Instagram Strategy: Growing Your Followers and Business

Looking for a strategic approach to organic Instagram growth? Wondering how to develop content that will grow your business and your Instagram following?

To explore how to use Instagram as a hub for shareable content that leads to business growth, I interview Vanessa Lau on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Vanessa is a community development expert who specializes in helping online coaches. Her course is The BOSSGRAM Academy. She has 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and her podcast is called Turn Your Followers Into Clients.

Vanessa explains three mistakes that can derail your Instagram marketing and shares her three-step strategy for organic growth on Instagram.

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Growing a Business on Instagram

Vanessa worked as a brand manager at a Fortune 500 cosmetics company as a young marketing graduate, launching products for multimillion-dollar brands. She soon realized that the corporate path wasn’t for her and quit her job in mid-2018.

Vanessa knew she didn’t want to go back to corporate life so she started a YouTube channel that taught other people how to leave the 9 to 5 world, specifically from a Millennial’s perspective. Her account started to attract an audience that really wanted to learn more from her. She officially launched her coaching business in January 2019.

Vanessa came to realize that she also knew a lot about social media, especially Instagram, and decided to leverage what she knew to help people build their brands online. Because she was a YouTuber, Vanessa’s first step was to create videos about Instagram. This was really out of step with the other videos that she was doing at the time, which were all about quitting the 9 to 5.

But when a video of her five top hacks on how to grow organically on Instagram went viral (it now has around 3.5 million views), Vanessa quickly went from a few hundred followers to growing her email list to more than 20,000 people who wanted Instagram advice, thanks to that one video.

Vanessa Lau YouTube video about Instagram organic hacks

She decided to pivot her business niche from helping people quit the 9 to 5 to helping people build their social media platforms to get themselves more clients. She chose to zero in on Instagram because she had so many people coming to her wanting that specific help.

In April 2019, Vanessa launched The BOSSGRAM Academy, which is a course that helps new coaches turn their followers into clients. Her business has grown to half a million dollars in its first year. Her social followings have grown as well. She now has 200,000 followers on YouTube, 65,000 on Instagram, and 13,000 members in her Facebook group.

Vanessa thought about YouTube for 6 years before posting her first video on the platform. She remembers looking at YouTubers who were just starting and feeling like she wasn’t ready to do what they were doing. Now a lot of those creators who started 6 years ago are massive on YouTube and Vanessa is kicking herself, wishing she had started back when she first wanted to.

She says that yesterday was the best time to start but the second-best time to start is today. The sooner you start, the sooner you can build that audience and potentially monetize it in the future.

3 Mistakes Marketers Make With Instagram

Vanessa sees three things that many marketers do wrong with Instagram.

Setting the Wrong Expectations

A lot of people give up on Instagram because they feel like they’re not growing fast enough on the platform. This is because a lot of marketers expect their Instagram accounts to generate a lot of traffic for them when the fact is that Instagram may not truly be the best platform for traffic.

Instagram isn’t as SEO-optimized as platforms like YouTube or LinkedIn. On those platforms, if you’re looking for something, you can type it into the search and videos will pop up. You can’t do the same with Instagram, which is why it’s harder to get that traffic. Instagram is, however, a great place to generate quality leads. It’s a matter of quality versus quantity.

Instagram has so many tools that can help you connect with your audience such as voice notes, voice calls, GIFs, polls, live streaming, dual live streaming, and IGTV. There are so many ways to create intimate touchpoints with your audience. If more marketers were able to leverage these tools to their advantage, they would have hotter leads coming into their business. The people who end up connecting on Instagram become a lot warmer and a lot more nurtured when you use the tools at your disposal to connect with them at a deeper level.

Posting Content Instead of Actually Connecting

A lot of marketers have fancy funnels. There’s a link in their bio that leads to a landing page, which leads to a lead magnet, which leads to a 5-day sequence. They’re taking their audience on this long journey before they can even find the final offer.

The intention there is great. The funnel is intended to warm the audience up. But a lot of marketers leave so much money on the table by not directly talking to their one-on-one prospects through DMs. Instead of waiting for these funnels to make magic happen, many marketers could speed up that customer journey by simply talking to their prospects via DM because that’s the perfect place to deliver the best customer experience for those prospects.

If you’re on a DM with someone, you can ask them questions like, “Hey, tell me more about your business. What are you struggling with most? … Wow, struggling with not getting clients really sucks. Do you know that I have a resource that might help you?” By having that dialog with your prospect and then sending them to your webinar, your landing page, or wherever it is, that person is more likely to click on that link with an intention to buy.

Many marketers focus too much on posting content every single day and neglect all of the DMs in their inbox. Those DMs could be coming from people who just need warming up a little bit. Plus, those people may enter that funnel with the full expectation that they’re probably going to buy.

There are many ways to get those DM conversations started. Something Vanessa frequently sees, and that she teaches her own students in The BOSSGRAM Academy, is to put a poll in your stories asking something like, “Hey, do you want to learn how to get clients on Instagram? Yes or no?” Later, you can DM all of those people who tapped Yes on the poll and say, “Hey, Mike, I noticed that you voted on my poll and you said that you’re struggling with getting clients. Can you tell me more about that?”

Instead of just sending them directly to a link, have that one-on-one conversation first. Understand why this person may not be getting clients and what they’re doing that isn’t working so you have all of the information you need to pitch your offer or send them to your webinar. When they do end up going to your webinar or your main lead magnet, they’re much more likely to convert than someone who went in cold.

Focusing on Likes Instead of Shareability

Instagram has already removed visible likes from many accounts. Vanessa sees this as a really great opportunity for marketers to focus on an entirely different key performance indicator: shareability.

Likes and comments are obviously great ways to gauge whether people enjoy content but Vanessa prefers to focus on creating content so people want to share on their own stories. Someone liking your post so much that they’re willing to tap that arrow button and share it directly to their own stories is going to get many more eyeballs on your content.

Vanessa Lau Instagram post

Now that follower’s followers can see your content and can click on that post, which will increase the number of profile visits you get on your account.

When someone is just liking or commenting, they’re often scrolling through the feed mindlessly, and then they move on with their lives. But when someone actually goes the extra step to share or even to save your piece of content—because now you can save posts to collections—that’s going to increase the content’s longevity.

That post is now not only just on that person’s feed, but it’s also on that person’s 24-hour story and potentially living on in their collections that they can refer back to.

Vanessa’s 3-Step Strategy for Valuable, Organic Instagram Growth

Send Traffic to Instagram From Other Platforms

Vanessa says that it takes a platform to grow a platform. A lot of her traffic comes through YouTube and she makes sure to also send this traffic to her Instagram.

As stated earlier, Instagram isn’t the best platform for getting traffic natively. The key is to piggyback off of other platforms that have really great SEO capabilities such as YouTube, LinkedIn, or even a blog. Mention on those platforms that you also have an Instagram account and the extras your audience might get if they follow you there.

Vanessa will frequently screenshot questions her Instagram audience has asked her and show them in her YouTube videos. This shows her audience that she’s actually listening to them and creating her videos based on DMs they send her. This encourages people to connect with her on Instagram as well because they want to make sure that she gets their questions and may even feature them in a future YouTube video.

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Vanessa has a link to her Instagram profile in her description but she also has a watermark with her Instagram handle at the beginning of every video. She’ll also show screen recordings of her Instagram stories within her YouTube videos.

Vanessa Lau YouTube video sharing Instagram handle

If she does a YouTube video about moving into a new office, for example, she’ll throw in footage from her Instagram story where she showed people around. Then people watching on YouTube can see that if they follow her on Instagram, they’ll see more behind the scenes of the move to her new office.

She’ll also say in the video, “By the way, follow me over on Instagram if you want the behind-the-scenes peek at what my new office looks like.” That gives her YouTube subscribers more incentive to follow her on Instagram because they’re getting more backstage access to her life and business.

Involve the Audience

Once Vanessa sends that traffic over to her Instagram, that’s when she really starts involving her audience. They came to her Instagram for a reason. They really want to be involved with her and her business and get to know her better.

Vanessa loves to involve her audience in her business decisions. That’s what differentiates her Instagram from all of her other platforms. Once you follow her Instagram, you can DM her and check out her stories. She’ll actually listen to what you have to say about things like content ideas for the future. Sometimes she’ll even post an Instagram story and say, “Hey, guys, I’m redesigning my website. What colors do you like best? Do you like pink or purple? Vote now.”

Doing that inspires a lot of loyalty from her audience because they genuinely feel like they’re living vicariously through her and that they’re stakeholders in her business. There’s no other platform that allows that deep of a connection with the audience.

Another way Vanessa leverages her Instagram audience is to do market research. Instagram is always adding new features, especially in Stories. The quiz, poll, question, and chat features are really great ways to ask your audience what they want to see more of in your business or what their biggest struggles are when it comes to getting clients.

Vanessa takes an inventory of responses that come through DMs from those questions and polls. Not only does she leverage those for future content pieces but she also keeps them to refer to every time she does webinars or sales pages so she can use the exact language that her audience has used with her on Instagram to create her marketing materials.

When someone sees her sales page, her webinar, or whatever marketing material she may have, they think, “Oh my gosh, Vanessa, you’re reading my mind. How did you know that I was going through these problems?” The answer is simple: They told her on Instagram.

Vanessa also loves to show appreciation by giving her audience members shout-outs. When she sees someone who’s following her who has really great content, she takes a moment to give them a shout-out on her stories, and it makes her audience feel seen. It’s such a nice little touchpoint and it only takes 5 seconds to do.

example of Vanessa Lau Instagram Stories shoutout

She also shares their content to her own stories. She doesn’t even have to be following them to share their content; she just takes a moment to see who’s recently followed her on Instagram and checks out their profiles. If she likes what she sees, she’ll share some of it. She’s noticed that when she shares content, they’ll actually share the fact that she shared their content on their own Instagram story, which is a win for both parties.

Create Shareable Content

Vanessa loves creating content that people willingly share on their stories and to their own audiences. The moment they share it, their audience then gets access to her content and they’ll click over to her profile. That increases the likelihood of someone connecting with her without her really having to do much.

Instagram is Vanessa’s favorite place to put repurposed content because she finds it the most versatile for a variety of content types. She loves to create rich, long-form, value-packed content pieces on YouTube, Facebook Live, and her blog; monitor which content is performing best on these other platforms; and then break that larger content down into micro-pieces of content.

If Vanessa does a series of Facebook lives, she’ll look at which live stream performed best, send that video to an editor, add captions to it, add a title on top, and turn it into an IGTV piece. She doesn’t have to create a new video; she’s just repurposing an old piece of content that performed really well, optimizing it a bit for Instagram, and then posting it directly on IGTV. A lot of people end up saving and sharing that type of content from her Instagram.

Vanessa Lau IGTV Instagram video

If Vanessa gives five tips in a video and that video performs well on YouTube, she’ll take the five tips, turn them into graphics with text, and create a carousel on her feed. Image one might be Vanessa saying, “Five tips on how to grow on YouTube,” then the next image is, “Tip number one: …” and so on. That allows people to read the content in a more visually appealing way, versus reading a really long caption.

The best part is that she doesn’t have to double her work to think about a new content piece. Instead, she’s taking a proven content piece that performed well on another platform and just optimizing it for Instagram so more people can share and enjoy it.

The idea is to create content pieces that are visually appealing that people will want to share. A lot of people put the real value in a long caption accompanied by a picture of themselves. The problem is that people don’t really want to share a photo of you.

If Vanessa posts a photo of herself and the caption has all of the value and someone then shares that on their stories, they’re essentially just sharing a photo of her—and that’s not as appealing. Their audience wonders, “Who the heck is this girl? Why are you sharing that on your story?”

Instead of putting all of that value in the captions, Vanessa turns them into graphics, which is more incentive for someone to share it on their own story. No one wants to share a photo of you sitting on a park bench on your laptop, even if you delivered a lot of value in the caption. They want to share a visual piece of content that their followers immediately get a lot of value from.

You can see insights on how many people saved or shared any post. That also allows you to optimize your strategies. Vanessa didn’t really start doing this until she looked at her analytics and realized that posts where she shared something like an infographic didn’t necessarily get a lot of likes but did get a lot of shares.

She’d rather have shares than likes because that drives more traffic to her business. It also increases the chances that other people who found her content through someone else will DM her, which leads back to having those one-on-one conversations.

If you see someone sharing your content, you could also easily DM them and say, “Hey, Mike. I noticed that you shared my post. What did you like about it? … I’m so glad that you liked my content piece. You know, I noticed that you actually have a social media marketing business. Tell me more about that business. … Okay, great, that’s an awesome business you have. What are your current struggles when it comes to growing that business?”

That conversation opens up more dialog with your audience so you can warm them up before they even enter your funnel.

Vanessa also sees Instagram as a great way to create and nurture her own brand promoters. Because she creates content with the intention of other people sharing it instead of constantly doing community engagement—which she also does—and spending all her time trying to attract new people, she gets her followers to share her stuff with their audiences.

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

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