By Donna Moores

After Mark Zuckerberg’s January update on the future of Facebook, even the most hardcore Facebook marketers are coming to terms with the fact that Facebook is not the ideal basket to hold all of one’s eggs. The social network that provides access to more than a quarter of the human population is set for a change. From what we know so far, even Zuckerberg acknowledges that the change will not be favorable for publishers and marketers.

So far, 2018 is shaping up as the year of social media marketing diversification. Marketers, publishers, and businesses that used Facebook as a social media hub should be interested in decentralizing their social media marketing activities. With high engagement, relatively low local competition, and an accelerating growth rate, Instagram seems like the perfect choice.

The following guide will take you through the steps necessary for making the most out of your Instagram account by turning it into a powerful customer engagement platform. Keep in mind that you will need a Facebook page if you want your Instagram profile to work wonders for you.

1. Set Up a Business Profile

The Instagram business profile is a feature that originally rolled out back in 2016. Businesses have had a year and a half to make the switch. Those that haven’t yet should strongly consider it as soon as possible. Using Instagram for business has never been more different than using it to share photos with friends. Simply put, you will not be able to do much regarding your customer engagement without a business profile in 2018.

Several significant features make a business profile a necessity for businesses on Instagram. With the use of the “contact” button, businesses can easily add contact information to their Instagram profile. The ability to promote posts and use Instagram ads shouldn’t be overlooked either, especially in the light of changes that come with Instagram algorithm updates. Adding links to Instagram Stories is an incredibly valuable feature that comes with a business profile and more than 10,000 followers.

Instagram Insights, the in-app analytics available to owners of business profiles, might not replace your favorite third-party Instagram analytics tool. It will provide valuable data on the go though, helping you to segment and target your audience better, making the feature worthy of your attention. Insights will show you when your audience is most active, where it comes from, and how old it is. You can use Insights to improve your posting schedule and content decisions. Insights will also improve your ability to target different generations of users.

Take action: The “switch to business profile” is available in your Instagram settings. You will need a Facebook Page to switch to a business profile. You have the option to pull contact information from your Facebook Page. The Instagram Insights option is accessed from the settings after you switch to the business profile — you will see an icon with a bar graph. Even if the information you get from it is lacking depth, remember that you can still use Insights on the go.

2. Tackle the Algorithm

For a very long time, Instagram users had chronological feeds. That changed in 2016 when Instagram launched an algorithm that, according to the company, helps users “see the moments they’ll care about the most.”

The algorithm introduced several different criteria that influence whether your content ends up in front of your followers. The official version includes criteria such as the relationship between you and the users, the age of the post, engagement metrics, and user interests. The unofficial version adds that your content is shown to ten percent of your followers. The engagement metrics and the speed at which they are accrued come into play to determine how big of a reach your content will have beyond the initial ten percent.

The algorithm game, for the moment, is to increase the initial engagement numbers to boost the overall reach and get even better engagement numbers. There are several ways brands are trying to hack or game the algorithm. Joining a pod is one of them, although it’s debatable how much use you would get from being in one. You might also try something that’s called “sandwiching.” You schedule the content release so that a post that’s expected to underperform, like a promotional post, appears between two posts you expect to perform better. The important thing you have to keep in mind is that in 2018, you’ll have to acknowledge the algorithm and do your best to play against it without getting penalized.

Take action: Dealing with the algorithm changes might be the most challenging part of turning Instagram into a customer engagement platform. Changes can be unpredictable, and it’s often hard to determine what they are and how to counter them. You will notice their effects, though. Your best would be to monitor the marketing community for tips and best practices and test possible solutions.

3. Choose the Right Moment and Engage

Of course, one of the best ways to increase customer engagement is to try to engage with them. Engaging with your customers is not only a great way to boost customer loyalty, but it’s also one of the ways you can counter some of the damage the Instagram algorithm is causing you. Better yet, you can combine it with other tactics to beat the algorithm.

Every decent Instagram marketing guide will tell you that the proper scheduling of posts is very important. Until recently, marketers and brands had to use third-party software to automate the scheduling of their posts. Earlier this year, however, Instagram launched a feature that lets owners of business accounts schedule posts from within the app.

You want to time your posts so that they get the maximum engagement as quickly as possible. The Insights feature allows you to see when your followers are most likely to be on the social network. That is when you want your content to catch their eye and when you should start seeing the initial engagement. However, that is also the time when it’s most important that you engage as well, for example by replying to comments. You must reply to comments in a timely manner, usually within an hour.

Take Action: The information you need about your followers’ habits are under the “Followers” section of Instagram Insights. You can see the days and the hours when they are most active. Try to post your content a bit before the peak activity hours. The scheduling option is available on the Instagram API, so you will have to use third-party social media applications to access the function.

4. Use Hashtags and Location Tags

Hashtags are an integral part of Instagram, and they are invaluable tools for marketers who want to boost engagement. Statistics show that a single hashtag boosts the engagement rate of a post by 12.6% on average. You can use more hashtags than one — Instagram allows up to 30 in the caption and another 30 in the comment section. Still, you should practice moderation. The biggest brands rarely post content on Instagram with more than seven hashtags.

Last year, there was a severe scare around the usability of hashtags due to the practice of shadowbanning. The term shadowban refers to a type of penalty where people who don’t follow you can’t see your content, even if they search for hashtags you’ve been using. Because it is difficult to know you’ve been shadowbanned and why, the use of hashtags has been under question. Then Instagram released an update that allowed users to follow hashtags, which made a big difference. Right now, hashtags are as relevant as they’ve ever been, and maybe even more. Not only should you use them, but you should also try to create branded hashtags and explore community hashtags.

Location tags are another way to make your content on Instagram easier to find and boost your engagement rates. Adding content tagged with a location can be especially helpful if you’re a local business because it will show up when people search for content tagged for a specific location. You can location-tag the content so that it matches the location of existing users, which is information you get from Insights.

Take Action: You can take advantage of hashtags without seeming too spammy. To add invisible hashtags to captions, type one dot per line five times before adding them. They will not appear when someone reads the caption. You can be a bit spammier in the first comment, though. And always use relevant hashtags.

5. Be Smarter With Your Content

Instagram started out as a photo-sharing platform. Over time, it launched additional types of content, including video, live video, and ephemeral content — Stories. While photos still reign supreme as the most commonly posted content on the platform, your customers will expect you to use other types of content as well.

Single video ads comprise around a quarter of all ads on Instagram. Instagram caps video length at 60 seconds and the average video length of top 20 publishers on Instagram is 30 seconds. Some statistics show that the threshold where video content starts losing engagement is around the two-minute mark, which is beyond the length supported by Instagram. Still, you should only use the full length of the video if the content is extremely engaging.

Live video, a format that is most suitable for events, has had its usability extended with the introduction of Replay. Your audience will now have 24 hours to view your live video. There are some tips and tricks on how you should create live videos with Replay in mind, like starting to talk right after the broadcast begins. Make sure you use all of them so that you get the most engagement out of your live videos.

With live video becoming essentially ephemeral content, it was logical that Stories would become just regular content. It’s more like regular content on steroids, actually, because Instagram has been adding a lot of features to Stories. For the beginning, you can save your Stories, which is something you should do with the stories that performed particularly well. You can add a link to add Stories if you have over 10,000 followers, which is a feature you should definitely use. With the newly introduced Type mode, you can make creative texts with sneaky calls to action. All of these features will make your content more interesting, which attracts engagement.

Take action: It’s important to remember that your content needs to have a recognizable style. Apart from that, each type of content has its own best practices. When shooting Stories, for example, you should make sure that they are not longer than ten seconds, and that they are shot vertically because that’s how they will be viewed.

Wrapping Up

The most important step to turn your Instagram account into a customer engagement juggernaut is engaging with the platform. Instagram is developing quickly, and it’s adding several new features every year. Some of them might hurt your customer engagement efforts, as the algorithm did. Others will give you new tools to create engaging content. Moving forward through 2018, your success will depend on your ability to identify and implements these changes. If you do, customer engagement will follow.

Photo credit: iPhone showing Instagram from Ink Drop/Shutterstock