Our Instagram engagement grew 465% in 3 months. Here’s what happened.
But first, some backstory:
We joined Instagram in 2013….. aka back when people posted photos of their coffee, slapped a Valencia filter on it, dashed off a witty caption, and got 3853857 likes. 😂😭
And yet, for the past two years — and especially for the last one — like most small business owners, we’ve been SO. ANNOYED. with Instagram.
Sure, we had 15k, then 18k followers… fine! But it didn’t matter because our posts BARELY got seen and our engagement was so low we found ourselves Googling “SERIOUSLY, IS SHADOWBANNING A THING” on the regular.
I had to LEARN TO MAKE REELS. I am old! Not great!
The person managing our social media left, so I had to take over, and fed up + ready to quit (“I’ll be over at my EMAIL LIST, where it’s FUN!”)… we decided to make a few Hail-Mary changes around here.
And… damn. 🤯
I’ll share the results—and the first 6 takeaways from the last three months of weird Instagram-Wild-West growth—with you in a sec, but first, I have to address the elephant in the room:
One BIG thing that makes it easier for our content to get seen around here? Is that I am a designer, I can make a pretty, standout post graphic in a flash, and I’ve learned what works.
THAT’S why we’ve released Canva social media templates that incorporate everything we’ve learned and what we know WORKS… so you can focus on making great content, not ALSO having to become a designer. (You can also try our FREE templates and see how easy Instagram can be!)
Okay, okay, now we’ll tell you everything we know about growing Instagram organically..
#1 – Every post is an opportunity
If you want to organically increase your following and grow your reach, each post you create is an opportunity… not a piece of placeholder content primarily meant to fill a square.
When I stopped focusing on “getting something up” and started focusing on adding as much value to each post — i.e. making it helpful, thoughtful, specific, or entertaining — as we possibly could, our results took off. Stop thinking piecemeal. Build a binge-able content library your followers want to explore.
#2 – Consistency isn’t key
Hear me out: This is controversial, but posting consistency on Instagram matters much less than we’ve all been told. (Shocker. Like, why would IG want us spending all our time here?!)
Sure, you might get great results from posting every day, but you’re going to get far better results from posting freaking great content.
Post in your feed as often as you can while maintaining the integrity of your content.
(My current life mantra: Do less, but better.) The “consistency” you want? Is when people legit look forward to your content because it’s consistently fantastic.
#3 – Serve, don’t sell
Months ago, we had a new template launch, and despite my whole content plan, our engagement tanked, our pretty product posts bombed, and only a tiny percentage of our sales came from Instagram (after all that work!)
Want to guess what happened when we stopped selling and focused on informing / serving / educating / adding value here instead?
1) We built trust, authority, and relationship with our audience.
2) That audience doubled.
3) Ironically, our sales with buyers specifically citing Instagram as their referral source increased by roughly 500%.
Serve > Sell.
#4 – Create the content you actually want
Great news: You don’t ever have to make another effing reel (unless you really want to). Yes, everyone’s pronounced static content dead, and to that, I say WORDS AREN’T GOING ANYWHERE. (Also, carousel posts actually have the highest engagement rate per impression!)
Our engagement blew up when we threw out what we thought we “had” to post and made the content we wanted (like a deep dive into the Little Miss trend, because seriously, wtf?!) Genuine interest generates the signature, high-quality content your audience can’t find anywhere else.
#5 – Stop blaming the freaking Instagram algorithm
You know what’s great about the Instagram algorithm?
When you create content that your audience likes, it shows that content to more people. If the Instagram algorithm isn’t loving your content, that’s your cue to… create better content.
(An annoying truth I resisted for far too long.)
Want to create more algorithmic (just made that up!) posts? Analyze top-performing content for trends, ensure your design is algorithm-friendly, and hone your content creation skills. You don’t need to “beat” the Instagram algorithm. You need to use the algorithm.
#6 – Design matters, so scale up your hook
Here’s an easy one: Make everything bigger.
If you browse your explore page — which you should because it tells you what Instagram thinks people like you will enjoy — you’re going to notice something: you can get the gist of most “top posts” at a glance.
Viewers tap the post they find most interesting, which they determine entirely based on the post cover. So, start with a hook to capture interest and scale it up to snag attention in (tiny) context.
Need an example? Check out our viral “Stop Telling People You Love Coffee“ post.
Want the rest of our social media lessons?
We’ve got something just for you to fall in love with content marketing again! Get the replay to our Email Marketing and Social Media Masterclass!
If “finally figure out Instagram” is on your list, this is the masterclass you need in your life. We took everything we’ve learned generating multiple seven figures from our email list AND growing a highly engaged social following and shared it with you!
I’m also always sharing inside our #longandweird newsletter what I’m learning along the way and what’s working (and not working) for us here at TONIC. Join our VIP list so you can continue learning how to grow online + steal our exact strategy for creating content that performs well on social media.
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Oh and did we mention, we spent the past 12 months studying the algorithm, collecting viral posts, testing designs, and have watched our account grow around 1,000 followers per week. Now we’re giving everything we’ve learned to you – and you can try them FOR FREE.
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👉 “Your templates are literally dominating my growth!! I’ve never got this many likes in 30 minutes 😭 I’m so grateful!!” – Erin, sexy Instagram-haver
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