A few days ago, I saw this incredible story on Reddit about a guy called Max who works for a paddleboard startup. This Reddit post was titled “How a paddleboard startup used Unsplash to build brand awareness”.
For a second, my mind was boggled. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact of how a stock photo website resulted in increasing brand awareness but also scoring a good amount of backlinks.
This event triggered me to think differently about marketing. Marketing describes techniques that have been proven and are likely to wear off in the next few months or years. Whereas growth hacking refers to techniques that might work or might not work, returning potentially unexpected or amazing results.
What’s most important? Being first. And that’s exactly what Max did. He was the first to discover and use this technique to his advantage.
This article describes 14 intriguing growth hacking techniques that are worth a try. Let’s dive into it!
(Screenshot of Max’s paddleboard in the Unsplash gallery)
Let’s kick off with the paddleboard story and explain how it worked so well for Max. Unsplash serves as a stock photo website where you can upload pictures. What’s different? You don’t have to pay to use Unsplash stock photos and you can do whatever you want with the photos.
Obviously, Unsplash always kindly asks to add some credit to the photo when publishing it, rewarding the creator of the photo for their work. However, this is not mandatory.
What Max did is, he uploaded a couple of paddleboarding pictures to Unsplash. Five months later, he discovered that his images had accumulated over 6 million views and 24.000 downloads.
So, he realized this was a great marketing opportunity and started reaching out to the people using his photo to add a backlink to his website. Luckily, Google has a “search-by-image” feature which you can use to quickly locate people who use a particular image.
Now you might wonder how we can draw a line between paddleboarding and Instagram?
Well, it’s actually quite simple. We can apply the same technique by uploading high-quality pictures about any topic you wish. Make sure to check the most popular topics on Unsplash. Later on, reach out to websites using your picture to link back to your Instagram profile. A nice picture generally draws attention and gives you some new followers.
(Pinterest Clare.com example of a Pin with text and a follow button)
First and foremost, most people don’t know you can claim your Instagram account on Pinterest. What this means is that your Instagram profile is shown with a follow button when users create a Pin using content from your Instagram account.
Some people don’t understand why they should be active on Pinterest. “It’s just some alternative to Instagram.” Actually, the opposite is true. If we take a look at Ahrefs top 100 most visited websites for 2020 (updated as of May 12th), we find Pinterest in the 10th place with 160 million monthly visitors while Instagram only has 95 million monthly visitors, sitting in the 12th place.
My advice: Actively engage with people on Pinterest by creating interesting collections including your own content. You’ll likely see new followers come through that like your content. Additionally, it’s a great tool for interacting with the followers you already have.
However, just don’t cross-post all of your content. Aim for quality over quantity. Only post your best pictures or make a collage of multiple pictures you like. Adding some informative text to your image will often increase engagement.
Tip: Want to quickly connect your Instagram with Pinterest, use this IFTTT plugin to automatically cross-post content.
Growing the number of Instagram followers is important to reach that viral effect. However, do you want to passively wait for people to discover your content? The answer is no.
Let’s explore the “following game”. The following game focuses on following people that like similar content, follow similar accounts, or have certain keywords in their bio that you target. When you follow these accounts, it’s easier to get a follow back as they are likely interested in your content.
However, the problem with the following game is that it is slow if you do it manually. Of course, this can be automated through paying for growth services that help you automate this task.
Nonetheless, be careful when using those services. Instagram can easily ban your account if you overdo the following game using a script or automated service.
For example, Kicksta has a solution for this by using machine learning to increase Instagram followers. Kicksta’s tool scans thousands of accounts using machine learning to detect accounts with a high chance of following you. Using this approach, you can optimize your following game while playing within Instagram’s limits.
A “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) service helps journalists find experts to weigh in on certain topics so that they can cite/quote them.
The benefit for you? PR. What’s the benefit for the reporter? Better content.
All in all, it’s definitely not a bad move registering with a HARO service. A HARO service often asks you about your field of expertise so journalists can contact you for a quote or expert information.
Tip: One of the most used HARO services is HelpAReporter.com.
(Screenshot of @superfooddeli profile on Instagram)
Next, let’s discuss the intersection of Instagram and search engine optimization (SEO). SEO refers to the game every marketeer participates in to rank as high as possible for important keywords through organic search engine results.
In other words, the Instagram search matters and you can turn your bio and profile name into your favor by carefully selecting keywords.
Before providing you with Instagram SEO tips, it’s important to understand that every person’s search results are different. When Alice looks up the keyword “superfood”, she might get totally different profiles in her search results than Bob does.
Therefore, Instagram search results are determined by the following factors.
Luckily, Instagram also takes into account keywords. For that reason, it’s important to optimize your Instagram bio with keywords you target. Furthermore, you have the option to add an alternative display name apart from your username. Make sure to optimally use these opportunities to add keywords. Normally, a profile should focus on 3 - 5 keywords.
Take a look at the image of “superfooddeli” account. They target the following keywords in their bio and name: superfood, organic, “plantbased”, and “plasticfree”.
Lastly, don’t forget your focus on SEO when posting content and adding hashtags. Again, these keywords help your content to be found in Instagram’s organic search engine.
(Image showing @the_vegan_cyclist collaborating with @tooiehead)
Popular YouTubers have already demonstrated the power of collaborations. Actually, the marketing technique of doing a “collab” dates back from the early days of the internet where people were writing guest blogs on each other’s blogs.
A common misconception here is that you will lose followers and you prefer not to share your followers with other Instagrammers. This is absolutely not true!
Through collaboration, your audience can discover new Instagram influencers that share similar content that you endorse. By exposing your audience to other followers and vice versa, you're basically getting free Instagram followers. For me personally, it's about being open and transparent and showing that you genuinely care about your followers. You want them to find and learn from the best people in the industry.
Important note: I’m not talking about brand collaborations. I’m talking about pure collaborations with other Instagrammers where you feature their content and vice versa.
Now you might wonder, how do I collaborate with other Instagrammers? Here are some possible ideas.
Recommended read: How to Hack Your Way to the Top Through Guest Posting
Getting featured means that someone publishes your work and links back to your profile. Best case scenario, this person has a large following.
However, don’t fall into the trap of large feature accounts that only accept paid submissions. They are generally not worth your investment as their audience is not genuine. Engagement for those accounts is generally very low.
Therefore, I suggest opting for a more manual approach to get featured. For example, you are an aspiring Berlin-based photographer that wants to crank up their following count. Reach out to a more consolidated Berlin-based photographer like Michael Schulz who has 10k followers.
As you live in the same city and share the same passion, the barrier is much lower to be featured on his account. In the end, it’s also beneficial for Michael as he receives free, high-quality content which he can share with his following.
Take some time experimenting with hashtags. It’s important to understand which hashtags help you to get the most traction. Sometimes, you might be targeting a specific hashtag that actually has a low engagement rate.
To find out which hashtags work well, check if some of your content got featured under the “Top” section. That’s a good indication that this hashtag works for you.
A good strategy to find meaningful hashtags is by looking at similar accounts to see which hashtags they use. Sometimes, try exploring recommended hashtags. Perhaps you can find new types of content or jump onto new trends. This can be a great source of inspiration.
Look at your competition to find meaningful hashtags to target.
In conclusion, try out different hashtags and see how people interact with your content. There’s no golden solution to finding the right hashtag. At least, you can optimize the hashtags you use to some extent to boost your post reach.
Recommended read: How to find the best Instagram hashtags for your business
Nothing is more important than covering trends. For example, last week, I saw this Aubergine Parmigiana recipe by Jamie Oliver go viral. Suddenly, I found many posts being created by Instagrammers, food bloggers, and YouTubers about this recipe. Each of them tries to give their personal touch to the recipe.
(Post: Aubergine Parmigiana by @TheIntolerantWanderer)
Make sure to cover new trends and give them your personal touch. Often, new trends go viral and create opportunities to be a first-mover. This way, you can easily get some fresh pair of eyes to explore your account.
But how to spot trends? The answer is actually simple, Reddit. Reddit is the home of many niche subreddits where trends get shared and created. Want to use an alternative website? Buzzsumo offers a paid service for finding unique content ideas and spotting trends.
Instagram Reels bring 15-second clips set to music to Instagram. It might sound annoying that Instagram copies successful products from competitors such as TikTok. However, this also creates new marketing opportunities as the type of content is similar. Therefore, why not cross-post Instagram Reels to TikTok or vice versa? Again, every opportunity to spread your content can help you grow your profile.
Everyone loves memes! Even people in the age range of 45 to 70 years got familiar with the concept of memes. Funny content increases engagement, so why not create a meme yourself? Check out the below meme created by Ritual.
(Meme by @ritual)
If you want to create a meme yourself, you can either get creative with photoshop or use one of the many online services that help you with creating typical memes.
(Blog by @funlifecrisis where they write content about Instagram tips and traveling)
This might sound odd but it works. As an Instagram influencer, you should have a niche you focus on and a narrative you want to bring to your followers. For example, Alice regularly shares pictures of how to live a plastic-free life. She really cares about our planet and knows a lot about living plastic-free.
However, Instagram is often limited to only sharing a short caption with a picture, not being able to really bring a story. Therefore, start with guest blogging or even start your personal blog. This allows you to use your own content and add backlinks to your Instagram profile.
In other words, it’s an ideal strategy for putting yourself out as a subject matter expert.
(Instagram profile of @marmots.newsletter)
Collecting emails is important. Having an email address of a user who is interested in your content allows you to notify him about status updates or any other relevant content that he might be interested in.
For example, you can combine a newsletter with your Instagram account where you give more lengthy updates on certain topics or share expert advice.
A common misconception is to share only your own content. However, why not use this opportunity to also share links to other blog posts your audience might be interested in. The goal is to keep them engaged and build “brand awareness” with your Instagram profile.
Recommended read: How to grow your newsletter subscribers with Instagram.
It’s time to get experimental! Content testing helps you determine what content works best for your audience. Testing can be done among many parameters, such as time, topic, hashtag, and even color usage.
As many posts about Instagram growth suggest, try to find the optimal time for publishing a new post. While experts say the best times to post on Instagram are lunchtime (between 11am - 1pm) and the post-work evening (between 7 - 9pm).
However, don’t follow this advice blindly. Perhaps you focus on a niche that has different working hours or you have to deal with a very international audience. An Instagram account about cycling can easily have a global reach. So, what lunchtime is for some of your followers might be nighttime for a big remainder of your followers.
For that reason, do your own experiments. Perhaps it’s useful to take a look at the geographical distribution of your audience to find the most optimal timing for your posts. For example, you can target lunchtime for your US audience while targeting post-work evenings for European followers.
The same goes for topic choice. Try different content formats, types of images, or even cover different content. Maybe you discover that your audience actually likes this mix of content or this new idea you’ve introduced them to. New opportunities are always at hand using topic testing.
We’ve already covered the use of hashtags. Pick hashtags wisely but also make sure to switch them up from time to time. Perhaps you are using a low engagement hashtag and you might find better hashtags that increase engagement.
Lastly, analyze your color usage. A study by the Pantone Institute has identified four colors that draw the most attention. The study analyzed the color usage of 75 influencers with a following of 50,000 or greater. From this research, they found the following four colors:
This might sound like over-optimization, however, if you want to go for that extra 1%, just give it a shot!
(Photo by Pantone Institute showing best Instagram colors)
Easy tip: create more video content! Humans have a tendency to get their attention drawn by moving images. In other words, video content often drives a higher engagement rate than posting pictures.
According to combined research by Hubspot and Mention.com, video content saw the highest engagement rate:
For example, Buzzfeed Tasty does an amazing job at creating compelling, high-engagement videos (even mouth-watering ones!).
(Recipe by @buzzfeedtasty)
Note: Creating video content requires a significant amount of extra resources and time to create. Therefore, this tip might not be worth it. However, definitely try it out to see what effect video content has on your engagement rate.
Instagram matters more than ever before while the search for finding alternative growth techniques is never ending. According to a recent study, 72% of Instagram users report making a purchase decision after seeing something on Instagram. Most commonly, users buy clothing, makeup, shoes, food or supplements, and jewelry.
Another quick way of bumping your Instagram follower count is by using an Instagram bot. Why not combine an Instagram bot with the above techniques to maximize your Instagram growth? On top of that, many Instagram tools exist that help you with growing your follower count.
To conclude, Instagram has become a global business opportunity for many users. The word “Influencer” has become a real job that will only evolve in the future with the rise of “Instagram Shopping”. Furthermore, Instagram users get more accustomed to seeing products on social media platforms and basing their buying decisions off influencers that endorse a product. However, many brands still underestimate the power of connection that influencers have with their followers.
In the end, the best tip I can give you is:
Be honest and share content that inspires you, the rest will follow!
Full Disclosure: I do not endorse any of the brands or accounts mentioned in this article. They are for illustrative purposes or showcasing examples.