16 min read
Having a large following on Instagram might give you the warm fuzzies—but not every follower is created equal.
In fact, your follower count doesn't matter a whole lot.
The number of Instagram followers you have means nothing if those followers aren't paying attention and engaging with the content you share.
That's why engagement is a much better measure of success on Instagram than follower count.
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Higher engagement means more visibility for your brand—and more sales for your business. When your followers like, comment, save or share your Instagram posts, it shows they're interested in what you're sharing. And a smaller audience paying close attention will be far more likely to buy from you or work with you than a broad but disinterested audience.
When you're working to turn your side hustle into a career—and especially when you're just starting out—you need to keep an eye on your Instagram engagement rate. But how do you make sure the time you spend on Instagram is strategic and not a waste of your precious energy?
When I was researching this post, I found a lot of Instagram “tips” and “hacks”—but hardly any advice on building a concrete, actionable plan for growing your Instagram engagement.
So today, I want to give you a step-by-step plan you can follow to increase your Instagram engagement. You'll learn how to uncover the types of content your audience loves, build relationships with influencers and colleagues, and improve your engagement rates—all in only an hour or so each week.
Let's get engaged!
Your Instagram engagement rate is simply the average number of likes and comments you get on each post, divided by your total number of followers.
Why likes and comments, and not other actions, like follows or messages? Likes and comments are the easiest to measure and track over time—they give a good representation of how connected your followers are, so we'll use those two metrics to measure engagement.
And why divide by the number of followers? Simple—having more followers makes it easier to attract more likes and comments on each post. Dividing by the number of followers normalizes the engagement rate for accounts large and small, giving you a more accurate engagement measure.
Let's look at an example from musician Devon Gilfillian.
At the time of writing this article, Devon has 19,003 followers on Instagram. Looking at the last 20 posts Devon shared, he receives an average of 783 likes and 49 comments per post, for a total of 831 engagements per post. Plug those numbers into the equation above, and you end up with an average engagement rate of 4.38%. Great work, Devon!
Pro tip: If you haven't heard Devon's music, check out his special performance on our Creator Sessions series on YouTube. I'll wait here 'til you come back!
Unfortunately, there are no hard numbers when it comes to engagement rates.
Iconosquare looked at more than 30,000 Instagram accounts across various industries and came up with an overall average engagement rate of 4.7%.
Our advice? Don't compare your engagement rate to other Instagram users, and don't aim for a specific target when measuring your Instagram engagement rate.
Instead, measure your current engagement rate and use it as a benchmark to see how your engagement changes over time. A “good” engagement rate is one that is continually improving with each new post you share.
Making an independent living from your creativity is great—but sometimes it feels like there's never enough time in the day. Since I'm guessing you don't have a team of social media experts backing you up, you need to make the most of your time.
To help you get started (and avoid wasting your precious time and energy), I've put together a quick six-step plan for growing your Instagram engagement. The plan should only take about an hour or so each week to complete, and you can spread the tasks out however you like.
Follow this plan, and you'll start attracting an engaged community of Instagram followers in no time!
The best way to grow your audience and engagement on Instagram? Be social. After all, you can't grow your engagement without first engaging with other people.
The best way to kickstart engagement on Instagram is to participate and engage with people in your community. That means liking and commenting on their posts, and perhaps sharing your admiration and your own thoughts via DM.
Joining existing conversations will help position you as thoughtful, trustworthy, and as someone worth following, leading to higher engagement on your posts in return.
You don't have to spend a lot of time on this—10 minutes is enough time to find and engage with your first five posts.
Start by scanning your feed and find five posts you could like or comment on. You can also find posts or accounts who have the same interests as you by searching for popular hashtags relevant to your field—Instagram will help you out by recommending other related hashtags in the search results.
Let's say you run a blog sharing vegan recipes for busy parents, like Megan the Vegan Mom. You might start by searching for “vegan recipe ideas”—Instagram gives you a list of hashtags and accounts related to vegan recipe ideas you could engage with.
Clicking on the hashtags, you find also brings up a handy list of related hashtags you could also search.
Pro tip: While searching for posts, keep your eyes peeled for related but less-popular hashtags relevant to your industry or niche. Make a list of these hashtags and add them to your future posts!
Once you've found a few posts you like, it's time to respond. If you like their post caption, leave a thoughtful response in the comments. If you know someone else who would be interested, tag them in the comments or share the post with them. If the post really resonates with you, send the creator a DM saying thanks.
You don't have to write a novel—this shouldn't take more than a couple minutes for each post. You just have to interact and engage, and the meaningful connections will follow.
Be genuine with your interactions—don't spam, don't leave a canned reply, and don't ask that person to follow you back. Remember, you're building relationships—not collecting followers.
Once you start engaging with other peoples' posts, you'll begin to see more followers, comments and DMs on Instagram from other people. When someone does take the time to engage with your content, make sure you respond to every comment and DM.
Why is it essential to respond to every comment and DM? Beyond cementing a strong relationship with your audience, engagement is one of the top signals the Instagram algorithm uses when prioritizing posts. When the algorithm sees people commenting on your posts, it knows that those posts must be more valuable—so it promotes them in your audiences' feeds.
Responding to every comment and DM doesn't have to take long. You can easily take 10 minutes each week to share your responses. Again, there's no need to go over the top with your writing—even a small, heartfelt comment or a simple like goes a long way toward creating a lasting impression.
Pro tip: Encourage people to respond by adding questions to your captions, interactive polls to your stories, or prompting viewers to reply in your videos.
Even with over 200,000 followers, business coach and ConvertKit creator Glo Atanmo still manages to respond to many of her comments on Instagram:
Respond to every comment and DM to boost your Instagram engagement. Image via glographics on Instagram
As you begin attracting a bigger audience, this might take more than 10 minutes—but it's still worth responding to as many people as possible. If Glo can manage it, you can too!
Now you're starting to engage with other peoples' posts and comments, let's take a closer look at your existing photos, videos, and Stories to see if any posts and formats had higher (or lower) engagement than others.
Getting a baseline on your current engagement levels will give you an idea of what “good” engagement looks like for your Instagram account. It'll help you make better decisions around the best content types to share for growing your engagement.
To get started, use Instagram Insights to find your most engaging posts. Open up your Instagram app, tap your profile picture, then in the menu at the top right, tap on Insights.
Next, tap on See All next to Posts, and then adjust the filters at the top to sort by All / 1 year / Engagement. Now you should see all your posts from the past 12 months, with posts that garnered the most likes and comments at the top. You can also sort by Likes, Comments, Follows, or other types of engagement if you want to get more specific.
Pro tip: Post to Instagram more often than I do!
Once you've sorted your posts, take a few minutes to look for common patterns. Find the posts that show engagement above the average we calculated earlier, and ask some questions:
Write down what makes your most engaging posts similar to each other and keep this list handy—you'll refer back to this when you're creating future content.
Pro tip: Total up the engagement counts (the number of likes and comments) for each of your top 10 posts over the past year, then divide that by 10. Finally, divide by your current follower count. This gives you an engagement benchmark for your top Instagram content. You can use this to compare your engagement numbers against other accounts in your niche.
Next, let's take a few minutes to see what other accounts in your industry or niche are posting. That way, we can look for opportunities to improve your Instagram strategy and share more engaging content.
Crack open the Instagram app and search for some common hashtags among accounts in your space. Posts in search results are automatically sorted by engagement—this gives you an easy way of finding the most engaging content for a particular topic. You'll also need to run your search in the Instagram mobile app since the web version only shows you the top 9 most popular posts in the search results.
Here's what shows up when I search for #veganrecipeideas:
Another place you can look for engaging content ideas is on the Explore page. The Explore page is where Instagram surfaces the most engaging posts from accounts you follow, along with high-engagement posts from across the Instagram network.
Just like you did for your own content, look for patterns among the most engaging posts for each topic. Try to write down at least 5 ideas you can apply to your own strategy.
Pro tip: Don't merely copy what other accounts are doing. Looking at their engagement levels gives you another data point outside your own account, but their audience and business are different from yours.
At this point, you should have a list of ideas about what makes Instagram content engaging—now it's time to turn those ideas into a concrete plan.
Having a strategy is vital when you're growing your engagement on Instagram. You might not have the time or resources to nail your strategy overnight, but the guidelines you've listed will help give you a clear direction you can aim for with your content.
Take a look at the high-engagement content patterns you've written down from both your own content and other topics within your space. Compare what you've written down to the types and styles of content you're currently posting.
Take a few minutes and write down at least 5 specific ways you can tweak your content strategy to more closely match the patterns you've uncovered:
Once you've written down your five tactics you'll try, keep them handy – you'll need them or our next section.
Now for the fun part—coming up with new content ideas that your audience can't help but engage with!
You don't have to create the content now. In fact, it's better if you keep ideation and creation separate since these two activities often require different mindsets and different approaches.
It's best to do this while your ideas about what makes for high-engagement content are still fresh—coming up with a plan now will help the creative process run far more smoothly. I promise, your future creator-self will thank you!
Take 10 minutes to list at least five ideas for posts you could share this week—Stories, photos, videos, live streams, or other post types. Jot down a few rough notes about what each post will include, making sure you're following the guidelines you've listed.
Later, when you're ready to create your content, you can refer back to these notes and create an entire week's worth of Insta-worthy material at once. Then, you can use tools like Buffer or Edgar to schedule all your Instagram posts for the optimum time. You'll never end up feeling rushed to come up with new content ideas to post again!
One last thing before we wrap up: growing your Instagram engagement is all about consistency.
There are no shortcuts to growing an engaged and devoted Instagram. You can't run through this plan just once and expect to see results.
The best audience relationships—and the most valuable businesses—are built one like, comment, or DM at a time.
You need to show up every week and do the hard work of engaging with other peoples' content, replying to messages and comments, and tracking which content is most engaging.
Now set aside the next hour, run through the plan, and start growing your Instagram engagement today!
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