GUEST POST: How to create a growing Instagram account

Instagram is a platform going through changes. Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council. She also produces a career focused podcast called Comms Hun, which you can listen to here. In this post she talks through what she did to build an Instagram account.

Six tips and tricks for growing your Instagram following

Beautiful bloggers, luxurious locations, inspiring interiors, delicious dishes and pampered pooches. Just a few of the things that spring to mind when thinking about Instagram.

In fact, since its creation in 2010, Instagram has evolved rapidly from a simple photo sharing app (where we may all be guilty of sharing daily dinner snaps back in the day) to its latest incarnation, where video rules. Whether it’s Reels and Stories, the choices are endless, users can even shop in the app.

It’s evident that this social channel has a clear connection to big brands, but what about your local council? How do us comms folks make food waste sexy? Perhaps we can PR our pothole projects here, surely a nice filter should do the trick?

Align your audience with the right channels

I am sure it will come as no surprise when I say there is a time and a place for certain messages. In fact, I am incredibly confident that my fellow marketing maestros will always start off by identifying the best channels to reach the desired target audience.

It might mean adapting our copy and content depending on the channel we are using – or not using certain platforms at all!

That last point is important. Very important – and leads rather nicely into my next point

Think beautiful

How do you personally use Instagram?

I use it to browse and save images of clothes, nail art inspo, dream house interiors, and of course, funny dog videos.

And, if I’m posting myself, you’ll get the best bits. My highlights reel, so to speak; holidays, festivals, birthdays, weddings – and if you’re lucky – pictures of my ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ French Bulldog, Rex.

Largely, Instagram is for escapism. Users want to see beautiful pictures and they want the content to inspire them, whether it’s with a family activity, next stylish staycation, or a new fitness class.

So my first ‘rule’ for Instagram is ‘beautiful content only’. It was the first channel specific rule I implemented when joining Wokingham Borough Council in 2019 and one that thankfully, my then colleagues were on board with.

During the two plus years that I was there the channel grew from 400 followers to more than 3,000. Something that I am incredibly proud to have played an integral part in and which is a real testament to the team’s approach.

This rule will help you to say no to content that doesn’t work for this channel. Government Covid-19 graphics which feature lots of text and unrelatable stock imagery? No, thank you. 

In fact, the vast majority of Covid-19 messaging went out on other platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and if posting or on Instagram, sat predominantly on stories and highlights. And, that’s not to say Covid messaging didn’t reach the grid, but when it did, it was localised, it was visual, and it told a story that resonated with our audience.

What story am I trying to tell? 

There’s a known adage that says “a picture is worth a thousand words”. This is a key mantra when managing an Instagram channel, in fact, this ethos could, and often does supersede the beautiful images only ‘rule’ that I just waxed lyrical about.

However, rules are meant to be broken and for what better reason than if you have a visually interesting story. Since joining my new job at Runnymede Borough Council, I’ve recently taken over running Magna Square’s Instagram page.

Magna Square forms part of a £90m redevelopment project for the Council, transforming the centre of historic Egham, with brand-new residential apartments, shops, restaurants, and more.

As the development is literally being built, I’ve had to get creative with my content. This includes sharing pictures of cranes, an in-situ building site and CGI images. I have pretty much burned my ‘beautiful pictures’ only rule, but, do you know what? We’ve seen a steady increase in followers.

In fact, over four months we’ve jumped from 30 followers to 139! So, what exactly am I trying to tell you? Use your pictures and videos to tell a story. Residents want live updates and behind the scenes insights, as long as what you’re sharing is visually interesting, people will follow along.

Reels, reels, reels

It will come as no surprise when I say Reels are king. Much as stories were introduced to challenge Snapchat, the introduction of Reels challenges social newcomer TikTok.

There’s much internet chatter that says the Instagram algorithm favours Reels over static posts, meaning your audience is much more likely to engage with this medium. I’d be inclined to agree, especially if my own stats are anything to go by.

We recently opened our ultra-modern student accommodation, Parish Hall, at Magna Square. I decided to pull together a quick Reel to showcase the new building. Within hours, the video had clocked up 100 likes and currently sits at 12.5k views. For a seven second video, it was certainly worth the effort.

Cross channel promotion

This is a trick which is easily overlooked, but with some forward planning can drive traffic for your page.

Use your other social media channels to encourage existing followers to join you over on Instagram. Chances are your Facebook followers also use this channel and it’s another chance to catch their attention if they are signed up to your pages on multiple platforms.

Newsletters are also a great way to promote your Instagram page, or any of your social media accounts for that matter.

What to avoid

Graphics with text

I mentioned this briefly earlier, but I personally don’t love text graphics on Instagram. I will sometimes use them if we don’t have a picture that works, but often I find the engagement is lower.

If you must use a graphic which features text, make sure you get the right ratios (1080 x 1080 px). I often remind people to think of the grid as a whole, yes Instagram now has a nifty scaling button, but if you use a wide landscape graphic with text, it’s going to cut the text off in the grid view – and that my friends looks naff.

Hashtag ambiguity

Get specific with your hashtags. If you’re promoting a family friendly activity and simply put #FamilyFun you’ll soon find it’s too wide reaching (with 10.1m tags). You need to hone in on things that your audience might actually search – in my case #SurreyFamily is much more niche with 3.1k tags. 

In addition, it was thought that 10 to 15 hashtags was optimum for increasing your posts reach, but now recent updates from Instagram suggest three to five will do the trick. Make sure you include hashtags in the body of your post.

Slow and steady wins the race

Another piece of advice is don’t get pulled into posting everyday. If you follow the rule of beautiful photos only or visually interesting content you might not have something to post everyday. And that’s ok. If you’re running a public sector account, chances are your content ebbs and flows depending on project timelines and activities taking place. You are better to showcase your best bits, that post substandard items, just for the sake of posting.

Overall…

My main advice when using Instagram is to think of the channel for good news stories. It’s where people go to escape or discover new things, be that your brand-new leisure centre opening or a sunset snap at a local park.

Ultimately, people want to feel proud of where they live and connected to the community. Tell stories, use real people and show off interesting locations.

Clodagh Pickavance is Marketing and Communications Manager at Runnymede Borough Council.

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