GROWING GAINS: How to get devoted fans and followers on Instagram

Published on 23 July 2020


Navigating the social media maelstrom

For Insta-aficionado Toby Leon, Instagram offers more opportunity for the kinds of conversations that are quite difficult to have on other platforms. While it is a visual medium, Instagram also doubles as a micro blogging medium.

He says there are a multitude of different ways Instagram can create different experiences for people, compared to Facebook which is predominantly a window to see what our friends are doing.

“In Facebook we have a very few select brands we may give space in our feed, whereas Instagram's quite different.

“It's got this visual element to it that has a different kind of level of response from us internally. We are looking for different things from it.

“Instagram and Pinterest can have a vibe where you're actually coming for a visual thing, but it's also an information source,” Toby says.

According to Toby, the most common mistake people make with Instagram is thinking it is a visual medium only. He says businesses can leverage from Instagram to allow them to use it different ways for different outcomes.

Based on Toby’s audience, the demographic of Instagram spans the gamut from ages 18 to 65+ years, all coming to the platform for different experiences.

“I think the most accurate answer is between say 18 and 35, leading up to 45-years, which is where it starts to peter off.

“The younger demographic is also starting to peter off towards other platforms as well, so 24 to 45-years is probably an accurate kind of assessment,” Toby explains.

Follow me. Please.

With so much noise about getting as many followers as possible, as quickly as possible … by any means possible, Toby admits he’s taken an unconventional route to grow his Instagram community of devotees.

“A lot of people will promote the idea of rapid growth as being something that's achievable or possible if you just pay them a certain amount of money, if you post a certain number of times each day.

“There is a big difference between an audience and a community. An audience observes, a community participates,” he differentiates.

When getting followers, Toby suggests playing a long game involving targeting the right people, having very targeted conversations with those people, and engaging them in ways that audiences are not.

“You're asking them to be involved to help you grow and build a community, which is by design. An audience turns up at a certain time, a certain place, they paid a certain amount of money, they watch, and then they walk away.

“A community is invested in that community. They are invested in its development, and its growth. So, it is a very different conversation to have with people,” he clarifies.

Toby prefers to think of followers as them allowing you to lease a space in their feed. Rather than thinking of them following you, they have actually given you permission to take up space in their feed.

“I may be presenting my own artwork to them, but I'm also answering all of the questions they ask. I'm presenting a whole range of different ways that they can find information or apps I've used that have helped me,” he says.

Sharing Trade Secrets

As with everything in business, Toby is quick to point out growing an Instagram community is not a cookie-cutter approach for everyone.

“A hairdresser might need to take a very different approach. It is very localised. They would know the people that are coming in, but how can they then add value and get followers? By demonstrating what they do, how they do it, it’s those very fine details that get results,” Toby encourages.

He says people often make the mistake of thinking sharing that is like giving away trade secrets.

“No one is going to be able to do what you do the way that you do.

“If we are talking about getting followers, you really are talking about encouraging people to engage with you in a way that allows you to grow with them, and them to grow with you. That is what a community is.

“The kind of relationship that influencers have with their followers is very one-way. There's no room for vulnerability or to be a human being talking to another human being. I'm much more interested in seeing people grow and thrive and strive rather than this fake world,” Toby reveals.

Hashtag and release

Toby admits ‘how many’ hashtags to use on Instagram is a hazy topic.

He urges not to use all 30 of the hashtag allocations but avoid using too few of them either, because it will not have much of an effect.

Likening hashtags to SEO, Toby says most people use generic and familiar terms which are too broad, whereas he has gone much deeper.

When conducting a hashtag search relating to your business or service, Toby explains you will return a range of hashtags at the top that are related to that hashtag. If you proceed a few steps down the funnel, you can start finding hashtags that are more niche.

“It means people are there to find something very specific. If you are offering something that is specific, that can actually start to get you in the top nine results and that's where you want to be.

“If you are not in the top nine results on Instagram there's a very good chance that your post is not going to get that much engagement,” Toby says.

So, what is the magic formula for frequency of posting? Toby says this is different for every brand and every page.

“I usually get about 1000 followers a month from advertising and I usually lose about 150 to 200 followers a month as well.

“I've taken that churn rate and that success rate as a way for me to take the time and care needed to actually post things that are detailed and strategic, which takes me a lot of time.

“This is all my own artwork. That's not something I can do day to day. I can't just turn these out all the time.

“But what that does do, is it values quality over quantity. Which is something that over time people are going to come back for. It's a delicious surprise for people,” he says.

For local businesses, Toby recommends adding new content at least a few times a week to stay top of mind.

“I have an all killer, no filler approach to my Instagram. Some people because of the nature of their business do need to post more frequently.

“Coming back to the hairdresser business example, you have hopefully got people that are coming in every five to six weeks. There is a process there in which you want people to continually come back to you. But if it's not adding value to them, don't post for the sake of posting because it shows,” he cautions. 

Getting engaged

Toby says Instagram stories are great way for businesses to put in a minimal amount of effort to start and get a lot of interest back.

Q&As are also effective communication starters, although Toby says it is important to allow people to ask you anything and to remain really open.

“If you do it enough, you start to show people the kinds of things you're willing to talk about. Every time you are doing this, you're actually giving yourself more than one piece of content.

“Going back to the hairdresser, again, it might be a great way to actually ask questions about techniques that people use at home to maintain their do. How do you maintain your do after you have left the hairdresser? From that you can take some of their answers and then show them how you do it as the professional,” he explains.

So, once you have an audience, how do you keep them engaged?         

By asking yourself how you would talk to people in real life. Toby says the sorts of questions that you would ask people in real life as a hairdresser are those kinds of rich conversations that can also transfer to Instagram or any online space.

“I see a lot of people having that one-way street conversation where they're giving all this great advice, but they're not asking for it back.

SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin agrees, saying when you get asked questions, have your target market avatar in mind when you answer.

“You might answer the question of one specific person but if you can think about the avatar that you have that represents your target market and answer that question for that avatar, then more people who are your customers will be able to relate your answer more specifically,” she advises.

One-way streets are dead ends

Toby urges businesses to ensure their values are front and centre of their Instagram, to ensure people know who you are and what you are about.

He also says listening, learning and giving back are really important at every stage of a journey.

“Sharing your story your way is vital to creating a devoted community. But no matter how good your story may be, leading without listening is going to wind up as a dead end.

“Always invite community in and keep doing it. Keep trying and keep engaging because that signals to them that you're open and you're interested which is really important,” he advocates.

As businesses learn as they grow, Toby encourages businesses to think of mistakes as learning and opportunities for brand development.

“It allows that learning process to be something that creates a nonjudgmental space where you're testing ideas against actual needs and wants that they're sharing with you. That is where Q&As become really helpful, polls become really helpful,” he says.

Party time

Toby maintains giving back to your community is also important. When you invest in posts that are just there to serve and delight that have no business goals attached to them besides making people happy. Toby says you're building trust and warmth.

“It's serving you well, it's serving them. If you can maintain that sense that listening and learning and giving back are a two-way street, I think that is when you start to get into the really sweet spot with a community,” he believes.

Toby cautions that like all business journeys, it’s not always smooth sailing when it comes to putting yourself out there on Instagram.  

“You are going to get a lot of dejection and rejection where you try and put things out that you're really invested in and you don't get the responses that you want.

“Avoid getting trapped in a continual content producing and posting cycle as I have found this distanced a lot of people.

“Pay close attention to who drops off. People that might have been engaged for long periods of time that drop off, you wonder what was it? What did I do? And you may not always be able to know exactly... Sometimes I have asked them and most of the time, they're happy to tell you.

How does Toby deal with negative engagement from followers? By looking at it as an opportunity.

“Don't respond emotionally. Wait until your emotions are not running as hot as they may be when you first read it.

“Remember you're reading something. You're not hearing their voice, so their tone may be completely different to the way that you're interpreting it.

“I actually try to ask questions rather than telling them what I've done, and why I've done it, and how they should feel about it.

“I use it as an opportunity to ask questions such as what are you hoping to talk to me about because I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this part. I'd love to talk more…

“Make sure that you're coming from a place of curiosity, engagement, from a place of warmth as well. So, curiosity, warmth, and kindness, which is why disentangling yourself from the emotion is important,” he recommends.

Apps to help grow and manage your Instagram page

Through his Wanderlost & Found journey, Toby has had help along the way, with tried and tests apps to help him grow his community.

  1. Flick - helps you to narrow down your hash tags according to your audience size. If you've got a hashtag that you're using that is also being used by a brand that has a million followers, it's very unlikely that you're going to get into that sweet spot of the top nine, simply because they're going to get more engagement across the board.
  2. Later - Visually plan, schedule and analyse posts for Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Later also allows you to add a link in bio or tag products in Instagram posts to turn your feed into a clickable, optimized landing page. Get valuable insights including clicks, pageviews, and sales from each post.
  3. Linktree - The only link you’ll ever need. Connect audiences to all your content with just one link
  4. Unfollow for Instagram app - is the ultimate tool for cleaning up your Instagram account. Bulk block/unblock/unfollow users, bulk delete posts, bulk unlike posts

Toby Leon is the Founder of Wanderlost & Found and Turbo-traction lab alumni.

The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based business practice to make the entire business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective and more efficient.

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