Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already know that Instagram is more popular than ever. In fact, just let this fact sink in for a moment: 13% of everyone on earth is on it. 🤯
Out of these one billion active monthly users, more than 80% follow at least one business account. In other words, there are a whopping 800 million people on Instagram who are viewing and engaging with branded content each month.
…that’s a lot of eyeballs.
A lot of eyeballs that could potentially see—and engage with—your brand.
Engagement on Instagram is also significantly higher than on other mainstream social networks, making focusing on the channel pretty much a no-brainer for any brand.
Achieving organic Instagram growth can be hard, though.
Luckily, we have done the research for you. In this article, we’ll share expert advice and tips on how to achieve authentic organic Instagram growth, without having to resort to buying followers or any other “spammy” tactics. These tips and hacks are proven to generate results and are guaranteed to work in 2019—and beyond.
Whether your goal is to grow your brand’s audience to hundreds of thousands of raving fans, or you simply dream of getting 1,000 followers on Instagram—this is your guide.
We’ll cover some of the following questions:
- Should I try to “game” the algorithm with bots and other growth services?
- What are the best hashtags for getting followers?
- How do I write good Instagram captions?
- How do I optimize my Instagram bio?
- How do I use Stories and Live Streams to grow my Instagram?
- What kind of images should I post on Instagram?
- How can I use IGTV to grow my following?
Let’s dive in.
1. Why you should not use bots, power likes or other “growth techniques” to grow your following
Like most social networks (and KFC), Instagram keeps the recipe behind its secret sauce a well-kept secret.
This has made succeeding with the algorithm seem like rather an esoteric task to some. In an attempt to beat the algorithm, many have resorted to using growth techniques and automation services that can best be described as “spammy”.
Ever seen posts where nearly all of the comments are just a bunch of emojis or generic “Awesome! Keep up the good work! 🔥” comments? Chances are at least some of them are coming from bots.
Another popular technique has been to purchase artificial “power likes”, “power views”, and other engagement from accounts with large followings, as this has been believed to boost content visibility.
However, while using spammy tactics and buying engagement might seem tempting, it simply won’t cut it in 2019. It’s also a risk that’s not worth taking. Given Instagram’s heightened efforts to cut down fake engagement, using spammy growth techniques could result in your account being restricted or banned.
The same goes for buying followers. When you buy a following, you don’t have an authentic community or engagement—you have fake followers from a “click farm”. Whether you’re a brand, marketer or influencer, an audience of bots is unlikely to translate to sales or conversions.
So to put it simply: you should not use artificial growth techniques in 2019.
If you’re curious to know more about why you shouldn’t buy followers, including the low-down on “click farms”, read our in-depth article here.
2. What are the best Instagram hashtags for followers?
Let’s talk about hashtags.
You probably already know that hashtags are crucial in making your posts discoverable and bringing in views on your posts.
When used right, hashtags are one of the best ways to increase the reach of your posts and, hopefully, get more followers and engagement on your account. At worst, they’re like black holes—your post gets sucked into a content abyss, never to be seen by human eyes again.
You might think that using big hashtags is the magic sauce to getting your posts noticed. After all, the more popular the hashtag, the more people will see your content. Right?
Let’s look at why:
Popular hashtags vs targeted hashtags – which are better?
A hashtag with a million posts might seem great at first glance (who hasn’t been tempted to use a cheeky #NoFilter or #ThrowbackThursday?), but it’s actually very hard for your content to stand out with a hashtag like this.
It’s also hard for the post to rank in the hashtag’s “top posts” section, which is key for bringing in new eyeballs to your post.
Instead, you need to start seeing the number of posts within the hashtag as your competition. To put it simply, your post is in competition for attention with all the other posts within the hashtag.
The hashtags that will work best for you depend on the size of your account, your engagement, and your niche.
You should be aiming for hashtags that don’t have too many posts, and where the featured “top posts” have, on average, the same number of likes that you get on your own posts. Selecting hashtags this way makes your post more likely to stand out and feature in the “top posts” associated with the hashtag. And, you know, get viewed by actual living people.
Take the example of #houseplants. At the time of writing, the hashtag contains nearly 2.5 million posts. Looking at the “top posts” section, it takes on average 1,500—2,000 likes to rank in the section. If your brand isn’t reaching this level of likes, it will be extremely difficult to rank (and be discoverable) within the hashtag.
How, then, can you get the most out of hashtags and find the right hashtags to use?
We’ll explain it all below.
Tip 1: research Instagram hashtags
We suggest you sit down and make yourself a cup of strong coffee, because we’re about to go to town with hashtag research.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find and note down as many hashtags relevant to your industry or brand as you can. Either an Excel sheet or pad of paper will do the job. You can do this manually or use a hashtag tool, such as Hashtagify or Flick.
- Note down everything about the hashtags—how many posts they have, how many posts there are per day, and how many likes “top posts” in the hashtag have on average.
- Compare these figures to engagement on your account. How many likes do your posts currently get? You should be selecting hashtags where the featured “top posts” have around the same amount of likes as you regularly get. Use mainly these hashtags, and throw some smaller and larger ones into the mix occasionally.
- The number of hashtags you use is also important. While Instagram allows a full 30, using all of them might make your post seem unfocused, unprofessional or even spammy. Try using 10-15 instead.
- Put your hashtags in the caption. If you don’t want them to be immediately visible, create a few line breaks by using invisible spaces or dots after your caption text.
- Experiment with different combinations of hashtags to find out what works for you and your industry. Track your progress in an Excel sheet or using a platform like Falcon.io.
- It’s important that you don’t use the same set of hashtags in every post, as Instagram might classify this as spammy. To make things easier, you can create three or four groups of hashtags in a notes file, and alternate between these groups when posting.
Tip 2: Create a branded hashtag
In addition to using the hashtags uncovered by the hashtag research, consider creating one (or a few!) branded hashtag(s) to build community around your brand and encourage the creation of user-generated content, if that is a part of your marketing strategy.
Put the branded hashtag in your Instagram bio for max visibility (more on this in the next section).
Australian beauty brand Frank Body uses its #thefrankeffect hashtag to build a community around the brand and encourage customers to share before/after pictures.
3. How to write captions for Instagram
Writing good captions can be challenging. Who hasn’t spent more time than you’d like to admit trying to write the perfect caption, getting the tone “just right”?
It’s true that on occasion, you see celebrities leaving the caption blank or accompanied by a mere peach emoji. They can get away with it, because they already have millions of people interested in their content. Us mortals—marketers, influencers and brands alike—must work to create meaningful engagement.
And captions are one of the most powerful ways to do this.
A good caption can give you more likes, engagement, and followers. It can even drive traffic to your website and conversions for your business.
So, how do we best use captions to our advantage?
If there was a magic formula to captions, it would be this: a good caption contains elements of authenticity and storytelling, is fairly long, gives value to the reader (whether it be entertainment, education, inspiration or something else) and prompts the reader to take action with a strong CTA.
Let’s dissect this formula into some actionable tips.
Tip 1: write longer captions
In a world where consumers are increasingly indifferent to advertising and cookie-cutter content, long captions are an opportunity to create a stronger connection with your audience.
A longer caption stops scrollers in their tracks, and gets them to really tune in on your message.
The longer captions are, the longer people will spend reading them. While we can’t know for sure if Instagram takes image view time into account, people looking at your post for longer is never a bad thing. Similarly, you can try making a post with multiple images on Instagram to keep eyes on your post longer.
Keep in mind not to bore your audience with overly long bulks of text. Aim for longer, thoughtful captions that don’t require too much reading time (it’s Instagram, after all), and break your text up to easily digestible paragraphs.
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Be brave enough to be bad at something new. And be gentle to yourself. 🥰 . For me it’s hard when I start something new that I can’t be really good at it immediately. But still I love to go out from my comfort zone and start new things. It makes me develop myself (and quick) because I usually want to learn these things as soon as possible. . What kind of person you are? Are you more comfort zone type or do you challenge yourself often? . 📸 @mirocs ❤️ . . . . . #ourplanetdaily #femmetravel #travelmoments #roamtheplanet #travelmood #stayandwander #bestvacations #loveandwildhearts #gotravelexplore #theglobewanderer #lifeofadventure #welivetoexplore #travelingpost #thewanderingtourist #wearetravelgirls #americanstyle #bestplacestogo #girlsvsglobe #speechlessplaces #neverstopexploring #blondesandcookies #passionpassport #beautifulmatters
Longer captions are particularly popular with influencers, who treat their captions almost like micro-blogs.
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Can you guess which movie director inspired the decor of this 100-year-old Canadian cottage? From a summer camp-themed bedroom to a submarine-style living room, Superhost Dayna’s home is an homage to the whimsy and wonder of her favorite Hollywood filmmaker. And if you're looking for a different kind of theatrical magic, the live shows of Picton's Regent Theater are only a short walk away. Tap the link in our bio to explore the rest of Dayna's home in Airbnb Magazine. Photo: @mrandersonshouse @arasimaging
Airbnb gets top points for their use of Instagram captions. They use Instagram to showcase their best destinations and content in their magazine, accompanied by solid call-to-actions.
Tip 2: Be authentic and focus on building connections
Long captions work best when you have a narrative to tell. This is your chance to write about a new product launch, product features, a new initiative, or
If you can, take the opportunity to weave in your brand’s mission and values. Take the post from Airbnb above as an example. In whatever they post, they always manage to communicate that they’re about much more than accommodation; immersing yourself in experiences and culture.
If you’re interested to know more about what kind of captions you should write and how they should make your readers feel, check out Content Marketing Institute’s handy guide to the 21 types of content we all crave.
And by the way, not every caption needs to be a storytelling masterpiece. It’s totally okay to throw some shorter captions into the mix sometimes, such as a funny line or insightful quote. Just make sure you regularly engage your audience in other ways, such as with video or a strong CTA.
Death Wish Coffee provides “the world’s strongest coffee” and, some might say, the funniest one-liners. Writing long captions isn’t their thing, yet they have an engaged following. If you don’t see yourself as a captions wordsmith, take a look at their Instagram for inspiration.
Tip 3: remember to use a call-to-action
Having a call-to-action (CTA) in your captions is crucial to drive action from your post. It is also a powerful way to build a stronger, more interactive relationship with your audience.
A well-crafted CTA can increase engagement on your post, encourage a conversation, and even drive sales and visits to your website.
People are also more likely to comment on your post if you give them an idea of what to write. If you want more engagement on your posts, ask your audience a question, or ask them to tag their friends in your image.
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🌻 "If I wasn't a singer, I would be a fairy princess" — @dualipa, the birthday queen who is a fairy princess 👸 AND a singer. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ _⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tag someone who needs to make this the year to ✂️ break ✂️ outdated rules and create some new ones.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Photo: @alexandragavillet
Fashion and lifestyle website Refinery29 excels at activating their audience with CTAs.
4. Your bio is your business card: Instagram bio ideas for growing your account
If your Instagram bio has always been an afterthought, you might want to reconsider.
Think of your bio as being like a business card and storefront in one. People coming to your profile will decide whether to follow you in a matter of seconds, so the job of the bio is to convince them to do so.
The best Instagram bios have a few things in common: they give the reader a clear picture of what the brand is about, include something that piques the reader’s interest, such as a relatable detail or humorous line, and prompt the reader to take a specific action.
Top tips for optimizing your Instagram bio:
Tip 1: Use a keyword in your name field to boost Instagram SEO.
Your name field is one of the few places on Instagram that can be searched. That means it can also be optimized for SEO.
Unless your brand is already a household name, use the 30 available characters to state your industry, niche or service after your name. This way, your profile will rank higher in the search results when people search for your keyword on Instagram.
Having your industry in your name is also beneficial for one other reason. If you engage with another profile on Instagram, your name will be displayed on their phone in the notification coming from Instagram. Having a clear keyword in your name field explaining what you offer might get your profile noticed by someone interested in your industry or product, and it might drive some extra clicks to your profile.
Think about what people would search for when looking for inspirational accounts. If you’re a marketing agency, add “marketing agency” after your name. If you own a furniture store, add “furniture store” after your name. If you want to grow an audience in Berlin, add “Berlin” after your name, and so on.
And as always, if it fits your brand, don’t be afraid to use emojis and specialty characters in your bio.
Sans.beast‘s profile is discoverable for anyone searching for vegan handbags or wallets on Instagram.
Tip 2: Choose an attention-grabbing profile picture
It seems obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway—choose a clear, attention-grabbing profile picture.
Your profile picture needs to work with your brand and be clearly distinguishable. Avoid using fonts or imagery that are too small. The most obvious choice is your brand logo, but you could also use something else, such as a photo of your flagship product.
We recommend choosing a clean, simple image with a lot of negative space to maximize standing out from other profiles. A vibrantly colored but simple image can help your profile stand out even more on the screen.
The best profile pictures are able to pique interest, and ignite curiosity and a sense of “what’s that?”, driving audiences to click on the profile.
Beauty brand Glossier is so confident in the power of its brand that it opted for just their signature pink as the profile picture.
Tip 3: Make it clear what your brand stands for, and make it interesting
Once you’ve nailed your name field and profile picture, it’s time to optimize the most important section—the bio field itself!
As the goal is to convince people to follow you (and you only have seconds to do this), it’s crucial that you make it easy for a person not familiar with your brand to get a sense of what your brand stands for at a glance.
State your mission statement, product or service in a clear way at the beginning of the bio.
You can also use the bio to highlight a branded hashtag, if you want your followers to be aware of it and use it on their own content. As mentioned earlier, a branded hashtag is a great way to build a community around your brand, track a specific campaign, or leverage user-generated content.
The profile of Wholesome Culture, purveyor of vegan apparel, is a great example of a clear and concise Instagram profile.
If you can, include a funny, relatable line or interesting detail to pique the interest of your audience. This works especially well for personal profiles.
Podcaster and motivational speaker Jay Shetty‘s bio is an example of a well-crafted personal profile.
Tip 4: Let your audience know what to do with a strong CTA
Don’t forget to include a call-to-action in your profile. Use the opportunity to direct people to your website, sign up for your webinar, download a freebie or use a discount code on your store.
For an even more detailed guide of how to set up the perfect Instagram bio, check out our in-depth article here.
Mapiful is a great example of how to use CTAs in your Instagram bio. They even have two—one encouraging users to share their product pictures, and another driving traffic to their website.
5. Use Stories & Live Streaming to boost your Instagram growth
Stories might be one of the newer features of Instagram, but they should not be left as an afterthought if you want to boost your Instagram presence.
Story views are increasing every year, currently averaging around 500 million views per day.
Instagram is also focusing heavily on Stories, and they have been predicted to become the main way people share content on the platform.
As they disappear after 24 hours, stories are a perfect fit for more unfiltered, authentic content. They’re a great way to broadcast sneak peeks of new products, relevant news, and updates, Q&As, behind-the-scenes looks—the sky really is the limit.
Use the interactive features to engage with your audience, e.g. with polls and by asking questions. New features are being added constantly, so you’ll never be short of options.
They’re also a great way to fill in gaps in your content calendar—and to keep your audience engaged.
Here are some tips and tricks to get the most out of your Stories:
Tip 1: Use hashtags in your Stories to maximize their reach.
Using hashtags in your Stories can expose your brand to large audiences, if you’re lucky enough to get your story featured in the hashtag’s highlight reel.
We recommend using the full 10 hashtags for a greater chance of getting featured. Avoid making your Stories look cluttered and spammy by shrinking the hashtags and hiding them in the background or behind an emoji or gif.
Tip 2: Use geotags to target (strategic) locations.
Geotags allow you to tag a specific location in your Stories. Once tagged, your story has the chance to be featured in the hashtag’s highlight reel for 24 hours.
What some might not know is that you don’t always have to tag the location where you’re actually in. If you want to build your following in a specific location, you can tag the location in your story. This works well for brick-and-mortar stores, service-based businesses and brands wanting to expand to new markets.
If your goal is to just grow your account, try tagging a popular location, such as New York, to see if that brings in more views.
And just like with hashtags, if geotags don’t fit the look you’re going for with your Stories, you can hide them in the background or behind a gif.
Tip 3: Highlight your best Stories.
Don’t forget to add Stories to your highlight reel in order to allow your followers to view the best ones even after they have been deleted after 24 hours.
This is a great place to feature new products, positive reviews, how-to’s, and other content that can help move your audience along the sales funnel.
If you want your highlights to look professional, use specifically designed icons for your highlight reels.
Tip 4: Tease your new posts in your Stories
With the ongoing stream of content on Instagram, it can happen that some of your followers miss out on seeing your new posts in their feeds.
To promote a new post in your main feed, post the image in your Stories, but cover a key part of the image with an emoji or gif. This will ignite curiosity in your followers, and subtly encourage them to click through to your profile to see what your new post is all about.
Image from the Instagram stories of clothing brand Spell.
With live streaming, what you see is what you get. As people are constantly looking for authentic interactions, this is a great way to build a more personal connection with your audience.
And if you’ve ever wished for a magic way to beat the Instagram algorithm, live streaming just might be it. This is because live streams take priority in the Stories queue over all other Stories.
It’s a surefire way to get into the radar of your followers—they will even get a notification when you start your Live Stream. As not that many brands consistently use Instagram Live, this can be a great way to stand out.
Here are some expert tips for how to get the most of your Live Streams:
Tip 1: Use the sense of urgency to your advantage.
As Live Streams disappear after 24 hours, use the sense of urgency to your advantage to increase engagement.
Host a giveaway, product preview, behind-the-scenes look or an exclusive Q&A.
Tip 2: Create an interactive experience.
People love Live Streams because they’re real, honest and in-the-moment.
If building a stronger connection with your audience is part of your plans, create an interactive environment and engage with your followers on a deeper level.
If you can, greet your audience by name as they enter the Live Stream, read out their comments, and let them have an ongoing discussion with you.
Tip 3. Promote your Instagram Live on your Stories.
While an unexpected Live Stream is a great way to surprise your audience, it’s best to promote the Live Stream in advance if you want to ensure high view rates.
Post an announcement or even a countdown a few days before you begin streaming so that more people will have a chance to tune in. This also builds up hype and excitement around your Live Stream.
For maximum reach, schedule your Live Streams around the peak activity times of your audience.
6. Make sure your Instagram feed is on point
The truth is that as Instagram has gotten bigger, competition has gotten fiercer.
It’s not enough anymore to post mediocre content and hope for the best. To stand out from the constant stream of posts, your content needs to be visually appealing.
Here are some of our top tips for taking your images to the next level:
Tip 1: have a visually consistent Instagram feed theme
Be clear on what kind of visual style your brand is going for and what kind of posts are “on brand” for you. Having a consistent style should extend across your entire profile, from your visual style, to the way you set up your bio, and the tone of voice you use in your captions.
Make sure your style aligns with your brand overall. If you’re a beauty brand marketing to teens, your style will look different than if you’ re a commercial bank.
Consider investing in professional photo editing software, such as Adobe Lightroom to make sure that your photography has a professional, consistent look. To save time, create custom presets (preconfigured editing settings), that you can then easily apply on every image you post.
For more advice on creative apps that can transform your content into works of art, see our article here.
Jewelry brand Moon Magic‘s Instagram excels at consistency. The images are visually appealing, and everything flows together creating a beautiful, dreamy moodboard.
The Five Minute Journal‘s feed is consistently clean, simple and insightful, just like their brand.
Tip 2: Use alt tags to boost Instagram SEO
In addition to hashtags, alt tags (or “alt text”) should also be on your radar.
Originally created to make the internet more accessible to the visually impaired, alt tags can be found all over the internet. Essentially, these are the keywords associated with and added to an image. They’re not visible to the regular reader, but search engines crawl them, so optimizing them is a good idea to improve your search engine rankings.
On Instagram, alt tags let the algorithm know what’s in the image and may show up for users who have a slow internet connection before the image loads.
When posting, add them through “Advanced settings” and add them to old photos via “Edit” and click on “Add ALT text”. Be sure to describe what’s actually in the image. If you can squeeze in a keyword or two, even better.
Tip 3: Don’t forget to use Instagram location tags (geotags)
Use geotags to tag your post to a specific geographical location. Just as with hashtags, your post has the chance to be featured in the location’s highlight reel.
It is also discoverable within the location tag, which might bring new audiences to your post.
You don’t always have to tag the exact location where the photo was taken. You can use geotags strategically, especially if you are a business with a physical location (such as a store), or a brand looking to get more traction in a specific location.
Tip 4: Post at the right time
While posting times mattered much more when the chronological algorithm was still around, it is still an important aspect to consider.
You should aim to post when your audience is most likely to be active on the platform. Usually, this time falls on the evenings and the end of the week. As the time can vary somewhat between markets, industries and audiences, experiment with posting times to find what works for you and your brand. See the audience insights on Instagram to get a feel for when your followers are most active.
If you’re curious to know more about what our latest expert advice is on the topic, check out our in-depth guide here.
Also, remember that even more important than when to post, is that you post consistently.
The truth is that growing your Instagram following is to some extent a numbers game—the more you post, the more chances you have to be discovered and followed by your potential customers and audience, and the more engaged existing followers will feel with your brand.
If you’re just starting out or you have limited resources, aim to post at least 2-3 times a week. If you can, post even more than that. Most major companies post on average 1.5 times a day, so, if you follow this rule, you should be set for success.
Stay online after you post a photo engaging with your comments, comment and like your follower’s pictures, and spend time engaging in genuine conversations. Instagram wants you to stay on the platform as long as possible, so it would make sense if the algorithm rewarded you for this kind of behavior, as activity to-and-from your account tells the platform that your account is providing people with valuable, engaging content.
7. Use IGTV to reach more people on Instagram
IGTV may be the new kid on the block, but it’s already been forecasted to become a serious contender to YouTube.
As the content stays on the platform forever, this is the place where you want to post quality long-form topical and evergreen content.
This summer, Instagram began featuring IGTV videos on the explore page, indicating that they’re focused on making the feature more prominent.
Here are some of our expert tips to use IGTV to grow your account:
Tip 1: Make your IGTV videos discoverable with hashtags
Use hashtags on your IGTV videos to make them discoverable and to potentially have them featured in the hashtag, which can bring in large audiences to your content.
As with regular images, you should research your hashtags thoroughly and experiment with a variety of them to see which ones give the best results.
Tip 2: Post a video preview
The preview function will upload a short snippet of your IGTV video to your main Instagram feed.
As IGTV still has less traffic than older parts of Instagram, make use of this feature to increase the reach of your video.
Tip 3: Choose an eye-catching thumbnail
Your video thumbnail is a cover image that you upload to IGTV.
As with YouTube, your having an eye-catching thumbnail is important in convincing people to click on your video.
Choose a visually appealing picture that grabs attention and that fits in your feed, as the video preview will be hosted there.
Tastemade is an IGTV powerhouse of guilty pleasure cooking. Their recipe? Post often, and pair a well-crafted video with a mouthwatering thumbnail that you just can’t help but click on.
Tip 4: pay attention to your titles and descriptions
The purpose of the title is to motivate people to watch your video.
Make your title is as descriptive as possible. It should cover what the video is about and include keywords and “power” words to increase click-through.
When it comes to descriptions, include a paragraph or two that describe the video content further, and include a CTA at the bottom.
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“You can walk into the room and you can laugh or you can cry or you can scream—and everything’s accepted.” – Noelle, @yes_noe, Rider and Front Desk at Ardmore 💛 On this episode of #SoulPeopleAreTheBestPeople Noelle talks about what it means to move through loss on and off the bike. Her story is for anyone who's gone through a period where things aren’t fine. – Want to talk? The @nationalsuicidepreventionlifeline is always available. 📲💛 (1-800-273-8255)
SoulCycle, the spin class that has become a global brand, is about much more than sports. It also wants to be a supportive community for its members, and their IGTV videos have exactly this vibe.
And lastly, remember that Instagram is about community
In the end, metrics like follower count and post likes are purely vanity metrics. Nice on the outside, but they don’t necessarily translate to actual sales or conversions.
Unless you’re a celebrity, it takes months of consistent effort to build an engaged audience on Instagram. The tips in this article will give your account and content a very good chance of growing, but in the end, no amount of optimization will help if you aren’t consistently providing your audience with high-quality content.
Focusing strictly on numbers can also distract you from what’s really the core of Instagram (and all social media)—community. Chances are that if you stop worrying about the numbers and start thinking about how you can build an authentic community, you’re likely to experience a shift in your Instagram game.
Hungry for more Instagram advice? Check out our article on the top 15 worst Instagram marketing mistakes by companies to see what not to do.