Get the scoop on Instagram best practices from the marketer who literally wrote the book about this social media platform.
During a recent Social Pulse Weekly episode, we tackled a whole bunch of questions, myths, and best practices about Instagram to get to the bottom of what really works—and also which tactics actually have the potential to hurt you.
Let’s jump right in the top questions asked about Instagram best practices.
1. Do you get penalized if you have unanswered DMs in your general inbox?
According to Jenn, there are no negative repercussions from having unanswered DMs.
If you never left a question or DM unanswered, “the DMs would never stop because someone would always have to be the last person. And then you would always be in a never-ending war to be the last comment on a DM.”
2. Can you get shadowbanned if you use the same set of hashtags too frequently?
If you want proof, go look at Jenn’s Instagram. She says she uses the same set of hashtags all the time and has never been shadowbanned for it. (Neither have her clients.)
According to Jenn, people assume that Instagram is going to hide your content in hashtag results if you use certain hashtags too often.
But the thing is, according to Jenn, Instagram wants you to use hashtags. It doesn’t care how or where you use them: “They let you use up to 30, and they want you to use them. They want you to show up in Search. They don’t care where you use them (captions, comments, etc.)…[so] go nuts. Do it. Use what works for you, and enjoy the benefits of your hashtags.”
3. What are Instagram pods, and are they worth doing?
Instagram pods are simply group DMs between a bunch of people who agree to help promote each other’s content.
Jenn doesn’t mind them but also doesn’t believe using them improves your performance on the platform: “If you’re doing them with like-minded people and supporting other business owners and making friends and building relationships, high five to you. Go, do you, and go have fun. Do not use an Instagram pod for engagement. Do not use a pod thinking it’s going to change how you perform on Instagram because it won’t.”
As mentioned earlier, your reach is individually based, not based on how many people interact with your content. So if you’re in a pod with 10 people, and those people are consistently liking your content, your posts will appear at the top of their feeds. But that has no impact on how your content ranks in everyone’s feeds.
In fact, according to Jenn, all the time you spend in a pod can actually hurt your reach: “It’s actually time you could be putting into creating better content or sending DMs and replying to comments, things that are actually valuable to building your business. Because the pod is not going to build your business; and worse than all of that, when you leave the pod it’s done.”
4. Can you share your hashtag formula with us?
I’ve heard Jenn speaks several times, and she often talks about her hashtag formula. So I asked if she could share the formula with all of you!
And here it is: You’re going to want to use at least 15 hashtags per post. You can use up to 30. (Using 30 gives you a better chance of being found in Search.)
Among those 15, about 3-5 of those should be really popular hashtags. By “popular,” we’re talking anything in the range of 500K to 1 million posts associated with the hashtag. Do not choose ones that have over 1 million posts because then you really start attracting bots … Your post will get buried in the archives within seconds.
Then use 5 moderately popular hashtags. These have anywhere from tens of thousands of posts up to the 500K range. Then use 3-5 niche-specific hashtags. These are super-targeted ones about who you are, and what you do.
Finally, you’re going to use 1-2 branded hashtags specific to your business.
Jenn explained why this formula works: “You get an initial burst of activity from the popular hashtags … There are lots of people in there looking and you get an initial burst of activity. The moderately popular ones are going to keep your content active for hours into days because that content is going to live on longer and people are going to find you there; you’re not buried too far in the archives of that post.”
And then with the very targeted, niche ones, you end up actually ranking as a top post because you had initial activity and stayed active for a period of time.
Add to this that engagement just kind of kept going throughout this entire process: Your followers are liking your content all through this process as well. They’re liking it, and they’re keeping it active. Instagram looks at this and realizes, “You figured this whole thing out.”
So, now Instagram is going to rank you as a top post in those niche-specific hashtags because you’ve solved a very specific problem or have a very specific product.
These top rankings can last for weeks or months.
And now, you’re the first thing people see. They click on your posts, go to your profile, and now they’re either following you, emailing you, or looking at your content.
And according to Jenn, this is how you get clients and conversions. This is how many of her clients (and even Jenn herself) gets sales: “It absolutely works. You just have to be very strategic in using this formula in this very specific way – [in a way] that allows you to start ranking as those top posts, [so] that you actually get found by the people who really can use your services.”
5. What tools do you use to do hashtag research?
Jenn shared that she actually likes to search natively through the app. She simply goes into Instagram, clicks on the search tool, and starts to type a hashtag.
When you do this, it will show you all the related hashtags and locations.
For example, if you type in San Diego, the results are going to show you smaller locations around San Diego, which could be really helpful.
We recommend having different hashtag groups saved for different products, topics or types of posts, and then just grabbing the ones you want whenever you create a new post. This will save you a ton of time when creating and scheduling new posts!
6. If you go live every day, will it improve your reach?
Jenn’s response to this rumor: You don’t just want to go live randomly without having a strategy. It’s great to be spontaneous, but if you’re only going live for a couple of minutes, you’re likely only going to have two or three people show up each time (if you’re lucky).
Instead, as an Instagram best practice, go live for 20 minutes, and have a topic and an outline you’re going to follow. Do a tutorial or showcase a new product; have an actual dialogue with your viewers and banter back and forth
Going live just for the sake of going live isn’t going to do anything for your reach, and is just going to waste everyone’s time.
And actually, in the end, Jenn believes this will hurt you. Because if you’re going live and people aren’t tuning in, they’re going to stop paying attention to you. (You’re not doing stuff that actually benefits them.)
Jenn also recommends planning your Lives in advance. If you just randomly go live at 12:36 on a Monday, no one’s expecting it and you’ll likely only get a few viewers. But if you plan it and structure it–for instance–going live every Friday at 2:00, you’ll likely get a lot more viewers and engagement.
7. Should we be prioritizing stories?
Instagram has been putting a major push behind stories. They are the “wave of the future,” so to speak. Many people are seeing really high view counts on their stories.
If you’re already using stories, is there an option for you to do more of them, or to use them more strategically? Can you actually make stories part of your content strategy rather than just randomly putting up a couple of stories here and there?
Jenn also stresses the importance of using hashtags and geolocations in stories as an Instagram best practice. Stories aren’t really searchable, but they can be found if people are looking for certain hashtags or locations. So using them is really important for building your audience, getting calls to action, getting people to come to your business (if you’re a brick and mortar business), etc.
For your story hashtags, be sure you’re using broad hashtags and the hashtag sticker. And it’s fine just to use one hashtag! If you use a text box, you can add as many as you want; but research has shown that 3 is what works.
For location tags, we want to actually do the opposite. We want to get as tiny of a spot as possible because the smaller the location tag, the more opportunity you have to show up for more searches.
For instance, when Jenn was at her alma mater, she tagged the university. And because she did that (rather than tagging the city, San Diego), she showed up in the national university search, the Torrey Pines search (the small region she was in), the Torrey Pines golf club search (which was right across the street) as well as the San Diego search.
The maps know to go broader when you choose a really small, specific location, so this is definitely the preferable strategy!
8. Does Instagram give more priority to videos?
According to Jenn, while Instagram doesn’t care what kind of content you post, your audience does: “If you’re creating videos that are getting better reach and better engagement, it’s because your audience wants it. They want the video. They’re watching them longer, and the more they interact with that content, the higher your ranking is in their feeds; which means the more they’re going to see your content, and the more they’re going to continue to interact.”
So, yes, there are lots of statistics out there that show that video performs better than photos. However, this isn’t because the algorithm prefers them, but because your audience prefers them.
So if videos are working for you, then, by all means, keep using them. Do what you know works for your brand. Because Jenn, for example, has learned that her audience actually prefers photos over videos. So don’t just assume that you have to do video, or that they’ll always outperform your photos.
Jenn’s best advice?
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I did stories for a week and they didn’t work.’ Or ‘I did a video once and it didn’t work.’ You have to give 3 to 4 weeks for the algorithm to pick up your new content strategy and to start showing it to people in a consistent way, before you can actually decide that that’s something that’s performing well or not.”
9. Do you have any quick Instagram best practices tips for optimizing your bio?
So first, the only time people care about your bio is when they don’t know who you are. So you want your bio to be your first impression, your elevator pitch.
People won’t care how awesome you are, how many houses you’ve sold, how many millions of dollars you’ve made. They care what you can do for them. “How are you going to help them? What are you going to do for their business?”
You have 150 characters. Use emojis, fun language, be conversational. Use a bullet-point structure. Keep it fun and engaging. Lose the corporate-speak and the run-on sentences.
You can also use hashtags in your bio if you want, but only use ones that are directly related to your content and your brand.
If you have a location, definitely put that in there.
Make sure you have the action buttons enabled: call, email, text, directions. You can also add things like get tickets, reserve, book, etc.
If people like what they see in your bio, it should be easy for them to click on a button to get in touch with you. Have well-formatted bio and action buttons ready for them to use.
Social Pulse Weekly: Instagram Myth-Busting and Instagram Best Practices
If you didn’t catch the live show with guest Jenn Herman, you can still watch the show recording at your leisure.
Social Pulse Weekly brings you incredible marketing experts and today’s latest social media news and developments. Tune in every Friday at 2PM ET to keep your finger on the pulse of social media.