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It is trite to say that the point of Instagram is to share and enjoy beautiful pictures. This is great on a personal level, but are brands understanding what goes on behind the scenes in terms of account growth?
Google Instagram and you'll see a myriad of headlines shouting out about the great engagement on Instagram. That's great. There is great engagement. Lots of it. Despite the fact that the content on Instagram is not really publicly 'shareable' as easily as on other platforms. The newer inbox features have helped with that.
Sometimes a comment will slide in that you will go "huh?" about, but you move on quickly, usually. I decided to dig a little deeper. A few months ago, I got given a dog by the awesome Cath Jenkin. Josh came with a bit of a story attached to him and I knew that Cath and family might want to keep up with his shenanigans. His arrival co-incided with the multiple login update on Instagram. So, perfect timing. Josh got his own Instagram account. At the same time, there was chatter on the wire regarding Instagram hashtags, engagement and everything that goes with that. Josh's account is my little experiment. (To Josh's loyal followers: it really is him/me answering and commenting though - promise. A bot wouldn't be as ridiculous as we are.)
Josh is not followed by that many accounts as I won't pay for followers on any platform. I believe it to be unethical besides a waste of time and money. No point. We get real followers through his story. He has 'a voice'. It works. The Instagram rescue dog circle is very, very large. So is the dog product circle. He also gets a few followers through relevant hashtags. And this is where my "huh?" started.
The Problem Areas
The Instagram 'gurus' will tell you hashtags are everything. They have their own little formulas as to how many, when, how often, what order, etc. etc. etc. you should post hashtags. What they don't tell you is that there are online services that automate following and answering on Instagram based on popular hashtags. Who are the main culprits? Instagress (http://www.instagress.com), Boostgram (http://www.boostgram.com) and Likestagram (http://www.likestagram.com) seem to be leading the pack. (IFTTT could perhaps be included in this list, but I don't believe the automation IFTTT provides impact on real engagement too much.)
What can you do about it? If you really want to build a community, use unique hashtags relevant to the story you are telling and make sure your hashtag appears in multiple locations - website, Facebook, Twitter - as well as repeatedly on your Instagram account.
Commenting, in particular, is a way to get followers. Obviously, as commenting is one of the biggest ways to drive engagement. Commenting and tagging in comments. If I comment on your picture and you don't know who I am, you will click on my name and go and see who I am and if I'm interesting enough, you'll follow me. Consider this though, if you're using an automated service, how appropriate are your comments? (Read this guy's article: I Tried Instagram Automation So That You Don't Have To) How many potential clients and customers are you alienating with your inappropriate comments? Quite a few.
On Josh's account, nearly every single comment outside of his circle of people is an automated bot commenting. If it was a business account, how would I filter? Do I waste my time answering each comment in order to drive the conversation and convert comments into followers? If that account is analysed, it will show there is good engagement, where actually, there is very little engagement. In my opinion, engagement on instagram should actually be more measuring a conversation between parties where responses are made to statements and replies to the responses are proffered.
Ah, bot followers. Let's not talk about Twitter in this section. But, Instagram auto follows. Instagram probably has the largest follow-to-follow ratio of any other social media platform. Why is this? Instagram auto following is partly responsible. It is not good. I follow you and you auto follow me back. Are accounts that are set up to push an agenda or push a brand which then auto follow to get follows (then do the Twitter unfollow trick) really engaging in conversation? If I set up Josh's account to auto follow and auto comment, then all the people selling bling doggie collars are shouting into the void. All you eventually have are a bunch of accounts shouting at each other through the computer and no real person is involved in the conversation. Throw in the random Instagram ads that pop up as sponsored posts and you have a mess of a timeline that nobody is interested in.
And now what...
Well, wait and see. The new algorithmic timeline might impact. I don't know how exactly. There hasn't been much written on the topic. What I do know is that as a potential business or advertisor on Instagram, be very careful of where and how you spend your time and money trying to build community and engagement on the platform. Don't try and get your followers straight off Instagram through the usual tricks. You're entering a wasteland of auto-rubbish going that route. My advice would be to get your followers from your website and other social media platforms by offering unique content on Instagram with a unique voice and a unique look.