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Organic Social Media Growth in 2020 – First Stop: Instagram

I like games. I also like organic social media growth, blogging, photography and social media analytics. At the same time I enjoy user interactions with high-quality followers. What I also like is that finally I have a purpose in my life. That purpose is to create more exposure for borderpolars. Why I think it matters? Because 1+1 equals 2 but red+green makes brown. We don't know very much about comorbid bipolar disorder and borderline personality and how they affect patients.

But I want to know and the more I know the better. The sooner I know, even better. However, I am not a psychiatrist or a mental health worker. I want experts to write and talk on this topic. Ideally, I want experts to do more research on this area. One step at a time though. I cannot offer experts money to draw their attention to writing about borderpolars (yet).

Organic Social Media Growth is the Way Forward

What I can offer them is exposure. Unfortunately, I don't even have that. So I created the “Game of Exposure”, a game that combines social media, photography and blogging to gain that exposure. Then I will use that exposure and ask people to write about mental health topics related to borderpolars. Will it work? I can't beat this game by myself, so it will depends on how well I can market and promote this cause. In essence, it depends on my own organic social media growth . But it's going to be one hell of a ride regardless as I will be learning a ton about social media analytics and digital marketing. Let's start the game then!

Trying to Make the hashtag #borderpolar Go Viral

The tools are of course already there. The industry of exposure, social media. So I am using what I know and what I can learn to achieve organic social media growth. They key here is the word “organic”. I need to reach people who care about my cause and me as a figure and mental health advocate. I also need to find the right tools. I am going to list my strategies by platform.

Instagram Account Growth

I'm starting with Instagram because it is my favorite platform for this cause so far. Photography, 8 pictures per post and 2000 character captions. Sounds good to me. It's probably the platform that provides me with highest change to attract high-quality followers. My target is reaching 10k quality followers so that I can post links to this blog in my stories. Tough cookie! But there are some fundamental problems too.

The Problem: I like photography but my photographs suck.

Short-term solution: Lightroom and Photoshop. I bought Adobe's Photography plan for one year, but I already think I'm keeping it for life. Of course, I don't know how to use any of these tools. But I really like online courses. So I bought Adobe Lightroom Classic CC & CC: Photo Editing Masterclass from Udemy. This combination has worked. I also needed storage so I bought 200GB of original quality on Google Photos.

Cost: €12.39/month for the Photography plan, €13.99 for the Udemy course and 27.99/year for Google Photos.

Long-term solution: Get better at photography. Starting with the Photography Masterclass: A Complete Guide to Photography course. Yes, I like Udemy a lot, I'm not advertising.

Cost: €11.99 for the course, €650 for a beginner level DSLR (that was back in 2013) and €189 for a new prime lens.

Playing the Instagram Hashtag Game

To compete in this industry of exposure, first I had to learn how the basics of Instagram's ranking algorithm for posts works. In a nutshell, its ranking considers six factors: interest, relationship, timeliness, frequency, following and usage. Since the algorithm uses machine learning it is ever changing based on trends and behavioral patterns. This is a simplified version of how it performs ranking.

Understanding the ranking algorithms is vital to organic social media growth
Understanding the ranking algorithms is vital to organic social media growth.

The key is understanding the most important engagements. Getting likes is easy, but it does not promote more engagement, while comments and shares do. Saves mean that the user may want to go back to your post, meaning it's valuable for them. The requirement is captivating content that makes people spend screen time on the post and involve others. This is a challenging one. Neither my captions nor my content promote discussion yet. I'm working on that front and I have started using Canva to create more eye-catching content.

The Game of Instagram Analytics

So organic Instagram account growth is the first challenge. My strategy right now is to create captivating photos and use low to medium competition hashtags and only very few high-competition hashtags. Something like 15 low-competition hashtags, 10 medium ones and 5 high-competition ones (the allowed maximum is 30 hashtags).

Here is where tools for Instagram analytics come into play. I've used the trial versions of Flick and Hashtagify to find the correct hashtags along with the Facebook Business Suite for Instagram analytics (Flick offers Instagram analytics too, more thorough ones I dare say). Flick allows me to find hashtags that are low/medium competition for my current account growth. It's worth noting that I don't have a photography niche yet and that doesn't help much my effort to gain followers of the high quality kind. Remember, the business of exposure is data-driven. But let's see how am I fairing so far by looking at my personal Instagram business account insights.

Instagram Insights from my personal Instagram Account @borderpolarphotographer. Instagram insights are vital to organic social media growth.
Instagram Insights from my personal Instagram Account @borderpolarphotographer

For the purpose of my research, I used a few euros for promotions on two posts so the increase in reach is very high for the past week. The amount of user interactions is not bad at all, but 99.8% of them are mere likes. My account does not have content that engages users yet, they just like what they see. I have gained 31.9% more followers but I think they are mostly interested in photography or low-quality followers (the #likeforlike, #followforfollow type).

Let's have a closer look at how my content did.

Instagram Insights from my personal Instagram Account @borderpolarphotographer. Social media growth depends highly on social media analytics.
Instagram Insights from my personal Instagram Account @borderpolarphotographer. Social media growth depends highly on social media analytics.

The first two photos were promoted, the former for several hours. The amount of Instagram user interactions was ok-ish, for the quality of the posts. However, it was disproportional to the post's reach. The post's reach is the amount of times it showed up on a user's screen. There is no mental illness post in the top 6 in terms of user reach and that's because I am not ranking well on hashtags like #bpd, #bipolar, etc. and #borderpolar or #borderpolarcentral are not used by anyone but me. Even an eye-catching picture that I retouched did not do great as I'm not doing well on modeling hashtags either.

Finally, posting about Trump's positive Covid19 test had the highest reach, but I think it was not a good idea in terms of marketing. I just had to test it for the insights. My content is clearly unlikely to attract any quality followers from my mental health niche.

In spite of all that, there are clear improvements. The fourth post was the first in my profile to get more than 100 user interactions. Two weeks ago my most liked post had less than 40 user interactions. What I need though is more personal engagement from high-quality followers. And for that I need an audience more related to mental illness or photography and more engaging content. Even my photographs do not give anyone a reason to comment on them. Plenty of work for next week then.

Be careful when running a promotion

Make sure to run a promotion for the right reasons. My instagram analytics from Flick are quite different than the insights I shared from Facebook Business Suite for my content and user interactions.

Flick shows that the actual organic for my top promoted post (combining paid and organic reach). The post's reach number ranks fifth among this week's posts which is not great. It also shows that none of my posts ranked high in the used hashtags. All of them did better in terms of impressions (the times users actually looked at the post) rather than reach. The point here is that promotions do not alter your content's ranking – the interactions you get are not taken into account, at least for my account growth. In my case in particular the promotion added user interaction on the front feed i.e., likes and nothing more. The engagement rate for my posts is terrible averaging between 15% and 20%.

Pro tip: Use promotions to sell stuff, get DMs, get traffic on your website or visits on your profile that can produce further engagement. Personally, I won't be running a promotion again any time soon as I'm not getting the right user interactions.

The obvious mistakes I made

There were more than the ones I can realize but there are some clear ones:

  • Too much diversity. Landscapes, portraits, political memes, mental health memes, mental health posts. I even posted photos from two different phones and two different cameras. I need to find a more clear-cut niche in the future. I'm not in a hurry though, as I'm having fun.
  • Bad scheduling. I did not post at peak times and on peak days for the most part. I posted my best photograph so far at 3am on Saturday and of course it got no traffic. This was an impulsive, not a strategic move. Weekend posting is not a great idea, especially during the wee hours. It is important to know when is the best time to post on Instagram and that depends on your region and your audience. Insights help with that. I should pay more attention on Instagram analytics and follow their recommendations.
  • The content itself needs a big boost in quality to become more engaging, attract more followers and establish meaningful user interactions.

How Can You Help me Compete in the Game of Exposure

The task is hard enough for one person so any kind of feedback would be valuable. What I can do better, tools for instagram analytics recommendations, anything. Also, by following me on Instagram at @borderpolarphotographer and @borderpolar.central and using the #borderpolar hashtag on mental health related posts the same way you use #bipolar and #bpd, since they can be comorbid.

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