When it comes to social media user interactions with brand accounts Instagram sits alone at the top of the mountain. Instagram brand accounts get 1100% more user interactions than Facebook, which ranks number two for most user interactions.
That is why every small business is desperately trying to figure out how to use Instagram. I have seen many businesses and thought leaders build up a nice following that consistently likes their picture posts. However, I have yet to come across anyone that has found a way to get those followers to visit their website.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn all make it real easy to post a link on an update or in a message. Instagram does not allow links, unless you are willing to pay for ads. Because of this, I knew that there was a goldmine of customers just waiting for the person that could figure out a creative solution to this big problem.
I spent a month growth hacking my way to designing and implementing a system that was able to do the unimaginable… Drive organic Instagram traffic to a website. My final perfected system was also able to target a specific audience, turn them into followers, and create real conversations with my followers.
Today, I am going to share my entire Instagram growth hacking strategy, from soup to nuts. It starts with the optimization of your profile page, and it ends with a direct messaging tactic that will blow you away.
Making Your Profile Stand Out in the IG Crowd
The profile page is an extremely important part of the social media marketing plan for every single social channel. With Instagram, it plays an even bigger role than any other social site. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all allow you to share active links to your posts and pages via updates. When you post a link on Instagram, it is just a long piece of text.
This means that the primary goal of an Instagram marketing plan is to get your followers to visit your profile page, which is the only place where you are allowed to have a live link.
Selecting the Right Username
Most of you probably have a username already that you are committed to. If you do not, then there are two best practices when it comes to choosing a good username.
#1 The Catchy Brand Name
I chose this path because I am trying to get more listeners to my podcast with my Instagram account. My podcast, The Blog Millionaire, has a pretty catchy name and it does a good job of attracting my target audience.
#2 Your Real Name
If your brand name is too long or does not communicate what you do, then you will want to use your real name. The three most popular variations that make you look the best are…
- (FirstNameLastName) – BrandonGaille
- (FirstName.LastName) – Brandon.Gaille
- The(FirstNameLastName) – TheBrandonGaille
Adding Extra Value to Your Name
For your name, I suggest adding one or two extra descriptive words to your own name. As I mentioned before, I am trying to get as much exposure for my podcast as possible. I am reaching out to hundreds of people each week on Instagram. By using a nice targeting process, I am able to make sure that all of the people that I am engaging with either love podcasts or have a podcast of their own.
This is why I added “Podcast Host” before my name. This plays a huge role in getting people to follow me back and to check out my profile. The one place that you are going to get the most visibility will be in the followers section of the accounts that you follow. People check to see who followed their account on a regular basis.
In the followers feed, my profile jumps out because it says “Podcast Host Brandon Gaille” as opposed to just Brandon Gaille. My name is just another name in the feed.
Since everyone that I follow loves podcasts or is a podcast host, this makes an instant psychological connection with every person that sees my profile in their followers feed. This equates to more follows, profile views, and podcast episode downloads.
Make Your Profile Image Say Hello
Instagram is all about images, and that is why your profile image needs to be optimized to essentially say “hello” to anyone that comes across your account. This is accomplished online by showing everyone a nice picture of your smiling face. I have talked about this before in past episodes of my podcast, so I will not go too deep into detail here. The basic elements of a great profile picture that has been proven inspire competence, likeability, and influence are… wearing eyeglasses, having an eye squinching smile that shows your teeth, and being dressed in a nice professional shirt or blouse.
You want to have your picture focus in on your face. Your profile picture is going to be small, and very small, when people see it on a smart phone. If you take it from the waist up, then no one will be able to see your face.
I chose a picture of me in front of my microphone with a headset on. This is essentially the visual trademark of a serious podcaster, which every other podcaster will be able to quickly identify with. I am also wearing glasses, with an open mouthed eye squinching smile, and I have a nice button down shirt on.
Taking Advantage of Every Word Allowed in Your Bio
Instagram allows you to have up to 150 characters in your bio, and you want to make every single one of them count. The goal of your bio should be to explain why they should click on your link. My bio reads..
Listen to my podcast, The Blog Millionaire, to find out how I got 1.6 million visitors to my blog last month by clicking below
I start with my call-to-action is “Listen to my podcast, The Blog Millionaire.” You always want to be direct as possible.
Then I add social proof by saying, “to find out how I got 1.6 million visitors to my blog last month.” This let’s them know why they need to listen.
Finally, I directly ask them to click with the statement, “by clicking below.” On top of this, I added a downward pointing finger on each side of the words, “by clicking below.” The fingers are strategically positioned to point directly at the link on my Instagram profile.
Here’s how it looks on Instagram.
Choose a Mobile Optimized Asset for Your Link
We must always remember that every person that clicks on your profile link will be using a smart phone or tablet. This is why it is important to review how your link looks on a smartphone and a tablet before placing it on your Instagram profile. I use a link to my iTunes podcast feed. For anyone using an iPhone or iPad, they will be taken directly to the podcast app where they will be able to download my podcast episodes.
The other three most common linkable assets that work best on Instagram are..
- The Lead Magnet – This is where you offer a cheat sheet or secret sauce that would be beneficial to your target audience. After the click, they are taken to a mobile optimized landing page, which asks for their name and email address to get access to the goods.
- Pillar Content – Most companies will have several pieces of top notch content that are designed to position them as the expert within their field. For example, I have a 3000 word post that breaks down the four key tactics that I used to build my blog traffic to over one million visitors. At the end of the post, I have a call-to-action to find out more about my online blogging course.
- The Lead Capture – This works best when it is paired with a free consultation. You promote the free consult in your bio, and the clicks are sent to a page that offers more social proof along with a lead capture form.
Here is what my entire profile looks like.
How to Get Targeted Followers
One of the biggest mistakes that people and businesses make on Instagram is focusing too much on their total followers number. While this number is a metric that you will want to keep track of, it is not the most important metric. For me the most important metric, is the number of direct message conversations I have with my followers. This is why I only follow certain types of profiles, and I never use any type of auto following software.
If you listened to my Twitter marketing hack episode, then you will see some similarities in my process for identifying my target audience on Instagram. Just like with Twitter, the engagement on Instagram starts with following other people.
Identifying Accounts with Similar Audiences
Before you begin following other accounts, you need to do some research to identify other Instagram accounts that have a similar audience to yours. Most of you will already know some of the big thought leaders within your industry.
My audience is made up of entrepreneurs that are wanting to get more traffic to their websites. Since I am specifically promoting my podcast, I narrowed my search down further by trying to find podcast hosts on Instagram that had an audience made up of entrepreneurs.
Once I had my big list, then I went in and eliminated any account that did not have…
- 5000+ Followers – Most accounts with less than 5000 followers were not actively using and building their Instagram following.
- A Good Followers to Following Ratio – A 5 to 1 followers to following ratio is a sign that most of their followers are organic.
- Real Followers – A quick scan through the first 100 followers will allow you to identify if the profile bought their followers. Look for generic pictures and names that look like they were generated by a computer program.
After I completed this process, I was left with 17 accounts that met all of my standards. One of these accounts, was the profile of John Lee Dumas. Since I listen to John’s show EOFire on daily basis, I knew that his audience was exactly what I was looking for.
Everyone that follows JLD is an entrepreneur that loves listening to podcasts.
How to Strategically Follow the Right People
Identifying the accounts is the first step in the targeting process. The next step occurs when you click into their followers and make decisions based upon the information that is given to you on each person.
Follow People with a Profile Picture of a Person
Over the last year, I have compiled some interesting analytics from the Instagram tests that I have run. In regards to people following me back, here are the percentage of total follow backs that I received when I followed 300 profiles of each type..
- Picture of a Person’s Face – 57% of Total Follow Backs
- Picture of People (Couples, Family) – 21% of Total Follow Backs
- Picture of Something Else (Sunset, Car, Dog) – 12% of Total Follow Backs
- Logos – 10% of Total Follow Backs
The highest form of tracked engagement through Instagram is the direct message. Here are the percentage of total direct message replies that I received during these tests…
- Picture of a Person’s Face – 73% of Direct Messages
- Picture of People (Couples, Family) – 24% of Direct Messages
- Picture of Something Else (Sunset, Car, Dog) – 2% of Direct Messages
- Logos – Less than 1% of Direct Messages
I received one reply from an account that had a logo for it’s profile image, and the reply did not even make any sense. I asked them to check out my podcast, and their response was, “Did you see the game?”
The takeaway is that you only want to follow real people with pictures of real people. This is what will give you real results. Below you can see a screenshot of the profiles I chose to follow and not follow.
Understanding the Following Limits
Just like with Twitter, you are going to have to know what the following limits are. There are three types of limits; hourly, daily, and total.
Instagram allows you to follow up to 165 accounts per sixty minute period. You will notice you hit the limit when you hit the follow button and it nothing happens. The best practice is to follow people on your phone during down times. If you break it up into small chunks, then you will rarely hit the hourly limit.
I do my following when…
- I need to take a breather between my sets during workouts.
- I am waiting anywhere for anything. From Chick-fil-a to commercials, there are always many moments in my day like this.
- I am soaking my muscles in a dead sea salt bath. Just make sure you have a water proof case to protect your phone.
Although the daily follow limit is 1000, I recommend staying below 200. This can be broken up into two sessions of 100 on any given day.
What to Do When You Reach Your Total Following Limit
Instagram has a hard account limit that is set to 7500 follows. Once you have followed 7500 people, you will be left with two choices that will allow you to continue following.
Choice #1 Unfollow the People that Did Not Follow You Back
This is the most common tactic used. You just go into your account and start unfollowing every person that did not follow you back. Instagram has an hourly unfollow limit of 60. It is also a good practice to limit your daily unfollows to 200.
I use an app called CrowdFire to manually complete my unfollows. The app sorts all the people that have not followed you back into a section called “non followers.” This allows you to quickly unfollow sixty people, without having to worry about unfollowing people that are currently following your Instagram account.
Choice #2 Set Up Multiple Instagram Accounts
For those of you that are a husband and wife team, then you can use two accounts with the same call-to-action and system. If you have employees and get their permission, then you can apply the same tactic using accounts for different employees.
When you are only following people from targeted accounts that only have a real person’s face, then it will take 45 to 60 days before you reach your account following limit.
Setting up a Direct Message Engagement Funnel
Instagram revealed that 25% of their users have used the direct message function. This is a misleading stat because I am guessing most of these people only used it one time. Over a three year span, the number of initiated direct messages that I have received to my personal or business Instagram account has been a grand total of 19. This also includes the fact that I am following about 100 new accounts per day.
The bottom line is that no one is really using the DM. Businesses, specifically, are ignoring it altogether. The main reason behind this is the fact that links to websites are not active in direct messages. If you could click on a website link in a DM, then I am guessing the flood gates would open.
For someone to go to a url that you sent them in a direct message, they would have to copy the url, leave Instagram, open a web browser, and then paste the url into the browser. This many steps would even kill the engagement rate if it were on a desktop. The reality is that every step would have to occur on a cell phone, which is never going to happen.
The good news is that I created a way to drive traffic to your linkable asset via Instagram direct messages. The easiest way to explain it is by looking at the direct message that I am sending all of my new followers right now. When someone follows my account, then they receive this direct message from me.
I see that you’re a fan of Entrepreneur on Fire. Take a sec to check out my award winning podcast (The Blog Millionaire) on iTunes by clicking the link on my IG profile here:
Let’s go ahead and break down what makes this message magical.
My Direct Message is Made up of Five Distinct Parts
#1 The Common Thread – Since I am currently following people that follow John Lee Dumas, I start off the DM with “I see that you’re a fan of Entrepreneur on Fire.” This allows me to make an instant connection within the first nine words of the message. This part of the message will change everytime I begin following another person’s followers.
The first 36 characters of the message will show up in their inbox preview, so it is important that you use that real estate to make a connection. This will drive them to open your DM and read the entire message. You can see how my message preview looks in the inbox below.
#2 Call-to-Action and #3 Social Proof - After my common thread sentence, I move into my call-to-action by saying, “take a sec to check out my award winning podcast (The Blog Millionaire) on iTunes.” My social proof is a simple mention of “award winning.” There is a 200 character limit with direct messages, and you have to use your words wisely.
#4 Explaining How to Get to the Link – The next part of the message explains how to find the link through stating, “by clicking the link on my IG profile here.” This is the piece that ties all of it together.
#5 The Link to Your Profile – The only two types of text that are linkable on Instagram are hashtags and profiles. Paired with the explanation, this makes a seamless two click process to get to your website.
Combined with the fact that there are very few businesses using Instagram direct messages and the fact that none of them are using my formula, this makes the engagement off the chart.
Automating Your Initial Direct Message to New Followers
Since your first message to new followers is going to be the same for weeks at a time, I recommend automating this part of the process. When most people hear about automated direct messages there initial reaction is to cringe. You must remember that your engagement does not stop with the first direct message, and that separates you from the automated marketers that only push products and services.
The automated direct message is a way of knocking on the door to see who is home. If you did this by hand, then you would not have time to interact with the people that answer the door.
I use an application called Holr (http://holr.co) to handle all of my direct messages. Once you link your Instagram to your account, it is pretty easy to set up. When you add your direct message it allows you to alternate random words so that each message is marginally different. For example, you can alternate Hi, Hello, and Hey to start out each message.
You will also have the option to send the message to all of your followers or just your new followers. I only send my messages to new followers. The program sends one message every ten minutes, and that equates to a total of 144 messages per day.
Reviewing and Responding to Direct Messages
Now that you have the direct messaging on auto pilot, you can begin engaging with everyone that is responding to your initial message. I usually go into my Instagram inbox two to three times a day to respond to all my new messages. My response rate for my initial message is right at 20%, which is pretty amazing for a direct message that does not include a question.
I am not a fast mobile text typist, so I use the audio to text function on my phone to write my responses. This allows me to just lay down on my couch and casually respond to everyone. For the time being, the majority of my responses are simply “Thank you” and “You are very welcome.”
If I were trying to get clients as opposed to podcast subscribers, then I could easily start conversations by asking them questions about their website. By asking someone what is the link to their website, you are assured to get a response every single time. Then you are able to look at their website and find out everything you need to know to drive the conversation forward.
The power of Instagram direct messaging is the fact that it is still pure and devoid of all push marketers. It is real similar to the first couple of years of email. I still remember checking my email and hoping that I would get an email for anyone. Back in those days I opened and clicked everything.
A Quick Summary of the Key Points I Covered
#1 Make Your Profile Stand Out in the Feed – Use your real name with a descriptive word before it to identify your expertise, and choose a close up pic of your smiling face.
#2 Create a Bio with a Call-to-Action that Leads to an Optimized Linkable Asset - The most common links are to lead magnets, pillar content, lead captures, and podcasts.
#3 Identify Accounts that Have a Similar Audience to Yours – Eliminate any accounts that do not have 5000+ followers, a 5 to 1 followers to following ratio, or have fake followers.
#4 Only Follow Real People with Profile Pictures of Real People – Profiles pics that have a close up of a person’s face will have the highest engagement ratio.
#5 Know Your Follow Limits – I recommend following 100 an hour two times a day.
#6 Know Your Unfollow Limits – Never unfollow more than 60 per hour or 200 per day.
#7 Use My Direct Message Formula to Drive Traffic to Your Linkable Asset
(Common Thread) + (Call-to-Action) + (Social Proof) + (Explanation of How to Get to the Link) + (Link to Your IG Profile)
I see that you’re a fan of Entrepreneur on Fire. Take a sec to check out my award winning podcast (The Blog Millionaire) on iTunes by clicking the link on my IG profile here:
#8 Automate Your Direct Messages with Holr – Set it up to send to only new followers.
#9 Respond to Direct Message Replies Two Times a Day – Use the audio to text feature on your phone to cut your typing time in half.
You may be saying to yourself right now that this sounds like too much work. Well, as Thomas Edison famously said…
I think you will find that once you set up your profile and automated direct message, that it pretty much runs itself. It really just requires you to actually spend time having genuine conversations with your audience on a daily basis. These simple conversations will lead to real connections that turn into lifetime customers.
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