I recently caught up with Pittsburgh based Photographer and Instagram growth hacker, Ian Jones, to chat all things Instagram. With the recent changes on the platform’s algorithm and sudden drop in organic reach, everyone is feeling the effects of the change. Alas, like all things in business, there is no magical solution or a quick “overnight-fix” strategy to get the old reach back. Those glory days are over unfortunately so you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and put in the daily grind of manual work. The tried and true strategy of one-on-one engagement using authentic and relatable content is more important than ever. It is the only way to fundamentally grow an audience for long term success and is how Ian has been doing it for over 6 years now. He also helps answer some of our burning questions and gives us some insight and “hacks” to grow your audience, encourage engagement and to help take your IG game to the next level.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been using Instagram.
My name is Ian Jones, I’m 33 years old and I have been living in Pittsburgh, PA since 2007. I was born in Las Vegas and moved to Upstate New York for the majority of my life. I decided to move to Pittsburgh for college, and to get into a bigger city, make more opportunities for myself. Living in a small town can give you a small minded mentality. I didn’t like that, so I left when I got the chance. I have been using Instagram for a long time. I think I made an account around 2013. I was mostly just posting pictures of friends, my travels, bad food photos and me drinking beer. Mostly pictures of me drunk drinking beers, haha. I was fresh out of college at that time. Basically what I am trying to say is, I’d post whatever. I didn’t really care about the content at that point. I probably didn’t even use any hashtags.
View this post on Instagram
How important is Instagram for personal brand?
I think Instagram is an integral part of any brand or business. Small businesses just getting started to huge multi-million dollar businesses. The awesome thing about Instagram is it allows your customers to interact with you on a personal level. A restaurant for example can use user generated content from their guests, they can search who checks in at their locations, what they are saying about them. Its just this huge platform that I think even now, in 2019, many aren’t using it to its full capabilities. The worst thing I see brands do with Instagram is make an account just to make one, and then let it die. One of the first things I do is look at a brands social media footprint. It says a lot about a business and how much they care about things. I guess, to me anyway. When I see a brand with great social and they interact with people, I have a lot of respect for them. Wendy’s comes to mind.
Should my business be on there or is it just for personal profiles?
I think anyone can be on Instagram. There are 1 Billion users on Instagram as of this year, so anyone can find their lane or “niche” and excel in it. You just need to find the people who want to see your content. From a novice photographer, stamp collector, or a master chef, there is room and a niche for you to grow in.
My business is not that sexy and have nothing to share – what should I post?
Your business doesn’t have to be “sexy” or fun to be on Instagram. I have managed many brands in the past and they come to me with this problem. I think it really boils down to being creative and creating something from nothing. For example I managed three dry cleaners social media, and you’re probably thinking, wow that’s gotta be boring, haha. I started this campaign where we let the customers in on the process, what actually dry cleaning is, what happens to your clothes from the moment you drop it off to picking it back up. I was really able to give this place a voice. You just have to think of ways to make your business fun, creative or at least think of content to post and roll with it.
View this post on Instagram
Is there such a thing as posting too much content?
Ahh this question. I think for an account starting out they can get away with posting three times a day with great content and utilizing their hashtags correctly. Through all of my research and thousands of articles of seeing the best times to post this is what I’ve found. People are on the app all hours of the day, 24/7 so no matter what, there will be an audience. In the morning when people are getting around for work, their lunch breaks, and then after dinner when people are unwinding. Those three moments in a persons day is key to grab their attention. Obviously you can learn from your personal following when they are mostly active, but to start, I’d hammer away at those three times.
How important is engagement and what is the right amount of engagement and time I should spend on it?
Engagement is super important, without it your posts and accounts will be a wet towel and wont go anywhere. You want people to like, comment and share your content. People engaging with your content, within a 1-2 hour window tells Instagram “hey this is important, so we think more people should see it too”. I spend so much time on Instagram so to answer how much time you should spend on it, I would say however long you want to dedicate to it. Instagram is something you really get out what you put into it. For example, I’m a photographer, so I will edit my photo and get it ready to post on Instagram. I’ll then curate hashtags for said post to find the best relevant tags for my size and my content. I will post at my best time for that day. Once posted I will share the post to my story and do my “Story Trick” If you want to find out what that is, shoot me a DM and I’ll tell ya, haha. Anyway once posted, I will find out what tags my post starts to rank for, and then I will interact with that tag and other people’s posts. It’s just a lot, so to say how long you should spend is really all up to you and what your goals are.
What’s the right way to grow and what’s a big no no?
The right way to grow is to do everything organically, post valuable content, interact with other peoples accounts and post GOOD content. Content is king. You can have the best methods and plans laid out, but if your content is bad, it wont stand out. The worst thing you can ever do is buy followers. Never buy followers. I run small audits on accounts before I decide working or collaborating with them and if they have a fake following I wont work with that account. I am on the road to 10k followers, and when I get there, which I will, I will be able to say I did it all organically and never bought a single follower. My follower rating right now is at like a 94% last time I checked. But yeah, don’t use bots to comment, do not buy followers, and when you comment, actually comment something that’s worth a shit. None of this “Cool tones bro”.
View this post on Instagram
Do hashtags really work? How do you determine the right hashtags to use?
Hashtags are my bread and butter. I have had posts really blow up and triple my average likes by using the right hashtags. I just use Instagram to find tags. Right within the app and Microsoft word, no big secrets here. You want relevant tags that are relevant to the size of your account. For example you wouldn’t want to use a tag that’s been used 1 million times if you have 6k followers. You still can, but use like 3-4. I call these lottery tags. You’ll most likely get lost in those tags, but you never know. I usually can with a good post rank in top of my chosen tags. This helps get you on the explore page as well as getting you more followers this way. The goal is to rank top in the tags you’re using, putting you in-front of everyone else. This is a service I have provided to many people, curated hashtags for them and their content with success.
How much time should I spend on a post and how can I systemize this process?
This kind of goes again with what I said above. I never just post and put my hashtags in and then leave the app. I will stick around and comment back to people and thanking them for their comments. I will go to their page and like some of their photos as well in this process. You want comments, this forces engagement, so be nice and comment back and like their stuff too. It really does help. I have been doing this for so long that I can get through these things fairly quickly. I would suggest someone starting out to make documents of tags they have used recently and which clumps work and which ones don’t. Learn from that. Also, use 30 tags. You’re allowed 30, so use 30. There are people who suggest using a set number like 9-10 tags, but I think that’s silly. Just use all 30.
Can you get more views on IG Stories using hashtags?
Yes! A lot of people do not use stories correctly. You can hide your location tag and hashtags in a story to get more views on your story. I only hide 1-3 hashtags in my story and then make sure to geo tag your story as well. You can just use two fingers and pinch them down until you cant see them anymore. For example, I made a post, shared it to my story and hid #TaylorSwift in my story and tagged Heinz Field as the location. That one story received almost 2k views. My average right now is around 600 views. See, she was performing in Pittsburgh that night so she was trending, I happen to live very close to the stadium she was at. It just worked. I am always thinking out of the box, you really have to with this app. It’s always changing and no one truly knows whats going on with Instagram, we just find what works and what doesn’t.
Do you recommend using third party tools to help with growth? If so, which ones?
This kind of goes against what I said above about automating things and using bots, but the ONLY thing I use is an app to see who unfollows me and allows me to block bots, unfollow inactive people and make sure I am following people I really want to be following. The app is called “Cleaner” I use it for iOS. I paid for it, but they have a free version as well. I highly recommend it.
What do you think the future of Instagram is and how will it affect the influencer market?
I think Instagram will continue to grow and thrive. I think if you’re debating whether or not to start a page, do it. Learn from it so in a years time you’re a pro. I think Instagram is one of those apps that will never go away. Most of that is because of its addictive habits. Let’s face it, people love likes, comments and to feel important. When your posts tanks, it really makes you feel like shit, haha. Trust me. People also make a living off of Instagram. I really think it’s just going to continue to grow and get bigger. I wish I knew everything I knew now when the app first started.