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Used correctly, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your brand. In fact, in a recent study it was discovered that Instagram provides brands with 25% more engagement over other social platforms. This mean that Instagram is a prime channel to build your brand for your ecommerce business. 

Like any social network out there, there are right ways to use it, wrong ways to use it, and clever ways to use it.

In this post, we will show you how to most effectively use Instagram to increase engagement and build a massive following.

Use The Right Hashtags

Your goal on Instagram is to engage your current audience while also growing your following. Posting new, interesting and engaging photos will satisfy the first requirement but to begin growing you'll find hashtagging your photos to be extremely important. Hashtagging your photos makes it easy for people to find your photos that are searching for those specific terms. 

So which hashtags should you use?

Just like with Twitter and other social sites, users on Instagram use certain hashtags over others. If you use the right hashtags within your photos, you're much more likely to reach new users and be discovered. 

Here are the current top 20 hashtags on Instagram according to Webstagram:

  • 1.#love 546,312,756 posts
  • 2.#instagood 252,226,047 posts
  • 3.#me 238,166,943 posts
  • 4.#follow 208,003,100 posts
  • 5.#tbt 205,718,608 posts
  • 6.#cute 203,174,797 posts
  • 7.#like 193,577,034 posts
  • 8.#photooftheday 189,818,506 posts
  • 9.#followme 183,736,791 posts
  • 10.#tagsforlikes 171,593,674 posts
  • 11.#happy 165,534,554 posts
  • 12.#beautiful 163,122,231 posts
  • 13.#girl 162,838,871 posts
  • 14.#picoftheday 140,266,148 posts
  • 15.#instadaily 126,075,675 posts
  • 16.#fun 124,017,892 posts
  • 17.#smile 120,121,394 posts
  • 18.#igers 118,454,910 posts
  • 19.#selfie 117,998,320 posts
  • 20.#friends 117,809,423 posts

To see a larger list of the top hashtags, check out the popular tag list on Webstagram and Populargram.

If you looked at the list above and said “But none of those apply to my products or brand”, you're likely correct.

Using hashtags is one thing, using the right tags is a completely other thing. Popular tags like the ones listed above will likely net you additional engagement and likes, however, they will not lead to increased long-term engagement, new interested followers and most importantly, sales.

If you want to tag your photos properly, you'll need to find and use the most relevant hashtags. This means doing the appropriate keyword research to make sure you're using the most relevant hashtags that not only describes your brand, but is also being searched for on Instagram. 

To find relevant hashtags, you’ll want to use a free online program like IconoSquare (formerly Statigram) or Webstagram.

Below, I used Webstagram to find relevant, related and popular hashtags for my men’s accessory brand by searching for key hashtags that are closely related to my brand.

As an example, searching the hashtag #MensFashion, I was able to pull the following list of additional keyword hashtags along with the number of times they have been used (popularity).

You’ll want to go through this exercise trying different keywords that describe your brand and products, building out your hashtag keyword list as you go.

Keep in mind that Instagram allows for a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. Additionally, the popular words will change over time, so make sure you revisit your hashtag keywords every few months to make sure you're using the best possible terms.

Protip #1: Here’s a trick that I use for my ecommerce businesses. For every product and product category for my stores, I have done the keyword research to see which are the most popular Instagram hashtags around those product categories. I came up with 15-20 popular hashtags for each category of products I sell, as well as a base of 5-10 popular tags that describe my brand and product offering overall. Finally, I also created a list of popular local specific hashtags that relate to my brand.

For example:

(Brand Keyword Hashtags)
#mybrandname #mensfashion #mensaccessories #mensgoods #fashion #mensstyle #instafashion #menswear
(Product Category Keyword Hashtags)
#bugatchisocks #happysocks #corgisocks #socks #sockswag #socksoftheday #sockgame #sockswagg #socksofinstagram #happysockday #sockwars #funsocks #happysockday
(Location Specific Keyword Hashtags)
#Toronto #TorontoFashion #TorontoFashionBloggers


All of these groups of keyword hashtags are stored in a page on Evernote. This makes it easy and efficient when I’m on the go to post a new Instagram image, optimized for the most relevant keywords. I can easily open my Evernote and copy my standard brand, product and location specific hashtags to post with each photo.

Doing the work upfront of researching, organizing and saving the most applicable and popular hashtags will save you a ton of time down the road, increase your engagement and help garner new followers.

Protip #2: If you’ve been posting to Instagram for a while and feel like you’ve missed out on all these opportunities to build your audience by using keyword hashtags, fret not. You can still go back and post a comment with your new hashtag keyword lists and watch the likes and followers roll in.

Use The Right Filters

Keyword hashtags aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to. The Instagram community respond to certain photo filters more favorably than others. Using these preferred filters can have an impact on your engagement.

Here are the 10 current most popular filters on Instagram according to Populagram:

  1. Normal (No Filter)
  2. Valencia
  3. Earlybird
  4. X-Pro II
  5. Amaro
  6. Rise
  7. Hudson
  8. Lo-fi
  9. Hefe
  10. Sierra

TrackMaven recently did a study on Instagram accounts to see how filters affected engagement and found that Mayfair, no filter and Inkwell drove the most interaction.

More important than the overall Instagram communities favorite filters are your particular audience's favorite filters. Consider this custom graph which correlates filter usage to engagement from your own Instagram account:

You can use IconoSquare to review the performance of your own account to understand what is and is not currently working for you.

Post On The Right Days And Time

Beyond adding the appropriate hashtags and using the best filters, you should also be considering the timing of your posts. 

A targeted approach is to analyze what has and has not worked for you in the past. By visiting IconoSquare’s optimization section, you can get a detailed analysis of your posting history vs. engagement. This report will also highlight the best times of the day and days of the week to post.

The dark circles indicates when you usually post media. The light gray circles shows when your community has been interacting. The biggest light gray circles represent the best times for you to post.

You may want to consider using a scheduling program to schedule your post. For that, you can use a (paid) program like ScheduGram.

Steal Your Competitors Followers

One of the best ways to find and attract new following is by seeking out your closest competitors' Instagram accounts and engaging with their audience. These people have already shown some level of interest in the products you carry simply by following your competitors' account.

So how do you effectively steal your competitors' followers?

You can steal your closest competitors' followers by engaging with them. There are several ways to engage with Instagram users, and predictably, the more work you put in, the more followers and return engagement you’ll get out of it.

The three types of engagement on Instagram are:

  • Follow a user
  • Like a photo
  • Comment on a photo

I ran an informal test with my business account to see how my competitors' followers responded to my marketing advances. I targeted the followers of a close, local competitor. Since I know many of his followers would be local, I added my city to my profile to create a greater sense of familiarity between my brand and the people I am targeting.

I began by simply following 100 of my competitor's followers. Later, I followed another 100 of my competitor's followers but I also took the time to like one of their photos. Finally, I followed another 100 of my competitor's followers and commented on one of each of the 100 user's photos as well as liked that same photo.

Here were the results:

  • Follow: 14% followback
  • Follow + Like: 22% followback
  • Follow + Like + Comment: 34% followback

Although the are many variables and the test was far from scientific, the results were clear. The more you put in and engage with people, the more you’ll get out of it.

Sponsored Posts And Product Reviews

All this optimized posting to your account is great but if you really want to make an impact, you need to post to other, larger accounts in your niche, exposing your brand to a wider audience.

So how do you do that?

First, unlike the tactics above to grow your account this one isn’t free. However, if done correctly, it’s good value.

To get started, you’ll need to make a list of large accounts in your niche. For example, if you sell beauty products, you’ll want to find large accounts from beauty bloggers.

You may already be following these accounts, if not you’ll need to find them. One of the best ways is to use Webstagram and search for some of the closest hashtag keywords you uncovered in the beginning of this post. When you do a search for your keywords, not only will it show you the related keywords, but it also shows you the top Instagram accounts that feature those keywords.

There are a few things to look for in the profiles results:

  • Large following - Usually 20k-200k
  • An email address in the profile

If there is an email address in the profile, it usually means they're open to sponsored posts. You’ll want to email them and ask them their sponsored post pricing. In general, I have found the average rate to be around $20-$50 per post, depending on the size of their following. However, if you're selling an unique and original product, you may also want to consider sending them your product to review and post. The more natural and less advertisement like the image, the greater the engagement and response usually.

Here is a great product placement from Maxim model Ashley Sky that received over 16 thousands likes:

Men’s fashion and accessory startup, Bachelr admittedly used this approach. They paid larger men’s fashion accounts approximately $50 per image to post tasteful images that highlighted some of their products:

The results from the Instagram sponsored post promotion was a flood of traffic to their Instagram account and website, supposedly causing their server to crash.

In a final example, Classified Apparel used the tactic of getting featured on a larger account to jump start their Instagram following. Starting with only 22 followers, they were able to net nearly 3,500 new followers in less than 24 hours. A few months later and they are now sitting at 10,000 followers. 

Instagram Tool Roundup

There are hundreds of tools out there that can help you and your Instagram strategy. In this post I mentioned five key ones help you build your audience and engaged them.

  • Populagram - Find popular hashtags, filters and people.
  • Schedugram - Schedule your Instagram post for the most engaging times.
  • IconoSquare - Info, analytics and insights into your account and followers.
  • Webstagram - Find the best hashtags for your posts and people for your sponsored posts.

Conclusion

In this post we talked about the most effective ways to use Instagram to build a targeted following, but it's not always a numbers game. As with any social network, the most successful strategy overall is to be authentic and social.

If used correctly, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual advertising channel for your products and brand that can lead to a healthy stream of revenue for your ecommerce business.  


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.