If you use Instagram for marketing, there’s a good chance that you’ve noticed a recent decrease in Instagram engagement. If you’re not getting as many likes, comments, or new followers as you used to, don’t worry: it’s not just you. Accounts of all sizes are seeing less Instagram engagement on posts than they did in the past, which is troubling news for businesses that rely on Instagram for reaching their customers.
To help you combat the downturn in engagement, we rounded up 7 strategies that work to actually increase Instagram engagement. But the #1 tip? Nothing beats creating great content, growing a true community, and actively engaging with your customers on a daily basis.
Instagram Engagement Decreasing
When we first wrote about the decrease in Instagram post engagement last summer, Instagram had just switched over to an algorithmic feed. And while there was an air of hope that engagement on the platform would improve, it appears that engagement has actually continued to decrease since that time. In fact, in recent weeks, users are reporting an even more drastic decline in Instagram engagement, which has sent a lot of Instagram users into panic mode.
According to Instagram marketing expert Alex Tooby, while Instagram users could expect to see an engagement rate of 3-5 percent in the past, that number has dropped to around 1-2 percent. And it’s even lower for bigger accounts with over 100,000 followers.
It’s difficult to say what’s causing the decrease in Instagram’s engagement rate—some are blaming the Instagram algorithm, while others have chalked it up to the purported “Instagram shadowban” or an attempt by Instagram to force businesses to buy more ads.
1. How to Fix Instagram Engagement: Don’t Use Instagram Bots
Instagram is a competitive place. In order to get on the Explore page or the Top Posts of a hashtag, you need to generate a ton engagement (likes and comments) as quickly as possible. However, because Instagram engagement is decreasing this is getting more difficult than ever. As a result, some users have turned to Instagram bots to artificially inflate the engagement on their posts.
The thinking is, if you can’t get 2000 likes in an hour organically, why don’t you just buy 2000 likes from a bot service?
Listen, we totally get the appeal. Instagram bots can seem like a really useful engagement tool—the perfect solution for a busy entrepreneur who has little to no time to spend building their following on Instagram. But the fact is that Instagram bots can pose a serious risk to your account. Here’s why:
The point is: if you use any kind of automation or bot-like software on your account, there’s a good chance that a) Instagram knows, and b) you’re going to be shadowbanned or even banned outright. So don’t!
2. Be Strategic With Your Instagram Hashtags
A few weeks ago, we wrote about how Instagram was penalizing accounts for certain “non-spammy” hashtag behavior, like using the same hashtags over and over and using banned hashtags.
It’s unclear if this is part of the Instagram shadowban or simply a bug in the platform as Instagram announced in February. But in any case, a lot of users have noticed that even if they use just a single banned hashtag, their post won’t show up on any of the hashtags they use.
Until this issue is cleared up, we recommend doing an inventory of your hashtag sets (i.e. the community-oriented hashtags that you use frequently) to make sure that none of them are currently banned by Instagram. To do this, simply search for the hashtag on Instagram. If the top posts section appears but nothing else, it’s likely that the hashtag was banned.
If any of the hashtags you use were banned, make sure to stop using them right away! They could be preventing your posts from appearing on any of the hashtags you use.
Now for the good news: despite the recent issues, Instagram hashtags are still one of the best tools for driving engagement on your posts—especially if you can get into the “Top Posts” of a hashtag.
If you’ve ever searched for a hashtag on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed the grid of nine Top Posts that appear at the top of the results page. According to Instagram, Top Posts appear on trending hashtags “to show you some of the most popular posts that were tagged with that hashtag.” Underneath the Top Posts, posts are arranged chronologically and are constantly being updated, so getting into the Top Posts can mean huge exposure for your brand!
The algorithm behind Instagram’s Top Posts takes a few things into consideration, including: how much engagement your post receives (likes and comments), the popularity of the hashtag, and how quickly your post receives its engagement. If you want to get into the Top Posts of a hashtag, you need to optimize each of these factors.
Check out our guide on how to get into the Top Posts of an Instagram hashtag!
3. Schedule Instagram Posts for When Your Audience Is Most Active
One of the best ways to generate a ton of engagement is to schedule your Instagram posts for when your audience is most active on Instagram. The reason for this is that the Instagram algorithm gives priority to posts with higher engagement, meaning that the more likes and comments your post receives, the more people will see your post.
If you post when your audience is most active on Instagram, you’re more likely to drive engagement on that post. That engagement will translate into Instagram bumping your post higher up on users’ feeds, which, in turn, will result in even more engagement on your post. It’s a cyclical process: higher engagement leads to more visibility, which leads to higher engagement, which leads to more visibility… and it all starts with when you post on Instagram.
That’s why scheduling Instagram posts is so important to your overall Instagram strategy. If you want to boost your chances of generating a ton of quick engagement on your posts, find out what your best times to post are, and then use a free tool like Later to schedule your Instagram posts in advance!
Note: According to some users, posting multiple times a day can actually cause your Instagram engagement to decrease! Since the introduction of the Instagram algorithm, posts have a longer half-life, meaning that more people see your post over a longer period of time. If you notice that your engagement is lower when you post 2+ times per day, try switching things up and posting just once. It might help with your overall engagement!
4. Add a CTA to All Your Instagram Posts
The simple act of requesting that your audience comment or inviting them to engage can go a very long way when it comes to boosting your Instagram engagement.
That’s why we can’t stress enough the importance of including a call-to-action in your Instagram captions. It’s great way to inspire your followers to engage with your account in the comments section and spend more time viewing your post—which could also be a factor that Instagram takes into consideration when selecting the top posts for a hashtag!
To create a call-to-action on Instagram, you just need to ask your followers to do something after reading your caption! You can ask them a question about what they’re up to this weekend, or what they think of a new product, and tell them to leave their answer in the comments.
5. Join an Instagram Pod
Ever since Instagram switched from chronological posts to an algorithmic feed, users have been scrambling to find a way to “hack the algorithm.” And while some users have turned to Instagram bots and other blackhat methods, others have joined forces to create Instagram pods.
Instagram pods are private groups of 10-15 Instagrammers, bloggers, or businesses that share similar audiences and work together to increase their Instagram engagement. They communicate with each other via Instagram DMs, and every time someone in the pod publishes a new Instagram post, they share it with the group. The pod members will then click on the post, like it, and leave a genuine comment, which encourages other users to engage with the post as well.
In order to join an Instagram pod, you need to be added (or request to be added) to a closed Instagram group chat. Usually this happens through word-of-mouth, but you can also find success finding the right Instagram pod for you through various Instagram-themed Facebook Groups (like Instagram Marketing Mastermind, The Gram Gang, or Later Community). Once you’re in, each group has their own rules and stipulations to reaping the benefits, aka engagement.
Instagram pods might sound a bit fishy, but unlike bots or automation, Instagram pods aren’t specifically prohibited by Instagram, so you don’t have to worry about getting banned or shadowbanned. That being said, some users have taken issue with Instagram pods for promoting disingenuous engagement. At the end of the day, it really depends on the pod. If your pod is made up by Instagram users whose content you truly love and want to engage with, then we don’t see it as a problem!
6. Be More Active on Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories can be a ton of fun, but they’re also extremely useful for boosting your engagement. In fact, some users have said that they get more engagement on their posts when also post to Instagram Stories.
We can’t confirm that there’s a correlation between Instagram Stories and the engagement on your regular posts, but we have noticed that if a post isn’t performing that well, and you post to Instagram Stories, it can result in increased Instagram engagement. But even if posting a story doesn’t directly boost your post engagement, there are a ton of new features on Instagram Stories that can help increase awareness (and engagement) around your branded hashtags.
There’s another added benefit of using Instagram Stories: you can get featured on the Explore page. If you head to the Explore Page on Instagram, you’ll notice a row of Instagram Stories at the top of the page. The reason those Stories appear there is because Instagram selected them based on the accounts you follow and the posts you like. Instagram may also show you Stories that accounts you follow have liked, or were liked by a large number of people.
If you want to get on the Instagram Explore page, you need to create ultra-engaging, super-targeted content. The better your Stories are, and the more they speak to a specific audience, the higher the chance that Instagram will add your account to the recommended Stories at the top of the Explore tab!
7. Host an Instagram Contest
Using hashtags strategically, joining an Instagram pod, and posting when your audience is most active are all great ways to boost your Instagram engagement. But if you’re looking to gain a lot of new Instagram followers in a short burst instead of a few every day, hands down the best way is to host an Instagram contest!
If you’re looking for a super effective Instagram contest idea, try partnering with another business or influencer. It’s a great way to promote your Instagram contest to both of your audiences, and also share each other’s followers. Start by looking for a cool business to partner with, and then organize a 3-5 day giveaway where Instagram users are rewarded with prizes for following both accounts, and tagging their friends in the comments.
A great example comes from Local Wanderer, which recently ran an Instagram contest with The Burrard, a hip, retro hotel in downtown Vancouver. The contest involved a giveaway in which Instagram users could win a 2-night stay at the hotel by following both Instagram accounts, and tagging three friends in a comment. By the end of the contest, The Burrard gained a whopping 500 new followers on Instagram!
By getting Instagram users to tag their friends (or three) in the comments, you can draw more attention to the contest, and drive even more engagement than you would otherwise!
Even though post engagement on Instagram is decreasing, it’s still possible to successfully grow your account! You may have to rethink your Instagram strategy slightly, but by following these tips and creating great content, you should be able to increase your engagement and get more likes and comments on your Instagram posts!
Ready to jump-start your Instagram engagement? Later makes it easy for you to plan, manage, and schedule your Instagram posts!