One of the first rules of Instagram is you have to know what a good engagement level is. You might think if you have 1,000 followers, Instagram shows your post to all 1,000 of them. The problem is that those 1,000 followers you have also follow several hundred other people, all of whom post content.
Instagram has to make a choice: Who will it show what? The way they determine this is algorithmically. That is, they make an educated guess based on posts you’ve liked before, how active the poster is, and when the content was posted.
They made this change, to rely on an algorithm rather than just showing people the most recent content after it was demonstrated that users missed 70% of posts uploaded by the people they followed.
What ends up happening is that people like you and me, who have a couple of hundred followers, all our friends, and family, we might get around a 20–40% engagement rate. So if I post a picture of my own smiling face to my 250 followers, I might expect to get somewhere between 50–100 likes, depending on how active they are on Instagram.
The more followers you get, the lower engagement rates typically tend to get. For example, we can look at Taylor Swift. She has over 122 million followers, yet her most recent post got just 1.2 million likes, around a 1% engagement rate.
The rules of engagement, so to speak, are that if you have under 1,000 followers, you should be aiming for around 10% engagement. Between 1,000 and 10,000 followers? 5–10% is great. Higher than that? 2–4% is normal.
This leads us neatly onto the crux of the matter: How do we get more engagement?
One thing I noticed early on was that if many followers posted comments on one of my pictures in the first few hours of posting, Instagram would typically show it to more of my followers. This could mean the difference between 5% and 20% engagement if the picture really took off, which is huge to an account like mine with several thousand followers.
To maximize engagement, I began to dedicate a lot of time to crafting captions that sounded like my cats’ specific voices. Astrid was hyper and excitable, while Chumbo was lazy and laid-back. Slowly but surely, I cultivated a group of fans who knew my cats as well as I did.
These folks would react to captions that were good. That is, they were relatable, funny, in-character. My followers would like the post, and, hopefully, comment on it, making it more widely spread.
So in a way, engagement created engagement. But that still doesn’t answer our question of how to generate the engagement in the first place.
The answer is literally as easy as this: Ask a question. It sounds too simple to be true, but it is. And most marketers know this already, which is why so many blog posts, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts have what’s called a call to action at the bottom.
Sign up now. Subscribe to my channel. Comment your opinion. And on Instagram, it takes the form of a simple question at the end of a caption, asking folks their thoughts on some matter or other.
The difference between traditional marketing and digital marketing lies in part in the comment box. Posing a query, any query, prompts this very human reaction of call and response. Ask and answer. Demand and supply.
For me and my cats, this manifests as asking people’s opinions. This can be on what their favorite cat treats are, what they call “kneading,” what toys they’d recommend. It feels like a conversation, so people reply. And the more comments I get, the more likely Instagram is not only to spread my post further, but also to prioritize my content to the folks who commented.
Long story short: If you want to increase engagement on your Instagram, ask a question in your post caption. This starts a conversation between you and your followers, which will lead to more short-term and long-term engagement on your content...