Growing on Instagram: a plan of action

If you want to grow on Instagram, one of the most important things is continuity. Not only do you have to post enough and your posts have to be good: you also have to keep it up every week. Not easy. But with a solid plan of action, you give yourself a good basis. And the stress of ‘I have to post something on Instagram!’ omitted.

These are the two biggest challenges for anyone managing a corporate social media account: what should I post next? And where you can still get away with an occasional link on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, it is very different on Instagram. There the image (or video) is leading. And that is immediately what makes it so difficult.

Even now that an Instagram feed no longer needs to look perfect, it remains difficult for many web editors, entrepreneurs and communication people to think from the image. After all, we are all used to communicating from text. And although text plays an increasingly important role, also on Instagram, that image remains important.

Fortunately, there are solutions to be found. With a few (free) tools, some thinking and a clever plan of action, you can ensure more continuity in your Instagram posts. And you can therefore also grow faster.

Step 1: come up with a few headings

It starts with sections or formats: fixed ‘columns’ that you can reapply every week. Basically exactly as used in your favorite magazines, where the same columns can be found every week. An interview, ‘the week of’, the statement of the week , the development of the theme of that week or month, the latest news or the best products, the favorite book of the editor-in-chief ( or of Oprah :)), auto views, etc.

Instagram is not a website, nor is it a paper magazine or newspaper. So it is useful for Instagram to take a few aspects into account:

  • What do you want to achieve with Instagram? Sale? Fame? Authority?
  • How do you get a picture? Can you easily make it yourself, do you have to buy it, does it take a lot of time, do you receive it from colleagues or partners? Maybe you already have video material?
  • How important is UGC or user generated content to you? Is your product or service something that others talk about and maybe you can share their stories (after permission)?
  • What can you do specific with photo or video given your product or service?
  • Can you let customers speak, show your products in their daily use, mention customer recommendations?
  • How important is the corporate identity to you? Does everything have to fit together or is that not so important?
  • Which questions from your target group can you answer?
  • What kind of rubric can you come up with that focuses specifically on getting responses? In other words: what would your target audience like enough to respond to ?

You can find ideas for good Instagram columns here:

  • Instagram video ideas and formats
  • This is how you write the best Instagram texts
  • Instagram’s content for businesses: 8 ideas from practice
  • Instagram’s stories formats for companies

If you are looking for inspiration, it also helps to dive into the feeds of your (international) competitors to see what they are doing.

If you have 2 or 3 rubrics that you can apply every week, you are well on your way to consistency and continuity. On to step 2.

Step 2 Create a stack of images

When you have your rubrics, you can start filling them in. I recommend making a few at a time so that you have a supply. Just take a moment and get started with images and text. You will see that it helps to create several at once, because the more you do it the more ideas you get.

If your columns require more time, for example, because you have to record and edit videos or because you need other people (for interviews, for example), that is of course not a problem. But the more you can work ahead, the better.

Perhaps one of your sections revolves around product or atmospheric photos, for example. If you do get started, make sure you make a whole stack from different angles, slightly different light, with different people or different backgrounds… this is how you give yourself a supply to choose from.

Chances are that one of your sections consists of quotes or tips or something else where text is leading. In that case, the free tool Canva is your best friend. You can create beautiful images in a few clicks. You can come up with something yourself, but better still is to adapt one of the standard designs to your own house colors. Every time you make a new version of your rubric, copy and adjust the previous image. A child can do the laundry!

You can use the stock photos from Canva (paid or not), you can create something that doesn’t require a photo, you can upload your own photos and edit them with text… everything is possible.

Are you looking for an alternative to Canva? I’ve heard good things about Easil. 

I don’t really have a very clear corporate identity, except for my text images (which I make in Canva). I especially make sure that when I take photos of something that fit the topics I am talking about on my business Instagram account, I immediately put them in Later (see step 3).

Step 3: use a scheduling tool to schedule everything

Perhaps the most important step for continuity is this: use a planner to plan all your messages in advance. If you make sure that you have a stock of images ready in such a planning tool and you sit down once in a while to plan everything and write the texts (more about good texts for Instagram here), you save yourself a lot of work. And you actually guarantee the continuity of your feed!

Instagram planning tools: overview of apps to schedule your posts

As you can see in the image above, I’m using a paid version of the Later app (there is also a free version) but of course, there are a lot of them. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find good information about all those tools. All of them are perfect at SEO, so Google search results usually lead to the blog of one of those apps. So you will have to try it. Let me name a few (five affiliate links, because unfortunately, I don’t have them?):

  • Later: Use this one yourself. Very happy with it, also because of statistics, the linking.bio link and the visual planner, possibility to prepare a response with hashtags, etc.
  • Buffer: not specially made for Instagram, but that might also be an advantage? Seems to have ‘grid preview’ now too, so a visual planner for your Instagram feed.
  • Planoly: I hear good things about it. Focus on Instagram and Pinterest. Strongly focused on visual planning, less in-depth analytics than, for example, Later or Iconosquare.
  • Iconosquare: also started as an Instagram planner, now also focus on Facebook. Seems to have great analytics and reporting, including around hashtags. Never tried it myself. Unlike the other tools, there is no free version (maybe a trial?).
  • Hootsuite: old faithful for social media planners. Not specifically targeting Instagram.
  • Facebook Creator Studio: Facebook has its own planning tool, the Creator Studio. Many users do report problems continuously. But who knows the benefit of using Facebook’s own tool ?!
  • Sked Social: new tool, specifically for Instagram. I hear good things about it, never tried it myself. Seems to be a very complete tool, also aimed at managing responses and DMs and viewing extensive statistics.
  • Agora Pulse: I think especially interesting if you manage a lot of social media accounts, a bit of a large user tool. Lots of enthusiastic sounds. In pricing a lot more expensive than the rest (but also possibilities to link many social media accounts, where you have to pay extra quickly with other tools).

What is nice in the case of Instagram is a visual planner where you see your ‘grid’ (your overview of posts) at once. With Later it looks like this:

The great thing is that you can see at a glance how your content is distributed. And if, unlike my own account, you do pay close attention to what your grid looks like, it is very important to have such a visual planner. In the tools listed above, you will see a number of tools that are highly visual, often because they started from Instagram planning.

Also, nice (I think): a good desktop app is more important than a good mobile app. In my experience, working on a desktop to plan everything and writing the texts is generally a lot more convenient and faster than via your mobile phone.

Finally: Instagram stories cannot be posted automatically. If there is a tool that claims to be able to do that, you are dealing with a tool that does something that is against Instagram’s guidelines and you could potentially end up blocking your account. Instagram’s API, which allows all those tools to connect to Instagram’s website, just doesn’t allow automatic story scheduling. You can, however, schedule the stories in many tools so that you have them ready. You will then get a reminder to post them, download them, and then upload them live to Instagram.

Don’t post & ghost: never post your messages automatically

I would like to make a side note with all that planning and automatic posting of messages: I strongly advise against setting your settings to ‘automatic’. That has an important reason. Namely that you often no longer pay attention, have not seen that a message has been posted and that you do not respond to any responses in time.

As you may know about social media reach, it is important for the algorithm to immediately receive signals that a message ‘is doing well’, ie that the first few people who see it respond positively. For example by leaving a comment or sending you a DM.

Even better for the algorithm is your response to those responses. So you can not only make your enthusiastic follower happy with a quick response to their response, but also the algorithm. And with that you increase your reach.

The danger of automatically posting messages is that they go live and receive responses without you seeing them and thus without you responding. ‘Don’t post & ghost’ is the adage. And that is very difficult if you have your messages posted automatically.

Your Instagram strategy is a matter of columns, planning, and tools

If you want to achieve more on Instagram, you will have to post messages and/or stories often enough. I would assume at least three times a week, but 4 or 5 times would be fine too. Quite a lot. Actually not to do if you have to invent and make it every day.

The best strategy is therefore a combination of planned and spontaneous (if you prefer spontaneous at least). Think up your sections and get started with filling them in. Collect the necessary images or videos and write the texts. Put them in your ‘media library’ in your planning tool and sit down now and then to plan everything.

You bet it will benefit your growth in reach and in followers! And if you need help or are looking for inspiration: in my online workshop Instagram for companies you get both and you go home with a number of ideas, hashtags, and good columns (virtually!).