ll begin to see other shoe companies being advertised to you.

After clicking on a few shoe ads, we found the above being advertised to us without ever engaging directly with the company.

Custom audiences can come from many sources. But to start, you can use:

  • Your newsletter lists
  • People who have visited your store
  • Those who purchased from your website
  • People who’ve engaged with your Facebook or Instagram accounts
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From there, utilizing the lookalike audience feature, you can find even more people similar to any of the above audiences.

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Getting familiar with all the Instagram advertising options can put you ahead of your competitors. And with retargeting, you can improve conversions and lower your ad costs.

6. Incorporate Videos

Grab someone’s attention with auto-playing videos and boost the post with ad dollars. Mediakix found that sponsored videos received three times more engagement than photos. So if you’re not using Instagram videos yet, it’s time to get started.

Instead of using a photo of someone texting, SFMOMA used a fun video to show off a new project. The video prompted over 24k views and 98 comments, most of which were people tagging friends.

Salt & Straw used a video to give a behind-the-scenes look at a new ice cream flavor. With over 262k views and 88 comments, it was a successful way to promote a new product and build engagement.

7. Partner with Creatives

Much like an influencer marketing program, partnering with creatives for your product or services lineup can give both parties a larger audience. It can be something as small as swag or as large as a mural in your cafe.

Away partnered with photographer Gray Malin for a limited-edition set of luggage colors. The luggage lining used is one of his photographs. Naturally, the product promotion involved Instagram posts, dedicated hashtags and in-store signage.

When you partner up with a person or brand that has an active audience, some of their Instagram engagement tends to rub off on your own company. Their audience will visit your page to comment and like the posts that feature the influencer.

8. Give Sneak Peeks & Hints

Followers love being let in on a secret. Even if they’re public posts, giving sneak peeks and hints of new releases makes the audience think they’re part of a special group. It entices them to guess at what’s going on and encourages them to revisit the profile to see if something has been announced.

Elle-May gave her followers a preview of a new women’s section in the 1924us store. The previews resulted in dozens of comments from her followers and less than a week later, multiple items were already sold out.

9. Write Witty Captions

Along with an eye-catching photo, creating a witty or uniquely branded voice on Instagram can help you stand out from everyone else. Create a company voice that people want to hear from and you’ll find that they can’t help but strike up conversations with you.

Here’s an example of how Max Milla used the caption to play on the location name. It’s fun, short and engaging.

It's takes two to tango…and four to make this pour over.

A post shared by SOCIAL MEDIA | PHOTOGRAPHY (@mxmlla) on

10. Time Your Posts

Use our Instagram analytics to find out when the best time to post is for you. You want to post when most of your followers are online and engaging on the app. Even with the best photo and wittiest caption, you could still miss out on engagement if you’re posting at the wrong hour.

We did some research into the best times to post on social media, and here’s what we found for Instagram.

best time to post on instagram graph

Instagram business accounts offer analytics that tell you when your followers are most active.

instagram follower active time

Use this information to schedule out your posts so you can spend your time engaging. Alternatively, you can use Sprout Social’s ViralPost feature that automatically schedules Instagram posts to when you receive the most engagement.

11. Encourage Customer & Employee Posts

Utilize branded hashtags to help you organize user-generated content. If you engage on these hashtags and incorporate a UGC strategy, more people will take notice and begin using the hashtags, too.

Your employees can also be your strongest advocates. Their accounts give a more personal, unfiltered perspective of the company. Remember, people like feeling as if they’re in a secret club. If you reshare from your employees, you’re offering perspectives that your brand normally wouldn’t offer.

Bon Appetit frequently reposts from their readers and their staffers. Each has their own hashtags: #BAstaff and #bareaders. The hashtags give their audience a quick guide on who originally posted the content and encourages a community vibe in their page.

12. Analyze Your Competitors

Here’s something you might not have thought about. But there’s a good chance your competitors are analyzing your brand and others in your industry. So why not do the same? Don’t feel like manually gathering up a bunch of data about your competitors one by one? An easier solution is to use our Instagram Competitors report.

All you have to do is add the profiles for your top competitors and Sprout will analyze data such as audience growth, engagement and their most used hashtags. Breakdowns can even be viewed per day, offering you an easy way of knowing if you should kick your marketing up a notch.

Instagram Competitors

If they’re doing something interesting on their page, perhaps you could try it out on yours if it fits within your brand.

Should You Buy Instagram Engagement?

When you’re at a point of desperation and just can’t seem to get anything going, you might get tempted to buy Instagram engagement to give the appearance that you have an active following. You probably already know our response to this, but you should never buy Instagram likes or engagement of any kind.

On the surface, they probably seem like helpful engagement tools, but the reality is they do more harm than good. For one, you’re deceiving your real audience which is never a good idea. On top of that, Instagram has been cracking down on accounts that rely on bots and automation. For instance, your posts might not show up for the hashtags you use or worse case scenario, you could get banned altogether.

Leave the fake engagement alone and focus on building a real audience if you want long-term success.

Which Instagram Engagement Metrics Should You Measure?

By liking posts and leaving thoughtful comments—not self-promotional, but substantive—brands can use Instagram to cultivate a stronger community and drive brand awareness. Users can quantify and qualify their engagement efforts using Sprout’s Instagram analytics.

Sprout’s reports provide a closer look into the various metrics on your profile and post levels, which enables users to measure effectiveness and adjust strategy. Our analytics tools track:

  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Hashtag performance
  • Audience growth
  • Engagement ratio for all content (in the Sent Messages Report)
  • Top influencers engagement with your content
instagram profiles report

Learn more about Sprout’s Instagram management tools here.

Give Your Instagram Engagement a Boost

Getting Instagram engagement is more important than ever. Engagement is one of the metrics Instagram uses to determine where your content shows up in your followers’ feeds. When your followers consistently comment and like your posts, Instagram sees it as a sign that they want to see more of your content. As a result, your posts will become prioritized in their feed.

So if you want to get more eyes on your content and build your audience, use the tips above to get more engagement on Instagram.