Instagram is the hot platform of the moment, but what many users - and businesses in particular - have found when trying to connect with people on Insta is that building an audience can be difficult.
People are more selective on Instagram, with the lessons of Facebook and Twitter dictating new habitual behaviors. When Facebook and Twitter were new, everyone connected with everyone - you sent a friend request to all the new people you met at a party, and you followed thousands of profiles on Twitter in the hopes that they'd follow you back. Many people, on Twitter especially, have built massive audiences this way, but users who did this also found that their feeds ended up being rubbish, a steady flow of random updates from folks they could barely remember.
The result is that people don't follow as readily on Instagram - which poses a new challenge for brands, making them work harder for attention. The benefit, however, is that once you do win over new followers, they're far more likely to become customers, because they're following based on actual interest in what you post.
So how do you do it? How do you win over more resistant Instagram audiences and build an engaged following?
That's the focus of a new report from parent company Facebook, which provides insight into what users are looking for from brands on Instagram, and includes tips on how to take action based on their findings.
First off, Facebook notes the rising potential of Instagram, with 57% of the 21,000 people surveyed indicating that they're now using the platform more than they did a year ago, and 44% saying that they'll use it even more in the coming year.
That likely comes as little surprise, Instagram's added half a billion new users within the last two years, while Instagram Stories, originally launched in August 2016, just this week hit a new milestone of 500 million daily users. It's clear that Instagram is getting more attention - though it is interesting to note the propensity with which current users are planning to go back to it, underlining the potential.
But a particularly relevant finding of the study for marketers is that many users are actually going to Instagram to connect with brands.
"When we asked people what they associated with Instagram, some of their top responses were that the platform allows interaction with celebrities and influencers. Additionally, 2 in 3 respondents (66%) told us that Instagram is a platform that allows interaction with brands. These interactions might take the form of a snack company using polls in Instagram Stories to let fans vote on a new chip flavor, or a fashion brand reposting photos of chic #OOTD posts."
Granted, interaction with family and friends was another key reason for people to use the platform, but the responses do indicate that Instagram users may be more open to brand communications than they are on other platforms.
That's particularly relevant when you consider that Facebook has been actively working to boost interaction with friends and family members in order to increase in-platform engagement. The findings for Instagram almost reflect the opposite, with users coming to see content from influencers and brands, and welcoming such within their feed - when they choose to follow those profiles.
In terms of overall usage, younger Instagram users are more likely to come to the platform daily, which is largely reflective of broader digital platform trends.
That, too, is no surprise, but it is interesting to note that despite the differences in older brackets, a lot of those users are still coming back to the platform daily. If you're looking to reach younger audiences, definitely there's value there, but older users are still fairly active. There's a broadening range of people on the visual platform.
So how can you reach these people - what do Instagram users expect to see from brands on the platform?
Respondents indicated that they want to see the following types of marketing content:
Short and well-targeted, with specific creative designed for Instagram. That makes sense, given the visual nature of the platform, and the focus on eye-catching content. If you are looking to utilize the platform, you need to familiarize yourself with what works, and not just in terms of posting like-baiting inspirational quotes, but in regards to creating content that both works to promote your business, and connects with what your target audience responds to.
Given the aforementioned habitual changes, building an audience on Instagram is not easy, it's not as simple as liking every post from every person who engages with a certain hashtag, or using the old 'follow back' approach to build up your numbers. Both those strategies may work to some degree, but whether the people you're reaching are within your actual target audience is another question.
The best way to approach Instagram is to go in with a strategy. Research the platform, look at what others in your niche are posting, what their audiences are responding to, scan through the relevant hashtag lists to see what people are posting. Once you've got a handle on what you should be sharing, set out an adequate time frame for results, then stick to a schedule and build up response data.
It takes time, but with the right focus, you can tap into the rising Instagram stream.
You can read Facebook's full "How to Connect with New Audiences on Instagram" report here.