How to engage your audience (aka Instagram is kicking my butt right now). - Part I

Two weeks ago, I noticed something peculiar. My Instagram likes and comments went down - A LOT. Over the course of a day or two, posts that usually got >200 likes and quite a few comments struggled to get even 100 likes. At first, I wasn't too worried. Some days you're just off your game, right? 

But then - it didn't change. Post after post, fewer and fewer likes, up to the point where I was really happy when something hit over 100. Now - don't get me wrong - I'm not someone easily influenced by this number. I always tell my Creative Boss Coaching clients that likes and comments are just a (not very good) proxy for how much people like your content and are prone to buy whatever you offer through Instagram.

Still, I got worried. And more worried. And more worried. So I decided to start an experiment - I would slowly tweak things that I thought might improve the Instagram experience for my audience, and see what would work or not. This post is the first one that I plan to write for a new mini-series on this particular experiment. I'm super curious where it will go and I hope you are too!

I hope that if you've been experiencing the same issues with Instagram, this post gives you a bit of hope and a lot of ideas what to tweak and experiment with! 

I'd also love to hear your ideas for experiments! Hit me up in the comments below with anything that you think I should and could try - I'm up for anything!

Let's set the baseline.

Before starting the experiment, let's talk about what I'd been doing before - quite successfully over the course of the last 3 months:

Posting frequency & timing:

  • 3 posts a day on week days

  • 2 posts a day on weekends

  • (Mostly) consistent posting times: Mornings, afternoons, evenings (Berlin time)

Focus topics:

  • Posting about a few focus topics:

    • My Creative Boss Coaching (including behind the scenes stuff and special projects like the Get Shit Done Challenge)

    • My Etsy Shop

    • Content Creation: Blog Posts, Newsletter, Podcast

    • making stories

    • Knitting

    • Very occasionally: Feminism

Pictures:

  • Using a mixture of my own photos and stock photos

  • Using different backgrounds & settings (not the white flat lays anymore from my early IG days)

Captions:

  • No consistent way of writing a caption except for "it should feel like me"

Hashtags:

  • Using a few hashtag prompts on specific weekdays:

    • #makersmonday (Monday)

    • #midweekhappiness (Wednesday)

    • #creativebosstip (Friday)

  • Using the same groups of pre-saved hashtags for my focus topics

Interaction:

  • Answering comments semi-frequently a few times a day

  • Scrolling through my own feed and liking and commenting a few times a day

So this is where I was standing two weeks ago. I was at 3.950 or so followers, had seen a semi-decent growth rate on my Instagram over the past few months, and engagement was steady. 

Follower Growth on my Instagram in the last three months (Feb to May 2017) - quite steady.

Follower Growth on my Instagram in the last three months (Feb to May 2017) - quite steady.

Like and Comment History of my Instagram feed in the last three months (Feb to May 2017) - also quite steady.

Like and Comment History of my Instagram feed in the last three months (Feb to May 2017) - also quite steady.

Then everything went south - and I panicked.

Oh oh.

Oh oh.

Contrary to ALL the advice I'd been giving, the decline in likes and comments really got to me. Why? Because Instagram is my main channel to acquire customers - both for my Creative Boss Coaching and for my Etsy Shop. I am building up email lists for both, but that takes time, and a decrease in visibility on Instagram suddenly seemed really bad and threatening.

What did I do next? I asked one of the most successful Instagrammers I know - Verena from @thewoolclub - if she had noticed anything different in her feed. She said no, but she also very kindly pointed out a few things that she thinks I could improve (THANK YOU!!). And she got me thinking - what if I treated this as a really interesting experiment? What if I saw this as a chance to try a few of the things I'd been wanting to try with my Instagram anyways?

Which brings us to today:

The things I'll be experimenting with

Out of the first conversation with Verena, a really inspiring Creative Boss Coaching call with Erika from INK Bags and a few Instagram comments on the post where I shared my Instagram troubles came this semi-organized list of things to experiment with:

Posting frequency & timing:

  • Posting less (only 2 posts per week day instead of 3)

  • Posting in the night to capture everyone on the other side of the world - sidenote: I know that this works because we did it for the making stories crowdfunding, but I'm really reluctant to set my alarm every other night for 3am just to post on IG. Something tells me my sleep is more important than social media.

Focus topics:

  • Erika mentioned that she thinks that Instagram rewards accounts with varied interests and topics. I do think mine are quite varied, and I actually like the mixture, so for now, I'll stick to the focus topics. That being said...

  • ... I will try to make them more personal and "story-like" (see Captions).

Pictures:

  • No more stock photos. Verena - kindly and firmly - told me that I should re-consider using stock photos at all. And I think she's right. While I love the convenience and look of stock photos (I've been using unsplash.com to source mine), I think it's time to sit my butt in the chair and do more photography.

  • With one exception: The only exception I'm making to this rule is posts about making stories. We do want a consistent brand image across all three feeds that are connected to making stories (our own @_makingstories, Verena's, and mine) which means we'll be using similar or the same pictures.

Can you spot the stock photos?

Can you spot the stock photos?

Captions:

  • Structured captions. I've been a big fan of Instagram accounts that break up their captions with dots, dashes or little drawings for quite a while, but for some reason never adopted it for my own feed. I'll start doing that now!

  • More story-telling. A few months ago I had a streak in my Instagram where it felt effortless to connect one picture with the next through a story that I was telling. Not sure what happened and why I lost that, but I really liked the cohesive effect it had on my feed, and I'd like to find a way back there. I'll be making a conscious effort to connect the stories and captions of pictures with one another.

  • Still sounding like me - maybe even a bit more: I really struggle with writing sales-y posts sometimes because they just don't feel like me. So I decided to try and really only write like I would want to write - like I do here. 

Hashtags:

  • Doing hashtag research. I need to up my hashtag game big time. I haven't exchanged any of them in the last six months (I know... hypocrite...), so I will do some research and I will change them up.

  • Switch hashtags up for posts with the same topic. I'm still not sure how exactly I will do this without making my life hell (aka copy pasting everything or typing them out) - maybe I'll expand my beloved text replacement function by doing more groups for one topic. If anyone has any good ideas, I'm all ears!

Yeah... not a lot of variety there.

Yeah... not a lot of variety there.

Interaction:

  • Erika from INK Bags had a really good point in our recent call: She said she tried to engage more with the people who are following her than with the people who she is following. I'm guilty as charged - most of my interaction (except for answering comments) is with the people who's profiles I am following, not with my own followers. I'm going to change that! Two concrete ideas are:

    • Regularly checking my followers' feeds and commenting and liking their pictures

    • Asking more questions in my answers to their comments

  • Going back to answering comments in a really timely manner. I'm still a bit struggling with this one because I don't want to spend 10 minutes every hour on Instagram, but I need to find a way to reply to comments within a few hours, not after one or two days. I know that this used to have a big impact on engagement for me and I'm curious to find out if that is still true with the new algorithm changes.

Current status of my Instagram experiment: Little by little.

This post is actually the first time I wrote these thoughts and experiment ideas out - I know I should have done that before starting, but somehow sometimes I just DO stuff before thinking about it too much. So without a lot of careful thinking, I dove into changing up a few things and trying some of the ideas from the list up above.

A few thoughts after a few first days of experimenting:

  • I really like writing stories. And sounding like me. Feels good.

  • Photography is fun!! I'm really not very good at it, but I enjoy playing around with it and I think it might be a skill that I really come to love. It takes time and practice, but I enjoy coming up with different variations of a shot and using different backgrounds. My feed consistency will most likely suffer from it, but oh well. Who cares, really?

  • I love writing more structured captions. It just FEELS better and cleaner to me. I hope people like reading them!

  • Answering comments in a timely manner really seems to help generate more comments. Still very, very preliminary though!

What's next?

I'm going to continue my experiment for the next few weeks - it's not going to be scientific, so if you're looking for awesome stats and graphs and correlation vs. causality discussions, this is probably not to your liking, but I enjoy sharing my process and I hope for everyone who likes to dabble and experiment with their feed or who is frustrated right now, it serves as inspiration and an idea log what you can do. 

I'd also love to hear your ideas for experiments! Hit me up in the comments below with anything that you think I should and could try - I'm up for anything!