The low Instagram engagement rates we’ve all been experience is not news, but because things are still so recent, people are struggling in formulating a solid social media strategy. I mentioned previously that it’s never a good idea to place the bones of your business on another (up-and-thriving) business model. Instagram is a platform that ultimately looks to profits to drive its strategy, and it’s following the footsteps of its acquisition company, Facebook.
I want to make sure you understand, first and foremost, that the drop in engagement is not you. It’s not your fault and you (most likely) didn’t do anything wrong. I also want to go through a few different methods where you can re-organize your strategy and shift your focus. Ultimately, this will require a complete shift in perspective and how you view Instagram.
Why The Low Instagram Engagement?
There are several factors at play here. You might not have even noticed that there’s a drop in engagement, to begin with! If so, lucky you, now run because there are probably angry and envious bloggers chasing you. 🙂 Chances are, however, if you’re using it as a business tool and tracking stats, you’ve been slowly dying on the inside as the numbers come in lower and lower.
We have three main reasons, not all of which are completely fair, but all within Instagram’s authority. Now, I just want to put a disclaimer up that none of this has been confirmed by Instagram (well, one kind of was). In fact, the Facebook support team expertly dances around answers for some questions, but they assure that Instagram is working as intended. What does that mean? That means, all changes are exactly how they should be, whether you like it or not. So, let’s go through some recent news and recent changes to see where we’re at so far.
The deal with shadowbans and restricted hashtags
Restricted hashtags aren’t a new phenomenon on Instagram. Certain super popular hashtags, like #beautyblogger, are flagged automatically by IG. They’re classified into either NSFW category, or simply into a bucket of commonly used hashtags by spammers (like, #l4l or #follow4follow).
Check out this list of banned hashtags to avoid getting in trouble without knowing it: Banned Instagram Hashtags. You could’ve inadvertently used a hashtag that IG considers dangerous, which might have flagged your account. I’m sure it then rolls from there and checks your account for other suspicious activity, but let’s just get this one off the list, k?
The crackdown on automation and bots
You might’ve read the news. The super popular Instagram automation website Instagress has shut down (you can read more about it here). Another popular software, MassPlanner, saw the same fate several weeks ago. This reminds me of the great Instagram purge that happened a few years ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do the purge again sometime soon.
Sad news to all of you who fell in love with Instagress: by request of Instagram we’ve closed our web-service that helped you so much. pic.twitter.com/sIRYfFVywX
— Instagress (@instagress) April 20, 2017
So why does this matter to you if you’re not using bots or automation? Because your favorite commenters or likers of your content could’ve been using automation tools to run their Instagram on auto-pilot. That means, now they’re without the tools that made it possible to like everyone’s post on their feed, or targeting a certain hashtag.
Suppression of hashtags for business or business-like accounts
A round of snooping brings us to our final theory: actual suppression of certain hashtags when used by businesses. Kaitlin Pierce, of PierceSocial.com, did a bit of sleuthing and got a few different Facebook reps to answer some questions related to Instagram’s new drop in engagement. In short, it comes down to the algorithm acting differently for different accounts.
So what did the FB rep state about certain hashtags not showing up? According to Kaitlin’s conversations:
“After running it by my advanced team one more time, it was reiterated that this is certainly intended functionality. To see posts connected to a hashtag, unless it is a top post or high-volume post, the user must Follow that Page to see the Posts.
It isn’t just Business Pages, however, it is primarily. There are individual personal pages that are in the same category.”
In other words, any account acting within the confines of certain algorithmic bounds might have a harder time having their hashtags featured. Also, the algorithm is a lot complicated than a few steps and there appears to be some level of individualization (so, what works for one person may not work for the next).
Your New Instagram Growth Strategy
All these changes signal a need for a reorganization of how we think of our Instagram accounts. They can’t solely be business accounts. I’m not encouraging you to give up the hustle, but it shouldn’t be about the numbers. I know this is especially hard for those of us who rely on Instagram to book our collaborations and jobs with brands.
You can’t speed through Instagram and expect to get amazing results. I think girls got really enamored with the idea of becoming a social media star. It’s addictive to have the likes and the comments roll in! But, if you’re just doing it for the addictive properties, you’re going to end up with a few watches and bags and a big sack of tears and disappointment.
So, let’s skip over those tears and make sure we’re staying happy, OK?
Straight up advice from Instagram itself: FOCUS ON YOUR CONTENT.
This is something you’re been hearing for years now. I know this isn’t new. I know this isn’t groundbreaking advice you wanted to see in the first line. Reality is, without great content, you’re not moving anywhere. You either need to be super damn interesting, look like a supermodel (be a supermodel/celeb), or have a solid content calendar that people will want to click through.You CANNOT expect followers to come and engage with a coffee shot anymore.
Your coffee shot better look like it’s from a mag, AND on top of it, you need to be relatable to boot. Unrealistic expectations? Probably. But we all know this by now. Just think about it- what are you engaging with when you go on Instagram? You’re probably not looking through random people’s feeds with pics of their pet fish taken on iPhone.
Be the person you actually engage with. That means putting the bulk of your effort into producing amazing work, not into seeing how you compare with others in the numbers game or how many sponsorships you can score.
Engage with your audience.
I never said this was a get quick rich scheme, so let’s move on to slow point #2. You need to authentically engage! At this point, people are so used to juggling their social media calendars, that they’ve become bots themselves even when they’re not using any automation tools.
The generic sparkle comments, hearts, cute shoes, nice purse, omg your hair are all phrases typed in almost robotically. There’s not much thought because there’s not much time. But I also find that there’s not much thought because the actual posters aren’t giving much to work with! Ask your audience questions that you’re curious about, share your thoughts, give them a glimpse into your life. Give them something to chew on and respond with thoughtfully!
You’ll still get robo-human responses, but you’ll find that many more will engage in a deeper way. Also, just because someone else is a robo-human, doesn’t mean you should be too.
Use hashtags effectively.
Don’t use 30 high volume hashtags, and certainly don’t post the same tags for every picture. Switch up your hashtags and have a good number of low-volume niche tags related to your post. I did a post on this a while back, so you can read more about getting the right balance of hashtags here.
Instagram looks for spam account in several different ways, one of those ways is seeing who’s using spammy tags over and over.
Cross-promote your Instagram account.
You might have a plug-in on your blog already pointing people to your Instagram account, but that’s not really enough. Cross-promoting means posting your Instagram photos on your Facebook page, your Tumblr, your Twitter, and even your Pinterest! I actually regularly pin my photos from my Instagram page to a Pinterest board (with new captions and descriptions).
Always have a call to action.
Put your CTA in the beginning of your caption if possible, and always have one. That ties back in with point number two above where I asked you to engage authentically. You need to give your audience something to think on if you want them to give you their time.
Don’t use bots.
This one’s so obvious it doesn’t even need a blurb of text. Instagram is obviously cracking down on automated services, so don’t use them. Not to mention that it’s against the TOS.
Use Instagram Stories to pump up your audience.
Recently IG introduced a cool new feature in IG stories: the hashtag. 🙂 Yes, now your Instagram stories show up at the top of a searched hashtag! Use this to your advantage and get some new eyes on your profile by including a relevant hashtag in your story.
Instagram also now rotates through location-specific stories and features different Instagrammers based on location. So, I got a few views from new people trickle in when I geo-tagged Empire State Building the other day. These are all new ways to expand your reach and get new eyes on your content.