Grow your instagram organically and use it to drive traffic to your blog. Article updated January 2020: I will update this post probably every few months since the IG changes keep coming at us, so you might want to bookmark this page and check in periodically!
Using IG is fun and can lead to income in the food niche -- especially within the burgeoning healthy food market -- if you can gain enough of an audience or at least engagement (number of likes and comments per post).
But it has changed radically since the advent of its new algorithm 2017 and keeps ON changing with each update! Whew! Every time I wake up, it seems, there is a new sweeping change on IG!
You must know by now that Facebook owns IG and since they bought it, they have imposed unrelenting changes that are sometimes good for food bloggers, but often not, or, at best, disruptive. In early 2019, the founders of IG abruptly left their posts in the Facebook corporate offices where they had previously been given free rein to run IG as before. No more, apparently.
Now IG is headed up by a Facebook executive and we can expect big changes. Already, at the start of 2020, we are seeing lurches in the algorithm, basically requiring even more consistent posting and time on IG, not that any of have anything else to do, right?
Oddly though, there was a rumor (April 2019) that the new leaders of IG are considering removing Likes from each post to encourage more creativity in post content, and less attention to the need to grow like numbers. Hmm. Interesting, isn't that?
Before the biggest algorithm change in 2017, it was relatively easy -- in the healthy food community and lifestyle especially -- to obtain steady growth on your IG and use that traffic to grow a blog for someone who was active and had quality content to share. Now, it's harder to grow on IG. So, conversely, it is harder to get that traffic to your blog.
But it is STILL POSSIBLE.
And there is at least one change that makes it easier to refer what traffic you do have to a connecting blog, so that's at least some good news. I think it's possible to grow on both - IG and your blog via IG - if you make a real effort, and you are quick to change your sails to follow the winds.
And I am here to offer some tips in that direction.
So here are my current top general ten tips to help you bring your A game - sort of in reverse order of importance although I think they are all important:
Top Ten List Count-down to Faster Growth
on Instagram (updated Jan 2020):
10. Quality Content (duh!):
This rule merits repeating: you need awesome quality content and captions - recipes, information, camera work! I LOVE this book for fast and easy food photography basics: Tasty Food Photography.
Ready to upgrade your camera equipment? I have my photography equipment posted here and my selections are great for someone just beginning to work with manual camera settings because I use minimal equipment and it is very user-friendly.
Feel free to DM me on IG if you have any photography setting questions on the equipment I have.
And here is a new effective tip to boost engagement: post in a pattern.
Mine is alternating perspective, have you noticed? Overhead, straight-on, overhead, straight-on. Sometimes I mess it up, haha. Can you guess the angle of my next post? Others post in groups of colors or recipe types.
Sometimes the pattern isn't so clear but if you pay attention, you pick up on it. Presumably the pattern prediction is interesting to people. So, try it! Pick a pattern and stick to it!
9. Don't Update Profile Photo:
Use a photo of yourself in the profile, not logo, to create a human connection. And here is something that might surprise you: Make it rather colorful or clear and don't change it, at least not often. Because it becomes a sort of logo/gravatar for you, and people learn to flash-identify the author of a comment or post by this image so don't keep changing it up or people won't recognize that that circle is YOU!
It's important that they recognize it because if they see it - when you comment or if you view stories - it reminds them of you and your page and awesome content and they will more likely remember to pay you a visit.
Engagement is fueled by being noticed.
8. Put Hashtags, Topics in Profile:
Create a bio/profile description that connects with your niche community, list your food recipe topics, food style, even quirky interests. And, new since a few weeks ago, now add hashtags that are directly related to your content. For instance, I have #plantbased and #vegan in my IG profile.
THEN follow those hashtags yourself, and use them in your caption hashtag bank. After a while, presumably, IG automation will associate you within this circle and might present you in searches under those topics, possibly putting you in the top six of those hashtags, etc.
7. A Business IG Account Helps Blog Traffic:
Want to collaborate with brands? You really must switch to a business IG or a Creator's account. This last is new this month, so I am not sure how it appears as an offering to those with a personal account - but both business and creator's account offer similar helpful tools.
One of which is that these account types allow you to LINK in your stories.
So I use that stories link option to showcase recipes and send visitors to my blog or - to a brand if I am doing a collaboration, or to a featured post if I want to thank a feature page and send traffic to a share of my recipe. You get the picture.
And, although this is not a new change, I also use the profile link option IG has always offered to link up a IG-approved paid linkinprofile app that links all my IG posts directly to my blog posts - this has made my blog traffic soar, presumably because people can now more easily find my blog recipe posts that are featured in my IG.
6. Make Connections Cross-platform:
Try to connect with your followers cross-platform, such as on Facebook, their Food blog, or especially Pinterest. Go visit them there, comment, like, even DM - become a part of their community there as well. And share others' posts, at least in stories - maybe you made their recipe, maybe you were influenced by their style, maybe they shared you and you want to thank them which also drives traffic to that share, or maybe you just want to let your own followers of an account they might like.
5. Post Once a Day:
Post regularly, once every 1 day is best if you expect real growth. And as of April 2019, the IG masters have made changes that abruptly to basically require daily postings to grow. I am struggling with that myself only because I am publishing a book series and the deadlines are relentless! (First one is due out 2019!).
If you can't create new quality content daily, re-post older content (this content is new to your new followers), share work from other accounts (but be sure to tag them in the first line of the caption so it is clear at a glance who created the posted image), or post lifestyle or travel posts or blogger/photography tips between food posts.
4. Post at the Same Time:
Here is an important rule: Post at the Same Time Every Day.
Let your visitors get to know the time they know you will have a new post. Some people actually plan meals on what you post so give them a convenient way to depend on you! Observe your community's most active time, commit to a time that works with your schedule, and stick to it. I myself post at noon which is a time most of my followers seem to be lively.
3. Hashtag Changes:
As of Jan 2020, hashtag rules are still changing. So my advice here might not apply in a few months.
One tip suggests shortening list down from the IG-allowed 30. I use about 15. I have seen people use more and less and even none. If you check "Insights" of each post, you can see where your traffic comes from. A huge amount amount of my traffic comes from hashtags so I won't be leaving them off any time soon.
The possibility of banned hashtags is still out there so be careful. Test your hashtags after you post to be sure your post shows up on at least one. That means you don't have dead hashtags. If you did, then like Christmas lights, one dead one can "turn off" all your other hashtags so your post wouldn't appear on any hashtag.
If your hashtags seem to not be working, try spot testing by removing hashtags that are general or that you just added.
Also, be sure to make your hashtags relevant. Now that we can follow hashtags, IG added a feature that allows posts to be muted in that hashtag for your feed. If your posts get too many of those, IG will begin to distrust that your hashtags reflect your content and who knows what it might do.
Here is a new hashtag tip as of Jan 2020: Put up to 10 relevant hashtags on your stories. Your story then might be shown in that hashtag's story, upping your visibility.
Didn't know hashtags even had stories? I was surprised too. Go test it out. Go visit a hashtag, say #vegantreats , and click on the profile circle. Success! You are now visiting a hashtag's story. It doesn't matter if you are in Top or Recent view in that hashtag - the stories are the same. And if yours is lucky enough to show up there, you can see it in your stories insights - just look at the column on the right that shows who viewed your story. If your story showed up in a hashtag, it would be listed first. If nothing is listed, your story did not make it into a hashtag.
Also, I am not sure if hashtag stories last 24 hours. I don't think so. I've seen my appearances last only a few hours. Hmmm.
Here are tricks:
- You don't have to add all 10 allowed hashtags. That gets time-consuming to add, right? I have been adding about three and usually end up in at least one story.
- You can hide your hashtags. Just type them, shrink them with your fingers, type a space and choose a background color in your story picture. Then slide the hashtag so it "disappears". Go see my stories in IG and see if you can find my hashtags, haha. Sometimes I don't do so great a job hiding them.
- Choose very relevant hashtags. I have been having success with ingredient or food-type-specific like #veganchocolate or #cashewcream. Sometimes I appear in the big sharing stories, like #bestofvegan #feedfeed or Whole Food's market #makesmewhole. But not as often.
2. Answer Comments Right Away:
Another call from experts came up recently that IG values your post more if you respond to your own comments within 60 minutes. Also, apparently there was a rumor that you shouldn't edit your post for 24 hours after posting or you'll risk being bumped off the top 6.
I agree with the first tip, it has helped my engagement to answer promptly. It's also more fun, because the person is still "there" and will sometimes answer back, having a quick convo!
The second tip, I'm not so sure. I HAVE edited within a few minutes of posting and still end up in the top six of some hashtags, so you decide. An important edit to make is to add the ALT text to your post (allowing accessibility to your post content for those using screen readers) which you cannot add until after you have posted. To add your alt text, post on IG, click edit, and hover over the image where you normally tag. You will see the words "Add Alt Text" in lower right. Click, add a description of the image, and hit "done" twice.
1. Comment on Old Friends, Go Find New Ones:
The number one tip I can give you today has been slightly varied. I've always said comment on others' posts daily. I've always said to do so especially if they comment on your post: Once you answer someone's comment on your post, go directly to their page and comment on their newest post. BUT now I'm going to tell you to find new accounts to comment on, and four great ways to do this is:
One, visit search and like random posts that appeal to you. Hopefully your like will be visible to the post owner as well as their visitors. And if you comment, that ups the chances of visibility.
Two, visit the accounts of those folks who commented on accounts you follow or admire.
Three, visit accounts completely unrelated to food, but who post content you still like. Chances are you'll "meet" other commenters who might decide they are interested in your content too, and click to your page. (Of course, it helps if your handle indicates your own page's theme) For instance, I love interior design and world travel and fitness so I also follow many IG pages on that topic and I know I have received followers from my comments on those pages.
Four (new!), new to my list here: As you visit the accounts of those you follow to leave a comment. Don't stop there. Go through their comments and like one or two comments made by accounts you are familiar with or even follow. There is a lot of competition for attention now on IG. It helps to remind these familiar accounts of you and your page, and of your interest in them as well.
No matter if you practice one or all four tips, hopefully traffic to your page will rise, and your numbers with it!
There are many many other tricks and more will unfold this year as we deal with constant IG changes, but hopefully this will give you a few ideas. And yes, this all takes time, and do not feel bad if you can't invest in every move. Do not stress about it. Just do your best, and you will probably grow anyway, albeit a bit more slowly. No one says you have to do this, and enjoying life should be your first priority. And if you are happy, that will show in your pictures and comments and that matters too, I don't care what the Algorithm says.
I am always updating this post, so please subscribe to below if you want to be sure not to miss that update!
Happy posting! And be sure to come on over to my IG page and say hi! I'm at @greensmoothiegourmet
Dee Dine is founder of Green Smoothie Gourmet, a plant based recipe blog, and author of the recent cookbook, Crazy Healthy with 4 Ingredients and another immunity-boosting smoothie shot book, 4-Ingredient Smoothies + Juices , due out in January 2021. On this blog you'll find incredibly easy recipes with hidden veggies for anyone wanting to eat healthier, regardless of diet. Dee has graduate degrees in sciences and journalism, editor at The Feedfeed and a nutritional expert at WikiHow. More about Dee Dine here.