Instagram: 3 Practical and Tactical Tips for Optimization

Despite the popularity of Facebook, Instagram still averages more organic growth and engagement than its parent company. Some 400 million people now use the photo sharing platform, including at least 26 percent of online adults in the United States—particularly younger adults (ages 18-29), women, Hispanics and African-Americans.

So, what’s the best way to leverage your Instagram account to reach them? Basically, it boils down to three things: Craft, Culture and Community.

Follow these practical and tactical tips to build and engage your Instagram audience by optimizing your use of this highly visual and community-oriented platform.

Craft: Create Great Visuals

To succeed on Instagram, you have to start by thinking visually. Images and video are important on every social media platform, of course, but on Instagram they’re the main draw—so get creative and show the details that bring your organization’s mission and work to life. For example, if your executive director is making an important speech, don’t just post a photo of her at the podium. Instead, add a text overlay to highlight a particularly poignant phrase from her talk, or share a close-up shot of her writing or editing her speech by hand as a preview to the event.

Before you post, touch up your photos using Instagram’s internal editing tools, or a more advanced third-party application like Snapseed. You can even erase any distracting elements (like people walking through the background) by using an app like TouchRetouch. And, yes, go ahead and use Instagram’s own stylish filters! A recent study from Yahoo Labs found that “filtered photos are 21 percent more likely to be viewed and 45 percent more likely to be commented on.” Just be sure to apply your filters in a moderate and tasteful way that doesn’t overly degrade your original image, or make it look artificial.

Culture: Stick to a Theme

When it comes to companies’ and organizations’ use of Instagram, brands that produce or curate content around a particular theme tend to be the most popular. Think about it this way: If great images entice visitors to view your channel, an appealing theme, or culture, will encourage them to join in and follow your account. Consider a theme that is authentic to your organization and will resonate with the interests and lifestyles of your target audience.

For example, with 297,000 followers the nonprofit Charity Water has succeeded in fostering an appealing culture around its brand by publishing stunning images of their campaigns and impact. I’ve also seen Instagram used really effectively to provide avid fans with an “exclusive behind the scenes” look at an event or initiative. Whatever you choose, try to think of your channel as a creative lifestyle zine for your organization, and be sure to check out these top nonprofits on Instagram for more inspiration.

Community: Encourage Engagement

Don’t forget that just like Facebook or any other social media platform, your Instagram followers are a unique community of fans that needs to be nurtured regularly. This is where I’ve seen a lot of great organizational accounts fall short. If you have strong visuals and a growing number of followers on Instagram, don’t just quit because you’re ahead! Spend some time thinking about how you can better engage that community with contests, campaigns, or other calls to action that will build fan loyalty, elevate your brand and advance your work.

For starters, pay attention to your presence. You can’t expect your followers to contribute to your Instagram community if you aren’t contributing yourself.

  • Make sure you’re posting on a regular basis, but no more than three times a day (and only that often if you have consistently high-quality content to share).
  • Posts on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. ET may receive slightly more engagement, but experiment with your audience and see what performs well for you.
  • Use a limited number of popular and relevant hashtags (usually no more than three) to promote your post to new audiences.
  • And, of course, make sure you’re responding to any comments and questions you receive on a daily basis. Even a thumbs up emoji will make commenters feel heard and engender goodwill toward your organization. Just remember that you have to tag readers in the comment (e.g. “Thanks for the support @SoAndSo”) in order for them to see your response.

If you’re already doing these basic things to engage your Instagram audience, take building your community to the next level! There are lots of ways for your followers to engage with you beyond just “liking” your photos as they scroll passively through their feeds.

  • Create a hashtag and host a photo challenge to raise matching funds for your cause with each tagged submission.
  • Share a quote and have participants tag a friend who would be inspired in order to be entered for a free giveaway.
  • Encourage followers to re-gram a graphic that demonstrates your impact.
  • Or, remind your Instagram fans to register for your newsletter or watch a live streaming event via Periscope and include that link in your account profile.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these tips for optimizing your presence on Instagram? Share your experience and/or questions in the comments below. And be sure to check out the rest of our series on how to optimize each major social media platform.

Ariel Surowidjojo

Former account manager Ariel Olson Surowidjojo loves watching small things with lots of potential grow—like her daughter (Senoya), her porch hanging garden, and the many nonprofits she’s privileged to serve. Ariel feels most at home on her yoga mat and most alive when she’s looking down from a mountaintop or standing knee-deep in a tide pool searching for hidden ocean creatures. She’s worked as a social change communicator for nearly a decade and still can’t persuade her dad to get on Facebook.

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