As I’ve been posting more about Instagram and Pinterest here, I’ve also been spending more time reading what other people are saying about those platforms. And it seems like right now, everyone is giving similar advice when it comes to Instagram. It’s always something along the lines of “If you want to boost your engagement on Instagram, you must be using Stories.”
It’s not surprising to see this advice, especially since boosting engagement has been a major challenge on Instagram ever since it went to an algorithmic feed. And Stories is one of the features of the moment on the platform. (The other being Live.)
But the problem with this kind of blanket advice is that it doesn’t take into account that every person’s audience on Instagram is different and uses the platform in different ways.
And what I’ve been seeing on my own Instagram profile is very different from what the prevailing wisdom would have us believe.
Despite all the advice that Stories are where the action is, the images I post on my regular feed still have a higher reach then when I post in Stories. Beyond that, when I post a lot to Stories, I actually see less engagement in my main feed, not more.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Stories are crap. It just means that, for my own Instagram audience, my time is better spent creating great images for my feed than dumping lots of images into Stories.
But this isn’t a post about my Instagram profile.
It’s a post about yours.
Because if you want to have better engagement on Instagram, the best thing you can do is take your cues from your own audience, rather than taking blanket advice from an expert.
That’s because if you really want to make the best use of Instagram for your business, you have to acknowledge that it’s not a system to game. It’s a place to connect with your audience.
And if you give your audience more of want they want, Instagram will show what you post to more of your audience.
So how do you know what your audience wants more of?
The first step is to simply pay attention.
Look at what is getting the most likes and comments. If you haven’t already, switch to an Instagram business account, so you can also see stats like reach and impressions. (I know, I know, I resisted switching to a business account for a long time too, because I worried that it would kill my engagement. But I haven’t seen a change, and the additional data makes it easier to be strategic about what and when I post.)
That said, paying attention to your stats matters, but only as much as they can help you reach more of your audience. It’s important to look at your numbers objectively rather than getting discouraged by them. If a post doesn’t land as well as others, objectively ask why. Was it the time of day? The subject matter? It doesn’t mean it was a bad post (or that you’re bad at Instagram), but that it simply didn’t resonate with your audience at the time it was posted.
The other thing to remember is that Instagram stats like reach, engagement, and yes, even follower count, are secondary to the more important stat of how much money your business is making. I’ve had weeks where my Instagram engagement has been really poor, but I’ve actually driven a decent amount of sales from Instagram. Other weeks, my engagement has been great, but sales have been zero. (And for those of you wondering, I promise there’s a post about how to get more sales from Instagram coming soon!)
That’s why it’s also important to understand your goals on Instagram. (And use those to take advice with a grain of salt.) A lot of advice on growing your Instagram following and boosting engagement is aimed at people trying to grow their accounts as influencers – meaning they need a lot of eyeballs so they can then sell those eyeballs to advertisers. If you’re using Instagram to sell your products or services, your strategy will be a little bit different.
For example, my own Instagram strategy shifts between three main phases:
1. Engaging my audience.
2. Building excitement for an upcoming launch or sale.
3. Actually trying to sell something.
The reason I think of my strategy in these phases is simple. Most people don’t want to be sold to all the time, so I like to take breaks where I just focus on engaging my audience. (It’s also a chance to build engagement back up if it dips when I’m in more active selling mode.) Plus, this strategy really reflects the way that I release products, which is cyclical and not every day.
And with each of these different phases, I pay attention to different stats.
When my goal is to engage my audience, I’m mostly paying attention to stats within Instagram, like reach, likes, and follower growth.
When I’m building excitement for an upcoming launch or sale, my main measure of success is my email list.
And when I’m actively trying to sell something, revenue is my metric. (And while I certainly look at sales directly from Instagram, because I spend a lot of time driving my Instagram audience to my email list, I’m much more interested in the entire sales picture.)
When it comes to Instagram, there is no one size fits all advice or best practices. (Despite what many experts want you to believe.)
Instead, the best strategy is always a reflection of your own business and, more importantly, your own audience. The more time you can spend observing what works for your audience (and no one else’s), the more successful you’ll be in the long run.
Take the time to think about what your goals are when it comes to using Instagram, and then adjust your strategy accordingly. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Trying something new for a few days (whether that’s posting to Stories, posting different kinds of images, trying different times of day, etc.) isn’t going to make or break your Instagram account. (In fact, it might give you insight into your audience you would never have realized otherwise.)
Most Instagram “experts” (myself included) aren’t really experts at all. We’re just the ones who aren’t afraid to experiment with the platform and then reflect on the results and make adjustments.
So the next time you see an expert handing out advice about what you “must” do on Instagram, remember that at the end of the day, the only things you should be doing on Instagram (or any other platform) are the things that are best for your business and your audience.