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7 ways to boost Instagram engagement

Instagram engagement
(Image credit: Barbara Malagoli)

If you're wondering how to improve Instagram engagement after the platform's controversial decision to start hiding Like counts, you're not alone. There was a cry of outrage among the Instagram community when the news was announced, with many creatives wondering how it would affect their engagement. 

Well, now that the dust has settled, we've discovered that it's possibly not the disaster it initially seemed to be. Creatives who are clever with their strategy can take advantage of the shift away from Like counts, and make use of the wealth of other features designed to measure and boost user engagement. 

If you're a creative who is just getting started on Insta, check out our comprehensive post on how to make money using Instagram, or see our Instagram fonts article.

Are disappearing Like counts a bad thing?

The designers we spoke to are unanimously in favour of Instagram's decision to ban the public view of Like counts. They are all already utilising other ways to engage with followers on Instagram. In fact, some feel relief that the Like stress will be over, and many even feel creatively freer now that they'll be able to be more experimental with posts.

Stefan Sagmeister is "unconcerned" about Instagram's decision, and in fact can see some advantages to the decision. A prominent graphic designer, he boasts 394,000 followers and is co-founder of design firm Sagmeister&Walsh. He's not the only designer to see advantages to a life without Like counts, as will become clear throughout the advice given in this article. 

Sagmeister also points out the changeable nature of social media, asserting that he's "pretty sure that if it proves to be a terrible idea, the Likes will be reinstated".

Graphic artist, print maker and designer Anthony Burrill has 90,500 followers and has never focused on Like counts. "For me, it's never been about how many ‘likes’ a post gets, it’s about how it engages with people."

"Likes don't pay the bills", he adds. 

So if it's not Likes, what will create interest and engagement on Instagram? To find out how best to do this, we've spoken to industry pros who are having success on Instagram to discover their tips. 

01. Share your process

Content truly is king when it comes to engagement on Instagram. In fact, Sagmeister suspects that, "any account that people find helpful will be able to create a fairly large following". But what sort of content resonates with followers?

For designers, Instagram shouldn't be used as a substitute for a shop window, so don't be tempted to only show the final product. Although a carefully curated feed of finished projects is beautiful to look at, it may not be the best way to spark engagement with your page – there is more you can do.

"My advice is to share more of your creative process... Your sketching process, your display screen when you work on it, until the final result", says logo designer/illustrator Alfrey Davilla, who has 66,100 followers. 

Take full advantage of the platform's features to give people a unique insight into your design process. This access will inspire, educate and entertain your followers, but also keep them invested in you as a designer – and most importantly, keep them engaged.

02. Give behind the scenes access using Stories

Instagram engagement: Stories

Anthony Burrill used a Story to show his work in progress, and displayed the finished design on his Instagram feed (Image credit: Anthony Burrill)

As 500 million accounts use Instagram Stories every day, Stories are the best way to show behind the scenes action, without interrupting your carefully curated feed. Their disappearing nature keeps followers checking back for more, and, done well, can make them feel they've experienced something authentic and personalised. Plus, increased consumer desire to understand the entire brand means Stories are a great way to present your backstory.

Burrill agrees that "behind the scenes stuff on Stories is good... you can give your followers a glimpse of what’s happening in the studio or workshop and let them in on your working process".

For designers, Stories offer a unique opportunity as there is so much work that's gone into a project that your followers can be party to. "It's always fascinating to see how people put their work together, it gives you a real insight into how things get made and the hard work that goes on behind the scenes," says Burrill.

But make sure you keep your brand message in mind when you're creating this content. As Burrill advises, "keep it personal and relatable, but always with your slant on things, reinforcing your message constantly, [keeping] it consistent and interesting."

Instagram engagement: Barbara Malagoli Story

Barbara Malagoli was recently featured at the 13rd Brazilian Biennial of Graphic Design, and shared images from the event in her Stories (Image credit: Barbara Malagoli)

Barbara Malagoli is a graphic designer with 16,500 followers. She embraces the behind the scenes aspect of content posting and even recommends taking it one step further. "I like to mix my personal life with my work life, in a healthy and light dosage", she says.

"I love seeing artists' lives beyond 'work content', especially when they don't take themselves that seriously." 

Allowing followers a glimpse into your personal life allows them to connect with you as a person. No one's advocating those 3am kebab shots, of course, but Stories are the perfect format to share something of the person behind the designer. Also note that tagging your location in a Story presents another way for followers to find and engage with your account.

03. Start a conversation

Instagram engagement: Belinda Kou

Two recent stories from Kou, one showing what she's currently reading and another highlighting a giveaway on her page (Image credit: Belinda Kou)

The conversation shouldn't be confined to comments and DMs. Lettering artist Belinda Kou has 12,600 followers and she uses her Stories in innovative ways that prompts conversation. "I like to use my Stories to share what I'm working on, what it's like behind the scenes, and what I'm learning", she says. "I also use polls and ask questions to get to know my audience better, and love it when it starts a convo in DMs."

Polls and emoji sliders are useful features that have been introduced to Stories to boost engagement, and they can facilitate chat with your followers. Davilla regularly uses comments to ask for opinions, but he also creates Stories using polls and emoji sliders. "I do appreciate every feedback," he says, "even if it comes from non-designers." 

And the information that comes from polls and sliders tells you so much more than someone simply hitting Like ever would. 

"I don't do Stories," says Sagmeister. "I did do a poll here and there but only when I really needed the information (never in order to boost engagement), and [I] find the fact that people are commenting super helpful." But Sagmeister innovates in other ways to engage with the design community, starting conversations that are meaningful and keep people invested in the page.

As the post above demonstrates, Sagmeister uses his expertise to critique and assist other designers with their own graphic design. Designers are invited to send in their work, then a project is regularly showcased (currently almost every day), with Sagmeister reviewing it and commenting on its successes and could-do-betters. 

04. ...and then engage with it

"I think one of the easiest things one can do is have a conversation with your followers", says lettering artist Scott Biersacker who has 44,300 followers, and replies to almost every comment left for him (as you can see on his post, above). 

"Whether that is replying to the comments on an in-feed post, sharing a Story about your day/work, any method to have a dialogue is beneficial. People are following along for a reason – having that connection can establish relationships and even friendships with those that support your work."

Kou points out that the dialogue should work both ways – you should be listening to your audience as well as posting content.

"My advice to creatives who want to increase Instagram engagement is to try to get to know the people behind the username and figure out what you can do to make your content valuable to others."

By listening to your followers, you can personalise your content further, and increase engagement. And pay close attention to your DMs, too. People do use them to reach out, and lack of response will only serve to put people off.

05. Use the right hashtags

Since hashtags were introduced in 2007, they've become a stalwart of social media success. They make you more visible in the social media stratosphere, and you can even create branded hashtags. When using them for business engagement they need careful consideration, and there are strategies you can implement.

Using the right hashtags transformed social media for Fabian Oberhammer, a 3D artist with 37,600 followers. "Once I started using them correctly," he says, "I boosted from less than 100 followers to over 1,000 within the first week.

"I have different sets of 30 hashtags saved on my phone, and I use them depending on what type/style of render I upload," Oberhammer explains. "Look what hashtags similar IG accounts use and adapt your hashtags by that." 

Then you should use the Instagram search bar to find out how many other accounts are using them, and decide how many to use yourself.

"I found that having 10 specific (less than 500 posts), 10 normal (about 10,000 posts) and 10 general (100,000+ posts) hashtags works out quite well," says Oberhammer.

Make sure you check out every single hashtag you're going to use, so you know that the content is in line with your values. And hop over to Instagram Insights to check out their impact, so you can focus on the ones that are working best.

06. Consider your upload time

Instagram engagement: Sprout Social

Instagram has peak times, so make sure you upload or schedule posts at the right times for you (Image credit: Sprout Social)

Instagram has peak times of engagement, and it's crucial to success to understand when exactly is the best time to upload your content. According to Sprout Social, global engagement on Instagram is at its highest at Wednesday at 11 am and Friday at 10–11 am. Things go pretty quiet during the days at weekends, too.

Oberhammer advises researching similar hashtags to your own to work out when would be the most successful upload times.

"My advice is be consistent with posting, also regarding upload times, analyse where the most engagement is from and when they engage, and post around that time (preferably a little earlier)."

You can schedule your posts to hit those peak times (you'll need extra software for this), and as you're creating them in advance you can make sure the content is perfect. There are a range of options for Instagram scheduling. Start by checking out Later, the aforementioned Sprout Social and Tailwind , which are all popular choices. If these don't hit the spot there are plenty of others, and all with different features aimed at growing your Instagram presence.

07. Measure your success

Instagram engagement: Instagram insights

Measure your engagement, and use the data wisely (Image credit: Cristan Dina on Pexels)

The strategies covered in this post are all way more measurable than Like counts. Despite the furore that entailed when users started seeing their Like counts disappear, they were never a great measure of true engagement with content because all they really do is tell you someone has seen your post – and there is so much more to measure than that.

Instagram Insights is the first place to go to deep dive into your statistics. In order to use Insights, you must have a business page. You can switch your personal profile to a business one easily – just tap the settings wheel icon on your profile and hit 'switch to Professional Account', then tap 'Business'.

Once this is done, you'll see a new 'bar chart' icon at the top of your profile. Press this to discover Insights (which are split into three sections: Account, Post and Stories). Instagram Account Insights covers five main areas of data: Impressions (how many screens your ads have appeared on), Reach (how many unique users have seen your posts), website clicks, profile visits and changes in numbers of followers. 

In Post Insights, you can dive even deeper into the stats generated by your posts by viewing how many Likes, comments and shares your posts have got. And in the Discovery section, you'll find out where your content was seen – on the user's feed, from your profile or if the view originated from a hashtag or location tag. 

Instagram engagement: Social Bakers

Social Bakers has a multi-faceted data strategy to boost your Instagram account (Image credit: Social Bakers)

Like counts won't tell you if someone watched to the very end of your video – but Instagram Stories Insights can tell you if someone has watched your whole Story. You do this by scrolling down to the Stories section of Insights. You'll see data on a few areas but the Tap Forwards and Taps Back areas indicate who has skipped through the different parts of your Stories and who has watched the whole thing. Then there's the Swipe Away section – this part tells you who has swiped past your entire story.

There are lots of free and paid-for tools that go even further than Insights, such as Stellation Media, with which you'll get a dedicated account manager, or AI-powered SocialBakers. Many of these platforms can manage the data across your many social media accounts, too in unified approach that could boost engagement across all your social media. 

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